The Dodge Twins
Known in the USA and Europe during the Jazz Age as ‘the two birds of Paradise’, the Dodge Twins sang, danced and dressed as birds and whistled. They seemingly emerged out of nowhere in the mid-20s with a singing and dancing act that took Europe by storm.
Beth and Betty Dodge were born Dora Beth and Betty in Sprague, Washington in about 1909. From San Francisco, they made their stage debut on the coast where they appeared as dancers in picture house presentations. Despite their limited stage experience, their allure as a twin sister act emulating the hugely successful Dolly Sisters, made them a valuable property. In July 1925, while performing in New York, they were signed by a booking agent called Karl Lindsay for two years and agreed to appear in London and Europe. This was the making of their career.
Chaperoned by their mother Dorothy, and at the rather tender age of 16, they arrived in Southampton aboard Mauretania from New York on 21 December 1925 and stepped into Julian Wylie’s musical Turned Up at the New Oxford in January 1926. A peppy show ‘beloved of the young moderns’ it was based on a farcical situation whereby a brother and sister discover they have two mothers and two fathers. It was ‘full of jolly tunes, super-speed dancing, topical humour and gorgeousness’. The leads were Jack Melford, Lupino Lane, Vesta Sylva and Anita Elson while Danny Graham and the Dodge Twins provided speciality dancing numbers.
In the ‘Castles in Spain’ scene with Miss Giannina Doria and a chorus costumed in Spanish dresses, the Dodge Twins appeared in ‘some striking creations’ designed by Dolly Tree. One of these costumes had a train designed on the principle of a peacock tail either to trail on the ground or to stand up as a background for the wearers. Turned Up did well at the New Oxford, but after 90 performances, any chance of a longer run was terminated when the freehold of the theatre was sold and as a result the show was sent out as two touring companies.
The Dodge Twins meanwhile had already been snapped up by C.B. Cochran and had been doubling in his new cabaret show at the Trocadero Grill Room called Supper Time (that ran from February until October) with stunning costumes designed by Doris Zinkeisen. The show featured Kingsley Lark as compere and vocalist along with the Mathano Brothers (comedy skaters), Danny Graham (eccentric dancer also from Turned Up) and Marjorie Robertson. There were three main ensembles: ‘Scotch and Irish’, ‘Venetian Carnival’ with a series of delightful eighteenth century venetian costumes and ‘The Progress of the Dance’ which started with the graceful minuet of 1816 and was followed by the waltz of 1859, the polka of 1885 and finished with the jazz dances of the time. The Stage thought that Dodge Twins act were ‘the usual American ‘sister’ one, unmusical, high speed, bizarre’ but added that they were ‘full of pep’.
At the same time the sisters were also featured in The Empress Rooms (in the fashionable Royal Palace Hotel in Kensington) in their one-off Sunday night cabarets along with Hatch and Carpenter (an act like Layton and Johnson), Huxter brothers (comic acrobats) and Carr and Parr (eccentric comedians).
By the early summer of 1926, the Dodge Twins had left Cochran’s Supper Time show and had joined the management of the New Princes Restaurant. This prestigious cabaret venue in Piccadilly had taken a three-year lease on the old Karsino casino on Tagg’s island in the Thames near Hampton Court, and after refurbishment, re-opened as The Palm Beach on 8 May 1926.
The intention was to convert this island into a miniature version of Palm Beach, Florida by placing thousands of tons of sand, palm trees, sunshades, beach chairs and a fleet of motor-boats, punts and canoes for river merrymakers. Guests were picked up from central London and conveyed by motorcar free of charge, although one wonders how much admission, lodgings and refreshments cost.
Beaumont Alexander, MD of the New Princes put on a nightly show in the famous ballroom featuring Jack Smith, an American gramophone and radio star known as ‘the whispering baritone’ singing the latest American popular songs, Frank Masters, White Bud, the horse with a human mind, the dancer Terpsichore, Jean Rai and Alfredo’s band. The Dodge Twins delighted audiences with their ‘Peacock dance’ from Turned Up. But the experiment in creating an out-of-town summer rendezvous simply did not catch on.
