Victor Hollaender and Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater: A Transatlantic Affair (Part 2)

Alan Lareau
Operetta Research Center
30 November, 2016

Victor Hollaender described his first American sojourn and the German-American scene of Milwaukee in his memoirs, which were published in serial form in a Berlin daily newspaper in 1930. Excerpt from My Life in Revue: Memories of Fifty Years (1930):

Sample page of Victor Hollaender’s serialized biography "Revue meines Lebens." (Photo: Karsten Schilling)

Sample page of Victor Hollaender’s serialized biography “Revue meines Lebens.” (Photo: Karsten Schilling)

After I had recovered for a few months from the difficult year of military service, I received an offer from the old Berlin theatrical agency of Ludwig Crelinger to go to Milwaukee and Chicago as the Principal Conductor of the German Theater, the so-called “Pabst Theater.“ One of the three directors, Wachsner, was currently in Berlin to license plays and to hire artists. I gladly accepted the offer—first of all, because I wanted to see a bit of the world, but also because I wanted to give myself a trial period, for during my year in the military, I had secretly gotten engaged to Rosa P., and if I wanted to be sure of my feelings, the American job was most à-propos.

In early September, along with the rest of the performers, I boarded the Gellert in Hamburg. Old Crelinger had put in an appearance at the peer to send a telegraph to Director Wachsner about our departure. At the very moment I was boarding the ship, a friendly gentleman introduced himself to me; he was indescribably happy to be able to greet and talk to the conductor once more before his emigration.

During our pleasant conversation, he gently and carefully led me down from the ship, drew a metal badge from his vest pocket, and in a somewhat different tone said, “I am Debt Collector Suchandsuch, and I have come to collect a sum of 50 Marks from you, which you still owe to your tailor in Breslau. If you do not pay immediately, I am afraid I must arrest you, and you cannot go to America!“

What was I to do? I only had a little money with me, but what else was old man Crelinger there for?

I confided in him, and he helpfully advanced me the 50 Marks with the remark that this sum would be deducted from my salary in ten monthly installments of five Marks each. But the debt collector smiled and said it would bring me good luck, and later I would be most grateful to him for that!

Aboard the Gellert, incidentally, was a very interesting group of actors. Besides our ensemble, there was the actor Tauber (later director of the Chemnitz Theater) on tour; he was the father of the famous and idolized Richard Tauber, who was born right around this time. In addition, there were the Rosenfeld brothers, who were currently taking a troupe of Liliputians on tour through the United States. It was a very interesting and amusing trip; there was not a dull minute, the sea was calm, and our appetites healthy! On the next to last evening before our landing in New York, I organized a variety show to benefit the ship’s crew. There were of course plenty of artists available, and this event pulled in a tidy little sum, which I handed over to the captain with a joyous heart.

Tip of Manhattan in 1931, with a view of the harbor.

Tip of Manhattan in 1931, with a view of the harbor.

I will never forget the arrival in the harbor of New York. On the evening before our landing—it was already after six o’clock and the ship was no longer allowed to enter—I was writing a report to my fiancée when I was called on deck by some of my fellow passengers, who pointed out a little boat from which my cousin, Nahan Franko, a violin virtuoso and conductor who was well known in New York, was hailing me. Unfortunately, he was no longer allowed to board the ship; he spent the night nearby on Coney Island, and the next morning, he was the first one to board the Gellert along with the American naval doctor. We greeted one another, departed the ship together, and promptly had an amusing experience at the customs station. They were searching for a diamond smuggler, and I must have resembled him, for they thought they had found him in my person. In the presence of my cousin Franko, I was subjected to a search in a special room, nolens volens. I was searched in the most impossible places, and a doll that I had brought for a young relative in New York was cut open because they suspected that the diamonds were inside. But they found nothing, and so I was released after three quarters of an hour of interrogations, without their considering it necessary to apologize, and I was finally allowed to go ashore.

Broadway north from 38th St., showing the Casino and Knickerbocker Theatres. The old Metropolitan Opera House and the old Times Tower are visible on the left.

Broadway north from 38th St., showing the Casino and Knickerbocker Theatres. The old Metropolitan Opera House and the old Times Tower are visible on the left.

The first person I met in New York was a young lady I had worked with in Budapest and who was now working at the German Theater under the direction of Gustav Amberg. We were able to spend one day and one night in New York and I used this time to visit many relatives and friends who lived there, and to see and admire the city with its skyscrapers.

In the U. S. A., I met a number of prominent theatrical directors and performers, and I had the impression that this blessed land would one day bring me much good fortune.

