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Biographies
Elisabeth Kumm

Elisabeth Kumm

Elisabeth is a founding member of the Victoria Theatres Trust. Her series Pets of the Public was a regular feature of On Stage from 1999 to 2005, looking at “forgotten” nineteenth century performers. She continues to contribute articles for the THA website, and from 2018 has been editor of the THA Newsletter. As a theatrical historian and biographer she assisted Viola Tait with her book on pantomime – Dames, Principal Boys…and All That (published by Macmillan in 2001) and also worked with her on her memoirs I Have a Song to Sing (published by THA in 2018). Elisabeth has also undertaken research for the Riley/Hailes Scrapbook and JCW Scene Books projects. Most recently she has been working on the Falk Studios album project including acting as editor of The Falk Studios book (published by THA in 2021). 

Wednesday, 01 February 2023

Kissing Time Overview

Kissing Time

 

When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) was in America. For the next five years he remained there, keeping a healthy distance between himself and the hostilities. Though accused by some critics for displaying unpatriotic behaviour, poor eyesight made him ineligible for military service. He therefore chose to remain in the USA to concentrate on developing his career as a writer of amusing and witty lyrics for light escapist entertainment. During this time, he also continued to write comic stories featuring ‘Psmith’ and his character of ‘Jeeves’ made his first appearance in the serial Something New.

Prior to arriving in the USA, Wodehouse had already achieved some small success as a lyricist, having written and published his first song ‘Put Me in My Little Cell’ for the musical Sergeant Brue in 1904. In 1906 Seymour Hicks invited him to contribute a song to The Beauty of Bath—and for a short time his comic song ‘Mr. Chamberlain’ achieved some notoriety (a topical number which satirised the then British Parliamentary Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Chamberlain). It also marked his first collaboration with composer Jerome Kern. The following year, also for Hicks, he wrote and published two songs for The Gay Gordons, ‘Now That My Ship’s Come Home’ and ‘You, You, You’.

From 1908 Wodehouse’s career as an author and humourist started to take off. He was a frequent visitor to the USA where he would go to sell stories to magazines such as Collier’s and Cosmopolitan.

In late 1915 a chance meeting with Guy Bolton (1883-1979) presented an opportunity to write for Broadway. Born in Britain of American parents, Bolton’s career as a playwright and librettist was just beginning. During 1914/1915 he achieved success with the play The Rule of Three and had written librettos for three Jerome Kern musicals Ninety in the Shade, Nobody Home and Very Good Eddie, as well as the George M. Cohan musical Hit-the-Trail Holiday. It was at the Broadway opening of Very Good Eddie that the two were assumed to have first met, introduced by Kern. Bolton and Plum (Wodehouse’s nickname) soon became firm friends—and over the next thirty years they collaborated on no less than fifteen musical comedies and plays. In the period 1916-1919 their output was prodigious, working on some nine show together in a three-year period. Many of these productions featured music by Jerome Kern, the most successful of which premiered at New York’s Princess and New Amsterdam Theatres, earning them the collective title of the ‘Princess musicals’.

As Michel M. Miller, writing for the Operetta Research Centre in 2016, observes:

Although they worked together as a trio on only five shows over seven years, the influence of “Bolton, Wodehouse, and Kern” on the development of American musical theater was monumental. Sensing perhaps a need to fill the vacuum created by the war-induced absence of the Viennese and Hungarian operetta imports that had filled Broadway theaters since even before The Merry Widow, their shows featured not the exotic locales and the dukes and duchesses of operetta, nor the lavish spectacle of the Ziegfeld Follies, but rather the romantic and comic entanglements of everyday Americans, in current dress and modern dialogue. These shows forever changed the landscape of Broadway; Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and numerous others credited these musicals with inspiring their own development and quest for a theatrical style.

The first Broadway show that Wodehouse worked on as a lyricist was Miss Springtime, adapted from a Hungarian musical play Zsuzsi kisasszony (Miss Susie). Opening at the New Amsterdam Theatre in September 1916 (and running for 227 performances), it featured libretto by Guy Bolton and score by Emmerich Kalman and Jerome Kern. One song that did well was ‘My Castle in the Air’ which was recorded by George MacFarlane, who played the role of Jo Varady, a gypsy photographer.

In 1917, the trio of Bolton, Wodehouse and Kern worked on their first original musical comedy Have a Heart. Though Have a Heart only lasted three months at New York’s Liberty Theatre, with Eileen Van Biene and Thurston Hall as the leads, it spent two years on the road with two complete companies playing as Michel M. Miller observes ‘no fewer than 36 states and five Canadian provinces’.

The same team scored a sure-fire hit with their next musical, Oh, Boy!, which opened at the Princess Theatre in February 1917, just one month after Have a Heart. Notching up 475 performances it starred Tom Powers and Marie Carroll as George Budd and Lou Ellen Carter. Wodehouse’s song ‘Till the Clouds Roll By’ was one of the show’s most popular songs. With a change of title to Oh, Joy!, it played another 167 performances in London during 1919. Tom Powers revived his role of George with Dot Temple as his love interest. Supporting roles were filled by Beatrice Lillie (her stage debut) and Billy Leonard. This show represented a watershed in the development of the American musical—and as historian David A. Jasen later observed ‘established Bolton, Wodehouse and Kern as the innovators of the American musical comedy in the form it has taken today’.

In August 1917 the trio scored a modest success with Leave It to Jane. Not an original libretto this time but one based on the George Ade comedy The College Widow. With Edith Hallor as Jane, it achieved only 167 performances at the Longacre Theatre. The songs ‘The Crickets Are Calling’ and ‘The Siren’s Song’ were well liked, but the show did not reach the level of Oh, Boy!

For their next offering however, Bolton and Wodehouse teamed with Rudolf Friml for Kitty Darlin’. Based on the David Belasco play Sweet Kitty Bellairs, it should have fared well, but it did not. With opera star Alice Nielson in the title role, it opened and closed at the Teck Theatre in Buffalo in September 1917.

Kern was back in the mix for The Riviera Girl, but he shared the score with Emmerich Kalman. This opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York in September, with Wilda Bennett as Sylva Bareska, a vaudeville singer, but only managed 78 performances.

With their next show, Miss 1917, a Dillingham-Ziegfeld revue at the Century Theatre (November 1917), the claim by Wodehouse that he had five shows running simultaneously on Broadway was not without exaggeration. (See show listing from New York Times, 11 November 1917.) Though unfortunately, despite the lavishness of the production, including magnificent scenery by Joseph Urban, Miss 1917 was a monumental ‘flop’, closing after only 48 performances.

For the new year, opening in February 1918, the team produced a worthy success to Oh, Boy!, when Oh, Lady! Lady!! took its place at the Princess Theatre. Evening Mail critic Burns Mantle called it ‘another hit … Practically every one of the songs was an encore number, and not one of them is without distinction in the matter of lyrics.’ With Vivienne Segal as Molly Farringdon, the show played a respectable 219 performances.

The next musical, See You Later, saw Bolton and Wodehouse team with Jean Schwartz and William F. Peters on the score. Though this show never made it past out-of-town tryouts (opening at the Academy of Music in Baltimore in April), it furnished them with an amusing storyline based on a popular French farce Loute (1902) by Pierre Veber. In an earlier adaptation by Paul M. Potter, this play had enjoyed success in American and Australia as The Girl from Rector’s.

Which brings us to The Girl Behind the Gun (aka Kissing Time). For this musical Bolton and Wodehouse had been approached by composer Ivan Caryll (1861-1921) to turn Madame et son filleul, a 1916 Palais-Royal farce by Maurice Hennequin and Pierre Veber, into a new patriotic musical for producers Marc Klaw and Abraham L. Erlanger.

The Belgian-born Caryll (né Felix Tilkin) was a very successful composer of musicals for the British stage. By 1918 he had composed 29 musicals, five of which had notched up over 500 performances. During the early nineteen hundreds he scored success on both sides of the Atlantic—and in Australia—with A Runaway Girl, The Messenger Boy and The Spring Chicken among many others. And more recently, following his relocation to America, The Pink Lady and Oh! Oh!! Delphine!!! had added to his reputation as a leading composer of musical comedies.  

The Girl Behind the Gun played Atlantic City and Philadelphia in August/September 1918 and following extensive rewrites, it was ready to be launched on Broadway. Reports suggested that the original book was not patriot enough, and that George M. Cohan (of ‘Yankee Doodle’ fame) had been employed to make some improvements. One such ‘improvement’ may have been a change to the second act finale which saw ‘Hark to the Drums of France’ replaced by the more rousing ‘Flags of Allies’.

During 1918, Wodehouse also contributed some songs to the Harry B. Smith/Ivan Caryll musical The Canary, which opened at the Globe Theatre, 4 November (152 performances). The same year, with Bolton, he wrote the book for Oh, My Dear! (music by Louis A. Hirsch), opening at the Princess Theatre on 27 May (189 performances). The duo also worked on The Rose of China (music by Armand Veesey), opening at the Lyric Theatre, 25 November 1919 (47 performances). And finally in 1920, Wodehouse contributed several songs to the hugely successful Bolton/Kern musical Sally, which opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 21 December (570 performances). His song ‘Bill’ (previously dropped from Oh, Lady! Lady!!) was also rejected by Sally star Marilyn Miller. It would however go on to be one of the big hits of Show Boat in 1927.

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During 1905 the Palace Theatre was required to undertake significant building works to ensure compliance with new fire regulations, resulting in the destruction of some of Phil Goatcher’s Indian-style interior. And, as ELISABETH KUMM discovers, over the following two years the little theatre struggled to attract the big names.

With the new year, 1905, things got off to a rough start for the Palace Theatre. Following a meeting by the Sydney City Council on the 24 January 1905 concerning the state of Sydney’s theatres, it was determined that the Palace Theatre did not comply with current fire regulations. As a result its licence was suspended pending the implementation of necessary alterations of a ‘heavy character’.1 At first the theatre’s Trustees2 rejected the Council’s requests, but the authorities remained adamant and by April it was reported that the required changes costing in excess of £5000 (approx. $700,000 in today’s currency) had been carried out.3

Behind the scenes works included fireproofing of walls and gears and the installation of a fire sprinkler over the proscenium. Also, the boilers and engines had to be relocated to an adjacent building. The most obvious ‘improvements’, however, were the requested changes to Phil Goatcher’s auditorium, which had been declared a fire trap.

The Evening News (5 April 1905) reported:

Looking into the auditorium, … anyone who knew the Palace as a delight to the eye from its decorative beauties, is distressed to see what has had to be despoiled for fear of the fiend Fire.

The cupolas above the boxes have been demolished, and squab ornaments to take their place detract from the symmetrical ensemble of the past.

Elsewhere the steep rake of the gallery was curtailed for safety’s sake, and the number of seats reduced, notably the top most ones that were up against the roof. In addition a railing was introduced between each of the tiers in the gallery so that in case of emergency patrons would be prevented from jumping from one row to another.

Thus, with all these changes having been complete, the Palace’s licence was renewed in time for the Easter season 1905.

The theatre re-opened with a season of melodrama by William Anderson’s Dramatic Company, with Eugenie Duggan as the star attraction. Eugenie Duggan (1870–1936) was an Melbourne-born actress and sister of actor/playwright Edmund Duggan. After making her stage debut in 1890, she performed with the companies of Dan Barry and Charles Holloway. In 1898, she married William Anderson (1968–1940), who in 1896 became joint manager of the Holloway-Anderson company. By 1900, he was managing his own company, with Eugenie as his leading lady. His usual theatre in Sydney was the Lyceum, which he shared with his friend and rival in melodrama Bland Holt, but as that theatre had recently closed following its sale to the philanthropist Ebenezer Vickery (1827–1906), he moved his operations to the Palace.

Anderson’s season commenced with the first Sydney production of A Girl’s Cross Roads, a melodrama in four acts by Walter Melville, a melo-dramatist par excellence, who together with his brother Frederick was responsible for writing and staging some of the most popular melodramas of the late 1890s and 1900s. The titles of their plays were thrilling enough and their fertile imaginations, either singularly or in partnership, produced such plays as The Worst Woman in London (1899), Between Two Women (1902), Her Forbidden Marriage (1904), Married to the Wrong Man (1908) and The Bad Girl of the Family (1909), to name a few. Many of these plays were staged at their theatres in the East End, notably the Terriss (Rotherhithe) and the Standard (Hoxton).4 First performed at the Standard Theatre in October 1903, A Girl’s Cross Roads had its Australian premiere in Melbourne in February 1905. The cast was largely the same, but the role of the hero Jack Livingstone was now played by H.O. Willard rather than Vivian Edwards. A story of misery and despair, Eugenie Duggan was the heroine (or rather anti-heroine), Barbara Wade, the wife of Jack Livingstone, who on developing a liking for drink, loses the respect of her husband. When she leaves home and is believed to have perished in a shipping accident, Jack turns to a former sweetheart Constance Cornell (played by Ivy Gorrick) for comfort. On the day that Constance consents to marry him, Barbara is discovered to be alive, a slave to drink and drugs. Jack is determined to save his wife, but she is too far gone and soon dies in a fit of delirium tremens. The role of Barbara was a difficult one, but Eugenie Duggan, used to playing ‘wretched women’ delivered a realistic portrait of an unhappy soul whose life had been ruined by the demon drink.

Three weeks later, 13 May, A Girl’s Cross Roads was replaced by another new Walter Melville sensation drama, The Female Swindler. Anderson’s company had introduced this play in Melbourne in September 1904 and now it was Sydney’s turn. First performed at the Terriss Theatre on 12 October 1903 and subsequently at the Standard Theatre, with Violet Ellicott and Ashley Page in the leads, this play also spawned a series of lured advertising postcards.

