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Following their successful ‘come-back’ tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1932–33, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard returned to London via America (where they spent time seeing the sights of Hollywood and New York.) Madge and Cyril soon settled back into the theatrical life of London, where they were welcomed back by their friends and attended many West End shows. In the previous chapter of her life story, Madge wrote that it was in London that she first met theatre composer, Jerome Kern and producer, Hassard Short, who were two of the most interesting people she had ever known. Now read on. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» | Read Part 4» | Read Part 5» | Read Part 6» Read Part 7»

Chapter 8

Both Mr. Jerome Kern and Mr. Hassard Short at all our meetings displayed a keen interest in Australia, for many of the plays they were associated with were produced in the Commonwealth and New Zealand. [1]

Their praise of Sydney and Melbourne quite warmed my heart. There was a ‘third musketeer’ in Oscar Hammerstein, but he was so busy with his Drury Lane production of Three Sisters that I met him on only one occasion. His wife is an Australian—formerly Dorothy Blanchard. [2]

What a small world it is. Mr. Leslie Henson gave us a box for the 200th performance of Nice Goings On … And when we finished our last season in Melbourne at the King's Theatre this was the musical comedy which followed us in. [3]

About this time Cyril began to flit about the Continent looking at new plays.  He flew to Berlin and saw Katz Im Sack. [4] The next night he was in Copenhagen watching the same play done in quite a different way. However, he came to the conclusion that ‘Katz’ was not suitable for ‘The Good Companions’; but he had grand time making up his mind.

Back in London again Cyril and I saw the first night of Three Sisters. [5] And who do you think our companion was? None other than Dulcie Davenport.

lt was a wonderful night, and among the audience were Max Gordon, the American producer, John Loder, Douglas Fairbanks, Elizabeth Allen, Elsa Lanchester, Gertie Millar, Fred. Astaire, and Tallulah Bankhead. And after the show Mr. Nevin Tait took us along to the Savoy grill, where we met most of the stage celebrities.

That was a gay and bright time in London. But all good things come to an end.

Without warning, and in the midst of our revelry, came an offer for us to return to Australia. Hurrah! Once again we began to cogitate and consider, and long discussions followed. Time, however, was an important factor on this occasion; if we were going to accept the Firm’s offer we would have to be up and doing … And we did accept.

Then the rush began. There was a frenzied poring over steamship routes, air lines, and much figuring, all with a view to the speediest transport to Sydney.

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At last we decided on the American route. Impressions of the trip home are very hazy even at this recent date … The Atlantic … across America … over the Pacific. [6] What a rush. And all the time the winds were whispering, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry.’ There was more exciting bustle when we arrived in Sydney for we were wanted immediately in The Gay Divorce. There followed visits to the dressmaker’s; hand-shaking, and teaing with friends, and a round of calls in connection with the production. And there were, of course, rehearsals and long hours of dancing.

So The Gay Divorce went on. [7] Followed more weeks of rehearsal for Blue Mountain Melody … more new lines; more new routines. Then to Melbourne, where we opened in this piece on November 3 of last year. [8] The season ran until December 22, when J.C. Williamson Ltd. ‘presented Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard in a new musical comedy, “Roberta,” the entire production, including ballets and dances produced by Cyril Rltchard.’ [9] … And so into 1935. Our revival of High Jinks proved highly successful in Melbourne, [10] and as these lines are being written, we are in readiness to open in Sydney with Roberta.

In one’s life story I suppose it is necessary to set down certain findings which have come through experience. There is, I grant you, a glamour about the stage, but when you have been back-stage a few weeks all that goes. So many boys and girls go into the theatre with success as the goal, with ideas of wealth and all sorts of things that go with being an actor or an actress. There are few who get these rewards, and if this is your only aim you are doomed to disappointment. Like every other art or craft, success on the stage depends on ability and hard work. The glamour and the bright lights quickly fade. I know myself the joy of going home after a rehearsal and working out, all by myself, some difficult piece of work, and my reward came when the audience approved. I have found that in the theatre one must never relax study. One must never relax their dally technique any more than if they were a pianist or a 'cello player.

Acting is an art, dancing is an art, and the theatre is an excellent place to express yourself if you have anything to say.  Earning a living is, of course, important, and success is part of the pleasure you get in life. But I have been working in a medium which I love, oh, so much; and the joy and happiness it has brought me I consider my best payment. In the theatre and its people is found also a great unselfishness. The players' work is shared by thousands of people, and behind the mask of grease paint and make-believe there is joy in the thought of every actor and actress that they are lightening for an hour or two some of the burdens of the work-a-day world. ‘Thus Far’ in the theatre for me has been all joy—the joy of giving and receiving; the joy of work; the joy of travel, and the joy of companionship. And I repeat, ‘I love it all.’

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Ahead of me are many more years of work in the theatre. When I selected ‘Thus Far’ as the title of my life story I felt it expressed the situation very aptly. Thus far have I travelled, and there is still a pleasant road stretching into the distance. 

With me on the journey will be the most wonderful friend a woman ever had—my good companion Cyril. Often I have been asked how our romance began. Well, like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, it ‘just grew.’  Cyril sometimes tells me of the long, cold nights when he sat in the gallery of theatres watching me from afar as proof of his fidelity and devotedness. But I do not need these assurances. In our business association I felt the real strength of his friendship; and that this should develop into something more seems to me as natural as night following day … So when our present Sydney season ends we will be married.  Neither of us want a ‘big’ wedding, and we should have been perfectly content with just a family affair. But our friends are legion, and they insist upon throwing confetti and lucky horseshoes in our direction. … And our honeymoon will be spent in Honolulu. [11]

After that, who knows? Our philosophy has always been ‘Do not look too far ahead into the future,’ and neither of us likes to feel that we are chained to any particular course of action,

Mr. Max Gordon, the New York producer, is interested in us, and he will be on our visiting list In New York. He may have something to suit us.  If not, it is heigh-ho for London again, where Leslie Henson and Laddie Cliff will be waiting. They are very good friends of ours.

J.C. Williamson, too, are contemplating theatrical presentations in London; [12] and the studios of Elstree are beckoning Cyril. So what of the future? … Who knows?

Sufficient that we have travelled ‘Thus Far.’

(The End.)

Published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 3 April 1935, p.9,  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/246694409 ; The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Saturday, 13 April 1935, p.16,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182043320 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Wednesday, 7 August 1935, p.3,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30099503

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. Jerome Kern musicals produced in Australia and New Zealand (chiefly by J.C. Williamson Ltd.) included: Very Good Eddie (in 1917), Oh, Boy! (1918), Theodore & Co. (1919), Oh Lady! Lady! (1921), Sally (1923), The Cabaret Girl (1923), Good Morning, Dearie (1924), Leave it to Jane (1925), Sunny (1927, originally produced by Empire Theatres Ltd.), Show Boat (1929), Music in the Air (1933) and Roberta (1934) – the most number of productions by an American composer staged in Australasia in the 20th Century.
  1. Dorothy Marian Kiaora Blanchard was born in Launceston, Tasmania to a Scottish mother, Marion, and an English father, Henry James Blanchard, on 9 June 1899. The family soon moved to the bayside Melbourne suburb of Williamstown, where her sea captain father worked for the Port Phillip pilot service and Dorothy was brought up with four sisters, two half-brothers and a half-sister. After attending the Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School in South Yarra, Dorothy was married at the age of 17 to William Thomas Meikle, a lieutenant in the AIF, at Queen’s College, Carlton in July, 1916, but was subsequently granted a divorce on the grounds of desertion in April, 1923 (after he failed to return to her at the end of his war service in Europe.) In July, 1922 Dorothy made her professional stage debut as an ‘extra’, playing a mannequin in My Lady’s Dress at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne with Emilie Polini’s company for JCW Ltd., and a month later won third prize in The Herald newspaper’s Victoria Beauty Quest. Later that year Dorothy travelled to London, where she commenced a modelling career, performed with Robert Courtney’s theatrical company and also appeared in several silent films for director, Graham Cutts, including Woman to Woman and The White Shadow starring Betty Compson. Venturing to New York, she soon gained employment as a showgirl in British impresario André Charlot’s Revue of 1924, in which she understudied Beatrice Lillie, who co-starred in the revue with Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan. Dorothy first met Oscar Hammerstein on-board the S.S. Olympic when travelling to London with her second husband, New York jeweller, Henry Jacobson in March 1927 and the pair, who had become attracted to each other, kept in touch, eventually marrying in Baltimore in May of 1929, after both had divorced their respective spouses (Oscar had married Myra Finn in New York in 1917.) Oscar Hammerstein first visited Melbourne with Dorothy and her two year-old daughter, Susan in March, 1930 to meet her parents (who had retired to ‘Sandhurst’ in Alma Rd., East St. Kilda) and the Blanchard family members. Dorothy and Oscar’s son James was born on 23 March 1931, named after Dorothy’s father (who had died two months earlier) and Oscar’s maternal grandfather. The Hammersteins revisited Australia in May, 1946 (when they also attended a performance of the season of Noel Coward one-act plays at the Theatre Royal in Sydney starring Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard) and in November, 1956 to attend the Melbourne Olympic Games. Dorothy made a brief appearance in Oscar and Sigmund Romberg’s Hollywood film musical Viennese Nights in 1930, worked at the Anzac Club in New York during the war years and also conducted an interior decoration studio in both Hollywood and New York from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. (She decorated Cyril Ritchard’s Manhattan apartment, which overlooked New York’s Central Park, in 1957.) Dorothy Hammerstein died on 3 August 1987 in New York City (having remained a widow since Oscar’s death on 23 August 1960.) As an avid collector of antiques, her collection of rare 18th century china was bequeathed to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
  1. Nice Goings On (music by Arthur Schwartz; lyrics by Douglas Furber and Frank Eyton; book by Douglas Furber) premiered at the Strand Theatre, London on 13 September 1933 and ran for 221 performances, closing on 24 March 1934. Produced by Leslie Henson. The cast included Robertson Hare, (Australian) Fred Conyngham, Leslie Henson, Richard Hearne, Madeline Gibson, Zelma O’Neal, Sydney Fairbrother, Marjorie Brooks and, amongst the ‘extras’, Googie Withers. J.C. Williamson Ltd. presented its Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 12 January 1935, produced by S. Albert Locke, with ballets arranged by Ruby Morriss. The play transferred to the Theatre Royal, Sydney (on 23 February) where it closed on 15 March. Its Melbourne season opened the following night at the King’s Theatre on 16 March 1935. The local cast included Gus Bluett, Charles Norman, Agnes Doyle, Don Nicol and Phil Smith.
  1. Katz Im Sack (‘Cat in the Sack’ analogous to the English phrase ‘pig in a poke’) began life as the Hungarian operetta Zsákbamacska (music by Mihály [aka Michael] Eisemann, book and lyrics by László Szilágyi) which premiered at the Pesti Theatre in Budapest on 25 November 1931 and played for over 250 performances. Following successful productions in Vienna, Berlin, Czechoslovakia (as Kočička v pytli) and Copenhagen (as Katten i sækken), it was adapted for the English stage by Dion Titheradge as Happy Week-End! and received its London premiere at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 30 May 1934, where it lasted for a mere 54 performances. Its farcical plot dealt with a pretty country girl who sets out to win the love of a sporting man about town. It was later made into a BBC-TV movie in 1949 which co-starred Carol Raye and Wallas Eaton.
  1. Three Sisters (music by Jerome Kern; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) received its London premiere at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 19 April 1934, ahead of a disappointing run of just 72 performances, closing on 9 June. The musical was produced by Oscar Hammerstein and the dances were by Ralph Reader. The cast included Charlotte Greenwood, Victoria Hopper and Adele Dixon (as the titular sisters) Stanley Holloway (as a song-writing policeman) and, amongst the male chorus, Australian tenor, Max Oldaker. The most enduring song from the score, “I Won’t Dance” was subsequently bought by RKO Pictures (at Fred Astaire’s suggestion) for interpolation into the 1935 film version of Roberta starring Irene Dunne, Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Randolph Scott.
  1. Passenger lists of the period note that Madge and Cyril departed Southampton on 11 June 1934 aboard the S.S. Europa and arrived in New York on 16 June. (A fellow passenger was Beatrice Lillie, travelling under her married name of Lady Beatrice Peel.) Whilst in New York, Madge and Cyril attended a performance of Roberta at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and subsequently acquired the Australasian performing rights on behalf of JCW Ltd. As the intended producer of the musical in Australia, Cyril also contracted Ethel Morrison (then in New York, having performed in a revival of Bitter Sweet at the 44th Street Theatre) to play the title role. Departing from Los Angeles, Madge and Cyril arrived in Sydney aboard the A.M.S. Mariposa on 16 July 1934. (Fellow passengers on the ship included Sir Charles and Lady Kingsford Smith.)
  1. The Sydney season of Gay Divorce opened at the Theatre Royal on 28 July and played through to 12 September 1934. (The production had earlier premiered at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 23 December 1933 starring Billy Milton and Mona Potts— substituting for British leading lady, Iris Kirkwhite, who had sprained her ankle two days before opening night—before Milton and Kirkwhite took it on tour to Adelaide, Perth, Kalgoorlie and Brisbane playing it in repertory with revivals of The Girl Friend and The Quaker Girl. Most of the original Australian cast members who had toured with Milton and Kirkwhite remained with the production for Madge and Cyril’s subsequent Sydney season.) In addition to crediting Charles A. Wenman as producer and Edward Royce, Jun. for the “dances, ballet and groupings” the Sydney programme also noted that ‘The dances by Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard by Fred Astaire, London.’

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‘GAY DIVORCE.’
An ‘Intimate’ Musical Comedy.

‘Gay Divorce’ which made its first appearance in Sydney on Saturday night at the Theatre Royal comes to Australia after long runs in London and New York. It is an example of the greater latitude in expression which public opinion allows nowadays on the stage abroad.

The author Dwight Taylor calls the play ‘an intimate musical comedy in two acts.’ It is intimate in the sense that it broaches topics which twenty years ago would not have been alluded to in polite mixed company much less publicised in the footlights glare. The play is a symptom of the social movements of the time. The healthiness or otherwise of those movements are for the moralist and not the dramatic critic to determine.

In justice to Mr. Taylor it must be said that he does not take his theme seriously for a moment nor is the audience intended to take it seriously. A young lady has come to an English seaside resort in order that her solicitor may gain evidence for an arranged divorce. A professional co-respondent has been engaged who is to stay the night in the young wife’s room. Then in the early hours of the morning detectives are supposed to break down the door and discover the compromising situation. But the plans go agley. The prospective divorcee mistakes the hero (an ardent but respectable young man) for the co-respondent and gives him the key of her room. After a great amount of gay dialogue during which double entendre crackles like machine-gun fire, it is decided that both men shall stay in the sitting room while Mrs. Green— as the wife has resourcefully re-named herself—retreats to her bedchamber. The morning comes, and finds them severally asleep. The husband comes also; but instead of being horrified at discovering his wife immured with two declared lovers he strikes consternation into the breasts of all present by forgiving her and urging her to come home.

The remoteness of all this from any criticism or reflection of real life is apparent in the character of the co-respondent which Mr. Gus Bluett played on Saturday night with supremely hilarious effect. In the past Mr. Bluett has been inclined to romp about on the stage and improvise with miscellaneous ‘gags.’ But in ‘Gay Divorce’ he clung resolutely to the essentials of the character he represented and on that account gave his humour greater relish and distinction. The co-respondent was a parody on Italian temperament as the English stage has known it. He burst into bits of Puccini opera at odd moment, made courtly bows to the ladles, which ill assorted with his queer attire— particularly the pyjamas and dressing gown with their horrifying unaesthetic floral patterns— and muddled his pronunciation in the most frantic way. It was a delightful piece of nonsense.

Concerning Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott there is little to say. The Sydney public is now familiar with their easy, graceful, elegant style, which has no sharp accents or surprises, but fits pleasantly into the general scheme of the most diverse musical play. ‘Gay Divorce” gives them opportunity for their usual interludes of dancing. According to Saturday night’s programme they are using the same dances in which Fred Astaire and Claire Luce made such a sensation in London. On the side of singing, there is not much for them to do. Cole Porter’s music is, in fact, distinctly thin. The only significant number he has produced is ‘Night and Day,’ and Mr. Ritchard threw away most of the effect in this by failing to emphasise its insistent accent. Miss Elliott reinforced the decorative quality she always gives her gestures and movement— a quality based on her thorough training in dance— by wearing some superlatively lovely clothes. The audience was so struck by the white evening gown in which she made her entrance in the second act that it burst into cordial applause.

Under the direction of Mr. Charles Wenman as producer the rest of the cast kept up the pace and the superficial glitter which were requisite for the success of the piece. Miss Isabelle Mahon made an interesting first appearance in Sydney as a hotel guest on the look-out for masculine escort. This Melbourne actress is very young and very petite and she brought to the part an impish sauciness which gave it individuality. Mr Leo Franklyn played effectively a juicily humorous role as a waiter. It was a type of acting quite opposed to Mr. Bluett’s. The co-respondent was a genuine character-study, but Mr. Franklyn’s waiter remained always directly conscious of the audience in the manner of the variety stage. He was, in fact, simply Mr. Franklyn, exploiting a number of those tricks and whimsies which have made this actor deservedly popular as a comedian. Miss Madge Aubrey failed to give conviction to the American speech which fell to her lot and this deprived her part of much of its point. Mr. Frank Leighton was always infectiously cheery as the solicitor. He needed to be nothing more. Mr. Arthur Cornell made the downright autocratic butler in the first act a notable figure of comedy. One would gladly have seen the character reappear.

Mr. Leslie Board had provided settings that reproduced the gaunt splendours of an English seaside hotel, plus a few chairs and tables which in their modest parade of chromium made a concession to the contemporary style. The ballet served mainly for the display of fashionable bathing attire but it had one really good dance to do.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 30 July 1934, p.5,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17109400

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RICH MUSIC OF ‘GAY DIVORCE’

Someone said once that ‘the films are eternally facing high-explosive shells for indecency while the theatre, unhindered, continues its bland wickedness and adroitly dramatised miscreancies.’

That doesn't describe ‘Gay Divorce,’ produced with gusto at the Theatre Royal last night with a brilliant cast and delicious music. But it certainly does describe tendencies in some of the self-styled ‘intimate’ musical comedies of to-day, and ‘Gay Divorce,’ despite its slickness and its quite hilarious plot, is not free from such tendencies.

One doesn’t hope to decide a sophisticated Sydney audience of 1934 on its standard of ‘risque.’ Heaven knows, we need entertaining nowadays without becoming prudish in our newspapers. But it is a fact, and irate theatre magnates can note — and destroy, if they desire — that ‘Gay Divorce,’ apart from the cheerfully naughty scheme of its ‘convenient divorce’ theme, Cyril Ritchard’s pyjamas, and Gus Bluett’s idyllic calling of professional co-respondent, has some murky twists in its first act which don't help the over-all excellence of the play as a play. Frigidity or the virility of squirrels are not, let us imagine, suitable themes for songs, even in a frankly almost-over-the-edge musical play.

Home-Grown Success

The presence of a simple and rhythmic theme song, ‘Night and Day,’ gives character to the musical ensemble. Director [Andrew] McCunn gets cunning effects from his orchestra; the score is full of rich harmonies. 

Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott grace the Australian stage as distinguished home-growns; they look good, their work is good; they have become so polished, so suave, so impellingy restrained.

Leo Franklyn, of course, needs no notice at all.  Let him amble around, and dance a little, and talk a little, and you have your comedian-as-he-should-be. I was struck (while on the subject of comedians) by the great improvement in Gus Bluett. His character-comedy part of Tonetti, the professional co-re., brought a newer and better Gus to the stage. Less riotous; less of that stage walk of his which annoyed everyone. He was very good indeed.

Fresher Ballets

Everyone in the cast deserves a mention, including the ballet mistress. Isabelle Mahon, a Melbourne girl, knows how to be a soubrette; Madge Aubrey supplies a necessary (and clever) foil for Madge Elliott; Frank Leighton is Frank Leighton.

The ballets are fresher, somehow, than usual. It may be because the girls look so vivid and healthy; you've only to see the bathing suit ballet to believe that. But there Is a vigor in their work which makes up for all the hard rehearsals, and, I understand, they satisfy even Mr. McCunn. That's that.

In conclusion: there may be some embarrassed, superficial laughter at some of the wise-cracks in the first act. But that won't spoil a clever show. Only the movies get criticised and censored, after all, officer! — F.E.B.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 29 July 1934, p.11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229568798

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  1. Blue Mountain Melody (music and lyrics by Charles Zwar; book by J.C. Bancks) ‘An All-Australian Musical Comedy in Two Acts’ received its World premiere at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on 15 September 1934; produced by Frederick J. Blackman; ‘Ballets invented and arranged by Ruby Morriss’ and ‘Madge Elliott’s and Cyril Ritchard’s dances invented and arranged by Cyril Ritchard.’ Musical Director—Andrew MacCunn and ‘At the Pianos’—Charles Zwar (the composer) and Gabriel Joffe.

Prior to the musical’s opening, both the title number ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ and the Act 1 song ‘I Can See a Picture’ were recorded by Jim Davidson & His Orchestra (with vocals by John Warren) at EMI’s Sydney studios on 11 September 1934 and subsequently released on both sides of 78 rpm record issued on the Regal Zonophone label (cat. no. G-22179). The ‘foxtrot’ dance band arrangements were by Jim Davidson and D. Cantrell.

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BMMJ.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine Program for the Sydney premiere season. Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.

AUSTRALIAN PLAY.
Success of ‘Blue Mountain Melody.’
BRIGHT MUSIC AND DIALOGUE

‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ which opened at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night promises to be an extraordinary successful musical play. Written by two Australians, Mr Charles Zwar and Mr. J.C. Bancks, it was not only—as Mr. Cyril Rltchard pointed out in a brief speech—superior to many productions of the same type which go on in London; but it exceeded in interest and attractiveness several of of the big oversea successes which have been transplanted to the Australian stage. It was, for example, a better play than ‘Gay Divorce.’

This success was all the more remarkable because the piece had been launched without any preliminary ‘try-out’ in a provincial city theatre. In England and America, men like C.B. Cochran and George White experiment with their elaborate productions for four or five weeks in places like Manchester and Philadelphia, and often make sweeping alterations in them, before facing audiences in London and New York. Even with spoken drama, where the text is inflexible as compared with the the fluid musical comedy form, it becomes more and more the rule to try conclusion with provincial playgoers first. Only a month or two ago, Margaret Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks, junior, failed in the English provinces with ‘The Winding Journey,’ and the play never reached London at all.

With these considerations in mind, one was surprised not to find that there were weaknesses in ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ but to find that these weaknesses were so few in number. There is little that some judicious cutting will not remedy. At present, the show contains enough material for nearly two musical comedies. On Saturday night, the final curtain did not descend until half past eleven, and the tepid quality of the applause at the close showed that the audience had become wearied.

It is the second act, rather than the first which Mr. Frederick Blackman, as produter should attack with his scissors. The first moved at a brisk pace, and showed little that was redundant. The curtain rose to display an attractive example of Mr. Leslie Board’s scenic art. In the background, one looked across a vista of mountain valley, bathed in haze which would probably Iook unnaturally blue to a stranger in this country, but which really does reproduce the authentic colouring of the Blue Mountains on a propitious day. Gum-tree arched in this view. The only weakness is in the obvious artificiality of the luxurious flowers—a common weakness of J.C. Williamson productions, even when the flowers are in small quantities in vases.

The later Palm Peach scene gave Mr. Board even greater scope for effect. The applause which broke out at its revelation suggested that the audience had felt a thrill of praise at seeing the familiar sweep of sand, with Barrenjoey lighthouse on the rock at the end of it, besides recognising the obvious artistic merits of the scene. The setting reproduced the gaiety and glare of a New South Wales beach with remarkable fidelity.

The opening scene established at once both the wit and resourcefulness of Mr. Bancks, the author, and the crisp, fashionable charm of Mr. Zwar’s music. The composer had scored the various numbers with varied melodic effect; with unfailing taste; and, above all, with a really delightful feeling for rhythm. Two pianos played an important part In the orchestra. At one of these, Mr. Zwar himself appeared; and he showed, during a bright entr'act, that he is a jazz pianist of considerable attainment. The other was taken by Mr. Gabriel Joffe. Sometimes the scenes were supported by piano rhythm alone, when all the other instruments remained silent, and other times—notably in ‘I Can See a Picture’, which Miss Madge Elliott sang in the first act—two violins came into an isolated position to support the voice. In the second act, a brief interlude for scene-changing brought forth four girls’ voices unaccompanied, singing a series of reprises of the various melodies heard earlier in the piece. This was very charming. The madrigal, ‘When Knighthood Was in Flower,’ also had much melodic grace, in spite of its intentionally nonsensical text. Mr. Zwar wrote the lyrics, as well as the music.

The acting was all spirited, though nearly everyone seemed to be a little on edge, as though the responsibility of this new Australlan production had struck the cast with ungovernable nervousness. Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott have never been more polished; nor has their stage ‘business’ been more interesting. Mr. Frank Leighton too, had been provided with splendid material.  He not only looked exceedingly handsome as the young painter who boxes so that he can earn money to pursue his art, but he seemed to have lost the musical-comedy mannerisms of deportment which weakened his style for so long.

But Mr. Bancks should certainly rewrite portions of this part. The curtain at the end of act one, where the young boxer, having been seemingly deserted by his fiancee, cries loudly for whisky, and then begins to weep in a maudlin hysteria of drunkeness, is painfully reminiscent of the appalling young men who haunt inferior Hollywood films. The gangsters, too, might very well be modified or even suppressed altogether. Popping ineffectually in and out of the story, and uttering copious American slang in […] Anglo-Australian voices, they seemed painfully amateurish. Even though Mr. Bancks indulges In the pardonable and pleasant fiction that King’s Cross has a sufficiently opulent night-life to boast a resplendent cabaret, there is no reason why he should not draw his villains from genuine Australian types. The incldent of the thwarted ‘hold-up’ was so lame on Saturday night that the audience tittered.

Another reform that ought to be carried out is an expurgation of the dialogue here and there. A few incidents, such as the dancing lesson in scene two, definitely offend against good taste.

There is a multitude of comedians in the cast. One of the princlpal among them is Mr. Don Nicol. Thoughout the first act he kept up a really extraordinary vitality and humour, as a young boxer whose pretensions far outran his capabilities. Mr. Nicol has that rare quality in a comedian, the ability to mingle fun and pathos so intimately that the border between them vanishes. It is a quality which caused Charlie Chaplin’s later comedies to be highly prized by people who had hitherto looked down on him as simply a man with funny feet and moustache. The fact that Mr. Nicol's doings become a little tiresome in the second act was due to the text, which here inclined to repetition, rather than to any fault of the actor.

Miss Agnes Doyle seemed ill at ease in the part as soubrette, though she put Mr. Banks’ effective lines of repartee clearly across to the audience. Once she settles down into the role she will assuredly be excellent. Miss Marie Le Varre, as usual, made the very most of every line and every situation allotted to her. She always acts with infectious comic zest. Mr. Leo Franklyn, though a little over-conscious of the audience, was persistently amusing as the pugilist-hero's manager. Mr. Athol Tier was a droll life-saver, and Mr. George Moon cut a comic figure as the timid chauffeur.

Miss Ruby Morriss had shown great inventtiveness in devising the ballets. These proved to be few in number; but what there was had been worked out with brilliant elaboration; and they made use of effects of lighting and of dramatic shadow in a way which far excelled anything done so far in the Australian theatre. ‘Shadows’ was the principal success. There was also a very good adagio dance by Mr. Eric Bush and Miss Mona Zeppel on Palm Beach. Other numbers in the Palm Beach scene, which should certainly not be dropped in any revision, were the amusing quintet, ‘All the Best People,’ and the dance, ‘Let's Relax,’ by Mr. Ritchard and Miss Elliott.

Mr. Andrew MacCunn directed the orchestra. Special mention is due, also, to Mr. L. Worran for his lighting effects. He will, no doubt, remedy some slight imperfections at the later performances.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 17 September 1934, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17095409

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‘Blue Mountain Melody’

Produced with the most lavish effects of scenery, costume, colour, and light, the Australian musical comedy ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ written by J.C. Bancks, with music and lyrics by Charles Zwar—youthful Australians who have both given many proofs of their artistic capabilities—was presented by the J.C. Williamson management on Saturday night at the Theatre Royal with every aid to complete success. In this endeavour to foster Australian musicians and dramatists ‘the Firm’ have followed—and done well in following—the precedent set recently by Mr. F.W. Thring with ‘Collits’ Inn’ and—to a lesser degree—with ‘The Beloved Vagabond;’ and the combined efforts of these entrepreneurs in this direction must be of inestimable advantage to Australian artists and to Australian art.

In commenting upon this first production of ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ the critic is swayed by the remembrance of two things: First, that it is almost entirely Australian in construction—I would have omitted the 'almost' were it not that it is impossible to overlook the great part played in its success by Mr. Blackman, the producer, who is an Englishman—a fact which naturally tends to bias judgment in its favour; and second, that, as Mr. Cyril Ritchard informed the audience at curtain-fall, it is rarely that any large city is given the opportunity to see a first performance ‘cold’ (that is without preliminary ‘trials on the dog’ in an out-of-the-way theatre) and with all those faults and excrescences uneliminated which can only be found and corrected by the experience of a number of performances. In this case Saturday’s audience had the unique opportunity of witnessing a first production on any stage with all those imperfections on its head that only such a first production can—and inevitably does—make patent. In the first place, it is clear that Saturday’s performance was much too long—the final curtain did not fall till after 11.30 p.m.—and excision will therefore have to be drastically resorted to. I suggest that a commencement might be made in this direction by curtailing the first scenes of the first and second acts—both of which, and especially the latter, would well stand compression—and by doing away with some of the interludes sung and spoken before the scene-drop in the second act. I would also add ‘The Bloody Tower’ item to the list of appropriate victims of the pruning knife, were it not for the beauty of its madrigal-like music. The words are so patent an appeal to those who imagine it to be the height of humour and dramatic craft to hear the great Australian adjective upon the stage that they might well be amended.

And this comment naturally leads up to a consideration of the second—and only other—serious defect in ‘Blue Mountain Melody’—its humour. Much of this is excellent; but some of it is cheap, with the usual concomitant of cheapness, and one could not help echoing the request of one of the characters to ‘leave out all this vulgar stuff about bed.’ Much of the dialogue might appropriately be made the subject of a similar appeal, and a ready response to that appeal would not only greatly improve the tone of the production, but would also assist towards the desirable shortening of the whole piece.

Apart from these two faults, the musical comedy is attractive in every way. The music all through is excellently conceived and scored, and Mr. Zwar is to be distinctly congratulated upon his share in the production. Mr. Bancks has a ready and vivacious wit, which—with the exceptions referred to—he exploits very neatly, while the lyrics are both clever and topical. The dressing and mounting are beyond praise, and the numerous ballets—invented and arranged by Ruby Morriss—are as novel as they are beautiful; and, in conclusion, the acting, singing, and dancing of the principals are in every case up to the reputations of the executants. Remembering that the cast includes such well-proved favourites as Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, Agnes Doyle and Frank Leighton, Marie Le Varre and Leo Franklyn, Don Nicol and Athol Tier, this is saying a great deal.

The scenery, which was extraordinarily fine, especially the beach and mountain settings, was the work of Mr. Leslie Board; the brightly effective costumes were designed by Jessie Tait, Gretel Bulmore, and Pierre Fornari; and Andrew MacCunn directed the musical side of the production with his usual careful and sympathetic attention—S.E.N.

The Sydney Mail (NSW), Wednesday, 19 September 1934, p.17,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166108136

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Local Play By The Local Lads
‘Blue Mountain Melody’ Is IT

By F.E. BAUME

The Play: ‘Blue Mountains Melody’

The Theatre: Theatre Royal (JCW)

In the book, color, and music of ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ the Australian Theatre ceases to look through a glass darkly.

Ahead lies a vividly bright theatrical future. It had been obscured for too long, not because of theatrical producers, but on account of an apathetic public, fickle and sweetly condescending in its attitude towards anything which did not come from Mayfair, 42nd Street, or Upper Mongolia; disdainful of its own musicians, writers, artists.

Last night’s premiere at the Theatre Royal was really far more than a social function. It was the first presentation of a sophisticated musical comedy in which the Blue Mountains were just as effective a backdrop as, say, the Canadian Rockies in ‘Rose Marie.’

Palm Beach, with the modern backless-costumed misses, we know so well, strangely enough, Mr. Knocker of Australian work, looked just as beautiful as, for example, a scene of Biarritz, which too many of our affluent globe-trotting leaders of society have been regarding as a necessity in any Australian theatre; because they went there once.

And Jimmy Bancks, of our own ‘Sunday Sun,’ with composer Charles Zwar, and two grand pianos, has succeeded in convincing theatregoers that it is not at all bad form to laugh at something which, believe it or not, is our own joke, our very local joke.

It’s Local

Realise that for many years hundreds of American Jimmy Bancks and Zwars faced a public, as merciless as the Australian public has been to its own stories. Then came the sudden realisation (as it has come here) that the theatre can be as national as the Melbourne Cup.

So in the past month many a conservative first nighter has convinced herself that she is not offending the social laws by becoming enthusiastic about local genius.

Let’s use the word local, and be proud of it. ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ is one by the local boys about the good old local life. Ben Hecht and Sinclair Lewis were once local boys before the glorious wave of national appreciation made them world figures.

That same appreciation will produce world famous Australian plays. The Taits will tell you that. It's getting hard enough to get good plays from anywhere!

Getting back to our ‘Melody.’ The libretto is slick. Bancks has humor: That you know from Ginger Meggs. He has a cheerful Australian twist which he will develop further in other plays, considering that in his first he has found situations which practised playwrights have missed, He has had the horsesense to work in with Producer Blackman; with the result that the intense and brilliant production shows the strength of Blackman’s clever hand.

Needs Faster Action

With a stronger opening—not from the standpoint of color, but from that of faster action—the audience would be warmer quickly. They soon work up to appreciation as it is.

The music is adequate and of lyric quality. It needs no great strength, and it is never overdone. But it is better than 90 per cent. of music which makes its way into Australia from overseas musical comedies.

The ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ theme song is excellent. It will be heard from under many a shower in the early morning during the next few months.

No better vehicles than Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard could have been found for the play. They work so hard and do so much for the script. So does Leo Franklyn. So do Frank Leighton and Marie Le Varre and Agnes Doyle—in short, so does the whole company, ballets, chorus, 'n' everything. Don Nicol is a new comedian who will be heard of again.

The designing of the dresses brings a little romance from real life into a musical romance. Jessie Tait is E.J. Tait's daughter and Jim Bancks’s wife. She, with Gretel Bullmore and Fornari, created costumes which reflect the sunshine which we are supposed to have in Sydney. As a matter of fact, Jessie Tait has always been an indefatigable worker for the theatre. I foresee several more plays in which she and her husband will have much to do.

‘Blue Mountain Melody’ I have discussed as a bright, modern musical comedy; clean, clever, and attractive, with a simple little story and a wealth of stagecraft, produced by the local boys, helped by the local girls.

Let this be a message to Australian writers and musicians: Will Shakespeare was a local lad in Stratford. Then a theatre put on some of his plays. 

Will became a decided theatrical success. So did the English theatre.

That’s all.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 16 September 1934, p.9, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230319500

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‘BLUE MOUNTAIN MELODY.’
Gus Bluett Joins Cast.

Gus Bluett has joined the cast of ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ at the Theatre Royal, to take the role of Dynamite Danny Duffy. Mr. J.C. Bancks, the author of this Australian musical comedy, wrote the part for Mr. Bluett. Hitherto it had been taken by Don Nicol, who has now been transferred to another character.

Dynamite Danny Duffy is a slow-witted and consistently unsuccessful boxer. Mr. Bluett embellishes the part with many absurdities of facial expression and gesture. In the first act his vacuousness and his lack of control over arms, legs, and a large cigar is most comical, and the audience made it clear that it was vastly amused. His fooling during the singing of the song, ‘All the Best People,’ is in Mr. Bluett's best manner. The addition of this popular comedian adds to the attractions of a cast that was already a strong one, including, as it did, Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard, Leo. Franklyn, Marie Le Varre, Frank Leighton, and others.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Tuesday, 2 October 1934, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17142841

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AUSTRALIAN PLAY AS TALKIE
‘Blue Mountain Melody’ Scores Success
J. C. Williamson’s Plans

‘Such is the success of the Australian musical comedy, “Blue Mountain Melody” in Sydney that we are going to make a talkie film version of it,’ said the managing director of J.C. Williamson, Ltd. (Mr. E.J. Tait) who is now in Brisbane in connection with the first Australian appearances of the Russian Ballet.

‘At the same time,’ added Mr. Tait, ‘although we are naturally keen to see Australian plays firmly established, producing them is an experiment that is in the nature of a gamble. We must be sure that there will be an overseas market for our theatrical productions, just as it is necessary to ensure on overseas market for our agricultural produce. For this reason it is necessary to walk warily. But I am of the opinion that the production overseas of Australian stage plays would be as good publicity for this country as the screening in the cinemas of the world of Australian films.’

HUGE STAGE COSTS.

Mr. Tait said that now the theatre was regaining its old popularity the prospects for Australian plays were much brighter. The main snag was the heavy cost of stage production. A story could be filmed for, say, £10,000, but a musical comedy would cost that sum before the curtain rose, and after that there would be the additional big weekly salary bill and the high cost of the transportation of the company from one city to another. It was in this respect that films competed with the stage on extremely favourable terms.

Illustrating the cost of moving a large stage company, Mr. Tait said that to bring ‘White Horse Inn’ to Brisbane would mean incurring a charge of £800 for transportation alone. Then, as Brisbane is a theatrical cul de sac, it would be necessary for the box office receipts to approximate £6,000 in two weeks to make the venture a payable one.

‘The proposition looks impossible,’ he added, ‘but we are exploring the possibilities of bringing the company here—as there is no doubt that Brisbane would be delighted with the show. It is now in its eleventh week in Melbourne and seems likely to run another five, while in Sydney it attracted vast audiences.’

FOR DUKE’S GALA.

‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ the libretto of which was written by Mr. Tait's son-in-law, J.C. Bancks, the Sydney ‘Sun’ artist who created the famous ‘Ginger Meggs,’ was woven round Australian stage favourites such as Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard, and for this reason alone had a special appeal for Australian audiences. The composer is another young Australian—Charles Zwar, while the producer F.J. Blackman. Is well known to Brisbane audiences. This Australian musical play has been chosen for presentation at the gala performance in honour of the Duke of Gloucester on November 8.

Mr. Tait mentioned that Beaumont Smith would make the film version of ‘Blue Mountain Melody.’

The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Wednesday, 10 October 1934, p.13 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182401219

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N.B.  £10,000 in 1934 is equivalent to approx. $1,040,510 in today’s money; £800 = approx. $83,240; £6,000 = approx. $634,306

(ref. https://www.rba.gov.au/calculator/annualPreDecimal.html )

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In the event J.C. Williamson’s mooted plans to film the musical with its original stage cast, however, did not eventuate. 

The production moved on to Melbourne, where it received a gala premiere at the newly renovated His Majesty’s Theatre on Thursday, 8 November 1934 in the presence of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (the third son of King George V, and later Governor-General of Australia between 1945–1947) who was visiting Australia as guest of honour to attend the Centenary celebrations marking the founding of the City of Melbourne. 

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DUKE ATTENDS GALA THEATRE NIGHT

Garlands of flowers adorned the interior of His Majesty’s Theatre last night for the Gala performance of ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ given in honor of the Duke of Gloucester.

The whole of the façade of the dress circle was wreathed with ropes of roses, and the backs of each of the two upper boxes were covered with massed flowers in blue, red and gold, while over the royal box a coat of arms in flowers stood out in bold relief.

The Duke of Gloucester was received on his arrival by Mr Frank Tait, and immediately proceeded to his box; accompanying him were Lord and Lady Huntingfield and Lieut-Colonel Howard Vyse.

Lady Huntingfield, who sat in the box with the Duke of Gloucester, wore a black flat crepe gown with gleaming crystal beads forming the trimming around the neck, and in her hair she wore a tiara.

An exquisite presentation posy of roses was placed on the ledge of the box. In the box next to the Duke, Lord Huntingfield and Major-General Howard Vyse were seated.

Enthusiastic Reception

The entrance of the Duke was the signal for much enthusiasm from the crowded house; and from the moment the curtain went up until the thrilling moment at the end of the performance, when Miss Strella Wilson, accompanied by the band from the H.M.S. Sussex, sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ the gala atmosphere prevailed.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Friday, 9 November 1934, p.18 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243088434

The Gala performance was broadcast live from His Majesty’s Theatre by Melbourne radio 3LO and on relay to 2FC (Sydney), 2CO (Corowa), 2NC (Newcastle), 4QG (Brisbane), 4RK (Rockingham), 5CL (Adelaide) and 5CK (Crystal Brook, SA).

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BLUE MOUNTAIN MELODY
AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL COMEDY.
Colorful Spectacle, Delightful Music.

You will bring away from Blue Mountain Melody, an Australian musical comedy staged at His Majesty’s Theatre on Derby night, the impression of brilliant mountain and beach settings, light music, and the peculiarly physical urge of life in the sunshine and open air. And that is something for which Charles Zwar, who wrote the lyrics and music; J.C. Bancks, who wrote the book; Frederick Blackman, who produced, and the excellent cast of Australian principals deserve our warmest congratulations. It may be considered that there is too much dialogue telling a thin story; that rapidly-spoken exchanges do not always pass for wit, without which spectacle is not enough; that the piece is not sufficiently daring in vividly familiar scenes; and that the music is not closely related to the action throughout. But should we expect so much from what is but an experimental production? If Blue Mountain Melody succeeds in stimulating the invention and staging here of better, if not brighter, entertainment of wholly Australian origin, it will have been well worth while.

The plot of Blue Mountain Melody has something to do with a middle weight boxer, Jimmy Brady, and Judy Trent, a singer and dancer at Heeney's Cafe in Darlinghurst, who inspires him to championship form, but who is infatuated by Peter Hurley, a young squatter. Comic relief in humorous frivolity is afforded by Dynamite Danny Duffy, another boxer who lives on his reputation; Rosie O'Dare, his girl friend; Sport Moroney, Brady’s manager; Blondie, a sporting blonde, and the diminutive George Gangle, Peter's chauffeur. But the plot is but an excuse for dancing and singing and ballet ensembles. There are smart numbers, like Peter is Here (at the mountain hotel) and All the Best People (at Palm Beach); and the songs and refined dances of Cyril Ritchard (Peter) and Madge Elliott (Judy)—Send Me a Telegram, Let's Relax and the elaborate Shadows—provide spectacle and character in exquisite grace, color and expressive movement. There is the original dance of Frank Leighton (Jimmy Brady) and the ballet, Hard Knocks, essentially expressing the theme, and the attractive pantomime and chorus Foils and Clubs.  Gus Bluett (Dynamite Danny) clowns inimitably in almost every scene to the uproarious delight of everyone, and Leo Franklyn (Sport Moroney) is brought in with a life-saving reel by charming rescuers from the body of the theatre. Agnes Doyle (Rosie) makes a hit with the number Don't Forget Your Etiquette. Mona Zeppel and Eric Bush dance splendidly in the Palm Beach Girl scene.

Don Nicol is best in an eccentric dance. Marie Le Varre (Blondie) and George Moon (Gangle) contribute a burlesque duet, I’m Yours, and the male sextet When Knighthood Is In Flower will undoubtedly be encored, with variations in its presentation, throughout the season. Late in the piece Miss Elliott and Mr. Rltchard sing and dance Blue Mountain Melody with the ballet; Arthur Clarke uses his fine voice effectively in the microphone with the Kelly Trio; the stage begins to revolve in the second act, and the show comes out late.

But the brilliant color effects in lighting and staging remain pleasantly. You enjoy the novelty of a new orchestral conductor, Andrew MacCunn, of Sydney, who will return there on Wednesday; of the presence of the composer and Essie Morison at the piano; of Ruby Morris’s work in arranging the ballets; of Leslie Board’s scenery, and a variety of costumes in modern styles. Yet the outstanding feature of Blue Mountain Melody is the physical spectacle. In this production the male physique deliberately takes its place with the inevitable and ever-charming parade of feminine beauty. There is hope for the theatre when it takes its men as seriously as its women.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 5 November 1934, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205083824

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25. BMM cast list26. BMM prog 2

27. BMM prog 3Cast credits, Synopsis of Scenes and Musical Numbers as listed for the Melbourne season. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

 

His Majesty’s
AMONG THE MOUNTAINS
A Colourful Production

Whether the setting is Mayfair or Montmartre, Damascus, or Darlinghurst, the spirit of musical comedy varies little. The audience which welcomed the first Melbourne performance of ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ at His Majesty's on Saturday received few surprises, except perhaps for the smoothness and technical resource of this ‘home-grown’ musical comedy. Mr. J.C. Bancks has striven to bring his ‘book’ into line with the immemorial tradition of musical comedy. He has chosen a fragile and meandering plot with plenty of spectacular effect, and decorated it neatly and wittily. Mr. Charles Zwar's music and lyrics are in the same vein—apt and pointed, with a touch of sentimentality when required, but acid enough to stimulate the appetite. The work of these two talented young Australians gained still more in finish from the admirable production of Mr. Frederick Blackman and the interpretation of an experienced and popular cast headed by Miss Madge Elliott, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, and Mr. Gus Bluett. ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ is not an experiment; it is old wine—and smooth wine—in new bottles.

There never has been, and there probably never will be a musical comedy which is not a tale of true love thwarted but triumphant. Mr. Bancks’s hero is Jimmy Brady, a highly successful young pugilist with artistic aspirations. He spends his time happily painting canvases, punching bags, and making love to the beautiful Judy Trent in the idyllic setting of the Blue Mountains. Quite naturally he becomes jealous, however, when the wealthy and attractive Peter Harley turns up and pays attention to Judy. There is a realistic lovers’ quarrel, and the old three-handed game is played out to a finish, leaving Jimmy, very much chastened despite his successes in the ring and at the easel, begging forgiveness of the faithful Judy. The theme is simple, but it is sufficient to carry the players through 10 spectacular and cleverly contrasted scenes, varying from a house party at Palm Beach to a Darlinghurst cafe. This rapid switching of scene, aided by a generous infusion of songs, dances, and comic interludes, lightens the author's task of banishing care. The smoothness with which the players worked into their parts suggested that the book had been written with an eye to the cast. Miss Madge Elliott, as the maidenly Judy, and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, as the breezy Peter, were as captivating as ever; if their singing was not remarkable, their dancing was unexcelled. Their spirited little duet and dance "Send Me a Telegram," in the first scene, was a foretaste of the striking and imaginative shadow dance, which was the highlight of the production. In this ensemble the miming of the dancers was skilfully exaggerated by trick lighting. Mr. Zwar’s orchestration of this number was most effective, and his final song, ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ suited Miss Elliott’s voice perfectly. Mr. Gus Bluett made the part of ‘Dynamite’ Danny Duffy an unfailing well of laughter. Mr. Frank Leighton was well cast as Jimmy, the aesthetic middle-weight, and his acting, singing, and dancing were unobtrusive and competent. The cast is rich in comedians. Mr. Leo Franklyn, as a ‘hard-boiled’ boxing promoter; Mr. George Moon, as a comic chauffeur; Mr. Don. Nicol, as a life-saver, a waiter, a gardener, and other things; together with Miss Marie Le Varre and Miss Agnes Doyle added to the gaiety of the show.

Miss Ruby Morriss's arrangement of the ballets is smooth and efficient. Mr. Andrew MacCunn conducted the orchestra discreetly, in the temporary absence of Mr. William Qulntrell.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 5 November 1934, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10991501

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  1. Roberta (music by Jerome Kern; book and lyrics by Otto Harbach; adapted from Alice Duer Miller’s novel ‘Gowns by Roberta’) received its Australian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on 22 December 1934; ‘The entire production, including Ballets and Dances, produced by Cyril Rltchard.’

