Folly Theater Art

Orval Hixon Studio: Orchestra Right grouping

From 1914 to 1930, Orval Hixon was one of Kansas City’s most renowned studio photographers, located in the heart of the Downtown Theater District.  During that time, he was an “Official Orpheum and Shubert Vaudeville Circuit Photographer” and captured images of hundreds of the biggest names on the American stage and screen. In 1920, Hixon relocated his studio to the lobby of the opulent Baltimore Hotel, at 11th and Baltimore Streets.  Louis Curtiss designed the Baltimore Hotel in 1898, the year before he designed the Folly Theater.  The Baltimore was connected by an underground tunnel to the Willis Woods Theatre, located at the northwest corner of 11th and Baltimore.  Opened in 1902, the Willis Woods was also designed by Louis Curtiss. Hixon was one of the leading figures in the development of the distinctive Kansas City style of theatrical portraiture.  For him, the 11x14 inch glass negatives he created where the starting point of his theatrical photography. Each negative became its own work of art as he carefully retouched and hand sensitized it with etching tools, pencils and brushes.  Hixon attended classes at the Kansas City Art Institute before beginning his photography career. With the decline of vaudeville, Hixon relocated his studio in 1930 to the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas.  He passed away in 1982 at the age of 97.
  1. Ada Forman, 1917
Ada Forman, born in 1895, was an American theater and concert dancer. She toured with Florence O’Denishawn in 1915 and 1916, before developing her own solo vaudeville act on the Keith-Albee circuit.  Forman performed in Broadway revues and in the 1922 Greenwich Village Follies.
  1. Ernestine Myers, 1920
Ernestine Myers was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1900.  He father was major league baseball second baseman, Albert “Cod” Myers, who played for the Kansas City Cowboys for one season in 1886.  Ernestine Myers was an American dancer and Vaudeville performer, who founded and ran the Ernestine Myers School of Dance in Terre Haute from 1923 to 1978.  Myers became a headliner in New York’s 81st Street Theater, Winter Gardens, and the Palace Theater and toured with Ruth St. Denis’ dance company and with the Ziegfeld Follies.  Ruth St. Denis’ dance company also featured Martha Graham and Florence O’Denishawn.  Hixon’s three portraits of Myers are considered to be among the finest of the surviving 11x14 glass negatives.
  1. Orval Hixon (self-portrait)
This undated self-portrait was likely taken around 1910 – 1913, when Orval Hixon was an apprentice to Kansas City studio photographer, Lyman Studebaker.  Hixon opened his own studio in 1914 on the third floor of the Brady Building, located at 1114 Main Street.  The Brady Building was destroyed by fire in 1918, and the opulent Newman Theatre was built on that site in 1919.  Hixon then moved his studio a block west to the first floor of the Baltimore Hotel.  
  1. Beverly Bayne, 1919
Beverly Bayne was one of the early silent movie pioneers in the 1910s and 1920s, and later developed a successful stage and Vaudeville career in the 1930s and 1940s.  In 1919-20, she and her husband, Francis X. Bushman, successfully toured the mystery play, The Master Thief, across the country.
  1. Sessue Hayakowa, 1925
Sessue Hayakowa was a handsome and flamboyant celebrity from the early days of Hollywood’s silent screen era, rivaling Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and John Barrymore in popularity. He was an actor, producer, author, martial artist, and an ordained Zen monk.  He appeared in over 80 motion pictures and received an Academy Award nomination in 1957 for Bridge On The River Kwai.  Orval Hixon created this portrait in Kansas City in 1925, when Hayakowa was 35.  
  1. Marmein Dancers
Sisters Irene and Miriam Marmein formed an American Vaudeville and concert dance act, The Marmein Dancers, which included Egyptian, Indian, Chinese and ballet pantomime dances.  In the early 1920s, they were joined by their younger sister, Phyllis.  Irene and Miriam appeared on the Keith Vaudeville circuit in 1915.  They joined the Orpheum circuit during the 1916-17 season and toured throughout the American and Canadian West and along the West Coast.  Their interpretive dance style and ballet pantomime, called Production Classique, was billed as “A Musical and Dancical Collaboration.”  The Marmein Dancers appeared at Carnegie Hall in four separate performances between 1924 and 1928; and they later performed with the New York Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.  The date of this portrait is not known.