As Lu Valroy (otherwise Miss Darwe), Eugenie Duggan had another unsavoury heroine to portray. In this play the title character is working as a maid in a rich household. When some valuable items go missing, a detective, Jack Coulson (played by H.O. Willard), is employed to track down the culprit. Against a backdrop of murder, theft and kidnapping, the detective pursues Lu Valroy and her sinister offsider, Geoffrey Warden (alias Captain Stanton) (played by Laurence Dunbar). In a struggle, Warden is killed, but just as Lu is about to stab the detective she is overcome by a new emotion—love—and instead of killing him the two fall into a passionate embrace. As the ‘fascinating adventuress’ Eugenie Duggan once again excelled.

The third play of the season, opening on 3 June, was Two Little Drummer Boys, an 1899 military drama by Walter Howard. With this play Eugenie Duggan was reprising her role of Margaret Rivers (aka Drunken Meg), a wretched woman filled with vengeance for the man who had ruined her life. An expansive story of jealousy, treason and murder set in a military barracks, and rival cousins, both drummer boys, who clash as their fathers did. Supported by H.O. Willard, this time playing the villain, Eugenie Duggan thrilled audiences with her portrayal of another desperately unhappy female.

The final offering, commencing on 17 June, was the oft performed East Lynne with Eugenie in the dual role of Lady Isabel and Madame Vine. The season closed on 1 July 1905.

With the departure of Anderson’s company the Palace entered a period of uncertainty. It is not clear why this was the case, but for the next twelve months the only tenants were amateur companies and short run entertainments. Why did the big companies and touring stars stay away? Perhaps the Palace was too small, seating only 1000 patrons, compared with the 1500 of the Theatre Royal or the 2000-odd that could be crammed into Her Majesty’s. When Anderson return to Sydney in July 1905, rather than return to the Palace, he opened at the Theatre Royal.

So instead of welcoming the likes of George Stephenson’s English Musical Comedy Company, J.F. Sheridan, or the Brough-Flemming Comedy Company (who were the big names of the current season), the Palace played host to one night stands by the Sydney Comedy Club (A Snug Little Kingdom, 3 July 1905); The Players (Dr Bill, 4 and 5 July 1905, 21 September 1905; The Weaker Sex, 16 November 1905; Lady Windermere’s Fan, 17 November 1905; A Gaiety Girl, 20–22 December 1905; Little Lord Fauntleroy, 6 July 1905; In Town, 9–20 September 1905); the Bank of New South Wales Musical and Dramatic Company (The Magistrate, 7 July 1905; Dandy Dick, 11 December 1905); the Academy of Dramatic Art (Under Two Flags, 25 August 1905); Sydney Liedertafel (the premiere of W. Arundel Orchard’s comic operetta The Coquette, 28 August to 2 September 1905); the Sydney University Dramatic Society (The School for Scandal, 28 September 1905); the Lands Department Musical and Dramatic Society (The Sleeping Queen, 29 September 1905); and the Sydney Muffs (Caste and Op o’ Me Thumb, 14 December 1905, with assistance from Nellie Stewart); as well as performances by Minnie Hooper’s dance students (18 December 1905) and the Students’ Operatic and Dramatic Society (19 December 1905). Although the commercial prospects of the theatre were not great, the Palace was providing the opportunity for students and amateurs to hone their craft in a professional theatre.

In addition to the performances listed above, the Palace also hosted the Great Thurston’s farewell to Sydney when the magician presented a four week season from 22 July 1905 to 26 August 1905. He did however return for a second ‘final’ season from 23 December 1905 to 12 January 1906.

In mid-October, comedians J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd presented The J.P., the play having transferred to the Palace from Her Majesty’s Theatre for a week’s season.

Also, in late 1905, Lily Dampier (daughter of actor-manager Alfred Dampier) was seen in East Lynne and The Postmistress of the Czar. In the former, which was staged from 11–15 and 18–21 November, she played the double role of Lady Isabel and Madame Vine and in the latter, from 22 November to 2 December 1905, she appeared as Princess Olga.

The new year, 1906, got off to a reasonable start with a short return season by J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd beginning with a revival of The J.P. (27 January 1906 to 2 February 1906). This was followed by the first Australian production of There and Back, a three act farce by George Arliss (the British actor best remembered for playing Disraeli). Given a copyright performance in Bath in 1895 and produced in Bolton in 1900, this play received positive notices when it was staged at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in May 1902 (transferring to the Shaftesbury in July 1902) with Charles Hawtrey as William Waring and Arthur Williams as Henry Lewson, two husbands whose wives go on holiday to Scotland, but pretend they are visiting a sick friend. The following year, it was performed at the Princess Theatre in New York with Charles E. Evans and Charles H. Hopper as the deceived husbands. In Australia, J.J. Dallas played the role of Lewson, a role he had performed when the farce toured the British provinces during 1902–03. He was supported by Aubrey Mallalieu as Waring and Florence Young as Marie Antoinette Smith. There and Back played for only a week at the Palace from 3–9 February 1906. On the same bill was a musical skit, The Bazaar Girl with J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd as Mr. and Mrs. Honeywood.

The comedy season was followed by Canadian-American music hall artist R.G. Knowles (under the auspices of J.C. Williamson) with ‘songs and stories of the stage’ from 10–23 February 1906. This was a return visit to the Palace by Knowles, having been one of the headlining acts when Harry Rickards was in residence back in 1896-97. As on the previous occasion he was assisted by his wife, Mrs. R.G. Knowles (Winifred Johnson), the ‘delightful and brilliant banjo exponent’.

From 24 February 1906, the popular matinee idol Julius Knight, supported by Maud Jeffries, played a brief season under the auspices of J.C. Williamson. Knight was making his reappearance in Australia following a lengthy tour of New Zealand. His three week season at the Palace saw revivals of some of his most popular plays: David Garrick, Comedy and Tragedy, The Sign of the Cross, Monsieur Beaucaire, Pygmalion and Galatea, The Silver King and The Lady of Lyons.

On Saturday, 17 March 1906, Edwin Geach presented West’s Pictures and The Brescians, pairing the latest cinematic offering from T.J. West with a group of concert party singers. The two acts had been touring the UK since the 1890s and from April 1905 had been causing a sensation in New Zealand. Having made a quick trip to England to obtain new attractions, West landed in Sydney just in time for the start of the Palace season. His newest film was the ‘mighty, throbbing, wondrous’ Living London. Filmed in 1904 by Charles Urban and edited by playwright G.R. Sims, this epic depiction of London streets and its people created a sensation—for two reasons. Not only was the film a splendid depiction of London life, but the Palace season saw the release of the film one week ahead of J.&N. Tait’s presentation of the same film at the Lyceum Hall. A fierce advertising war followed with each of the exhibitors extolling the virtues of their version of the film. ‘West shows in 20 minutes what other take nearly 2 HOURS to do.’5

Living London was screened at the Palace for the last time on 6 April 1906 (moving to the Sydney Town Hall as a special Easter event). During the last three weeks of the season West’s introduced several new attractions, including, from 21 April, Living Sydney, ‘showing animated Photographs of Hundreds of Sydney Citizens’. ‘COME AND SEE YOURSELF AS OTHERS SEE YOU’6 The season ended on the 27 April and the following day West’s transferred their operations to the Sydney Town Hall.

A rather special event took place on Saturday, 28 April 1906, when a new romantic comic opera called A Moorish Maid; or, Queen of the Riffs by Alfred Hill (with libretto by NZ music and drama critic J. Youlin Birch) was given its Australian premiere. Mounted by George Stephenson’s English Musical Comedy Company, the title role was performed by the twenty-five year old Rosina Buckman. Still at the outset of her career, the New Zealand born soprano was yet to make her name on the international stage, having returned home following her graduation from the Birmingham School of Music in 1903 on account of illness. Advertised on the bills as ‘the famous English Dramatic Soprano’, this was her first appearance in Sydney.

In June 1905, A Moorish Maid was given its initial performance in Auckland, with Lillian Tree and Frederick Graham in the lead roles. The piece proved a critical and financial success, and a subsequent season was planned for Wellington the following September. When Lillian Tree fell ill, Rosina Buckman took her place. This performance ‘marked the beginning of an operatic career which was to take her to Drury Lane and Covent Garden, and earn special praise from the doyenne of Australian singers, Nellie Melba’.

Alas, despite the rave reviews of Rosina Buckman—‘Miss Buckman was most brilliant and altogether made a most remarkable first appearance in opera’—the Sydney season was not a success. The libretto had been reshaped by Bulletin writer David Souter. A new second act was devised and the tenor role was eliminated. The work had been transformed from a comic opera to an extravaganza. At the end of the short season Alfred Hill was left with the scenery and costumes.7

A Moorish Maid was played until 5 May 1906, a total of seven performances. The final nights of the short season saw George Stephenson’s company in The Skirt Dancer and Bill Adams. On the 12, 14 and 15 May 1906 they presented The Dandy Doctor for the first time in Sydney.

The 16 May 1906 saw the return of the Sydney University Dramatic Society for one night only with Pinero’s The Cabinet Minister. The Sydney Muffs appeared the following night, 17 May, in The Private Secretary.

From the 19–25 May 1906, The Players under the direction of Phillip Lytton revived Planquette’s comic opera Nell Gwynne, the otherwise amateur company augmented by the engagement of W.B. Beattie in the role of Lord Buckingham.

From 26 May 1906 to 13 June 1906, having already performed seasons in Melbourne and Adelaide, Leslie Harris and Madame Lydia Yeamans-Titus opened at the Palace. Performing as the Society Entertainers, they presented monologues, songs and sketches. With this engagement, Leslie Harris was performing in Australia for the first time, while Madame Yeamans-Titus was making her reappearance having toured in 1902 and 1904. Harris was a performer in the Mel B. Spurr style, a polished monologist and raconteur. Madame Yeamans-Titus was a seasoned vaudevillian, accompanied on the piano by her husband Frederick J. Titus. Often referred to as the ‘queen of the child mimics’, several of her ‘baby’ songs were included on the program. Towards the close of the season Madame Yeamans-Titus was indisposed and her place was taken by Rosina Buckman.

Following a performance of Maritana on 20 June 1906 by the Railway and Tramway Musical Society,

Spencer’s American Theatrescope Company enjoyed a month-long season from 25 June 1906 to 20 July 1906.

From 21–28 July, a series of charity performances in aid of the King Edward VII Seamen’s Hospital were given under the patronage of the Lady Mayoress (Mrs. Allen Taylor). These were given the title ‘Enchanted Palace’ Carnival.

On the 3 August 1906 and 1 September 1906, the Bank of New South Wales Musical and Dramatic Society revived The Pickpocket.

And on 25 August 1906, a single copyright performance was given of Three Little Waifs, an original five-act musical drama by Phillip Lytton and J.C. Lee. A short season to follow from 15–26 September, with Mark Williamson, a new English actor specially engaged to play the wicked uncle. In the role of Mona, one of the waifs, was Louise Carabasse (‘may be commended for a very pathetic picture’, wrote the Herald8), who as Louise Lovely would go on to become a film star in Hollywood.

On 8 September 1906, Annie Mayor (an Australian actress popular in the 1880s and 1890s) returned to the Sydney stage in Drama in Camera, comprising scenes from The Silver King, London Assurance and other plays including Shakespeare, which ran until 14 September.

Edison’s Popular Pictures made an appearance on 1 October.

On 4 and 5 October a Grand Complimentary Performance was given by Sydney elocutionist Hilda Bevege when the short plays In Honour Bound and Milky White were presented.

The 20 October 1906, to commemorate Trafalgar Day (27 October), a Grand Historical Pageant, comprising ‘TABLEAUX VIVANTS and LIVING SCENES’ was staged.

The first Australian production of the farcical comedy The ‘Dear’ Doctor by Kim Brament followed from 27 October to 2 November 1906 under the direction of Blandford Wright. Despite being advertised as ‘the World’s Greatest Rib-tickler, in Three Acts’, nothing is discoverable about the history of this play or its author. The performances were given in aid of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales and St. Margaret’s Hospital for Women.

On the 3 and 5 November 1906, the Elocutionary Society performed Our Boys and My Friend Jarlet.

The week commencing 7 November 1906, saw the production of The Emperor, a comic opera by W.J. Curtis, with music by W. Arundel Orchard. Set in Ancient Rome, the piece included a ‘graceful statue ballet’ in the first act. Orchard had composed the score for The Coquette which had been performed at the Place during 1905.

The year ended on a high note with the appearance of Meynell, Gunn and Varna’s New English Comedy Company. They opened on 17 November 1906 with the three-act farcical comedy The Little Stranger by Michael Morton. This piece had enjoyed some success in London earlier in the year, with Master Edward Garratt as the sixteen year old boy who is substituted for a baby. The play had its first Australian production at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne on 20 October 1906 with Master Willie Parke as Tom Pennyman, the ‘Little Stranger’ of the title. Billed as ‘the Child Wonder … direct from the Criterion Theatre, London’. Although Parke seems to have excelled as the wise-cracking, cigarette smoking youngster, he had not performed the role at the Criterion in London. Other principal roles were played by Violet Dene (Mrs. Dick Allenby), John W. Deverell (General Allenby), Pultney Murray (Captain Dick Allenby), Florence Leigh (Mrs. Allenby) and Harry Hill (Paul Veronsky). In London, Audrey Ford, John Beauchamp, Athole Stewart, Mrs. Kemmis and W. Graham Browne played the same characters.

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 1905, p.6

2. In September 1903, George Adams, the owner of the Palace Theatre died aged 65. For the last decade he had been resident in Tasmania, having moved there in 1895 ‘for tax reasons’. With his passing, his estate was managed by a Trust made up of his nephew William James Adams, solicitor W.A. Finlay, manager D.H. Harvey, and solicitor G.J. Barry. Harrie Skinner continued as manager, a position he would hold for the next twenty years.