THEY ALL LIKE ‘ROBERTA’
Lavish Musical Show

Never has a company been more interested in a show than that which is rehearsing ‘Roberta.’

J.C. Williamson Ltd. declares that this will be the most spectacular musical comedy production ever staged under its management.

When ‘Roberta’ is presented at His Majesty’s on December 22 Cyril Ritchard thinks that it will be more attractive than when he saw it in New York. This is the musical comedy which Mr Ritchard purchased for J.C. Williamson Ltd. and which he is to produce.

One of the improvements to be made is a big dancing finale to the first act. The curtain went down on a quiet scene in the New York production, and Jerome Kern, the composer, told Mr Ritchard that he was never satisfied with it.

Kern had intended that Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott should play in ‘Roberta’ in London, but because his venture with ‘The Three Sisters’ at Drury Lane failed he postponed the production.

Mr Ritchard says that while he was in New York music from ‘Roberta,’ and particularly the number ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,’ was broadcast frequently and interest in the show was enhanced. That was proof of the merit of the music.

This is the first occasion on which Mr Ritchard has been responsible for the entire production of a musical comedy. His chief ambitions have been to conduct an orchestra and play Hamlet. In ‘Roberta’ he will be the conductor of a jazz band, and the comedian, Leo Franklyn, will appear as his manager.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 8 December 1934, p.35 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243088579

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RobertaJ.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine Program for the Melbourne premiere season. State Library Victoria, Melbourne. View full program.

‘ROBERTA’ PREMIERE
New Producer With Ideas

There will be tremendous cheering after the great dancing finale to the first act of ‘Roberta,’ at His Majesty's tonight. This finale was not in the New York production. It is Cyril Ritchard’s idea.

Mr Ritchard was associated with the production of ‘Blue Roses,’ and the revivals of ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ and ‘The Quaker Girl,’ but this marks the first occasion on which he has been an independent producer.

After having seen ‘Roberta’ in New York, Mr Ritchard did not obtain hundreds of sketches and detailed directions of every dance number.

All the notes which Mr Ritchard made on the New York production were contained on the front page of a programme.

Instead of attempting to make an exact copy of everything he saw he has given his own interpretation of a good musical piece and thus has invested the production with spontaneity.

Mr Ritchard thinks that the public will be delighted with the story and romantic atmosphere of ‘Roberta,’ and has no doubt about the merit of the comedy. This musical comedy is by Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern, the librettist and composer of many brilliant successes; ‘Smoke Gels in Your Eyes,’ one of the song hits, was the rage of New York.

Modern in every respect, ‘Roberta’ contains some remarkable scenes. An American bar in Paris will display more than 1000 bottles of various brands of liquor. This brilliantly lighted scene caused a furore in New York. The dressing is a revelation. A wonderful fashion parade by mannequins will be an outstanding feature tonight.

George Upward has painted the scenery for ‘Roberta,’ which is in two acts of nine scenes.

Ethel Morrison will be Aunt Minnie, the modiste, whose trade name is Roberta. She was engaged by Mr Ritchard in New York for the part, for which she was strongly recommended by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. Madge Elliott has the part of a Russian Princess, who works for Roberta, and helps to conduct the establishment after the death of that kindly person. The tenor, John Dudley, who has been transferred from the company headed by Sylvia Welling, will be associated with her in a good singing role.

J.C. Williamson Ltd. declares that ‘Roberta’ is the most costly musical comedy it has staged. Six hundred yards of ring velvet constituted one item of expenditure. This is used for curtains in two scenes.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 22 December 1934, p.31 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243081925

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30. Roberta scene 2Roberta—Act II Scene 2—Willy’s American Bar in Paris (scenery by George Upward). Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.

 

ROBERTA.
Brilliant Production at His Majesty’s.

Roberta, which opened brilliantly at His Majesty’s on Saturday, shows how the times have changed the characters of musical comedy. In the old days the principals were a ravishing shopgirl with a name like Mary Gibbs, and a gay young peer, or an impecunious bank clerk and a magnate’s magnetic daughter. But in Roberta the principals are a college football player and a former Russian princess, and the cast includes a crooner (who happily does not croon) and a bunch of jazz players. For the rest Roberta sticks to the honored traditions of musical comedy. It has more comedy than mush, and more color and verve than either. Indeed, in dressing it is brilliant, and the parade of the mannequins at the Paris showroom is a highlight. Then again the cast is a strong one, and the plot is almost coherent. There are many risque allusions and undressing scenes. Roberta is as coyly erratic as it is romantic, and so everything seems set for a successful run. Otto Harbach, who wrote the book and lyrics, has succeeded in achieving an evenly-spaced play that is definitely free from dull moments, and Jerome Kern has provided music which is always apposite, articulate and in good artistic taste, though lacking in the kind of lilting melodies that compel themselves to be whistled afterwards in the bath. The large and fashionable first-night audience was in no two minds about the quality of Roberta. Its applause was hearty and continuous.

An indication of the plot may be given in a few lines. The hero, John Kent (Frank Leighton) is one of those muscular youths, the soul of good nature, and a miracle of thick-headedness, whose sole conversation consists of ‘Aw gee, that’s swell.’ As his friends point out, this is hardly fluent enough to satisfy the demands of Sophie Teale, the debutante, for whom he entertains a devastating passion. Sophie, accordingly, treats him as though he were a footman instead of a football player.  With the scornful words ‘Small-town!’ on her lips, she hands him back his ring. They meet again in Paris, where Sophie is holidaying, and John has inherited a partnership in the famous modeste business known as Roberta’s. The other partner is Stephanie (Madge Elliott), a former Russian princess, who quickly falls in love with the big American. Complications to this budding love affair arise in the persons of a doorman, who sings divinely, and who was once a Russian prince (John Dudley), and a Polish cabaret star named Sharwenka, Roberta's best, customer, and a woman of tempestuous temperament and amorous proclivities. Sharwenka makes a dead set at John, and Ladislaw, the singing doorman, is understood to be devoted to Stephanie. With the exception of a prologue set at Haverill College, USA, the whole of the action takes place in Paris.

Cyril Ritchard, is his customary polished self as Huck Haines, the orchestra leader and college friend of John, who steers that strong, silent chap out of the arms of Sophie and into those of Stephanie. He is on the stage more than anyone else, and the continuous allegro of the play is to no small extent due to his dash and elan. As Sharwenka, Marie Le Varre scores one of the successes of a long career. Though unnecessarily strident at times, she gives a masterly interpretation of the explosive cabaret star, whose capital is largely her exotic personality and her reputation for tantrums and love affairs. Her appearance as a mannequin in bride's dress and her singing of I’ll Be Hard to Handle brought down the house. Madge Elliott skilfully suggested the wistful, artistic Russian nature, and her dancing and singing attained her usual high standard. As the football player Frank Leighton was handsome enough, in spite of his limited vocabulary, to fire any girl’s heart. Leo Franklyn’s part was a small one, as a collegian, but he did what he had to do well. Ethel Morrison brought dignity and old-fashioned charm to the role of Roberta, and Jean Duncan gave a deft sketch of the somewhat acidulated Sophie. His role as Ladislaw did not give John Dudley many appearances, but when he did appear he used his splendid voice to advantage. The snap and sparkle of the ballet and the magnificence of the dresses contribute much to make Roberta a show particularly in harmony with the holiday mood.

The play was produced by Mr. Cyril Rltchard.  Matinees will be given next Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Holiday booking on Wednesday will be available at His Majesty’s Theatre.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 24 December 1934, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205071397

31. Roberta scene 5Roberta—Act II Scene 5—Café Russe, Paris (scenery by George Upward) Cyril Ritchard and Frank Leighton at table on left—John Dudley with guitar at back left—Marie Le Varre standing at centre stage. Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.

32. Roberta cartoon montageKerwin Maegraith caricatures. The Sydney Mail, 20 March 1935, p.14.

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His Majesty’s
MODES AND MANNEQUINS
A Spectacle With Music

The spirit of musical comedy is perennial, but its face is always changing. In response to the challenge of the films stage mechanics have been developed to permit of a much more rapid and varied pattern of lights and colours than was possible a few years ago. ‘Roberta’ is a sign of the times. The appeal of this new production from New York is almost entirely to the eye. Those two experienced craftsmen, Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern, who wrote the book and music, are responsible for very little of the success of the production. The appeal of ‘Roberta’ lies in the dressing, the sets, the stage lighting, and the dances. But for these it would be tame and long-winded. The performance on Saturday night was admirably staged and smoothly carried through. The success of the production belongs largely to Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who is making his debut as producer, and to the stage manager, Mr. H.C. Nightingale. Mr. Ritchard’s work on the stage is as attractive as ever, but his work behind the scenes is even more important.

In seeking a theme for his ‘book,’ Harbach has kept in mind the paramount claim of the eye. The plot is taken from a novel, ‘Gowns by Roberta,’ by Alice Miller. There are no spacious out-door sets in the play, but to compensate there is a succession of ornate showrooms, bars, cabarets, and, above all, mannequin parades. The wings pour forth an endless succession of lavishly gowned girls. There are walking suits, beach suits, cocktail suits, wedding dresses, evening dresses, and even nightdresses. The play is a living architecture of feminine clothes, shrewdly set off with lighting and music. The keystone of the pattern Is an ingeniously conceived ballet, ‘Shadows in Silver,’ in which the dancers, clothed in metal tissues of contrasted colours, go through a series of dramatic postures under a kaleidoscope of moving lights and shadows. Even this effectively staged dance is only an Item in a fashion parade.

In this heavily scented atmosphere an orthodox musical comedy romance-with-misunderstandings is played out between a Russian princess, turned modiste, and an American footballer, also turned modiste. It is a fantastic contrast, but it has been worked out with no touch of malice, and very few touches of wit. Scenes which might have been given an ironic twist slip limply by with a little obvious sentimentality and a touch of slapstick comedy toward the inevitable conclusion. Mr. Frank Leighton is hardly husky enough for the footballer, but he plays his part with spirit. Miss Madge Elliott’s dignity and grace of bearing are admirably suited to the part of Stephanie, the rather wistful princess. She dances as well as ever, and uses her voice with intelligence in the gracefully sentimental songs which are given her. It is a part which fits her like a glove. 

Mr. Ritchard leads a small army of comedians with his breezy air and happy stage manners. He suggests rather a young man about town than an American crooner and jazz band leader. Perhaps this is just as well, because Mr. Ritchard has a more attractive personality than most crooners, and realism is unnecessary in a musical comedy. His only serious moments are when he is dancing. Then he is very serious and very good. One of the most satisfactory performances in the show is given by Miss Ethel Morrison as the great Roberta, first modiste of Paris, or Aunt Minnie, as she is known to her American nephew. Miss Morrison plays the part with an ease and grace which are refreshing. In striking contract is Miss Marie Le Varre, who makes huge fun as a temperamental and roguish cabaret singer. Mr. Leo Franklyn’s slapstick is funny enough, although he slips into crudity in attempting to eke out a weak series of parodies on American radio ‘stars.’ Miss Jean Duncan has a lot too much charm to make a cheap American debutante, but she acts the part with plenty of spirit. The show is strengthened musically by the presence of Mr. John Dudley with his beautiful tenor, in a small part. Miss Ruby Morriss has brought the ballet to its usual degree of smoothness, and Mr. William Quintrell’s handling of the orchestra is resourceful.

Matinees will be given on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and next Tuesday (New Year’s Day). Holiday booking will be available at His Majesty’s Theatre on Wednesday.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 24 December 1934, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11003186

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BEHIND THE SCENES.
SHIFTERS USE WHITE GLOVES.
MISS ELLIOTT ON A DANCER’S LIFE.

The members of the musical comedy company who appear to-night at the opening of ‘Roberta’ arrived from Melbourne yesterday. In the Theatre Royal, amidst a great bustling and hurry, while the rehearsal was proceeding, and piles of ‘props’ and scenery were being brought in, scene-shifters astonishingly gloved in white moved sundry articles about.

‘There's no joke about it,’ said Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the producer. ‘Stage hands in gloves may look odd, but there's a good reason. This show is so elaborate and costly that they have to wear them. There is a whole setting in black satin, and furniture and scenery in white satin. Then we have two sets of curtains, 600 yards of a “ring” velvet which any woman would be delighted with for a dress, and so on, and it is to keep them fresh and unsoiled that we have this strange circumstance of scene-shifters in gloves. But I want to stress the point that “Roberta” does not depend on costly accessories. They must be there because the play is about a dress shop and you can’t fool women with faked stuff. “Roberta” is full of charming melodies. It was the biggest success of 1934 in New York, the only real 'smash hit' during the depression, and it was the biggest thrill of my theatrical life that I was given the job of producing it.’

Speaking on the subject of play production and the picture competition, Mr. Ritchard said that as long as theatrical managers gave fair treatment to production and did not just put on plays to try to fill the theatre, there was no question about the theatre being able to hold its own. Definitely, he believed, the theatre was gaining ground against the picture show, but one effect of the pictures was that it was no longer possible to send small touring companies with mediocre productions into the provinces. They had to be first class shows.

A DANCER’S LIFE.

Miss Madge Elliott announced that her marriage to Mr. Ritchard will take place at the end of the season in Sydney, after which they will take a honeymoon trip to America and England, with a holiday visit to Honolulu. ‘This is a much harder life than people generally realise,’ she said in an interval during the rehearsal. ‘It's especially so with the dancing because you can't let yourself go for even one day. A weekend, and if you don't practise on the Monday you stiffen up unbelievably. We do what we call limbering up. I have to practise perhaps half an hour before the show. Practising the dancing as well as taking a part is very strenuous, If I have for some reason a lapse of say three weeks without practise, it is as If I hadn't been dancing for six months.’

Speaking of the evolution of dancing, Miss Elliott said she felt that perhaps it was losing something of its gracefulness, trending a little towards the ‘barbarous,’ the result of the modern styles. Dancing in ballrooms, she thought, was somewhat grotesque, but she believes it will return to a more graceful style and some of the old-time dancing.

A prominent member of the company is Miss Ethel Morrison, who is well known in Sydney and recently spent three years in America. The theatrical profession, she said, had a terribly bad experience in the depression, but she believed there were signs of improvement. At one period the Federal Government helped the actors and actresses by sending companies to places where they played in colleges and schools so that they were able to make a little and tide over the bad times. She enjoyed her visit, but was glad to get back to Australia, and to Sydney. She expressed herself as extremely happy in her association with Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard in such a beautiful play as ‘Roberta.’

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Saturday, 16 March 1935, p.15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17153673

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  1. High Jinks (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach; book by Leo Ditrichstein and Otto Harbach, based on Les Dragées d’Hercule by Maurice Hennequin and Paul Bilhaud) received its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 6 February 1915; produced by Harry B. Burcher, with dances by Minnie Hooper. JCW subsequently co-produced the London premiere of the musical (with Alfred Butt) at the Adelphi Theatre on 24 August 1916 in a revised version adapted by Frederick Lonsdale, with additional interpolated songs by Howard Talbot, Paul Rubens, Jerome Kern and James W. Tate. This revised version was then adopted for all subsequent Australian revivals staged by JCW Ltd. The 1935 Melbourne revival starring Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott opened at His Majesty’s Theatre on 23 February and ran through to 7 March with a further extension at the King’s Theatre from 8 to 13 March. (Character actor, Field Fisher reprised his original role of ‘Dr. Robert Thorne’ from the 1915 Australian production, in which Madge had also featured in the dancing ensemble.)

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His Majesty’s
A COMEDY OF ERRORS
‘High Jinks’ With Some Additions

‘High Jinks’ is an evergreen among musical comedies. With a little judicious pruning here and a new song there its high-spirited nonsense dates no more to-day than a similar production of a year ago. It is only in comparison with the more urbane musical play of recent years that the time-worn conventions of musical comedy appear a little hollow. ‘High Jinks’ is in the tradition which produced ‘The Quaker Girl,’ and is producing shows like ‘Roberta’ to-day. Twenty years have made no more difference than to introduce a few tom-tom rhythms into the music and a little more variety into the stage effects. Miss Madge Elliott and Mr Cyril Ritchard could hardly have chosen a more characteristic production or a more cheerful one for their farewell appearance and the audience was in no mood to find fault with this easily digestible fare.

In concocting his book Otto Harbach has not troubled unduly about originality or even credibility. His plot is a variation on the familiar theme of true love at cross purposes with an elaborate embroidery of farce to cover the threadbare patches.

Mr Ritchard has a grateful task as leading man but a more exacting one as producer. On the stage his breezy personality and beautiful dancing carry him through without difficulty but he has done some hard and efficient work behind the scenes. His arrangement of the ballets and dances is competent and resourceful, particularly in his curtains which are extremely neat, Miss Elliott’s singing and dancing are as graceful as ever. She is at her best in the Bubble Song one of the original numbers from Friml’s score which has worn well. Her pas de deux with Mr Ritchard are the highlights of the production but they have to compete with the efforts of an army of boisterously energetic comedians. Miss Marie Le Varre and Mr Leo Franklyn have a field day and they seem to enjoy it thoroughly. Miss Le Varre’s  burlesque comic methods are well known but Mr Franklyn as the roguish Colonel Slaughter has an opportunity to do something a little outside his familiar routine. He does it very resourcefully giving a touch of originality even to the role of stage drunkard. Miss Ethel Morrison and Mr John Dobbie are in good form and it is pleasing to see Miss Jean Duncan and Mr Frank Leighton in less stereotyped parts than they are usually given.

Friml’s musical score is tuneful but too uniformly sentimental for contemporary tastes. As a spice for his flaccid rhythms a few hot numbers have been added. The negro rhythm of ‘Beat of My Heart’ is effective in this as in any settling but the ‘Heat Wave’ ballet would have surprised the authors of this conventionally jovial comedy.

Mr William Quintrell handles his ochestra and chorus with his customary dexterity.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.) Monday, 25 February 1935, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11017296

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‘HIGH JINKS’ REVIVED WITH CHARM
Cyril Ritchard Scores As Producer

‘HIGH JINKS’ (His Majesty’s): Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott dance in a revival.

Those charming people. Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott, delighted a most enthusiastic audience at His Majesty’s on Saturday night, in a revival of ‘High Jinks,’ produced by Mr Ritchard himself.

Its success was both a personal triumph for Mr Ritchard and for Miss Elliott, and a tribute to its chief dancer's ability as a producer. The ballets and the settings were excellent, and Mr Ritchard contrived to give a lightness and grace to a production which is not remarkable for either quality.

One goes to these revivals of musical comedy with mixed feelings. Such forms of entertainment, perhaps more than any other, are representative of their time. ‘High Jinks’ falls in the middle period, between the glamor of pre-war productions, now seen through the roseate mists of romance, and the well remembered sophistication of comparatively recent productions.

Perhaps a first thought on seeing ‘High Jinks’ once more is how much older we have grown since the war years. Much of this production has an ingenuousness that belongs to the dear dead days of ‘Charley's Aunt’—there is a funny perfume which sprinkled about makes quarrelsome people suddenly merry—and once or twice Mr Ritchard even indulges in an aside.

PRE-WISECRACK ERA

All this, including Mr Franklyn's red nose, belongs to the pre-wisecrack era. But at any rate it is a change, much of it is amusing and a good deal of it—thanks again to its principals—is charming.

The plot concerns one of those elaborate matrimonial mixups so popular with writers of farce when the conventions could be so much more easily shattered than they can now. Its setting at the French watering place, ‘Beauville,’ gives opportunity for some highly effective sets against which the ballet disports itself to advantage.

The dancing of Cyril Ritchard as the young man with the laughing perfume, and of Madge Elliott, as an actress with whom he falls in love, lends grace and distinction to the whole show. They are particularly charming in that very pleasant melody, ‘Love's Own Kiss,’ and on Saturday night they were recalled again and again.

Jean Duncan, too, does an attractive dance with Mr Ritchard, and the ballet gives excellent support.

The chief comedy success goes to Miss Marie Le Varre, as a runaway wife; and to Leo Franklyn, as Colonel Slaughter, an amorous and inebriated old dotard. 

Marie Le Varre’s song, ‘Heat Wave,’ which she puts over with tremendous gusto, was one of the hits of the show.

The cast is interesting, too, for the presence of Field Fisher, playing his original role of Dr. Thorne; and of the ample John Dobbie, who was welcomed to the company by Mr Ritchard on Saturday night.

‘High Jinks’ can be classed with the best revivals that Melbourne has seen.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 25 February 1935, p.17, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245433855

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HIGH JINKS.
Musical Comedy Revival at His Majesty’s.

Revivals of old musical comedies, like those of any other stage plays, are always in the nature of an experiment. Playgoers of an older generation, with their candid criticisms of the present, are only too ready to evade its difficulties by escaping into a simpler past. They are apt to say of musical comedy, as was said of Punch, that ‘it is not so good as it once was.’ To which the classic answer perpetually applies:—‘It never was.’ Yet the success of these excursions into the past history of musical comedy depends, in the last resort, upon the quality of the acting and the general production. Judged by these standards, Mr. Cyril Ritchard’s revival of High Jinks at His Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday proves that even an old favorite, well mounted and suitably amended for a more swiftly moving age, is always good for the laugh and that measure of public support which more than justifies the hopes of the producer.

This play, in its main essentials, hangs on a slender thread of plot, which strings together a series of amusing episodes. Without being too precisely ‘dated,’ except for one or two lilting tunes that were on the lips of thousands of soldiers in the early months of the Great War, it contains other internal evidence that it was written some time ago. Much of its humor is derived from the familiar old device of the misunderstood situation. It is a veritable musical comedy of errors, in which Mrs So-and-So is continually being mistaken for being someone else's wife, and may acquire or disown a husband or even a grown-up daughter at the briefest possible notice. Such at least is the make-up of the slender plot revolving around Dr. Thorne's consulting room for his wealthy and not-so-wealthy patients, and Mr. Ritchard, the producer, can claim the satisfaction of knowing that despite the many thread-worn gags and devices, his exploitation of the material at his command provided an attractive performance. With the aid of additional lyrics by Rubens, Kern and others, the play moved from a somewhat slow first act into a livelier tempo in the second, amidst the seaside atmosphere of the beach hotel, Mr. Rltchard bore the lion's share in his dual role of producer and the sentimental Dick Wayne. Together with Madge Elliott he sang and danced his way through the play, while Field Fisher, as the Yankee doctor, wore a well-assumed air of professional dignity which saved the whole thing from developing into continual uproarious farce.

A humorous and massive pair, who almost ‘stole the show’ were Marie Le Varre, as the runaway wife, and John Dobbie, the heavy-weight lumber king, in their duet Come Hither, and the large audience marked its approval at Miss Le Varre’s coquettish aping of what she was pleased to call the ‘debutante slouch.’

Leo Franklyn, playing the choleric and bibulous Colonel Slaughter, of incandescent nose, was not quite so satisfyingly funny as in his recent performances. Frank Leighton achieved a characteristic impersonation of the irascible French man, and was alive to its comic possibilities, and Jean Duncan’s Mademoiselle Chi-Chi was equally in character.

Miss Madge Eliiott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard are now making their farewell appearances in Melbourne in High Jinks. There will be a matinee on Wednesday.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 25 February 1935, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205862734

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  1. A modification to Madge and Cyril’s plans ensued after the publication of the final instalment of her newspaper memoirs, as reported in the daily press at the time:

MADGE ELLIOTT’S WEDDING.

SYDNEY, Friday.—A complete change of their arrangements has been made by Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, who have now decided to return to Sydney after their Perth season. Their wedding will take place on 16th September. Re-joining their company, the couple will sail for New Zealand with a repertoire of Roberta, High Jinks, The Quaker Girl and Our Miss Gibbs. The change of plans is due to the decision that while on their way to Honolulu, New Zealanders should be afforded an opportunity to wish the couple a happy future.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 17 August 1935, p.17, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203978147

  1. The mooted plans by JCW Ltd. and the role that Cyril Ritchard was to play in them, were outlined in the following newspaper article published in January 1935:

Stage & Screen
(Conducted by ‘Player’)
Cyril Ritchard to Produce In London

Plans are rapidly developing for the production of dramatic and musical plays on the London stage by J.C. Williamson Ltd., and the London syndicate with which it is associated.

Cyril Ritchard, who was responsible for the entire production of ‘Roberta’ at His Majesty's, has been asked to stage musical shows.

One or two other producers will be engaged to put on dramatic works.40. Cyril caricature

If they have sufficient inducement, J.C. Williamson Ltd. and the syndicate intend to present shows regularly in London. Different stages will be used in accordance with production requirements. The Firm has occupied several London theatres in past years. It had a great success with ‘Mr Cinders,’ which was produced in 1929, and ran for 528 performances. Minnie Everett produced ‘High Jinks’ for J.C. Williamson Ltd., at the Adelphi during the war period, and it ran for 383 performances.

‘ROBERTA’ is the last piece in which Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard will be seen before they marry and leave Australia.

Mr Ritchard said today that while his headquarters would be in London, he would like to return to Australia occasionally and put on one or two pieces for the Firm.

The actor-producer thinks that there are great possibilities in London for an established organisation like J.C. Williamson Ltd., and he says that much of a production could be brought here after a London run. A play may also be presented in Australia before it is taken to London.

Mr Ritchard thinks that production costs will be considerably reduced by a new London company which designs costumes and undertakes the dressing of a show. This organisation was formed by his brother, Edgar, who designed two of the costumes worn by Madge Elliott in ‘Roberta.’

While he intends to devote much time to production in future, Mr Ritchard does not intend to abandon his acting career. This week Laddie Cliff cabled a request that Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard should join up again with him, and Stanley Lupino and Phyllis Monkman. These five performers were associated in a number of London successes covering a period of five years.

Max Gordon, who presented ‘Roberta’ at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, has also expressed the wish to have Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard in his service. They will visit America on their way to London, and discuss the future position with him.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 5 January 1935, p.24, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245436944

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In the event, however, none of the reported future plans came to fruition. JCW Ltd.’s theatrical activities remained confined to Australia and New Zealand and the company made no further forays onto the London stage (after its previous venture to do so in 1929, at the instigation of then co-managing director, Sir George Tallis, was subsequently curtailed with the onset of the Depression making it economically unviable to continue at the time.)

Despite the critical acclaim that Cyril Ritchard had received in Australia for his sole direction of the productions of both Roberta and High Jinks, it would be some years before he would again be given the opportunity to do so in London with The New Ambassadors Revue staged at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1941 (co-starring Madge) and the 1943 revival of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, which he co-directed with William Mollison, and co-starred as ‘Danilo’ opposite Madge in the title role. In the immediate future, Madge and Cyril resumed their joint careers on the London stage (with occasional return visits to the British film studios by Cyril.) The American theatre would have to wait until the post-war years of the 1940s and it would be just over a decade before they performed in Australia again with their tour of the one-act plays of Noel Coward (Ways and Means, Family Album and Shadow Play) in 1946 (originally written by Coward for himself and Gertrude Lawrence to perform under the collective title of To-night at 8.30 in 1936.)

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Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard’s 1934–35 Australasian Tour schedule:

  • Sydney—Gay Divorce—Theatre Royal from 28 July to 12 September followed by Blue Mountain Melody from 15 September to 26 October 1934
  • Melbourne—Blue Mountain Melody—His Majesty’s Theatre from 3 November to 21 December; followed by Roberta from 22 December 1934 to 22 February 1935; followed by a revival of High Jinks from 23 February to 7 March, which then transferred to the King’s Theatre on 8 March and played through to 13 March 1935.
  • Sydney—Roberta—Theatre Royal from 16 March to 17 May followed by High Jinks from 18 May to 3 July 1935
  • Brisbane—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 6 to 19 July followed by High Jinks from 20 to 23 July 1935
  • Adelaide—Roberta—Theatre Royal from 27 July to 3 August; followed by High Jinks from 5 to 8 August 1935
  • Perth—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 12 to 17 August; followed by Blue Roses* from 19 to 24 August; followed by High Jinks from 26 August to 2 September 1935

New Zealand tour

  • Auckland—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 2 to 9 October followed by High Jinks from 10 to 14 October followed by Our Miss Gibbs from 15 to 19 October 1935
  • New Plymouth—Roberta—Theatre Royal on 21 October
  • Wanganui—Roberta—Opera House on 22 October
  • Palmerston North—Roberta—Opera House on 23 October
  • Hastings—Roberta—Princess Theatre on 24 October
  • Masterson—Roberta—Regent Theatre on 25 October
  • Wellington—Roberta—Grand Opera House from 26 to 30 October 1935 followed by Our Miss Gibbs from 2 to 6 November followed by High Jinks from 7 to 9 November
  • Christchurch—Roberta—Theatre Royal from 11 to 15 November followed by Our Miss Gibbs on 16, 18 & 20 November (matinee) followed by High Jinks on 19 & 20 November (evening) 1935
  • Greymouth—Roberta—Regent Theatre on 21 November
  • Timaru—Roberta—Theatre Royal on 23 November and High Jinks on 25 November
  • Auckland—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 26 to 30 November followed by Our Miss Gibbs on 2 & 4 December (matinee) followed by High Jinks on 3 & 4 December (evening) 1935

* As Perth was not included in Madge and Cyril’s 1932–33 Australian tour schedule, Blue Roses was remounted specifically for the season in the West Australian capital (under Cyril’s direction).  

MUSICAL COMEDIES
THREE SHOWS FOR PERTH.
Subtleties of ‘Roberta.’

KALGOORLIE, Aug. 11.—Although they would not admit preference for anyone of the three musical comedy productions, ‘Roberta’, ‘Blue Roses’ and ‘High Jinks,’ members of the J.C. Williamson Company which will commence a three weeks’ season in Perth tomorrow night showed partiality for ‘Roberta’ in the course of interviews today while passing through Kalgoorlie by the Great Western express. Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who besides playing leading parts in the three pieces will also be responsible for their production, said that ‘Roberta’ was essentially modern if not futuristic in its motif.

41. Roberta gown‘For a start,’ he said, ‘we have done away with the footlights in “Roberta.” Footlights were originally intended to eliminate shadows but in “Roberta,” which is subtle, we want the shadows. Most of the lighting will be from front of the stage, instead of from the stage itself. Everything about “Roberta” is subtle, and the audience will have to keep very wide awake not to miss anything in the dialogue. A good many people fail to appreciate the full significance of the comedy the first time they see it, and consequently they come again—which is good business for us. One of the departures from the conventional in “Roberta” is the way in which the composer of the songs, Jerome Kern, has made the melodies subservient and at the same time contributory to the story—similar, if you like to take a classic example, to Puccini. Kern (who, by the way, has composed many well-known stage pieces, including “Sally,” “Show Boat” and “Spring Time” [sic]) has balanced dialogue and song in his production by refraining throughout from “plugging” any particular number. Consequently, instead of there being one outstanding song repeated throughout the performance, there are at least seven big song-hits, none of which recurs after its first playing. Kern, in a word, has succeeded in illustrating the story with his music.’

Questioned about the comedy, Mr. Ritchard replied: ‘I am afraid the comedy is, at any rate, rather broad. We shall have to tone it down with our shadows.’

At this stage Mr. Ritchard was joined by Miss Madge Elliott, the other principal, who had been resting after the long train journey. She and Mr. Ritchard will be married in Sydney on September 16. ‘We wanted the wedding to be a quiet affair,’ Mr. Ritchard explained, ‘but it is fast getting beyond us. It is much worse than a new production.’

Mr. Ritchard has not played in Perth since he appeared in ‘Going Up.’ ‘The exact date of my appearance in your beautiful city I don't propose to recall,’ he said, ‘because I refuse to go back past 1924. Miss Elliott has also played in Perth, 'but she refuses to go further back than 1928.’ At this Miss Elliott smiled sweetly.

Mr. Claud Kingston, the manager of the company, said that it was being sent to Perth complete, as it appeared in Melbourne and the shows would be produced with the full Melbourne and Sydney mountings. ‘We have brought some leaders with us,’ he added, ‘but the orchestra will consist chiefly of West Australian musicians. Mr. Leo Packer, who will conduct, has had a rapid rise. “The Firm” discovered him three years ago, and he was sent to Perth to conduct the last Gilbert and Sullivan season, which he did so successfully that he toured South Africa with the company for eight months. Following this he went to London, and he is now regarded as one of our leading conductors.’

‘Roberta’ will be played commencing from tomorrow night to Saturday, August 17. ‘Blue Roses’ will follow from August 19 to 24, and ‘High Jinks’ from August 28 to 31. There will be matinees on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

The West Australian (Perth, WA), Monday, 12 August 1935, p.3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32906345

N.B. A stage musical entitled Spring Time was not included amongst Jerome Kern’s works, however the RKO movie musical, Swing Time (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields) starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, was released the following year in 1936.

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Postscript—The Wedding

MADGE ELLIOTT ENGAGED
Musical Comedy Dancer’s Romance

Sydney, October 1

News of the engagement of Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the principals of the musical comedy, ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ now showing at the Theatre Royal, leaked out during the interval at to-day’s matinee performance, and members of the company showered congratulations on them. The secret of the engagement had been kept since last June.

The ring was purchased at Ogden’s before the dancers left London in June, and, by coincidence, it is almost a replica of the one chosen by Princess Marina on her engagement to Prince George. A beautiful sapphire is set on baguette cut diamond shoulders. Blue is Miss Elliott’s favourite colour.

WEDDING IN SYDNEY.

Miss Elliott said they did not intend to be married until their present contract ended. The wedding would probably be celebrated in Sydney, and the honeymoon spent In Honolulu.

The engagement is the culmination of probably the longest and most successful partnership in the history of the Australian stage. Miss Elliott met Mr. Ritchard when she was a raw recruit in the chorus, and they first danced together in ‘Going Up.’ Since then, except for a year when Mr. Ritchard was in America, they have never acted apart. Miss Elliott has no intention of giving up her stage career.

Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), Tuesday, 2 October 1934, p.13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35620260

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HER RELIGION
Miss Madge Elliott Indignant

‘Our romance has not been a sudden one. We are to be married, but when and where I cannot tell you yet. Time and place are only something that the immediate future can decide.’

Bare-legged, in black shorts and glowing with the exertion of a rehearsal in ‘High Jinks,’ which is to follow ‘Roberta,’ the golden-haired JCW star voiced her great indignation against published misrepresentation in the things which are most intimate and personal.

‘I am a Protestant and my people are Protestants,’ said Miss Elliott. ‘I shall remain a member of the Church in which I was confirmed. I am marrying Cyril and not a religion, and he is marrying me and not Protestantism.

‘We have a complete understanding in these things, which, after all, are so essentially personal. It is purely a matter of concern to our two selves, and it is ridiculous and most unfair and hurtful that such unfounded rumors should be published and circulated.

‘It is possible,’ Miss Elliott proceeded, ‘that our wedding will be celebrated in St. Mary's Basilica, Sydney. It would please Cyril; but it is ridiculous to suggest that I am about to “begin a course of religious instruction there,” as the newspaper put it, “so that the wedding may be celebrated with proper solemnity by the Cathedral authorities.” Ridiculous!’

SOME TIME IN JULY

‘I cannot give you the date. It will probably be towards the end of July—the 22nd or 23rd perhaps—but every thing will be dependent upon the season of “High Jinks.”

‘If the show ends before July 23 we will almost certainly sail by the Monterey on our honeymoon, which will be spent at Honolulu. Afterwards we will go on to the States and thence to London under engagement, which will mean that we shall be away from Australia for a considerable time.

‘But what we are both looking forward to is a long, long, happy, carefree holiday, which I feel both of us have thoroughly deserved.

‘Neither of us wants a big wedding. Just a family affair would have suited perfectly. But you know what friends are. They are insisting upon the right to throw confetti and lucky horseshoes.’

Truth (Sydney, NSW), Sunday 19 May 1935, p.23, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169351133

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WEDDING GOWN
Madge Elliott Is Indignant
‘IT’S A PRESENT’

Miss Madge Elliott, who is to marry Mr. Cyril Ritchard is being given much publicity lately of a distasteful nature.

A few weeks ago ‘Smith’s Weekly’ changed her religion overnight, and last week the same journal ‘placed’ Miss Elliott on the front page and suggested that, ignoring local talent, she had gone overseas to spend £450 on an elaborate wedding frock.

‘The whole concocted story is contemptible, fantastic and ridiculous,’ Miss Elliott told ‘Truth’ yesterday.

‘No one from the paper saw me or phoned me to verify the story that was printed. They just say these things without bothering to check the facts. I know about them first when I see the bill boards.

‘The gown in question is a personal gift from Peter Russell to myself. It will not cost me a penny except, perhaps the duty. Behind this wonderful wedding gift is a great deal of sentiment. Peter, who has been designing my frocks for years, has always said that he wanted to be personally responsible for my bridal gown.

GESTURE OF FRIENDSHIP

‘When Cyril and I became engaged, we cabled the news to Peter, who for a long time has known just what were our feelings. This wonderful present is his gesture of a friendship that has existed for a very long time.

‘Even if a similar gown was made here, the material would require to be imported. But it would be absurd to think that I could afford to pay so much as is suggested. Why, even if I was made of money I would hesitate to order anything so beautiful, elaborate and expensive.

‘Actually I have no idea what the cost of the dress will be. I only know that Peter has advised that he will design, build and present it to me.

‘Not for one moment would I suggest that designers here could not produce wonderful frocks. But Peter understands me and my requirements in the matter of gowns better than any other. And he is a close personal friend.

‘It does seem that someone is endeavoring to prejudice me or make me ridiculous in the eyes of the public and my friends for reasons that I shall not attempt to fathom.

‘It is so paltry, but it is so upsetting, too.

‘Peculiarly enough, I know nothing about these things until I see them in type. I can only dread what awful thing they may say next.’

Truth (Sydney, NSW), Sunday 9 June 1935, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169340555

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OLD FRIENDS
‘The Exquisite Eight’

Two life long friends who made their first appearances together as dancers at the beginning of their theatrical careers—Miss Madge Elliott and Miss Winnie Tate—will again appear together when Miss Tate acts as chief attendant to Miss Elliott at her marriage with Mr. Cyril Ritchard at St. Mary’s Basilica on September 16. They were members of the J.C. Williamson ‘Exquisite Eight’ ballet.

Other members of this ballet include Miss Beryl Ferguson, now Mrs. H. Cade, of Melbourne, and Miss Mona Ferguson, who married Mr. Will Hay three months ago, and who is at present in Egypt. She is on a world tour and is full of regrets at not being home in time for the wedding.

The only other member of the ‘Exquisite Eight’ who will be present besides Miss Tate is Gwen Withers, who married Mr. Bull, a Melbourne dentist. Miss Dolly Nepean now lives in Canada. Miss Ida Lacey has taken up nursing, on which she was very keen even in her early theatrical days. ‘They are all as charming as ever, and would be welcomed back on the stage at any time,’ said Mr. Ritchard to-day. He remarked that he and Miss Elliott had lunched with Tessie Magner a week ago in Perth, where she has a school of dancing.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Monday, 9 September 1935, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231182267

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WeddingMagazine coverage of Madge’s wedding plans. Australian Woman’s Mirror (Syd.), Vol. 11, No. 42, 10 September 1935.

POPULAR COUPLE
Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard Married

SYDNEY, Monday.

Shafts of spring sunshine filtered through the beautiful windows of St. Mary’s Basilica this afternoon and provided a fitting setting for the marriage of Australia’s popular theatrical couple, Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard.

The wedding caused remarkable interest and thousands of people, many of whom had arrived at an early hour, assembled in front of the Basilica and in Hyde Park opposite.

Not since the wedding of the Italian opera singer, Toti Dal Monte, in Sydney a few years ago, has a crowd been present for a wedding ceremony at the Basilica.

Anticipating large crowds the traffic authorities took the precaution of having barricades erected along College-street, while more than 50 police were specially detailed to see that there was no interruption with the arrival and departure of the couple.

There were exclamations of enthusiasm when Miss Elliott arrived. Her wedding gown, gleaming in the sunlight, was so beautiful that it caused gasps of amazement.

44. Bride fatherThe arrival of Madge and her father, Dr. N.P. Elliott, at the Basilica, with assembled crowds in the background. Cyril Ritchard Wedding Album, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Every seat and all vantage points in the Basilica were occupied hours before the ceremony began. Those unable to see the bridal party entering excitedly jumped on to the seats and clambered half way up the parapet of the stone pulpit.

After the ceremony had been performed, a broadcast announcement was made requesting the people to desist from again breaking the rules of the Catholic Church. While, as the couple walked towards the exit, ushers waved the crowd down. Their efforts were in vain however, for hundreds of excited women could not be so easily restrained from gaining a view of the popular couple.

A strong wind blowing across the front of the Basilica caused trouble to the bridal party as they emerged from the door. The bride’s veil was lifted high in the air, and only sudden action on the part of the bridegroom prevented it from being blown from her head. Her gown, with its flowing train of lace was lifted from the ground and whirled around her body.

45. Groom bride 1Cyril Ritchard Wedding Album, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

It was some minutes before the cameramen had concluded their photographing of the couple, after which they slowly descended the steps with the diminutive attendants holding the train and the veil well clear of the ground.

The high wind caused similar trouble to the matron of honour and the bridesmaid, but they reached the cars without mishap. To prevent the over-enthusiastic crowd from bursting into the open in a wild rush to see the party depart, the police had to forcibly hold the crowd in the Basilica. Immediately the cars had left the people were released, many voicing their disapproval of the police action. 

The Bridal Gown Cost £400

Hundreds of wonderful dresses have been worn by Miss Elliott during her theatrical career, but to-day she wore a gown of which brides-to-be dream of, but rarely acquire. Designed by Peter Russell, one of London's leading designers, and a personal friend of the couple, the exquisite gown cost £400. Since its arrival in Sydney some weeks ago, the gown has been altered slightly, and so delicately cut that it fitted Miss Elliott to perfection.

Of ivory taffeta foundation, the gown was on close-fitting lines. Stiffened net fell over the foundation, while 39 yards of waxed lace were super-imposed, moulding the dress to the tops of Miss Elliott’s toes. Her train, also of a waxed lace, was four yards long. Puffed sleeves, with a wide fold of lace across the shoulders, and a tulle veil, tinted to match the gown, and a true lovers’ knot in blue stitched to the underside of the train, went to add to the beauty of the gown.

Matching perfectly were the ivory court shoes with pearl clips at the side. Miss Elliott completed the ensemble with a sheaf of lilies.

The wedding ring, which was placed on Miss Elliott’s finger in the Archbishop's Private Chapel, was made of platinum and tastefully adorned with sprays of orange buds.

Miss Elliott’s Attendants

Unusual design was a feature of the frocks worn by the bride’s attendants. Mrs. Ian Sargood, of Melbourne, acted as matron of honour, and Miss Winnie Tate was bridesmaid. Made of chiffon, the frocks were shadow patterned and held two trains in place. Delphinium blue was used as a base, while lying softly on top, was a layer of chiffon in the palest of blue shades. Cut on classical lines, the frocks were full skirted and fell into long trains, one being cut from the frock and the other attached at the waist. Long, tight-fitting sleeves and haloes of blue pearls held in place a sari veil, which twined its way around the arms and fell to the ground. Blue shoes were worn. The attendants carried ivory prayer books, through each of which a long sheaf of orchids trailed to the skirt hems.

Miss Elliott’s two little nieces, Madge and Margot Curtis-Elliott, who acted as trainbearers, were gowned in pale blue velvet, closely cut with a short bodice, and falling into little trains. Pearls and blue forget-me-nots held the sari veils in place.

The pages, John and Peter Goldrick, were in costumes of the same material.

Mr. Gregory Ritchard was best man for his brother, and the groomsman was Mr. Harry Wootton, Professor of Singing at the Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide.

The gift of the bridegroom to the bride was a beautiful diamond and sapphire brooch, worn with two clips and convertible into a dress clasp. A flat gold cigarette case was given to Mr. Ritchard by his bride. The bridegroom's gifts to the matron of honour and to the bridesmaid were square ivory flapjacks, with lapis lazuli stones in the centre. Little Madge and Margot were presented with hand-beaded bags in pastel tones.

The reception was held at Elizabeth Bay House, where a large crowd had assembled to watch the departure of Miss Elliott for the Basilica and the return of the bridal party and arrival of the guests following the ceremony.

Newcastle Morning Herald And Miners’ Advocate (NSW), Tuesday, 17 September 1935, p.3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page10104095

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A Fairy-Tale Bride
Elliott-Ritchard Wedding

SINCE you were just a long-legged girl in your ‘teens you have conjured mental pictures of a bride, haven’t you? The ideal bride, with billows of foamy tulle, an exquisite frock of foamy lace and golden curls and blue eyes?

Down the winding staircase of Elizabeth Bay House yesterday, its historic setting forming a perfect background, walked the bride of your dreams. It was Madge Elliott, acclaimed of audiences on both sides of the world, and the only daughter of Dr. and Mrs. N.P. Elliott, of Randwick.

Cyril Ritchard, the partner of her world-wide success, arrived, a punctilious and immaculately-clad bridegroom, at St. Mary’s Basilica some 10 minutes before the bride, accompanied by his brother, Mr. Gregory Trimnell-Ritchard, who was best man, and Mr. Harry Wotton, of Adelaide, groomsman.

Two thousand white tickets admitted an eager throng to the sides of the cathedral, 300 blue tickets were the ‘open sesame’ to the guests' seats, and 50 pink tickets paved the way for relatives and intimate friends to the sacristy, where the ceremony was performed.

The arrival of the bridegroom was the signal for general restlessness. The eager throng climbed on seats, hassocks, rails, took advantage of every possible vantage point. Perhaps the bridegroom was a little paler than is his wont, but he strode unfalteringly down the aisle and disappeared from view.

Harry Wotton’s singing of ‘Where'er You Walk’ provided a breathing space, in which the crowd reverted to normal again.

Then Renee Murphy, a slim figure in duck-egg green, came hastily down the aisle, murmured a word in Jerry Bannister’s ear, and both made for the entrance. The wind, it transpired, was taking liberties with Madge’s train and veil, and debonair Jerry, who has officiated at more ceremonies than he can remember, either as best man or usher, lent an experienced hand.

Enthusiasm ran high. The crowd climbed again. There was a burst of clapping, quickly suppressed by officials, and Madge Elliott walked slowly down the aisle with her father. The tulle that fell softly from a coronet of pearls hid an almost shy smile, while her father stepped proudly, his bearing reminiscent of the old French regime.

The exquisite lace frock designed and sent from London by the famous couturier, Peter Russell, clung to her slender figure over a taffeta sheath foundation, on which a blue bow added the requisite concession to sentiment. The new halo collar finished the neck, which almost revealed the white shoulders of the bride.

An Adorable Trio

Then, attached to the train, an adorable trio. Margot, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Curtis Elliott, and niece of the bride, Peter and John Brian Goldrick. each clad in jubilee blue cut in the Empire vogue. Eleven year-old Madge, sister of Margot, followed with stately step, and both the tiny girl and her big sister wore saris of georgette to tone with their velvet frocks, falling from wreaths of forget-me-not.

Winnie Tate, statuesque in a gown and sari on a larger scale than that of the youthful bridesmaids, and Mrs. Ian Sargood, from Melbourne, a dainty figure, completed the bridal procession.

The strains of the Wedding March from ‘Lohengrin’ stole from the organ somewhere behind the crowd, and the entourage made its way round the altar.

Father W.J. Herlihy read the marriage ceremony, his voice carried by loud speakers to every corner of the vast Cathedral. Then, as the crowd started to murmur again, Miss Leonora Gotsch's voice rose in the strains of ‘Ave Maria,’ and once more there was silence.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March filled the church with melody, and the radiant bride and bridegroom retraced their steps down the aisle together, hailed by friends from every pew as they passed and acclaimed again by the crowd of onlookers.

