Science Service, Up Close: Watson Comes Home

Itinerary for Watson Davis's European Trip, August-October 1925. Record Unit 7091: Science Service, After successfully completing his 1925 European business trip, 29-year-old Watson Davis headed home on the S.S. Republic, boarding at Cherbourg, France, on October 2. The science journalist had covered the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and discussed with Sir Richard Gregory (Editor of the journal Nature) the plausibility of establishing a “British Science Service” modeled on the American venture. Davis had met with scientists in Berlin and Geneva and arrived in Paris on September 22. Along the way, he gathered science news, solidified valuable contacts for future news, and hired new correspondents. He even found time to fire the current British stringer for Science Service because he was “full of whisky most of the time and ... not at all in favor with the scientists.”

Menu for the Captain's Dinner, S.S. Republic, October 10, 1925. Record Unit 7091: Science Service, R In September 2015, the Archives invited readers of The Bigger Picture to help in identifying newly digitized photographs that Davis took during his 1925 European travels. Like many a tourist before and since, Davis also kept a few paper mementos to supplement his snapshots.

Davis's table partners for the special Captain's Dinner on Saturday, October 10, 1925, included Detroit businessman Jefferson T. Wing, and two sisters from Webster Grove, Missouri, Dorothy and Bessie Young. The menu was sprinkled with cultural references (“Canapé, Fin-de-siècle,” “Braised Duckling à la Marc Twain,” and “Washington Tart”) and what may have been celebrations of popular crew members or passengers (“Potage à la Liliencron” and “Salad Emma”).

Program for Entertainment onboard S.S. Republic, October 10, 1925. Record Unit 7091: Science Service It was the evening’s entertainment, however, that capped the voyage. Two amateur acts were cancelled because of exceptionally rough seas. The Swiss accordionist bowed out, and ten-year-old Eleanor Katherine Roosevelt, a relative of Franklin’s, did not perform her “Baby Pavlova” dance. Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed two special treats by professional entertainers returning home to the United States. The Lorraine Sisters (Edna and Della) had just kicked, shimmied, twisted, and twirled in the “Piccadilly Revels” at the Kit Kat Club in London. Vaudeville actors Leon Kimberly and his wife Helen Page had completed a successful European tour.

Davis wrote a typically pleonastic account of the evening, which he titled “ON THE BOARDS ABOARD, or BARNSTORMING DURING A STORM” (Record Unit 7091: Science Service, Records, c. 1910-1963, Box 78, Folder 2):

The place was the social hall of the United States Lines S.S. Republic at sea some 600 miles from New York. The time was Saturday evening, Oct. 10. The occasion was the grand concert of the Republic’s voyage from Europe to America held for the entertainment of the passengers and the benefit of seaman’s charities at the ports of call of the vessel and the Actors Fund of the United States.

Outside the night was dark and stormy and a gale raged seemingly determined to keep the ship at sea. Inside the salon gales of laughter and applause raged determined to prolong the performance. ...

Headlining the bill were two teams well-known to vaudeville on both sides of the Atlantic: Leon Kimberly and Helen Page, and the Lorraine Sisters. These artists were returning to America for the winter season after playing Great Britain and Ireland and spending some holiday weeks on the Continent.

When Edna and Della Lorraine flashed on the dance floor surrounded by eager and lucky first row seat holders and tickled noses with toes and willowy plume fans, even the sea seemed for a time to bring itself into the rhythm of their dance. Hero medals of the first class have been awarded to both of them for endangering life and limb in providing entertainment at sea, for acrobatic dancing on a ship riding a severe gale is not a performance without risks. Yet the sea seemed to appreciate their efforts and applause showed plainly that the passengers of the Republic were fully as enthusiastic as dry land audiences can be. Two numbers, ‘The Fan Dance’ and ‘The Charleston,’ in spite of difficulties caused by the sea, were danced with complete success and approval.

Kimberly and Page, accompanied by the ship’s orchestra, performed one of their most popular skits, “The Heart Broker,” a satire about letters to the lovelorn.

Helen Page ... played opposite her husband in a portion of the sketch that has entertained both the American and British public in the last few months. They literally glided through their act, due to the motion of the ship, and the waves often reinforced Helen’s comedy punches. Leon’s songs and lovesickness for his wife and team-mate cured numerous cases of seasickness; in fact, after the concert the chief surgeon took his first breathing spell since the beginning of the storm two days before. Leon chose this occasion for the debut of a new song that he will introduce to the public in his coming tour in America. Under the influence of the sentiment of the concluding ‘I Love You’ of the song, it is understood that several couples on board will announce their engagement as soon as the ship lands in New York.

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