3. Evening News (Sydney), 5 April 1905

4. Elaine Aston & Ian Clarke, pp.30-42

5. Daily Telegraph, 20 March 1906, p.2. For a full analysis of the Australian screenings of Living London, see ‘The Living London Boom’ by Sally Jackson, Senses of Cinema, 2009.

6. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1906, p.2

7. John Mansfield Thomson, A Distant Music, pp.83-89

8. Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September 1906, p.6

References

Elaine Aston & Ian Clarke, ‘The dangerous woman of Melvillean melodrama’, New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 12, issue.45, February 1996, pp.30–42

Allardyce Nicoll, English Drama 1900–1930: The beginnings of the modern period, Cambridge University Press, 1973

Sally Jackson, ‘The Living London Boom’, Senses of Cinema, issue 49, March 2009, https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2009/feature-articles/living-london-sally-jackson/#44

John Mansfield Thomson, A Distant Music: The life & times of Alfred Hill 18701960, Oxford University Press, 1980, pp.83–89

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 19001909: A calendar of prodctions, performers, and personnel, 2nd edition, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

Newspapers

The Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Evening News (Sydney)

Trove,  trove.nla.gov.au

Pictures

Digital Commonwealth,  www.digitalcommonwealth.org

ebay

HAT Archive, www.flickr.com/photos/hat-archive

Hippostcard

National Library of Australia, Canberra

National Library of New Zealand

National Portrait Gallery, London

New York Public Library, New York

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

State Library Victoria, Melbourne

Wellcome Collection, London

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Sally Jackson, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod

IMG 0761 palce theatre no 3
Having enjoyed great prosperity throughout much of 1903, the Palace entered a period of mixed success, including long periods of darkness, as ELISABETH KUMM discovers in Part 6 of the Palace Theatre story.

Following the departure of Daniel Frawley’s company on Friday, 11 September 1903, The Players commenced a six night season from 12 September, performing the A.W. Pinero comedy Dandy Dick for their first three nights and concluding with Sydney Grundy’s drama Sowing the Wind for their final three nights.

On Thursday, 17 September, the Musical and Dramatic Profession tendered a Testimonial Matinee Performance to Mr. W.J. Wilson (1833–1909). The seventy year old scenic artist, who was recovering from a long illness, had experienced a long career in Australia, having arrived in Melbourne from England in 1855. A mixed program was presented with members of the various Williamson, Anderson, Holloway, and Rickards’ companies participating.

Saturday, 19 September saw the return of George Willoughby and Edwin Geach’s company with a new farce Mistakes Will Happen by Grant Stewart. Presented by special arrangement with Charles Arnold, the farce had first seen the light of day in June 1898 when it was given a trial run by the stock company at the Grand Opera House, St Paul, Minneapolis. By August it had been taken up by producer Jacob Litt and toured successfully for several years with Charles Dickson in the lead. It finally reached New York on 3 March 1902 where it was performed by the stock company of Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. Jacob Litt’s production didn’t reach New York until 14 May 1906 when it played a week’s season at the Garrick Theatre with Charles Dickson as Tom Genowin.

The play concerns an impoverished actor (Tom Genowin) who is seeking a backer for a play he has written; Dorothy Mayland, an actress, whom Tom has secretly married; Mr. And Mrs. Hunter-Chase who both have their own reasons for wanting to see the play produced—the former is in love with Dorothy and the latter is an aspiring actress. A key scene in the play is one where two rooms—a carriage-house (below) and a hayloft (above)—are both represented on the stage so the audience can see the action in the two rooms simultaneously; with Tom meeting Mrs. Hunter Chase in the hayloft for acting lessons, and the Dorothy meeting with Mr. Hunter Chase in the carriage-house for a play reading; at the same time the Chase’s coachman has a rendezvous with the maid.

This piece had its Australian premiere at the Melbourne Bijou at Easter 1903 with seasons in Adelaide and Brisbane to follow. The play proved something of a riot, especially the shenanigans of the carriage-house scene. The cast for the first Sydney production included George Willoughby as Tom Genowin, Roxy Barton as Dorothy Mayland, Tom Cannam as Mr. Hunter-Chase, Miss Roland Watts-Phillips as Mrs. Hunter-Chase, Edwin Lester as William Hawley (the coachman) and Mabel Hardinge-Maltby as Linda Kurtz (the maid). In their review, the Sydney Morning Herald echoed the newspapers in the other capitals when it said: ‘Mistakes Will Happen proved to be marked success. [The] authors have certainly introduced almost the maximum of hilarity into the play, and have furnished a strong tonic for elevating depressed spirits and overcoming the most pronounced fit of the blues. The dialogue is racy, the incidents developed in the course of the plot are beyond even the suspicion of coarseness, and the funny situations follow so rapidly that the audience presents a fine illustration of “laughter holding both its sides”.’1 It played util the end of Willoughby and Geach’s all-too-short season on 9 October.

The theatre remained dark for the next few nights pending Mary Fitzmaurice Gill’s season. A young Australian actress who had played leading roles with the companies of Bland Holt and William Anderson was returning to Sydney following an extended New Zealand tour to perform with her own company. Her initial offering, Man to Man on 17 October, was being presented by arrangement with George Rignold. A drama of convict life, the play included numerous sensational scenic effects including a railway collision, the Portland Prison, and an escape during a fog. Miss Fitzmaurice Gill’s leading man was Albert Gran, who had made his Australian debut as Lord Jeffreys in Nellie Stewart’s production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury the previous year.

Plays that followed included The French Spy (24 October), The Bank of England (7 November), The Prodigal Parson (21 November), finishing with East Lynne, for one night only on 27 November.

The next attraction, which opened on 28 November, was Miss Cleopatra, a farce in three acts, adapted from the French by Arthur Shirley, with Australian-born actress-vocalist Maud Lita, in the title role. This play had first been performed in London in 1891 under the title Cleopatra, when a single performance was given at the Shaftesbury Theatre at a benefit matinee for W.H. Griffiths, with Maud Milton as Cleopatra. As the leading character is a prima donna, Maud Lita (an operatic contralto) introduced a number of songs which were performed with great verve, but unfortunately, despite her many accomplishments, houses were poor, and the season ended on 11 December.

Another period of closure followed.

At Christmas, Albert Gran returned, this time supported by members of The Conservatoire. Two double bills were presented: Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy (23 December) and The Moth and the Candle and Comedy and Tragedy (24 December). Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy were both early non-musical plays by W.S. Gilbert, while The Moth and the Candle was Gran’s own adaptation of Ouida’s novel Moths.

New Zealand theatrical manager George Stephenson’s American Musical Comedy Company opened on Boxing Night, Saturday, 26 December 1903, with American vaudevillians Charles J. Stine and Olive Evans making their first appearances in Sydney.

The opening gambit, Mama’s New Husband, a three-act farce by Edwin Barber, revolved around the newly re-married Mrs. Pearly Brood (Margaret Marshall), who has concealed from her much younger husband, Henry Brood (Charles J. Stine), that she has a 17-year-old daughter—and when that daughter Maimie Dimler (Olive Evans) arrives home unexpectedly from boarding school, her mother persuades her to dress as a young girl in spite of numerous suitors hovering about—a premise reminiscent of Pinero’s 1886 farce The Magistrate, but the similarity ended there. During the action of the play twenty musical numbers were introduced, along with ballets and dancing. This piece had its first performance in America in September 1901 and shortly after Stine and Evans acquired the rights to the play and took it on tour. Having commenced their current tour in New Zealand and Tasmania, this piece had been given its Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, on 6 August 1903.

A month later, Saturday, 30 January 1904, the same company performed Brown’s in Town, a three-act comedy by Mark E. Swan. Resembling a Broadhurst farce (What Happened to Jones, etc.), this play dealt with a mismanaged elopement whereby a young couple lead their parents on a merry chase—and like The Wrong Mr. Wright, the title character does not exist. Similar to Mama’s New Husband, songs and dances were dotted throughout, including a burlesque on the Florodora Sextette (‘Tell Me, Dusky Maiden’)—and what the play lacked in plot, it made up for in movement. According to the publicity it was toured by ten companies in America during 1902—and one run by Frank Hennessy, cleared over £30,000.2 It seems this play was first performed in December 1898 in Minnesota, with Edward S. Abeles as Dick Preston, Kathryn Osterman as Letty, and James O. Barrows as the father-in-law Abel Preston. It reached New York in February 1899 and played at the Bijou Theatre for a fortnight with the same cast. According to the reviews J.J. Rosenthal, the manager of the Bijou, didn’t think much of the play and pulled the plug after a fortnight.3 It fared much better in the provinces.

Brown’s in Town had it Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, 12 August 1903, with Charles Stine as Abel Preston and Olive Evans as Letty Leonard, the same roles they played in the Sydney production. The farce seemed to please Sydneysiders and held the stage at the Palace for four weeks. The season closed with a short revival of Mama’s New Husband from 24 to 26 February 1904.

On 27 and 29 February, The Players presented Captain Swift by Charles Haddon Chambers; returning on 30 and 31 March with Tom, Dick and Harry. And on 28 March, for one night only, Albert Gran, supported by Linda Raymond, presented Mary Queen of Scots.

Pending the re-appearance of the Willoughby and Geach combination for the Easter season, the Palace was given a lick of paint and refreshed. The company’s latest offering was the American farce A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sydney Wilmer and Walter Vincent. According to the publicity this piece had enjoyed huge success in London, New York and on the Continent. It had its Australian premiere on 5 March at the Melbourne Princess where it played to packed houses for three weeks. With George Willoughby as Jack Thorndyke, the fun of the piece lay in the hero’s claims to his sweetheart that he is an adventurous backwoodsman. During the play’s two week run, hundreds of people were reportedly turned from the doors. Postcards featuring scenes from the play were available for purchase. The final few nights of the season saw a revival of What Happened to Jones.

On Saturday, 23 April 1904, the Perman troupe arrived with the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood. Written by W.J. Lincoln, with original music by C.G. McIntosh, it was an entirely Australian creation, with an Australian setting and a finale featuring a patriotic tableau with each of the Australian states attired in glittering costumes. First performed in Melbourne at Christmas 1903, it had toured to Adelaide, Ballarat, Geelong and Brisbane prior to its Sydney opening. The principal characters were played by Harry Shine (Dame Trot), Bella Perman (Red Riding Hood), Maud B. Perman (Boy Blue) and Edith Maitland (Marjorie Daw). Two editions of the pantomime were given prior to its closing three weeks later on 13 May.

Tom Nawn’s Polite Vaudeville Company made their first appearance in Australia on 14 May 1904 under the direction of J.G. Rial (previously associated with the World’s Entertainers). This was Tom Nawn’s second visit to Australia. In 1902 he and his wife, Hettie Nawn, had been on the bill at Rickards’ Tivoli, when their playlet One Touch of Nature was performed in Australia for the first time. This same piece was included on the bill at the Palace, along with a line-up of American vaudeville acts including Pete Baker (America’s premier monologue entertainer and German dialect comedian), The Musical Johnstons (for years the Xylophone novelty with Sousa’s band), Dorothy Drew (singing comedienne in a repertoire of Negro melodies), The Tossing Austens (comedy juggling and eccentric pantomime specialty), Katherine Dahl (the brilliant lyric artiste in a repertoire of ballads), Hiawatha Troubadours (introducing original American Indians songs and legends) and Mirrored Melody (producing effects which greatly enhance the enjoyment of descriptive songs). Also on the program was Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope showing one of his most recent films, the $12,000 The American Train Robbery. Running 11 minutes, this film was directed by Edwin S. Porter and starred Justus D. Barnes as the head bandit. Today it is considered one of the earliest American narrative films, introducing many new cinematic techniques including double exposure, cross cutting, tracking shots and location shooting.4

During the season the bill changed to include some new performers and sketches. On 28 May, for example, the sketch Shipmates was performed for the first time; on 6 June Pat and the Genii, a comedietta seen during Tom Nawn’s 1902 visit was revived; and on 18 June, the new three-act feature play The Mishaps of Mr. Dooley, written by American journalist Finley Peter Dunne and based on his ‘Mr Dooley’ newspaper columns was performed for the first time. Dooley was a fictional Irish bartender whose voice Dunne used to comment on national affairs.5

Sadly for Nawn, audience numbers at the Palace declined due to the ‘plethora of entertainment’ elsewhere, and the season came to an abrupt end on 30 June. By the following Monday, Tom Nawn was ‘ploughing his way to the land of Stars and Stripes’.6 Fortunately for many members of his company, they were offered positions at Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre.

The Palace was once again dark, but only for a short time. Another company of Americans was on its way.

Meanwhile, The Players returned with the double bill of My Little Girl and Charley’s Aunt on the 7 and 8 July; and on the 13 and 14th of the month Frau Elsa Buhlow presented A.W. Pinero’s The Ironmaster in aid of the Kindergarten Union & German Benevolent Society.

The next big attraction was the American Travesty Stars, a company of 38 performers, with Harry James as musical director and W.S. Combs as general manager. This company was modelled on the Weber and Fields company in New York. Joseph M. Weber and Lew M. Fields were a highly successful pair of ‘Dutch comics’, so successful that in 1896 they opened their own theatre on Broadway, the Weber and Fields Music Hall. There they produced a series of vaudeville burlesques: The Geezer (1896), Pousse Café (1897), Hurley Burley (1898), Whirl-I-Gig (1901), Fiddle-Dee-Dee (1900), Hoity Toity (1901), Twirly Whirly (1902) and Whoop-Dee-Doo (1903); each show crafted to showcase their particular brand of knock-about comedy.

The company in Australia, headed by Clarence Kolb and Max Dill, had been granted permission to present the Weber and Fields’ repertoire, and had been doing so on the West Coast of America since 1901. The other principals in the company were Barney Bernard, a Jewish dialect comedian, who played the roles created by David Warfield on Broadway; Maude Amber and Winfield Blake, the leading lady and leading man, who doubled for Lillian Russell and DeWolf Hopper; and Lillie Sutherland, the soubrette, who performed Fay Templeton’s roles.