On 12 July the Dodge Twins began a short season at the Coliseum variety theatre in London before leaving for Berlin. On 18 August 1926, they opened in Herman Haller’s spectacular revue An Und Aus (In and Out) at the Admiral Palast, Berlin along with La Jana, Alice Hechy, Trude Hesterberg and Ruth Zackey. The show ran through until 22 March 1927 and was then transferred to the Apollo Theatre, Vienna (25/3/27 – 28/4/26) and in a theatre in Dresden for a short run from 1 May 1927 (in which the Sisters did not appear). During their stay in Berlin they were lured into German movies and appeared in Conrad Wiene’s Unter Ausschlub Der Offentlichkeit (1927) and Willi Wolff’s Dei Schonsten Beine von Berlin (1927).
Arriving back in New York they secured a run at the Palace Theatre in vaudeville before a short tour of the Orpheum vaudeville circuit from mid April 1927. Variety observed ‘they played over here without attracting attention but abroad they caught on with a bang’ and thought they had ‘class’. The act seemingly was derived from some of their ‘turns’ in London and Berlin and included a boy and girl flirtation number in German, a sort of dance while seated in chairs, a whistling number and an odd routine of splits. They sang in German, French and English terminating with their own ideas of a dance number by twins. They seemingly toured through the early part of the summer and in mid-May jumped from Philadelphia to Oakland, California opening at the Orpheum Theatre.
Back in New York they headed across the Atlantic once more aboard Mauretania arriving in Southampton 23 August 1927 and took up their parts in the new musical Oh Kay staged at His Majesty’s Theatre from 21 September 1927. With music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and a book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse it had originally opened on Broadway in 1926, with Gertrude Lawrence and Victor Moore. The London run, a year later, also starred Gertrude Lawrence with John Kirby. The plot revolved around the adventures of the Duke of Durham and his sister, Lady Kay, English bootleggers in Prohibition Era America. Kay finds herself falling in love with a man who seems unavailable. The Dodge Twins were given dramatic parts in the production as the Ruxton Twins besides offering their usual dance routines. According to Theatre World, the dancing of the Dodge Twins was the best non Gertrude Lawrence feature.
By October, the Kit Cat club had secured them to double in their prestigious cabaret in the Haymarket, but the management of His Majesty’s stopped them and a row broke out about their contract which the twins claimed allowed them to perform in cabaret. Clearly they were not able to get out of the enforcement and so left the show at the end of the year (they were replaced by the Tosh Twins) with perhaps the biggest accolade and highlight of their career to date – star billing at the Folies Bergere in Paris, an engagement that they landed by sheer luck.
Despite assurances in late 1927, following serious illness, that the Dolly Sisters would retire, they had signed to headline in the new Folies Bergere show in January 1928. Seemingly they must have been able to wriggle out of their contract because at the last minute the Dodge Twins took their place in La Grande Folie that opened 8 February 1928.
As usual for the Folies Bergere, La Grande Folie was a huge production with 2 acts and 60 tableaux produced by Louis Lemarchand with a host of stars including Smolinska, Randall, Colette Jove, Tamara and Roberts and Georgie Graves. Oddly, the Dodge Twins only appeared in three scenes: Passez Muscade (Hey Presto) with Randall; A Tire D’Ailes (On the Wing) as feathered canaries and Les Elegantes aux Eventails (the Elegant Fans). Perhaps because they stepped into the Dolly Sisters shoes at the last minute this was all that could be rehearsed and staged given the time constraints.
The show achieved the usual success and the Dodge Twins swiftly became part of the American contingent in Paris and in June 1928 took part in the American ball at Claridges with fellow Americans Harry Pilcer, Miss Florence and Gypsy Rhoumage.
After nearly two years in Europe the Dodge Twins returned to New York aboard Majestic ready to appear in the Shubert revue A Night in Venice (21/5/29 – 10/29) at the Shubert Theatre. Staged by Busby Berkeley, the show also starred Ted Healy and Ann Seymour and featured the Chester Hale troupe and the Allan K. Foster Girls. The Dodge Twins were featured in six numbers : a dancing introduction; Fans; the Grand Staircase; the Lido Shores; Loose Ankles and Lessons in French.
