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.
Syke's death had resulted in The Billionaire being
canceled, 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 b. 1867
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 Bostonian's company performing
Robin Hood. Sykes played Guy of Gisborne and
Jessie played Alan a Dale.
Billionaire manager sent a faulty report to Klaw &
Before newspaper headlines
and death lists portrayed the nature of the
disaster, Benjamin Stevens,
manager of The Billionaire company,
sent a grossly inaccurate report Klaw and
Erlanger. In it he described
Mr. Bluebeard scenery a
total loss, some costumes as salvageable and
that there were no more than one hundred fifty
Caville (b. 1879)
Twenty-four-year-old Arthur was a
tenor in the Billionaire chorus. An English immigrant, he
lived in New York at 54 26th
street with his wife of four years, Lillian
Caville. Louis B.
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.
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 many out of town newspapers repeated
it. 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. Buriel was 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 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