The company’s first offering in Australia was Fiddle-Dee-Dee which opened on Saturday, 16 July 1904. Written by Edgar Smith, with music by John Stromberg, it had originally been performed on Broadway in September 1900, with Joe Weber as Michael Krautknuckle, Lew Fields as Rudolf Bungstarter, DeWolf Hopper as Hoffman Barr, David Warfield as Shadrach Leschinski, and Lillian Russell as Mrs. Walford Meadowbrook.

Described as ‘A Potpourri of Dramatic “fol de roll” in Three Exhibits’, Fiddle-Dee-Dee was greeted by an overflowing house. With no plot to speak of, audiences were promised an entertainment abounding with original musical numbers, a large chorus of shapely girls, witty dialogue delivered with kaleidoscopic rapidity, all presented with the dash and vim of a first-rate American company ‘The scenery, costumes and the paraphernalia have never been excelled for originality, and such a large company of superb comedians who tear the English language into shreds and reconstruct it in a manner that is extremely funny. They keep their audiences in a continual paroxysm of laughter during the time given up to their quaint sayings, happy repartee and dialogue work.’7

The piece lived up to the hype and audiences were not disappointed. It even included a travesty of the Florodora Sextette.

Fiddle-Dee-Dee played until 12 August. The next offering was Hoity Toity, described on the bills as ‘A Giddy Little Skit on Things Dramatic and Otherwise in Two Selections’, it was another mirth-filled burlesque extravaganza by Smith and Stromberg. First performed in New York in September 1901, this piece had a slight plot to tie together its ‘olio portion’. It involved a man who takes his daughters to Monte Carlo to find rich husbands for them. Instead they meet ‘sauerkraut’ millionaires and decide to start a bank, swapping the delicatessen counter for a teller’s bench. ‘Raising the money’ became one of Weber and Fields’ most famous sketches. When a customer arrives at the bank, Weber (Kolb) asks ‘Put in or take out?’ Of course everyone takes out until the bank is hopelessly broke.

The company’s final offering was the double-bill of Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café which opened on 17 September 1904. Described respectively as a ‘dramatic impossibility’ and a ‘conundrum’. In the first piece Dill played the inventor of a machine for ‘throwing living pictures on the naked air’, while Kolb was an  architect who had designed a gaol ‘with all the comforts of home’. In the second piece, Barney Bernard is the inventor of a mechanical doll, La Pooh Pooh (an obvious parody of La Poupee, the comic opera by Audran), with Kolb and Dill as his two backers. These two short works provided a fitting end to a highly popular season which closed on 6 October 1904.

With the departure of the Travesty Company, things quietened down a bit. The Players returned for two nights with J.M. Barrie’s The Professor’s Love Story on 7 and 8 October. On the 11th and 12th of the month, Frau Elsa Buhrow made her re-appearance in Cyprienne (a translation of Sardou’s Divorcons) in aid of the Ashfield Infants’ Home. (Frau Buhrow had presented the same piece at the Palace back in September 1901.) And on 13th and 14th, The Players presented Haddon Chambers’ The Idler. Another long period of darkness descended on the theatre, punctuated by a production of the comic opera Giroffle-Giroffla on 14 November, performed by the Railway and Tramway Musical Society.

Finally, on Saturday, 10 December 1904, the American Travesty Company made a welcome return, bringing with them a weekly change program. The line-up remained the same with the exception of the Maude Amber and Winfield James who had been replaced by Celia Mavis and Edwin Lester. Hoity Toity was the first of the revivals, followed by Fiddle-Dee-Dee on 17 December, and Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café on 24 December.

The season ended on 30 December—and the little theatre fell dark once more—pending the arrival of William Anderson’s Dramatic Company on 22 April 1905.

In a curious footnote, it seems that despite the full house and patrons being turned away from the door, the tour was not a financial success for the American Travesty Company. In February 1905, an article appeared in Sydney’s Sunday Sun headed: AMERICAN TRAVESTY STARS: Back in ’Frisco. “THICK-HEADED AUDITORS IN THE ANTIPODES!”. According to the report members of the company felt that much of their material was lost on Australian audiences who didn’t understand American humour and syntax. And as for any financial reward, it seems the manager, Henry James, was the only one who profited from the tour. He was said to have returned to the US sporting a diamond pin. The article also mentioned the conspicuous absence of Maude Amber and Winfield Blake during the return season at the Palace. She had a falling out with James and he was suing her for breach of contract.8 Another article that appeared in The Critic around the same time confirmed that the company had been asked to play the final three weeks at the Palace without pay—and that Miss Amber and Mr. Blake had refused to act and had sued James for damages.9

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1903, p.4

2. Auckland Star, 11 August 1903, p.3

3. New York Times, 28 February 1899, p.7

4. See https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/edwin-s-porter-the-great-train-robbery-1903/

5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Dooley

6. Truth, 3 July 1904, p.1

7. Sydney Star, 13 July 1904, p.7

8. Sunday Sun, 26 February 1905, p.5

9. The Critic, 22 February 1905, p.23

References

Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 18691914, Oxford University Press, 1994

Felix Isman, Weber and Fields, their tribulations, triumphs and their associates, Boni and Liveright, 1924

Anthony Slide, The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, University of Mississippi, 2012

Newspapers

Auckland Star, The Australian Star (Sydney), The Critic (Adelaide), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, Punch (Melbourne), The Sydney Morning Herald, Truth (Sydney)

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/

Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au/

Pictures

J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries, https://content.lib.washington.edu/sayreweb/index.html

Library of Congress, Washington, DC., https://www.loc.gov/

New York Public Library, New York, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod

Wednesday, 05 October 2022

Edwin Ride

After reading Peter Pinne's two-part article on the Australian musical The Sentimental Bloke, Lisa Ride, the daughter of Edwin Ride (who created the lead role of Bill) sent us the following comments and pictures.

Just read a great account of The Sentimental Bloke that my father Edwin Ride appeared in the early 1960s. I am the daughter of the Canberra marriage.

image0 1Above Josie Lester, my mother who met my father Edwin Ride in Canberra where they were married in 1957

Ride 4a

From the Australian Woman’s Weekly - I am the baby bump! 

Josie divorced Edwin due to the shocking publicity of the affair between my father and the leading lady. My mother refused to allow me to have any contact with him. I met him for the first time when I was 19 years old!

I went on to be a member of the Australian Federal police; the Australian Army Reserve and raised five children. 

I’m in the process of looking for a publisher to help me publish a book.

Lisa Ride

Ride 6

Palace banner

In Part 5 of the Palace Theatre story exploring the lows and highs of the little theatre’s fortunes, ELISABETH KUMM finds 1903 to be a highly successful year, with the production of some of the biggest hits of Broadway and the West End.

J.C. williamson took over the lease of the Palace Theatre in December 1902, but due to the success of his Royal Comic Opera Company in Melbourne he decided not to open in Sydney until Boxing Day night.

In the meantime, on the afternoon of Monday, 22 December 1902, Williamson made the Palace available to Dolly Castles, a young Melbourne singer who was making her professional debut in Sydney ‘before a few professional musicians and connoisseurs’. Sixteen-year-old Dolly was a younger sister of the celebrated soprano Amy Castles. The previous week, on 16 December, the two sisters had participated in the Grand Festival of Sacred Music at St Mary’s Cathedral. In addition to singing principal roles in Graun’s Te Deum, Dolly also sang ‘Viae Sion lugent’ from Gounod’s Gallia. For her recital at the Palace Theatre, she chose the ‘Jerusalem’ aria from Gallia and Tosti’s ‘Good-bye’. Described as having ‘a resonant soprano of firm, pure quality’, Williamson championed the young singer and arranged for her to appear in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane prior to her departure for Paris to study under M. Bouhy.1

On Friday, 26 December, the Royal Comic Opera Company opened at the Palace in a revival of Dorothy, first seen in Australia in 1887 with Leonora Braham in the title role. With this revival Florence Young was playing Dorothy for the first time in Sydney, with Celia Ghiloni as Lydia, and Maud Chetwynd as Phyllis. Two new leading men, Reginald Roberts and Harold Thorley, were Geoffrey Wilder and Harry Sherwood respectively, with George Lauri reprising his old role of Lurcher. The conductor was Leon Caron, with scenery by George Gordon. Dorothy was performed until 9 January 1903.

The following evening Planquette’s comic opera Paul Jones was revived with Florence Young in the title role, supported by Reginald Roberts as Rufino de Martinez, Hugh Ward as Don Trocadero, George Lauri as Bouillabaisse, Maud Chetwynd as Chopinette, Celia Ghiloni as Malaguena, and Carrie Moore as Yvonne. As the Sydney Morning Herald reminded audiences, ‘Paul Jones is probably one of the most successful of comic operas ever produced in this country, and the revival will bring pleasant memories to playgoers of 10 or 12 years ago’ when Marian Burton created the ‘trouser’ role of Paul Jones in Australia.2

Overflowing audiences greeted the Royal Comic Opera Company at every performance during their all-too-short season. Paul Jones was withdrawn after only fourteen performances to make way for farewell productions of The Mikado (24–30 January), Robin Hood (2–6 February), and The Geisha (7–20 February).

On 21 February 1903 the Palace Theatre erupted with laughter when George Broadhurst’s The Wrong Mr. Wright was produced in Sydney for the first time. It was presented by George Willoughby and Edwin Geach, who had just concluded a successful ten month tour of Australia and New Zealand. According to newspaper reports, Willioughby and Geach had taken over Charles Arnold’s company and had been so successful that their ‘receipts even exceeded those of Mr. Charles Arnold’s phenomenal tour with What Happened to Jones, a record that would make many managers envious’.3

Like Broadhurst’s other farcical comedies, The Wrong Mr. Wright, as the title suggests revolves around mistaken identity, whereby a stingy businessman, after being frauded of $5000 by a trusted employee, engages detectives to capture the thief. He offers a reward, but when he hears that the culprit is at Old Point Comfort, he decides to go to the resort in disguise and capture the criminal himself, thereby saving the reward. He assumes the name of Mr. Wright, which also happens to be the alias of the thief. At the resort, completely out of character, he falls head over heels for a young lady, and starts spending money recklessly in an attempt to impress her. It so happens that the lady is a detective eager to earn the reward, and she assumes that he is the thief.

Wrong Mr Wright Flashlight Act 3Scene from Act 3 of The Wrong Mr. Wright, 1902

The Wrong Mr. Wright had first been performed in Boston in 1896, with Roland Reed and Isadore Rush in the leading roles. They played a month at the Bijou Theatre in New York from 6 September 1897, prior to taking it on tour throughout the USA along with other Broadhurst comedies. When it was first performed at the Strand Theatre in London in 1897 with Thomas A. Wise and Constance Collier in the leads, it ran for almost a year.

At the Palace Theatre, The Wrong Mr. Wright played for a month. The lead roles were performed by George Willoughby as Singleton Sites, with Roxy Barton as Henrietta Oliver, closing on 20 March 1903.

The following evening, On and Off was performed for the first time in Sydney. This was a French farce adapted by an unnamed hand (possibly Catherine Riley) from Le contrôleur des wagon-lits by Alexandre Bisson. The story defies summary but it concerns an unhappy husband, George Godfray, who attempts to escape the clutches of his overbearing parents-in-law by pretending to be an inspector of railway sleeping cars.

The play was considered a comedy hit in New York, running for three months at the Madison Square Theatre during 1898/1899, with E.M. Holland as Godfray, Amelia Bingham as Madeline (his wife), Maggie Holloway Fisher as Mme Brumaire (the mother-in-law), and Katharine Florence as Rose Martel (the other woman). The play was even more successful in London at the Vaudeville Theatre where it played for seven months from December 1898, with George Giddens, Elliott Page, Elsie Chester and Lucie Milner in the leads.

In Sydney, it was performed three weeks, from 21 March to 9 April 1903, with George Willoughby as the down trodden husband, supported by Roxy Barton, Roland Watts-Phillips and Ethel Appleton.

On Saturday, 28 March 1903, Willoughby and Geach hosted a Grand Combination Charity Matinee in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Drought Fund which saw The Players supported by Nellie Stewart and members of the Willoughby and Geach Company in The Ironmaster and The Grey Parrot.

With the final performance of On and Off on 9 April 1903, the Willoughby and Geach season came to a close.

Following the presentation of a Sacred Concert on 10 April for Easter, J.C. Williamson was once again lessee, opening a season of comedies with Are You a Mason?—for the first time in Australia. This comedy was adapted by Leo Ditrichstein from the German play Logen Bruder by Carl Laufs and Kurt Krantz.

Williamson’s New Comedy Company was a top notch one, with West End comedian George Gidden as Amos Bloodgood, the role he created when the play was first performed in England.

The fun begins when Frank Perry (played by Cecil Ward) promises his new wife (Ethel Knight Mollison) that while she is away on a visit he will become a Mason. However, during her absence, he goes out on the town and fails to fulfil his promise. On her return, rather than tell her the truth, he pretends that he has done what she has asked. When his in-laws arrive, he discovers that his father-in-law (Amos Bloodgood, played by George Giddens) is in exactly the same predicament. So when his wife’s unmarried sister starts courting a real Mason, the two pretend Masons are at risk of being exposed.

Are You a Mason? was first performed in New York at Wallack’s Theatre on 1 April 1901, with Thomas A. Wise as Amos Bloodgood, May Robson as Caroline Bloodgood, John C. Rice as Frank Perry, Esther Tittell as Eva Perry, and Leo Ditrichstein as George Fisher. This production ran for 32 performances. It was subsequently revived at the Garrick Theatre in August 1901 with a similar cast, where it ran for an additional month.

The London production, which opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 12 September 1901 (transferring to the Royalty Theatre on 31 March 1902), ran for a side-splitting seven months.