Elizabeth Bay House and the reception. More crowds, lining the approach, watching every car. Ready to cheer at the slightest thing. But the bridal procession was completely lost to sight in the spacious, flower-decked reception-room.

Interest in the arrival of the guests waned, and the crowd became importunate. A harassed sergeant of police found a solution. The bridal couple, at his request, came out to the verandah, and Madge waved a tremulous hand.

Cheers—‘Madge’— cheers—spontaneous greetings that must have echoed to the harbor’s edge and beyond, rose from long lines of spectators.

Every door of Elizabeth Bay House was thrown open, and guests entered from the entrance porch to a drawing-room beyond to express their felicitations to Dr. and Mrs. Elliott, to Mr. and Mrs. Trimnell-Ritchard—and to Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Ritchard.

A three-tiered wedding cake graced the table, to which the bridal party adjourned, and a buffet supper and a generous supply of champagne awaited the guests.

The toast list was short and quite informal, culminating in a veritable barrage of photographers for the lovely bride, her eyes black with the excitement of the day.

At six o’clock the strains of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ floated upstairs—faces turned upwards, and round the old staircase drifted a vision in mignonette green—a three-piece suit with summer ermine cuffs, and breton sailor of the same shade. Side by side, she and Cyril came slowly down—before she reached the foot she tossed her arum lily bouquet—a slight scramble, and Dr. Dora McMahon held it triumphantly aloft.

Then two violinists stepped into the cleared pathway to the door and preceded Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Ritchard, playing ‘Yip I addy I ay,’ which everyone sang.

Madge was lifted shoulder high and carried to her car, and her bridegroom suffered the same fate.

The car moved slowly off. Guests drifted back to the house to collect their wraps. The crowd, which had waited outside since midday, faded into the evening mists.

The Telegraph, Tuesday, 17 September 1935, p.5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page27088479

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Cinesound–Movietone newsreel footage of the wedding

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TO N.Z.
RITCHARDS SAIL
MADGE’S THANKS
‘WONDERFUL DAY’

With a great bunch of golden daffodils and purple stock in her arms, her brown-clad figure silhouetted against the white rails of the verandah suite, Madge Elliott, now Mrs Ritchard, waved farewell to Sydney from the Monterey to-day.

Her husband tried his skill at throwing streamers into the wind, so that they would be blown back to where his nephews stood on the wharf, straining to catch a last glimpse of him.

‘Please say we were both very much moved by the wonderful day our Sydney friends gave us on Monday—our wedding day,’ Mrs. Rltchard said.

‘We do feel that we belong here. Give them all my love, and say that we hope we will be back soon to see them.’

Their suite was a bower of flowers by the time the boat left, and every few minutes baskets and boxes of beautiful spring blooms arrived.

Members of the-wedding party, Dr. and Mrs. N.P. Elliott, the bride's parents, and Mrs. Trimnell Ritchard were present.

‘Pink Lady’ Days

Scores of their friends gathered below their ‘verandah,’ and all over the wharf could be heard murmurs of ‘There they are.’ ‘Doesn't she look sweet?’ Hundreds of greetings were shouted to the favorites.

Mr. Pirie Bush kept up a running fire of remarks. Mr. Phil Smith recalled the days of ‘Pink Lady’ when Minnie Hooper, who was also on the wharf, was ballet mistress, and bullied Cyril unmercifully.

‘But they never forget their old friends,’ said Mr. Smith, vainly endeavoring to hold a yellow streamer that Cyril had thrown.

The ship commenced to move—there was a chorus of farewells, a cry of ‘Come back soon,’ and Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Ritchard had left Sydney for New Zealand, where they will tour the North Island before embarking on a two months’ season with the company.

Mrs. Ritchard’s cigar brown boucle cloth ensemble had a collar of beige fox, and she wore a brown felt tam beret, well back on her head.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Wednesday, 18 September 1935, p.13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231181718

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Following their honeymoon at Rotorua and their subsequent New Zealand tour for JCW, Madge and Cyril departed from Auckland on 17 December 1935 and arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii on Boxing day, 26 December. Following a holiday there, they embarked for San Francisco, where they arrived on 13 February 1936 and then on to Los Angeles, arriving on 15 February. A cross country railway trip took them to New York City, where they spent several months, before departing for England, where they arrived at Southampton on 19 June 1936, to resume their careers in Britain.

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Popular Players for America

Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, whose charm added so much to the appeal of ‘Roberta,’ ‘High Jinks,’ and ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ joined the Monterey at Auckland on Tuesday, on their way to America. They will break their voyage for three weeks at Honolulu to spend a holiday which will really be part of their honeymoon, since they have been working hard on the musical comedy tour just completed, almost ever since their marriage in Sydney three months ago. From Honolulu they will go to Santa Barbara, after first spending a short time in San Francisco. Then they will stay in New York where they intend to see the latest shows and note any interesting ideas in the theatrical world. It is their plan to return then to London where they were so successful in musical comedies up to the time of their departure for Australia about two years ago.

Waikato Times (N.Z.) Volume 118, Issue 19765, 21 December 1935, p.19 (Supplement)

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Additional picture references

Additional sources

  • Hugh Fordin, Getting to Know Him: A Biography of Oscar Hammerstein II [Ungar Pub. Co.: New York,1986]
  • Kurt Gänzl, The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre [Schirmer Books: New York, 2001]
  • Peter Pinne & Peter Wyllie Johnston, The Australian MusicalFrom the Beginning [Allen & Unwin: Sydney, 2019]
  • J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1930–1939: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, [2nd ed.; Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, Maryland, 2014]
Published in Profiles
Thursday, 02 September 2021

Thus Far: The story of my life (Part 7)

Thus Far banner 1200px

After their successes in London, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard returned to Australia. Not without qualms, as MADGE ELLIOTT told us in the last chapter of Thus Far, for in a way they were making an Australian come-back. They had been away some time, and they wondered if, perhaps, they had been forgotten. They had not. They found themselves among an Australian public that welcomed them, not only as fine artists, but as friends. Following a successful tour of just under two years, they sailed for America (en route to London) where they spent time visiting friends and seeing the sights in the Los Angeles film capital of Hollywood. Now read on. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» | Read Part 4» | Read Part 5» | Read Part 6»

On my second visit to New York I felt less like a stranger in a strange land, despite the fact that it was winter; and Arctic winds swept the streets. Even the dingy theatres seemed more friendly than when I first saw them in 1925, and this feeling was further enhanced through my meeting with people whom I had known in Australia and England.

One of my first London acquaintances was Mr. John Van Druten, author of Young Woodley, Theres Always Juliet, and other successful plays, and here he was in New York for the premiere of Most of the Game, with Herbert Marshall and Edna Best in the leading roles. [1]

After the first night on Broadway he had plenty of time on his hands, and with Cyril we made a trio of sightseers. In short trips about the city I learned something of the real depression affecting America. Crowds of out-of-work men and women thronged the streets day and night, aimlessly parading, and seemingly with all hope gone. They were mostly hard looking types, all of them with that ‘Yeah" and ‘So what?’ expression on their faces. Broadway was a favourite ‘beat’ . . . yet only a few blocks further East was Fifth Avenue with all its splendour and signs of wealth. There were no hungry looking men here. Instead glittering motor-cars purred along the street with well-dressed, clean-shaven gentlemen and beautifully gowned, bejewelled, and admirably made-up ladies as their passengers. Women visiting New York for the first time get the money-spending habit so badly in Fifth Avenue that they have to ask a policeman to remove them while they still have their car fare home.

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The Russian Ballet was in season at this time, and Cyril and myself spent many dollars at the box office. [2] There were two ballets new to us The Beautiful Danube, set to the music of Strauss, and The Ballet School, with choreography descriptive of dancing. Danilova, whom I met some years previously as premiere danseuse in Waltzes from Vienna, was a member of the company.

My greatest thrill, however, so far as entertainment was concerned, was in an attempted visit to the premiere of Cecil B. De Mille’s picture, Four Frightened People. [3] New York, which takes its films very seriously, turned out in thousands and stormed the theatre entrances. Cyril and I managed to get in one doorway, and there we were jammed. I have never in my life seen such a vast crowd, nor such a huge auditorium. We seemed to be a mile from the screen in this wonderful theatre in Times Square. We had trouble about our seats, and after a terrible struggle with hordes of humans in a like predicament, eventually found ourselves in the street. Cyril fought his way to the ticket office and demanded his money back, and was quite disappointed to have it returned without a murmur of protest ... It is a way they have in America, and are seemingly used to the procedure on first nights.

Frank Lawton, who was playing in The Wind and the Rain, [4] Ethel Morrison, and Dorothy Purdell, well remembered by Australians, were others who visited me at the Gotham.

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London. Back once more! The mere business of unpacking reduced the two years away by at least 20 months. From now on I carry a banner ‘Travel Cunard.’ The service is simply amazing. After the usual posing for photographs and waving at the cameramen, Cyril and I were introduced by a Cunard man to the chief of the Customs, and we were really so social that he blushed at the very thought of asking us to open our luggage. Instead he wrote mysterious little signs all over the trunks and things, and these acted like magic and just dissolved barriers right and left. [5]

The trip from Southampton to London was unbelievable for February. We had full sunshine all the way. It must have been a mistake—or perhaps the Cunard people were using their influence again. But even they could not alter dear old London, and sure enough we had glorious fogs and cold and sleet. In short, we were back!

I found my flat at Hanover Square full of flowers and friends, with a lift-man, a porter, a housemaid, and the manager all smiling welcome in the background. Things began to move at once. Vivian Buckley—who wrote that very successful book With a Passport and Two Eyes [6]—gave a large cocktail party for us. He had very thoughtfully gathered a great many of our old friends together. Everyone seemed very pleased to see us, and refused to believe it was two years since we had left. Not very flattering, perhaps, but London is like that. Time flies, people disappear for months and return, and you resume a conversation that was commenced before they left.

We were also bidden to a cocktail party given by Mrs. Claude Beddington. As usual, there were at least six languages being spoken very loudly in one room. Fortunately the room was gigantic. Then Leslie Henson gave a party for us at the Green Room Club. Everyone on the London stage was there, and our welcome started with the gallery girls, who were assembled outside. It was all very cheering, as Cyril and I had been suffering a little from the feeling that perhaps we had been quite forgotten.

It was charming, too, when we went to the theatre and perfect strangers came to tell us how very glad they were to see us back. I am not writing this in any spirit of boastfulness, but to point out that the same loyalty exists in London as I always found in Australia. Much as I loved America, I do not think you would find that in a theatre there.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The first plays I saw were Mr. Whittington, with Jack Buchanan, [7] which disappointed me a little, though London seemed to like it, and Fred Astaire in Gay Divorce. [8] This was the piece that Billy Milton played in Melbourne. Then I saw Marie Tempest in The Old Folks at Home, which Melbourne recently found rather naughty, but very amusing. [9]  Marie looked younger than ever. Also In the cast were Graham Browne, Margaret Rawlings, Frank Allenby, and Ronald Ward—all of whom will be remembered at odd times in Australia by some of the people who read this story of mine.

Cyril and I had two or three rather interesting suggestions about appearing in London. The main trouble was the little time at our disposal before we would once more be Australia bound. The newspapers every day were mentioning the Melbourne Centenary. The fact that Prince George then intended to go out undoubtedly gave the whole thing an added importance in London's eyes. I had an odd chuckle when I read that a prize offered for an Australian novel had been given, according to the Daily Mirror, by ‘Mrs. James Dyer, daughter of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne!’ I am sure no one appreciated that joke more than Sir Harold Gengoult Smith. [10]

After a week in London I found the queer old place was getting hold of me again. My first reaction to it had been annoyance at its mixed climate and its lack of what the Americans so love to call ‘creature comforts.’ In any case spring in the offing, and the certainty of summer in Australia when London was next wrapped in its winter blankets, drove such thoughts away.

The thing I had to fight most hard at that moment was an almost terrifying wanderlust. After more than two weeks I was still not quite unpacked, and I hesitated about taking the smallest trifle from my trunks and putting it in a permanent looking wardrobe.

I had to exercise the greatest control and fairly run past a Thomas Cook’s office, and my breakfast often grew cold while I read of winter cruises. The south of France called so strongly—so very strongly. And Spain was quite a new country to me, with the exchange in my favour. I found that for £27 I could go to Madeira and back. For less than £50 I could go to Portugal, to Brazil, and a thousand miles up the Amazon! The luxurious motor vessel Columbia could take me from Dover for a seven weeks’ sunshine voyage to the British West Indies, and the Spanish Main, including St. Lucia and Jamaica. I had to stop thinking like that before I threw everything to the winds.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Interesting contrasts were presented in two plays I saw at that time. The first was Richard of Bordeaux, with John Gielgud, [11] and the other was Reunion in Vienna, with that incomparable pair, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. [12]

Richard of Bordeaux disappointed me a little. It really was a beautiful production, but it could not live up to its advance publicity! I felt, too, that Shakespeare had said the final word about Richard II, and the music of his language made the other version rather trite. And I am not really a highbrow.

For the Lunts I had nothing but praise. They are a grand pair, and can give anyone lessons in stage craftsmanship. ‘Finesse’ is the word to be applied to them.

The people who took Cyril to Reunion in Vienna had to use a great deal of influence to get seats. We had tried several times without success. We had been on our knees to ticket agencies just bristling with banknotes, trying to get in to that show, to the first night of Magnolia Street, [13] and to Escape Me Never, [14] with Elisabeth Bergner.

At that time I met two of the most interesting people I have ever known. They were Jerome Kern and Hassard Short. Kern wrote the music for Sally, The Cabaret Girl, Sunny, The Cat and the Fiddle, Show Boat, Music in the Air, and for Roberta, which we have recently done in Melbourne.  Short was the producer of Waltzes in Vienna and Roberta—the best man at his job in New York and London.

 

To be continued

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Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Thursday, 11 April 1935, p.19, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182036348 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Wednesday, 31 July 1935, p.3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/30098474

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. On 21 December 1933, The New York Times reported (on p.24) that: ‘John Van Druten, English playwright, arrived yesterday on the White Star liner Olympic in connection with the presentation next month of his play, Most of the Game, in which Herbert Marshall and Edna Best will have the leading roles. The author said he hoped to present here his play, The Distaff Side, before long.’ However Madge was mistaken in her assumption that the play received its Broadway premiere around the time that she and Cyril arrived in New York in mid-January, as The New York Times subsequently reported on 8 March 1934 that Basil Sydney would produce ‘John Van Druten’s Most of the Game, now being rewritten, with Herbert Marshall and Edna Best … probably … in the Autumn.’ In fact the next of his plays to open on Broadway was The Distaff Side, on 25 September 1934, and Most of the Game did not arrive there until 1 October 1935 (without Marshall or Best) when it flopped after a mere 23 performances. (Ref.: ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-van-druten-6910 )
  1. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’s New York season played at the St. James Theatre from 22 December 1933 to 25 March 1934. In addition to Alexandra Danilova, the company’s principal dancers included Leonide Massine, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Leon Woizikowski, Nina Verchinina, Tamara Toumanova, Irina Baronova and David Lichine. Its repertoire of ballets included La Concurrence, Les Presages, Le Beau Danube, Petrushka, Prince Igor, Les Sylphides, Beach, Jeux d’Enfants and Scuola di Ballo. (Danilova had been the principal ballet dancer in the London production of Waltzes From Vienna at the Alhambra Theatre in 1931.)
  1. Cecil B. De Mille’s picture, Four Frightened People was released in the US on 26 January 1934. It received its New York premiere at the Paramount Theatre, Times Square on that date.
  1. The Wind and the Rain (by Merton Hodge) premiered at the Ritz Theatre, New York on 1 February 1934.
  1. Passenger lists for the Cunard line of the period note that Madge and Cyril sailed from New York City on the S.S. Berengaria on 14 February and arrived in Southampton, England on the 21 February 1934.
  1. British travel writer, photographer and lecturer, Vivian Charles John Buckley was born on 26 June 1901 in Brompton, London, the elder of two children of Charles Mars Buckley, a brewer, and his wife, Ida (née Fennings). He was the grandson of Mars Buckley (1825–1905), an Irish businessman from County Cork, who had emigrated to Australia in 1851, and co-founded the prominent department store, Buckley & Nunn (with Crompton John Nunn) in 1852, which operated in Bourke St., Melbourne for over 130 years, until it was taken over by David Jones in 1982. Charles Mars Buckley (1870–1946), the youngest of his eight children (who was born at the family mansion ‘Beaulieu’ in Heyington Place, Toorak) emigrated to England in the 1890s, marrying Ida Fennings at St Saviour, Chelsea in 1898. (Ref.: https://www.badseysociety.uk/people/buckley/vivian-charles and https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/200143915)
  1. Mr. Whittington (music by John W. Green, Jack Waller and Joseph Tunbridge; book and lyrics by Clifford Grey, Greatrex Newman and Douglas Furber; additional lyrics by Edward Heyman) received its West End premiere at the London Hippodrome on 1 February 1934 for a total run of 300 performances, which included a transfer to the Adelphi Theatre, where it concluded on 20 October 1934.
  1. Gay Divorce (music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Dwight Taylor) had its London premiere at the Palace Theatre on 2 November 1933 for a run of 180 performances concluding on 7 April 1934. Fred Astaire and Claire Luce reprised their lead roles from the original New York production, which had premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on 29 November 1932 for a run of 248 performances. Its Australian premiere was given by J.C. Williamson Ltd. at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 23 December 1933 for a season which ran until 16 February 1934 in a production directed by Charles A. Wenman with dances by Edward Royce, jun. British star Billy Milton made his Australian stage debut in the male lead role of ‘Guy Holden’ and Sydney actress, Mona Potts stepped up from the chorus to take on the female lead role of ‘Mimi’ at two days’ notice when British leading lady, Iris Kirkwhite fell and sprained her ankle at a rehearsal. (In his opening night curtain speech, Billy Milton paid tribute to Miss Potts for having mastered five dances, forty pages of dialogue and three songs in two days.) Miss Kirkwhite recovered from her injury in time to re-join the production for the Adelaide season at the Theatre Royal (from 21 to 27 April), the Perth season at His Majesty’s Theatre (from 19 to 26 May), the Kalgoorlie Town Hall on 29 May and the Brisbane season at His Majesty’s theatre (from 9 to 22 June) which played in repertory with revivals of The Girl Friend and The Quaker Girl.) Local cast members on the tour included Frank Leighton, Leo Franklyn, Elved Jay and Gus Bluett. (On their return to Australia, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard subsequently took over the lead roles for the Sydney season at the Theatre Royal from 28 July to 12 September 1934.)

9. The Old Folks at Home (by H.M. Harwood) premiered at the Queen’s Theatre, London on 21 December 1933 and played for 203 performances concluding on 23 June 1934. J.C. Williamson Ltd. presented its Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 25 October 1934 for a season concluding on 22 November. Its Melbourne season opened at the Comedy Theatre on 5 January 1935 and concluded on 21 February.

 Old Folks at Home Tonight

Theatregoers are to see a large number of modern plays this year. The 1935 programme will open at the Comedy tonight, when The Old Folks at Home is given its Melbourne premiere.

An interesting fact is that this three act comedy is produced by Grace Lane, who also enacts the central character, Lady Jane Kingdom, a role in which Marie Tempest achieved a notable success on the London stage last year.

The play is a sophisticated drama of human life, with broad situations and exceedingly frank conversation. The theme underlying the whole story is that ‘the old folks at home’ know as much and are as capable as the young people who are apt to regard their elders with a good humored contempt for their tack of worldly knowledge.

Lady Jane Kingdom sees her strong-willed daughter (enacted by Jane Wood) and her son's empty-headed wife (Kathleen Goodall) whirling hopelessly in the frantic and purposeless eddies of young modernistic society, and saves them from themselves by her tact and understanding of life.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 5 January 1935, p.24, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245436944

  1. Mrs James Dyer was the sister of Sir Harold Gengoult Smith, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne from 1931 to 1934. She served as Lady Mayoress on her brother’s behalf until his marriage to Cynthia Brookes (the daughter of tennis player Sir Norman Brookes) in 1933. As Lord Mayor, Smith chaired many of the organising committees for the 1934 Centenary of Melbourne. In her own right, Mrs. James Dyer founded the Victorian branch of the British Music Society in 1921, and acted as honorary local representative for the parent society (based in London) as well as honorary secretary of the Victorian branch. In addition she was president for five years of the Alliance Français in Victoria, and was one of the first Australian women to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government (amongst other such honours.) (Ref.: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-sir--harold-gengoult-15901; https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140842392 and https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10957710 )
  1. Richard of Bordeaux (by ‘Gordon Daviot’ pseud. of Elizabeth Macintosh) premiered at the New Theatre, London on 2 February 1933 in a revised version (having previously previewed at the theatre for two Sunday performances on 26 June and 3 July 1932) for a run of 463 performances concluding on 24 March 1934.
  1. Reunion in Vienna (by Robert E. Sherwood) had its London premiere at the Lyric Theatre on 3 January 1934 and played for 196 performances concluding on 23 June. The Lunts reprised their roles from the original US production, which had played at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York for a run of 264 performances from 16 November 1931.
  1. Magnolia Street (by Louis Golding and A.R. Rawlinson, based on Goldings’s novel) premiered at the Adelphi Theatre, London on 8 March 1934 for a run of 36 performances concluding on 7 April.
  1. Escape Me Never (by Margaret Kennedy, adapted from her novel) premiered in London at the Apollo Theatre on 8 December 1933 starring Viennese actress, Elisabeth Bergner in her West End debut, and ran for 232 performances concluding on 12 April 1934.

 

Cyril Ritchard Filmography

  • Danny Boy (1934) (British Dominions Films)—screenplay by A. Barr-Carson, Oswald Mitchell and Archie Pitt. Directed by Oswald Mitchell. Original music by Eric Spear, with lyrics by Frank Vincent. Cast included Frank Forbes-Robertson, Ronnie Hepworth, Dorothy Dickson, Archie Pitt, Fred Duprez, Denis O’Neil and Cyril Ritchard.

In production in May of 1934 at the Cricklewood Studios, the picture was first released in London in July 1934 and in Australia in May of the following year. Local critical reaction to the film was mixed, although Cyril Ritchard received praise for his acting in a supporting role, which gave little scope for his talents.

Picture Theatres

A tip-top programme of British films was screened at the Athenaeum on Friday, consisting of The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes and Danny Boy

Danny Boy proved to be a musical film with a strongly emotional story, and as a film it bears evidence of a cinema quality which has not been sustained in some of the more recent British productions. This popular picture gives us glimpses of Cyril Ritchard in a straight role, and as a theatrical magnate he fills the bill with smoothness and poise. No doubt we shall see more of Mr. Ritchard as an actor in the future. As Pat Clare, Frank Forbes-Robertson is a romantic and vagrant violinist, and Ronnie Hepworth, as Danny, is delightful characteristically English in contrast with the too precocious types of boys which Hollywood has developed. The last close-up of him in the cabaret scene is irresistible. Dorothy Dickson plays the role of Danny's mother, Jane Kaye, the actress, and Leo Newman is cast as the manager. Musically, Danny Boy is interesting, but the recording is not up to the best standard.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 20 May 1935, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204354539

‘Danny Boy’

A well-drawn but inadequate sob-story, deficient in action and humor. A musical genius, estranged from the wife who loves him, wanders forth with their boy of 12 to fiddle in the streets. The streets treat him as they usually treat geniuses; meantime, the wife has become a Great Star. Her continued efforts to find her husband and child failing, she is tempted to love another man, when suddenly somebody finds the husband, tells everybody he is a genius and everybody believes it. All are happy, except the noble-minded lover, who goes forth like the Boy Scout, content with his day’s good deed. The acting is worthy of a better story. Frank Forbes-Robertson never faults as the genius. Ronnie Hepworth is another of those wonderful child performers who have come into the lime-light of late. Archie Pitt as the tough proprietor of the penny doss-house is the real thing. [Dorothy Dickson as] Jane Kaye looks well as the heroine. Cyril Ritchard, as the lover who wasn’t, has little to do, but does it well.

‘Shadow Shows’, The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 22 May 1935, p.40

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Additional sources

Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson, Musical Comedy: A story in pictures, Peter Davies, London, 1969

Ernest Short, Sixty Years of Theatre, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1951

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1930–1939: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 2nd ed.; Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2014

Internet Broadway Data Base, ibdb.com

Internet Movie Data Base, imdb.com

The New York Times on-line Archive

‘The Shows of 1934’, Everyone’s (Sydney, NSW)—(Vol. 14 No. 772)—12 December 1934, p.112, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-571101604

‘The Shows of 1935’, Everyone’s (Sydney, NSW)—(Vol. 15 No. 310)—11 December 1935, p.124, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-552304594

 

Published in Profiles

Thus Far banner 1200pxFront page image: Studio portrait of Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott, 1932. Falk Studios, Sydney. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

London, The Gaiety Theatre: And the twinkling electric lights blazoning the names of Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard to the heart of the world of the theatre. Thus Far has “The Firm” of Elliott and Ritchard progressed. It was an amazing achievement. Madge Elliott has looked back down the years to tell us how these heights were attained. To tell us of those she met on the upward road. Of Melba. Now read on.  Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» | Read Part 4» | Read Part 5»

The presentation of a new musical comedy is never without its headaches. First it is one thing and then the other. The only certainty seems to be the fulfilment of the theatre slogan, “The show must go on.”

01 Madge Cyril 1931Portrait taken during the London season of The Millionaire Kid in 1931, subsequently reproduced in publicity throughout Madge and Cyril’s 1932-33 Australasian tour. Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.Musicians may be out of harmony, producers sullen and morose, dressmakers tardy in completing their work; scenery may fall, and the lights go wrong in that dreadful period preceding a “first-night.”

The Greeks had a word for most things, but none to fittingly describe this ordeal of preparation. And so it was with Blue Roses, [1] the musical comedy in which we were to make our return bow in Sydney.

In the theatrical business there is always talk of “come-backs.” You know what I mean. Actors and actresses who have reached the heights only to tumble with such suddenness and force as to make us, as well as themselves, dizzy; who pick themselves up and climb the steep grade again exactly as though they had never climbed it. They are legion; enough to populate a small town; a “willy-willy” sweeps relentlessly upon them. Proud and majestic one moment, destitute and bereaved the next. But a few years later?—rehabilitated; reorganised. And proud and majestic.

Now, in a sense, Cyril and myself could feel for the players who had struggled and made a come-back. Of course, we had never glissaded into theatrical oblivion, but those seven years of absence from Australia would take some sweeping away. We had intended our return appearance to be very simple. It was to be neither an advertisement nor an ego parade. It was to be just “Madge and Cyril” meeting their friends, so it was rather amazing to find crowds flocking to the theatre. At the same time, this tribute to our evident popularity was very flattering; Sydney, at any rate, had not forgotten us.

I have only a blurred recollection of walking on the stage as “Susan Winslow.” Previously in my dressing-room I had felt all the old qualms of a “first night,” plus the mental agony which comes through thoughts of a doubt of recognition. I recall the footlights flickering and dancing ... and the sudden welling up of sound which started as a low murmur and reached its crescendo in a terrific burst of cheering. It was all for me ... In a minute the footlights were glowing normally, and I saw the conductor's baton raised. Still the applause went on ... I bowed ... and bowed ... and bowed.

My heart glowed with the warmth of that reception, leaving no doubt in my mind that I was home again. At the end of the performance I spoke to that marvellous audience. Cyril stood by me and gave me confidence. I told them a little of my gratitude. I meant it, and I mean it still. I will always acknowledge that I am in the hands of the public, and I can never fail to marvel and wonder at its loyalty to me.

If you can imagine the inspiring effect of playing to an audience alive with sincere enthusiasm, you will know in what mood I went back to my dressing-room, and the joy I felt in contact with people who still remembered me. And here let me say that “the audience”—that comforting generality—is a much more complex thing than most playgoers can appreciate, and plays a much greater part in the success of a stage presentation than is generally thought. With a sympathetic “house” many a mediocre musical comedy can be positively entertaining, while even the best of plays is frequently unable to survive the frigid atmosphere of, say, a matinee in a more than half empty theatre.

Of course, there are audiences and audiences, although actually there is not much difference between the people who visit the theatre in the West-End of London, and those of Sydney and Melbourne. I do not care so much about what the people in the stalls think about my performance; their judgement may—or may not—be more trained and sophisticated than that of the people in the gallery—but the enthusiasm from the back of the theatre and “the gods” is what is really worthwhile. There must be something good, solid, and genuine about the opinion of men and women who will stand in a queue, sometimes cold and sometimes hot, and wait for hours to see a new production. Perhaps they realise more truly the vast amount of talent, nervous energy, and hard work that has gone to make the piece; they give the players their due even if the production happens to be bad.

* * * * * * * * * * 

London audiences ask more—and often get less—of a play than in the American theatre. American acting on the whole is less emphatic than English acting, and in New York the players are prepared to “throw things away” because they can rely on the audience taking them up.

The Australian audience is critical and demands good entertainment. Overseas opinions count for little and “the play’s the thing.” New York is essentially more “theatre-minded” than London; but not more so than Sydney or Melbourne.

When I first visited New York I was surprised that a city superbly equipped with modern architecture should have so many dowdy and old-fashioned theatres. I had expected streamlined auditoriums and some of that spic-and-span polish of the American railway terminals and the interiors of sky-scrapers. The London theatres have much larger foyers—and fewer people to fill them between the acts.

In short trips about the city I learned something of the real depression affecting America. Crowds of out-of-work men and women ... seemingly with all hope gone.

All of which has nothing much to do with our return to Australia, and our appearance in Blue Roses. The bright musical piece “caught on,” and we had a delightful season in Sydney.

On May 13 we opened in the piece in Melbourne at the Theatre Royal. Once again the ordeal of a “first night”; and once again the applause and the friendly reception.

In the cast were many of our theatrical friends of long standing—Cecil Kellaway, Leo. Franklyn, Vivian Edwards, Jean Duncan, Frank Leighton, and Dulcie Davenport. And there was one young woman who since has made a name for herself in English and American motion-picture studios—Mona Barlee (Barrie).

Followed a year of treats coming on top of one another. We had revived Follow Through. [2] Revivals are always something of a gamble, but this modest little thing was quite successful. At this time I was always meeting people who decried the theatre and all its works, claiming that it never would survive the attack of motion pictures. With the best will in the world—for I tend to react adversely against “popular” enthusiasm myself—I could never agree with them. I find it difficult to understand the state of mind which prompts people to suggest that films will kill the stage. It is like claiming that aeroplane transport will kill the motor trade, or put steamships out of the Australia–England run. There is a need for both forms of entertainment. So why confuse the two states of mind.

In July, 1933, we again appeared at the Melbourne Theatre Royal, this time in a revival of The Quaker Girl, [4] which when originally produced had a run throughout Australia almost equalling the success of its companion play, Our Miss Gibbs. [3]

It is rather strange in looking back to find how in a few short years a play can become “dated.” The “Firm,” realising this, modernised the production, and the demure Quaker Girl was presented against a background of lavish ensembles and gorgeous fashion displays. Cyril, by the way, played Leslie Holland’s old part of “Tony Chute,” and I filled Blanche Browne's original role of “Prudence.” This is a delightful part to play, and enacting this role night after night I came to the conclusion that acting is not so much inspiration as artifice. It does not matter how inspired an actress may be, all her inspiration goes for nothing unless she has the artifice with which to “put it over.” Many a time previously I had thought along these lines, but the joyful little Prudence convinced me of the truth of this theatre maxim.

This same year (1933) England beckoned to us again. Call it wander lust-ambition, opportunity, what you will—but a restlessness possessed both Cyril and myself, and the old debates between us were resumed. Should we go to England? Should we stay in Australia? ... England won. We felt a certain amount of initiative which implied a living in the theatre, whether it was in Sydney, London, or New York.

So off we went by way of America.

We looked upon it in the light of a holiday trip—for the time being at any rate. The Mariposa made me feel something of envy for the old Flying Dutchman—made me feel that it would be wonderful to roam the seas for all time—as a saloon passenger, of course.

In Honolulu we renewed several acquaintances, and there followed a round of dancing, visits to the naval depot, lazing in the moonlight at Waikiki, and a little golf at Waitai. We travelled on the Lurline to San Francisco, and one of our fellow passengers was Edna May Oliver, the motion-picture actress, whose “sniff" you all know. She was very quiet on the voyage and seldom ventured far from her cabin.

One night in Frisco we decided that our next stop would be Los Angeles and Hollywood, where we could see for ourselves something of the glamour of the picture studios. Here we met Mona Barrie, who had played with us in Blue Roses, and through her we received many invitations to meet film stars. We called on Herbert Marshall whom we had known in London, and had several meetings with George Barraud (who had returned to America after his Australian tour with Isobel Elsom in Private Lives). [5]

I have pleasant memories of drinking tea with Elizabeth Allen, Heather Angel, Diana Wynyard, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, and Reg. (“Snowy”) Baker in the commissary of a studio, and of the screen artists’ ball at the Hollywood Biltmore. [6] Here we met all the “stars”—all except the elusive Greta Garbo, who, as Cyril said, “never meets anybody.” Charles Chaplin was there, and Gary Cooper with Jeanette McDonald—who sang in the cabaret entertainment—and Adolphe Menjou.

While in Los Angeles we were offered a dancing engagement at the Paramount Theatre, but the call of New York and London was too persistent. Just before we left, May Beatty and her daughter Bunny called, and a few minutes later Robert Greig and Beatrice Holloway dropped in. We made a regular Australian night of it. The only thing not in the picture was the Californian champagne. It was awful.

The thing that most struck me about Hollywood was that in spite of the amazing climate nearly everybody you met wanted to get away from it all. And that was not a pose. They admitted that the incessant talk of films, the terrible strain of competition, and the monotony of the work in the studios bored them to tears after a few months.

But they stayed on because their earnings were high. My own reaction to the film city was principally along the lines of living in a fairy-tale town. It is a fantastic spot ... but its real values are too low for cataloguing ... And so to a Pullman car, on the way to New York.

 

To be continued

 

Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Wednesday, 10 April 1935, p. 15—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182039125, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), Thursday, 9 May 1935, p. 55—https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92325182 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Wednesday, 24 July 1935, p. 3—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30097297

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. Blue Roses (music by Vivian Ellis, lyrics by Desmond Carter)—following a try-out season at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, Birmingham from 15 December 1930, the musical (directed by Harry B. Burcher) premiered in London on 20 January 1931 at the Gaiety Theatre, where it ran for a disappointing 54 performances, closing on 7 March; nonetheless the Australasian performing rights were purchased by J.C. Williamson Ltd. and it was given its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 February 1932 and proved to be a successful vehicle for Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard. The JCW show was directed by Frederick Blackman with dances by Maurice Diamond and “Miss Elliott’s and Mr. Ritchard’s Dances arranged by Mr. Ritchard”, additionally the “Episode De Ballet” was “Invented and Arranged by Cyril Ritchard.”

    On the Monday following the opening the critic for the Sydney Morning Herald enthused:

“BLUE ROSES.”

Bright Musical Comedy.

MADGE ELLIOTT AND CYRIL RITCHARD.

There was a great welcome for Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard when they returned to the Sydney stage in the musical comedy “Blue Roses” at Her Majesty’s on Saturday night. The theatre was packed and the roar of cheering with which they were received must have proved inspiring to them, coming back from their successes abroad. They played prominent roles in the new piece, Miss Elliott as Susan Winslow, and Mr Ritchard in a bright, breezy interpretation of a comedy part as Chepstow Potts, but it was their dancing above all that won high popular favour. Light, perfect in finish and grace, both artists were superb in this dancing.

The occasion seemed to inspire all the members of the company, and a cheerful and spirited performance was given of a musical comedy which is of the average irresponsible type, designed mainly as a medium for gay melodies and pleasant fun. The great audience was in high good humour, readily responsive to every feature of the entertainment, and interrupting the action of the piece by delightedly cheering all the principals as they came on.

There is a plot, but it is not permitted to interfere unduly with all this music and comedy. It is a story of a genuine blue rose and a bogus one, which are exchanged when the real flower is carried off by an American collector, to be finally restored to the rightful owner towards the end of the evening. But the plot matters little in a piece of this kind. Some attractive music, charming in melodic invention, and not in the least profound, has been composed by Vivian Ellis, like the duet, “Let’s Be Sentimental,” lightly scored in bright vein, and with an effective change of key at the refrain, the quaint “Dancing in Your Sleep,” the spirited “Where Have You Been Hiding,” the entertaining “Lathering” of the shaving scene, and the duet, “My Heart’s a Compass.” These are typical of the tunefulness of the score, and the easy, facile touch of the composer. Mr Andrew MacCunn brought out fully the light, graceful qualities of the music, and under the supervision of Mr. Frederick Blackman as producer, the performance proceeded with sparkling effect, the stage a mass of animated colour in the attractive ensembles in the two main settings, the decorative interior of Septimus Winslow’s home and the elaborate Mayfair flower shop.

Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard impersonated one pair of lovers, and Miss Dulcie Davenport and Mr. Frank Leighton the other pair, all of whose fortunes are more or less affected by the fate of the blue rose. Miss Elliott proved light in voice in her music, but acted gracefully and pleasantly. Mr. Ritchard developed with certainty the humour of the role of Chepstow Potts; Miss Davenport, also light of voice in her songs, was thoroughly animated in her acting, and Mr. Leighton was effectively cast in the role of Jimmy Mallows. Mallows and his friend, Chepstow Potts, both come down to Winslow’s home on some mission concerned with the blue rose, and both make good comedy in the first act, from the moment of their entrance in a motor car. In the duet, “Let's Be Sentimental,” Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard gained their first success of the night, when they danced to a waltz measure, hardly seeming to touch the stage as they moved, and then suddenly changed to a rapid theme in the manner of a polka, and made a whirlwind exit which led to three recalls. When Chepstow surprised the guests by appearing in a suit of pyjamas, his resourceful friend, Jimmy, explained that he was walking in his sleep. This introduced the amusing “Dancing in Your Sleep,” in which Mr. Ritchard, under a blue spotlight, while the figures of the supporting ballet, in evening costumes, were in red tones, marched in automaton-like progression over the stage to the rhythm of the tuneful theme sung by the other principals and chorus. A laughable climax was reached in the scene when Mr. Ritchard, with a sudden swoop into the air, was raised above the heads of the others, and remained suspended in all kinds of grotesque attitudes ere he vanished into the wings.

Mr. Cecil Kellaway made the most of the role of a fatuous detective, engaged to guard the blue rose, and easily persuaded to give up the bogus one—the genuine rose having already disappeared—when he is allowed to gaze at an ordinary rose through a pair of blue spectacles. Mr. Leo Franklyn was adequately American as the collector who stole the rose, and was dispossessed of it finally in a ludicrously comical scene in a stateroom of an ocean liner, where Mr. Ritchard disguised as a caricature steward, administered remedies for sea-sickness to the American while Chepstow’s two friends feverishly searched the luggage for the missing flower. Miss Alathea Siddons as the proprietress of the Mayfair flower shop, and Mr. Arthur Cornell, as the irate owner of the blue rose, were well in character. One of the most charming features of the musical score was the duet, “I Saw the Moon Through the Window,” sung tastefully by Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard to an attractive counter melody for strings. Some beautifully alert step dancing for both artists followed the song, and then, with brusque chords from the orchestra, the music changed as Miss Elliott, from a flight across the stage, landed in her partner’s lap, a feat which had to be twice repeated in reply to the imperative applause. The artists appeared In another striking dancing feature towards the end of the piece, in which they were supported by six members of the ballet in brilliant dancing. The loud applause at this point was changed to screams of laughter when Frank Leighton and Cecil Kellaway (the latter in a fantastic garb resembling in a way that of Simplicitas in “The Arcadians”) amusingly burlesqued the dance. Their comedy here was much more certain than in the earlier and pointless scene in which they designed a road map, with a bottle of whisky to represent “the local pub.” The fine vocal quality of the chorus commanded attention, and the members of the ballet, always enthusiastic, shared in the honours of the ensembles, looking particularly charming in their white evening gowns. Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard acknowledged the cheering at the end of the performance by brief speeches of thanks.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Monday, 15 February 1932, p. 4—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16840875

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Sundry Shows

Her Majesty’s, Sydney, which had not seen a new play for so long that it must have forgotten there are such things, got a shock on Saturday night when the two-act musical comedy “Blue Roses”—words by Desmond Carter, music by Vivian Ellis—made positively its first appearance on the Australian stage. It brought with it Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, and the rest of the cast was filled by actors and actresses so well known to Sydney that the audience gave each one a salvo of applause as he or she entered. In this chummy atmosphere the opus of Desmond and Vivian, which was nicely dressed and competently produced, went very well.

The plot is extremely complicated. There is a blue rose, which is guarded by a detective (Cecil Kellaway). It is sold by the detective for £100 to an American millionaire in plus-fours (Leo Franklyn), and a white rose dyed blue is substituted (it should be explained that the botanical specimen is in a pot). By inducing the detective to wear blue spectacles as a cure for headaches the nephew (Cyril Ritchard) of a titled lady (Alathea Siddons), who runs a flower-shop in Mayfair, is enabled to steal the dyed rose, substituting a pure-white one. Love interest is provided by the aristocratic lady’s nephew and a daughter (Madge Elliott) of the blue rose's rightful owner (Arthur Cornell). Another daughter (Dulcie Davenport) has an affair with the rose-stealing nephew's pal and confederate (Frank Leighton). The situation is made still more uproariously and devastatingly humorous by some of the characters mistaking a private house for a pub, and by an argument in which people in a florist's shop endeavor to show with a whisky bottle and other props the direction in which their old school lay from the village tavern. To describe how the tangled skein is unravelled would not only be unfair to future audiences but quite beyond this Showman’s powers.

The piece, which provides plenty of pretty stage pictures, is entirely a background for the very light and facile dancing of Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard. Their agility is pronounced, and they waltz divinely, but some of the postures they adopt are the reverse of graceful. The music is as shallow as a teaspoon, but deftly composed, with occasional flashes of ingenuity. The voices of the Misses Elliott and Davenport, who do most of the singing, are small, but Vivian’s twitterings were not written for Melba. Taken as a whole the piece ranks perhaps a step higher than the late Lionel Monckton's worst, but at that Monckton never had so poor a libretto to cope with.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW)—17 February 1932, p. 18

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  1. Follow Through (music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Lew Brown and B.G. DeSylva) received its Australian premiere under the management of JCW Ltd. at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 8 February 1930 and ran until 14 March in a production directed by Frederick Blackman with dances by Al Fisher. The musical did not immediately tour but was staged later that year at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney from 23 August to 3 October 1930 in a production directed by George A. Highland with dances by Maurice Diamond. The musical was subsequently revived at His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane as a star vehicle for Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard on 5 May 1932 and also played on tour in Adelaide and in New Zealand.

THEATRE ROYAL.

“FOLLOW THROUGH.”

“Follow Through,” which will be presented at the Theatre Royal this afternoon and evening by the J.C. Williamson Musical Comedy Company, is notable for the clever work of the principals, Miss Madge Elliott and Mr Cyril Ritchard.  There are jealous bickerings between Lora Moore (Madge Elliott) and Ruth Van Horn (Jean Duncan) over Jerry Downs (Frank Leighton), the professional golfer. Downs is employed by wealthy Jack Martin (Cyril Ritchard) and his main duty is to follow the dictates of his paymaster, but affairs of the heart must work their havoc. Jerry soon finds that Jack’s humorous blunderings are disturbing his love affairs, and the inevitable split comes. Jack, however, is the perfect optimist, and his beneficent strategy brings Lora and Jerry together again in the perfect, conventional ending. Any bashfulness possessed by Jack Martin, who is lady-shy and stutters, is soon banished by his experiences at the Bound Brook Country Club, and one of the best bits of delight in the whole show  appertains to the regaining of his heirloom ring, which he has presented to a female party of whom he knows nothing while at a masquerade. The supporting members of the company are uniformly good in their parts, and assist to build up a combination of solid strength.

The season will conclude this evening, and the company will leave on Monday for Wanganui, and later Hastings and Palmerston North, to open in Auckland on August 27th.

The Press (Christchurch, NZ)—20 August 1932

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“FOLLOW THROUGH.”

GOLF-INSPIRED GAIETY.

Exploiting the golf craze as the vehicle for a medley of vivacious action, merry quip and “wise crack,” catchy music and colourful dancing, the musical comedy, “'Follow Through,” with a revival of which the Williamson Comedy Company last night followed up their “Blue Roses” success at His Majesty's Theatre, left everyone of the audience in mellow mood. “Follow Through” has pleasant memories for Aucklanders. A typical jazz-age production of the day when golf was an obsession in America, it ran a merry course in the city some years ago with George Gee as the comedian of the day. Not everyone plays golf, but everyone hears enough about it, and its effect on the language of the victim to enable him to appreciate the play and to credit even the most outrageous parody perpetrated in the name of those who sport its insignia of plus fours and tartan colour scheme dressing effects. With the sketchiest of plots as an excuse for an entertainment cocktail and the effect of “just one damn thing after another”— comedy, dancing, jazz jingle, ballet, ballad, more comedy and a dash of drama—the concoction is really very cunningly contrived, and is both pleasant and exhilarating.

Romances and tragedies of the links, and of the patrons of one particular club, focusing on the game and heart-affairs of its lady champion, provide abundant material for music, dress, dance and mirth. Madge Elliott’s supple grace in rhythmic motion lent special interest to her dance accompaniments with Frank Leighton and Cyril Ritchard in song numbers, reaching a climax in the “dance apassionata,” in which she and Cyril Ritchard achieved one of their well-known triumphs of dramatic dance interpretations. Miss Elliott’s dancing, however good, is but incidental on this occasion in the leading role, in which she is called on for a sustained effort of characterisation, and of which she gave a very nicely-balanced study. Cyril Ritchard, too, appeared as a deal more than the dance artist he is; he was also a capable comedian. The fun-making was contributed to by many members of the cast, but Cyril Ritchard and Cecil Kellaway had the chief burden, with the latter doing the lion’s share as a new club member, who had business ideas on this game of golf, which rather put the regular members off their putt. This partnership’s efforts culminated in a surreptitious invasion of the women's dressing room and a terrific tangle of comedy complications.

Frank Leighton lent capable support to Miss Elliott in her singing and dancing numbers. Dulcie Davenport was one of the livest wires of the performance, with a special penchant for adding an eccentric touch to her bright dancing. Elved Jay contributed to the fun as one of the younger generation of nuisances, in which he was well supported by Mona Zeppel. Jean Duncan's singing, dancing and acting gave her a merited place among the principals.

The music, while not notable, is bright and snappy and is given its best value by a strong orchestra; the dressing is a feature, as is the youthful ballet, while many of the stage settings are unusually beautiful, and the ensembles generally introduce some new feature. “Follow Through,” which makes three hours pass merrily and all too soon, will be performed each evening to the end of the week, with a matinee on Saturday.

Auckland Star (NZ)—8 September 1932

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POPULAR ARTISTS TO REMAIN

Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard

Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard are to stay in Australia. This announcement was made today by Mr. Frank Tait, a managing director of J.C. Williamson Ltd., who added that the Leslie Henson management, of London, had agreed to release them until the spring of 1933.

“Hold My Hand,” a new musical comedy written by Stan Lupino, with lyrics by Desmond Carter and music by Vivian Ellis [sic], has been bought specially for them. This show has had a most successful run at the Gaiety Theatre, London, since the beginning of last December. It is faster moving and more spectacular than “Blue Roses.”

Mr. Ritchard was almost in this show in London. He was offered the male lead, and only his previous arrangements made to visit Australia prevented him from accepting it. “Hold My Hand” will have its Australasian premiere in Sydney in October, and, according to present arrangements, will be seen in Melbourne toward the end of this year.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.)—(extract) Saturday, 25 June 1932, p. 24—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242981067

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Hold My Hand (music by Noel Gay, lyrics by Desmond Carter) premiered at the Gaiety Theatre, London on 23 December 1931 for a run of 212 performances. It subsequently received its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 1 October 1932 starring Madge and Cyril in a production staged by Charles A. Wenman and Cyril Ritchard, with dances by Cyril Ritchard and Maggie Dickinson.

