Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Celia Ghiloni

Celia Ghiloni was a J C Williamson stalwart during the early years of the 20th Century.

She was born in Victoria on Febrary 22nd 1879 the daughter of Italian immigrant Raffallo and his Australian born wife Isabelle. Celia's name at birth was Rosabelle Ethel Celia.

She spent her early years in Western Australia and was singing at the Fremantle Town Hall at the age of 18. A year later she was managing Sunday concerts at the Town Hall and steadily building a reputation as a talented singer and performer. She married a local man, in Perth in 1898.

Soon she was discovered byJ C Williamson and was off on an adventure that took her through Australia and New Zealand. She was rarely without work and was a fixture in Royal Comic Opera Productions between 1900 and 1908.

Perhaps her most memorable performances for Williamson were in a famous series of Gilbert and Sullivan productions which toured the country in 1905-1906.

In 1908, Celia went to London with a Hugh Ward Company which featured Grace Palotta. Whilst there, her husband divorced her. Celia had told him by letter that she preferred the stage to spending time with him.
The divorce didn't seem to bother Celia because on her way home to Australia later in 1908, she married a man she met in India. Upon her return to Australia, Celia and the Ward Company performed a long tour of Australia.

By 1911 she was back with Williamson and performing in musical comedy and revues. Later in the decade she performed at the Tivoli and with stars such as Dorothy Brunton and Jack Cannot in variety .

She was also quite active in the Actors Union movement, signing her name to an application to have an actor's association formed in the post war period.

Celia was a plump woman and tended to act in roles suited for her shape, such as the fairy godmother in pantomime and the jolly nurse in musical comedies. By 1911 she was sick of these roles and publicly trying to lose weight. At one stage she had the whole cast of her latest show on a diet and the newspapers joked that the famous stars were fading away to nothing.

Celia divorced her second husband after World War 1 and then married a third time in 1920.
After this she gave up the stage and settled into private life. The couple stayed together until 1950 when her husband died. Celia died in 1955 in Perth.

More about Celia

Friday, December 24, 2010

History of Australian Theatre at the ibookstore

I now have some titles available at the ibookstore, so if you are looking for some light reading.....

Houdini's Tour of Australia- A detailed account of Harry Houdini's tour of Australia in 1910.

Stars of Australian Theatre History

Australian theatre in the late 19th and early 20th centuries produced stars that shone nationally and internationally. Some of these stars were Maesmore Morris, dancers Saharet and Maggie Dickinson, pantomime dame, Arthur Stigant and American import Minnie Tittell Brune.

Stars of the Early Australian Stage- The Royal Comic Opera Company

The Royal Comic Opera Company was the most popular musical comedy company in Australia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The members of this company included George Lauri, Florence Young, Carrie Moore and Celia Ghiloni. Their stories are detailed here.

Pantomime in Australia-Pantomime in Australia reached its highest point during the Edwardian period. The people, the passion and the form combined to produce elaborate entertainment for early Australian audiences.

Magical Tours of Australia-Magicians regularly toured Australia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this booklet discusses the tours of Chung Ling Soo, The Davenport Brothers and a Maskelyne Company of 1908


A History of Some Australian Theatres-Australia was once home to some beautiful theatres. Her Majesty's in Sydney and the Tivoli in Melbourne being two of them. The performers and performances of a golden era are outlined here.

Great Performances from Australian Theatre History-A selection of essays about great performances in Australian Theatre History. These include accounts of Blondin, Cinquevalli, The Oliviers and Nellie Melba's tours of Australia.

A history of Australian Theatre from Convict theatre to Depression.-A short history of Australian theatre covering the early convict years to the depression.

You can look up the titles or just seach by my name- Leann Richards, free samples available.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mrs Maesmore Morris

Actress Mrs Maesmore Morris was a renowned beauty who overcame domestic violence to have an international career.
She was born in England in 1872 as Gertrude Willmot the daughter of an doctor. Ten years later she arrived in Australia with her father and at the age of 20 she married Maesmore Morris, an accountant and son of a prosperous iron merchant.
After the birth of a son and the loss of his job, Maesmore turned to alcohol and subsequently became violent towards Gertrude.

The family had no means of support so Gertrrude, with her husband's permission, took to the stage.

She worked for J C Williamson and played with Julius Knight for two years, but this relief in the family finances did not calm her husband.Maesmore began threatening Gertrude's life and he made a scene at the theatre in 1897 yelling obscenities at her as she appeared on stage.

He threw her out of the family home and Gertrude went on tour with Knight, hoping to avoid her abusive husband.

In 1899 she was offered a contract with an English manager and eagerly left for London. She remained there for almost five years and returned to Australia to support Nellie Stewart in a series of plays in 1904.

In 1905 she finally divorced Maesmore, although throughout her theatrical career she had continued to use the name Mrs Maesmore Morris.

The next year she returned to England and remarried. She retired into private life and left a legacy as one of the most beautiful and bravest actresses to appear on the Australian stage.

