- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) - For many years the premier theater in Muskogee was the Hinton Theater located downtown. Other opera houses had existed before the Hinton, but most were small and often were destroyed by the many fires experienced in Muskogee’s early years.

In 1904, a St. Louis investor named G.H. Johnson proposed to build a new theater at the corner of Third and Court streets. To finance the construction, citizens of Muskogee sold seating for the opening event at $10 per seat. This raised $10,000 - a princely sum in 1904. The theater was completed the following year and named the Hinton Theater after a well-known entertainment entrepreneur named William Hinton.

The Muskogee Phoenix (https://bit.ly/1iBr85x ) reports In 1906, a young man named Bert Ballou was hired to manage the Hinton and oversee the many theater companies and vaudeville acts that visited in those early years. His mother came to Muskogee with him, and they occupied rooms on the second floor of the theater, where storage rooms for props and dressing rooms for the performers were also located.

Mrs. Ballou, or Madame Ballou as she preferred to be called, gave an interview for the Muskogee Times Democrat many years later. She recalled the glory days of the theater when she ran a beauty parlor from her room on the second floor. She saw all the great “leading ladies” come to Muskogee and knew all the hair dressing secrets of these stars of the stage.

Madame Ballou claimed that she was the first “hair dresser” in Muskogee, but a search of the 1905 city directory reveals two other women who listed hair dresser as their occupation. That term is significant for in those days before World War I women rarely cut their hair, and dying one’s hair was nearly a scandalous thing to do.

The “beauty parlors” of that day “dressed” the hair of all the fashionable ladies. Madame Ballou boasted that her hair had reached to her knees, and most of her clients also had such long strands. The style of the day was to create elaborate piles of curls with ribbons, bows and strands of faux pearls intertwined.

According to Madame, she followed the very Victorian fashion of keeping a few canaries in elaborate cages in her hair dressing parlor. The walls were lined with theater posters of all the famous actresses, many of whom she had the privilege of meeting when they came to perform on the Hinton stage.

Usually, theses leading ladies traveled with their own personal maid who would dress their hair. But occasionally, Madame Ballou would be called upon to assist or step in when a maid was sick. Two of her favorite actresses that she enjoyed meeting were Violet Barney, who had beautiful hair, and the inimitable Ethel Barrymore, who had a serene beauty and a commanding voice.

Madame also saw all the backstage drama as members of the stock companies bustled about getting ready for a performance. Sometimes the stars would throw fits if something didn’t suit them right. Sometimes she witnessed the blossoming romances or rakish flirtations that went on behind the scenes.

Mrs. Ballou was a romantic herself, and one of her favorite occupations was styling the hair of the young Muskogee women for their wedding day or an important dance. She even arranged a romance of her own, steering a young client named Lucy Drake toward her eligible son. Within a month of their first meeting, Bert and Lucy were married.

In her interview, Madame bemoaned the changes that had come to hair styling over the years. The era of the “flapper” meant bobbed hair suspiciously dyed a dramatic black. The elaborate excesses of the late Victorian time period had faded away, but she had her memories of when a woman’s hair was her glory in the glory days of the theater.


Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, https://www.muskogeephoenix.com

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