Once again the critic for the Sydney Morning Herald was full of praise in his review published on the Monday following the opening:

“HOLD MY HAND."

Charming Musical Play.

Compounded of equal parts of graceful and original dancing, sparkling songs, and dialogue well sprinkled with lively humour by the author Stanley Lupino, the musical play “Hold My Hand” had a most successful premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. While the freshness, vigour, and spontaneity of the work of all the principals, the brightness of the music, and the whimsicality of the humour carried the first act along to a fine denouement, with the interest sustained to the last moment, there were some weak links in the development of the story in the second act, where the plot toyed rashly with the inappropriate topic of industrial strife, and an uneasy feeling manifested itself in spite of the speed and energy of the acting that this was thin ice that needed to be skated over as rapidly as possible. A few judicious cuts in this section would improve the production, and there is ample justification for excisions, as the play was not over until 11.25. The second act picked up the interest quickly, when the action got back to its first environment, and a series of beautiful numbers led up to a picturesque and brilliant climax.

There is enough plot to keep the audience guessing at the problem of how it is to be unravelled. A guardian who falls in love with his ward is far from being a rarity in romantic fiction but when the guardian is represented by Cyril Ritchard as Eddie Marstone and the ward by Madge Elliott as Paula Bond, it may be confidently expected that the thing will be done not only properly, but with originality. The fact that Marstone is affianced to the graceful daughter of a disreputable old peer, who arrives on the scene straight from a fancy ball as a slightly intoxicated Robinson Crusoe, provides an obstacle which is quickly surmounted, when it is made clear that the lady prefers Pop Curry, the friend of her not very ardent lover, to the lover himself. In a play so full of happily conceived and artistically executed dances as this, the evolution of changing partners is of course, easily effected; enabling the final tableau of a double wedding to be arranged with appropriate splendour. Need it be said that the two pairs are supported by a whole sequence of subordinates, whose mission is to provide artistically exaggerated character studies of the members of the entourage of the millionaire Marstone, and to provide the songs and dances, unexpected interludes, and magnificent ensembles which help forward the story and assuage his distress when he finds that he has ruined himself on the Stock Exchange, and that the only asset left to his charming ward is a bankrupt newspaper.

As Sydney playgoers are well aware, Cyril Rltchard possesses natural gifts polished by training and experience which place the part of Eddy Marstone “right into his hand.” Along with a magnificently developed physique, he displays a lightness of foot and a gracefulness of movement that give his dancing a special Individuality. He sings well enough to give every song its full value, and his vivacity never flags. He makes an ideal partner for Madge Elliott, whose graceful movements and aerial poses in her scenes with him roused the audience to enthusiasm. Their duet, “Hold My Hand” was given with a ring of convincing sincerity. In their performance together on the wedding eve the talented pair gave a thrilling illustration of passionate devotion through the medium of the dance. Leo Franklyn, as Cuthbert the millionaire’s confidential secretary, proved himself a tower of strength to the company He was always funny, and never vulgar. His capacity for expression by facial gesture is practically unlimited. He can burlesque emotions like fear and anxiety convincingly.  Dulcie Davenport was a most engaging representative of the character of Helen Milchester, first the fiancee of Marstone and finally the bride of Pop Curry. She danced with poetic grace, and was always in the picture. Frank Leighton did an immense amount of sound work as Pop Curry, the millionaire’s right-hand man. He has a fine speaking voice, and the bright quips of Stanley Lupino’s humour with which the dialogue is well studded were delivered so that nothing was lost. Mary Rigby made a stately Lady Milchester, and spoke the tart utterances of that “grande dame” with becoming asperity. The part of Lord Milchester was taken by Cecil Kellaway, who made the peer a most amusing old reprobate, who displayed perfect manners, even when he was reduced to pawning his wife’s jewels without her permission. Rene Murphy made as much as possible out of the part of the millionaire’s lady secretary; and Margaret Vyner was a picturesque maid. The specialty dance of Zeppel and Bush was a clever bit of acrobatic fooling, which provided a foil to the many picturesque ballets with which the play is interspersed. The Pied Piper of Hamelin, with Frank Leighton as the piper, and the ballet as the rats, was a charming bit of work; while the quartette “Springtime,” sung and danced by the four principals, was the poetry of motion.

The audience manifested appreciation demonstratively at the fall of the curtain and Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard both made short speeches of thanks.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Monday, 3 October 1932, p. 2—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16896265

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  1. Our Miss Gibbs (music by Ivan Carryll and Lionel Monckton, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank) received its Australian premiere under the management of JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 24 September 1910 starring Blanche Brown and Langford Kirby in a production staged by Gerard Coventry with dances by Minnie Hooper. The popular musical remained in the repertoire of JCW touring productions for many years and was frequently revived into the 1920s. It was subsequently revived by JCW at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 7 January 1933 starring Madge and Cyril in a production staged by George A. Highland with dances by Minnie Hooper.

The opening night of the revival was especially notable for the presence of a special guest in the audience, as noted by the Sydney Morning Herald:

AMUSEMENTS.

“OUR MISS GIBBS.”

The opening presentation of “Our Miss Gibbs” at Her Majesty’s Theatre to-night will be also be a gala performance in honour of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, who will be present. This will be his last public appearance before his flight to New Zealand, and various interludes and a song, “Happy Landing,” appropriate to the occasion, will be introduced.

The cast to-night will include Madge Elliott as Miss Gibbs, Cyrll Ritchard as the amateur “crook,” Leo Franklyn as the professional “crook,” Gus Bluett as Timothy Gibbs, and Frank Leighton, Gwyneth Lascelles, Marie le Varre, Elved Jay and others.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Saturday, 7 January 1933, p. 8—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16943905

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While the performance itself garnered its fair share of critical bouquets from the newspaper’s resident critic on the following Monday: 

"OUR MISS GIBBS."

An Interesting Revival.

ENTHUSIASTIC AUDIENCE.

“‘Our Miss Gibbs’ is one of J.C. Williamson's old buses,” said Mr. E.J. Tait from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday, in night extending the good wishes of the directors to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

Traffic has become more rapid since this “old bus” was put on the road 20 years ago. The bodywork of the musical play rattles a good deal, and its upholstery of humour has worn very thin. Still, a jaunt in it is a pleasant experience, if only for old times’ sake; and the audience on Saturday night seemed to enjoy itself thoroughly, judging from the bursts of ecstatic applause.

The spectators were not predominantly middle-aged, either. Looking round the auditorium, one saw whole rows of young, or youngish, faces. Enthusiasm was perceptible almost before the curtain went up. Actors making their entrance received rounds of applause which began even while they were invisible to the audience. The players, in their turn, responded to the atmosphere of [the] gala by stepping quite out of their parts, and bowing profusely until the clapping had subsided.

The performance was a triumph, not only for familiar music and a familiar play; but also for a cast which had previously endeared itself to the local public. Again and again encores were exacted from the not unwilling singers and dancers. Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott gave the second part of one of their dances to an obligato of almost continuous applause. The vagaries of Mr. Gus Bluett and Mr. Leo Franklyn, called forth laughter in hearty shouts. As a result of this enthusiasm, it was twenty minutes past eleven before the final curtain fell.

At the end of the play, when all the combined company had lined up to receive its flowers and make its little speeches, Mr. Tait and Sir Charles Kingsford Smith suddenly emerged behind the footlights. Already at eight o’clock, when he came into a box, the airman had had to bow repeatedly in response to clapping. The theatre had been specially decorated in his honour, with masses of coloured lily and hydrangea—another feature which added to the evening’s liveliness. Now a large placard, wishing “Smithy” a happy landing in New Zealand, descended from the files, and Mr. Tait launched into a happy speech. Australians, he said, too often failed to appreciate the fine and courageous men of their own country—a suggestion which found little support in the beaming faces and the tumultuous clapping which a moment later filled the theatre.

The part of Our Miss Gibbs, the demure Yorkshire lass who is “only a shop-girl,” and thus is scorned and rejected by her lover’s aristocratic relations, according to the best traditions of 20 years ago, was brightly played by Miss Madge Elliott. Miss Elliott’s singing voice is not a large one; but it has been so excellently trained, and she uses it with such judgment, that it never seems inadequate. In the pretty song, “Yorkshire,” for instance, she illustrated very quaintly the contrast between London sophistication and downright Yorkshire ways. Still, it is her appealing smile and her grace of movement which most surely establishes Miss Elliott in the favour of the public. All her dances with Mr. Ritchard on Saturday were artistic, according to the precedent the pair have set in “Blue Roses” and “Hold My Hand”; but in the dance of the second act, following “It's Not You,” they excelled themselves. At first, the motion was languorous, the expression on the faces serious. Then a band of revellers darted across the stage; and, in their passing, changed the mood. Faster and faster went the tempo now; but always with the most captivating grace, until at last the dancers leapt from a parapet and out of sight.

In the “silly ass” part of Hughie Pierrepont, Mr. Ritchard relied on conventional over-acting to carry him through; and, with the help of his dancing, it did. The role is symptomatic of all the humour in the play. Intrinsically, the plot of “Our Miss Gibbs” is an energetic hurly-burly about nothing in particular. All the fun has to be made from moment to moment by the comedians. “Gags” are at a premium; and on Saturday one noticed many which could not possibly have occurred in the production of 1911.

In these circumstances, Mr. Gus Bluett and Mr. Leo Franklyn were invaluable. Mr. Bluett has not done such a clever piece of acting since he appeared as the plumber in “Kempy.” As a rule, he fools and extemporises in a way that is certainly uproarious, but lies a little outside the sphere of true theatrical art. As Timothy Gibbs, he never stepped beyond his character for a moment. This innocent yokel, wearing one of the most absurd hats that have ever been seen, developed in a richly farcical vein.

Mr. Leo Franklyn’s portrait of the nimble fingered Slithers, was also exceedingly clever, in Mr. Franklyn’s individual and highly resourceful style. Mr. Frank Leighton and Miss Gwyneth Lascelles made the most of colourless parts; Miss Marie Le Varre made a welcome reappearance as Madame Jeanne; and the others who appeared included Mr. Edwin Brett and Mr. Reginald Dane; Miss Mary Rigby and Miss Lorna Forbes.

Under the direction of Mr. George Highland, with Miss Minnie Hooper to arrange the ballet, the play had been costumed in a highly attractive way, with bright, but carefully chosen colour. The setting of the first act was not unattractive. That of the Franco-British exhibition, however, after a momentary sense of spaciousness had worn off, began to seem oppressively artificial and tawdry. Under the direction of Mr. Andrew MacCunn, the orchestra enunciated the well worn old tunes with pleasant grace and freedom.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Monday, 9 January 1933, p. 5—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16944190

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  1. The Quaker Girl (music by Lionel Monckton, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank) received its Australian premiere under the management of JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 January 1912 starring Blanche Brown and Leslie Holland in a production staged by Wybert Stamford with dances by Minnie Hooper. Numerous revivals by JCW followed over the ensuing years, including that which launched at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 22 July 1933 starring Madge and Cyril in a production staged by Charles A. Wenman and Cyril Ritchard, with dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Melbourne revival of the musical also had its share of off-stage drama, as related by the daily newspapers:

COMEDIAN’S ILLNESS

Gus Bluett In Hospital

SUBSTITUTE CHOSEN

Mr. Gus Bluett, the comedian, who collapsed at a rehearsal of  “The Quaker Girl” in the Theatre Royal yesterday afternoon, is in hospital. Mr. Ernest Arnley, an English comedian, who has been appearing in the revue “Tout Paris” at the Princess [Theatre], has been “lent” by Mr. Ernest C. Rolls to J.C. Williamson Ltd. to take his place in “The Quaker Girl.” Mr Arnley learned the words of Gus Bluett’s role of Jeremiah from midnight to 2 am today, and attended the dress rehearsal today. “The Quaker Girl” will be performed tomorrow night.

Mr. Bluett had not been well for some time. He collapsed just after a concerted number. 

Although he has played in several musical comedies in England, Mr. Arnley has never appeared in or seen a public performance of “The Quaker Girl.”

J.C. Williamson Ltd. has thanked Mr. Rolls for lending the services of Mr. Arnley in the emergency.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.)—(extract) Friday 21 July 1933, p. 3

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Amongst the supporting players, Ernest Arnley received his share of praise in the subsequent Melbourne newspaper reviews, as did local actress, Coral Brown in a rare appearance in musical comedy (albeit in a non-singing character role): 

MELODIES AND MEMORIES

Charm of “The Quaker Girl”

Probably the most successful revival in recent years was that of “The Quaker Girl,” which was produced by J.C. Williamson Ltd. at the Theatre Royal on Saturday evening. Few of the musical comedies of 20 years ago—and indeed of the present day—are so rich in lilting, infectious melodies and light dance numbers as “The Quaker Girl,” ”Come With Me, Come to the Ball,” the famous waltz song, and the “Dancing Lesson” duet; Prudence’s songs, “Little Grey Bonnet” and “Tony From America” and “Mr. Jeremiah, Esquire,” are a few of the irresistible melodies of Lionel Monckton’s delightful play. Everyone of them was rapturously received on Saturday by playgoers of three generations. It may be said safely that even those who did not have to look at the back pages of the programme to recall the original cast of 1912 which included Andrew Higginson, Blanche Browne, Grace Palotta, Leslie Holland, Ivy Schilling, Fred Leslie, and Bertie Wright, made no odious comparisons. “The Quaker Girl” was enjoyable as a musical comedy as it was as a revival—which is about the best thing which can be said of any revival.

From the opening scene in the Quaker village of the West of England, with its ballet of primly modest maidens, into which a French Bonapartist bride suddenly precipitates herself, to the Parisian salon of Madam Blum, and Prince Carlo’s magnificent ball at the Pre-Catalan, where the simple Quakeress’s tact saves the Princess from the clutches of the State, the musical comedy takes its time from Cyril Ritchard, who dances through the part of Tony Chute, the American attache—and indeed throughout the whole play—on winged feet.  His engaging pirouettes began with “A Runaway Match” in the first act, but they were never more delightful than in the “Dancing Lesson” duet, in which he was partnered by Prudence (Madge Elliott) in her most finished manner.  In the famous “Champagne Dance” (since apparently Quakeresses may not mingle in such worldly amusement) Mr. Ritchard was partnered by Winifred Morrison, whose youthful verve and charm made a splendid foil to Mr. Ritchard’s cosmopolitan air of distinction. Frank Leighton, as Charteris, the King’s messenger, has much to do, and he is valuable in the singing – particularly in “Wonderful,” his duet with Princess Mathilde (Kathleen Goodall) and in the stirring march number “Barbizon,” with Dulcie Davenport (Phoebe). Marre La Varre is a splendid Madame Blum, Kathleen Goodall and Ernest Arnley, whose playing of the comedy role of the Quaker Jeremiah at only a few hour’s notice was a tribute both to his craftsmanship and to his artistry. Leo Franklyn played the part of La Rose, chief of police with characteristic ability, and Coral Brown made a fiery Diane.

Nothing could be more demurely coy than Miss Elliott’s version of Prudence, the Quaker girl, nor more charming than her frocking. A feature of the production, in fact, is its gowning. Doubtless many patrons will obtain as much enjoyment from the beautiful frocks of the piece as from the fragrant bouquet of its melodies and memories.

The musical comedy is produced by Charles A. Wenman and Cyril Ritchard. 

The first matinee of “The Quaker Girl” will be given next Wednesday.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.)—Monday 24 July 1933, p. 5—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4750596

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“THE QUAKER GIRL” STILL FRESH AND FASCINATING

A NOTABLE PRODUCTION

Fresh and fascinating in its new dress, “The Quaker Girl” has many excellent qualities. The picturesque settings, and the smart and beautiful frocking make this a notable production, and in it Madge Elliott gives her best performance.

When Miss Elliott sang her dainty first number, “A Quaker Girl,” on Saturday night, everybody in the Theatre Royal felt that the revival would be a success. From that stage to the final curtain the performance, which had lacked spontaneity at the opening, was invested with charm and gaiety.

Several new features are given to “The Quaker Girl.” Prudence's book of confessions suits the mock solemnity of the occasion. “I Started Laughing,” written and composed by Jack O'Hagan, is a capital duet, but its modern idiom makes a sharp contrast to Lionel Monckton's simple and graceful tunes.

Miss Elliott, a very winsome Prudence, acted with spontaneity and refinement, danced with grace, and used her light soprano tones with taste.

All the dainty charm of “The Little Grey Bonnet” was revealed, and in this engaging melody the artist made her chief singing success. Miss Elliott sang her first number with charm, and gave animation to “Tony from America.”

GOOD DANCING LESSON

The dances of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard are always among the highlights of any production in which they appear. “The Quaker Girl” does not afford them opportunity for much spectacular display, but their graceful movements to the changing rhythms of “A Dancing Lesson” constitute one of the most attractive dances they have given here.

A capital light comedian, and one who invests his work with polish, Cyril Ritchard, as the irresponsible Tony Chute, gave much zest to the play. Even when he did not have to move or sing, the actor was well in the picture. In the trance scene, in the last act, he gave good proof of his versatility. It was here that clever little Winifred Morrison gave a sprightly exhibition of the Champagne Dance. Mr. Ritchard also deserves recognition as C.A. Wenman's associate in the work of putting “The Quaker Girl” on the stage.

In cleverly fantastic make-up, Leo. Franklyn was capital as the volatile Chief of Police, and may claim a large share in the success of the revival.

Ernest Arnley, who took the role of Jeremiah at short notice, because of the illness of Gus Bluett, well sustained his conception of the character, and did not need any prompting. Working on quiet lines, Mr. Arnley soon gained confidence. His comedy improved as the night advanced, but better than it was his nimble dancing. The dance which followed his number, “Just as Father Used to Do,” was loudly applauded.

SPONTANEOUS SOUBRETTE

In the soubrette role of Phoebe. Princess Mathilde’s maid who endeavors to prevent Jeremiah from straying, Dulcie Davenport acted with great vivacity and a considerable amount of charm. This young actress has improved immeasurably in the past year. Her dancing always gives pleasure.

Marie Le Varre brought plenty of vigor, vocal and physical, to the role of Madame Blum, and if at times a little too boisterous she was very nimble on her feet. Her somersault caused the biggest laugh of the night.

The character of Captain Charteris was invested with an engaging buoyancy by Frank Leighton.

Frank Tarrant had not the necessary dignity and ease for an adequate portrayal of the role of Prince Carlo, and made one feel that the top note in the big number “Come to the Ball” was always a serious obstacle. Kathleen Goodall is among the few principals who have pleasing singing voices and know how to use them. Her number. “Oh! Time, Time,” was brightly rendered on Saturday and encored.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.)—Monday, 24 July 1933, p. 16—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245409991

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Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard’s 1932 – 33 Australasian Tour schedule:

  • Sydney—Blue Roses—Her Majesty’s Theatre from 13 February to 4 April followed by a transfer to the Criterion Theatre from 5 to 20 April 1932
  • Brisbane—Blue Roses—His Majesty’s Theatre from 23 April to 4 May followed by Follow Through from 5 to 9 May
  • Melbourne—Blue Roses—Theatre Royal from 13 May to 29 June
  • Adelaide—Blue Roses—Theatre Royal from 2 to 11 July followed by Follow Through from 12 to 16 July 1932.
  • Wellington—Blue Roses—Grand Opera House from 27 July to 5 August followed by Follow Through from 6 to 10 August 1932
  • Christchurch—Blue Roses—Theatre Royal from 11 to 17 August followed by Follow Through from 18 to 20 August
  • Palmerston North—Blue Roses—Opera House on 24 August
  • Wanganui—Blue Roses—Opera House on 25 August
  • Hastings—Blue Roses—Princess Theatre on 26 August
  • Auckland—Blue Roses—His Majesty’s Theatre from 27 August to 6 September followed by Follow Through from 7 to 10 September 1932
  • Sydney—Hold My Hand—Her Majesty’s Theatre from 1 October until 25 November 1932.
  • Brisbane—Hold My Hand—Winter Garden Theatre, Brisbane from 3 to the 9 December 1932 (twice daily) followed by Blue Roses from 10 to 16 December 1932 (twice daily.)
  • Sydney return season—Blue Roses—Her Majesty’s Theatre from 21 December 1932 until 6 January 1933 followed by a revival of Our Miss Gibbs from 7 January until 10 April 1933.
  • Melbourne return season—Our Miss Gibbs—Theatre Royal from 13 April until 16 June followed by Hold My Hand from 17 June until 21 July 1933, then a revival of The Quaker Girl from 22 July until 13 September 1933.
  • Sydney—The Quaker Girl—Theatre Royal from 16 September to 24 November followed by a second season of Our Miss Gibbs from 25 November to 15 December 1933.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Between Madge and Cyril’s visit to Brisbane in late April—early May of 1932 and their return in December of that year, His Majesty’s Theatre had become the city’s principal entertainment venue devoted to British films, and so JCW made arrangements for the Brisbane season of Hold My Hand and the return season of Blue Roses to be staged twice daily at the Winter Garden Theatre in conjunction with the theatre’s usual schedule of showing Hollywood movies. Madge shared her opinion of the arrangement in local newspaper interviews at the time.

SURF, FROCKS, AND MADGE ELLIOTT.

“HOLD MY HAND” STAR ARRIVES.

A HARD WORKER.

“Playing to the picture audience is quite a new experience. I think I shall enjoy it,” said Miss Madge Elliott, the feminine star of “Hold My Hand,” the J.C. Williamson musical comedy which opens at the Wintergarden Theatre to-day. She was quite enthusiastic about the new departure, in conversation with press representatives last evening.

In addition to the gifted dancer, and her partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the full company includes many favorite artists, and the show has only been slightly condensed. Since they were last in Brisbane, at the beginning of the year, Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard have played in Sydney and Melbourne, and in New Zealand.

With two shows a day, and rehearsals also in progress for a revival of “Our Miss Gibbs,” in Sydney, at Christmas time, Miss Elliott has little time for recreation, but she is keen on tennis, and is an enthusiastic surfer.  While staying with her parents in Sydney, Miss Elliott took full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the surf. On her journey up, by the Kyogle mall train, she enjoyed the innovation of a surf at Coff’s Harbor. The seven weeks' stay In New Zealand was described as “short, but strenuous,” Napier, revisited, still bore tragic traces of earthquake.

Frocks are always of feminine interest, and Miss Elliott designs most of her stage costumes. She was wearing a patterned frock in geranium red, with a beret and coat in the same shade, attractively emphasising the contrast of her fair curls and dark eyes. The “Hold My Hand” frocks sound inviting, particularly an evening gown of eggshell-blue satin, relieved with Parma violet, and an afternoon frock of primrose spotted net over lime green taffeta.

Miss Elliott has no complicated recipe for her grace and vitality, she simply works hard and keeps fit with her “daily dozen,” and the happy result is seen in her dancing.

Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld.)—Saturday, 3 December 1932, p. 1—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184986306

* * * * * * * * * * 

  1. Private Lives by Noel Coward received its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 29 July 1933 and ran until 16 August. Following seasons at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide from 19 to 25 August and His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane between 9 to 19 September, its subsequent Sydney season opened at the Criterion Theatre on 7 October 1933 and ran until 3 November. The cast included George Barraud as ‘Elyot Chase’, Charlotte Frances as ‘Sybil Chase’, Isobel Elsom as ‘Amanda Pryne’, Harvey Adams as ‘Victor Pryne’ and Sadie Bedford as ‘Louise’. The play was produced by George D. Parker.

Isobel Elsom and George Barraud also played the lead roles in JCW’s Australian premiere of Her Cardboard Lover by Jacques Deval, adapted for the English stage by Valerie Wyngate and P.G. Wodehouse, at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 26 August 1933 (produced by George D. Parker), however it was Madge and Cyril who had performed in radio broadcasts of both plays, which had preceded the respective Australian stage premieres.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Madge Elliott—Cyril Ritchard

Two popular theatrical stars who will be heard on Saturday in excerpts from “Our Miss Gibbs,” and on Sunday in a P.G. Wodehouse comedy, “Her Cardboard Lover.”

Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, … both began in Australia.

Cyril Ritchard began in the chorus; then he was given a part in a “straight” comedy at the Criterion, “The Willow Tree,” and a revival of “Daddy Long Legs;” then he joined Gladys Moncrieff’s company in “Katinka,” and then he danced with Miss Elliott for the first time in “Going Up.” He went to America, was engaged in a fortnight by Florenz Ziegfeld, the contract was transferred to Charles Dillingham, and he appeared in a revue, “Puzzles of 1925;” then he went to London, and appeared in several revues, and so on. He introduced Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” as a ballet of 24 performers. Gershwin conducting the rehearsals, with costumes from designs by Bakst, the Russian. Then, with Miss Elliott, he did a season of “The Follies” at Monte Carlo and they were just about to return to Australia when they were offered the engagement in “Lady Luck,” which began their great success. Mr. Ritchard has appeared in several films, in “Piccadilly,” the last silent film produced. In England, in “Blackmail,” the first British talkie, in “Just For a Song,” and “A Symphony in Two Flats,” with Ivor Novello.

“Wireless Weekly” saw Mr. Ritchard in his dressing-room at Her Majesty’s, in his shoes and socks, and nothing more. He said about “Her Cardboard Lover,” which he is doing over the air on Sunday. February 12: “It is the first ‘straight’ play in which Miss Elliott and I have starred together, and, I think Miss Elliott’s first essay in ‘straight’ comedy. But musical comedy is a splendid training for ‘straight’ plays, and, indeed, while many great actresses have gone from musical comedy into ‘straight’ comedy, notably Marie Tempest, Gertrude Lawrence, and Phyllis Dare, very few have been able to go from ‘straight’ work to musical comedy.

“After ‘Her Cardboard Lover’ we hope to be able to broadcast ‘Private Lives’ by Noel Coward; we both know him, and have been in touch with him personally, and hope to get his permission to put it on. If it goes well over the air, we should like to put it on the stage, out here, before returning to England.”

Here Mr. Ritchard began to crush himself into a dress shirt for the second act of “Our Miss Glbbs,” and we asked whether it would be possible to get a similar short interview with Miss Madge Elliott. We said we should enjoy it very much. Mr. Ritchard said he was sure we would, but what about Miss Elliott?  We said we hadn't thought of that.

Wireless Weekly (vol. 21 no. 6)—(extract) Friday, 10 February I933—https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-681566292

* * * * * * * * * * 

In the event, JCW evidently considered it more lucrative to continue to star both Madge and Cyril in musical comedies for the remainder of their 1932-33 tour and it wasn’t until 1951 that they would at last be given the opportunity by The Firm to perform in Private Lives on stage for Australian audiences.

The broadcast of Private Lives took place on Sunday, 5 March 1933 from the ABC Sydney studios of 2FC and on relay to 2NC (Newcastle), 3LO (Melbourne), 2CO (Corowa), 4QG (Brisbane), 4RK (Rockhampton), 5CL (Adelaide) and 5CK (Crystal Brook, SA) at 8.30 to 10 p.m.

An item published in The Wireless Weekly the following week (17 March) noted that:

The difficulty incurred by broadcast producers in casting their productions was demonstrated in the selection of roles for the Noel Coward comedy, “Private Lives,” which was broadcast through 2FC to the National Stations on Sunday night, March 5. 

Frank Leighton, the well-known actor, was originally cast in one of the leading parts, but after a rehearsal, the producer realised that the voices of the two principal men were very similar, and would therefore confuse listeners. Mr. George D. Parker, who produced the play, decided to include Mr. Campbell Copelin in the cast in place of Mr. Leighton, in order to give more contrast to the voices.

In a stage or film play, there would have been no need for this change, because the eye would note the physical dissimilarities of the actors, and the audience would probably fail to notice the similarities of voice. But over the air, the voice is the only guide to the various actors and actresses, and many a splendid cast has had to be changed in order to enable listeners to recognise more readily the various personalities in the play.”

The Wireless Weekly programme listing for the relay by 2BL from Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on Saturday, 11 February 1933 noted that “As ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ does not lend itself to a full broadcast, like other musical plays, only excerpts will be heard. Listeners, however, will hear all the musical numbers and the dialogue that does not require action to be appreciated.” Thus the broadcast was “Interspersed with DANCE MUSIC from the Studio, supplied by the ABC DANCE BAND.”

However the success of a relay of a complete performance of The Quaker Girl from the Theatre Royal, Melbourne broadcast by 2CH (Sydney) and 2GB (Sydney) on Saturday, 12 August 1933 (from 8 p.m.) prompted a subsequent broadcast of the complete performance of Our Miss Gibbs on the closing night of Madge and Cyril’s Sydney season at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Friday, 15 December 1933 by 2GB and on relay to 3AW (Melbourne) and 4BC (Brisbane).

* * * * * * * * * * 

  1. The first annual Screen Actors Guild Ball (attended by Madge and Cyril) was held in the ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on 13 January 1934.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Postscript

Who could better advise WOMAN’S MIRROR readers of the chances of breaking into the limelight on London’s stage than Madge Elliott, Australia’s own Gaiety Girl, now back in her own country with the “Blue Roses” musical comedy?

The Gaiety! Of all the theatres devoted to musical comedy in the English-speaking world none is so loved as the old London Gaiety. Others—Daly’s, the Adelphi, the Winter Garden—may have their enthusiastic supporters, but the Gaiety outshines them all. When a musical comedy actress becomes leading woman at the famous old theatre in the Strand she has reached the pinnacle of her profession.

Madge Elliott has held the coveted position of lead there—joining a company of some of the most famous stage stars of all time.

Knowing, as she does, the Australian and English musical comedy stages intimately, Miss Elliott’s advice to girls here who contemplate seeking fame and fortune in London, is of value, and such advice she offers in this article.

“Firstly”, she says, “I feel that I cannot impress too strongly on Australian girls the necessity of having ample money in hand when making the venture. For a venture it is, in which luck plays a large part. 

23 Madge Elliott sketch 1932Sketch by Esther Paterson“By ample money I mean sufficient to last for twelve months at least. Immediate success in getting an engagement is by no means assured. The theatrical profession in London is definitely crowded—especially at the beginning place, the bottom of the ladder—and girls may for a very long time be dependent on their own resources.

“This is a point I stress very strongly, for to paint a rosy picture without sketching in the difficulties to be encountered by girls travelling a great distance to a strange place far from their homes and their own people is, to my mind, criminal.

“One thing to bear in mind is that the English climate is not like that of Australia. It is easier here than it is in London to be down on one’s luck without being down in the mouth. Grey skies can be very conducive to a grey outlook on life, and in London there are sometimes grey skies for weeks and weeks on end.

“This is liable to be depressing. It certainly sounds so. But I am rather insistent on this aspect, because I do feel strongly that to dismiss the subject by saying, ‘Oh, there are great chances for our girls over there!’ and to utter a few platitudes about hard work and determination, though no doubt an easy way out, is far from fair to girls who are perhaps staking everything on the adventure.

“Forewarned is forearmed. There are great chances. Hard work and determination are necessary. And luck ... But, remember, there may be weary weeks or months of waiting; of living in grey streets and colorless boarding houses far from Australia’s sunny skies and golden beaches; of the weary round of agents; of fighting your way on to buses and trams; of soul-trying homesickness.

“So be sure you have money. The knowledge that a snug little bank account is behind you is very comforting. Of course, tastes differ, but assuming that a girl is prepared to live carefully and watch the pence she can do quite comfortably for everything on three pounds a week in London. Have that for twelve months and your return fare, and your greatest worry will be removed.

“As to the hearing given to aspirants from this side—it is good. Australians have done well in London, and consequently Australians generally have created a good impression with managers. But, of course, to go there without previous stage training and experience is hopeless.

“If you can take good theatrical introductions from this side, do so. They are always useful, and are often an open sesame to an otherwise difficult door. But it is assumed that any girl ambitious enough to try to break new ground in London will have her own share of determination and push. After all, an introduction is only an introduction. It isn’t necessarily a free pass to stardom.

“Talent is essential. And by talent I mean also a thorough all-round grounding in the work. It is not sufficient for a girl to be able to walk on to the stage and look beautiful. She must be able to speak well—dance—sing—and act; to do a little of everything, in fact. 

“She must have a measure of looks and a good figure. Personality counts for more than actual beauty; but, of course, a girl must have some attraction in her appearance. Cultivate the voice as much as possible. If a dancer, have your voice trained. Managers can get plenty of good dancers over there, but good singers are not so frequently met with on the English stage as they are on the Australian.

“Australian voices generally are of a very high standard—witness the success gained by our singers overseas. And voices are what they want in England.

“Great care must be taken with speech. London managers and audiences do not take kindly to any suggestion of an accent—except, of course, for character parts—and purity of speech is insisted on.

“My own experience is that the girl who has gone through her apprenticeship on the Australian musical comedy stage is well equipped to enter the London field. The stage training here is excellent, and girls with Australian experience compare very favorably with their overseas sisters. But—and it is a big but—both training and experience are necessary before attacking the lights of London.

“Theatrical agents do not enter into the scheme of things out here, but—unless a girl has personal introductions—they are essential in London. They charge ten per cent or thereabouts for their services, and are quite good to deal with as a rule.

“It is, of course, of paramount importance that girls dress smartly and attractively. ‘Nothing succeeds like success’, and one must never look anything but successful. Clothes are cheaper in London than they are here, and are well cut and well made. Hats also are less expensive, as are stockings and lingerie. I am not so sure about shoes.  I have, since my return, been noticing the excellent and moderately-priced Australian shoes on sale in the shops here. They are as good as any I have seen anywhere.

“To sum up, I should say that girls who want to tackle the English stage from this end should make sure that they have, firstly, money; secondly, talent (with training and experience); thirdly, personality; fourthly, a good voice; and, last but not least, determination to succeed and an infinite capacity for hard work.

“If they have these, the chances are that luck will smile on them—and that I wish them with all my heart”.

The Australian Woman’s Mirror—1 March 1932 (Vol. 8 No. 14)—pp. 9 & 39

* * * * * * * * * * 

MADGE ELLIOTT.

The following extract, taken from the Melbourne Leader, will be of interest to many residents of Toowoomba who remember Miss Madge Elliott as a small girl. The only daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Elliott, she spent several years of her childhood here, and was taught her first steps by Miss Fanny Marlay, and made her first appearance in public when as a tiny person in a pink frilly dancing frock she delighted everyone as a solo dancer at an entertainment for charity at the Town Hall. Miss Elliott and her dancing partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, have just returned to Australia after several very successful years in England and on the Continent. They are to play the leading parts in “Blue Roses,” which will open in Sydney shortly. When a presswoman went on board the Oronsay on her arrival in Melbourne last week, with the object of interviewing Mrs. Stanley Bruce (who, by the way, has consistently refused interviews during all the years she has been in public life) she was received with a courteous smile but the usual refusal. “But,” said Mrs. Bruce, “there are much more interesting people on board than I. Miss Madge Elliott, for instance,” And this is what the interviewer says about Madge Elliott:

“Miss Madge Elliott was having breakfast in the dining saloon with her dancing partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard.

“She looked very cool and attractive in a charming white silk pique frock and a white felt hat. She wore a string of green and white beads looped round her neck so that the necklace fell equally from her shoulders. She smiled a welcome to the presswoman. “But it is Cyril who will have to give you the information,” she said. “I can talk a little, but he can talk a great deal.” Both proved charming people, unspoiled with the remarkable success they have had in London.

“Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard left Australia to try their fortune in London years ago. At least four of the shows in which they have appeared have run for a year each, and they never lacked engagements. They have danced in Paris and Monte Carlo, but most of their time has been spent in London. Mr. Ritchard has also acted for the talkies, but he gave this up, as it was too strenuous; he had to act for the talkies all day and dance at the theatres each evening. He found that though he had made good on the stage it was not taken for granted that he would be a success in the films. He had to prove his ability in this new field. He found the work very interesting, and is convinced that the English film industry will progress. Some American producers have become interested in British films, and no less a person than Fred Niblo has come to England to produce films. Miss Elliott has never tried film acting. “I don't even know if I have a film face,” she said: “I am content with stage dancing.” Margaret Bannerman, she said, is likely to make a great success on the films. She has had a test and her face is the perfect film type. She is soon to make her first picture.

“Though Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard have few free hours, they thoroughly enjoy visiting other theatres, and their chief regret in leaving London just now is that they will miss the wonderful production of Helen, by the German producer, Max Reinhardt. The story is from Offenbach’s La Belle Helene, but a new book for it has been written by Mr. A.P. Herbert. The chief part will be played by Miss Evelyn Laye, who Miss Elliott says, is the leading musical comedy artist in London, and “perfectly charming,” while George Robey is to star as Menelaus. Yetta, an English girl, who was until lately working as a mannequin in Paris, is to play the part of Venus. Elaborate costumes and scenery have been designed by Mr. Oliver Messel, famous for his masks. The two Australians are very sorry to be away from London for this production.

“There are thirty-five theatres running in London, and the majority attract good houses. Cavalcade, Noel Coward’s patriotic play, is such a huge success that seats for it are booked up to March. This play needs to draw big houses, for it costs no less than £3000 a week to produce. The good seats are priced at 23’/6—and still they sell. In London 8’ is considered a cheap price for a theatre ticket.”

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld.)—Wednesday, 27 January 1932, p. 3—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article254243808

* * * * * * * * * * 

“ONLY THE IMITATORS SWANK”

Says CYRIL RITCHARD

Cyril Ritchard, in an article written for “The Aloysian,” the magazine of his old school, St Aloysius’ College, Sydney, says: I always think that the wireless is such a Big Thing for the Little Man. When he might be trapped in a concert hall, lacking the courage to leave or protest, or buttonholed on a street corner and have a stronger man's arguments rammed down his throat, no matter who is speaking “over the air” or singing or playing, the Little Man can rise majestically from his little arm chair, smile with the utmost disdain and with one twist of his little wrist cut off the offending braggart in the midst of his most important word. Ave, Signor Marconi! 

I had intended to devote this “article” to the subject of Simplicity and I would like to say a word or two about my meeting with it. On returning to Australia after seven years away, the main remark of most of my friends was, “You haven't changed”—and they invariably looked very relieved. I knew that did not mean in looks—because I know I have, and so do they. But apparently they expected me, because I had a fair measure of success in London and in New York at my particular game—to have a plum in my mouth and a condescension in my manner. As a matter of fact it did take me quite a little time abroad to learn the lesson that was written in very plain letters at St. Aloysius' and that is—“Be simple always—be humble—be enthusiastic about small things—be grateful for the gifts God has given you—and you will be happy.”

But no, of a naturally slow mind at grasping things, I had to travel thousands and thousands of miles, meet some of the world’s greatest men and women, talk with them, observe them and study them, to learn that little lesson. After all, if you reach the utmost pinnacle of whatever you have decided to climb and plant a flag there, the milkman will not care much, nor will the man next door. And unless you have a good publicity agent the world will not know and certainly will not care—really. But your friends will, and love you for it—so why afflict them with your ideas about yourself. Be grateful to them and love them for loving you still.  I can say that, without exception, the greater the men I met, the more simple they were. I had wonderful luck—in New York, London, Paris, Berlin and other big cities of Europe—to come into very  personal contact with greatness in every walk of life. I have been privileged to dine and wine with leaders of Thought, with leaders of Sport, with leaders of Art in all its branches, and with leaders of Religious Teaching, and always did I find them the easiest people to talk to, the most charming, sympathetic and enthusiastic. It is only the imitators, or the men of no brains that “swank.” But you, dear reader, know that already. It is just that I grasp things slowly and did not realise it for a long time.

Reprinted in the J.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine programme issued for the Melbourne season of Our Miss Gibbs in April 1933.

* * * * * * * * * * 

As a publicity tie-in for The Quaker Girl, Madge appeared in a fashion spread for The Australian Women’s Weekly modelling clothes from David Jones (photographed by Monte Luke). (The magazine was then in its fourth month of publication, having launched on 10 June 1933.)

Additional Picture References

Microfilmed photos of Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard and their fellow cast members from the pages of the weekly Melbourne periodical Table Talk may be viewed on-line at the indicated webpage locations:

Blue Roses—12 May 1932, p.22—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17695962

Hold My Hand—22 June 1933, p.1—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704717

Hold My Hand—“Wedding morn” ballet—29 June 1933, p.14—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149547844

Our Miss Gibbs—20 April 1933, p.17—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704290

Our Miss Gibbs—“Moonstruck” pierrot costume—15 June 1933, p.22—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149547667

The Quaker Girl—27 July 1933, p.1—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704953

Front cover portraits: 

Madge and Cyril—19 May 1932—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17695987

Madge—13 April 1933—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704221

Cyril—20 April 1933—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704274

 

Published in Profiles

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Published in Profiles

Thus Far banner 1200pxFront page image: Nellie Melba, 1910. Dover Street Studios, London, State Library Victoria, H29081. 

Thus far Madge Elliott has brought us from the early dancing schools of Sydney to her position as leading lady in Australian stage productions, and then on to London. We have read how she and Cyril Ritchard, forming a dancing partnership, were the featured dancers of the revue-cum-musical-comedy production, Midnight Follies, one of London's successes. We have read how Lady Luck came their way when they were seen performing by Laddie Cliff, the entrepreneur, who engaged them to co-star in a series of successful London musicals that included So This is Love, Love Lies, The Love Race and The Millionaire Kid. The popular dancer now writes of her first meeting with Dame Nellie Melba, and the subsequent friendship between them.  Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» | Read Part 4»

Imy 23 years’ association with the stage I have met “all sorts and conditions” of players, from vaudeville performers to grand opera stars; from Maori haka dancers in New Zealand to native divers in Pago-Pago, and premiere ballerinas in Paris.

Drifting in Memory’s pathway as I write the phantasmagoria of people passes by; in the mists go Andrew McCunn, [1] the man who first showed me “A” on a piano, John Tait, [2] who very occasionally called me “darling,” just as I would prefix the “Mister” to his name; Lady Bridges, [3] who used to “mother” me when I visited Adelaide; the old doorkeeper at the Carlton Theatre, London, who every time he handed me a letter, would ask: “An' how's every body in Orstralia, Miss Elliott?” Sybil Thorndike, Leslie Henson, Gladys Moncrieff, Connie Ediss, John McCormack, John Brownlee, Galli Curci, Marie Ney, Clara Butt ... they all go marching past, leaving in their wake at the end of the procession, Nellie Melba, who all my life I have called “friend.”

The leaves of memory rustle, rustle, rustle, and a page turns back to a day many, many years ago, when, with 15 other children of the Melba Grand Opera Ballet, [4] I was asked to Coombe Cottage, at Lilydale. We were guests at dinner. But it is not a vision of cut glass and silver, white napery and finger bowls that I conjure up, but of a station homestead overlooking undulating country, green with luscious grass. Through the cool glades of its grounds I recall the glimpse of arum lilies, and the sunlight making great golden shafts among the eucalypts. Yellow banksia roses tumbled over the walls and curtained the low verandahs; a memory of an orchard with cherry trees in blossom, and the only thing on earth whiter than snow, with the moonlight resting upon it.

Floppy-eared cocker spaniels, most sociable and funny of all dogdom, barked their greeting to we children; down by the lily ponds sparrows chirped. Inside the big cool rooms with their soft carpetings and walls hung with oils and water-colours radiated such charm and grace that it was like an indwelling spirit in this old house.

From somewhere there was a sound of music, colour-tones in keeping with the mood of the young guests and softer tones of hospitality. Somehow, to me, this visit was like the sudden lighting up of a darkened stage in pantomime. All the figures seemed to move in a light that was warmth as well as illumination. But they were real, not of the theatre and its painted backcloths, and musty smells ... At first sight I fell in love with this old home, haloed by the graciousness of its mistress.

This party at Coombe Cottage was a delight. Melba fussed; she patted all our heads, praised our frocks; told us what nice little girls we were, showed us the horses in the stables, and introduced us to all the dogs. We were thrilled. She marshalled us to our seats at the table, and sat at the head herself, beaming.

Nellie Melba in Coombe CottageNellie Melba in Coombe Cottage. Private collection.In after years I recall Melba in many moods, but never one quite like this. As the meal progressed I was singled out for special attention. 

Without any warning, she suddenly stood up, smoothed her dress, and called for silence.

“Who is the child whose father is a doctor?” she asked, and looked at the faces around the table.

There was nothing friendly in her tone of voice and I trembled. The quick change of manner rather terrified me, and I tried to think of some childish prank in the theatre of which I had been guilty.

“Come, come,” she demanded, testily. “Will the little girl stand up, please?”

A companion in the next chair kicked my shins, and with a start I was on my feet. Melba glared at me.

“So,” she said, “you are a doctor's daughter. Tell me, what right have you to be on the stage.”

Somehow or other I managed to stutter out all my hopes and ambitions and my desire to become a great dancer.

“Very good, little girl,” she replied. “I will do all I can to help you. And now, come and kiss me.”

Perhaps no child ever had better reason to believe that it was one of the chosen of the gods than I had at that moment. It was a real kiss of friendship we exchanged, and although I tried desperately to appear indifferent, the sincerity of the greeting, young as I was, impressed me. As I look back on it now that kiss sounded around the world. Certainly it set in motion forces that were to do many things for me. After a fashion it helped to mould my career.

Here was I quite a child being favoured by the greatest opera singer of the period, a gracious lady, a fine, splendid artist. Is it any wonder that I look back on that revel at Coombe Cottage as a time when treasure was sown in the fields of the future.

I recall another meeting with Melba, this time in London in the sunset of her years. It was while we were playing in So This Is Love at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1928, and the diva had engaged a box for the evening performance.

During the first interval she came to my dressing-room profuse in her congratulations to Cyril and myself. We had so many things in common to talk about on this occasion—Australia, opera, fashions, “the Firm,” and the social life of London—and such was the charm and graciousness of her manner that I nearly missed my “call.”

As she was leaving she noticed a huge bouquet outside my door, and as London theatrical custom decrees that gift flowers must not be handed over the footlights or taken on stage, Melba had “no offering to cast at my feet.” As I slipped away for my entrance I heard her ask the dresser for the bouquet.

The diva returned to her box, and during my performance kept plucking the flowers and throwing them one by one in my direction, but her aim, like the average woman's, was bad, and they all fell short, most of them striking the drummer in the orchestra pit. He told me later that in his time he had stopped many missiles intended for actresses and actors, but this was the first occasion on which he had been pelted with flowers. The dear man took it as a personal compliment from Melba. From which it will be gathered that even theatrical drummers have their moments.

The next time I saw Melba was at Covent Garden during a performance of Pelleas and Melisande. In company with my brother and Mr. Harry Wootton, Cyril and myself were having one of our rare nights out. We were rehearsing a new show, and the stage hands and scenic artists had so cluttered the stage that work was impossible. Hence our little flutter at the opera. We had a box, and chocolates and flowers, and were very happy about things in general. 

The surprise of the night was the appearance of Melba in the audience. She received a wonderful welcome, but as she stood and bowed her acknowledgements I could not help noticing that she was more frail than when last I had seen her. She visited our box, the same charming Melba, and gossiped with us about our future. Cyril was one of her favourites, and he used to frequently see her in London. He still cherishes the memory of one night in particular when he shared her box at Covent Garden during a performance of Rosenkavalier, and of many “smart” dinners she gave in his honour when first he visited London.

This night, however, she was less inclined to confine her conversation to the future of the people present, and was persistent in her inquiries about my mother and father, who, incidentally, were very fit and well.  

Once I asked her how she had enjoyed a recent visit to Egypt. “I do not know, my dear,” she replied. “Sometimes I feel as if that country had done something to me.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Three months later, Melba returned to Australia, and when news of her death was cabled to London, I had some very sad moments. It seemed that suddenly the lights had gone out, and the theatre was dark ... [5]

About this time in London someone coined the phrase “The Good Companions” [6] and applied it to Cyril and myself. For many years we had been just that, and our association is still quoted in the theatre to-day as a fine example of stage comradeship. We understand each other perfectly as grown-up playmates, as pals in the very best sense of that word, and now as interested parties in a far deeper romance.

