“In dreams only they had ever met
And at dawn he’d awake
Oh so lonely for his Juliet
And then he would take
His little sack and hit the road
A-picking rags at each abode
Poor little Ragamuffin Romeo” –Harry De Costa
When viewing the restored The King of Jazz (1930) film, the act that captivates my attention most is the energetic duo performance by Marion Stadler and Don Rose. In learning about the vaudeville backgrounds of several other performers in the film, the story of Stadler and Rose both on the camera and off has intrigued me. Though their appearance in the film is brief, their presence and skill as acrobatic dancers paired with light comedy is phenomenal.
Marion Eleanor Stadler was born on December 15, 1911. There are some conflicts as to her birthplace, as the 1930s census lists her being born in Illinois, while other documents claim that she was born in Huntington Park or Glendale, California. With these discrepancies taken into consideration, the 1930 census does indicate that her parents, Harold J. Stadler and Ella M. Weber Stadler were living with her grandmother, Johanna F. Stadler, in Pasadena, California. Johanna was listed as the head of the household. Of the residents, Harold is listed as maintaining a furniture store in town and being born in Illinois, while Ella was born in Germany. The store was located in the Atwater area and the family lived nearby. At the time of the census, Marion was well into her dancing career. She is listed as working as a dancer in the theater by age 18.
Stadler exhibited a fondness for dance at an early age. She took lessons to sharpen her skills and even treated her fellow graduating eighth-grade classmates to a special ballet performance executed by her. Soon enough, she would pursue this passion as a profession, teaming with Matt Duffin. While the partnership offered her strong experience with the rigors of traveling and performing with a teammate, their partnership lasted from 1926 to 1927.
The following year, Stadler partnered once again but with an individual who had no formal training as a dancer: Donald Crowne Rose, born on August 29, 1902, in Nevada. Instead of focusing upon dancing, he aimed to elicit laughter among audiences and to impress them by an acrobatic style of dancing with Stadler.
Stadler’s dancing style with him mimicked that of a ragdoll, being masterfully tossed about the stage by Rose and appearing to be totally malleable by his strong lead. As they toured the vaudeville circuit and grew in popularity, they made several appearances in different film shorts and in a Pathe featurette. As they continued to build upon their ragdoll act, they were booked as part of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic in 1929. Their act appeared at the New Amsterdam Theater’s rooftop theater in New York, working alongside the likes of torch singer Helen Morgan, the Duncan Sisters, and Paul Whiteman. After their engagement with Ziegfeld, they continued to tour in the Publix circuit as part of John Murray Anderson’s unit, touring Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Washington, D.C., Ohio, and Michigan.
In 1930, the duo also appeared in The King of Jazz, a Technicolor variety show with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra at the helm. The partners performed their ragdoll routine to the tune of “Ragamuffin Romeo,” sung by Jeanie Lang and George Giles, telling the story of a rag-collector who dreams up his very own rag mate. Once his fantasy comes true, Stadler and Rose launch into their ragdoll act in full force, with a routine that continues to entertain and excite audiences to this day. Though Stadler’s last name is misspelled “Stattler,” the routine is executed with intricate control and amazing energy.
While they rehearsed for the film, they were simultaneously working through a four-week booking at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, where they received praise from local critics. After the release of the film, the duo toured all over the world, with documented trips in Poland, England, Italy, and more. Along the way, their partnership was made all the more official by their marriage in 1936. Their extensive travels came to a close with the start of World War II.
Once the duo retired from dancing, they sought out other career pursuits together as they resided in Glendale, California. The couple remained married until Rose’s passing on September 4, 1987, after which Stadler lived on her own for a time. She retired to Rockhaven Sanitarium in 1994, a private mental health institution for women housed in a serene environment, where she developed many friendships, participated in the activities offered there, and spent time enjoying the gardens there. Stadler also shared her enthusiasm for dance with the community, screening a video of some of her dance routines there. Stadler remained at Rockhaven until her passing on December 23, 2011.
For further reading about Stadler and Rose, tour photos, and a sweet photo of them later in life, I highly recommend enjoying Rockhaven Sanitarium: The Legacy of Agnes Richards.
In 1930, Stadler lived at 981 Parkman St. in Pasadena, California, with her grandmother and parents. This is the property at present:
By 1947, she was living at 925 Centinela Ave. in Los Angeles, California. Here is the property today:
The address of the home she shared with Rose at 606 E Broadway is listed alongside the Village Laundro Meter in Glendale, California. The home no longer exists.
Rockhaven stood at 2713 Honolulu Avenue in Montrose, California. Among its residents were Stadler, Gladys Pearl Eley Baker (mother of Marilyn Monroe), Billie Burke, Peggy Fears, Josephine Dillon, Babe Egan, and Gwen Lee. It developed a reputation as a “Screen Actors’ Sanitarium,” frequently housing those connected to the entertainment industry. After changes in ownership and threats to raze the historic property, the City of Glendale purchased the property in 2007 for use as a community park. As of 2016, the site was considered for use as a mental health facility or shopping center. Despite objections by the City of Glendale, the Friends of Rockhaven successfully nominated the structure for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in April 2016. The Friends of Rockhaven work to protect the buildings and legacy of the property and host tours to educate the public in hopes of encouraging the restoration of the property and see it used as a public park or community center. Today, Rockhaven sits unoccupied but is very much in tact on the inside and outside.
Stadler’s scrapbooks highlighting her life and career are part of the New York Public Library’s collection, house in the Lincoln Center archives for dance.
Though Stadler and Rose are long gone, their act and partnership is lovingly preserved in The King of Jazz.