Back in our Berlin boarding-house, one of our tenants had been a talented American pianist named Alexander Lambert, for whom I had written a little piano piece entitled “Canzonetta”, which he had often played in his American concerts as an encore. During my visits to American music publishers, I was introduced as the composer of that “famous” Canzonetta, and they all ordered another new Canzonetta from me. I took these orders along to Milwaukee with me, and this meant a very nice secondary income for me. I flooded America with countless Canzonettas, which made my fame in America.

The next morning, I met the entire ensemble at the train station to embark for the trip to Milwaukee in a Pullman car. I will always remember this wonderful trip lasting a day and a half, filled of comforts, with nights in the most magnificent, wide beds, and dinner for a dollar such that you could eat until you were sick—a trip of unheard-of luxury!

The following evening, we arrived in Milwaukee at the station, or as they say in America, at the “depot,” and were received by our director Wachsner in a tuxedo and top-hat. We were unaccustomed to such honors in Germany—actually, it was no honor, but rather a commercial ploy, a kind of publicity that is not unusual in America. We were taken to the hotel, and there I read in the evening edition of the Staatszeitung the lengthy telegraphic report of my adventures with the diamonds in the customs office of the New York harbor.

My employment in Milwaukee was quite pleasant, for we only had to play three times a week there, and on Sundays we went on excursions to Chicago, where mostly operettas and farces were performed. I received a number of flattering offers—from English-language theaters as well – but I declined them all and only stayed until the end of the season, for it appeared that I had passed my “test” summa cum laude.

At that time, Milwaukee was the most German city in the United States, and German art was very popular and acclaimed there.

There was a German Turnverein, and German singing societies, the most famous of which, “Arion,” was led by the well-known composer Hugo Kaun. But other musical luminaries from Germany were celebrated in Milwaukee, too, such as the pianist Xaver Scharwenka, and many important violinists and cellists. The city also boasted an excellent symphony orchestra under the baton of an elderly German conductor, Christoph Bach, whose company I often enjoyed.

I took my noon meals with some colleagues in a German boarding house, and one Sunday around one o’clock I was on my way there when a friend, the director of the local conservatory, Edmund Luening, invited me for a little morning drink, a Frühschoppen. When I remarked that I had to go to lunch, he said, “Here you’ll get a bit to eat, too.” And I found myself pushed into the back room, where a merry collection of gentlemen had assembled to enjoy the golden wine. The conversations were magnificent, guests left and new ones arrived, one glass after another was emptied—and when do you think I came home? On Tuesday evening, just before the performance at the theater. I must add that I was not a bit drunk, just a tiny bit tipsy, but otherwise tired, very tired!

Cover of the piano-vocal score to the operetta "Rhampsinit" (König Rhamsinit), which was first performed in Milwaukee in 1891. (Collection Alan Lareau)

Cover of the piano-vocal score to the operetta “Rhampsinit” (König Rhamsinit), which was first performed in Milwaukee in 1891. (Collection Alan Lareau)

I had one great joy just before the close of the season: the directors gave a benefit performance for me, in which my operetta Rhampsinit – earlier in these memoirs, I related the terrible fate of this piece at Berlin’s Victoria Theater—was produced in my honor. Aside from the artistic success, I received flowers and the traditional offerings in the form of laurel wreaths with colorful ribbons printed in gold, and baskets of sausages, foods and wines. Although the monetary proceeds were insignificant, the evening was rich with honors and satisfaction for the disgrace that had been inflicted upon me in Berlin.

A week later, I started my trip back to Europe, stopping along the way for two days in Paris, then visiting my brother in Cologne, and I arrived in Breslau a day earlier than planned. My fiancée fainted, but then fell blissfully into my arms, and her parents joined her in this procedure.

Now we were ready to get married!

Victor Hollaender’s signature. (Archive Alan Lareau)

Victor Hollaender’s signature. (Archive Alan Lareau)

From Victor Hollaender: “Revue meines Lebens: Erinnerungen aus fünfzig Jahren,” Acht-Uhr-Abendblatt, 27-28 June 1930. Translated by Alan Lareau.

Biographical Notes:

Ludwig Crelinger (1836-1904) was an actor on numerous stages, but after losing an eye, he withdrew from the profession and took over the editorship of the journal of the Deutsche Bühnengenossenschaft in 1875, then founded his theatrical agency in Berlin. He also wrote plays.

Leon Wachsner (actually Wachsmann, 1854-1909) was born in Stettin and emigrated to America in 1880, where he found work as an actor in Milwaukee from 1880 on. In 1994, he became the business manager of the („old“) Stadt-Theater there, and then at the New German Stadt-Theater. Together with Julius Richard and Ferdinant Welb, he ran the United German Theaters of Milwaukee and Chicago.