With a long professional association as a background for affection we have drawn closer together down through the years, and many a time in foggy old London we had much to say of a purely private nature and many dreams to dream. The years abroad had been kind to us, and as we sat alone in our own little corner there would come to us memories of far-off Australia and a longing to be back in the golden sun shine again. Sydney ... Melbourne ... Brisbane. Old friends, these ... Then one day Cyril burst in on me all excited, with the glad tidings of an offer from “the Firm” for an Australian tour. And “The Good Companions” tarried not in the order of their acceptance.

One drizzly night we took a last look at the Strand, and we both felt a little thrill as the lights twinkled back at us. We walked along, adoring every inch of it, loving every minute; but all the time there was a singing in our hearts and a joy in the thought, “To-morrow we are going home.”

As we neared Australia in a few weeks' time, try as we would to fight against the mood, little misgivings began to intrude. Over and over again we asked ourselves, “Would Australia remember Madge and Cyril?” It seemed to us we had been away such a long long time, and absence in the theatre sense is fatal. The public is fickle, and while It has a long memory for its old favourites, it is sometimes shy and coy of renewing friendships in a literal sense.

Even during my morning exercise on deck, doubts would arise, and although Cyril was true to his philosophy of letting things decide themselves, I knew that he, too, had his moments of doubt. For want of a better term I called it “stage-fright.” Perhaps by the time the “curtain was due to rise” everything would be all right, with the orchestra playing and our old public waiting to greet us.

And when we landed in Sydney the mists of doubt rolled away before the golden warmth of our welcome. Look where you will, you will not find any thing in all the world more lovely than the rekindling of an old flame, or the ghostly memory of one that for an instant, long ago, flickering in the dark chasms of the heart, is relighted. Looking up at the coloured globes in front of the theatre on our opening night ... “Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard in ‘Blue Roses’” [7] and seeing the crowded vestibule, and the long queue at the gallery-box, that is how we felt about our homecoming to Australia.

 

To be continued ...

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Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), 8 April 1935, p. 15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182037928; The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), 9 May 1935, p. 55, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92325182; and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), 17 July 1935, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30096085

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. Scots-born composer, conductor and arranger, Andrew McCunn (1881–1966) commenced his professional musical career in Britain at the age of 19 as assistant conductor with the Moody-Manners Opera Company and subsequently with George Edwardes’ various Musical Comedy touring companies (which included a 12 months’ tour of South Africa) before coming to Australia in 1904 to take on the duties of Musical Director for the Firm of J.C. Williamson for a period of 3 years. Following a further tenure in Britain working for George Edwardes in the provinces and in London, McCunn returned to Australia as JCW’s Sydney-based M.D. from 1910 until his initial retirement in 1938. Rejoining Williamson’s in 1940 as the Musical Director for the JCW Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, he remained in the conductor’s chair for The Firm until his final retirement in 1960 having conducted over 200 stage productions.
  2. John Tait (1871–1955) co-founded with his younger brother, Nevin the concert agency J. and N. Tait Ltd. in 1908, which amalgamated with J.C. Williamson Ltd. in 1920. He subsequently became a Managing Director of J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd. from 1939 until his death in September 1955.
  3. The Scots-born Lady Bridges (nee Janet Florence Menzies) was the wife of Lieut.-General Sir Tom Bridges, who was the Governor of South Australia from 1922 to 1927. The Bridges’ principal residence was in London.
  4. The Melba-Williamson Opera Company commenced its Melbourne repertory season of six weeks at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 28 October 1911.
  5. Dame Nellie Melba died of septicaemia at St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney on 23 February 1931 at the age of 69. She had visited Egypt in late 1929, where she contracted a fever that she never entirely shook off, however her septicaemia had developed after facial surgery in Europe some time before (as an early recipient of a “face-lift”).
  6. The Good Companions was the title of British author J.B. Priestley’s third novel, which achieved great success on its initial publication in 1929 and was subsequently dramatised by Priestley in collaboration with Edward Knoblock. Following a provincial tour, the stage play opened at His Majesty’s Theatre, London on 14 May 1931 for a nine month run, thus launching Priestley’s concurrent career as a successful playwright. A Gaumont- British Picture Corporation Ltd. film version directed by Victor Saville followed in 1933 starring Jessie Matthews, John Gielgud (reprising his original stage role of ‘Inigo Jollifant’), Edmund Gwenn and Mary Glynne. The plot concerned the adventures of a touring concert party, initially called the Dinky-Doos, but re-named The Good Companions after three new members from differing social backgrounds join the company and help to revitalise it.
  7. The British musical Blue Roses was given its Australian premiere by J.C. Williamson Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 February 1932.

Postscript

Some five months prior to her first professional engagement as a member of the ballet for the Melba-Williamson Opera Company in late 1911, Madge Elliott had made her stage debut at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on Tuesday, 7 March 1911 in a benefit matinee staged in aid of the J.C. Williamson Comic Opera Fund. Billed as a “Pupil of Miss Minnie Hooper”, Madge danced a Pas Seul as one of the featured solo acts in the second part of the entertainment. However amongst a packed programme, which included a performance of the complete second act of the then-current JCW musical success Our Miss Gibbs performed by the Royal Comic Opera Company, a dramatic scene starring Hugh J. Ward, Grace Palotta and Reginald Wykeham and a burlesque of the famous Florodora double-sextet “Tell Me Pretty Maiden” in which well-known actors appeared in drag as “The Maidens” and equally well-known actresses cross-dressed as “The Men”, the then-unknown Madge’s contribution to the afternoon’s entertainment passed without comment in the respective reviews published the following day in the Sydney Daily Telegraph (ref: https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238703933) and The Sydney Morning Herald (ref: https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15227454).

Dame Nellie Melba’s return to Australia to head the Melba-Williamson Grand Opera Company tour of 1924 coincided with the Melbourne season of The Cabaret Girl starring Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, which had commenced at Her Majesty’s Theatre on the 8 March 1924 before transferring to the Theatre Royal on 25 March to make way for Melba’s premiere season of Grand Opera at the subsequently re-named His Majesty’s Theatre from 29 March.

In addition to Melba attending a performance of The Cabaret Girl as a guest of honour, both Madge and Cyril (together with Alfred Frith, Jack Hooker and Reita Nugent of The Cabaret Girl company) shared the bill with members of Melba’s opera company (who performed a programme of songs arranged by Melba) for a combined Charity matinee in aid of the District Nursing Society staged at the Palace Theatre, Bourke Street on Thursday 8 May 1924, headed by visiting British actor-playwright Seymour Hicks (who was then appearing at the Palace in a season of his plays under the auspices of Hugh J. Ward and Sir Benjamin and John Fuller.)

The Australasian reviewed the event as follows:

DISTRICT NURSING MATINEE

Charity matineeThrough the personal interest of the Countess of Stradbroke in the appeal for the District Nursing Society, and through the generous co-operation of the Hon. Mrs. Pitt-Rivers and Dame Nellie Melba, the grand charity matinee held at the New Palace Theatre on Thursday afternoon proved an overwhelming success, and the office-bearers (Mrs. S.M. Bruce, chair-woman; Mrs. J. P. W. Payne, convener; Mrs. J. H. Hewison, hon. secretary; Mrs. Gilruth, hon. ticket secretary; and Mrs. E.P. Dowdell, hon. treasurer) must have been most gratified by the result, which exceeded £1,000.  Through the courtesy of Mr. Hugh Ward, the committee were able to hold the matinee at the pretty New Palace Theatre, and, in addition, Mr. Ward arranged the entire programme, with the exception of the musical interval, which was given by members of the Melba Opera Company, and also donated all printing expenses. Beautiful sweet and flower stalls stood in the theatre foyer, and a brisk trade was done in autumn blossoms and gay boxes of sweets.

… The principal event on the varied programme was the short comedy, “The Bridal Suite,” in which the chief parts were taken by the Honourable Mrs. Pitt-Rivers and Mr. Seymour Hicks. Mrs. Pitt-Rivers looked very graceful in a sheath gown of pearl white marocain, with soft cape and side draperies of the material, relieved by strands of twisted pearl embroidery. At the close of the comedy she was given an ovation and presented with many lovely flowers. Much applause also greeted the musical interval arranged by Dame Nellie Melba, and Miss Stella Power, Signorina Lahoska, and Monsieur Maguenat were recalled again and again. It was much regretted that Prince Obolenski was unable to appear owing to illness. Other artists who assisted in the programme included Mr. Willy Redstone, Mr. Mel Ward, Miss Reita Nugent, Mr. Jack Hooker, Mr. George Jennings, Mr. Les Pearce, Miss Madge Elliott, and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, Mr. Mark Daly and Mr. Lou Vernon, Miss May Beatty. and Mr. Wesley Pierce, and Miss Ruth Astor. In one interval Miss May Beatty conducted several auctions, which realised over 40 guineas. At the end of the performance, Lady Stradbroke made a charming little speech, in which she thanked the theatre management, the generous artists who had given their services, the energetic matinee committee, and the kind-hearted public, and asked her audience to give a special vote of thanks to the Hon. Mrs Pitt-Rivers for her wonderful help. Lady Stradbroke also announced that the proceeds had already exceeded £1,000, and that she had just received a cheque for £100 from an anonymous donor. The theatre boxes were occupied by His Excellency the Governor and Lady Stradbroke who were accompanied by Lady Helena Rous and Miss Hesta Phillamore, the Prime Minister and Mrs. S.M. Bruce, with whom were Mrs. Bell and Mr. Dubbs; Mrs. Robert Hunter, who had a large party of friends with her; while Mr. and Mrs. George Armstrong and a party occupied Dame Nellie Melba's box. Through the kindness of Miss Brenan. the members of her staff sold programmes; and sweets were also sold by several nurses belonging to the society …

The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 10 May 1924, p. 49 [extract], https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140753070

While additional details of the entertainment were noted in Table Talk:

SUCCESSFUL CHARITY MATINEE

… The programme, contributed by actors and actresses from the Melbourne Theatres, was much appreciated by the audience, and many floral tributes were thrown or handed over the footlights. Lord Stradbroke set the fashion when he threw a beautiful bouquet of white chrysanthemums at the feet of Mrs. Pitt-Rivers, after her charming portrayal of the bride in the comedy sketch, “The Bridal Suite.” It was written by Seymour Hicks, who played the bridegroom, the roles of the maid and valet being played by Mione Stewart and Austen Milroy. The amusing trifle was excellently acted and Mrs. Pitt-Rivers looked a typical bride in her gown of chalk white marocain, gracefully draped in Grecian fashion, and relieved with bands of silver leaves.

The lengthy programme featured noted singers in Aga Lahoska, Stella Power and Alfred Maguenat; graceful dancers in Reita Nugent, Jack Hooker, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott; May Beatty, Wesley Pierce, Mark Daly, Lou Vernon, Mel Ward, Alfred Frith, Bessie Clifford and Bert Coote were the comedians, while Ruth Astor (with impersonations) and Les Pearce (with baritone songs) and the orchestra, also gave pleasure ...

Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 22 May 1924, p. 40 [extract], https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146459614

 

Published in Profiles

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Madge Elliott has told us of her graduation from the ranks of the Exquisite Eight to leading lady in The Cabaret Girl, which ran for a long and happy season. But success demands constant work, the higher up the ladder one climbs, the more difficult is it to retain one's hold. So the cry of Madge Elliott was practice, practice, practice. See to where it took her. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3»

Madge ElliotMadge Elliott 1926 portrait. Photo by Janet Jeavons, Lady Viola Tait Collection, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148746415There never has been a theatrical season that, contemplated in advance by actors and actresses, didn't look either much better or much worse than it eventually turned out to be. The one which we were about to enter on in 1926 was no exception to the rule.

This period from a commercial point of view was an excellent one in the London theatre. New plays were being staged in the leading West End houses; musical comedy with its song numbers and dance interludes was at the height of popularity, and vaudeville showed all the manifestations of a boom.

Players' prospects were rosy and the firm of Elliott and Ritchard had many offers of engagements. In fact, we had reached a stage when we could pick and choose our parts. In these months we saw, and did, a great deal, theatrically speaking. It is funny when you stop to think about it how vitally your viewpoint, your entire outlook, is affected by contact with others. Unconsciously you strive to model your life along the lines of the pattern laid down. To be an individual in your own right on the stage is always difficult. Few in the theatre ever really accomplish it. Take the ‘darlings of the gods’ apart to see what makes the wheels go round and you will find that without exception they are a composite of favourites of their own.

I had seen many famous dancers in London and closely studied their work. Fundamentally it was the same as my own, but there was a certain something which made it distinctive.

It was inevitable, however, that quite unconsciously I should absorb some of their technique, but I think, all things considered, that it was mostly my own efforts and the assistance of Cyril which kept my dancing feet in public demand. There is a little, but not much, false modesty about this statement.

With the offers of good engagements plentiful, we elected to accept parts in The Midnight Follies, one of those revue-cum-musical-comedy pieces, with spectacular ballets and gay settings. [1]

It had a long run, and we were the featured dancers. Managers and booking-agents from many theatres dropped in to see the show. While some of them were particularly interested in our dancing, all whom we met privately insisted upon us telling them of Australia—its people, its theatres, and its tastes in entertainment. We felt quite like ambassadors.

Among these visitors one night was Laddie Cliff, revue producer and all-round theatrical manager. He knew the show world of London and the provinces; he knew that Blackpool liked George Robey and vaudeville, and that Manchester preferred pantomime and repertory plays. He claimed that Margate was just a pierrot show town, and that any manager who attempted to produce musical comedy in the Lyceum Theatre would be asking for trouble. He was very wise in the ways of the theatre.

The meeting with Mr. Cliff was exciting, and it turned out to be another ‘day to remember’ in my life. He was considering producing Lady Luck at the Carlton Theatre, and was good enough to say that if we would sign under his management, he would stage the piece early in 1927. Here at last was our really great opportunity.

Immediately I began to develop some of my old malady, fright, when I felt the full force of the offer. Cyril, of course, was his usual calm and sedate self, and winked at me several times during the interview to inspire me with courage. The upshot was that we agreed to Mr. Laddie Cliff's terms.

With such a bright future in view Cyril and I decided on a holiday at Monte Carlo when the run of Midnight Follies ended. It was at the height of "the season" and the gay watering place was crowded when we arrived.

We were immediately among friends, however, for many of our London acquaintances were lazing in this fashionable retreat. Previous to leaving London J.C. Williamson Ltd. had made us an offer to return to Australia to appear in Tip-Toes. It was a very good offer, and if we had not more or less committed ourselves to appear in Lady Luck I feel certain that we would have accepted.

Originally we had intended staying only two weeks, in Monte Carlo, but we were having such a glorious time that we decided on an extra fortnight. In the meantime we had heard nothing from London. In fact the silence was growing ominous. And then one day Mr. and Mrs. Frank Tait arrived on their way to Australia. They met us and reopened the subject of an engagement for Tip-Toes. [2] They were flattering in their praise of our work, and very generous in the terms and conditions offered.

I am afraid that both Cyril and myself were feeling a little homesick. The very mention of Australia seemed to stir old and pleasant memories, of which the Taits were constant reminders. One morning we promised that within 24 hours we would give them our decision.

Cyril and I talked for hours on the beach discussing the proposal from all angles. London's silence was the most puzzling thing, and we concluded that Lady Luck had been abandoned. Result—we would return to Australia.

Next day, and just before it was time for Mr. Tait to call, a telegram arrived for Cyril from London.

It was very much to the point: “Will you join Leslie Henson in Lady Luck at the Carlton Theatre?” . . . Would we? Ten minutes later Mr. Tait called. We were still terribly excited, but managed to stammer out that we had decided to accept the London offer.

Mr. Tait, naturally, was disappointed, but when he said “Goodbye” he wished us all the luck in the world in the new show. We immediately returned to London, saw Mr. Laddie Cliff, and entered into a contract which was to last just on five years.

I can never hear Monte Carlo mentioned without recalling that sunny morning and the joy it brought to us. Of course, we felt some pangs of regret at parting with the Taits and in the thought that they would soon be back in Australia. These emotions were overshadowed, however, by the knowledge of our own good fortune.

Mr. Cliff had supreme faith and confidence in us, so April 9, 1927, found us back-stage of the Carlton Theatre waiting for the curtain to rise on Lady Luck. Cyril was ‘Tommy Lester’ in the piece and I was ‘Patience.’ [3]

To us comparative strangers in a strange land this first performance brought something of doubt to our minds, particularly to my mind. I had a sedate entrance, and I felt that if I could only burst on the stage into a heavy orchestral fanfare or a pyrotechnic display things would be better. I can recall very little of the first act, but I do remember the dull thud of the curtain as it fell, the only thing which broke the silence out front for several minutes—or so it seemed; actually the time was half a second. Then the whole house burst into one of those demonstrations which brings tears of joy to all stage people. Overnight London hailed our performance, and those of us who know London know that such enthusiasm is rare in the theatre. And all because of two players from a country called Australia, who had slipped on to the stage to entertain them, principally with dancing. I could never judge my own work as it went on, and Cyril was too lenient a critic. But the reviews in the morning papers—the hardest cross for any actress in a new role—were as favourable as the applause of our glorious first night audience. I just sat tingling and helpless with happiness as I read approval of my work.

After years of striving to improve my dancing, and cultivating something better than a ‘thread of a voice’, overcoming unguessed obstacles and a spell of bad health, I had reached a place in the sun of the theatre.

I frankly admit my eagerness at that time for all things pertaining to the stage. It was occupation and recreation in one, and I looked forward to many months of interesting work. Letters I received from home and friends in Australia who had heard of my success warmed my heart, even if they did make me feel a longing for Sydney and Melbourne again. Those were very, very happy days.

Laddie Cliff was delighted with the success of Lady Luck, and secretly pleased, that we had lived up to his judgement of us.

I, too, was secretly thrilled for a long, long time when, on arriving at the Carlton every night, I would look up and see ‘Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard’ in the electric lights. There was a ‘strange’ magic about it that seemed to get in the blood, and although I have since grown used to seeing my name in theatre lights, the memory of the first flashing sign still lingers.

In the following years, we appeared in several successful productions under Mr. Cliff's management. Lady Luck ran for 12 months in London. The provinces saw it later on, but not with the original metropolitan cast.

By now we felt firmly established in the good graces of playgoers, and thoroughly acclimatised. Our appearance at the Winter Garden in So This Is Love, in April, 1928, added further to our popularity. [4] This was another long-run piece, and it was March, 1929, before we made a change. The new piece was Love Lies, and London flocked to the Gaiety Theatre in such numbers that a record was predicted. [5]

In addition to his success as a dancer in these shows, Cyril began to achieve a reputation as a "juvenile lead." This led to an offer for film work, and during his stay in London he appeared in Piccadilly, Blackmail, Just for a Song, Symphony in Two Flats, and Service for Ladies. [6] Some of the films were popular enough at the time, although looking back at his efforts, he always says that "they could have been better." Which is not under-estimating their value in the least.

Following on Love Lies, we played in The Love Race [7] and The Millionaire Kid, [8] which carried us to 1931.

Both Cyril and myself are proud of our London record. When we arrived back in Australia to open in Blue Roses in February, 1932, the chief remark of our friends was, “Why, you haven't changed a scrap”—and they invariably looked relieved. Apparently they expected us, because we had a fair measure of success overseas to have ‘plums in our mouth's’ and be patronising, but very early in life we both learned that the easiest way to happiness is to be humble in all things, and grateful for the simplest gifts.

Travelling thousands of miles, meeting with some of the really great men of the world, and studying them, merely proved the truth of this simple faith. I have met leaders of sport, leaders of art in all its branches, and leaders of thought, and always I found them the most charming, sympathetic, and the easiest of people to converse with. It is only the mimics who ‘swank.’

In my theatrical career I met in many cities of the world one charming and talented woman—Dame Nellie Melba. She was my friend.

To be continued …

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Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld), 6 April 1935, p. 16, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182034957, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), 2 May 1935, p. 68, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92322156, and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), 10 July 1935, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30094970

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison with additional contributions by Rex Bunnett and Elisabeth Kumm.

1. The Midnight Follies was London’s oldest and most popular cabaret, having been established at the Hotel Metropole in November of 1921. Performances (which generally lasted an hour) were given on a specially constructed stage built in the middle of the showroom and surrounded on three sides by patrons seated at tables at which supper was served.

Madge and Cyril were engaged to perform in the “Spring Edition” of the Follies, which commenced on 12 April 1926 and played until early August. The opening night of the new show was broadcast ‘live’ from the Hotel Metropole over BBC radio–2LO (365 metres) between 12 midnight to 12.30 a.m., and on relay to BBC Daventry–5XX (1,600 metres). The following night there was a further ‘live’ broadcast over the same BBC stations of ‘The Midnight Follies’ orchestra conducted by Jay Whidden from the Hotel Metropole playing pre-show dance music between 10.30 p.m. to midnight.

“THE MIDNIGHT FOLLIES.”

NEW EDITION AT HOTEL METROPOLE.

The new edition of The Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole seems to be an attempt to create a new form of entertainment especially devised for the atmosphere of cabaret. Hitherto, both here and elsewhere, the typical cabaret entertainment has been, in the main, a conglomeration of variety turns. The backbone of this new production is made up of two items, one a ballet, the other a ballet with songs. The ballet is a version in mime of Mr. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, recently performed in London for the first time by Mr. Paul Whiteman's band. Whatever its place in musical history, this score certainly forms a good background for the ballet, and both the costumes and lighting, all in different shades of blue, help the music to make the performance unusually striking.

The other item is a Chinese fantasy, called A Thousand Years Ago, with original music by Mr. Norman O'Neill. This is delightful, and Miss Elsa Macfarlane's singing helps to make it so. Mr. Cyril Ritchard sings some amusing songs in a pleasant, easy manner; Mlle. Jeanne Aubert, the French artist, who will soon appear in Yvonne at Daly's Theatre, also sings admirably; and the members of the chorus work indefatigably. There is dancing before and after the production.

The Times (London), 16 April 1926, p. 12

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The Rhapsody in Blue ballet, performed by the Midnight Follies troupe, also comprised the second half of a charity matinee in aid of the West Islington Welfare Centre staged at the Winter Garden Theatre on 11 June 1926 (preceded in the first half by the one-act play The Valiant by ‘Holworthy Hall’ [Harold Everett Porter] and Robert Middlemass, and numerous short variety items).

On this occasion the full cast of the ballet was listed as follows: Messenger of Evil Tidings Cyril Ritchard; Faun Quentin Tod; Celimène Madge Elliott; Zobeide Dolly King; Clair Joan Nurick; Bacchantes Meg Lemonnier, Shelagh Hunter; Nymphs Pat Fraser, Peggy Blake; Greek Maidens Lena Cleaver, Audrey Canyon; Greek Youths Billie Shotter, Connie Shotter; Slaves Elsie Percival, Prudence Wise; Mrs. Pinchwife Keira Tuson; Zamor Betty Nicholson; Farcy Maud Scaife. Ballet staged by Quentin Tod.

2. Tip-Toes (music by George Gershwin; lyrics by Ira Gershwin). Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on Saturday, 7 May 1927. The lead roles of ‘Tip-Toes Kaye’ and ‘Steve Burton’ (presumably originally earmarked for Madge and Cyril) were respectively played by New York performer, Elizabeth Morgan and Australian, Gus Bluett. The cast also included American comedians Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson in the roles of ‘Al Kaye’ and ‘Uncle Hen Kaye’. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

3. Lady Luck (music by B. Hedley and Jack Strachey; lyrics by Desmond Carter; additional songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; book by Firth Shephard with additional scenes by Greatrex Newman [founded on Rida Johnson Young and William Carey Duncan’s 1917 play, His Little Widows]). Premiered at the Opera House, Blackpool, on 14 March 1927. London season at the Carlton Theatre (its inaugural production) from 27 April 1927 to 4 February 1928 for a total run of 323 performances. Produced by Felix Edwardes. Dances arranged by Max Rivers. Musical direction by H. [Harry] Morley Acres.

To help promote the show on its pre-London tour the principal cast members performed 25 minutes of musical excerpts in a broadcast from the Nottingham studios of the BBC (and on relay throughout the U.K. via the BBC regional radio network) on the evening of 12 April from 11.20 p.m. to 11.45 p.m. Those taking part included Leslie Henson, Phyllis Monkman, Laddie Cliff, John Kirby, Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard, Beryl Harrison and members of the chorus. The musical accompaniment was provided by co-composer H.B. Hedley, Jack Clarke and George Myddleton at the trio pianos.

Later during the musical’s London run, a ‘live’ broadcast of a performance from the stage of the Carlton Theatre took place on the evening of 30 August transmitted by 2LO–London and on relay to other regional BBC stations from 8.30 to 9 p.m.

Joining Madge and Cyril in the cast was fellow-Australian, Josie Melville, who had achieved stardom in her homeland playing the title role in the Jerome Kern musical Sally for J.C. Williamson’s in 1923, and was, likewise, trying her luck upon the London stage in this her West End debut.

Madge and Cyril earned their fair share of the critical accolades bestowed upon the production by the assorted London newspapers and periodicals.

AT THE PLAY.

‘Lady Luck’ (Carlton).

In London's new theatre, the Carlton, in the Haymarket, the architect, Mr. Frank Verity, F.R.I.B.A. [Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects], already distinguished for work in this field, has skillfully used the developments in new material and engineering methods of construction to provide a well-planned, roomy, comfortable, well-ventilated, tactfully decorated house of entertainment. I understand that it was originally destined for a film-palace; but the excellent planning of the seating to give uninterrupted view of the stage seems to suggest that the architect had in mind the possibility of its use for this ancient three-dimensioned art.

Mr. Gilbert Miller and his associates are to be congratulated not only on their courage and enterprise but on the discretion with which they have chosen precisely the right type of show for the new house. Lady Luck is a quite brilliant affair, if judged by the canon of fitness for environment. As musical comedies go, it is outstanding for a quite intelligible and plausible plot, for balance of design and for genuine humour; and it is quite adequate from the musical point of view. But the chief triumph is that it is pre-eminently a dancing comedy.

The attractive ‘souvenir’ presented by the management claims wonderful acoustic properties for the building. I do not think this claim can be entirely substantiated. Mr. Leslie Henson, it is true, not only presents a supremely comic and admirably contrived exterior but has a precision of enunciation which carries every jest of his—and the most of them were more than ordinarily diverting—to every corner of the immense house. But Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Phyllis Monkman are not so easy to hear; though Mr. Ritchard dances with such an admirable grace, Mr. Laddie Cliff with so grotesque a gaiety and resourcefulness (he is also an excellent mime), Miss Phyllis Monkman with such technical skill and spirit, that the eye is consoled for what the ear may miss.

I propose to return to this important business of dancing. Let me meanwhile indicate the light-hearted theme of Lady Luck. Three friends and partners, Wyndham Bleugh (Mr. Henson), Biff Morton (Mr. Laddie Cliff) and Tommy Lester (Mr. Ritchard) are dead broke in New York. Enter a large Mormon from Salt Lake City with (naturally) chorus of lesser Mormons to announce a legacy of six million dollars for Wyndham. Conditions: to take over the six widows of the deceased uncle. Charming midinette (Miss Monkman), stranded and offered star part by entrepreneur and billed to play in Salt Lake City; reluctance of Wyndham to carry out terms of will; preference for midinette; resolve of the two partners that their friend shall do the right thing by the uncle and them. Anybody with the right kind of brain can make a tolerable shot at the rest, which does not anyway much matter. What does matter is the charm, pace, gaiety and wholesomeness of it ail.

And to return to dancing. The principals already named were but the hors d’œuvres. There were the six widows (Miss Jose Melville, Miss Kathleen Amami, Miss Vera Bryer, Miss Peggy Beaty, Miss Beryl Harrison and Miss Madge Elliott), who all danced most charmingly, in particular Miss Madge Elliott, a beautiful, exquisitely-made, long-limbed athlete of a girl, who, with Mr. Cyril Ritchard, danced the house into an ecstasy of appreciation.

There was also a team of a picked ten of the Tiller Girls—all adequate but these ten outstanding—who danced with a precision and spirit beyond praise, and a technical accomplishment which only clever coaching and physical training to a fine point could have made possible. (Incidentally I am thereby straightway converted to the flappers' vote.)

May I beg Mr. Gilbert Miller, who will grow rich out of this adventure, to devote his well-gotten gains to establishing this house as a home of the new dancing comedy, as an arena in which these graceful athletes, our young countrywomen, may develop the talent which, on hints given by Russians, Scandinavians, Americans and other persons of foreign birth, they have so notably developed. One has only to think of a chorus at the Empire twenty years ago and less to realise what has been accomplished. Queer too, yet not so queer on reflection, how the trained skill, the health, the spirit, the candour of these modern sylphs alters the whole tone of this chorus business. No sensible Bishop should miss this show. And no "mean sensual man." An entirely satisfactory and heartening affair.—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 11 May 1927, pp. 525–526

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“LADY LUCK.”

AT THE NEW CARLTON.

“The casket is superior to the treasure it contains,” one fears, must be the verdict passed on “Lady Luck”: and but for the exhaustless energy and versatility of Mr. Leslie Henson, and much good dancing, first-night visitors to the Carlton might not have found the sumptuous appointments and luxurious seats of the new theatre quite sufficient compensation for the weakness of the entertainment. Neither the music nor the singing is remarkable. The story of this musical comedy—which concerns Mormons—is a matter of no importance; on the other hand, the scenery is worthy of the beautiful home in which it is staged; and the dancing always, and the humour fairly often, is first-rate. The dancers include Miss Phyllis Monkman, as energetic and graceful as ever. Mr. Laddie Cliff, who has lost none of his neatness; Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott, in the two best turns of the piece; the Tiller Sisters, who show all their customary precision; and, of course, the handsome and lively chorus. On Mr. Henson rests the main burden of keeping the audience in good humour, and he is equal to the task, thanks to the support of Mr. Cliff and Mr. John Kirby. He is, indeed, in George Robey's old phrase, “a Prime Minister of mirth.”

The Illustrated London News, 7 May 1927, p. 838

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“LADY LUCK”

This entertainment at the new Carlton Theatre in the Haymarket is called a “musical play.” The description “dancing comedy” would have been nearer the mark, for the music is seldom very inspiring, in spite of a few pleasantly tinkling tunes, and of play there is very little. What there is, however, should suffice to make it appeal to the public, for there are both humour and dancing in abundance. The dancing, in fact, is remarkable. Every member of the company can dance, and does so for quite half of the evening. For the greater part of the remainder of the time Mr. Laddie Cliff, Mr. Leslie Henson, and Mr. John Kirby are allowed to show their sense of humour, and admirably they do it.

The story does not matter. It concerns Mormons, and is chiefly remarkable in avoiding most of the stock jokes in that connexion. Indeed, Mr. Henson and Mr. Cliff fire off new subtleties in an amazing way, and their verbal facility, combined with Mr. Kirby's comic immobility, gives the humorous part of the entertainment a very sure foundation. Of the dancers, apart from the energetic chorus, Mr. Laddie Cliff was as neat and graceful as usual; Miss Phyllis Monkman worked with complete tirelessness and success; Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott twice roused the audience to enthusiasm with concerted numbers; and there were many others, including the John Tiller Girls, who danced with the precision of a platoon of soldiers. Several of the lyrics ore cleverly written; so is most of the dialogue, and, as a whole. Lady Luck may be considered a worthy entertainment with which to open this palatial new theatre.

The Times, 28 April 1927, p. 12

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THE MORMON MUSICAL COMEDY AT LONDON’S NEW THEATRE

“Lady Luck,” the musical comedy which inaugurated the Carlton—London's new theatre in the Haymarket—is founded on “His Little Widows," by Firth Shephard. Wyndham Bleugh, who is in partnership with Tommy Lester and Biff Morton—a firm badly in need of funds—inherits a large fortune. The only condition on which he may enjoy it is that he should proceed to Salt Lake City and marry his uncle's six widows in accordance with Mormon law. Wyndham's partners insist that he follow out these instructions, and so the scene shifts to Salt Lake City. There is a ceremony, and Wyndham grows almost reconciled to the idea of his sheikdom. However, Jane Juste, the ex-shop girl and rising theatrical star, manages to abstract the will from the pocket of Ezra, the Mormon Elder; and finally a satisfactory way out is found—and Wyndham enjoys the fortune without being saddled with the widows. “Lady Luck” is largely a dancing show, as all the leading members of the strong cast are accomplished dancers, and the famous Tiller Girls also appear. Miss Madge Elliott, who takes the part of Patience, one of the widows, has had a considerable dancing success with her partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who is the Tommy Lester of the production.

The Sketch (London), 18 May 1927, pp. 342–343

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Early during the show’s run the following songs were recorded by Columbia Records featuring the original cast members and theatre orchestra:

  • Happy” sung by Cyril Ritchard  }                                                           cat. no.
  • Sing” sung by Laddie Cliff         } ………………………………...........Col 4340 (10”)
  • Sex appeal” sung by Leslie Henson                     }
  • Boadicea” sung by Henson, Cliff & John Kirby  } ……………….........Col 4341
  • If I were you” sung by Phyllis Monkman & Leslie Henson }
  • Syncopated city” sung by John Kirby                                   } ….….......Col 4342  
  • Blue pipes of pan” sung by Phyllis Monkman & Laddie Cliff }
  • I've learnt a lot” sung by Madge Elliot & Cyril Ritchard         } …......Col 4343
  • “Lady Luck” selection part 1 & 2 – London Theatre orchestra } ….......Col 9214 (12”)

The gramophone records (issued in June 1927) marked Madge and Cyril’s recording debut.

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4. So This is Love (music by ‘Hal Brody’ [collective pseudonym of H.B. Hedley and Jack Strachey]; lyrics by Desmond Carter; book by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby.) Premiered at the Opera House, Blackpool, on 26 March 1928. London season at the Winter Garden Theatre from 25 April 1928 to 26 January 1929 for a total run of 311 performances. Produced by Leslie Henson. Dances and ensembles arranged by Max Rivers. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

On Monday, 6 August 1928 (Bank Holiday), excerpts from Act 2 of This is Love were broadcast ‘live’ from the stage of the Winter Garden Theatre between 9.50 to 10.30 p.m., transmitted by 2LO–London, 5XX–Daventry and on relay to other regional BBC stations throughout the U.K.  

In addition to Madge and Cyril being promoted to the romantic leads, the musical also included Reita Nugent, their fellow-Australian dancing co-star from numerous J.C. Williamson musical productions of the mid-to-late 1910s and early ‘20s. So This is Love was Reita’s second West End musical following her debut (as a replacement) in the Gershwin’s Oh, Kay! starring Gertrude Lawrence in 1927.

The London critics were duly impressed by the graceful dancing of Elliott and Ritchard and the gymnastic skill of their compatriot, Nugent.

AT THE PLAY.

“So this is Love” [Winter Garden)—love indeed of an ineffably noble order, at least on the part of this pretty and highly punctilious heroine, Pamela Stuart (Miss Madge Elliott), secretary to the handsome, amiable, rich young Hon. Peter Malden (Mr. Cyril Ritchard). In real life, I fancy, when rich employers are manifestly and honestly if impudently in love with their secretaries, and their love is as obviously returned, the secretaries feel no difficulty in accepting the new situation. But when our Hon. Peter Malden, realising that he is dealing with a very rare and sensitive type, arranges, with the help of his broker, Potty Griggs (Mr. Stanley Lupino) and his American friend, Hap J. Hazzard (Mr. Laddie Cliff), that his investments should appear to crash, while Pamela's modest flutter should bring her a fortune, thus reversing the situation; and when this friendly trick is discovered by the punctilious Pam and she, instead of saying, “How perfectly darling of you!” draws herself to her full height and, very proud and pale, declares that she can never forgive such an unpardonable deception, let no one say that our musical-comedy has no room for a lofty idealism.

So this is Love is indeed a very agreeable affair—a comedians' and emphatically a dancers’ comedy. The music, by Hal Brody, is sound and deftly syncopated if a little perfunctory; the book is by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby—a book conceived with a very proper bias in favour of the genial idiocies, of conduct and phrase, suitable to Mr. Lupino's peculiar and highly-diverting talents. Mr. Rigby, I will assume, was mainly responsible for the admirably ethical tone of the whole.

Most of the fun was produced by the long exchanges of the two principal comedians, Stanley Lupino, master of grimace, innuendo and grotesquely contrived personal physical disasters, and Laddie Cliff, very nimble and inventive step-dancer. These two held the stage for the greater part of the show without becoming tiresome. There was a pleasant old-fashioned music-hall flavour to their fooling which proved how well that good old brand wears.

But assuredly the dancing was the most delectable and seductive part of the merry entertainment. There was Miss Madge Elliott, not so spectacularly effective possibly as in Lady Luck—perhaps one can't repeat supreme triumphs like that—but entirely charming, especially in a languorous dance in which her gloriously long limbs were posed with beautiful effect. Her long living leaps, with Mr. Ritchard's able assistance, recalled the airy lightness of Nijinsky in The Spectre of the Rose—for all her nineteen hands or so.

A new turn and a tiny little dancer, Miss Reita Nugent, carried the triumphant progress of the athletic nymphs of our unrivalled day a stage further—a brilliant performance of quite astonishing virtuosity and without surrender of grace even in such disquieting movements as one-hand cart-wheels, a swift spinning-top movement round the full circuit of the stage, and a promenade on the hands with full striding movements of the uplifted legs—an unbelievable feat of gymnastic balance. This vivacious and talented newcomer received a deserved ovation from a delighted and perceptive audience. We protest that we really do know a good thing when we see it.

Miss Gilly Flower's dancing in more traditional musical-comedy mood was as good as any reasonable man could want. And as for the Tiller Girls—these wove the cleverly-designed dance-patterns of Max Rivers with such perfect timing, such an air of spontaneous gaiety and such untiring accomplishment (not one of them so much as drawing her breath the faster in the process) as to fill to overflowing the bright cup of our enjoyment. I freely admit the soft impeachment that a certain gallantry (duly detached, I hope) gilds one's judgment. But there can be no question that it is an important national gain that the hard discipline and personal asceticism that alone could make such athletic achievements possible does honour to our modem music-hall stage.

Will not some millionaire finance a match between a picked team of the Tiller Girls and Mr. Cochran's young ladies running, leaping, la savate and la boxe, putting the manager, wrestling, ju-jitsu—to confound Lord Rothermere and justify “the flapper vote”?—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 9 May 1928. pp. 526–527

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“SO THIS IS LOVE!” AT THE WINTER GARDEN.

In “So This is Love!” we have an English musical comedy as breathless in its pace as anything America has sent us, and a great deal more amusing than most American efforts. The authors are Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby, and their story tells how a rich young man, unable to persuade his secretary, Pamela, to marry him because he is rich, arranges with an electrically energetic American, Hap J. Hazzard, and his stockbroker that they shall announce that he has lost his money and Pamela has gained a fortune in the share market. But this mixture of sentiment and finance is not worrying, and only comes into notice when the principals are tired of singing or (which they do as a rule vastly better) of dancing. Mr. Laddie Cliff is cast for the American hustler, and makes him more violently energetic than the maddest ‘live wire’ of American caricature; there is no need to add that his dancing is first-rate. Mr. Lupino, besides being part-author, is the main source of fun in the play, and to watch him acting as a farcical stockbroker and to hear him sing about his “shyness” and satirise crook plays, is to realise that in him we have one of the most engaging of all our mirth-makers; while his back-falls and other acrobatic exploits are at times almost frightening. There is a good deal that is acrobatic in the dancing; but Mr. Cyril Ritchard is brilliantly skilful at the game, as is Miss Reita Nugent, with her cart-wheel evolutions. Miss Madge Elliott can also dance delightfully, and she and Miss Sylvia Leslie have songs to sing. But it is the dance-turns that are the feature of the show, and one of the out-standing turns is that of the Tiller Girls. The music of Mr. Hal Brody serves well enough.

The Illustrated London News, 12 May 1928, p. 880

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“So this is Love.”

It would be absurd to be critical about shows like this. Either you like the kind or you don't, and if you like it there are no limits to that liking. When the curtain went up at the beginning of the second act on a view of the Thames at Marlow in Messrs. Joseph and Phil Harker's best representational manner, when the John Tiller Girls began to disport themselves in front of those waters, and when it looked as though nothing could prevent Messrs. Laddie Cliff, Cyril Ritchard, and Stanley Lupino from being immersed therein—why, when these things happened the crowded audience gargled audibly like a small child beholding its first bit of Blackpool or Southend rock.

The play was about a rich young man whose secretary wouldn't marry him because he was too rich. So he pretended to lose his money, whereupon the secretary, in her adhesion to him became the personification of a glue-factory: But he really had lost his money. And since the girl was true blue and true glue she still stuck. The music was passable, though the employment of three pianos in the orchestra made it sound thin. In the matter of the wit let me cite the song entitled ‘Hats Off to Edgar Wallace!’ and which has the refrain:—

I like to hear a body
Fall with a sickening thud;
It gives me the shivers,
But I like to see rivers
Of blood, blood, blood!

Miss Reita Nugent turns some good cart-wheels. Mr. Stanley Lupino gives one to think that he might drop fooling at any moment and break into satire with a tang to it. Mr. Laddie Cliff does, the usual amusing things with his heels and ankles. Several ladies in the cast, among whom one might mention Miss Madge Elliott, Miss Sylvia Leslie, and Miss Connie Emerald, endear themselves to the audience. This piece is fully up to Winter Garden standards and is the normal success.—James Agate

The Sunday Times (London), 29 April 1928, p. 6

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5. Love Lies (music by ‘Hal Brody’ [collective pseudonym of H.B. Hedley and Jack Strachey]; lyrics by Desmond Carter; additional songs by B.G. De Sylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson; Billy Mayerl and Frank Eyton; and Leslie Sarony; book by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby.) Premiered at the King's Theatre, Southsea, on 4 March 1929. London season at the Gaiety Theatre from 20 March 1929 to 18 January 1930 for a total of 347 performances. Produced by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby. Dances arranged by Fred Lord. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

On Saturday, 20 July 1929, excerpts from Act 1 of Love Lies were broadcast ‘live’ from the stage of the Gaiety Theatre between 8.20 to 9 p.m., followed by further excerpts from Act 2 from 9.35 to 10 p.m. transmitted by 2LO–London, 5XX–Daventry and on relay to other regional BBC stations throughout the U.K.  

Another compatriot of Madge and Cyril’s (from his tenure in J.C. Williamson musicals in Australia), was Adelaide-born, Harry Wotton, who joined the cast in a supporting role, which marked his West End debut. (Wotton had originally come to London to study singing under Dinh Gilly, having been given a letter of introduction by Dame Nellie Melba. Wotton had gained further experience singing in the chorus of the Williamson-Melba Grand Opera Company tour of Australia in 1928.)

“Love Lies” (Gaiety).

The Gaiety in a nice new coat of many colours offers us, through the intelligent co-operation of Mr. Laddie Cliff, entrepreneur and comedian; Mr. Stanley Lupino, joint author and producer with Mr. Arthur Rigby; Mr. Rudolf Haybrook, designer of scenes, and very gay and jolly scenes too; Miss Irene Segalla, designer of costumes, plain and fancy and entirely charming; Mr. Hal Brody, composer, and Mr. Desmond Carter, chief lyricist (with the usual supernumerary army of additional number-makers and subsidiary poets), a very bright, genuinely amusing and characteristic Gaiety piece.

Rolly Ryder (Mr. Laddie Cliff) has an uncle who threatens to disinherit him if he marries; Jerry Walker (Mr. Stanley Lupino) an uncle who threatens to do the same if he doesn't. Naturally both uncles arrive at Rolly’s enormous studio in Torquay on the very day that Rolly has committed matrimony. (The mixture as before.)

Jack Stanton (Mr. Cyril Ritchard) has met Valerie St. Clair at a bull-fight in Madrid; has flirted, given his name as Lord Luston, believing no such person to exist. Naturally also Valerie arrives from Madrid to become a pupil in Rolly's studio—a fairly distracting place to work in, it will be quickly gathered; and the authentic Lord Luston arrives to commission Rolly to paint his portrait.

Valerie (Miss Madge Elliott) is horrified at Jack's deception; and when they have made their peace on this issue Jack discovers that she is a rich woman, and therefore it is strictly incumbent upon him in musical comedy to draw himself up very stiff and proud and profess his inability to live upon a woman's money. How different from real life, when this irrelevant consideration would be not unreasonably hailed as a stroke of luck! However, in this kind it doesn't matter what the puppets do but how they do it. And frankly they do it as well as possible. Mr. Lupino and Mr. Cliff are genuine comedians, who are even better together than apart. There are a many divertingly silly jokes and an astonishing abundance and variety of delightfully absurd antics by these two. Mr. Lupino has the greater command of gravity-removing grimaces, gestures, contortions and disastrous falls, and was particularly outrageous and amusing in an impersonation of his supposed mistress; Mr. Laddie Cliff has the greater energy and pace. Mr. Cyril Ritchard’s loose-limbed dancing and studiedly hoarse voice-production are very pleasant things to see and hear, and Miss Madge Elliott has not lost the art of graceful movement and daring athletic feats performed with an admirable effect of ease.

The music and the dancing all through go with a swing, and nothing was better done or obtained louder or more deserved applause than “Run away Girl”’ a sort of Gaiety Marathon, wherein the charming young ladies of the Chorus and their somehow inevitably less plausible and less charming young men danced till it didn't seem possible that human muscles could continue to do their work—an effect of admirable drilling and intensive physical training.

A piece of happy nonsense, “Tweet, Tweet; Ssh, ssh; Now, Now! Come, Come!” by Mr. Lupino rather self-consciously supported by the audience, was probably the second favourite. But the whole affair was soundly planned and gaily executed, and may be commended even to those who usually approach this sort of thing with grave misgivings.

The piece is too long. The tiresome elaboration of the hoary jokes resulting from the verbal confusions caused by the names of Uncle Nicholas Wich and Uncle Cyrus Watt should certainly be jettisoned. But there is little else for the most captious critic to complain about. A good romping, thoroughly amusing show.—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 27 March 1929, p. 357

[Stanley Lupino’s 1929 Columbia recordings of “I Lift Up My Finger and Say Tweet, Tweet” (from Love Lies) and “Hats Off to Edgar Wallace” (from So This is Love) may be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wpJqvrCzks&list=PL71B6D3BFA2F16776&index=6 ]

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THE PLAYHOUSES

“LOVE LIES.” AT THE GAIETY.

Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Stanley Lupino may shake hands with each other over a success in “Love Lies,” the new Gaiety musical comedy; between them they have managed to provide a very lively entertainment and may divide the credit. Mr. Cliff ‘presents’ Mr. Lupino, to be sure; but then Mr. Lupino, besides being “star” comedian of the show, is also part-author of the libretto, and has written the music of one of its most telling songs. And Mr. Cliff, if nominally Mr. Lupino's manager, plays second fiddle to him most loyally on the stage. Theirs is a happy contrast of styles. Mr. Lupino, with his gifts of improvisation and parody, his humorous handling of Cockney character, his capacity for getting quickly on good terms with his audience, is all mercurial energy; while Mr. Cliff's methods of fun are more quiet and half-embarrassed, but make just the right foil. They are both well served, and both figure in numbers which should take the town. “Run Away, Girl,” a rollicking turn in which Mr. Cliff has the help of a sprightly actress, Miss Connie Emerald, instantly won first-night favour; but hardly less popular were song-and-dance turns of Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, and the general work of a spirited chorus.

Illustrated London News, 30 March 1929, p. d

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“LOVE LIES”

The Gaiety Theatre, modernized and deprived in the process of its pit, reopened last night with a musical play which, to judge from its reception, bears a long life. It breaks no fresh ground. Along established lines, however, it is well enough put together, being a series of pleasantly spectacular scenes interspersed with informal sketches and given a kind of unity by a plot which leaves everybody the utmost freedom of movement. Some in the audience may have felt, especially towards the end of the evening, that all the artists with a hand in the concoction of the entertainment had sought rather to repeat their former triumphs than to triumph in some new way, but in the hearty applause of the audience the apparent unwisdom of these canny craftsmen was amply vindicated. Why trouble to break fresh ground while the old still yields such encouraging results?