She died in England in 1951

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Website updates

I have updated HAT-The History of Australian Theatre website at www.hat-archive.com

Included in the update are several extra photographs of performers, 200 extra names for the database and an article about Tom Dawson, Australian Comedian.

The article is one I wrote for Stage Whispers Magazine, the November/December issue is available in full colour at selected newsagencies or through their website. I write regularly for the magazine, and some of my articles are on the website.

For genealogists, my article about researching your Australian Theatrical ancestors is available through the Suite101 website. More articles about the history of Australian theatre are also available there.

Apologies for not updating the blog regularly. Life has been a bit busy.

Please enjoy the update of the website, whilst I look in my old trunk for some more anecdotes for the blog.


Monday, November 1, 2010

The Greenwoods

In many cases, theatrical companies consisted of families who , desperate for financial security and having some talent, would form their own companies. One famous company in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was the Greenwood family.

The Greenwoods were the wife and children of R C Greenwood of Auckland, New Zealand. There was Mrs Greenwood, her four daughters, Agatha, Nora, Maribel and Roberta and a young boy Bob.

The family was first mentioned around 1888 and the company travelled around Australia and New Zealand until about 1907 when their names seem to fade from the record.

Maribel was one of the older daughters, she worked for George Rignold in Australia in 1890 and was praised for her stately, charming presence. For a while, the company was known as the Maribel Greenwood company and traded off her fame. Maribel, had a lovely voice and played the violin very well.

Nora acted as the company's advance agent and was rarely mentioned in reviews of the company. They spent a great deal of time in country areas of Australia and Nora occasionally got into heated arguments with local business people about bills. In April 1903, she was brought to court by an Albury hotel owner for the non payment of accomodation fees. The hotel owner won the case. Nora must have been the level headed daughter for in 1902 when her mother's dress caught on fire, Nora was the one who put out the fire and saved her mother from harm.

Roberta, real name Ruby, was the youngest of the sisters. As a child, aged 9, she wrote a book about her early life which was illustrated by her sisters.This made her quite popular with the wife of the New South Wales Governor.

Roberta worked primarily for the family company although occasionally she worked for other managers. Around 1902 she married a fellow performer called Walter Andrew Baird who she met whilst working for another manager at the Standard Theatre in Sydney. Walter joined the family company and in 1903 Roberta gave birth to twins at Castlemaine in Victoria. Later that year Walter was killed in a tragic accident on the Chute, at Manly in New South Wales.

The company is rarely mentioned in newspapers after 1907, so it is difficult to say what happened to them. However, their story is one which shows that theatre was often a family enterprise.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cyril Maude

English actor/manager Cyril Maude toured Australia in 1917.

He was born in 1862. A fragile child, he was sent to Australia to regain his health. He returned to England without his health, but still nursing the ambition to be an actor. He fulfilled that ambition in Denver, USA. From that time his career grew and he soon was leasing London theatres as an actor/ manager.

Maude was a character actor, he believed in using observation then building up his characters from there. He was best known for his role as "Grumpy" a spoilt old man, who as a retired lawyer solved a crime to keep his loved ones happy. He took this play to Australia and toured Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney with it. He was immensely popular here.

Cyril retired in 1924, but was convinced to return to Grumpy and performed the character on film. He appeared in other films as an elderly man and died in London in 1951.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Melbourne Theatres

I am from Sydney, so I don't know Melbourne very well. Fortunately I have a guide for the post today.

It's a book called Magical Nights at the Theatre by Charles Waller, a magician.
Actually it is a collection of Waller's accounts of vaudeville performances put together by Gerald Taylor. It's a rare book of 1000 copies, but it's a great reading and reference source.

In the first few pages of Magical Nights there is a map of Melbourne theatre locations.So thanks to Charles Waller and Gerald Taylor, here is some information about them.

Firstly, The Assembly Hall,located on Collins Street between Swanston and Russell.

Above is the Princess Theatre. Melbourne tends to preserve its buildings far better than Sydney and so the Princess Theatre can still be visited at Spring Street. It was here that J C Williamson ran his Melbourne business and it was here that 13 year old Carrie Moore auditioned for the great man. The black and white picture is dated 1908.

Her Majesty's Theatre on the corner of Exhibition and Little Bourke Streets. This was J C Williamson's other theatre. He leased it, renovated it and changed its name from the Alexandra. The Royal Comic Opera Company used this as their second home.

The Town Hall Melbourne. The Town Hall hosted some famous acts, including the amazing Davenport Brothers, the most famous spiritualists in the known world in 1876.

Finally a repeated photo to complete the set. The Opera House ( later the Tivoli) and Bijou Theatres in Bourke Street between Swanston and Russell Streets. As in Sydney where the Tivoli and National Amphitheatre were virtually neighbours, the two major popular theatres in Melbourne were also close together.