Night OutHotel scene from the London production of A Night Out, 1896, performed in Australia as Oh! What a Night! George Giddens as Joseph Pinglet is sixth from the right. Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. From The Tatler, 28 August 1907, p.185.

The Comedy Company’s next offering was Oh! What a Night! on 23 May 1903. Adapted from the French farce of Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres, it was described in the advertising as ‘one of the funniest, wittiest, cleverist, brightest, sauciest, quaintest comedies ever written’.4

Originally performed as L’Hôtel du Libre échange in Paris in 1894, the play had many outings on the English speaking stage. It was seen in New York as The Gay Parisians (1895) and in London as A Night Out (1896), the same title given to the 1920’s musical comedy version adapted by George Grossmith and Arthur Miller, with music by Willie Redstone. More recently it formed the basis of Peter Glenville’s comedy Hotel Paradiso (1956) and John Mortimer’s A Little Hotel On the Side (1984).

It is probable that Oh! What a Night! was actually A Night Out under a new title, with George Giddens reprising his original character of Joseph Pinglet. It played until the end of the Williamson comedy season on 5 June 1903.

The following evening, Saturday, 6 June 1903, saw the reappearance of Maggie Moore, Williamson’s former acting partner and ex-wife. Her opening piece was Struck Oil, the well-known comedy vehicle that she and Williamson performed when they made their Australian debuts in 1874. Maggie revived her ‘original, inimitable, and altogether remarkable impersonation’ of Lizzie Stofel, while Williamson’s old role of John Stofel, the Dutch shoemaker, was now played by John F. Ford.5

Struck Oil played for a fortnight. On Saturday, 20 June 1903, Maggie introduced a brand-new character to Sydney audiences: The Widow From Japan, a farcical comedy by Charles J. Campbell and Ralph M. Skinner. Audiences were promised:

Those who desire to be convulsed with hearty laughter and to be charmed with interesting episodes should not miss seeing this great Comedy Drama, which is one of those productions wherein Miss MOORE’s versatile powers find their fullest scope. In the title role she has a character that could not be more original had it been created for her.6

With these Australian performances, it seems that this play was being performed for the first time. Maggie had purchased the Australian rights for this and other new pieces while visiting America in 1902.

The Widow From Japan played for one week. It was followed by Way Down South; or, A Negro Slave’s Devotion (27 June–3 July 1903) and Killarney (4–10 July 1903). In Way Down South, Maggie ‘blacked up’ to play a faithful servant, Aunt Miranda, ‘her Great Negro Impersonation’. Described as a domestic comedy drama in five acts by P.B. Carter, this piece was being performed in Sydney for the first time. ‘New songs’ were performed as well as ‘dances, glees, and Negro Specialties’, including the ‘cake walk’.7

Maggie’s final offering was Killarney, a ‘romantic, and picturesque Irish drama in four acts’ by an unnamed author, in which she played the Irish colleen Kathleen O’Donnell, affording her the opportunity to sing several appropriate songs including ‘Ireland, I Love You’ and ‘Killarney’.8

With the departure of Maggie Moore, J.C. Williamson once again took over the direction of the theatre, introducing Daniel Frawley and his company of American players. Frawley’s troupe comprised some 20 artists, including the ‘brilliant young actress’ Mary Van Buren. The company had been founded in 1899 and had been touring the USA, Asia, India and New Zealand, prior to making their Australia debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 30 May 1903. They brought with them a vast repertoire of plays, having acquired the touring rights to high profile Broadway and West End successes including Arizona (1899) by Augustus Thomas, Madame Sans Gene (1895) by Victorien Sardou, and Secret Service (1893) by William Gillette.

Daniel Frawley and company commenced their six-week Sydney season on Saturday, 11 July 1903. Their opening gambit was the much anticipated Arizona, a play by Augustus Thomas. From its first performance in America, this play captured the popular imagination; a story teaming with ‘ranchmen, cowboys, Mexicans, Chinamen and other figures of life in the territory’.9 The hero of the play is the handsome Lieutenant Denton of the 11th Cavalry who woos one of the daughters of Henry Canby, the sun-weathered ranch-owner, and saves the reputation of the other. Theodore Roberts created the role of Henry Canby when the play premiered at the Grand Opera House in Chicago in June 1899. After an unprecedented season of three months, the play toured around America for a year. When it eventually reached New York in September 1900, it notched up a further 140 performances at the Herald Square Theatre. In February 1902, Roberts appeared in the first London production at the Adelphi Theatre (transferring to the Princess’s in April 1902), where it ran for 119 performances.

This piece had received its Australian premiere at the Princess’s Theatre in Melbourne the previous month, with Daniel Frawley as Lieutenant Denton, Jeffrey Williams as Henry Canby, Mary Van Buren as Estrella, and Eva Dennison as Bonita.

Due to the limited number of nights scheduled for the Sydney season, a weekly change program was introduced beginning with Madame Sans Gene (1–7 August 1903). Victorien Sardou’s play, first performed in Paris in 1894 with Madame Rejane in the title role, focuses on Napoleon’s relationship with a former laundress, Catherine Hubscher, aka Madame Sans Gene. This play first appeared on the English stage in a translation by J. Comyn’s Carr in 1895 with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. The same year, in America, Henry Charles Meltzer adapted the play for Kathryn Kidder and Augustus Cook. In 1899 Frawley secured the Pacific Coast rights to the Meltzer version and on 3 September 1899 played Napoleon for the first time in at the Burbank Theatre, Los Angeles, supported by Mary Van Buren.

The company’s next offering was In Paradise (8–14 August 1903), adapted by B.B. Valentine from Les Paradis, a farcical comedy by Messrs Billhaud, Henequin and Carré. On its first Australian presentation in Sydney, it featured Daniel Frawley as Raphael Delacroix, an artist, with Mary Van Buren as Claire Taupin, a Modiste, and Harrington Reynolds as Pico, a lion tamer. Enough said.

The following week saw a return to form with the Australian premiere of Brother Officers (15–21 August 1903), a military comedy-drama by Leo Trevor. Charting the trials and tribulations of a successful army man from a low class family, this piece enjoyed considerable success at the Garrick Theatre in London in 1899 with Arthur Bourchier as Lieutenant John Hinds VC and Violet Vanbrugh as The Baroness Roydell. When the play was given its American premiere in San Francisco (7 August 1899) and New York (16 January 1900), the leads were played by Henry Miller (William Faversham in New York) and Margaret Anglin, the roles now played by Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren.

Another Australian premiere followed with the 1893 drama The Girl I Left Behind Me (22–28 Aug 1903) by Franklin Fyles and David Belasco. Set on a small army base in Montana, against a backdrop of tension between the army and the local Indian tribe, the play focussed on the love story between Lieutenant Edgar Hawkesmore and Kate Kennion, the general’s daughter. Running for over 200 performances at the Empire Theatre, New York, in 1893, with Frank Mordaunt and Sidney Armstrong as the lovers, the play went on to achieve a similar success at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1895 with William Terriss and Jessie Millward. For the Sydney production Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren played Edgar and Kate.

The penultimate offering was a revival of the Civil War spy drama Secret Service (29 August–4 September 1903), with Daniel Frawley as Lewis Dumont (alias Captain Thorne), a Union spy who infiltrates the ranks of the Confederate army and falls in love with Edith Varney (Mary Van Buren), the  daughter of a Confederate general. This play created a sensation on its first production, making an instant celebrity of actor-playwright William Gillette, who created the role of Dumont when the play was first performed in New York in October 1896. The drama enjoyed huge success throughout the USA and England. The first Australia production in August 1899 had featured Thomas Kingston and Henrietta Watson in the principal roles.

The final week of the Frawley season saw a revival of Augustus Thomas’ romantic American drama In Missoura (or In Missouri as it was titled here) (5–10 September 1903). This play had first been performed in Australia by Nat C. Goodwin and his company in 1896. Goodwin created the character of Jim Radburn, an unsophisticated but tender hearted Sherriff, when the play was first performed in America in 1893. As Radburn, Daniel Frawley played the role ‘with a quiet, convincing force that left little to be desired’, with Mary Van Buren as Kate Vernon, the object of his affections.11

The season terminated on Friday, 11 September 1903 with a revival of Arizona, also by Augustus Thomas.

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 27 December 1902, p.28;  Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 January 1903, p.6

2. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1903, p.7

3. The Australian Star (Sydney), 30 January 1903, p.8

4. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1903, p.2

5. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1903, p.2

6. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1903, p.2

7. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1903, p.2

8. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 July 1903, p.2

9. The New York Clipper, 17 June 1899, p.304

10. Amy Arbogast, p.30

11. Sydney Morning Herald, 7 September 1903, p.3

References

Amy Arbogast, ‘Rural life with urban strife’, Performing the Progressive Era: immigration, urban life, and nationalism on stage, edited by Max Shulman & J. Chris Westgate, University of Iowa Press, 2019, pp.17-34

Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 18691914, Oxford University Press, 1994

William W. Crawley (ed.). Australasian Stage Annual: an annual devoted to the interests of the theatrical and musical professions, J.J. Miller, Melbourne, 1902-1905

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 18901899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

Newspapers

The Australian Star (Sydney), Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Tatler (London)

Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au/

Pictures

J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries, https://content.lib.washington.edu/sayreweb/index.html

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Les Tod

Tuesday, 01 March 2022

Sweet Nell

Sweet Nell banner 1200
Australian actress Nellie Stewart (1858–1931) created hundreds of roles during her sixty-seven year stage career, performing in comic operas, pantomimes, burlesques and plays. As ELISABETH KUMM discovers, one of her most admired characterisations was the Restoration-era actress and courtesan Nell Gwynne in the play Sweet Nell of Old Drury.

 

Written by American playwright Paul Kester, Sweet Nell of Old Drury was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre in London in August 1900 with Julia Neilson in the title role. It was an instant success and Neilson revived the play many times during the following two decades. When it was produced in America for the first time in December 1900, Ada Rehan was the Nell. On Broadway, the play was also performed in 1923 with Laurette Taylor in the lead. But it was in Australia in 1902 with Nellie Stewart as Nell Gwynne that the play was to have its greatest popularity.

Kester’s play, which is in four acts, charts the major events in the life of Nell Gwynne. Act 1, set in London in 1667, shows Nell outside the King’s Theatre in Drury Lane, where working as an orange seller she encounters the pleasure-seeking King Charles II (in disguise) for the first time. In Act 2, now an established favourite of the King’s, Nell shelters Lady Olivia Vernon (ward of the villainous Chief Justice Lord Jeffreys), whose lover Sir Roger Fairfax has been falsely accused of treason. Fairfax is captured in Nell’s boudoir and imprisoned by Jeffreys who, wishing to undermine Nell’s position at Court, tells the King that Fairfax is her lover. Act 3 sees Nell outwitting Jeffreys by donning a wig and cape and entering his house where Lady Olivia has been held captive. By impersonating Jeffreys, Nell facilitates Lady Olivia’s escape. In the final act, Lord Jeffreys’ infamy is revealed and Nell is reconciled with the King.

At the heart of this play, Nell Gwynne, in spite of her humble beginnings, is shown to be a woman of spunk, true to her friends, and loyal to the King, and worth more as a person than the so called nobles of the Court whose motives are driven by jealousy, personal gain and duplicity.

Nell Gwynne has been the subject of numerous operas and dramas. Prior to 1900 there was The Peckham Frolic; or Nell Gwyn (1799), a three act comedy by Edward Jerningham; Douglas Jerrold’s comedy Nell Gwynne; or, The prologue (1833); John Walker’s drama Nell Gwynne, the Orange Girl (1833); Charles Reade and Tom Taylor’s drama The King’s Rival (1854); G.A. A’Beckett’s burlesque Charles II; or, Something like history (1872); a comic opera, Nell Gwynne (1876), with libretto by H.B. Farnie and music by Alfred Cellier; and a second comic opera by Farnie, also called Nell Gwynne (1884) but with music by Robert Planquette. During the twentieth century, she was the central character in Anthony Hope and Edward Rose’s comedy English Nell (1900); and in Ivor Novello and Harold Fraser-Simpson musical comedy Our Nell (1924). She also made an appearance in George Bernard Shaw’s In Good King Charles’s Golden Days (1939).

Nell has been seen on the silver screen many times. The first, shot in 1900, was a scene from Julia Neilson’s stage production.1 In 1911, in Australia, Nellie Stewart’s performance was also filmed. The silent era saw Nell portrayed by Mary Pickford (1915), Lois Sturt (1922) and Dorothy Gish (1926). With the advent of sound, came Gracie Fields (1934), Anna Neagle (1934) and Margaret Lockwood (1949).

Nellie Stewart introduced Sweet Nell to Australian audiences on 15 February 1902 at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre. The Haymarket script was used, which incorporated additional dialogue and a reworked final act by J. Hartley Manners.2 The original music written for the London production by Raymond Rôze was employed throughout, including Nell Gwynne’s song in Act 2, ‘How happy the lover’, with words by John Dryden.

A sumptuous production, the scenery for the first two acts was painted by W.R. Coleman, and the final two by Phil Goatcher, possibly based on the original London designs by Joseph Harker. A special feature was the period furniture made at the Princess Theatre by William Gardiner (the property manager) from ‘drawings from the British Museum’. A harpsicord was also commissioned from Allan & Co. music warehouse, based on ‘tracings obtained at the British Museum’. The opening night program also tells us that the ‘Correct Costumes of the Period’ were by A. & L. Nathan, London, after ‘reliable authorities’ and ‘Characteristic Wigs’ were by Gustave of Paris.3

Supported by members of George Musgrove’s New English Comedy and Dramatic Company, the principal roles were played by Harcourt Beatty (King Charles II), Albert Gran (Lord Jeffreys), Ernest Imeson (Sir Roger Fairfax) and Minnie Sadler (Lady Olivia Vernon).