Such minor misgivings as these afflicted only the inconsiderable minority, and in any case stopped short of the use which Mr. Lupino, Mr. Cliff, and the rest made of their material. It was for the greater part of the evening the liveliest of entertainments. The chorus, a fashionably slim chorus, had been well drilled, but still kept a sparkling spontaneity in their dances. They seemed to be dancing with an enjoyment which sometimes seems to be absent from the work of a more intensively trained chorus, and their gaiety diffused itself over the comedy.

Against this charmingly vital background there was, first and foremost, Mr. Lupino, who is the most inveterate of parodists. Considering how closely he confines himself to parody, parodying himself if no other subject offers, the variety of his humour is remarkable. In Mr. Cliff, with his preternatural shyness and the gift of expressing a quiet humour at the centre of a cyclone of absurdities, Mr. Lupino has an admirable ‘opposite number,’ and last night they accounted between them for most of the fun that so delighted the house.

Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard gave the more serious love-making wisely discreet treatment, but they admirably discharged their responsibility for the song of the evening, and when the opportunity was given them they both danced “like a wave of the sea.” Miss Connie Emerald made love in a lighter vein with conspicuous charm, and Mr. Arty Ash made the best of his chances as a comic butler.

The Times (London), 21 March 1929, p. 14

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6. Cyril Ritchard Filmography:

Piccadilly (1929) (British International Pictures) (silent film)—scenario by Arnold Bennett. Directed by E.A. Dupont. Cast included Gilda Gray, Anna May Wong, Jameson Thomas, Cyril Ritchard, Ellen Pollock, Charles Laughton, Debroy Somers and his Band.  

CYRIL RITCHARD IN PICTURES

Cyril Ritchard, whom most Australians will remember as Madge Elliott's dancing partner some years ago, has gained considerable fame abroad. He recently made a great hit in “So This is Love” at the Winter Garden Theatre.

E.A. Dupont, the director, saw in this young man the ideal type for the role of Gilda Gray's dancing partner in the picture, “Piccadilly,” and Ritchard welcomed the chance to play the part. That he has justified his selection is undoubted, being particularly successful in partnering Gilda Gray in her latest dance invention, “The Piccadilly Shiver.”

Daily News (Perth, WA), 12 July 1929, p. 9, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article82985469

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London Night Life

The London of Michael Arlen and Arnold Bennett is to be seen in the English production “Piccadilly,” shortly to be released in Sydney.

This is a Bennett story of London's night life, centring around adventures within and without the famous Piccadilly Club, of which one sleek character says: “It isn't a club really. They just call it that so that everybody will want to come.”

The cast includes Gilda Gray, Cyril Ritchard, Anna May Wong and Jameson Thomas, all in the roles of polished action. The first two are billed at the club as Mabel and Vic, a dancing team that depends on the fascination of Vic for its success. Richard's dancing is finished and original, and not for nothing is he still the popular partner of Australian Madge Elliott in England and on the Continent.

Vic of the dancing feet and the cheerful smile loves his partner, but she ignores him for the more sophisticated club proprietor, Valentine, who returns her affections. There follows an argument, and Vic leaves for America, sufficiently aware of his popularity to realise that the club will fail. In desperation, faced by a decrease in patrons, Valentine remembers the little Chinese scullery girl, whom he had seen dancing on a table on his last inspection of the kitchen. He sends for her, realising that some new draw must be advertised to pull back the old crowd … [extract]

Sydney Mail (NSW), 10 July 1929, p. 21, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160394332

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Blackmail (1929) (British International Pictures) (Britain’s first feature-length sound film was also simultaneously made in a silent version)—screenplay by Alfred Hitchcock, Benn W. Levy and Charles Bennett (based on the play by Charles Bennett). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast included Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, John Longden, Charles Paton, Donald Calthrop and Cyril Ritchard.

As the Austro-Hungarian born Anny Ondra spoke English with an accent, her dialogue was dubbed for the ‘talkie’ version by English actress, Joan Barry. However Anny Ondra’s actual voice can be heard in a ‘sound test’ for Blackmail speaking with Alfred Hitchcock posted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Z8mSwzSQQk

Cyril Ritchard A Villain

“BLACKMAIL,” the English film which has lately come under the cold eye of the censor, introduces some interesting facial aspects of Cyril Ritchard, who for the purposes of the plot forgets that he is a dancer and light comedian and astounds his admirers as a villain of low repute. Ritchard lately explained to a London interviewer that he was inveigled into ‘Blackmail’ at the request of the producer, Hitchcock, who happened to be his neighbor during a summer spent at Guildford. Ritchard, who has developed beyond the knowledge of local theatregoers, has a genius for friendships with people of social and theatrical consequence. During a period when he was appearing on Broadway he became the bosom pal of Irving Berlin, and at one time when he was ill he was invited by the prominent American actress, Elsie Janis, to visit her and her mother at the Janis home, Torrington, New York.

The Theatre and its People—Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 28 November 1929, p. 21

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THE PICTURE WORLD

“Blackmail”

(THE STATE)

“BLACKMAIL,” the first British talkie, which should have been shown in Melbourne many moons ago, is, despite the long delay and some totally unnecessary censorial cuts, still one of the best things of its kind to be shown in Melbourne. To one who saw the film before the Australian censor cast his baleful eye upon it the excisions deemed necessary by our Mr. Grundy achieve no particular object other than to destroy, in one instance, the thread of the story. Had “Blackmail” been shown here when it was first available, there can be no doubt that it would have been hailed as the finest talkie produced up to that date, and, while it can now scarcely lay claim to this distinction, it is at least extremely good entertainment.

Cyril Ritchard, the Australian actor, plays the part of the dissolute artist with some skill; Anny Ondra, who commits murder in order to save her honor, would have been better had she been a little less intense and a little more natural. Donald Calthrop scores a great triumph as the blackmailer, and from this performance he may be placed alongside George Arliss as one of the world's finest “straight” players. The remainder of the cast interpret their parts with success, and the full dramatic values of the play are faithfully transmuted to the screen.—E.L.

Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 20 November 1930, p. 18, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146706686

The murder scene from the ‘silent’ version of Blackmail with Cyril Ritchard and Anny Ondra may be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjF6sGP9X4E

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Just For a Song (1930) (Gainsborough Pictures)—screenplay by Gareth Gundry (story by Desmond Carter). Directed by Gareth Gundry. Cast included Lillian Hall-Davis, Roy Royston, Constance Carpenter, Cyril Ritchard, Nick Adams, Syd Crossley, Dick Henderson, Syd Seymour and His Mad Hatters. ‘The First All British Talking, Singing and Dancing Production’ (Sadly the film is currently regarded as no longer extant).

“JUST FOR A SONG”

A British Talkie

Singing clowns, moaning mammas, sonny boys, and get rich chorus girls have constantly passed in a bewildering array before the picture public's gaze during the last year, says a writer in ‘The New Idea,’ yet the British Dominions Films' all-dialogue musical revue, “Just for a Song,” will undoubtedly come as a pleasant surprise to all Australian talkie fans.

So far Broadway has apparently been the only setting for a stage story—but the music hall and city backgrounds of London in ‘Just for Song’ will be as refreshing as they are unique.

We have here, too, in this picture, some amazing team work, performed by the young Ziegfeld Follies’ dancer, Roy Royston, and the charming English musical comedy star, Constance Carpenter, their eccentric dancing and fine singing voices rivalling the popular team work of the young American stars, Nancy Carroll and Buddy Rogers. Their many acts before and behind the scenes, in perfect reproduction sets of such famous halls as “The Palladium,” “Coliseum,” and the “Alhambra,” would alone be sufficient draw at any time for this film.

Others in the cast include Cyril Ritchard, well known to Australians, Nick Adams, of “Potash and Perlmutter” fame, Rebla, one of London's greatest comedy jugglers, and the beautiful Lillian Hall Davies, who, aside from her numerous musical stage successes is known for her many vocal numbers on “His Master's Voice” gramophone records. She is said to sing a delightful number, “Ashes of Dreams,” with a feeling and sincerity that have done much towards lifting this actress towards the pinnacle of fame.

The magnificent Gainsborough Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Oumansky, plays throughout the film; whilst the “Mad-Hatters,” a fine comedy band, and “The Plaza Tillerettes,” a West-End stage dance team, offer two other special numbers.

Another great star in this production is Dick Henderson who has recently returned from the United States. He will also play a special number.

Though the theatre atmosphere of “Just for Song” is most realistic, it is understood that it is entirely subservient to the story, which is indeed “something different” from the usual backstage talkie.

The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 1 June 1930, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58384451

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Symphony in Two Flats (1930) (Gainsborough Pictures)—screenplay by Gareth Gundry (based on the play by Ivor Novello). Directed by Gareth Gundry. Music by Eric Coates. Cast included Ivor Novello, Benita Hume, Cyril Ritchard, Minnie Raynor, Maidie Andrews, Clifford Heatherly, Ernest Dagnell and Jack Payne and his Orchestra.

Benita Hume repeated her stage role in the British film version, but her scenes were reshot with American actress, Jacqueline Logan for the alternate version screened in the U.S. Cyril Ritchard was cast in the film at Ivor Novello’s request, following his success in the earlier Blackmail. With his “matinee idol” looks Novello had been a silent film star since 1920, concurrent with his British stage career, but this film marked his ‘talking picture’ debut.

IN TALKIE

Cyril Ritchard Goes Over Big

Cyril Ritchard proves that all his stage talent isn't in his feet, with his splendid characterisation of Leo in “Symphony in Two Flats,” now at the Bridge Theatre. This is not his first talkie appearance, but it certainly is the most interesting from the story viewpoint, and the fact that he is now appearing in Sydney in “Blue Roses.”

Ivor Novello, who wrote the play and plays the part of David, the composer, has accomplished an appealing and sincere piece of work.

David, engaged on a symphony which he hopes will win a £2000 prize, marries Leslie (Benita Hume), much to the despair of her wealthy suitor, Leo Chevasse. David's sight fails when he has finished his important work, and Leo, not intending to play the part of intruder, tells him that he has won the longed for award. His wife in a moment of gratitude to Leo embraces him, and for a second her husband is given the power to see them.

Imagining that Leo paid him the prize money in an attempt to console him for stealing his wife, he orders them both out, and during the next few months works on another symphony.

Determined to convince him of her innocence, Leslie visits him just after he has returned from a successful rendering of his last symphony, and their misunderstanding is transformed into happiness.

Truth (Sydney, NSW), 28 February 1932, p. 20, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/169139513

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Service for Ladies (U.S. Title: Reserved for Ladies) (1932) Paramount—screenplay by Eliot Crawshay-Williams and Lajos Biro (from the novel The Head Waiter by Ernst Vajda); directed by Alexander Korda; Cast included Leslie Howard, George Grossmith, Benita Hume, Elizabeth Allan, Morton Selten, Cyril Ritchard, Martita Hunt and Merle Oberon.

OLD THEME WELL HANDLED

Bright British Film

“Service for Ladies,” a British Paramount production at the Regent this week, is an example of the class of talkie that is possible when the restraint of England is coupled with the producing craft of Hollywood.

This movie combines most of the better features of English and American production. The dialogue of nearly every English film is like a clear diamond, but the diamond is too often displayed in an over-austere setting. “Service for Ladies” avoids that defect. The production is precisely as it should be.

The story of the head waiter who, on holiday, is mistaken for a prince or something of the sort is not new. In fact, the skeleton description suggests that it is hopelessly hackneyed. The handling of “Service for Ladies,” however, makes it entirely agreeable.

The acting could scarcely be bettered. Leslie Howard gives a brilliant performance as the holidaying head-waiter, and Elizabeth Allan is no less effective as the girl who thinks him a prince,

George Grossmith acts precisely as you would expect a king, holidaying incognito, to act, and Benita Hume gives a nice study of an amorous countess. Cyril Ritchard, who is appearing in “Blue Roses” in Melbourne, is also in the cast.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 30 May 1932, p. 21, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242802138

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British Pathé “newsreel” footage of stage scenes from Love Lies and The Millionaire Kid, which include Madge and Cyril performing a couple of their dance routines, may be viewed on YouTube at the following webpage locations:

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Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard also displayed their terpsichorean talents in a 1927 silent film short for the “On With The Dance” series handled by the Pioneer Film Agency. Others performing in the film included Laddie Cliff, Annie Croft, Binnie Hale, Sonnie Hale, Leslie Hatton, Bessie Hay, Leslie Henson, Bobby Howes, Phyllis Monkman, Leslie Sarony, Reginald Sharland and Sid Tracey. The film was produced by Harry B. Parkinson. (Ref: Internet Movie Data Base listing, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486880/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_1 )

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7. The Love Race (music by Jack Clarke; lyrics by Desmond Carter; additional music by H.B. Hedley and Harry Acres; book by Stanley Lupino.) Premiered at the Opera House, Blackpool on 9 June 1930. London season at the Gaiety Theatre from 25 June 1930 to 17 January 1931 for a total of 237 performances. Produced by Stanley Lupino. Dances arranged by Fred Lord. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

On Tuesday, 23 December 1930, excerpts from Act 1 of The Love Race were broadcast “live” from the stage of the Gaiety Theatre between 8.30 to 9.05 p.m., followed by further excerpts from Act 2 from 9.45 to 10.30 p.m. transmitted by 2LO – London and on relay to other regional BBC stations throughout the U.K.  

Cyril’s casting as a “Talkie Star” was evidently a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of his real-life success in British motion pictures of the period.

Harry Wotton again joined Madge and Cyril in the cast in a supporting role. The musical also featured two other Australians—19 year-old Melbourne-born dancer, Esme Tosh (who, with her twin sister Audrey, had trained under Melbourne dance teacher, Jennie Brenan, before going on to perform in cabaret and revue as the Tosh Twins in Calcutta, London, Paris, the Riviera, Germany and Oslo, until Audrey’s subsequent marriage and retirement disbanded the act); and (making his West End debut) 29 year-old Sydney-born musical-comedy performer, Freddy Conyngham (who had appeared in the Australian productions of Cradle Snatchers, Young Woodley, Good News and Whoopee, amongst other shows in the 1920s). Esme and Freddy shared a duet in the first act, while the second act included Esme leading a dance number with the chorus girls and Freddy performing a song-and-dance number with the chorus boys. 

AT THE PLAY.

“The Love Race” (Gaiety).

Mr. Stanley Lupino is not only the life and soul of this musical play, but the author of its book, and he is too old and practised a hand to tell a plain unvarnished tale. Indeed from the moment that flashlight photographer has taken his “snap” and given the heroine's birthday-party its head the story he tells defies description. It is a sort of fugue on the tables of consanguinity with incredible variations. One cannot imagine him writing it in cold blood, but only creating it as he (and the rehearsals) went along, lawless vivacity is that of spontaneous combustion. The dialogue, as bewildered memory recalls it, consists largely of rhetorical epigram steadied with patter of the tu quoque order which in similar circumstances and from time immemorial has never been known to fail. Each loaded jest is fired off with a justified confidence of hitting the mark, and practically instantaneous laughter is the echo.

It would be something of a comfort to the conscientious critic to find in the mazes of the matrimonial labyrinth through which the characters rush some helpful thread that would lead direct from start to finish while enabling descriptive justice to be done to the scenery en route. Sufficient to say, perhaps, that the heroine's sisters and her cousins and her aunts all enter the love race with zest and with what seem, until the end, poor chances of winning prizes. Yet each, as the curtain falls, succeeds not only in snatching but retaining just the partner that Mr. Lupino, rather than any law of probability, preordained.

The going is good. It allows for gentler passages that evoke a different but not less spontaneous delight from that which is expressed by the sudden guffaw, and that give Miss Madge Elliott, herself a competitor in the race, opportunities to charm us with dancing dalliance by the way. She is admirably paced and partnered by Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who sustains her in mid-air where the dance so often lifts her, flings her graceful figure to the winds, or lands her so safely on terra firma again that she can bow without embarrassment to the responsive storm of cheers.

In reflecting on the entertainment's less hurtling features one notes that its girls, in common with their workaday sisters, achieve an independence that approximates to supremacy. Thus the twin heroines, whose aim it has been to delay until curtain-fall inevitable alliances with Mr. Lupino and Mr. Laddie Cliff, not only are married off-stage in the twinkling of a scene, but proceed from the altar to the motor-track, win an open championship there in a dead-heat, and take the final curtain clad not in the resplendencies that ever have constituted the good heroine's going-away dress, but in motor-kit of masculine design.

The dresses of the Chorus too show similar signs of progress, being no longer the orchidaceous incredibilities in which the pristine coryphée was wont to dazzle us, but merely such pretty and probable frocks and hats as would grace any secular occasion. And what a wonderful leveller is the permanent wave! This universal coiffure bridges the gulf between one side of the footlights and the other, establishes, if not the brotherhood of man, the sisterhood of woman, and marks, it may be, the first step on the way to that equality of opportunity at which the ideal Socialist aims but only bees and ants have achieved.

Mr. Lupino is an idiosyncratic comedian. His technique is infallible, but it is the personality behind it that moves even the grudging admirer to laughter. Some of the fun he exploits is calculated to appeal to one's unkinder instincts; such fun, for instance, as that to which Miss Drusilla Wills, as the spinsterial dud in the love race, lends her grotesque talents with such characteristic devotion to duty. One notes too the increasing popularity of the pun when reinforced by Mr. Lupino's deprecatory grimaces, and that M.P.’s have now succeeded mothers-in-law and kippers as an accepted symbol of farce.

Mr. Laddie Cliff's drier methods and incomparable agility as a dancer provide Mr. Lupino with a perfect foil. These two comedians support each other on the stage as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza complement each other in romance, or as the plumber and his mate combine against society in life. Mr. Cliff dances creatively; his toe-tapping has an astonishing virtuosity, and he is always at hand to support Mr. Lupino when the heavens justifiably threaten to fall.

Of the music let it be said that Mr. Jack Clarke knows his job; that when tenderness is in the air he can articulate it musically, and that when the comedians' patter invades the lyrics his note is always on the beat. The choral manoeuvres achieve fresh permutations which are not at variance with their prettily-attired executants, and the scenery has the contributory glitter such a show demands.

Thus, having established a new and successful tradition under this present regime, the Gaiety lives up to its name. And whether the intending playgoer seeks out this show for the sake of its clever principals, or merely takes pot-luck, the show is good enough and the principals are funny enough to justify either enterprise. H.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 2 July 1930, p. 22

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“THE LOVE RACE.” AT THE GAIETY.

One of those romps only a churlish fellow would refuse to enjoy. The plot is so slender, yet so involved, that it is almost impossible to disentangle it. It had something to do with a raided night club; various suit-cases in which other people's underwear was discovered—male or female, according to the sex of the jealous searcher; young men who pretended to be engaged to their friends’ fiancees; a heroine who promised to marry the first man she saw after midnight; and a motor race that resulted in a dead-heat, to everyone's great content. However, the plot does not matter. Mr. Jack Clarke's music was unpretentiously tuneful, and Mr. Desmond Carter has written at least one very good lyric, “You Can't Keep a Good Man Down.” What the play really requires is a first-class comedy number for Mr. Stanley Lupino. No one could write this better than Mr. Carter; he should be asked to do so. The dances and ensembles arranged by Mr. Fred Lord were lively rather than distinguished; but this was in keeping with the show. Mr. Stanley Lupino, who perpetrated the book, has not given himself any very funny situations, but he tumbles as amusingly as ever, and reels off strings of jokes with such ability that the newest of them do not seem so very old. Mr. Laddie Cliff dances cleverly, and Miss Connie Emerald, Miss Madge Elliott, and Miss Esme Tosh were a charming trio of heroines.

The Illustrated London News, 5 July 1930, p. 44

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“THE LOVE RACE.”

You cannot dance the same dance in a long dress that once you danced in a short; at any rate, you ought not to attempt it, as is particularly evident when a long-dressed chorus, turning its united back upon the audience, retreats up-stage with that strange, inelegant wriggle, presumably intended, in the days of a departed fashion, to remind primitive man of a wilderness of monkeys ascending a tree. A blessing upon long dresses! They are charming. Already, under their influence, musical comedy’s ceasing to be a display of grotesque gymnastic and is returning to cherry-blossom, laburnum, limelight, and romance. But let us go all the way and make the best of a little prettiness while it yet remains with us. Let us remember the grace of ladies and forget, until the fashion alters, the unquestionable vitality of apes.

Happily in The Love Race, in spite of surviving grotesques here and there, grace predominates except among the men, and to ask grace of Mr. Stanley Lupino and Mr. Laddie Cliff would be to ask for a reversal of their tactics. They have much else—a lively humour in common, a brilliant, jerky, clitter-clatter agility that is Mr. Cliff's and an air of sly shrewdness that is particularly Mr. Lupino's. They have, too, a story that never lapses into solemnity and twists itself into incredible complexities that are themselves an entertainment. They are, perhaps, best of all at the breakfast table, where they do those ridiculous things that die in print, but live for a moment of glorious absurdity in the theatre: the shuffling of a pack of toast, the friendly entanglement in the toast rack, the desperate dicing with loaf sugar. It is a very inventive and lively evening. Mr. Frederic Conyngham dances with spirit; Mr. Cyril Ritchard sings with a pleasantly casual romanticism; Miss Madge Elliott, who has indeed the grace to do credit to the longest of dresses, is a heroine in the tradition of cherry-blossom and laburnum, and so good a heroine in that tradition that, when she, too, is acrobatic, even her most daring successes seem a little out of place. Why not a full-dress waltz? There is indeed a duet by Miss Drusilla Wills and Mr. Lupino which contains a fragment of a waltz, and when Miss Wills, an actress of infinite resource, recalls The Merry Widow in mockery, the mockery is delightful. That duet is, in truth, the cleverest device of the evening, and it needs a romantic eye to observe that, under the cloak of mockery, Miss Wills is waltzing as prettily as the merry widow herself. The time is near when musical comedies will again be unashamedly charming. Meanwhile there is reason to be grateful for a little charm, and an abundance of agility, good humour, and long skirts.

The Times (London), 26 June 1930, p. 14

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8. The Millionaire Kid (music by Billy Mayerl; lyrics by Frank Eyton; book by Noel Scott.) Premiered at the Wimbledon Theatre on 27 April 1931. London season at the Gaiety Theatre from 20 May to 8 August 1931 for a total of 93 performances. Produced by Laddie Cliff. Dances arranged by Fred Lord. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

The show marked Harry Wotton’s third London musical with Madge and Cyril.

“The Millionaire Kid” (Gaiety).

The first-night audience for Mr. Laddie Cliff's presentation and production of The Millionaire Kid had all the appearance of a successful family party. The show was approved by the family fans as a typical modern Gaiety confection. A warm, indeed an affectionate, welcome offered to Mr. Barry Lupino on his happy return from exile was a feature of the evening.

The composition of the book was even more perfunctory than usual. It might even conceivably have been an experiment in technique to prove how little this part of the business matters.

The Devenishes of Devonish Court, in the county of Devon, are on the brink of insolvency. Lord Devenish (Mr. Wyn Weaver) and his formidable consort (Miss Violet Farebrother) are bent upon making a brilliant financial match for their daughter, Gloria (Miss Madge Elliott), whose heart is already given to the personable and penniless Hon. Aubrey Forsyth, Lord D.'s agent (Mr. Cyril Ritchard). The Millionaire Kid, Albert Skinner, has fallen in love with the printed image of a Miss Devenish in an illustrated weekly and assumes she is the daughter of the old gentleman, Lord Devenish, who appears with her. He did not know, poor fellow, being an American, that Gloria would inevitably have been labelled the Hon. Gloria, so he proposes to Lord and Lady Devenish for their daughter's hand and is accepted with indecent promptness. But it is Jane, the daughter of the peer's reverend brother, Alban, who is the original of the photograph, and a good deal of time is spent in complicating and unravelling this simple problem, which is finally solved by decoying the hen-pecked peer, who is only too willing, into a cabinet particulier of an exceedingly odd restaurant—(odd because Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Barry Lupino are the waiters—and blackmailing him into consenting to break off his daughter's engagement—a base (and quite superfluous) plan disedifyingly suggested by Rev. the Hon. Alban. Clearly none of all that matters much.

The ladies of the Chorus seemed in the First Act to lack the sprightliness we look for. I think they were hampered by the frumpish day dresses of the present mode. Things improved when we arrived at the Main Hall of Devenish Court for the revival of the polka and the lancers. Here the charming dresses had apparently been designed to mitigate for the worldly-minded the disappointments incident to the prevailing full-length fashions.

The music seemed reminiscent; three numbers, however, “Thank You Most Sincerely,” “Life is Meant for Love” and “I’ll be Lost Without You” had pleasant new phrases that stick in the memory. Jokes, on the whole, seemed a little thin and perfunctory—one about a wine being “pre-war vintage—if there's another war” standing out bravely. Though I must in fairness add that a jolly lowbrow behind me laughed at everything with such abandon that his neighbours began to fear for his dissolution.

Success was built rather upon the guileless clowning of Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Barry Lupino. Mr. Lupino walked off balconies, sat on spurs, planted pens dartwise in obvious targets on retreating footmen, put on spring-bowlers and sat on collapsible campstools and back-chatted with his partner with a touch of inspired idiocy. Mr. Laddie Cliff assumes so pleasantly the air of an exceedingly friendly and ingenious monkey that he is irresistible.

The dancing of Miss Madge Elliott, with the rhythmic sensuous movements of her gloriously long limbs and her courageous confidence, not misplaced, in her graceful partner, Mr. Ritchard, was admirable; as were the clever steps and cartwheels of that pretty romp, Miss Vera Bryer. An “interlude de Ballet” in the ultra-modern manner seemed to me a good musical and choreographic joke. Altogether a cheerful and cheering affair.—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 3 June 1931, p. 610–611

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“THE MILLIONAIRE KID,” AT THE GAIETY.

Mr. Laddie Cliff's latest musical comedy is so much like its predecessors that one wonders why he has troubled to change more than the title of the book and music. There isn't an original incident, and scarcely a line, in the entire book, and at least one that would be incredibly vulgar, were it not so school-boyishly in tune with the rest of the humour. The scenery by Joseph and Phil Harker is, as usual, unexcitingly competent; with one rather pretty set for the last scene, however. The dresses are charming and the wearers up to Gaiety standards. Whether the comedians will amuse you depends on whether you can stand an entire evening of knockabout humour. Mr. Laddie Cliff darts about agilely enough, and contrives to look depressingly solemn throughout his performance. Mr. Barry Lupino is so much like every other Lupino since 1784, when Georgio, of that ilk, burst into fame as an acrobatic dancer, that it is difficult to say anything new of him. Mr. Barry Lupino was due, we are told, to make his first appearance at the Gaiety thirty years ago; broke his contract with George Edwardes, and went to America. So that he has only himself to blame that in 1931 a West-End audiences finds little new in his tricks. Still, he is amusing enough in his way, and most of the first-night audience rewarded his effort with a deal of laughter. Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard played their accustomed roles of stage lovers, and danced a ballet between themselves with superb solemnity. Miss Vera Bryer was a delightful minor heroine. To quote, for the last time: If this is the sort of show you like, this is the sort of show you’ll like.

The Illustrated London News, 30 May 1931, pp. 942–944

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“THE MILLIONAIRE KID”

In the day when the lancers and the polka were danced without a thought that they would so soon become quaintly evocative of a vanished period, this musical comedy would have been considered something of a spectacle. But that was the day before producers began to load revolving stages with fairs and Eastern bazaars and lakes and mountains. The Millionaire Kid has some pleasant Devonian scenery, moonlit as well as sunlit, but it must rely for popularity upon the grace of its dancing, the liveliness with which its small chorus is handled, the effectiveness of its knockabout humour, and the sentimental value of its frequent reversion to dances which belong to everybody's youth. Its music and its songs and its story are neither better nor worse than these things have usually been at the Gaiety.

Its best chance of a long and prosperous life is to be found in the dancing. While Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard are dancing we are apt not to notice that they are also singing. And surely whatever they have to say to each other in the song called “Thank You Most Sincerely” is better said in the sinuous grace of their dance. “Life is Meant for Love” is a slightly more attractive song, but the dance that goes with it is not more attractive, and need not be. Indeed, whenever Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard are moving together about the stage the evening goes pleasantly enough, and we derive a similar pleasure from the rather more energetic dancing of Miss Vera Bryer and Miss Gilly Flower. The handling of the chorus, which is prettily dressed in yellow and green, and red and white, is sometimes ingenious, but never strikingly original. For humour we depend upon Mr. Barry Lupino and Mr. Laddie Cliff, who both aim at the kind of silliness that compels laughter.

The Times (London), 21 May 1931, p. 12

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Following its disappointing London run, The Millionaire Kid toured the British provinces for four-and-a-half months with most of the original cast (with the exception of Madge and Cyril, whose roles were respectively taken by Fay Martin and Basil Howes), and returned to the West End for a further limited season of 27 performances at the Prince Edward Theatre between 24 December 1931 to 16 January 1932 (with Martin and Howes retaining their replacement roles).

Postscript

Independently of Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard also performed in the London revues Charlot’s Revue (1925); R.S.V.P. (1926) and The Co-optimists of 1930.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  • Charlot’s Revue

London impresario André Charlot had taken up tenancy at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1925 to present a series of revues featuring a roster of West End stars that included Gertrude Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie, Jack Buchanan and Herbert Mundin (recently returned from America, where they had appeared in André Charlot’s Revue of 1924 on Broadway), together with Jessie Matthews (who had understudied Lawrence in the U.S.), Robert Hobbs and Peter Haddon. Between March and May the company played the American version of the revue for West End audiences and then, from June, the programme of songs, sketches and ballets performed changed on a monthly basis to allow Charlot to showcase new material in preparation for launching a new edition on Broadway with his four lead stars. Throughout July, August and September the best of the previous month’s items were retained with new material added to keep the show “fresh”. At the end of September the show had taken on its final form in readiness for its subsequent transfer to New York with Lawrence, Lillie and Mundin, who played for a further week’s season at the Golders Green Hippodrome prior to their departure for the U.S. to join with Jack Buchanan (who had already left at the end of August).

Meanwhile the revue continued to play for West End audiences with Maisie Gay (available after the early closure of Better Days), Edmund Gwenn and Dorothy Dickson joining a cast that included Jessie Matthews and Peter Haddon for the October edition of Charlot’s Revue. Again new material was added to suit the individual talents of the featured performers.

 * * * * * *

The November Issue was a great improvement on the previous month. The weak material was taken out, and both Edmund Gwenn and Dorothy Dickson were given more suitable items. Ronald Jeans supplied two clever and ingenious new sketches. ‘Fate’ was an ordinary example of the triangular love drama, only the audience decided the turns the plot would take. Should the heroine choose the husband or lover and should the latter be strangled were examples of the twists it could take. There were, according to Ronald Jeans, over two hundred alternatives. On the first night it was played again after the finale to show how different it could be. Jeans’ other sketch, written with H.C.G. Stevens, was ‘Off the Lines’. It was first played straight and then with the actor making a late entrance; the inexperienced actress continued with her lines while he was three behind. Dorothy Dickson had a new song in ‘Love your neighbour’ and a new ballet ‘Saints and Sinners’. Maisie Gay's charwoman, Mrs 'Arris, sang ‘You don't know what you've got’. An addition to the cast was Cyril Ritchard making his second London appearance; he had already been seen that year in the revival of the revue Bubbly.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (unpublished manuscript) by permission of the author.

* * * * * *

The main burden of a heavy and, on the whole, satisfactory evening's work fell upon Miss Gay, Miss Dorothy Dickson, Mr. Gwenn and Mr. Cyril Ritchard. Miss Gay's supreme achievement was the song, “You don't know what you've got,” in which a jaded alcoholic land- or char-lady confides to us her doubts and experiences. The duet, “Follow Mr. Cook,” with Miss Gay and Mr. Gwenn as two grotesque travellers, well written and composed, was sung with extraordinary gusto.

It struck me as sufficiently absurd to hear Miss Dickson lamenting that nobody could ever be found to love her. Miss Dickson is a trump card in a revue-maker's hand for singing, playing and dancing, or just merely looking.

Mr. Cyril Ritchard's easy acting and graceful dancing were a pretty good substitute for Mr. Jack Buchanan's, which is no faint praise.

Altogether a sound show and provocative of much speculation as to what superb system of physical training the principals undergo to enable them to do these things and live.—T.

Extract from Punch (London), 11 November 1925, p. 528

* * * * * *

There was a December Issue which proved to be the last, the show closed a week before Christmas. There were few changes. Dorothy Dickson had left to play Peter Pan being replaced by Mamie Watson who had not been seen in London since the Gaiety revival of The Shop Girl in 1920. Miss Watson was not such a graceful dancer as Miss Dickson but she was a far better actress and singer. Jessie Matthews was still on board and was given a new song, ‘I can't remember quite’.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (ibid.)

* * * * * *

Its season at the Prince of Wales having concluded, The Times listed the following item under the heading of “Christmas Theatre Arrangements”:

At the Golders Green Hippodrome on Boxing Day Charlot's Revue will be presented. The company includes Mr. Cyril Ritchard, Mr. Henry Lytton, Jun., Miss Veronica Brady, Miss Jessie Matthews, Miss Elsie Randolph, and Mr. Herbert Mundin. The piece will remain there for a month.

The Times (London), 24 December 1925, p. 8

* * * * * *

[The inclusion of Herbert Mundin in the cast list is suspect, given that he would have presumably remained in New York until the end of the Broadway run of Charlot’s Revue in March 1926.]

Charlot's Revue then toured throughout England until August of 1926, but without Cyril Ritchard, who had left to join the cast of his next London revue R.S.V.P.

  • R. S.V.P. opened at the Vaudeville Theatre on 23 February 1926 and ran through a second edition closing on 6 November 1926 for an estimated total run of 294 performances (N.B. because of the British General Strike of 1926 the exact number of performances given between 5 to 17 May is tentative).

Cyril Ritchard’s performance in R.S.V.P. ran concurrently with that of his cabaret season in The Midnight Follies between mid-April to early-August.

* * * * * *

While 1925 had been marked by a large number of flop shows and the suggestion that revue was ‘dead’, 1926 was able to reverse the trend and produce quite a feast of successes. It was the Vaudeville Theatre that presented the year’s first hit with Archibald de Bear's R.S.V.P. The theatre had been closed for twelve weeks for a major modernisation and refit and the first production was a revue constructed to the same formula as the hugely successful The Punch Bowl, a sandwich piece with the centre the major contribution. Where its predecessor offered the story of ‘Punch and Judy’ with ‘Punch-and-Judy-Up-to-Date’, R.S.V.P. offered the relatively modern ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in the form of ‘Alice in Lumberland’. Other than the presence of composer Norman O'Neill and designer Clifford Pember, de Bear's production team changed completely. There were still the various works of various contributors to supplement de Bear's own, and there was an increased reliance upon the growing talents of one man, Greatrex Newman. Newman had been contributing sketches and lyrics for revues since 1914 although many had been for the out-of-town productions of Harry Day. The previous year had changed this; he had written for The Punch Bowl and had contributed to the lyrics of the musical comedy, The Blue Kitten. Quentin Tod and J.W. Jackson choreographed, Mr Tod being responsible for the Alice ballet. 

The star of R.S.V.P. was Robert Hale … J.H. Roberts, a respected non-classical actor, made his entrance into revue to feature along side Mimi Crawford, Cyril Ritchard, Joyce Barbour, Enid Stamp-Taylor and the young Annie Kasmir …

As in The Punch Bowl the second act of the three acts was considered the most important aspect of the entertainment. In ‘Alice in Lumberland’ de Bear was able to mirror the success of his brilliant ‘Punch-and-Judy-up-to-date’. The new fantasy had every member of the cast taking part. The scene was set in the shop of Peter, an old book seller. A couple, played by Cyril Ritchard and Joyce Barbour, tried to buy an autographed copy of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, but old Peter (J.H. Roberts), much to his daughter's surprise, refused. The reason became evident when from the book the famous Lewis Carroll figures came alive; and so did the ballet phase of the fantasy. Mimi Crawford played Alice, an Alice that kept her associations with the famous Tenniel drawings—indeed the whole was joyfully Tenniel. Quentin Tod, first appeared as the White Rabbit, Annie Kasmir, seen with many other Italia Conti children in lesser roles, played the Dormouse. Robert Hale's Queen of Hearts, Cyril Ritchard's Mad Hatter, [Hugh Dempster’s March Hare] and Enid Stamp-Taylor's Cheshire Cat were accompanied by a Norman O'Neill score that included the haunting ‘Alice, where art thou’.

There was another widely advertised inclusion into R.S.V.P.; a burlesque of Mercenary Mary by Greatrex Newman entitled ‘Worse-than-any-Mary’ which became Robert Hale's main showcase. He played three main characters, Kid June the heroine, Chris Baskcomb the comedian and Hearn the Hunter and senile humorist (the stars of the Hippodrome success were June, A.W. Baskcomb, Lew Hearn, Peggy O'Neil and Hale's son, Sonnie). Joyce Barbour played Miss O'Neil as the character Worse-than-any-Peggy. It closed the first part of the show and proved as successful as the ballet.

The rest was the usual mix, but a more successful mix than de Bear ever reached in The Punch Bowl; perhaps because the artists concerned gelled in an easier fashion. However, as before the third part did require some tuning to bring it up to standard.

… The opening number had chorus and principals introducing themselves, followed by Enid Stamp-Taylor telling of ‘the recipe of revue’ …

… ‘Family Bridge’ had J.H. Roberts as an absent minded clergyman with Joyce Barbour the local lady giving a bridge party exasperated by a keen bridge playing major (Cyril Ritchard). For ‘Sentimental me’, the first Rodgers and Hart number to be performed on the London stage, J.H. Roberts and Joyce Barbour played chronic invalids endeavouring to imitate the love-making of Cyril Ritchard and Mimi Crawford …

Cyril Ritchard and Joyce Barbour had several good opportunities. Ritchard had two solo numbers, ‘My bachelor days’ and ‘How d'you do?’, both with music by Melville Gideon. He and Miss Barbour had a magical spot in 'How now, brown cow?' a burlesque of a vulgar rich woman learning to speak the Queen's English …

R.S.V.P. had excellent notices and soon broke all previous Vaudeville box-office records by as much as fifty pounds and there was a new record for advanced booking and library deals. A second edition appeared in August … It continued until November when de Bear replaced it with another high quality product.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (ibid.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  • The Co-Optimists Of 1930 opened at the Theatre Royal Birmingham on 24 March, followed by its West End season at the London Hippodrome from 4 April to 21 June 1930 for a run of 99 performances.

* * * * * *

Archibald de Bear and Clifford Whitley staged in April The Co-Optimists Of 1930, another not unsuccessful attempt to revive the famous group. Only five of the original 1921 company survived the move into the new decade, they were Davy Burnaby, Stanley Holloway, Phyllis Monkman, Elsa Macfarlane and Wolseley Charles. The newcomers were a set of strong performers with a great deal of box-office appeal. Mimi Crawford, Elsie Randolph, Cyril Ritchard, Joan Barry, Herbert Mundin, Harry Milton, Joe Sargent and Eric le Fre all brought with them strong musical comedy and revue backgrounds. The show played a week in Birmingham before coming to the large London Hippodrome for its run. Most noticeable in his absence was Melville Gideon, the composer who had been associated with all the other productions and who had written most of the songs used. To take his place came another young American in Arthur Schwartz who had come to London to write Here Comes the Bride in February. His lyricist was Howard Dietz with whom he worked most of his career—they contributed two songs. Greatrex Newman was the main contributor to the book and lyrics; Leslie Henson directed.

The new show was a development in the old style of programme with more topical material and, other than for the traditional Pierrot costumes, was far removed from the simple end of pier production the title indicated. The cast described themselves as the ‘troupe who give the stuff’ in their last song, and the ‘stuff’ was indeed given with the expertise one would expect from such a talented troupe. Gone was the original ‘Bow Wow’ opening on a darkened stage, now they came on simply introducing themselves and, when fully assembled, they sang Davy Burnaby's ‘The guard of the Channel Tunnel’, a song that was deeply in The Co-Optimists’ flag waving tradition. The programme took on a new look as it moved from song to sketch to dance, all that was missing was the chorus line for it to be a revue. The setting had become more adventurous with Aubrey Hammond designs; he had also designed the modernised Pierrot costumes the cast wore. Davy Burnaby's jovial position of master of ceremonies was cast in rock, as were Stanley Holloway's songs sung in his deep baritone voice and the new addition of his ‘Sam’ monologues which had given him star status.

Greatrex Newman supplied a number of the sketches, mainly in the burlesque style. He had been associated with many of the past Co-Optimists including the New York production and had just had his greatest success with Mr Cinders the show he wrote with Clifford Grey. The Russian ballet was the favourite subject for revue treatment of the season. In this production it became a droll travesty called ‘The Lost Child’ set in Hyde Park with the cast, playing nurse, doctor, policeman and a man about town—all in ballet skirts. The child grew as the divertissement continued at quite an alarming pace.

'Burglary á la mode' showed the fashionable side of being robbed. ‘The Divorce of the Painted Doll’ had the cast as nursery rhyme characters in court, and ‘The Family Album’ showed ancient bicycles on the road, a pony carriage and a group of Victorians dancing the polka, with its humorous Hammond setting the cast conspired to mock the past. The final scena of the show was also a glimpse back to Victorian times. It was called ‘Sunday Afternoon—Then and Now’ showing the contrasts of social life between the old-world village in those not too far departed years and the same place in 1930 with a petrol station with a charabanc arriving with its noisy passengers and girls running around in short skirts.

… Phyllis Monkman and Elsie Randolph played a couple of charwomen scrubbing the stage through coughs and gossip. Miss Randolph had a more glamorous moment with the song ‘Dancing time’ one of the many moments through the show which required the entire cast to dance, a not too difficult task with artists such as Cyril Ritchard, Mimi Crawford and Eric le Fre who were all nimble dancers …

The production was well enough, but not rapturously, received. It found its audience for only eleven weeks. In that time Elsie Randolph injured her leg while dancing which took her out of the show for a couple of weeks, Cyril Ritchard left [in early May] to join the cast of the musical comedy The Love Race and was replaced by Harry Milton …

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (ibid.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

PLAYS AND PLAYERS

When the Australian cricketers visit the London Hippodrome to-morrow night to be entertained as guests by the Co-Optimists of 1930, they will meet an old friend in Mr. Herbert Mundin. Mundin's last engagement before he joined the Co-Optimists was in Australia, where he appeared in several musical comedies, and met all the present Australian XI. Another Co-Optimist who will be renewing acquaintance with the visiting team is Cyril Ritchard, an Australian by birth. These two will be able to undertake the introductions when the company and the cricketers meet on the stage after the show.    

The Sunday Times, 27 April 1930, p. 6

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard also appeared together on a couple of variety bills at the London Palladium performing a “pleasant musical comedy turn” in which they “dance charmingly together” (according to The Times) in late February and early March of 1930 prior to commencing rehearsals for The Love Race. (Noted under “Variety Theatres” in The Times for 25 February 1930, p. 12 and 11 March 1930, p. 14).

Additional sources

  • Robert Seeley and Rex Bunnett, London Musical Shows On Record 1889–1989, General Gramophone Publications Ltd., London; revised edn., 1989
  • J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1920–1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2nd edn, 2014
  • J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1930–1939: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2nd edn, 2014
  • Sandy Wilson, Ivor, Michael Joseph Ltd., London, 1975

 

Published in Profiles

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Thus far Madge Elliott has told us of her childhood, her early essays in dancing, her first stage appearance. She has danced with the Exquisite Eight. She has met Cyril Ritchard; and the foundations of a life partnership. Now stardom is within reach. Read on. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2»

 

Madge ElliottThe Cabaret Girl theatre programme cover.
State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library, Performance Programme Collection.
It is true in the theatre that unusual things are usual and in 1923 the usual unusual things began to happen to me. It is, of course, the dream of every young actress that some day she will get her big chance, and now mine came along. The Firm had bought the Australian rights of The Cabaret Girl, and I was offered the leading part. It was my first principal role, and the joy of this new experience nearly made me forget that I was far from well. I have yet to hear of any other business that equals the stage in the drive and pressure of the terrible weeks before the opening of a new musical comedy. On an ill-lighted stage in a dark theatre you begin rehearsals. The chorus, in practice clothes, learn the music and the cues. Later a dance director gives them their "steps”. A pianist plays the tunes over and over. Principals rehearse their songs. In the meantime, back-stage, or at another theatre or in a basement, other members of the cast may be reading lines. The scenic artists are designing sets; the electricians are planning lights; dressmakers are busy with tape measures; the property man is hunting tables and chairs, and the musical conductor is arranging the score.

By the time we were ready for the first night my nerves were frazzled, and I felt on the verge of hysteria. I sat in my dressing-room, making up carefully and slowly. Flowers and telegrams kept arriving for me, and occasionally a member of the cast would tap at the door and say “Good luck”. Cyril was all thrilled and in a bright mood. He kept hovering about in an effort to cheer me up. When the call-boy passed the door calling "Fifteen minutes, Miss Elliott”, my heart seemed to stop beating and my knees felt like giving way. All this was the result of months of overwork, the strain of travelling, and “one-night stands” in New Zealand, and the after-effects of influenza.

However, this was my night; I had risen from the ranks, and now it was up to me. So when the stage manager called “Overture” and “Places”, I was ready. And gave that night a performance that eclipsed anything I had ever done in the theatre. After the final scene I took curtain after curtain. I looked into the wings, and Cyril was standing there. He was waiting for me, and as I met his eyes I felt again some of that joy which had come over me when we bowed to each other in New Zealand after two years of absence. When the audience released me I walked straight off the stage and into his arms.

The lamentation so often ventilated by some unsuccessful players that Australia treats its stage people badly is hardly borne out by my own experience after this wonderful first-night opening. The press was good to me, and I received an abundance of invitations to lend my presence to ladies' club teas, private parties, and social gatherings of importance. [1]

I have grave doubts that in any other country in the world is a popular actress so rewarded and petted as here. Australian players look for their praise from the masses of the people, and this praise in the mass is always forthcoming if the talent pleases. The season of The Cabaret Girl ran into the following year, and a very happy season it was for all the members of the company. Cyril continued to perfect his dancing, and together we invented routines and new steps, which were to be useful to us in the future, and although I worked very hard I did not believe in too hard work.

  • ElliottMadge 002

    The principal cast of The Cabaret Girl, with Musical Director, Victor Champion, Ballet mistress, Minnie Everett and Producer, Harry B. Burcher.

    Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

I still felt the strain of dancing and acting, and decided that when The Cabaret Girl was withdrawn I would take a trip to England and rest.

While I have no particular regard for money, I am not poseur enough to affect an air of disdain of it, and as money is essential if one must rest, I accepted an offer to play in Whirled Into Happiness at the end of The Cabaret run, and so further postponed my holiday visit to England. [2]

  • Theatre programme cover—His Majesty’s, Melbourne.

    Rob Morrison Collection.

  • Madge Elliott as ‘Delphine De La Valliere’ and Alfred Frith as ‘Matthew Platt’ in Whirled into Happiness.

    National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148807227/view

  • Cast list for the Melbourne premiere season of Whirled into Happiness (1924).

    Rob Morrison Collection.

It is the belief and common asseveration of actors and actresses that whenever two or more players are gathered together, there you have a theatre. The more cynical of us know, of course, that wherever two players get together there you have loud denunciation of all managers and other actors. It is perfectly true that without actors the theatre would be in the position of an ice-cream freezer without the ice, but it is also perfectly true that without professional management the theatre is in the position of an ice-cream freezer with all the ice but no man to turn the handle.

