116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A hundred years ago, New Year’s Eve 1922 fell on a Sunday. That meant the revelry had to be toned down.
Cedar Rapids Police Chief Leonard Morrison and Linn County Sheriff Thomas Avery announced that public dances and parties “would not be tolerated until after the clock strikes 12 and the calendar is turned to 1923.”
So Cedar Rapidians celebrated a little early, turning out to see comedian and singer Sir Henry “Harry” Lauder on Dec. 27, 1922, at the Majestic Theater at A Avenue and Third Street NE.
Lauder, who performed in Cedar Rapids as early as 1914 at Greene’s Opera House, had worked as a coal miner in Scotland before he became an entertainer.
While he was swinging his pick at the coal overhead, he sang, entertaining the other miners. That led to him performing in local concert halls, sometimes earning 50 cents a night.
His singing got him a job with a professional company in Lancashire, Scotland, for $7 a week. After 14 years of performing in Scotland, Lauder went to London where his career took off.
He performed all over the world -- including Iowa -- and became one of the highest paid performers of his time.
In 1911, Lauder became the first British artist to sell a million records. And in 1919, King George V knighted Lauder for his service entertaining troops during World War I.
Cedar Rapids stop
Only hours after Lauder and his wife, Annie, arrived in Cedar Rapids for his 1922 show, they received a Gazette reporter in their private train car.
“Sir Harry wore his MacLeod kilt with bare knees, socks of wool and low shoes,” The Gazette reported. “Around his belt hung his furry sporran (a traditional Scottish Highland pouch that serves as a pocket). His coat of brown wool was open at the neck showing what appeared to be a regular American shirt with soft collar. Comfort and character were written all over his costume.”
Asked if he remembered David Smith, the Cedar Rapids Country Club golf pro Lauder had met when he performed in Cedar Rapids in 1914, Lauder said he did.
It turns out Lauder knew Smith when they both lived and played golf at a summer resort in Carnoustie, Scotland. Both worked in the same factory after Lauder had left coal mining. Lauder gave a concert there one year that lost money, and Smith helped him out by paying half the bill.
Smith had left Cedar Rapids in 1920 to become the golf pro at a Salt Lake City country club, and Lauder said he planned on looking him up when his tour went west.
Lauder -- known for his infectious laugh, kilt, tam o’shanter, briar pipe and crooked blackthorn walking stick -- asked the Gazette reporter to relay a New Year’s message to Cedar Rapidians:
“Joy be yours this festive tide/ May all your cares and sorrows slide/ Away and far and crumpled up./ May ye have a brimming cup/ O’ happiness and comfy days/ This is my wish with thee, friends, always.”
Iowa City, 1927
Lauder, who toured the states 22 times in his career, visited Iowa City in March 1927 and took in a basketball game at the new Iowa Fieldhouse.
“You know that was the first basketball game I have ever seen, and it was a very strenuous game,” he said. “They must have their hearts tested by a physician to play such a game. I never heard so much shouting at players.”
He explained there was little shouting at games in Scotland.
The singer made several appearances before large audiences at the Majestic and the Shrine Temple in Cedar Rapids and would find time while in the city to visit an old friend, the Rev. R.J. Campbell of Grace Episcopal Church.
Lauder talked to Gazette reporter Naomi Doebel on the day of a Feb. 17, 1930, performance at the Shrine Temple. Lauder talked to her from over the top of the newspaper he was reading while lying in his bed at the Hotel Montrose.
Doebel reported she found Lauder in “blue and gray striped pajamas, hidden almost to the shoulder by fluffy blue and white woolen blankets. On one post of his four-poster bed hung a green plaid vest, and on the adjoining twin bed were flung his coats and little cap. The well-known Lauder cane was hung on the rail at the end of the bed. Somewhat reluctantly he laid aside the paper to talk of thrift.”
The Scots are known for their thrifty ways, and Lauder talked about growing up in a family of seven children and “working since I was 12 years of age.”
Lauder died Feb. 26, 1950. “I suppose a man can’t go on forever – although I’d be perfectly willing to,” he said before his death.