CDCR Time Capsule

1923: Souvenir booklet offers glimpse into San Quentin New Year’s celebration

People stand in front of a San Quentin prison building.
Performers and those involved in putting on the 1923 New Year's show at San Quentin gather for a photo at the prison.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

A 1923 souvenir program guide for San Quentin’s annual New Year’s celebration hearkens back to a time before modern films, computers and streaming services.

Preserved by the University of California at Berkeley, the guide features photographs, the performance schedule and a letter of thanks from the warden.

Stage staff directs the prison show

A list of Bay Area names peppers the document. “Hitch” King served as the master of ceremonies. Adolph Dohring was stage director and Ernie Hoffman served as the operator.

Music was performed by the Golden Gate Theater Orchestra under the direction of Claude M. Sweeten. The band played “Dancing Fool” and “Toot Toot Tootsie” during the “opening overture,” according to the brochure. King is listed in the program as performing “Just Looking Around.”

Also on the list were Professor Lopa and his Four Hawaiian Wonders, the Remick-Witmark Trio “performing their hits,” Musical Walsh the “musical cook,” Tom Galloway, Harry Hume singing Irving Berlin’s songs, Billy Green, Savant, Mitchel’s Jazz Maniacs, Al Hyndman and the California Melody Five, Charles Blanchfield, and the show wrapped up with Mendel and Caeser’s Jazzology.

Letter of appreciation

Warden James A. Johnston penned a letter for the program, thanking all those who helped make the show possible.

“All the prisoners who were in San Quentin on New Year’s Day enjoyed the vaudeville show immensely, and they have asked me to express their appreciation to all those who so kindly contributed to their pleasure, particularly to Mr. Harry Ettling who planned and produced the show and secured the acts from many theaters and booking agencies,” he wrote. “To all of those who took part and contributed their talents, (we) of San Quentin, express our sincere appreciation and wish all heath, success and happiness.”

Ettling was “the property man at the Golden Gate theater,” according to news reports at the time.

Read more

Large group of people at San Quentin prison.
Actors and performers at the New Year’s show at San Quentin in 1923.