However, in the case of Cyril and myself, being two "players”, the above remarks do not apply. We were always together at this time, but seldom talked “shop”. We had the common interest of dancing to discuss, and this kept us quite busy. Mostly we practised and practised and practised, to the exclusion of idle gossip. We were happy planning a future for the firm of Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard.

I was still far from well. Rehearsals were becoming a nightmare to me; the strenuous dancing I loved so well was now an almost unbearable task; my never failing vitality was deserting me, and many members of the company were amazed at the change.

Some of them had known me for years, and knew what I was capable of in the way of work. I would have excused them if they had thought I was trying the widely famed and then effective privileges of temperament. I badly needed a holiday away from the theatre.

This was in 1924, and at the end of the year Cyril all of a sudden decided that “America was his oyster”. The idea was that he should go ahead as a sort of “advance agent” for Elliott and Ritchard. From every viewpoint—fresh fields to conquer, wider scope, and more musical comedies on offer—the proposal looked good. I made some demur, naturally, but promised to be brave—as a woman should in the circumstances—and wait and see what the good fairies brought us.

As it turned out the elves of luck played their part. On arrival in New York Cyril was engaged for Puzzles of 1925, which opened at the Fulton Theatre in February of that year. It was a typically frothy little show, all colour and movement. Some of the critics of the piece were kind; others were not so kind, and Puzzles solved its own problem by growing beautifully less until it just faded away. [3]

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Sheet music cover (detail).

    Private Collection.

  • Theatre programme title page (detail).

    Playbill Vault.

In the meantime I had definitely decided on my holiday, and now that Cyril was in New York I chose the American, in preference to the direct route to England.

Looking back on that vacation I regard it as my first real rest from the strenuous life of the theatre. The voyage to ’Frisco was delightful. My fellow passengers were pleasant people, and they enlivened the voyage with the usual sociabilities, flirtations, and bickerings of a long sea trip. Joyous days they were as we sailed through the tropics, days of crisp, warm sunshine and blue sea and sky, with an escort of flying fish for company as we rolled along.

When I met Cyril in New York, Australia seemed “just around the corner”. Already I was feeling some of the beneficial effects of my holiday, and after three weeks of sightseeing, I left for England. Puzzles of 1925 promised a long run, otherwise I believe Cyril would have travelled with me across the Atlantic.

I recall that at this time in New York the legitimate theatre was diminishing in interest. The American people are very sentimental, and they have a great fondness for “heroines” in their plays, and the heroine, in the old sense of the word was fast disappearing from the stage. Even in Australia there has always been a certain amount of “heroine appeal” associated with successful plays. A percentage of the public goes to the theatre in quest of what it regards as beauty and romance, and glamour, and these it seeks, after the tradition of centuries, in the embodiments of girlhood and womanhood. It used to get these consoling and satisfying embodiments once upon a time, but no more. Actually there are more “heroines” in musical comedies than in straight plays to-day. I had gone to London with the sole intention of “resting” in both the theatrical and physical sense. Although I arrived in early spring and temperatures were still low, the change benefited me to such an extent that I began to feel the call of the theatre again.

The old urge to dance which had so often asserted itself in far-off Toowoomba, became persistent, and, the more shows I saw, the more was I tempted to be up and doing for myself. So when a part in Better Days was offered me I did not hesitate to accept, and I made my first London appearance in this piece at the Hippodrome on March 19, 1925. [4]

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    George Baker as ‘Nanti Booh’ & Madge as ‘Phyllis’ in ‘A G&S Cocktail or a Mixed Savoy Grill’—Better Days.

    Private Collection.

  • Madge dances with Claude Anthony in front of a “living curtain” of wisteria-clad chorus girls—Better Days.

    Private Collection.

 

I revelled in the work, despite the fact that conditions in English theatres, are not the same as in Australia. Audiences received me well, my health was excellent—and crowning joy, Cyril arrived from New York. Immediately, the Australian “firm” of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard “put out its sign” in the metropolis. Our first engagement was in a revival of Bubbly at the Duke of York's Theatre in June. This was Cyril's London debut, and the quiet little celebration we had after the show is another of the purple patches in my memory. [5]

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Theatre programme cover.

    Overtures Collection. Courtesy of Rex Bunnett.

  • Madge at the time of Bubbly (1925).

    Photo by Dorothy Wilding, Old Bond Street, (London). Private Collection.

London appealed to us immensely. We had some very good friends both in and out of the theatre, and although the work was exacting, we found plenty of time for social pleasures. Often we would meet actors and actresses who had been to Australia and on these occasions we did talk “shop”—theatres, Sydney Harbour, Sunday in Melbourne—and the usual topics of mutual interest to exiles.

Theatrical people in England are most loveable, warm hearted, gay, and careless of almost everything except their work, which they take very seriously indeed. I have spent many charming days and interesting nights in the company of the hierarchy of the stage in foggy old London. The fact that I stayed so long—seven years—is proof of my love for the English theatre—and testimony of the regard of London audiences for myself.

After a season in Bubbly we had the choice of several engagements, and finally selected one which meant work under the same management for five years. To look ahead that length of time in the theatre meant something. After all we were comparatively strangers in a city where the greatest talent in the world could be hired; we had a start, and the beginning was good enough to make us sanguine. That was an achievement, and we were quite satisfied; but greater heights were yet to be scaled.

To be continued …

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld), 4 April 1935, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182044056, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), 25 April 1935, p. 56, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92367183, and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), 3 July 1935, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30094005

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison with additional information supplied by Rex Bunnett and Elisabeth Kumm

  1. The Cabaret Girl (Music by Jerome Kern. Lyrics by George Grossmith and P.G. Wodehouse; additional lyric by Anne Caldwell). Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, Saturday, 25 August 1923. Principal cast included Madge Elliott, Alfred Frith, Cyril Ritchard, Harold Pearce, Mona Magnet, Cecil Kellaway, Millie Engler, Field Fisher, Fred MacKay, Harry Wotton, Nellie Payne and Marie Eaton. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The critic for The Sydney Morning Herald, Gerald Marr Thompson wrote:

“THE CABARET GIRL”.

“The Cabaret Girl” revealed itself at Her Majesty's Theatre on Saturday as differing from most other pieces of the same kind in being extended over three acts instead of two, in an attendant excess of dialogue, and in a blossoming of sentiment so pronounced that even the coarser flowers of low comedy could not choke it. The performance lasted until 11.30, and should Mr. Harry B. Burcher consider some abbreviation necessary he may cut down the dialogue. However, as a rule producers are shy of tampering with the words of a great London success past its 400th representation, proof positive that it has delighted even in its imperfect form 60,000 people.

The two central events were the return from England of Alfred Frith, and the popularity of Madge Elliott, after a considerable career in “seconds”, in her first essay at a leading part, as the Cabaret Girl. Mr. Frith's welcome was uproariously universal, the whole house joining in, and the comedian, working like a tiger, kept up the laughter throughout the length and breadth of a comic character not exempt from weak patches. Gripps and Gravvins are Bond-street music-publishers, whose business is carried on by groups of girls of bewildering loveliness, who drop into song and dance at slight provocation. Gravvins is a gay dog, who makes his entrance in evening dress after a night out. Inquiring “If his head is on straight”, cooling his fevered brow with soda water, and unloading innumerable bottles from inexhaustible pockets. Resounding cheers accompanied this feat of leger-de-main, and there was more laughter when Gravvins encountered his furiously “correct” partner, Gripps. Cyril Ritchard emphasised the dry-as-dust demeanour of Gripps in the first duet of alternate recrimination, followed by a comic dance, and the actor was of value in his dances with Miss Elliott, who won much applause with him in “Through the Night”.

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Madge Elliott as ‘Marilynn “Flick” Morgan’—The Cabaret Girl.

    Photo by Ashby Studios, Sydney. Private Collection.

  • Alfred Frith as ‘Gravvins’ in Act 1 of The Cabaret Girl.

    Photo by Ashby Studios, Sydney. National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148752613/view

James Paradene, a nephew of the Marchioness of Harrogate, is violently in love with Marilynn Morgan, mercifully alluded to as “Flick”, a cabaret girl in search of a job, and in his faithful devotion, and in Flick's self-denial in refusing a good match for his sake, the lovers are unusually to the fore throughout the story. Paradene was taken by a new English artist, Harold Pearce, who played the role frankly and with refinement, and used a light baritone voice, effectively in “First Rose of Summer”, and other songs. Jerome Kern's lightly tuneful music is daintily scored, and its modern tendencies now and again require the soloists to come in without a cue, and keep in the key in spite of discords, feats which the two singers achieved without a tremor. Miss Elliott's best acting was in the pretty love-making in the beautiful garden-scene of the second act, and both partners to it displayed ease and spontaneity in their innocent joy. Their duet, “Looking All Over for You”, with chorus, caught the house, and they had another charming number in “Journeys End in Lovers Meeting” (“Twelfth Night”!), which was piquantly scored, and the little dance went well.

The Marchioness, presented with aplomb by Millie Engler, and her son, the Marquis, in which Fred MacKay was fairly in place as a heavy swell, must be satisfied that Flick is a suitable bride for Paradene, and a plot is accordingly formulated by which Flick's Cabaret troupe impersonate the leading residents of Woollam-Chersey, Herts. These “All-Night American Follies” also figure grotesquely at the music-shop, turning the comedy into broad farce. The head and front of their offending is Mona Magnet, as Little Ada, in a velvet Scotch bonnet, and very short check skirts, who amusingly assumed an air of crass, back-woods stupidity. Miss Magnet made her success in a verbal assault-at-arms with Mr. Frith arising from her anxiety to recite the only line allowed her in her last panto.:—“Did the shepherd herd his sheep?” Gravvins, the grammatical, insisted, until he nearly wept, that It must be “Has the shepherd heard his sheep?” and Little Ada continued to bawl her version of it at intervals throughout the act! Everyone was freshly convulsed—and that's what it is to be a humorist! Cecil Kellaway, who generally depicts staid old age, appeared as the burly western cowboy Harry Zona, and several times lassoed Little Ada to the great joy of a hilarious crowd of first-nighters. Marie Eaton was stylish in brown as Lily de Jigger, and Stuart Fraser and Lucy Frith gaily completed the party. These buskers duly appeared In disguise at the garden party, and made more fun there, being joined by Mr. Frith admirably made up as the Vicar, ultimately confounded by the arrival of the real vicar, a life-like character presented without exaggeration by George Jennings. Mabel Monro made her debut as Mrs. Drawbridge, the housekeeper at “The Pergola”, and her dignified manner and English enunciation met all the requirements of an unfortunately colourless role.

Field Fisher was prominently in the cast as Feloosi, a vaudeville agent, and drew to the life the portrait of an impudent, self-made vulgarian of intrusive habits. There was a scene in which Flick gave him “a piece of her mind and the slap direct”, and Gripps and Gravvins capped her spirited speech by hurling him from the shop Into outer darkness. Harry Wotton made an artistic hit as Quibb, the ancient, dilapidated piano-tuner in sandy hair and a seedy black suit, drawn with pathos, like a character from Dickens. Quibb's despised song was taken up by Flick, who sang it sweetly, and subsequently under the title of “At the Ball” it ran all through the piece as a haunting valse air, out-rivalling “Journeys End” in popularity. Nellie Payne played Effie Dix brightly.

“It's a long lane which has no turning”, and at last the audience reached the actual Cabaret, a gorgeously staged scene, all pageantry, dazzle, and dances, with a fetching mannequin show, an oriental song “Ka-lu-a” for Miss Elliott, a danse eccentrique for Reita Nugent and Jack Hooker, which brought down the house, and a final triumph for Mr. Frith as a Vamp, in which he amazed everyone by appearing “becomingly feminine”! Then did the gallery rise to the occasion as the curtain fell, and when everyone else felt desperately tired exhibited an insatiable appetite for speeches. Mr. Burcher languidly elegant as the J.C. Williamson producer, Miss Minnie Everett, all smiles at the success of her ballets, and Mr. Frith eager for a long run after a fortnight of awful rehearsing, all had something to say; and Madge Elliott tearfully expressed her gratitude at the end of her arduous role.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 27 August 1923, p. 5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16090089

  • ElliottMadge 002

    Alfred Frith as ‘Gravvins’, Reita Nugent & Cecil Kellaway as ‘Harry Zona’ in Act 2 of The Cabaret Girl.

    Photo by Monte Luke. National Library of Australia, Lady Viola Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148792728/view

Extracts from other Sydney reviews

The Cabaret Girl, Williamson's latest importation from the Winter Garden Theatre, London, is all it is intended to be—a brilliant entertainment, full of melody, wit and pretty girls. Being a musical comedy, it has a plot too slender to be criticised, but Frithy is back again (what a welcome he got!) and Madge Elliott is all that could be desired in the leading role—two facts which should be sufficient to draw crowded houses for many a day.

… In Madge Elliott, Australia has found a musical comedy actress to be proud of. She sings sweetly, acts well, and looks lovelier than we ever remember her. Every number she sang last night found favor with the vast audience, and her dance with Cyril Ritchard in the second act brought down the house.

… Regarding the remainder of the cast, they were all equally excellent. … Cyril Ritchard was as polished an artist as we ever hope to see …

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 26 August 1923, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12054394

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The story does not matter, excepting that it introduces the sylph-like Madge Elliott in a leading role, one that fits her like the proverbial glove. She sings the music with abundant expression, and dances with the singular grace and charm that are invariably characteristic of her work. Her success was pronounced to a degree, and when the over-fed gallery girls realise that her idea is to please rather than make endurance dancing records they will show some slight consideration for her. It is not fair to an artist that, after giving of her best two or three times, she should be compelled to respond a fourth. And because a popular idol will do her best to entertain everybody is no reason why she should be imposed upon. Miss Elliott's voice was better than usual, and one of the tit-bits of the evening was a duet with Mr. Harold Pearce—melody and counter-melody—which produced a delightful effect.

W.J. O'NEILL.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 27 August 1923, p. 3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article246067078

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Music & Drama

A closely-packed audience at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night uproariously welcomed Alfred Frith back from England and gave a tumultuous reception to Miss Madge Elliott in recognition of her well-deserved promotion to stardom.

… The premiere was marked by more than usual enthusiasm, and when the curtain finally fell, after the principals had been almost hidden by piles of floral tributes, and Mr. Frith, Miss Elliott and the producer Mr. Harry Burcher had responded to repeated calls of “Speech!” it seemed certain that “The Cabaret Girl”, which had won great success at the Winter Garden Theatre in London, would have a brilliant career in Australia.

… At various times during the past year or so we have referred to the consistent improvement in the acting of Miss Elliott, who made her stage reputation primarily as a dancer, and we are pleased to see that her undoubted talent has so speedily won for her the position of leading lady. The J.C. Williamson Company, it is good to see, is finding that with Australian girls like Madge Elliott and Josie Melville available it is not necessary to always import artists to fill leading roles. In this play Miss Elliott thoroughly justifies her selection. She sings quite well, acts intelligently and gracefully, and dances most exquisitely.

… Miss Engler is somewhat heavy as the Marchioness, and Mr. Ritchard’s work would be much improved if he varied his intonation occasionally.

Sydney Mail (NSW), 29 August 1923, p. 13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article159035408

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THEATRICAL GAZETTE

Cabaret Girl big Success

Williamson's latest importation, The Cabaret Girl, scored an immediate hit at Her Majesty's Theatre last Saturday night, when it was presented to a crowded house. Being the occasion of Alfred Frith’s return to the Australian stage, as well as Madge Elliott's debut as a leading lady, there was more than an ordinary amount of excitement among customary first-nighters.

… The fun starts in a Bond-street store, namely Gripps and Gravvins’ music shop. Mr. Gripps (a part well played by Cyril Ritchard) and Mr. Gravvins (a role surely written for Frithy) are the two partners in the firm, and the first is as serious and matter of fact in manner as the other is frivolous …

AN AUSTRALIAN MAKES GOOD.

In Madge Elliott Australia has found a musical comedy actress well up to the standard of any West End theatre. She sings sweetly, looks beautiful, and acts better than we ever remember her doing before. Opportunity in her case is undoubtedly “the thing”, and we shall see her doing better still as her initial nervousness wears off. Every item she sang on Saturday night (particularly Ka-lu-a and Shimmy With Me) found favor with the vast audience, and her dance with Cyril Ritchard brought the house down.

… As for the remainder of the cast, they were all equally proficient, from Cyril Ritchard (one of the best dancers we have) to Mona Magnet (a scream) as Little Ada, the head of the cabaret troupe.

Referee (Sydney, NSW), 29 August 1923, p. 15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128108466

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SUNDRY SHOWS

… The company is capable, and in some departments strong. Madge Elliott’s promotion to a leading part in warranted by her agreeable singing and acting, and her admirable dancing—always graceful and never more effective than in this production. Absence hasn’t robbed Alfred Frith of his talent for impersonating drunks, vicars, vamps and other natural resources of musical comedy, and the odd fish has one or two capital songs. But one gets too much of Cyril Rltchard, his partner in the music-publishing business, especially when Ritchard’s metallic voice half-spoils the effect of an excellent bit of serio-comic work by Harry Wotton, as a sawn-off piano-tuner and composer. The young man is always a trier, and with Miss Elliott he dances brilliantly, but his part and that of Mona Magnet … are urgently in need of revision.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 30 August 1923, p. 34, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-616258696

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Programme issued for the opening of the Melbourne season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which was subsequently (and belatedly) renamed “His Majesty’s” on the commencement of the Melba Grand Opera season at Melba’s suggestion.

    Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

The Melbourne season of The Cabaret Girl commenced at Her Majesty’s Theatre on the 8 March 1924 before transferring to the Theatre Royal on 25 March (to make way for Dame Nellie Melba’s season of Grand Opera) for an overall run of eleven weeks and was followed by a three-week revival of Kissing Time (music by Ivan Caryll, lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse) at the Royal from 24 May. Produced by Harry B. Burcher with dances by Minnie Everett, the production won praise from The Argus critic who wrote:

“KISSING TIME”.

Revival at Royal.

Kissing, says a solemn authority, is “a familiar form of salutation by touching with the lips, mostly limited by modern Englishmen to the domestic and dearer relationships of life”. Whether it is so limited by modern Frenchmen is the question considered by the authors of “Kissing Time” in the spirit of light farce. The vivacity of the musical play made it popular immediately on its first production, which took place at the end of January 1920. In revival it has had similar success, though the cast has altered greatly; and the performance at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night was welcomed by a large audience, eager to enjoy the melodies, dancing, comedy, and colour remembered from earlier productions.

No one was disappointed. Mr. Alfred Frith is so expert in the art of laugh-making that he could not fail to be most amusing as Bi-bi St. Pol, the husband who is forced by circumstances to let an intruder, Max Toquet, be mistaken for himself, while he poses as the household cook. In the long list of parts played by Mr. Frith this is one of the best. Miss Madge Elliott's work continues to show advance, especially in singing. She did justice to the quiet roguery of Lucienne Toquet, who has the surprising experience of visiting her friend Madame St. Pol and finding that her own husband is addressed as Monsieur St. Pol. Miss Elliott’s songs were well treated, and there was particular applause for a duet with Mr Cyril Ritchard, who presented the light comedy of Max Toquet with ability. Daintiness was a feature of Miss Nell Payne’s impersonation of Georgette St. Pol. Her songs and her humorous scenes with Mr. Ritchard were all pleasingly given. Among noticeable parts capably acted were those taken by Mr. Field Fisher (Brichoux), Mr Cecil Kellaway (Colonel Bollinger), and Miss Floie Allen (Zelie). Mr. Jack Hooker and Miss Reita Nugent showed their familiar accomplishment in eccentric dancing, and another dance of the kind was given by Mr. Hooker with Miss Dorothy Seaward.

There will be Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Mr. Cyril Ritchard is making his farewell appearance before going to England.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 May 1924, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4348369

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Kissing Time—stage setting for Act 2 Scene 3—The Reception Room of the Café Sylvaine.

    Theatre Heritage Australia, JCW Scene Book 8.

  1. Whirled into Happiness (Music by Robert Stolz. English lyrics by Harry Graham.) Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on Saturday, 14 June 1924 (before transferring to the renamed His Majesty’s Theatre on 21 June). Principal cast included Madge Elliott, Alfred Frith, Kitty Reidy, Nellie Payne, Harold Pearce, Cecil Kellaway, Field Fisher, Roger Barry, Fred MacKay, Harry Wotton, Mabel Monro, Jack Hooker and Reita Nugent. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The weekly Table Talk offered the following critique of the plot and Madge Elliott’s contribution:

If first night impressions are any criterion, and first night enthusiasm, then J.C. Williamson have a big winning card in “Whirled Into Happiness”, which was given its initial production at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night. It is decidedly above the average musical play in all respects, for it is really musical comedy, with a good and humorous plot well sustained to the end, and the musical setting is admirable in its tuneful appeal. The plot turns upon a case of mistaken identity. A hairdresser, greeted as Lord Brancaster because he by chance has assumed what was to have been the distinguishing badge of that young gallant, is tempted to play the part. During his masquerade he falls in love with a successful hat manufacturer's daughter, but is derided and scorned by that vulgar, but ambitious, person, when his imposture is discovered. Next day the daughter makes her way to the fashionable hairdressing parlors, and is reunited to her lover, who has just been dismissed because he defies his employer.

This story gives scope for plenty of humorous situations, and some excellent comedy by Cecil Kellaway as the vulgarian Albert Horridge, hat manufacturer; Alfred Frith, as Matthew Platt, an attendant at the Majestic Music Hall, who becomes deeply involved In the deceit, and by Rosie Le Varde as Mrs. Horridge, whose command of English is dubious.

The music by Robert Stolz is bright, melodious, and captivating in quality, the orchestration being particularly effective.

The book by Robert Bodanzky and Bruno Hardt-Warden was adapted by Harry Graham, who is also responsible for the lyrics. So it looks as though this bright and attractive musical work had its origins in much the same direction as “The Merry Widow” and other big musical successes which followed, and which were made in Austria.

With its haunting rhythms, plenty of action, beauty of setting, and charm this new production will surely make a success. It is lavishly and beautifully mounted and dressed, so that there is ample attraction for eye as well as ear.

Another big factor towards success is that there is no star part, for the favors have been fairly equally distributed among a rather numerous cast of characters.

Madge Elliott makes an outstanding success as a temperamental musical hall star, Delphine De La Valliere, who has designs on the young Marquis of Brancaster. She shows decided development as an actress and vocalist, and in this role she reaches her highest attainment so far. Her voice has improved in quality, and she is using it more artistically and with greater effect. Her acting, too, shows more dramatic force and understanding. She seems to have really caught something of the volatile Gallic impetuosity.

… There are quite a number of song hits, chief among them being "Mdlle. Delphine”, specially written for Madge Elliott by Frank St. Roger, which she sings and acts with infectious verve.

… The dancing, though a marked feature, is at the same time not overdone, and is always effective. Madge Elliott and Fred McKay are associated in a beautiful dance scena, “Sleep”, which was one of the biggest successes of the evening. It is charming in its grace and picturesqueness.

Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 19 June 1924, p. 25, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146460123

Extracts from other Melbourne reviews

… Miss Madge Elliott is advancing rapidly in the line she has chosen. People have been inclined to regard her solely as a dancer, in which she excels. In her part as the volatile, imperative and vile-tempered French dancer, she proved her right to be numbered among the best of Australian comedy actresses. Her performance contributed very largely to the enjoyment of the audience.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 16 June 1924, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203644584

… Miss Madge Elliott danced with great skill as Delphine de la Valliere, of “the halls”, and added songs and displays of Delphine’s fiery temperament.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 16 June 1924, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4321503

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Madge Elliott as ‘Delphine De La Valliere’ in Whirled into Happiness.

    Photo by Ruskin Studio, Melb. National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148807321/view

  • Alfred Frith as ‘Matthew Platt’ and Cecil Kellaway as ‘Albert Horridge’ in Act 3 of Whirled into Happiness.

    Photo by C.J. Frazer. National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148752710/view

  1. Puzzles of 1925 (Conceived by Elsie Janis, Songs and sketches by Elsie Janis, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Lucien Denni, Blanche Merrill, etc.) Broadway premiere at the Fulton Theatre, New York on 2 February 1925. Closed on 2 May 1925 after 104 performances. Principal cast included Elsie Janis, Jim Hussey, Cyril Ritchard, Walter Pidgeon, Dorothy Appleby, Helen Broderick, Cortez and Peggy, Lester Crawford, Georgie Hale, William Holbrook, Irma and Dorothy Irving, Helen McDonald, Janet Stone, Shirley Vernon and O'Donnel, Blair & Co. Staged by Elsie Janis. Dances arranged by Julian Alfred.

Cyril Ritchard performed in four song and dance numbers in the revue including the opening “We Beg to Announce” (music and lyrics by Elsie Janis), “Titina” (music by Leo Daniderff, lyrics by Bertal-Maubon & E. Ronn), “You’ve Got to Dance” (music and lyrics by Elsie Janis) and “The Doo-Dab” (music by Bert Kalmar, lyrics by Harry Ruby).

BROADWAY RITCHARD

Cyril Ritchard is appearing with Elsie Janis at the Fulton Theatre, New York, in the “Puzzles of 1925” revue. The New York “Herald” interviewed him last month, and it was this that the three-yard-long young man spoke:—

“I landed in ’Frisco three months ago and made the trip east very leisurely. En route I received a cable from Florenz Ziegfeld offering me an engagement with Raquel Meller, the famous Spanish artist, who was expected to come to America in January. When I arrived in New York I found that, owing to illness, Miss Meller would remain in Europe, and that Ziegfeld thereupon offered my services to Mr. Dillingham for the Janis revue. Needless to say I was delighted when I heard I was to sing the famous song “Titina”, and to act with Miss Janis in a number of sketches.” Which shows that Cyril, besides making strides in his work, has learned to “put over the stuff” to New York reporters.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), 26 April 1925, p. 25, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224045011

  • ElliottMadge 014a

    Sheet music cover.

    Private Collection.

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    The creator and star of Puzzles of 1925, Elsie Janis (left) with Cyril and Madge at the Champs Elysees, Paris in 1929.

    National Library of Australia, Cyril Ritchard album of theatrical performance and personal photographs, 1926-1930, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150723567/view

  1. Better Days at the Hippodrome … managed a three month run. This Julian Wylie revue opened in Liverpool at the new Moss' Empire, a two thousand eight hundred seat theatre only completed the morning the show opened. Rehearsals took place in chaos with the auditorium a forest of scaffold poles which were gradually exchanged for seating—and there was constant hammering. It was no wonder that it opened in bad shape and when it transferred to London ten days later little had happened to make it gel. … Lauri Wylie wrote the book, Clifford Harris the lyrics to Herman Finck's music; [R.P.] Weston and [Bert] Lee wrote extra material. The stars were Maisie Gay and Stanley Lupino supported by George Baker, Connie Emerald and Madge Elliott, … making her first London appearance.

There were many elements that were good in their own right; the comedy in the hands of the two able stars was excellent; but there was not too much of it. The settings and scenic effects, costumes and lighting were quite up to the Hippodrome standard, and the score was adequate…

… The opening item saw an attempt to introduce a slight plot. At the ‘Brighter Chelsea Club’ an author (George Baker) was looking for a new heroine. He was escorted by a whimsical Stanley Lupino as Peter Pan to the strains of ‘A land fit for heroines’ to be introduced to Cinderella and other pantomime and musical comedy heroines. The author finally carried off Madge Elliott's ‘Peggy-the-last-born’. These characters appeared spasmodically throughout the show and led the audience into several of the scenes. It was neither effective nor original and, unfortunately, it set the general standard of what was to follow.

The most original of the items was a burlesque of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, the D'Oyly Carte Company and the Savoy traditions generally. It was titled as the ‘Gilbert and Sullivan Cocktail’ although the Herman Finck music and Lauri Wylie lyrics cleverly did not use, other than opening strains of well-known numbers, any authentic material. The premise was the closing night of a D'Oyly Carte season with the opera to be performed being unknown to the cast because the stage manager had disappeared and he was the only one who knew. So it was decided to mix the operas together with the cast dressed and the stage set for different pieces. Stanley Lupino, doing a fine impression of Sir Henry Lytton, came on in a gondola for Iolanthe while the orchestra hinted at The Mikado. Maisie Gay performed the Dame Contralto Bertha Lewis parts in The Yeomen of the Guard and The Mikado, and George Baker with his fine baritone voice played Nanki-Poo.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (unpublished manuscript) by permission of the author.

  • Theatre programme biography.

    Overtures Collection. Courtesy of Rex Bunnett.

Better Days was, in fact, Madge’s second stage revue after performing in the Melbourne season of Come Over Here for J.C. Williamson’s in 1914, but it did mark her first starring role in a revue.

  • The star comics of Better Days—Stanley Lupino (left) and Maisie Gay (right).

    Photos from Private Collection. Programme from Overtures Collection. Courtesy of Rex Bunnett.

  1. Bubbly—At the end of June [1925], André Charlot revived his war-time revue Bubbly at the Duke of York's. It had originally run for over four hundred performances—this production would run for only a tenth of that. The show’s greatest asset was nostalgia … John Hastings Turner up-dated his book and Philip Braham tinkered with his original score. Two of the original artists, Laura Cowie and Teddie Gerrard, joined the cast that included Edmund Gwenn, Madge Elliott, Reginald Bach … and Cyril Ritchard in his debut in the West End.

In the eight years between the original production and the revival, revue format had changed. Revue had become faster moving, sketches had reduced in length and stage effects had been added to even the smallest of productions. However, the sketches which still scored in Bubbly were of the old school, somewhat long and drawn-out and some did drag … ‘An Old Situation in Four Ways’ had been the source of many imitations, it was a clever idea full of many comic possibilities. The ‘Four Ways’ were in the St. James’ high comedy style, the O. Henry American crook drama, the erstwhile popular Lancashire Stage Society and the Lyceum melodrama. Ralph Coran and Madge Elliott acted as compére and commére—a nostalgic touch on its own—and Laura Cowie and Edmund Gwenn played the parents to Cyril Ritchard's susceptible son.

Arthur Weigall's Grand Guignol mime ‘A Tooth For A Tooth’, set to music by Manuel E. Gomez, had the twist in both title and the plot. Cyril Ritchard played the lover egged on by Laura Cowie to murder the horrible faceless man and in doing so made a terrible mess. Ritchard woke from what was a dream to find the policeman had become the dentist bringing him around after gas …

… Madge Elliott danced bewitchingly and sang with Cyril Ritchard ‘Whenever the moon is up’ and ‘Have you forgotten?’ Ritchard had one solo, ‘Reckless Reggie’, and aided Teddie Gerrard with ‘Sympathetic smile’. The Era wrote: ‘André Charlot has discovered a new juvenile lead in Cyril Ritchard who has a bright sense of humour and the light touch necessary for successful revue work.’

Bubbly played for only five weeks and then moved slightly north to Golders Green for another two.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (unpublished manuscript) by permission of the author.

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Postscript

The following profile was published in the Melbourne Sporting Globe in 1922.

Cyril Ritchard’s Rise as Dancer and Actor

Medical Career Abandoned for Stage

If Cyril Ritchard were not an actor and dancer he would more than likely have been a doctor. He had actually completed a year of the medical course at the Sydney University when the love of the stage proved too strong for him and in the middle of his examinations he dropped his books for a place in the chorus of “The Waltz Dream”, then being revived by J.C. Williamson Ltd.

That was the barely six years ago, when the budding actor and dancer was in his eighteenth year. In three months’ time he was promoted from the chorus to solo dancer, and since then he has appeared continuously as dancer and playing parts in many of the most successful musical comedies staged by the firm.

Cyril Ritchard is another example of an Australian making good on the stage at the first opportunity that presented itself. He was born and educated in Sydney, and when 17 years of age was confronted, like all boys, with the problem of his career. His interest in school theatricals indicated an interest in the stage, but he received no encouragement in that direction from his parents. Then came the momentous decision that nearly made him a doctor. At Beecroft, where he lived, the local amateurs staged a revue which bore the appropriate title of the “Beecroft Bubble”, so called because the promoters, unlike the professional managers, were candid enough to admit that it was “a light and airy thing with nothing in it”. Young Ritchard took a prominent part in the show, and was in the middle of a highly successful season when his father and mother suddenly packed him off to the University to study medicine. That happened in the early part of the year, but before the year had expired Cyril had pitched his books to the winds, bade a long farewell to the intricacies of “not phil.” and “mat. med.” and was on the professional stage as a full blown member of the Williamson chorus.

Disliked Medicine

“I could not stick medicine”, he told me one day recently. “If it had been law I might have gone on with it. But I always had a fancy for the stage, and made up my mind suddenly to try it as a career. Of course, my people were very annoyed at first over my upsettal of their plans, but they have since become quite reconciled to it. Yes, the stage is a great calling if you succeed in it, but if you are destined to remain in the ruck it would be an impossible sort of life”.

In Mr Richard's own words it was the “merest fluke” that lifted him out of the ranks of the chorus; but, it can be added that the manner in which he responded and the fact that he did not return to the chorus, showed good judgment on the part of some person in authority and an inborn talent for dancing and acting in the young man himself. He had been three months in the business when his chance came. “Pink Lady” was being played and Clyde Cook had announced that he was about to leave for America. A solo dancer was required to take his place, and Mr Ritchard was selected. At the last moment Clyde Cook changed his mind about the American trip and remained with the company, but that made no difference to Mr Ritchard's position. He was retained as solo dancer, and it will be fresh in the minds of theatregoers how successfully he made his debut in the speciality dance “Nymphs and Satyrs”.

Dancing Saps Strength

In the next production, “Red Widow”, he was allotted the principal dancing part, and established definitely with a contract that assured his future career. Then followed the “Blng Boys”, and it was about this time that he found dancing was sapping his strength. He was only 19 years of age and still growing. It should be mentioned that between 16 and 17 years of age he underwent a great change physically. He himself is the authority for the statement that at 16 he was “a fat, undersized boy”, and at 17 he was “a long, lanky youth”. At 19 he was outgrowing his strength and he was considering how he could obtain a respite from dancing when, one day, George Highland, who was about to produce “The Willow Tree”, went through the male members of the “Bing Boys” Company asking them to smile. Ritchard smiled and Highland said, “You'll do”.

The explanation was that Highland was looking for someone to play the Japanese boy part in “The Willow Tree”, and so young Ritchard was transferred to an acting part with Kathlene MacDonell, after less than a week’s rehearsing. A revival of “Daddy Long Legs” followed, and he played the part of a college man, previously in the hands of Louis Kimball. Just as he was starting out on a career in straight comedy, Clyde Cook met with an accident, and he found himself back with the “Bing Boys” as a dancer. It was only a temporary change, however, as the Royal Comic Opera Company was reformed and he toured New Zealand with that organisation, playing Leslie Holland’s parts in “Mr Manhattan” and “Red Widow”.

First Big Part

Returning to Melbourne the company put on “Katinka”, with Mr Ritchard as soloist in Russian and ballroom dancing. More dancing followed in “Oh! Oh! Delphine”, and he was beginning to wonder if he would ever be anything but a dancer when “Going Up” put an end to his worries. A big part was allotted to him in this production, which also marked his first association with Madge Elliott. Their first speciality dance, culminating in a jump through a window, will be fresh in the minds of playgoers. That dance was not in the “book;” it was concocted by the dancers themselves, and having been tried out with success at Wanganui, New Zealand, it became a permanent part of the performance.

Mr Ritchard and Miss Elliott have danced together in all the more recent musical comedies—“Yes, Uncle!”, “Baby Bunting”, “Oh! Lady! Lady!” “A Night Out” and now “Mary”. Admirably adapted to each other, the pair have been among the most successful dancers in the Williamson productions of recent years, and their work has always pleased for its variety, cleverness and finish. Perhaps their greatest triumph was in the Pierrot ballet in “A Night Out”. Both regard that as their best effort to date, though Mr Ritchard places the “Nymphs and Satyrs" dance in “Pink Lady” very close to it as his choice for first honors.

Not yet 25 years of age, Mr Ritchard has filled out considerably, and no longer feels the strain of continuous dancing. He weighs 12 stone, and keeps himself as fit as any athlete. His general recipe for health is to keep in the open air as much as possible, varied by tennis and swimming whenever possible.

Though the young actor describes himself as a “musical comedy useful—one who can sing, dance, and act a bit”, his ambition soars to greater things, to real acting. In the misty future he hopes to lead a company in romantic costume plays. He would be a swashbuckler, booted and spurred, clanking across stage with heavy stride, and alternately fighting duels, and rescuing fair maidens in the best D'Artagnan style.

In the meantime, he says he has not had a holiday for six years, and during 1923 he proposes to give up stage work for 12 months and travel. It will be a period of rest combined with education, for he will have his eyes well open for everything that can be learned in the profession which is now his life's work.

Behind the Scenes and Across the Screen by “O.P. Side”

Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), 22 November 1922, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184801408

N.B. Cyril Joseph Ritchard was born on 1 December 1897 at Surry Hills, Sydney, son of Sydney-born parents Herbert Trimnell Ritchard, grocer, and his wife Marguerite, née Collins. Educated at St Aloysius’ College, he fulfilled his family’s expectations by beginning medicine at the University of Sydney. His studies soon foundered, and, initially against his family's wishes, he veered towards the stage.

(Noted by John Rickard in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996)

Needless to say, Ritchard’s plans to give up stage work and travel in 1923 were revised, as he continued to perform in J.C. Williamson musicals over the next two years, including a revival of You’re in Love (as ‘Hobby Douglas’) at the Theatre Royal, Sydney in late May 1923 and Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in early June (both seasons without Madge Elliott) and once again partnered with Madge in The Cabaret Girl and the 1924 Melbourne revival of Kissing Time, at the conclusion of which he returned to Sydney to farewell his family before embarking for the United States, as reported in the theatrical columns of the Sydney Sunday Times.

Theatrical World Personals

Cyril Ritchard sailed for England, via America, last Thursday on the Niagara, and (lucky person) goes armed with letters of introduction from no less a celebrity than Melba herself, who considers the popular dancer should score well on the other side. Nothing is so comforting when you seek your fortune in new lands as to know some letters of recommendation lie hidden in your suitcase; and Cyril Ritchard is the fortunate possessor of envelopes which bear the handwriting of Sir George Tallis, Hugh Ward, Prince Obolensky. Harold Clapp (a kind and useful friend on the Victorian railways), and Madame Lipkovska. The latter became a great friend of Madge Elliott's when she toured New Zealand. They appeared in several towns together. It is Cyril Ritchard's intention to stay a while in U.S.A. on his way through, and learn what he can, and then have a good holiday in England before he thinks of work. It is the first real holiday he has ever had, and he means to enjoy it.

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 6 July 1924, p. 22, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128141508

Four months later the newspaper reported:

Writing from New York, Mr. Cyril Ritchard sends some interesting pars. He says: “Some of the revues that cost five dollars a seat would not run five nights in Australia. On the other hand, there are shows like the Ziegfeld Follies, “Kid Boots”, and “The Miracle”, of such surpassing beauty and production that they leave you quite dazed at the finish.

“The American girls cannot compare with the English Tiller Girls (there are 16 in the Follies and 16 in “Stepping Stones”) for team work and dancing, and our girls could dance them to a stand-still. But they can wear clothes, and are beautiful to the point of distraction.” (Control yourself, Cyril).

Mr. Ritchard has signed up with Ziegfeld for a musical show called “Louis XIV”, with Leon Errol, formerly of Sydney, as chief funmaker. Errol was a sensation in New York, playing the part of the waiter in “Sally”.

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 23 November 1924, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128152586

In the event (as noted in Endnote #3) Florenz Ziegfeld instead offered Cyril Ritchard’s services to fellow Broadway producer, Charles Dillingham and Ritchard subsequently made his Broadway debut in the Elsie Janis revue Puzzles of 1925.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Additional Picture References

Microfilmed newspaper photos of Madge Elliott and her fellow cast members may be viewed on-line at the indicated webpage locations for the following shows:

The Cabaret Girl, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 March 1924, p. 62, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140749978

The Cabaret Girl, World's News (Sydney, NSW), 8 March 1924, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130610699

The Cabaret Girl, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 13 March 1924, p. 26, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17424548

Whirled into Happiness, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 June 1924, p. 44, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17425249

 

Published in Profiles

Thus Far banner 1200px

 

In her first chapter, Madge Elliott told of her early years and her tentative steps in the world of dancing, bringing her “thus far”, to her dancing lessons with Miss Minnie Hooper, who smoothed her path to her first professional engagement, overcoming the difficulties and disappointments which are usually the beginner's fare. Now the curtain rises on Act 2. Read Part 1 of this article here»

 

I practically “grew up” in the ballet, and danced in many strange theatres with blue or crimson plush seats, much worn, gilded and fat, disconsolate plaster Cupids, invariably in need of a wash.

With my advancing youth came a better appreciation of dancing and dancers. In our dressing rooms the ballet girls often discussed the art of Pavlova and her well-known Swan Dance, which was wonderful, despite the fact that every alleged dancing teacher had taught a mimicry of it to the stolid bodies and fat little legs of her pupils.

Often I would recall the fairy tale of the Toy Ballet, wherein Pavlova was the Fairy Doll. It is impossible not to remember a little of that witchery. Lovely Adeline Genée, too, was to us a model. Pleasant memories these, and long may it be before we ring down the curtain on the old theatres with their blue and plush upholstery and begrimed plaster.

Once tidy up Eden and you will loose your progressive “talkie” serpent. He has enough of the earth to deal with at the moment, so let the trail of him be absent from some few chosen spots. Until these old theatres fall to pieces, let there be kept for players and playgoers alike some haven where music is real, where the shadow of Pavlova sways in the wings, and the faces on the other side of the footlights are flushed with a very human triumph as the curtain falls.

It would be pleasant to state here that I went straight from the ballet to principal roles in musical comedy. It would be pleasant but it would not be true. Such things happen only in novels of the theatre—and sometimes in motion picture plots.

My theatrical advance was slow, but it was steady, with hard work the motivating factor. I was never at any time an “innovation” or a “revelation” in the theatre sense. I could pass over perhaps the long gruelling days of rehearsal on dim-lit stages, and the dreary nights when I tumbled into bed tired, yes, and sometimes discouraged. While it was often irksome it was an excellent training and I was always philosopher enough to accept it along with the glamour, as part and parcel of the life of a theatrical artist.

Ultimately rewards came my way.1. The first of these was my advance from the ballet to principal dancer in the Exquisite Eight.2. And that was my beginning in musical comedy.

While playing in the recent Melbourne revival of High Jinks I was often reminded of my early days as a solo dancer for it was in this piece in its original presentation that I first fluttered across the stage without a partner, or many partners, to be exact.3.

As a member of the Exquisite Eight I played in So Long Letty, To-night’s the Night, You're In Love, and Canary Cottage.4. It was a delightful season, and our Australian and New Zealand tours were highly successful.

  • MadgeElliott 003 400px

    The Exquisite Eight, as they appeared in the “Pink and Gold Ballet” in So Long, Letty in 1915. (l to r) Madge Elliott, Winnie Tate, Eileen Wells, Beryl Ferguson, Dolly Nepean, Lucy Greenhill, Mona Ferguson and Ida Lacey.

    Punch (Melbourne), 20 April 1916, p. 607, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/14879127

Everywhere we performed Alfred Frith, Maude Fane, and the late Connie Ediss, principals in the company, were popular, and we all came in for some of the reflected glory.

  • ConnieEdiss 001

    Former London Gaiety Theatre comedienne, Connie Ediss who appeared in J.C. Williamson musicals between 1915-18.

    Photo by Rotary Photo Co., London. Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

  • AlfredFrith 001

    British-born comedian, Alfred Frith, with a montage of his stage roles from Going Up, A Night Out, You’re In Love, Oh, Lady! Lady!, So Long Letty and High Jinks.

    Photo by Langham Studios (Melb.), Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, National Library of Australia, https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/24754638

  • MaudeFane 001

    British singer and actress, Maude Fane, who played lead roles in JCW musicals from the mid-1910s to the mid-‘20s.

    Photo by Monte Luke, Table Talk (Melbourne), 20 November 1919, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17410758

I was gradually beginning to get the “feel” of the theatre, for about this time I felt that I wanted to sing in opera, act in Shakespeare, or be concerned with art for art's sake alone. Then I found that those who were doing these things were just people like myself who had the same desires to avoid rehearsals and often “fluffed their lines” as I fluffed my dance steps. After that I felt more contented with my dancing.

One result of this new “desire”, however, was an intense longing to sing, and I was well aware that I had only “a thread of a voice”. But I persevered and ultimately managed to secure an audition before the manager of the company. He was a very kind man. He listened intently, but he thought my voice more expressed the rhythm of the tune than the stilted words. Perhaps he was right. It may be silly, from one point of view, but you must remember that the words of most songs are only things that fit in anyway. A composer frequently writes the music of a chorus, and if his lyric writer is in another town sends him, instead of the music, which the other man could not read, a skeleton something like “da di ah da ah di oh”, the song writer has to put in words that scan with that. They are frequently so silly that the vocalist is left to bear the burden and the tears. And that is the type of song I was asked to sing with my poor thread of a voice. However, I just went on singing chorus numbers and hoping.

Then came a part for me in Yes, Uncle! 5. It was not a very big part, but I felt very proud of myself when the “sides” of Nichette in that musical comedy were handed to me. It was another milestone in my life. Now, I was a real actress. My stocks soared. In a sense the part was the making of me, for the producer, liking my work, promised to remember me when roles for new plays were being cast. He was as good as his word, too, for I was assigned the part of Chi Chi in a revival of High Jinks, the Firm's next production.6. That was another step up. People began to pursue me for my autograph, for my endorsement of soap and face creams, for my help in charity benefits, and for my advice to children desirous of becoming actors and actresses. And somewhere about this time I fell In love.

 

I first met Cyril Ritchard when he was in the back row of the chorus. He eventually worked his way to the front, and Minnie Hooper, who had charge of the ballets, noticed a strange, gawky boy who was built on the lines of a dancer.

He said his name was Ritchard spelled with a “T”—that he was an ex-medical student of Sydney University, and, although he felt an interloper, he wanted to do big things on the stage. He smiled at Miss Hooper as he said all this; and Miss Hooper was partial to smiles.

He explained that he had been given an audition by the management when he did a reading from School for Scandal, although he really preferred Hamlet.

The management kindly indicated that there was no call for that sort of thing at the time, but would a job in the chorus suit him? ... It would ... and that is how he landed in the fourth row—back.

Miss Hooper told me all this. My dancing partner at the time was Jack Hooker, and, although we had achieved some success as a “double”, we were not physically matched, and Miss Hooper was always on the look-out for another partner for me.

She immediately suggested Cyril Ritchard and I had one of my rare fits of “temperament”. I scouted the idea and walked away feeling anything but pleased with the proposal. I did not see him again for two years, but occasionally he entered my thoughts.

In the meantime, Cyril had joined The Pink Lady company and was dancing in the ballet with Maie Baird.7. I saw him one night and he had developed into quite a physical expert. Strangely enough, the sight of him dancing with another girl gave me a twinge and I there and then regretted having refused Miss Hooper's offer to dance with him at our first meeting. However, I did not tell him so until many years later.

From the chorus of The Pink Lady Cyril was suddenly rushed to fill a big part in The Willow Tree, a Japanese play which Kathlene MacDonell was producing in Sydney.8. Unfortunately it opened on a race night and was not a success. Miss MacDonell had hysterics during the piece and walked off the stage. So Cyril returned to the chorus, this time in Katinka, where his dancing partner was Phyllis Amery, and later joined the Going Up company, of which I was a member.9.

There was nothing of the poised leading lady about me the first night I met him on the stage. I might have been an inexperienced schoolgirl all athrlll over my first affair. And Cyril, too, seemed glad to see me again, for I had learned that even in his medical student days he had sat in the “gods” of theatres just to watch me dancing in the ballet.