Sweet Nell cover 1902Cover of program for the first Australian production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury, Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 1902. View full program.

With the staging of this play, Nellie Stewart was appearing in a straight play for the first time. A well-established star of the comic opera stage, she had taxed her singing voice too much and it was no longer possible for her to maintain a career as a singing actress. The opening night reviews applauded her transition to the dramatic stage.

It is not too much to say that this performance places her amid the very first of the comedy actresses who have been seen in Australia. The brilliant success which she achieved in work of such high calibre, and so different from that in which she has been seen hitherto, was cordially and almost tumultuously recognised by the audience, who recalled her again and again at the close of every act.4

The same reviewer noted:

From the beginning to end Miss Stewart never failed and never flagged … There were depths in her voice that really touched the heart in the emotional passages, and there was an unconquerable gaiety and joyousness in the livelier moments with which the piece abounds.

Yet despite the positive reviews, in her autobiography Nellie recalled that for the first two weeks of the season ‘business was indifferent’ on account that people ‘associated me with comic opera and the singing stage, and they were quite unwilling to believe that I could possibly make a success in the speaking part’. George Musgrove very nearly pulled the play, but on the recommendation of Harcourt Beatty, he ‘gave it a chance’.5

Following a five week season in Melbourne, the play was taken to Tasmania and onto Adelaide, before opening in Sydney in June, where it played a further five weeks. The Sweet Nell boom had begun.

A souvenir booklet was produced commemorating the first production in Melbourne, featuring photographs by Talma. Postcards depicting Nellie Stewart in various costumes from the play were also widely circulated.

Over the next thirty years, Sweet Nell remained a key feature of Nellie’s repertoire. In 1906 she took it to America. The company received encouraging reviews in San Francisco, but when the earthquake hit on 18 April, they lost heavily and their tour came to an abrupt end.

In 1911 Spencer’s Pictures arranged to make a film version of the play, inviting Nellie to recreate her role. She received a whopping £1000 for her participation, said to be half the total budget of the project! The film was shot at Spencer’s Wonderland City studio in Bondi, and in the grounds of various Sydney mansions over a six week period commencing in September 1911. The cast, which was drawn from the current touring company, included Augustus Neville as the King, Charles Lawrence as Lord Jeffreys, Leslie Woods as Sir Robert Fairfax, and Roslyn Vane as Lady Olivia Vernon. George Musgrove took on the role of director, though his inexperience soon became evident and he was replaced by Raymond Longford. The film was screened for the first time at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney on 2 December 1911. Some 12,000 people reportedly saw the film during the first seven sessions.6

Sweet Nell film 1911Drawing by Harry JuliusOver the coming months, Nellie was a tireless promoter of the film, making personal appearances at showings. This was to be her only foray into films. Despite screening regularly for the next six years, no copies of the film have survived.7

On 2 February 1931, to commemorate Nell Gwynne’s birthday, Nellie Stewart featured in a radio broadcast of the play Sweet Nell. Produced under the direction of Laurence Halbert, in association with Nellie Stewart, the program was aired on Sydney’s 2BL at 8.00pm (and on relay to Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and other cities). Other than Nellie Stewart as Nell and Arthur Greenaway as Charles II, the cast members are unknown.

Following the success of the radio broadcast, Nellie was approached by the Columbia Graphophone Company to recorded scenes from Sweet Nell of Old Drury at their studio in Homebush, Sydney on 24 March 1931. Issued on two 12 inch 78 rpm records (catalogue numbers DO346 and DOX165), the first record featured Nell Gwynne’s entrance, Act 1, and the Finale, Act 4, with Nellie Stewart as Nell, Nancye Stewart (Nellie’s daughter) as Lady Olivia, and Mayne Lynton (Nancye’s husband) as Charles II. The second record featured a comedy scene from Act 1 and Nellie Stewart ‘Addresses Her Public’.8

Extracts from these records were featured in Ladies, Please!, a CD compiled by THA in 2010.

Nellie Stewart played Sweet Nell for the last time at a charity performance in 1931, just weeks before her death on 20 June at the age of 72. In August 1931, ‘in view of the high esteem in which Miss Nellie Stewart was held’, the Columbia Co. offered the original matrices of their recordings, ‘suitably framed and engraved’ to the Mitchell Library (State Library of New South Wales) in Sydney.9

Sweet Nell lives on in other ways too. In 1930, artist William B. McInnes painted a full-length portrait of Nellie in Sweet Nell as she appeared in the early 1900s. The portrait was commissioned via subscription and presented to Nellie by Sir Robert Best on behalf of her admirers at a function at Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre on 19 October 1930. Nellie immediately offered the painting to the trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria so that it may be placed on public view.10

In June 1931, Table Talk magazine published a full colour plate of the McInnes painting ‘ready for framing’, urging people to place their orders early to avoid missing out.11

Another portrait by Mary Edwards, also painted in 1930, depicted Nellie as Sweet Nell. Like McInnes’ painting Edwards (apparently) entered her portrait in the Archibald Prize. In late years, the portrait hung in Nancye Stewart’s sitting room.12

Further artefacts connected with Nellie Stewart’s depiction of Sweet Nell reside in various public collections. The State Library Victoria, for example, holds a turquoise ring worn by Nellie in the play, and the Australian Performing Arts Collection has an apron that she wore as part of her Act 1 orange seller costume.

Nellie Stewart will long be identified with her namesake Sweet Nell through the many pictures that exist, but wouldn’t it be something if the film version of her performance were discovered, so we could see her in action!

 

Endnotes

1. Denis Gifford, British Film Catalogue: Fiction film, 1895–1970, p.15 . The same year, scenes from English Nell, which was performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London with Marie Tempest, were also released. See also Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com/title/tt6687694/

2. The Daily Mail, 5 September 1900

3. Sweet Nell of Old Drury theatre program, Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 15 February 1902

4. The Argus, 17 February 1902, p.6

5. Nellie Stewart, My Life’s Story, p.138

6. Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper, Australian Film, 1900–1977, p.41

7. Graham Shirley, ‘The lost film of Nellie Stewart’, Openbook, Summer 2020

8. Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 26 April 1931, p.10

9. Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga), 26 August 1931, p.4

10. The Argus, 20 October 1930, p.12

11. The Herald, 23 June 1931, p.12

12. ABC Weekly, 14 February 1942, p.14

Bibliography

W. Davenport Adams, A Dictionary of the Drama, vol. 1, Chatto & Windus, 1904

Reginald Clarence, The Stage Cyclopaedia, Burt Franklin, 1909

Denis Gifford, British Film Catalogue: Fiction film, 1895–1970, 3rd edn, 2001

Barbara Korte & Doris Lechner (eds), History and Humour: British and American perspectives, Transcript, 2013

Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper, Australian Film, 1900–1977, Oxford University Press, 1980

Marjorie Skill, Sweet Nell of Old Sydney, Urania Publishing Company, 1974

Nellie Stewart, My Life’s Story, John Sands Ltd, 1923

Graham Shirley, ‘The lost film of Nellie Stewart’, Openbook, Summer 2020

Lewis C. Strang, Famous Actresses of the Day in America, second series, L.C. Page and Company, 1902

Sweet Nell of Old Drury [souvenir of first performance at Princess Theatre, Melbourne], Atlas Press, 1902

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

Newspapers

Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au

With thanks to

Judy Leech, Rob Morrison

 Palace banner 1200

 

During 1901–1902, George Adams’ Pitt Street theatre continued to florish as ELISABETH KUMM discovers in Part 4 of the Palace Theatre story, notably with a return to vaudeville with the highly successful World’s Entertainers. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» 

Following the final performance by the Hawtrey Comedy Company on 13 July 1901, actor-manager Robert Brough (of the Brough Comedy Company) took on a short lease of the Palace Theatre. Rather than producing a season of plays, he introduced British magician Charles Bertram to Sydney audiences.

Known as the ‘Court Magician’ or the ‘Royal Conjurer’, Bertram was a master of sleight of hand, appearing before Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 23 occasions.1 Bertram’s Australian visit was part of a world tour that also took him through India, China, Japan, New Zealand and America. Robert Brough, who had had been performing with his dramatic company in India and China, had seen one of Bertram’s shows and agreed to manage his Australian visit.

Following a short season in Melbourne (8 June 1901), Bertram visited Bendigo and Wagga Wagga en route for Sydney, opening at the Palace Theatre on 20 July 1901. Announced initially for ‘twelve nights only’, he stayed on for an extra week, during which time he introduced some new illusions including ‘The Vanishing Lady’. Yet despite his cordial welcome in Sydney, his overall Australian tour was not deemed a success. His skilful manipulation of cards, flags, rings and flower pots was better suited to a drawing room and too small for audiences accustomed to watching much larger shows.2

The author of several books, Bertram wrote a comprehensive account of this tour which he called A Magician in Many Lands.3

Following Bertram’s departure, Henry Lee and J.G. Rial took over the Palace with a season of ‘polite vaudeville’, opening on 10 August 1901. Their company, known as the World’s Entertainers, had been formed in America and comprised a number of clever and accomplished variety turns. Key among them was Henry Lee (seen at Palace in 1896 with Phil Goatcher’s Stars of All Nations company), who impersonated ‘Great Men, Past and Present’. Through the use of lighting and changes in costume, he morphed from Shakespeare to Bismarck, to Tennyson, to King Edward VII and Pope Leo XIII. Other artists included the acrobatic comedians Kelly and Ashby who stunned audiences with their billiard table act; Josephine Gassman from Louisiana who sang songs supported by two ‘quaint and diminutive’ piccaninnies; and Charles R. Sweet, the ‘musical burglar’ who amused with humorous ditties and anecdotes. Edison’s latest movie camera, the Projectoscope also made an appearance. All in all it was deemed a ‘capital’ bill of entertainment.4

On the final night of the season, 30 October 1901, photographer Talma took a flashlight photo of the audience.5

With the vaudeville season over, the theatre was made available to amateur groups and others pending the return of Charles Arnold and his company on 26 December 1901.

Arnold, who had played two previous seasons at the Palace opened with a revival of Hans the Boatman, a sentimental play with songs that he had first performed in Australia in the 1880s. Hans was followed by a reprisal of plays from his current repertoire: What Happened to Jones and Why Smith Left Home. Mid-way through the season, on 18 January 1902, he presented a new play, The Professor’s Love Story by J.M. Barrie.

The Professor’s Love Story first saw the light of day in New York in 1892 when it was produced at the Star Theatre, with E.S. Willard in the lead. It seems it had originally been written for Henry Irving who turned it down. Believing the play to be worthless, Barrie subsequently sold the American rights to Willard for £50. After touring the play successfully for two years, Willard eventually brought it to London (opening at the Comedy Theatre in June 1894), by which time Barrie had acquired an agent who secured a flat-rate royalty for the play that also covered any future American (and presumably Australian) performances.6

Charles Arnold obtained the colonial rights from E.S. Willard and The Professor’s Love Story was performed for the first time in Australia at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne in June 1900.

Like so much of Barrie’s work, The Professor’s Love Story is a quixotic piece. Its central character is a Scots physicist, Professor Goodwillie, who falls in love with his secretary, but unaware of why he feels the way he does, he consults a physician. Critics and audiences were delighted by Arnold’s performance. The Sydney Morning Herald for instance observed:

Mr Charles Arnold showed himself a light comedian who could touch the pathetic stop with a sure hand, and his portrait of the old-young professor was true to the picture drawn by the author … [He] played throughout with extreme quiet and refinement, showing with much simplicity of manner the professor’s entire unconsciousness of his love for Lucy. His professor was, indeed a man of many winning and endearing qualities.7

Arnold was supported by Dot Frederic as Lucy, with other roles filled by Inez Bensusan, Hope Mayne, Agnes Knights and George Willoughby.

The close of the Sydney season on 12 February 1902 brought Arnold’s 96 week Australian tour to an end. During that time it was estimated he had played before 750,000 people. He was also said to have netted £24,000 from the tour, £4000 of which went to George Broadhurst, the author of What Happened to Jones, in royalties.8

In a sad footnote to the tour, November 1901 also saw the beginning of the second wave of bubonic plague in Sydney, with cases peaking in February/March 1902.9 Two members of Arnold’s company succumbed, Sallie Booth on 27 February and Ada Lee (a younger sister of Jennie Lee) on 1 March. Miss Booth had played Alvina in What Happened to Jones and Lavinia Daly in Why Smith Left Home, and Ada Lee had been seen as Helma in What Happened to Jones and Effie in The Professor’s Love Story.

On 15 February 1902 the World’s Entertainers returned for an extended season, with new artists having arrived from America on 8 February. They were now under the management of J.C. Williamson, Lee and Rial. In addition to Henry Lee, Charles R. Sweet, Josephine Gassman and Arthur Nelstone, new acts included Bunth and Rudd (eccentric comedians); The Marvellous Lottos (novelty cyclists); Carl Nilsson’s Troupe (in their Original Flying Ballet); George Lyding (American tenor); Mdlle Ilma De Monza (Parisian singer); and Mdlle Adele (‘The Lady with the Wonderful Fingers’).

Over the next four months the line-up changed with artist swapping between the Palace in Sydney and Bijou in Melbourne, or going on tour. Some local artists also joined the company including Violet Elliott, often referred to as the ‘Lady bass’. The World’s Entertainers filled the theatre for four months, closing on 28 May 1902.10

Frank Thornton was one of the most popular comedians to ever visit Australia, making his fifth trip ‘down under’ in 1902. During previous visits he had introduced some well-known farces including The Private Secretary, Charley’s Aunt, The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown and The Bookmaker. On this visit, he had two new plays: Facing the Music by J.H. Darnley and A Little Ray of Sunshine by Mark Ambient and Wilton Heriot.