Rosa Perl (Bertha Rosa Perl, 1873-1948) appeared in the London production of Victor Hollaenders “Bey of Morocco” in 1894; following the birth of her son Friedrich in October 1896, she gave up her small stage career, but still sang at private events in the home.

Anton Richard Tauber (1861-1942) was an Austrian actor who performed in Graz, Prague, Wiesbaden and Berlin, and from 1912-1930 he was the General Manager of the Municipal Theaters of Chemnitz. His son, the famous tenor Richard Tauber, was born out of wedlock in 1891; not until 1913 did his father, who was Jewish, legally adopt him.

The theatrical managers Carl und Theodor Rosenfeld hailed from Berlin, where they ran the Belle-Alliance Theater, but they also organized American tours of musicians and actors, including Eleanora Duse, the Maininger theatrical troupe, Josef Kainz, and Adele Sandrock (also with the collaboration of their brother Hugo Rosenfeld). Their Berlin troupe of Liliputians appeared for eight years on the east coast of America; the repertoire featured two works with music by Hollaender: The Dwarf’s Wedding and The Fair in Midgettown.

Nahan Franko (1861-1930) joined his siblings and toured America to great acclaim as the musical Franko Family of the Five Fabulous Frankos. His father had changed the family name to Franko upon emigrating to America before the Civil War. Nahan toured as a violin prodigy with Adelina Patti and studied in Berlin. He played in the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he was Concertmaster from 1904 to 1907 and was hired as the first American-born conductor of the house. His brother Sam Franko (1857-1937) was also an acclaimed violinist, conductor and teacher in American and Germany.

Gustav Amberg (1844-1921) ran the German-language Thalia Theater in New York from 1882 to 1888; in 1888 he opened his Amberg Theater (also called Amberg’s German Theater, later renamed the Irving Place Theater).

Alexander Lambert (1863-1929) was a Polish-born pianist, composer and teacher. After emigrating to America in 1880, he returned to Berlin in the mid-1880s and performed with violinists Joseph Joachim and Pablo de Sarasate, and he also taught at Kullak’s Academy of Music. He studied in Weimar under Liszt, and on his return to America, he headed the New York College of Music.

Hugo Kaun (1863-1932) was a German-American composer, conductor, and teacher. Born in Berlin, he emigrated to America in 1896 and settled in Milwaukee. Here he led the Milwaukee Liederkranz and the Milwaukee Männerchor and taught at the conservatory until he left for Chicago. In 1902, Kaun returned to Berlin, and in 1912 he was named a member of the Prussian Academy of theArts.

Franz Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924) was a German pianist, composer, and teacher. He taught and performed at the Berlin Singing Academy, and in 1891 he founded a conservatory in Berlin, and later in New York. As a performer, teacher, and composer, he was one of the most important musical figures of his day. He was a productive composer in all genres: orchestral works, vocal music, chamber music, and operas.

The violinist, conductor, and composer Christoph (Christopher) Bach (1835-1927) was born in Niederhone, Hessen and emigrated to America around 1855. In Milwaukee, he founded the famed Bach Orchestra, and he was music director of the Stadt Theater. He also composed many works, including three comic operas.

Eugene (also Eugen) Luening (1852-1944)was a pianist, composer, and conductor. He grew up in Milwaukee and studied music in Germany, where he studied conducting under Richard Wagner. Back in his home town, he founded the Luening Conservatory of Music in 1887 (which became today’s Milwaukee Conservatory of Music in 1899) and led the Milwaukee Musik-Verein and the Männerchor. He also taught at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Victor’s brother, Gustav Hollaender (1855-1915), studied violin with Joseph Joachim and then worked as a teacher and performer in Berlin and later Cologne. In 1894, he took over the directorship of the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, and he composed numerous works, above all for the violin.

Alan Lareau is Professor of German at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He has published on early German cabaret, including The Wild Stage: Literary Cabarets of the Weimar Republic (1995) and Kurt Tucholsky-Discographie (1997). His edited collection on Victor Hollaender’s life and career, including the composer’s autobiography, appeared in 2014 with Hentrich and Hentrich in Berlin, and he is writing an English-language biographical study of author-composer-director Friedrich Hollaender (Frederick Hollander).


There is one comment

  1. Gene Meier

    On September 18,2003 I found the F.W.Heine diaries in the display case of Milwaukee County Historical Museum.They commence 1860 and conclude 1921 upon the death of Heine.The diaries needed to be transcribed in German, translated to English,scanned to computer. Michael Kutzer,born 1941 in Leipzig, is transcriber of the project.The Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee provided an initial $50,000 for translation of the diaries.The diaries are JAM PACKED with info about operetta in Milwaukee