I was still dancing with Jack Hooker, but Cyril had other ideas. He was continually inventing new steps and dance numbers and asking me to join him. We practised in odd corners—on the stage, in dressing-rooms, and even in the auditorium. By the time we reached Auckland, New Zealand, on a Dominion tour, we had an entirely new waltz number all ready for presentation.

  • MonaFerguson 001

    En-route to New Zealand, 1919. Maude Fane with Exquisite Eight dancers, Mona Ferguson, Madge Elliott and Beryl Ferguson.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

  • HughJWard 001

    Hugh J. Ward, a Managing Director of J.C. Williamson Ltd between 1911 and 1922.

    Rob Morrison Collection.

We wrote to Mr. Hugh J. Ward in Sydney for permission to introduce the dance in either Going Up or Oh, Boy! 10. We were certain of its success. But no answer came from Sydney. By the time we reached Wanganui we had given up hope and then the unexpected happened. A cable arrived instructing us to try out the new number. That little flimsy piece of paper changed our outlook from gloom to sunshine, and made us feel that life, after all, really was worth living. I had a premonition that the dance would “go”, and that it would mean something more to us than just the mere elaboration of a waltz theme for public amusement.

It proved the “hit” of the performance. I was so overjoyed that I had hysterics in my dressing-room after the show. The manager, Mr. William Russell, officially reported that with a little polish by the ballet mistress, the dance eventually might be successful. That was an entirely different reaction to our own; and it served to curb some of our enthusiasm and give us a better sense of theatrical values.

From New Zealand we travelled to Melbourne, and on arrival Mr. Hugh J. Ward, totally disregarding Cyril in the business arrangements, asked me to present the dance for his opinion. Influenza was raging at the time, and although Mr. Ward was delighted with the number we both went down in the epidemic and never appeared during the season.11. To us this was heartbreaking. We had worked hard in perfecting the routine, and its successful completion would have meant so much to us. But tragedy is an inevitable interlude in all the fun, the labour, and the romance of the stage.

It did, however, establish us on a firm business-like basis for we decided to become partners in theatrical entertainment. Whatever our sentiment towards each other might be, it never interfered with the primary cause of our association, that of business. Both of us possessed a flaming talent for the dance and a partnership would be of mutual benefit. So we shook hands on it, and the “firm” of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard was founded. The first musical play in which we appeared together as partners was Yes, Uncle! Cyril was a French officer and I was a serving maid, and we did our dance together. We did more than that. We established ourselves as something new in the dancing world. And after that we never once looked back. No more fourth-row chorus parts for Cyril. The new “firm” was talented enough to demand its share of the spotlight, and determined enough to see that managements provided it.12.

Life was all roses and sunshine for us until there came a day when the years of hard work which had gone before began to tell on my health.

Under doctors’ orders I was about to resign from J.C.W. Ltd., and go abroad for a trip, when out of the blue came the chance of a lifetime.

To be continued…


Republished in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld), Wednesday, 3 April 1935, p.15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182037385, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), Thursday, 18 April 1935, p.55, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92361296 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), Wednesday, 26 June 1935, p.6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30092706


Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. Madge Elliott earned some of her earliest press notices for her dancing in the Melbourne season of Come Over Here (adapted and produced by Frank Dix with dances by Minnie Hooper), the first revue to be staged in Australia by J.C. Williamson’s, which opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 28 March 1914. Madge partnered with Louis Victor for a “Black and White Dance” in Act 1, Scene 3, which impressed the Argus critic who listed the “Tres Moutarde” dance by Miss Madge Elliot and Mr. Louis Victor” amongst the “… dances that may be highly commended.” Madge also appeared in the featured role of “A Prisoner” in an Act 2 ensemble ballet “in the post-impressionist manner”, of which the Argus commented: “One of the leading spectacular effects is the ‘Flowers of Allah’ ballet, a measure that is quite new to us in arrangement and conduct, the performers being clothed in the weird creations of the Russian dress designer, M. Bakst, and the background intended to represent a Persian garden, being carried out in Circular-Futurist manner that visualises all scenery into big and little discs as flat as, and the colour of a half-cooked pancake.” (Monday, 30 March 1914, p.13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article7259894)

The Australasian‘s “Queen Bee” noted in an article devoted to “Costume in Come Over Here” that: “The beautiful commingling of black and white was viewed in the dance of that name, very gracefully performed by Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Louis Victor.” (Saturday, 4 April 1914, p. 39, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143319775). While Table Talk added to the praise with the comment: “The Flowers of Allah ([by scenic artist] Leslie Board) … is very fine, and the ballet which is danced there is splendid, the descriptive dance of Charlie Stone and Madge Elliott being particularly effective.” (Thursday, 2 April 1914, p.16, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146320344)

  • Detail from programme cover for Come Over Here, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, 1914.

    Rob Morrison Collection.

  • ComeOverHere 002

    Madge in her Persian costume for “The Flowers of Allah” ballet. Photo probably by Talma & Co., Melbourne.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

  1. The Exquisite Eight dance ensemble was established and trained by ballet mistress, Minnie Hooper as an added feature in J.C. Williamson musicals of the mid-1910s to the early 1920s.

“Gayest little JCW ballet of recent times was ‘The Exquisite Eight’, who swung out of the chorus and kicked rhythmically across the footlights. Each had light, rounded limbs and each was a beauty in her own right. Led by Madge Elliott, the team were Eileen Wells, Beryl and Mona Ferguson, Winnie Tate, Lucy Greenhill, Dolly Nepean, Ida Lacey. Dancing as one girl they were a delight to the eye.”—That Reminds Me, Smith's Weekly (Sydney, NSW), Saturday, 26 September 1942, p.13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234590064

There were subsequent changes to the personnel over the ensuing years. Later members of the ensemble included Tessie Magner, Addie Scott, Olive Aldwyn, Myrtle Reeve, Daphne Selig and Gwen Withers. (Ref: Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 7 July 1921, p.7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146719804)

  1. High Jinks (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach), received its Australian premiere at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney on 6 February 1915. The 1935 Melbourne revival starring Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott played at His Majesty’s Theatre from 23 February with a further extension at the King’s Theatre from 8 to 13 March.
  1. So Long, Letty (music and lyrics by Earl Carroll), received its Australian premiere at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney on 26 December 1915. The principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, C.H. Workman, Connie Ediss, Field Fisher, Marie Eaton and Alfred Frith. Produced by Harry B. Burcher (formerly of London’s Gaiety Theatre). Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Melbourne Age critic commented: “… an eccentric dance by Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Jack Hooker, [was] cleverly done.” (Monday, 24 April 1916, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155081837)

  • LucyAlfredFrith 001

    Alfred Frith with his first wife, Lucy Greenhill—a member of the Exquisite Eight.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

  • ComeOverHere 002

    Six of the Eight in their costumes for the “Pink and Gold Ballet”. (l to r) Winnie Tate, Madge Elliott, Beryl and Mona Ferguson, Lucy Greenhill and Ida Lacey.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Photos taken at the rear of Her Majesty’s Theatre during the Melbourne revival of So Long, Letty in May 1917.

To-night’s the Night (music and lyrics by Paul Rubens; additional lyrics by Percy Greenbank) – Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Melbourne, 8 July 1916.

Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, C.H. Workman, Marie Eaton, Connie Ediss, Paul Plunkett, Ethel Morrison, Field Fisher, Fred Maguire and Alfred Frith. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

Table Talk noted: “There are several specialty dances … a pas de seul ‘Night-time’, by Madge Elliott, is yet another attractive and pleasing dance measure.” (Thursday, 13 July 1916, p.23, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146325911)

  • GoingUp 001

    The Exquisite Eight as they appeared in To-night’s the Night in 1916. (l to r) Madge Elliott, Winnie Tate, Dolly Nepean, Ida Lacey, Eileen Wells, Lucy Greenhill, Beryl and Mona Ferguson. Photo by Monte Luke.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Canary Cottage (music and lyrics by Earl Carroll)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Melbourne on 24 March 1917. Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, Maude Fane, William Greene, Connie Ediss, Field Fisher, Fred Maguire, Jack Hooker and Alfred Frith. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Age commented: “Madge Elliott makes her dance with Jack Hooker in the second act one of the most graceful and charming episodes of the whole production.” (Monday, 26 March 1917, p.11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155200203)

Following its Sydney opening at Her Majesty’s on 9 June, The Sun elaborated: “There was a flavor out of the ordinary in the duet dance of Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Jack Hooker, ‘The Cat and the Canary’, and the little story of the dance was told without its being overdone. Miss Elliott was wise in not letting the canary die in three graceful rhythmic movements; and the way in which Mr. Hooker folded up the cat (who apparently committed suicide) was naturally done.” (Sunday, 10 June 1917, p.2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221974293) (An interpolated dance number composed by Andrew MacCunn.)

  • GoingUp 001

    Jack Hooker and Madge Elliott in their ‘Cat and the Canary’ ballet costumes for Canary Cottage.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

  • Reita Nugent and Jack Hooker in their sailor’s costumes for You’re in Love.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Photos taken at the rear of the Theatre Royal, Adelaide during the repertory season of You’re in Love, Canary Cottage and So Long, Letty in April 1918.

You're In Love (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach and Edward Clark)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Sydney on 7 September 1917. Principal cast included Maude Fane, William Greene, Connie Ediss, Alfred Frith, Talleur Andrews and Field Fisher. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph extolled: “Miss Madge Elliott exacts homage for her exquisite ‘Rose Dance’, one of the most delightful interludes of the evening, and one of the most artistic and finished pieces of work of its kind seen here for some time. Miss Elliott has a characteristic delicacy of treatment that lifts even her ordinary dances above the commonplace. She is always original and never inartistic.” (Monday, 10 September 1917, p.6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239379392) (Another interpolated dance number composed by the show’s Music Director, Andrew MacCunn.)

  1. Yes, Uncle! (music by Nat. D. Ayer; lyrics by Clifford Grey)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 3 April 1920. Principal cast included Miss Cecil Bradley, Gracie Lavers, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Field Fisher, Cyril Rltchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Adelaide Advertiser observed: “Miss Madge Elliott, as a studio maid, was the principal dancer of the company, and in this work she was joined by Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the combined result being most successful. Miss Elliott, in addition to being one of the foremost dancers in the Williamson group, is an excellent actress, essentially of the soubrette type, and her sentimental passages with her handsome soldier boy were most humorous. Most of the dancing of these two was of the energetic type but an interesting comparison was afforded by an illustration in the last act of the present day deliberative ‘walking’ methods.” (Monday, 5 April 1920, p.8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62622012)

Following its Melbourne opening at the Theatre Royal on 12 June, The Age critic opined: “The comedy pivots on Mr. Alfred Frith and Miss Madge Elliott. Both are nearly perfect … As Nichette, the artist's studio maid, Miss Madge Elliott gave the audience a finished exhibition of footwork, garters, button brilliants and abandoned love making. Her fascination dance with Mr. Cyril Ritchard was the most graceful thing of the evening. Her earlier flying leap through the air on to Cyril's lap was a revelation of that patient appetite for torture which masculine knees have suffered uncomplainingly throughout the ages.” (Monday, 14 June 1920, p.6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203710559 )

While Table Talk noted: “Cyril Rltchard and Madge Elliott score a success in ‘I Like Any Girl’, a song and dance … The beautiful dance items by Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott are a big feature, especially ‘Fascination’, which is given in the handsome white setting of the Four Arts ball. The dancers are clad in black and white as cavaliers, after the picturesque Louis XV period … Cyril Ritchard, as a smart Zouave, shows promise of developing into a smart young actor as well as dancer, and Madge Elliott as Nichette also shows gifts in the same direction.” (Thursday, 17 June 1920, p.24, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146690460)

As originally published, Madge Elliott’s narrative confused the chronological sequence of her respective performances in Yes, Uncle! and A Night Out, but this error has been corrected in the present transcription.

  1. Madge first played the role of ‘Mademoiselle Chi Chi’ as understudy in a one week revival of High Jinks staged by Harry Burcher (with dances by Minnie Hooper) at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, which commenced on Saturday, 7 September 1918, as noted in the subsequent Sydney newspaper reviews of the production:

If High Jinks revival had fallen flat last night there would have been a legitimate excuse in the fact that Maude Fane was seriously indisposed. Cecil Bradley took her part too late for her name to appear on the programme. This change necessitated a substitute for Mdlle. Chi Chi, for which Miss Bradley was billed. Madge Elliott filled the part with charm and grace, though she was apparently nervous. 

… Jack Hooker and Madge Elliott earned rounds of applause for their speciality dance. The frivol will end on Thursday evening.

The Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 8 September 1918, p. 2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123129025

A house full to overflowing turned up to welcome Miss Maude Fane in her charming role of Sylvia Dale in "High Jinks" last night—but they were disappointed.

Owing to a severe attack of tonsillitis, Miss Fane was unable to appear, so Miss Cecil Bradley played the part, while Maude Beatty (Mrs. Thorne) and Miss Madge Elliott (Mdlle. Chi Chi) both appeared for the first time in these parts.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 8 September 1918, p. 2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221417015

The announcement that owing to the serious indisposition of Miss Maude Fane (tonsillitis) there had been an alteration in the cast, caused universal sympathy for that popular artist. But it had to be granted that the excellence of the presentation was not interfered with to any noticeable extent. Miss Cecil Bradley stepped into Miss Fane's shoes, and they fitted as well as those crystal threes of Cinderella. Miss Bradley sang and acted most acceptably. Her elevation brought Miss Madge Elliott into the cast as Mdlle. Chi Chi and here again there could be no cause for just complaint. If Miss Elliott's dancing were not so emphatically her proper metier, it would be possible to hope for further such opportunities.

… In addition to her last-moment contribution on the work of the cast proper, Miss Elliott, with the assistance of Mr. Jack Hooker, contributed a couple of specialty dances, to witness which was worth missing the latest tram that ever ran.

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), Monday, 9 September 1918, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239359632

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The subsequent recovery of Maud Fane and resumption of the role of ‘Mdlle. Chi Chi’ by Cecil Bradley saw Madge return to her position of première danseuse in the cast for the subsequent tour by the JCW New English Musical Comedy Company to Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, where High Jinks played in repertory with Oh, Boy! (in Melbourne) and Going Up and Three Twins (in Adelaide and Brisbane.)  However when High Jinks was subsequently revived again in Melbourne in 1919 (following the season of Going Up and one week revivals of You’re in Love and Oh, Boy!) Madge took over the role in her own right commencing with the season at Her Majesty’s Theatre from Saturday, 16 August.

The popularity of High Jinks saw further revivals in repertory seasons by the company in 1920 at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide from 22 April; His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth from 19 May and the Criterion Theatre, Sydney from 11 December.  For the first time, Cyril Ritchard joined the principal cast for the Perth and Sydney seasons, which included Harry Wotton, Gracie Lavers, Millie Engler, William Greene, Field Fisher, Marie Eaton, Alfred Frith, George Willoughby and Madge Elliott.   

The Adelaide Register noted: “Miss Madge Elliott had something more than a dancing part for she was 'Mdlle Chi Chi', who takes a prominent role in the comedy, and she looked sweet, sang a little, and danced with that grace which so characterises all her terpsichorean efforts.” (Friday, 23 April 1920, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62625927 )

While the Sydney Morning Herald sensed a feeling of déjà vu when critiquing: “The impersonation of Mons. J. Rabelais was undertaken by Mr. Cyril Rltchard. Mr. Ritchard in the last three productions in which he has appeared has played a French part. His performance on Saturday was but a repetition of his previous ones. One of the successes of the performance was won by Miss Madge Elliott as Chi Chi, the dancer.  Miss Elliott's opportunities were limited, but she availed herself of them to the full, and continues, indeed, to improve with every appearance in musical comedy parts.  As was expected, in her own special line her dance with Mr. Jack Hooker was one of the features of the entertainment.” (Monday, 13 December 1920, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16879516 )

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  1. The Pink Lady (music by Ivan Caryll; lyrics by C.M.S. McLellan)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Sydney on 17 February 1917. Principal cast included Minnie Love, Reginald Roberts, Leslie Holland, Frank Greene, Ethel Cadman, Phil Smith, Florence Young and Celia Ghiloni. Produced by George A. Highland. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Sydney Morning Herald concluded its review: “A feature in this last act was the classic ballet of nymphs in green, blowing their reed-pipes to their stately measure, with graceful dances by Cyril Richard as Pan, and Maie Baird as Nymph.” (Monday, 19 February 1917, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15733620)

  1. The Willow Tree, written by Harry J. Benrimo and Harrison Rhodes—Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 26 January 1918. The play’s Sydney season concluded on 15 February. Produced by George Barnum.

Under the headline of “THE WILLOW TREE.” KILLED BY A GIGGLING GALLERY; the Sydney Daily Telegraph gave the full details of the play’s unfortunate opening night in its review published on Monday, 28 January 1918, p.7:

“Within grasp of as fine an artistic achievement as she has yet placed to her credit locally, Miss Kathlene MacDonell was robbed of her triumph at the Criterion on Saturday night by the giggling inanity of a pack of gallery girls.

On previous occasions this young actress, who is our guest, has paid the penalty of too warm a popularity with certain of her unreasoning worshippers. They have clapped her and they have cheered her, when all she asked of them—when all that the stage situation demanded—was the approval of intelligent silence. On Saturday Miss MacDonell suffered that again, and bore it with womanly patience. But, in addition, there was throughout the performance a display of wanton misapprehension of the true intent of the drama presented, that found vulgar expression in a running commentary of giggling and suppressed laughter. The artist, following her lines with her accustomed intentness, bore even that, in the hope that sooner or later there would be a return to manners, even if there could be no return to intelligence. Then, at the most emotional point of the performance, where the play reached its artistic climax, some individual in the gallery found it within him to imitate the parting lovers’ kiss. The resultant laughter died for a moment, only to break out again when a bit of stage business apparently miscarried. Here it was that Miss MacDonell, reached the breaking point of her endurance, flung the mirror she was holding into the footlights, and ran sobbing from the stage. The curtain was rung down, with the audience agape at the realisation of the insult. The stage manager came to the front of the curtain. There was a woman's call from the gallery: ‘Three cheers for Miss MacDonell.’ They were given. Directing himself to the gallery, Mr. Carey said: ‘We have to thank you ladies for the fact that Miss McDonell has fainted.’ A moment later he came to the front again and asked for a doctor. A gentleman from the circle volunteered his services. All the while there were the hysterical cries of the girl whose feelings had been so bitterly outraged, and with them ringing in their ears the crowd present filed their way slowly out of the theatre.”—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239250123

The Sydney Morning Herald likewise commenced its review with a report of the evening’s upset, but also found space to note that: “The parts of Nogo and Kimura, two obsequious oily-tongued servants, were well played by Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Mr. Kenneth Brampton.” (Monday, 28 January 1918, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15789394)

  • The picturesque stage setting of The Willow Tree (1918).

    JCW Scene Books, Book 08-0039, Theatre Heritage Australia.

  1. Katinka (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Melbourne on 8 June 1918. Principal cast included Gladys Moncrieff, Florence Young, Reginald Roberts, Olive Godwin, Phil Smith and John Ralston. Produced by George A. Highland. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Argus commented: “… the dancing was an outstanding feature of the piece, the Russian dancing being supplied by Miss Phyllis Amery and Mr. Cyril Ritchard …” Monday, 10 June 1918, p.5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1665033

Going Up (music by Louis A. Hirsch; lyrics by Otto Harbach)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 2 November 1918. The musical then played a season at His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane from 30 November before the company embarked on a tour of New Zealand, where it was played in repertory with Oh, Boy! The Melbourne season subsequently commenced at Her Majesty's Theatre on 19 April 1919.

Principal cast included Alfred Frith, Maude Fane, William Greene, George Willoughby, Field Fisher, Miss Cecil Bradley and Cyril Ritchard. Produced by George A. Highland and Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The Adelaide Daily Herald noted: “Miss Fane added another to her list of successes, ‘A Touch of a Woman's Hand’ (with chorus) and ‘Tickle Toe’, with Mr. Ritchard and ballet (the girls strikingly attired) were two of Miss Fane's most tuneful numbers … Miss Cecil Bradley made the most of her opportunities as Madeline Manners … and figured with Mr. Ritchard in two song successes, ‘I Want a Determined Boy’ and ‘Do It for Me’ … The aeroplane used in the play is built on the latest lines, and measures 22 ft. from plane tip to tip”. (Monday, 4 November 1918, p.3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106526434)

  • GoingUp 001

    The Act 3 Hangar scene in Going Up showing the pivotal aeroplane (1918). Its construction was by Mr. Rock Phillips, who was introduced to the audience during the curtain calls for his share of the applause on the opening night.

    JCW Scene Books, Book 08-0056, Theatre Heritage Australia.

  1. Oh, Boy! (music by Jerome Kern; lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Sydney on 6 July 1918. Principal cast included Fred Maguire, Gracie Lavers, Maude Fane, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Field Fisher, Connie Ediss, George Willoughby and Maud Beatty. Produced by Harry B. Burcher and Jack Haskell. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The Sydney Sunday Times noted: “The dancing in the new production is really delightful. Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Jack Hooker were almost unable to satisfy the demands made on them for their Camouflage dance …” (Sunday, 7 July 1918, p.2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123139409)

  1. Madge Elliott’s memory proved to be faulty on this point. Although the newspaper and periodical reviews did note the absence of both Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard from the opening night of the Melbourne season of Going Up due to illness (with their roles as principal dancers being understudied respectively by Audrey Anderson and Harold Dickenson), less than two weeks later Table Talk reported in its ‘On and Off the Stage’ column that: “The ’flu has been making things decidedly difficult at Her Majesty's Theatre, difficult, that is, for the management to keep things going at the usual high standard of excellence. It has claimed as victim many of the staff, yet performances have had to go on. Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott, two recent victims, have recovered and are back in harness again.” (Thursday, 1 May 1919, p.12, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article148563077)

While the ‘Play and Players’ column by “B.J.O.” in The Weekly Times reported on Saturday, 24 May 1919, p. 48, that: “An attractive feature of Going Up at Her Majesty's Theatre, of which first night patrons were deprived, is the dancing of Miss Madge Elliott. This clever and picturesque performer was indisposed on the opening night, but her work is now delighting all who witness it. The production as a whole continues to meet with a large measure of approval.”—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article222546770

In a recorded interview for Hazel De Berg in 1970, Cyril Ritchard also confirmed that he and Madge introduced their waltz duet to Australian audiences during the opening Melbourne season of Going Up and that it became a feature of the production during the ensuing tour.

  1. Following their success together in Yes, Uncle!, Madge and Cyril were also cast as a couple in the following musicals (preceded by a revival of High Jinks—see note 6.):

The Girl in the Taxi (music by Jean Gilbert, lyrics by Frederick Fenn and Arthur Wimperis)—Revived at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth on 15 May 1920. Subsequently revived at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 21 August 1920 and the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 27 November 1920. Principal cast included Miss Cecil Bradley, George Willoughby, Millie Engler, Madge Elliott, Alfred Frith, William Greene, Field Fisher and Cyril Ritchard. Produced by Charles A. Wenman. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

In its review of the Melbourne season The Age observed: “As the young daughter, Jacqueline, Miss Madge Elliott acted and danced gracefully and with considerable charm, and her musical contributions were well rendered, though the company as a whole is on the weak side vocally. Mr. Cyril Ritchard made a dashing and lighthearted French lieutenant, acting exceedingly well throughout.” Monday, 23 August 1920, p.8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203061567

While Table Talk added encouragingly: “Madge Elliott as Jacqueline also has her chance in a more ambitious role than usual, and proves that she has other qualities in addition to dancing. One is a voice of pretty quality well worth training, and another a nice histrionic sense which promises well for her future in acting parts.” (Thursday, 26 August 1920, p.13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146691220)

Baby Bunting (music by Nat. D. Ayer; lyrics by Clifford Grey)—Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 24 December 1920. Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Miss Cecil Bradley, Field Fisher, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Jack Haskell. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Sydney Morning Herald noted: “A duet, ‘Boy and Girl’, with a touch of novelty in the lyric scheme, was adroitly carried out by Madge Elliott (as Phyllis Vesey) and Cecil Bradley, during which the bearing and gestures of Miss Elliott were amusingly boy-like, whilst her companion was engagingly Girlish … Madge Elliott's principal dance with Cyril Ritchard, who otherwise figures as a much harassed business partner of the extravagant Bunny, was ‘El Relicario’, and was encored amongst a storm of applause.” (Saturday, 25 December 1920, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16881668) (An interpolated dance number with music by Spanish composer, José Padilla, written in Paris in 1914 but popularised world-wide in 1920.)

Oh Lady! Lady! (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne on 11 June 1921. Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, Nancy Benyon, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Field Fisher, Jack Hooker, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Argus observed: “Dancing is an important part of modern musical plays, and in this direction Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard displayed more agility than ever. Miss Elliott also showed how elaborately a supposedly dowdy country schoolteacher could dress when she became a Paris buyer, and Mr. Ritchard acted acceptably as the usual perplexed young man of farce—in this case Willoughby Finch …” (Monday, 13 June 1921, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1765920)

A Night Out (music by Willy Redstone; lyrics by Clifford Grey)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 21 January 1922. The show then transferred to Her Majesty’s Theatre from 25 February 1922. Principal cast included Maude Fane, Dan Agar, Field Fisher, Cecil Kellaway, Paul Plunkett, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Argus noted: “Mr. Cyril Ritchard showed new ability by his playing of a comparatively grotesque part, the awkward youth, Maxime Paillard, and with Miss Madge Elliott (the smart maid Victorine) he took part in a pretty Pierrot ballet and in other neatly given dances.” (Monday, 23 January 1922, p.5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4712039)

Mary (music by Louis A. Hirsch; lyrics by Otto Harbach)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 23 September 1922. Principal cast included Maude Fane, Roland Hogue, Ethel Morrison, W.S. Percy, Cecil Kellaway, Field Fisher, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Gene Richards.

The Adelaide Daily Herald extolled: “As Madeline Francis, Madge Elliott was a delight. Her dancing with Cyril Ritchard was an artistic revelation. Together they gave a wonderful performance combining pantomime, song and dance in their number, ‘When a Woman Exits Laughing’.” (Monday, 25 September 1922, p. 5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106679017)

Following its Melbourne opening at the Theatre Royal on 7 October, Table Talk remarked: “Madge Elliott, as Madeline Francis ‘the widow’, is by turns alluring and waspish, while she dances most graciously at every opportunity, and Cyril Ritchard as Tommy Boyd, a rich young man, is always ready to join her. They fill their roles admirably, singing and acting adequately and their dancing is always delightful.” (Thursday, 12 October 1922, p.12, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146456648)

 

Postscript

Two years before radio broadcasting officially commenced in Melbourne, The Age reported news of an early development.

The Theatre and Wireless.

SOLDIERS IN HOSPITAL TO HEAR “A NIGHT OUT”.

Modern scientific experiment is always springing some fresh surprise on the world. One of the latest is the enabling of passengers on ocean liners hundreds of miles away at sea to listen to entertainments ashore. This latest scientific wonder is to benefit soldiers at the Anzac Hostel and other military institutions. This morning these men will listen to a full dress performance at Her Majesty's Theatre of A Night Out. Some time ago the management of this theatre conceived the idea of uniting stagecraft and wireless telephony. Experiments have now been carried out which prove the feasibility of such an idea. Mr. C. Hooke, manager of Amalgamated Wireless Ltd., is co-operating, and an elaborate scheme of instruments has been fitted up. On the stage itself the only foreign apparatus to be seen is a small megaphone and telephone attached to the side of the stage. Above the dome at the theatre, however, can be seen the masts and wires of the aerials. The megaphone is connected with a transmitter apparatus in the electric room of the theatre. From the theatre songs, pianoforte solos and other items will be flashed to their destination. This morning it is the Anzac Hostel at Brighton which is to benefit, and in addition to several items by the artists of A Night Out, the soldiers will hear Mr. Jasha Spivakovsky render his first pianoforte solo in Melbourne.

This strange form of public entertainment has already proceeded beyond the stage of experiment. Last Wednesday afternoon portions of the ordinary matinee at Her Majesty's were transmitted into the apparatus and sent out [to] broadcast. Messages were received from King Island, on the coast of Tasmania, stating that the tunes and words had been clearly heard. Ships at sea within a radius of 500 miles also heard the performance. A special receiving apparatus has been installed at the Anzac Hostel, Brighton, for the performance, which will begin at Her Majesty’s Theatre at 10.30 a.m. to-day. It is the intention of J.C. Williamson, Ltd. to give audio entertainments to various hospitals.

Friday, 31 March 1922, p.6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205747669

  • NightOut 003

    The Act I setting for A Night Out (1922).

    JCW Scene Books, Book 08-0105, Theatre Heritage Australia.

Additional Picture References

Microfilmed newspaper photos of Madge Elliott and her fellow cast members may be viewed on-line at the indicated webpage locations for the following shows:

Come Over Here, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 23 April 1914, p.20, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129698586

So Long, Letty, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 20 April 1916, p.607, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page14879127

To-night’s the Night, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 27 July 1916, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17428357

Canary Cottage, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 April 1917, p.30, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page14880216

You're in Love, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 November 1917, p.15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17440895

You're in Love, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 7 March 1918, p.19, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page14877710

You're in Love, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 10 April, 1918, p.3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23524537

Oh, Boy!, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 September 1918, p.24, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138714589

Oh, Boy!, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 12 September 1918, p.22, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146592834

Going Up, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 24 March 1919, p.12,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23760644

Going Up, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 July 1919, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17410183

Yes, Uncle!, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 31 March 1920, p.41, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23760699

Baby Bunting, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 February 1921, p.51, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page11774032

Baby Bunting, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 3 March 1921, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146718227

Baby Bunting, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 March 1921, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17659149

Oh, Lady! Lady!, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 23 June 1921, p.22, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146719604

Oh, Lady! Lady!, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 25 June 1921, p.46,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140260907

A Night Out, The Australasian (Melbourne), 18 February 1922, p.31, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page11777054

A Night Out, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 6 September 1922, p.17, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23608057

A Night Out, Newcastle Sun (NSW), 15 February 1924, p.1, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163222065

Mary, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 October 1922, p.15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17422620

 

Published in General articles

Thus Far banner 1200px

 

To coincide with Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott’s Australian theatrical tour for J.C. Williamson’s in 1934-36 (having based themselves in London since 1925), Madge Elliott collaborated on a series of autobiographical articles with an unknown ‘ghost-writer’, which were first published in 15 parts in both the Melbourne Star (from 16 March) and the Sydney Daily Telegraph between 18 March to 3 April 1935, and subsequently republished by the Brisbane Telegraph from 2 to 13 April, the Adelaide Chronicle from 11 April to 16 May and the Hobart Mercury between 19 June to 7 August of the same year.

The following transcription adopts the format used by the Brisbane Telegraph and The Mercury which omitted a number of extraneous paragraph sub-headings provided by the sub-editor for its initial publication in Sydney and reduced the number of instalments to 8.

Madge ElliottPortrait of Madge Elliott, c.1930s, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136699189/viewChC

Twenty-three years. Once I thought this a very long period to spend in the theatre.

When I was a child I was told the story of a gentleman named Methuselah, who had worked even longer than this, although he was not an actor; but I never for a moment thought I should even remotely compete in his class. But lately I have not had that same impression.

Twenty-three years of hard work now seem to me to be very far removed. After all this moil and toil I still have vigour of mind and body, with knowledge and experience besides.

This year a very good friend of mine, and an actress known to all Australians—Marie Tempest—celebrates her 50th year on the stage. So who am I that I should claim 23 years behind the footlights as anything out of the ordinary?

After this long period in a very glamorous profession I still feel that I am in my noon-day prime. I have a wealth of experience behind me and a very gay, bright road to travel ahead. The theatre, in which I have played a part, is not all tinsel, coloured lights, and supper parties. It has been my life unaffected by outside impressions. At times it was heart breaking, but it was worth it, and if again I had to choose a career I would ask for nothing better than to be an actress.

I have no philosophic reaction to the glare of the footlights. In my time I have played many parts and met many people from the “stalls to the “gods”: nice people all, friendly people, tolerant people. They have been a part of my life, and their appreciation of my work, yes, their applause leaves me only with a glowing satisfaction of pride and pleasure in my profession.

So the notes of the overture die away in the auditorium and the curtain glides upwards on “Thus Far”.


I know that people regard me as an Australian. So here is the first disillusionment. I was born in Kensington (London) on May 12, 1896.

Strangely enough, the world did not stand still on this occasion. In later years my father told me I was just an ordinary, healthy baby, who kept him awake at least for two hours every night. Being a doctor, he was used to broken rest, and my mother, being an average kind of mother, looked upon my squawking as part of the baby formula. Actually, I do not remember much about Kensington at this stage, nor can I recall anything of the voyage to Australia. That, of course, is excusable for I was still a baby in arms when my father bought a practice in Toowoomba, Queensland, the home of my adoption. Here it was I was brought up in the golden glory of the Australian sunshine with the rolling tablelands of the Darling Downs for a daily vista and a taste for the freedom which is inherent in the native-born of the country.

At three years of age I began to take a little notice of my surroundings, and, with the first glimmering of understanding, I felt I was destined to become an actress. Why this should be I do not know, for my parents knew nothing of greasepaint and the glare of the footlights. Although there had been no actors or actresses among my ancestors, mother always had one of those hidden desires which most women cherish for the stage. She was brought up in a very stern school, where Sunday was regarded in the strictly Biblical sense, and the theatre looked upon as anathema by all God-fearing people. But in my early childhood in that little Queensland town some of the desires of mother for the stage found fulfilment in me, for I showed an aptitude for dancing which was unusual in one so young.

  • Madge and brother Bert, c.1898, scan of 1935 Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper photo.

    Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.

  • Minnie Hooper, c.1923: Madge’s dancing teacher and J.C. Williamson’s Sydney-based ballet mistress, who choreographed countless productions for The Firm between 1907 and 1934

    Rob Morrison Collection.

My first appearance on the stage was not in a professional capacity. Father, who at this time was developing a flair for organising “charity concerts” in the district, suddenly decided that his daughter might be capable of doing a “turn” at one of these entertainments, and I still have vivid recollections of my dancing debut.

I remember the draughty stage and the flapping of the two painted wings, and the thrilling silence just before the curtain rose for little Madge to go on and do her dance. Down through the years I can still hear the applause as I tripped about the stage. When I say tripped, I mean it in a literal sense. Too young to feel “the thousands of eyes upon me,” my feet somehow or other were just a little stubborn.

When I felt like moving to the right they would persist in gliding to the left, and once when I curtsied they deserted me altogether, and left me a limp little bundle flat on the stage. It was not a very auspicious first appearance, but it served to whet my taste for more.

Mother was delighted with my performance, but dad, being a man, was less Inclined to be enthusiastic about his daughter's future as a dancer, judged solely on my one exhibition.

I remember him saying to me: “Madge, you did very well to-night, but my little girl has still a long way to go before she really can dance.”

Which sounded anything but encouraging. At odd times in my career I have recalled those words, and in gloomy moments I have thought to myself that they still apply, for in life I have found that there is always a long distance ahead.

For the next two years I danced early in the morning and through the long, sunshiny days.

There was no rhythm, of course, to my movements, nor did I have any real idea of sequence in my steps. To me those movements were just so much childish play and exercise, but all unconsciously I was building up physical strength which was to serve me well In the strenuous days of the theatre.

Occasionally visitors to our home would comment openly on my frolics, and say to mother: “Madge is full of life and she seems to have a natural aptitude for dancing.”

Honeyed words these, which set me tingling all over with pride. One old friend of the family, a Mrs. Green, so impressed mother with her persistence in forecasting a dancing career for me that mother ultimately was convinced that Madge had some natural talent in this direction.

With a kindly smile and the homely grace which had endeared her to the family, Mrs. Green one day whispered to mother: “Why, look at those legs (my legs). Perfect, my dear, for dancing. All she requires is some tuition. Let me try and teach her some simple steps.”

Next day I had my first dancing lesson. It was on the veranda of the old home, with a climbing rose for a “backcloth” and the feathery fronds of wattle trees for “wings.”

There was no audience, but the cool looking grass stretched away like a green carpet on an auditorium, and real, fleecy clouds floated overhead. It was an Ideal setting.

“One, two, three,” chanted Mrs. Green. “One, two, three, pirouette; one, two, three ...”

The old worn boards slipped from under my feet as the chant went on.

Then suddenly there came the sound of a hand-clap from behind a rose bush to me the first real appreciative applause of my dancing life.

“Bravo,” called my mother. “You're a darling. You look just like a little ray of summer sunshine.”

That may have been a purely maternal expression and flattering to me, but it made me feel that dancing was the one thing in life worth doing well. School and my girlfriends were nice enough, but here was something better.

And how I danced for Mrs. Green. She guided my childish footsteps and spoke to me of the beauty of describing things by a wave of a hand, the flick of a wrist, the pointing of a toe, or a “whirl”. That first dancing lesson was the beginning of a new day for me and the beginning of a new love so fine and steadfast that will endure between my mother and me so long as we live. Those happy days linger long in my memory. Although mother would not admit it directly to me, she was highly delighted with Mrs. Green's praise of her little Madge. These two doting women held many a secret confab with me as the subject of discussion. As an outcome permission was given me seriously to practise dancing. What joy!

The days flew by all too quickly. Sunshine or rain, I was assiduous in my “routine.” Soon I could twirl on my toes and pirouette with a perfection which pleased the meticulous Mrs. Green. And then we moved to Sydney.

Again a visitor to the home was the means of further encouraging mother in the belief of a dancing future for me, and eventually I was sent to study under Miss Minnie Hooper. Looking back across the years, it seems to me that this was a very important period in my life.

I was just at the age when every young girl has her day-dreams. Miss Hooper's school of dancing was redolent of the theatre. There were tiny tots in the classes and seasoned theatrical dancers came to her rooms to practise.

All talk was of the stage and the ballet, and new and strange words became part of my vocabulary. Unconsciously I absorbed the “atmosphere.”

Many a time Miss Hooper singled me out for praise and encouragement. She was tireless in her teaching. She coaxed, cajoled, and flattered in turn; and within me I felt a certain response—a latent call of the theatre.

My future now became the subject of many talks with mother. So thorough had been Miss Hooper's training that I felt I could be a success as a professional dancer, and, when it came to the point, Miss Hooper's voice in the discussion was the deciding factor. She it was who persuaded the family to allow me to become a professional.

Father was horrified, but mother was secretly fascinated by the suggestion. More debates and conferences followed until the position was reversed, when dad was all for my going on the stage and mother all against it.

At the final solemn interview with my parents, father said to mother, “Here are you raising the same objections as your parents advanced when you suggested a theatrical career for yourself. Tush, tush.”

Father won the day, and my dancing tuition went on, but now with my studies directed toward becoming a professional. About this time I played my first dramatic role, although it was not a public performance.

My father in his spare tune made a hobby of writing little plays and sketches.

He was particularly proud of one effort:—“My First Patient”—and he handed the script to my brother Bert (Dr. Herbert Elliott), of Sydney—for production. He rather fancied himself at this time as an actor, and he cast me for the heroine's role in the touching drama. lt was staged in the attic of our home. The scenery was some old wallpaper, and the “props” and stage fittings came from the lumber room. The “wardrobe" belonged to father and mother. The play had a domestic theme. There was a baby (my doll) in a wicker cradle—a very, very sick baby.

The doctor was called for professional advice, and Bert, entered wearing father's frock coat and belltopper. He took a stethoscope from his inside coat pocket, applied it to the “heart” of the sawdust baby, and nodded his head, wisely, “My good woman” (that was me), said the doctor, “this child is very ill.”

The dialogue, by the way, was quite unsophisticated. “It will require skilled nursing and a hot-water bottle every five minutes.”

“Ha,” said I, dubiously—in fact, I poked out my tongue, “I do not think you are a very good doctor. The child is quite well, I will have you know. All it requires is some castor oil.”

Whereat my brother, stepping out of his character, said: “Oh well, if you are going to argue the point about it we'll call the play off.”

Exit doctor; exit me.

That was my first speaking part on any stage, and it was many, many years before I had another.

  • MadgeElliott 003 400px

    My First Patient, c.1910: Madge Elliott and Bert Elliott.

    Cyril Ritchard collection of theatrical performance and personal photographs, 1880-1946,
    National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150756811/view

 

I wonder whether anyone not of the theatre knows what it means to try and get a start in it. I could write a story about that, too—but it would be a monotonous story, and so many people already know it.

I, however, had the friendship of Miss Minnie Hooper, and she smoothed the pathway to my first professional engagement in the children's ballet of the Melba Grand Opera Company in 1911. I never had to climb innumerable stairs or wait in line to see producers who generally took one glance at applicants for work and grumbled; “Nothing for you to-day.”

I look back now on those early days in the theatre with something of a smile. But it is a smile that is very near tears, for I saw many girls come and go, most of them with hopes of a stage career shattered.

In my own case I was fortunate. The ballet with the Melba opera company was hand-picked, and we were for ever rehearsing and practising. As the season went on I got to know Wayda, Zeni, Cisneros, Razenberg, Rossi, Scandiani, Kauffman, Drammarco, Ciccolini, Edmund Burke, John McCormack, and, best of all, Melba. Many a time I stood unseen in the wings listening to these great singers at practice. Somehow, young as I was, they inspired me.

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MelbaWilliamson 002 800px

(l. to r.) Italian tenor Francesco Zeni (Samson); Baritone Angelo Scandiani (Scarpia); Tenor Guido Ciccolini (Cavaradossi); Baritone Anafesto Rossi (Rigoletto); Canadian bass Edmund Burke (Mephistopheles)

MelbaWilliamson 003 800px

(l. to r.) Austrian mezzo-soprano Maria Voluntas-Ratzenberg (Delilah); Polish soprano Janina Korolewicz-Wayda (Tosca); American mezzo-soprano Eleonora de Cisneros (Ortrud)

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Nellie Melba as Juliette and Irish tenor John McCormack

Melba-Williamson Opera Company members reproduced in Opera For the Antipodes, Alison Gyger, Currency Press Pty Ltd, Paddington, NSW, 1990

Original sources include National Library of Australia

One of the operas in Melba's repertoire was Saint-Saens’ Samson and Delilah, and its glorious ballets always thrilled me. I have, however, memories of another kind in connection with one of these interludes.

At short notice I was ordered to take the principal ballerina's part, the leading dancer having become suddenly ill.

In physique I was not exactly suited to the role which called for an alluring and seductive dance. To overcome the difficulty the management insisted on bath towels being used for padding, and, effectively covered by the Eastern attire, I tripped on in all the glory of a principal ballerina.

The audience failed to note my lack of curves until one of the towels became dislodged. I was painfully aware of something having slipped, and as gracefully as possible, in the circumstances, I danced up-stage to exit with my hotel bath towel trailing its folds like a train in my wake.

Melba WilliamsonHarry Julius caricature from Samson and Delilah, Sundry Shows, The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), vol. 34, no. 1760, 6 November 1913, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-672504697

I deserved all the applause which came my way on that occasion. In this company I formed a friendship with John McCormack, which has lasted through the years. He was the most encouraging man, not only to myself, but also to every other juvenile member.

Although he knew little of dancing his kindly praise of our work did much to lighten the tedium of those dancing days.

In the morning call for rehearsal he would often watch the ballet go through its paces; and always he had a cheerful word for the girls.

In the main those were happy days, forerunner of many more I have spent in the theatre … But I was only beginning to touch the fringe of the real glamour which lies behind the footlights in the world of make-believe, where our adored darlings move and have their being. With a single thought of recollection comes a parade of players and plays which you and I know so well.

To be continued...

 


Article republished in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld), Tuesday, 2 April 1935, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182044260, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), Thursday, 11 April 1935, p. 52, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92363904 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), Wednesday, 19 June 1935, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30091770

 


Postscript

Horrible Conclusions
Theatre Royal, Sydney—March 18, '35.

Please Mr Editor (writes Madge Elliott), when I made the (to me) startling statement that I had been 23 years on the stage, I hoped that my collaborator or “putter-together” would leave it at that.

Instead of which he has jumped to horrible conclusions—the quaint little chap—and announced the date of what he considered my birth.

If we must get down to figures, then I must defend myself, and add that I was 11 years old when I went on the stage—so now you have it.

But that other horrible date! When I read it I felt quite decrepit.

Give the collaborator my love, and tell him I know he means well—bless him.

Yours sincerely,
MADGE ELLIOTT

 

Letter published in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Tuesday, 19 March 1935, p. 9, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article246695135

 


Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison, with additional information supplied by Andrew Lamb and Frank Van Straten

  1. Despite Madge Elliott’s protestations, her ghost-writer, in fact, calculated the correct year of her birth as 1896 (as confirmed by U.K. Birth Registration records, where her birth name is registered as Leah Madeleine Elliott in the June 1896 quarter). Possibly to her subsequent chagrin, however, the Sydney Daily Telegraph was the only newspaper to publish her letter of indignation, and the first instalment of her memoirs was subsequently re-published verbatim in the Brisbane Telegraph, Adelaide Chronicle and the Hobart Mercury with her correct birth-date as given. (In an advance promotion for the publication of the series in The Chronicle the previous week, it even highlighted the fact that she was born in 1896!)

Madge Elliott’s theatre programme biography published during the 1933 Melbourne season of the revival of Our Miss Gibbs included the additional details that: ‘Madge Elliott was born in England and came to Queensland with her parents when two years of age [hence in 1898]. Her father is Dr N.P. Elliott (retired), and a brother, Dr F. Curtis Elliott, was for some years Resident Medical Officer at the South Sydney Women’s Hospital [a maternity hospital mainly for the poor and unmarried mothers located in Stanley Street, Newtown until 1976].’

Further research has confirmed that Madge’s older brother was, in fact, her half-brother; the son of her mother’s first marriage to Albert Charles Curtis in 1890, born Frederick Clissold Curtis in 1891. Albert Curtis subsequently died in 1893 at the age of 26, and the widowed Frances Selina Curtis (née Heighton) married Nicholas Phillipps Elliott in early 1895. Frederick’s family nickname of ‘Bert’ was presumably in memory of his deceased father. He initially adopted his stepfather’s surname, but this was amended to the hyphenated Curtis-Elliott in later life. Dr Frederick Curtis-Elliott died in Sydney in 1973. His daughter, Madge Curtis-Elliott (named in honour of her aunt), made her professional stage debut as a 16 year-old dancer in the pantomime Aladdin at Sydney’s Theatre Royal in December 1940, and later served as a transport driver in the WAAAF for three and a half years during World War 2, before returning to her ballet studies post-war.

Madge’s father, Dr Nicholas P. Elliott died in Sydney on 29 October 1939 and her mother, Frances, on 8 May 1953 in her ‘100th year’ (according to a newspaper report at the time, however U.K. Birth Registration records disclose that she was actually born in the second quarter of 1856, so she was, at most, 97 years-old).

  • MadgeElliott 003 400px

    Madge Elliott pictured with her mother on her last visit to Australia in 1951

    The Australian Women's Weekly, 24 August 1955, p. 24

  1. The Melba-Williamson Opera Company commenced its Australian tour at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney with a production of La Traviata on 2 September 1911. The company’s repertoire consisted of twelve operas in all, of which Melba sang in six: Verdi’s La Traviata, Rigoletto and Otello; Gounod’s Faust and Roméo et Juliette and Puccini’s La Bohème. The season included two Australian stage premieres, Tosca and Samson and Delilah (which commenced on 5 September under the title of Sansone e Dalila, being sung in Italian), with the remaining operas comprising Madama Butterfly, Carmen, Aida and Lohengrin.

The eight week Sydney season was followed by a truncated season of six weeks at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne commencing on 28 October and the company returned to Sydney for a final two weeks from 11 December.

Reference: Entertaining Australia – an illustrated history, Katharine Brisbane (editor), Currency Press Pty Ltd, Paddington, NSW, 1991; plus contemporaneous newspaper and periodical advertisements and reviews

Published in General articles