He also brought with him his London Comedy Company of eight players: Vera Fordyce (leading lady), Phoebe Mercer (aristocratic old ladies), Leonie Norbury (ingenue), Katie Lee (character), Joseph Wilson (comedian), Alex Bradley (principal juvenile), Galway Herbert (juvenile), J.H. Denton (character), and Frank Wilson (stage manager). Katie Lee was perhaps the best known of these players being a sister of Jennie Lee and the late Ada Lee.

Thornton commenced his tour in Melbourne on 3 May 1902 with the Australian premiere of Facing the Music, relocating to the Sydney Palace on 31 May.11

Like so many farces, Facing the Music has an absurd plot. It involves two ‘John Smiths’, one a curate and the other the owner of racehorses, two ‘Mrs John Smiths’, a Colonel Duncan Smith, and two housekeepers.

First performed in the English provinces during 1900 with Thornton as Mr John Smith, Thornton also produced the first London production at the Strand Theatre (10 February 1900) with James Welch as the star.

Facing the Music proved something of a hit with Sydneysiders, playing for six weeks at the Palace, but it was withdrawn prematurely to make way for the first Australian production of A Little Ray of Sunshine on 19 July 1902. This comedy was in a different vein to Facing the Music. Rather than relying on broad humour for laughs, it was more of a character piece, and closer in sentiment to a morality tale than a knock-about farce. It had been a success in London, with W.S. Penley as Lord Markham, an eccentric millionaire who having deserted his family as a youth returns to the family seat and through various acts of benevolence helps them into become better people.

A Little Ray of Sunshine played until the close of the season on 7 August. Although not as engaging as its predecessor, it seemed to please much of the audience.

In August, J.C. Williamson Ltd. sub-leased the theatre from Messrs Lee and Rial for a four months period . Once again the Pitt Street venue was coming to the rescue of a company that had lost its usual theatre due to fire. In 1899 with the destruction of the Tivoli, Harry Rickards turned to the Palace. Now JCW was in need of a new venue following the burning of Her Majesty’s Theatre in March. Williamson’s maintained two Sydney theatres, Her Majesty’s in Pitt Street, and the Theatre Royal in Castlereagh Street. With one theatre out of action they needed somewhere to present their new raft of musical comedy attractions.

JCW’s first offering was San Toy, an original musical play by Edward Morton, with music by Sydney Jones. San Toy had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s in Melbourne in December 1901 and since that time it had toured throughout Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. When it arrived in Sydney, only one of the original twenty-seven principals remained, namely Ernest Mozar, who played Lieutenant Harvey Tucker.

The key roles were now performed by Rose Musgrove as San Toy (replacing Carrie Moore); Lillian Digges as Dudley (in place of Grace Palotta); Fred H. Graham as Li (rather than George Lauri); Arthur Crane as Captain Bobby Preston (for Charles Kenningham); Charles Trood as the Emperor of China (instead of Hugh J. Ward); and Lulu Evans as Poppy (succeeding Florence Young). Fred H. Graham had also taken over from Spencer Barry as stage director.

Messenger Boy SLVLillian Digges and Arthur Crane in The Messenger Boy, 1902. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

San Toy had its initial performance at George Edwardes’ Daly’s Theatre in London in October 1899, with Marie Tempest in the title role. It held the stage for over two years during which time the lead was also played by Florence Collingbourne. The musical’s oriental setting provided the opportunity for superb costumes (designed by Percy Anderson) and settings (painted by Hawes Craven and Joseph Harker), the latter being copied from London models by JCW resident scenic artists John Gordon and George Dixon.

The next production was a revival of The Belle of New York, a musical comedy that had first been seen in Australia during 1899 with a largely American cast headed by Louise Hepner. At the Palace, it played from 13 September 1902 to 7 October 1902, with Lillian Digges as the Belle.

On 3 October a potentially fatal accident occurred when a member of the audience fell from the gallery balcony into the stalls. Miraculously no-one was below and he survived the fall suffering only from shock and a fractured knee.12

 The final offering for the present season was The Messenger Boy, which was being performed in Australia for the first time. Due to the elaborate preparations necessary for the production, the opening night was postponed from the Saturday to the following Wednesday, 8 October 1902.13

Featuring a book by James T. Tanner and Alfred Murray, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank, and music by Ivan Caryll and Lionel Monckton, The Messenger Boy had first been performed at the Gaiety Theatre in London during February 1900 following a try-out in Plymouth. With principal roles played by Edmund Payne, Harry Nicolls, Violet Lloyd, Maud Hobson and Connie Ediss, the musical was a ‘runaway success’, playing for 429 performance.

The Australian production featured artists from JCW’s comic opera company: Fred H. Graham as Tommy Bang (the Messenger Boy), Arthur Crane as Clive Radnor, Arthur Lissant as Hooker Pasha, Lillian Digges as Nora, Blanche Wallace as Lady Punchestown, Rose Musgrove as Rosa, and Fred H. Graham as the stage director.

The exotic locales in which the musical was set gave JCW scenic designer John Gordon the opportunity to impress with scenes of London, Brindisi, Cairo and Paris.

With the departure of the JCW company, William Anderson took over as sub-lessee and manager. He launched his season with Cyrano de Bergerac on 1 November 1902, with American Henry Lee (formerly seen with the World’s Entertainers) in the title role, and Eugenie Duggan as Roxane. This was the debut of Edmund Rostand’s play in Sydney. First performed in Paris in 1897, the play was adapted for the English-speaking stage in 1900 by Stuart Ogilvie and Louis N. Parker, with Richard Mansfield creating the title role in America and Charles Wyndham in the UK.

Anderson’s company had premiered the play at the Melbourne Bijou in August 1902, with Lee as Cyrano and Janet Waldorf as Roxane. It featured elaborate costumes designed and executed by Messrs Lincoln, Stuart & Co., and scenery by John Little and Alfred Tischbauer (Alta).

It seems Henry Lee prepared the text himself. ‘Lee’s is a bad translation, in which much of the point and relish of the comedy was lost’, wrote one critic, ‘Probably the Sydney gallery would have been just as uneasy had the play been well done, but I must claim for them that the Cyrano of the performance leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.’14

In fact the behaviour of the gallery so incensed Lee that on opening night he stopped the play during the last act to address the audience, declaring: ‘This is my first appearance in Sydney in drama, and were it not that I am under engagement to Mr Anderson, and am in honour bound to fulfil my contract, it would be my last appearance.’15 The following Monday, Lee called in sick with gout and Edmund Duggan took over. Despite suggestions that Lee would be back, he was not, and the planned four-week season came to an abrupt close at the end of the week. As a result, William Anderson had to rush in a new show: Walter Melville’s melodrama The Worst Woman in London. As the titular character, Frances Vere, Eugenie Duggan was at her evil best, and with a plot brimming with dastardly acts of blackmail, murder, arson and robbery, audiences were kept on the edge of their seats. With Anderson’s lease ending on 28 November 1902, The Worst Woman in London was withdrawn at the height of its success.

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Advertisement, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1901, p.2

2. Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, p.112

3. Charles Bertram, A Magician in Many Lands, G. Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1911. Bertram died in 1907 (aged only 53) and the book was finished by his wife.

4. The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1901, p.3

5. The Evening News (Sydney), 30 October 1901, p.1. Unfortunately the photo does not seem to be extant.

6. Denis Mackail, The Story of JMB, p.203

7. The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 1902, p.5

8. The Critic (Adelaide), 22 February 1902, p.13; Brisbane Courier, 22 February 1902, p.9

9. The first wave of plague occurred in Sydney between January and August 1900, with 103 deaths. The second wave, which lasted six weeks, claimed 39 lives. See The History of Plague in Australia, 19001925.

10. For more information on the World’s Entertainers, see Australian Variety Theatre Archive, https://ozvta.com/international-tourists/

11. The Princess Theatre was required by George Musgrove’s company.

12. The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1902, p.11

13. The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 October 1902, p.4

14.The Critic (Adelaide), 29 November 1902, p.13

15. Punch (Melbourne), 13 November 1902, p.31

References

Charles Bertram, A Magician in Many Lands, G. Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1911

Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 18691914, Oxford University Press, 1994

JHL Clumpston & F. McCallum, The History of Plague in Australia, 1900-1925, Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Health, 1926

Denis Mackail, The Story of JMB, Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1941

Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, edited and published by Gerald Taylor, 1980

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 18901899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

Newspapers

The Critic (Adelaide, SA); Brisbane Courier (QLD); The Evening News (NSW); Punch (Melbourne); The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Judy Leech, Les Tod

Wednesday, 02 February 2022

Mimi Colligan Award

Theatre Heritage Australia would like to congratulate Dr Mimi Colligan on being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2022 Australia Day Honours.

Dr Mimi ColliganTheatre Heritage Australia would like to congratulate Dr Mimi Colligan on being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2022 Australia Day Honours.

The award has been bestowed for 'significant service to community history, and heritage preservation'.

A founding member of Theatre Heritage Australia (originally Victoria Theatres Trust) in 1995, and long-time Committee member, Mimi also served as President (2015-2017) and Vice President (2013-2015). In 2019, on her retirement from the Committee, she was presented with a THA Lifetime Member certificate.

Mimi's contribution to our understanding and appreciation of Australian history—and Australian theatre history in particular—has been profound. In addition to publishing dozens of articles in THA's On Stage Magazine, she has authored numerous books, notably Circus and stage: the theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and GBW Lewis (2013) and Canvas documentaries: panoramic entertainments in nineteenth-century Australia and New Zealand (2002). In addition, she has contributed essays to leading Australian and international scholarly publications, presented conference papers, and curated exhibitions of theatre history.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria; an Adjunct Research Fellow with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University; a former Board Member of the International Panorama Council; and a former member of the Victorian Working Party and contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

As a champion of Australian theatre history, mentor, colleague and friend, we are delighted that Mimi’s important and continuing contribution has been recognised by the receipt of an Australia Day Award.

Congratulations Mimi!

palace theatreMontage by Judy Leech.

As ELISABETH KUMM discovers in Part 3 of the Palace Theatre story, with the departure of Harry Rickards and the enlargement of the theatre’s stage, the new century heralded in a change of focus of the Pitt Street venue, with vaudeville giving way to long runs of farcical comedies performed by the companies of Charles Arnold and William F. Hawtrey. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2»

Rickards’ tivoli company made their last appearance at the Palace on 19 January 1900. With their departure, short-lease seasons resumed at the theatre, ranging from single performances to one or two week seasons. They included Victor the conjuror; the Sydney Comedy Club; the Sydney Liedertafel (who premiered a new opera by Alfred Hill called Lady Dolly), and McAdoo’s Georgian Minstrels (with a variety programme and performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). During February 1900, the tragedian Walter Bentley was using the theatre for rehearsals prior to taking his company on an extended tour around Australia.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, manager Skinner was making arrangements for significant alterations to the theatre to make it suitable for large-scale dramatic presentations.

In May 1899 Adams had purchased the premises of Gowing Brothers, tailors and outfitters, which occupied the corner of Market and George streets, part of which backed onto the Palace Theatre. In addition to consolidating his property holdings on the block, it also gave him the opportunity to expand the rear of the Palace Theatre. Minor works had been undertaken in mid-1899 when the stage was increased by a few feet. Now it was proposed to increase the depth of the stage by a further sixteen feet, making it 46 feet deep. Other changes to the auditorium and the widening of the proscenium by two and a half feet, would provide better views of the stage, allowing for increased seating capacity of the theatre. While still one of the smallest theatre in Sydney, the house could now seat over 1,300 patrons. Contracts were struck with builder Alexander Dean, and James Bull Alderson, the architect, was engaged to draw up the plans. Alderson had been responsible for the design of Adams’ Marble Bar in 1891.1

Sometime in 1901 Adams and Skinner commissioned the firm of Melbourne-based metalworker James Marriott to design a new verandah and portico to the Palace Hotel and Palace Theatre. These drawings, dated 1901, are at the State Library Victoria. It is not clear if these designs were carried out, but the new wrought iron canopies may have been proposed ahead of the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York who arrived in Sydney on 27 May after opening the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901.

With the re-working of the interior complete, the Palace could now welcome a wider range of companies. The plan was to open with a comedy season by Charles Arnold and company on 9 June 1900, but Arnold’s plans changed and the date was pushed back to 28 July, though this too was altered and he was expected to open in late August following the completion of his Melbourne and Adelaide seasons.

To bridge the gap, Johnstone Sheldon’s War Lecture (with limelight views) occupied the theatre for a week from 30 June, and Boar War films, under the direction of Messrs Wyld and Freedman, were screened from 28 July to 21 August 1900.

Charles Arnold’s company finally opened at the Palace on 25 August 1900, launching their comedy season with What Happened to Jones. Arnold was well-known to Australian theatregoers, having made two previous visits, during the 1880s, and again in the 1890s with Hans the Boatman, Captain Fritz and other plays.

For his third tour, he brought with him several new comedies. The first, What Happened to Jones, a three-act farce by George Broadhurst, had been performed in New York in 1897, with George C. Boniface as Jones, the travelling salesman who disguises himself as a cleric in an attempt to escape the police. Having purchased the British and Colonial rights, Charles Arnold first produced the play at the Grand Theatre, Croydon on 30 May 1898 (with himself as Jones), prior to opening at the Strand Theatre in London on 17 July 1898, where it played for 325 performances. With the conclusion of the London season, he took it and other plays to South Africa. He arrived in Australia in April 1900, opening at the Melbourne Princess’s on the 18th of the month. The play proved a huge success and played an unprecedented eight weeks or 52 nights (76,000 people). Arnold was said to have made £5000, with the nightly receipts eclipsing all previous records for the theatre (with the exception of the Bernhardt and London Gaiety Burlesque seasons of 1895).2

In Sydney, What Happened to Jones played to full houses for seven weeks. It closed on Wednesday, 17 October 1899, the occasion of its 54th night, thereby eclipsing Melbourne by two performances! As a result of playing Jones for the full term, Sydney did not get to see The Professor’s Love Story, which had been given its Australian premiere in Melbourne.

