Illinois and Iroquois theaters intertwined
Will J. Davis managed two theaters in Chicago:
the Iroquois and the Illinois.
Klaw & Erlanger productions were playing at
both: Mr. Bluebeard and The Billionaire.
The star of Billionaire, Jerome Sykes,
died of pneumonia two days before the fire and Davis
was at his funeral in the chapel at Rolston's
Undertaking at 5435 Lake, about eight miles from the
Iroquois Theater, when he
received a telephone call (probably from
Iroquois business manager, or
Willie Davis, his son)
that the Iroquois was on fire.
Sykes death had resulted in The Billionaire being
cancelled, putting most of the cast out of work.
A Billionaire quartette sang at his funeral
but some of Sykes' fellow cast
to the Mr. Bluebeard matinee
at the Iroquois instead of his funeral. Two of those died and joined
the list of Iroquois Theater fire victims: Clarence
Burr Scott (see right) and Arthur Caville
Two who purchased tickets the Iroquois Theater
matinee but changed their
minds at the last minute were sisters
Nellie and Mae Folis. Nellie played the
role of Pansy Good in The Billionaire.
Jerome Sykes, comic star
Sykes performed the role of John Doe
in Harry B. Smith’s The Billionaire at the
In addition to their professional association, Davis
and Sykes were probably friends, going back many
years. Sykes had grown to stardom
alongside Davis’ wife,
Jessie Bartlett Davis, when the pair were
together with the Bostonians company performing
Robin Hood. Sykes played Guy of Gisborne and
Jessie played Alan a Dale.
Billionaire manager sent faulty report to Klaw &
Before the scope of the
disaster was known, Benjamin Stevens,
manager of The Billionaire company,
reported to Klaw and Erlanger that the Mr. Bluebeard scenery was a
but that some costumes were saved and reports of
fatalities were exaggerated with no
more than one hundred fifty dead.
Caville (b. 1879)
Twenty-four-year-old Arthur was a
tenor in the chorus. An English immigrant, he
lived in New York at 54 26th
street with his wife of four years, Lillian
Caville. His body was identified by
Louis B. Foley.* Reportedly Caville had been seriously wounded while serving in the
British army during the Boer war. The
Billionaire was the third musical in which he
appeared during 1903, the other two being John Henry,
and A Son of Rest.
After his death, Lillian,
was interviewed by a New York newspaper.
She was too penniless to travel to Chicago to
attend her husband's funeral or transport his body
back to New York. The pair had come to America from
England after their marriage four years earlier.
Other cast members told Lillian that Arthur was at
the Iroquois to apply for a job and was told to step
into the auditorium while waiting for the manager's
return. Reportedly he died
while trying to
save a child. Lillian said she was a professional
pianist who would work hard to support herself if
given the opportunity.
I found nothing with which to verify the residence
or immigration of Lillian and Arthur Caville.
Clarence Burr Scott aka Harry
Hudson (b. 1882)
The real name of the twenty-one
year old actor who went by the
stage name Harry Hudson
was Clarence Burr Scott and he was from
The clipping above features an arresting
newspaper story about something that didn't happen.
Scott was a member of the audience, not performing, and was most probably seated
in the second or third floor balcony. Had he managed to
get to the stage, at least one of the hundreds of audience members who testified
would have mentioned a man on the stage engulfed in a flaming curtain.
None did. The story came out of
Scott's hometown in Binghamton, NY and was picked up by many out of town
newspapers. Chicago papers omitted the business about the flaming curtain,
probably because they recognized it as inaccurate. .
funeral was held at the Tabernacle Methodist
Episcopal Church, the service conducted by Rev. Dr.
A. W. Hays. He was buried in the family
plot at Floral Park Cemetery in Johnson City, NY.
Clarence was the son of a
Binghamton, NY grocer, Lewis D. Scott
(1853-1930). He had a a younger brother and sister.
Before going on the stage,
Clarence worked as a clerk in
his father's store. In the years after
the fire, Lewis relocated to Virgil, NY and took up
* Lou "LB" Foley played the
role of "Hot Stuff Jake" in The Billionaire.
After a career of a half dozen shows 1900 -1904, he
retired, married, moved to Detroit and became a
retail furniture merchant.