After their success for the Shubert’s they seemingly returned to vaudeville and then in early February were hired by MGM to appear in a big all star cast musical. The story of the making of this film is fascinating. Metro’s part-Technicolor cavalcade of the entertainment business from 1890s to the present was originally called From Broadway to Heaven but renamed The March of Time (production 462). The plot concerned three generations of one family, the Hacketts, a popular literary and stage theme of the period and had a vast cast including Van and Schenck, Weber and Fields, Marie Dressler, The Duncan Sisters and dozens of other leading players. It was planned to make the film in two sections: the past and the present.
Filming began on ‘the past’ segment in December 1929 and stopped at the beginning of February 1930 while additional numbers were added to ‘the present’ sequence. This included The Dodge Sisters in two numbers ‘A Girl, a Fan, and a Fella’ and ‘Lock Step Prison’ and sequences with the Albertina Rasch dancers and production resumed.
During filming the title was changed again to The Revue of 1930 and it was completed in June 1930. However, when previewed there were serious concerns about the film in light of a sharp decline in audience interest in musical films and the fact it was thought that many of the vaudeville performers did not register well and lacked screen technique. MGM decided against releasing the film and planned instead to cut up the musical numbers for interpolation in musical shorts.
At the end of March 1931, MGM released a German Version of the film called Wir Schalten Un Auf Hollywood (We Are Switching Gears to Hollywood) containing three of the 2-Strip Technicolor numbers ‘Lock Step’ and ‘The Fan Episode’ with the Dodge Sisters and ‘Poor Little G String’ with the Albertina Rasch Girls. One wonders if this release had anything to do with the fact that the Dodge Twins had been highly successful in the Haller revue in Berlin a few years earlier. However, this was not the end of the story and in 1933, MGM revived the production with a new cast playing the original characters and some of the original footage retained. It was released as Broadway to Hollywood in September 1933.
Back in New York in the spring of 1930, the Dodge Twins resumed their vaudeville engagements and during these shows Beth met Clarence Stroud (also a twin and in a stage act with his brother Claude and both 22, born in 1907). Both Claude and Clarence had been married before. Clarence had been married to Betty Wheeler (previously married to Bert Wheeler, the comedian for 11 years). Betty had insisted that Clarence split with Claude in their dancing act and that they should develop their own act. Sadly, it was not a success and Clarence returned to his brother. Betty gained a divorce. Claude had been married to another twin called Thelma White but had divorced in December 1929 because she could never be sure whether she was giving her affections to Claude or Clarence. In fact she got fed up having Clarence around all the time.
When Clarence married Beth in May 1930, Beth announced that when they finished their current engagements she would leave the stage behind and become a housewife. Claude beleived that twins were a bad matrimonial risk and told the happy couple his opinion. ‘They ought not to have done it. It’s risky enough for ordinary people to get married these days but when anybody marries a twin the risk is prohibitive. Don’t I know? I am a twin myself. And when a twin marries another twin it is simply flying in the face of providence. I ought to know.’ Later, he forgot his words advice and in 1941 married twin Gloria Brewster. Beth’s marriage to Clarence was all too brief and within a short space of time the couple were divorced as Claude predicted.
In early 1931, the Dodge Twins were lured back to vaudeville once again in a new act assisted by Jack Allen and Moe Kent. Their routine was well mounted and beautifully costumed and included their bird imitations and whistling in an attractive spring-time woodland scene. Despite performing through the Spring, in May1931 the Dodge Twins filed a petition of bankruptcy with $4863 liabilities.
Then the following year on 15 May 1932, Beth remarried Clarence in San Francisco and had two children Beth (born 1933) and Charles (born 1936). Things did last the second time around and in April 1938 living with her parents in Chicago, Mrs Clarence Stroud won her second divorce from her talkative radio-comedian husband on grounds of cruelty and was granted $30 weekly for her two children.