  1. Ina Alcova, 1921
Ina Alcova was a Vaudeville ballet dancer during the 1910s and 1920s, known as The Flying Alcova.  In this portrait, Hixon initially photographed Alcova laying in position on a table to create the illusion of motion.  He then dissolved the image of the table from his 11 x 14 inch glass negative and painted the background with lampblack.  He then etched and brushed the painted portions of the negative so that it appears that Alcova is flying out of the darkness and into the sunlight in a stormy landscape.  
  1. Mary Florence “Babe” Egan
Babe Egan was a violinist and bandleader of an all-women orchestra, the “Hollywood Redheads,” that was a very successful touring vaudeville act from 1924 until 1933.  The date of this portrait is not known.
  1. Maurice Barrett, 1922
Maurice Barrett was an American actor, Broadway director, a Hollywood writer and director, and a writer, director, and actor on radio and television.  After an illustrious career in the entertainment industry, he pursued rabbinical studies and was ordained as a rabbi at the age of 77.  Barrett appeared on the stage with Otis Skinner and played opposite Julia Marlowe in Shakespearean plays. Among Barrett’s favorite roles was portraying a Hindu character in “The Master of Ballentrae,” “The Hindu,” and “The Eyes of the Youth”.  In this portrait, Barrett poses in a velvet turban and Nehru-collared shirt.  Although Hixon customarily retouched all of his photographs during the development process, Barrett insisted that this portrait was not to be retouched.  
  1. Jeanette Hackett
Jeanette Hackett was an acclaimed American Vaudeville dancer, actress and choreographer who made her Vaudeville debut in a hula dance at the age of 9.  For the next eight years, she toured with her brother, Albert, in their own act.  Jeanette’s mother, Florence, was a noted silent film star, as was her sister-in-law, Blanche Sweet. In 1919, Hackett began headlining a large-scale flash act with St. Louis native, Harry Delmar.  Flash dancing was a form or tap or jazz dance that combined dance with acrobatics.  The act included a large ensemble of other dancers.  The act eventually became known as “Harry Delmar’s Revels,” and ran for 112 performances on Broadway.
  1. Pearl Magley
Pearl Magley was born in Scotland and married Guy Magley, from Joplin, Missouri, in the mid-1910s.  They toured nationally and internationally with their popular Vaudeville dance act in the 1910s and 1920s.  One of their acclaimed routines, “Dance Stories,” was popular in 1921, about the time that this undated portrait was make.  
  1. O’Hanlon and Zambuni
Kathleen O’Hanlon and her husband, Theadore Zambuni, were both born in Samos, Greece.  Billed as the “Greatest European Character Dancers,” O’Hanlon and Zambuni toured on the B.F Keith Vaudeville circuit in “A Cabaret in Cuba, ”and later with Shubert in his 1921 musical revue, “The Century Revue.”  They helped to popularize the Tango among American audiences. In this portrait, Hixon captured O’Hanlon and Zambuni in an intimate flamenco dance pose, with each dancer’s posture in complete harmony with the other’s. Hixon chemically manipulated the background of this photograph to enhance the central figures, adding light auras that highlight and swirl around the dancers.
  1. Bothwell Browne, 1920
Bothwell Browne was among the leading, glamorous female impersonator who won fame on the Vaudeville circuit during the early 20th century.  Born in Copenhagen in 1877, Bothwell grew up in San Francisco where he developed and launched his vaudeville act. In September 1920, “Bothwell Browne and his Bathing Beauties,” appeared as the headline act at Kansas City’s Orpheum Theater on Baltimore Avenue, between 12th and 13th Streets.    
  1. Herbert Clifton, 1921
Herbert Clifton was an English-born female impersonator who toured on the American Vaudeville circuit from 1910 until the early 1930s.  He was billed as “The Male Soprano” and was featured in the 1914 edition of the “Ziegfeld Follies.”  His wife accompanied him on the piano and sang while he made his quick costume changes.  She also wrote his musical arrangements.    
  1. Theodore Kosloff, 1918
Theodore Kosloff was a Russian ballet dancer, choreographer, and actor who graduated from the Russian Imperial Theater in 1901. He toured internationally with the Diaghilev Ballet Company before arriving in the United States in 1909. In 1918-19, at the time Hixon created this portrait, Kosloff was appearing on the stage as an actor in the revival of The Awakening.  Kosloff had a tumultuous romantic relationship with the famous costume and set designer, Natacha Rambova, in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and they danced on the Vaudeville stage during that time.  Kosloff shot Rambova with a shotgun when she tried to leave him.  Rambova survived the assault, and later married Rudolph Valentino.