With the conclusion of the Arnold season, the company departed for New Zealand, via Hobart.

Pending the arrival of the Hawtrey Comedy Company in December, the theatre remained dark, with the exception of a few one-off performances. The most notable was the world premiere on 1 November 1900 of Thou Fool by the Rev. George Walters, author of Joseph of Canaan. The play was being performed for copyright purposes, with the prospect of producing it in London (though this does not seem to have happened). The play was staged by Philip Lytton, who also played the leading role. He was supported by a cast of amateurs.

The next play at the Palace was A Message from Mars, a fantastical comedy-drama in three acts by Richard Ganthony, which was being performed for the first time in Australia on 22 December 1900. This play had been a huge hit in London, and was still playing at the Strand Theatre when the Australian production opened.3 The play was a morality tale, not unlike Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, whereby a selfish man is reformed after a visitor from Mars appears to him in a dream and shows him the effect of his actions on the people around him. When the play opened in London, the principal characters were played by Charles H. Hawtrey (Horace Parker), Arthur Williams (Tramp), Jessie Bateman (Minnie Templer) and G.S. Titheradge (Messenger from Mars).

The Hawtrey Comedy Company was managed by Charles Hawtrey’s brother William F. Hawtrey, who also played the role of the tramp in A Message from Mars. Hawtrey had been working in Australia since 1897 as stage manager for Williamson and Musgrove’s Dramatic Company, but on the dissolution of the partnership had returned to England to arrange the current tour. The role of Horace Parker was played by Herbert Ross, Ruby Ray was Minnie Templer, and the Messenger from Mars was portrayed by Henry Stephenson, who had understudied the role in London. With the conclusion of the Australian season, Stephenson would join Charles Hawtrey in New York, making his Broadway debut in the role of the Messenger.

Ahead of the company’s arrival scenic artist Harry Whaite recreated the London scenery.

The play proved a huge success in Sydney and played to packed houses for eight weeks.

To mark the new year 1901 and the foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia, Sydney’s building were decked with lights. The illuminations along Pitt Street were considered particularly striking:

Tattersall’s Hotel and the Palace Theatre were prettily lighted up with electric lights, small coloured globes outlined the windows; over the verandah in the centre of the building was a transparency scene representing Her Majesty the Queen; above this likeness were the words ‘Our People, One Destiny’, underneath a representation of the British coat of arms, supported by the Australia coat of arms with the words ‘The Crimson Thread of Kinship Sealed with Australian Blood’.4

The second play of the Hawtrey season was Tom, Dick and Harry, a three-act farcical comedy by Mrs Romualdo Pacheco, described as a ‘hyper-inflated farcical version of The Comedy of Errors’ involving three identical red-headed men: one pair of twins and another who for reason of his own copies their appearance. First produced in New York in 1892 under the title Incog, it starred Charles Dickson, Louis Mann and Robert Edeson as Tom, Dick and Harry, with Clara Lipman as Mollie Somers. When Charles H. Hawtrey produced the play in England he changed the title and relocated the setting from San Francisco to Margate. The first production took place at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in August 1893, and it opened in London at the Trafalgar Square [Duke of York’s] Theatre in November 1893. In London, the complexity of the plot with three identical characters, confused audiences and when the play was sent on tour, Charles Hawtrey hit on the idea of adding an additional scene that showed the bogus twin applying his make-up.5 The play later formed the basis for the 1908 musical Three Twins.

Tom, Dick and Harry was performed for the first time in Australia at the Palace on 23 February 1901. The cast included Herbert Ross, O.P. Heggie and Philip Lytton as the eponymous Tom, Dick and Harry, with W.F. Hawtrey as Colonel Stanhope, and Roxy Barton and Ruby Ray as Molly [sic] Somers and Daisy Armitage. Also on the bill was the one-act play A Highland Legacy by Brandon Thomas (the author of Charley’s Aunt), with W.F. Hawtrey as Tammy Tamson MacDonnel. This Scots trifle, first performed in London in 1888, saw W.F. Hawtrey as a Scottish laird who disguises himself as an old Highland retainer in order to discover the character of an estranged nephew who stands to inherit a substantial fortune.

The double-bill played to packed houses at the Palace until the end of the season on 29 March 1901.

The following evening saw the return of Charles Arnold with the comedy Why Smith Left Home. This piece, like What Happened to Jones, had been written by George Broadhurst. In England, the title role had been created by Maclyn Arbuckle at the Grand Theatre, Margate, 27 April 1899. Arbuckle would go on to star in the first London (Strand Theatre, 1 May 1899) and New York (Hoyt’s Theatre, 2 September 1899) productions.

First produced by Charles Arnold during his South African tour, Why Smith Left Home was given its Australian premiere at the Palace Theatre on 30 March 1901. The farce concerned a newly married couple who decide to spend their honeymoon at home, but are unable to get any time together when their house is filled with noisy servants and visitors. The roles of Mr and Mrs Smith were played by George Willoughby and Agnes Knights, with Charles Arnold as Count von Guggenheim and Dot Frederic as Julia. Smith was played until 3 May 1901.

With the departure of Charles Arnold, there was a change of pace at the Palace.

On 4 May 1901, G.H. Snazelle presented Our Navy. This was not a play, but an illustrated lecture on the capabilities of the British Navy. Rather than simply a catalogue of achievements and a description of the Navy’s arsenal, Snazelle’s ‘lecture’ included anecdotes and songs delivered in his own inimitable way. The illustrations were provided in the form of a projected film made by G. West and Son of Southsea, which was made on board HMS Jupiter during manoeuvres. Snazelle was well known to Sydney audiences having toured Australia in the early 1890s, presenting his one-man show Music, Song and Story. The possessor of a fine baritone voice, during his first visit he also sang with the Royal Comic Opera Company, notably as Bouillabaisse in Paul Jones, alongside Nellie Stewart and Marion Burton.

Snazelle’s entertainment held the stage at the Palace for five weeks.

On 27 May 1901, the Hawtrey Comedy Company returned to the Palace. A Message from Mars and Tom, Dick, and Harry were revived for the first four weeks of the season, and on 15 June 1901, they presented a new three-act farce, In the Soup by the late Ralph R. Lumley.

In the Soup concerned an impoverish junior barrister, Horace Gillibrand, who after marrying takes on an expensive London apartment. In order to maintain its upkeep and deceive a visiting uncle, the apartment is sub-let to a number of different tenants, the play culminating in an riotous dinner scene in which sleeping powder is added to the soup. Following a ‘tryout’ at the Opera House, Northampton in August 1900, a revised version of the farce was brought to London later the same month. Comedian James A. Welch (who would go on to score a huge hit in When Knights Were Bold) played one of the lead roles, supported by John Beauchamp, Audrey Ford and Maria Saker.

In Sydney, the role of the barrister was played by Herbert Ross, with W.F. Hawtrey as Monsieur Moppert, one of the tenants, Henry Stephenson as the peppery uncle, and Ruby Ray as Mrs Gillibrand. The farce, which had played for over a year in London, proved just as popular with Sydneysiders and played until the end of the season on 13 July 1901.

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Australian Star, 6 January 1900, p.3; Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1900, p.4

2. Evening Journal, 2 July 1900, p.3

3. A Message from Mars was performed at the Avenue Theatre, 22 November 1899 to 30 March 1901, transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre, 6 April 1901 to 20 April 1901, a total of 544 performances.

4. Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 1901, p.14

5. Charles Hawtrey, pp.245-246

References

Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 18691914, Oxford University Press, 1994

Guide to Selecting Plays, Samuel French, 1913

G.S. Edwards, Snazelleparilla, Chatto & Windus, 1898

Charles Hawtrey, The Truth at Last, Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1924

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 18901899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

Newspapers

The Arena (Melbourne); Australian Star (Sydney, NSW); Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA); Sydney Mail (NSW); Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech

Wednesday, 01 December 2021

My Fair Ladies: Exhibition Review

DSC 3016 smlPhoto by Chris Groenhout. Courtesy of Beleura House & Garden, Mornington.

The exhibition of j.c. williamson ltd. costumes at Beleura on the Mornington Peninsula almost didn’t go ahead. Only days before the opening, Melbourne and its surrounds experienced a severe storm that brought down trees and blew off roofs. The road to Beleura, nestled among parklands and golfing ranges, was blocked by debris from the storm, and power to the area was cut. And before that, the ravages of covid had meant that Beleura like so many other ‘unessential’ businesses was closed and shuttered.

But on Thursday, 11 November 2021, the sun was shining, power had been restored, and a small ‘covid safe’ crowd made its way to Beleura for the opening of ‘My Fair Ladies’.

‘My Fair Ladies’ showcases costumes from the collection of Kevin Coxhead. The amazing thing about the fifteen costumes on display is that when Kevin acquired them, they were all in a poor state of disrepair following decades of wear and tear, in need of Kevin’s careful care and attention.

Kevin was previously a dancer with J.C. Williamson’s in the mid-1970s, just before the ‘Firm’ ceased operation—having held the position of Australasia’s number one theatre producers for over 100 years. Kevin’s costume collection began when he decided to look for the costumes he had worn in Gypsy. His search took him to The Costume Factory in Kensington (originally J.C. Westend), where former JCW costumes were being hired out for fancy dress parties and amateur stage productions.

It was a great thrill for Kevin when he located ‘his’ costumes, and he soon struck up a friendship with Maureen McInerny who ran the costume hire shop. So when Maureen came across costumes from notable shows, rather than put them back into circulation in the shop, she placed them aside for Kevin’s consideration. Over the years, Kevin’s collection has grown. He taught himself sewing and other tailoring skills. Hours of patient research and repairs has seen a pile of tattered garments transformed to their original splendour.

It is wonderful to be able to inspect these garments up close, to marvel at the skill of the original designers and the skill of Kevin whose careful restoration has made it impossible for the untrained eye to know what is original fabric and what is restoration. There is an unexpected delicacy in the selection of fabrics, their design and construction that belies the practical nature of stage costumes, that are generally designed to be seen from a distance and to be able to withstand the rigors of continuous wear during the run of a show.

Some of the highlights of Kevin’s collection have been assembled for ‘My Fair Ladies’ exhibition. As might be expected from the title of the show, costumes from the Lerner and Lowe musical My Fair Lady (1959) figure prominently, along with original garments from No, No, Nanette (1972), Irene (1974) and Camelot (1963).

Nearly all the costumes are displayed within the Beleura House with one in an adjacent building. Kevin, with assistance from curator Ingrid Hoffmann, has carefully placed them around the house, selecting a particular room that will work as a backdrop against which to best display the colours of the fabrics and style of the dresses. For instance, in the Drawing Room, with its heavy drapes and shuttered windows are found two of Cecil Beaton’s costumes from the Ascot Scene in My Fair Lady: a gentleman’s frock coat complete with top hat and button hole, and a stunning dress of bold vertical black and white stripes topped off with a large Edwardian picture hat. When the Ascot dress came into Kevin’s possession it was in a very poor state having been ‘let out’ at the back to fit larger-framed customers at the costume hire shop.

In the Study is one of Kenneth Rowell’s designs for Act 2 of Irene. This costume was featured in the Fashion Parade scene and Kevin used stills from the production to help recreate the matching coat, hat and parasol. The coat, with its masses of hand-frayed ‘flower petals’ on the shoulders, was a particular challenge and success for Kevin.

Another costume from My Fair Lady, holding pride of place in the Dame Nellie Melba Bedroom, is Eliza’s Embassy Ball gown. This particular dress took Kevin over a year to repair. The lace bodice needed to be completely recreated as did the belt. Another spectacular dress from the Embassy Ball scene (based on Cecil Beaton’s designs, but made for the 1970 revival) may be found in the dining room. A concoction of yellow and blue, this dress also took a year to repair with hundreds of tiny holes in the lace and sequined panels needing to be mended.

Jill Perryman’s Act 1 dress from No, No, Nanette is found in the Wintergarden. Created by the costume department at JCW from original designs by New York-based designer Raoul Pene Du Bois, the striking deep orange crepe silk dress looks vibrant against the white walls and hanging plants. Another dress from No, No, Nanette is on display in the library. Fully beaded in grey and purple diagonal stripes with diamond-shaped chevrons of blue sequins, this stunning dress which beautifully evokes the flapper era, was worn by a member of the chorus in the Act 3 finale. Badly damaged from years of hiring, it took Kevin two years to re-thread and insert strengthening panels to stop the dress from sagging under the weight of the many thousands of sequins, beads and pearls.

Another outstanding costume, located in the Vestibule, is one by Sydney society designer Beril Jents created especially for Bettina Welch, whose name is on the label. Decorated with large green vine leaves on a yellow base, this silk chiffon dress probably dates from the 1940s. Bettina Welch is noted for having all her costumes designed by Jents, even her period costumes!

I have not described all the costumes in the exhibition, but a final word should be said for one of John Truscott’s costumes from Camelot, to be found in the foyer of the Pavilion (an intimate recital space) adjacent to the House. Originally worn in the Act 1, Scene 1 Winter scene, amazingly little repair work was needed to restore the medieval splendour of this creation. In researching the production Kevin located a drawing of the original costume in a private collection which is also on display.

Located on the Mornington Peninsula, Beleura is an hour’s drive from Melbourne via the Peninsula Link Freeway. Once the home of Sir George Tallis, a director of J.C. Williamson’s in the 1920s, and his son John, the house is filled with memorabilia and antiques. Evoking a lost world of theatrical glamour and social ease, it is the perfect setting for Kevin’s JCW costumes. ‘My Fair Ladies’ runs until 11 March 2022, and if you haven’t yet visited Beleura, now is the time to arrange a visit. Further details may be found on the Beleura website, https://www.beleura.org.au/exhibition-my-fair-ladies

 

Thanks to Kevin Coxhead and Ingrid Hoffmann for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

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