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Entertainment in Beaumont has news roots

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday December 12, 1998.

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NEDERLAND—The date of Nov. 6, 1980 marked the Centennial anniversary of Beaumont Enterprise, and an anniversary edition celebrated that occasion. The newspaper founders were John W. Leonard and Thomas A. Lamb.

What most Beaumonters do not know is that Leonard and Lamb and their wives were also the founders of local or Little Theater productions here as well.

In 1880 they and others organized the Beaumont Histrionic (theatrical) Society. There is a long record of perhaps 20 years of that society’s productions, but it did not survive beyond 1900. The Beaumont Little Theater organized about 20 years later.

However, John W. Leonard always seemed loathe to admit his complicity in the theater. In May-June, 1881, the histrionic society, "with the connivance of the management of The Enterprise Company," presented two performances, named "Poor Pillicoddy" and "A Quiet Family."

"...The Beaumont amateurs performed last night at the Blanchette Opera House," noted the newspaper. "As the whole of the editorial staff of the Enterprise belong to the company, it would not be quite proper for us to write up the performance at any length..."

In Nov. 1885, the "...Histrionic Club of Beaumont was greeted by a large audience at Orange, where the players presented... "Among the Breakers...’" In June 1886, the "...Beaumont Histrionics, a group composed entirely of local talent, played to a sell-out audience at Crosby Opera House..."

In Jan. 1887, a Galveston newspaper reported that "...members of the Beaumont Histrionics have served for about six years and have become quite proficient..."

The writer knows that some early performances were held to help pay off indebtedness of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, of which the Leonard and Lamb families helped to organize. In fact, one article of 1892 reported that:

"...The musical and dramatic entertainments at Goodhue Opera House last evening were for the benefit of Episcopal Church. The "Doll’s Drill" was one of the cutest plays to be seen in this age. The "Last Loaf" was also well-played by our amateur talent..."

Later in 1892, a Galveston paper reported that the "...Beaumont Histrionics are rehearsing the charming drama "Maud Mueller..."

The four decades between 1880 and 1920 were the golden age of vaudeville in Beaumont, as well as of traveling circuses and other entertainment. The first traveling troupes did not reach Beaumont before April, 1881, after the through railroad to New Orleans had been completed. The first troupe to arrive was the Fay Templeton Star Alliance, which presented three programs, all billed as "operas."

Beginning in 1881, at least one traveling circus visited Beaumont during each succeeding year. In 1882 Beaumonters began riding excursion trains to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. And by 1885, each local sawmill had its own baseball team.

Surely pioneer Beaumonters worked hard - of that there can be no denial, but they played hard as well, to the fullest extent that their economic status and the frontier circumstances would permit.

W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author.

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