The people of Melbourne do not seem to be afflicted with the dreaded destoy and rebuild disease so prevalent in Sydney. I hope their immunity continues. Sydney, of course, remains the best city of Australia, despite her dreadful affliction.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Minne Tittell Brune

Born in San Francisco in 1875, Minnie Tittell Brune was the most popular actress on the Australian Stage between the years 1904-1909.

Her family were quite religious and so was Minnie, she once said she was "half a nun" She particularly disliked the way men looked at her, and how many people equated "actress" with bad moralily.

She was not very successful overseas but JC Williamson saw something in her that would appeal to Australian audiences. He was right, and she was tremendously popular on the Australian stage.

She played male and female roles and her most famous character was "Sunday" in the Western themed play of the same name.

When Minnie left Australia, her career dwindled. In her later years she returned to the US and after her husband's death,retired to a convent.

She died in Los Angeles in 1974 aged 99 years .

Monday, October 25, 2010

Music Postcards

Before the internet, the ipod and television there were music sheets,phonographs, and singers in the theatre next door.

To encourage people to buy music sheets and to return to the theatre, companies produced postcards. The ones here date from around the mid 1900s and the first three come from "Albert's Lyric series". There was an Albert's music store in Sydney in 1905 which specialised in sheet music and Edison phonographs, so the postcards may originate from there.

Firstly, here is the famous Florence Young, singing "Dearie". Florence was the star of J C Williamson's Royal Comic Opera Company. She was also a wonderful singer.

Below is the American Baritone Post Mason, singing Would You Care? A love ballad. Mason did a series of concerts around Australia in 1906-07

Heba Barlow is next, singing"Im trying so hard to forget you" For many years Heba was the leading lady of Irish American John F Sheridan's Company. After Sheridan's sudden death in 1908, Heba went to England to continue her career.

Finally, the song that everybody knows, "Home Sweet Home." Sung by Lilian Hallows and Sidney Howard of the Sidney Howard English Drama Co. They were presented by Harry Rickards at the Criterion Theatre in 1907 according to the reverse of the postcard. This postcard is English and it seems to have been altered to include details of the Australian season.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nance O Neil

American actress, Nance O Neil, toured Australia twice during the early 1900s. Both tours were managed by McKee Rankin a famous US theatrical manager.

When she arrived for the first tour in 1900, Nance was only 26 years old. She was just starting her career and probably came to Australia looking for experience and quick money.

She was a tall woman with long blonde hair (probably strawberry blonde) and blue eyes. She also had a good friend with her, a snow white Persian cat, which also had blue eyes. On the first tour she performed in "Magda" which was her most famous role.

Nance returned to Australia in 1905 and the white cat returned with her. She had lost weight but was the same imposing presence on stage.Below is her autograph on very stylish personalised stationery.

Nance died in 1965 at the age of 90. She acted in silent movies and made a successful transition to the talkies. However, she is best known for her friendship with Lizzie Borden, the alleged axe murderer who she met in 1904.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jack Cannot's last letter

This is a sad story.

Jack Cannot was a very famous comedian in the 1920s, but the talkies and the depression came and life was difficult for Jack and his family.

This is his last letter.

Dear Old Charlie,

When you get this it will be a case of "Alas, poor Yorrick", and I want you to do the best for my family, who will be more or less destitute. I have fought against doing what I intend to do, but it is the only way I can see clear to enable my children to get a proper education and my darling wife to feel that every postman's knock does not mean a summons.

Charles, I have the greatest wife and children a man could wish for, so you can guess with what heart yearnings I am leaving all I love best, but I cannot get decent work. I have done 26 weeks work in two years and then I got scaled for 70 pounds in a pantomime.

Now old sport, you and Walter- God bless you both- will do what you can for my loved ones , especially the boy. Oh, what a grand little fellow and how I worship the very ground he walks on. He has been at college since he was nine years old, and he is 14 and two months now, and I am behind on his schooling fees.

If you get his letter before they find me, I would like a decent burial. We owe at least 15 weeks rent, but here again we have a wonderful woman for a landlady. If it hadn't been for her we would have been destitute long ago.

My daughter, Betty is just a sweet angel and I owe her school fees too. I have earned 66 pounds since "Clowns in Clover" finished and I am doing this really to get out of the way, as I havent any money to go abroad or anything. I was going to start a school for singing with the aid of a friend, but I feel it's no go before we open. So that's that. So long old pal. If I have helped make things easier for the profession, then I am glad, though I believe I have suffered in consequence.

God Bless you all

Jack Cannot.

In August 1929, Jack's body was found near Malabar in Sydney. His death was ruled a suicide.

More on Jack's Story

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Allan Wilkie

Allan Wilkie was an Englishman who set up his own company after becoming disillusioned with the established London theatre.

He and his wife Frediswyde Hunter Watts were most famous for their 5 year tour of various Shakespearean plays throughout Australia during the 1920s.

Here is Allan

and here is Frediswyde

When the letter below was written, January 4 1921, the company had just begun a Shakespeare season in Tasmania. The Hobart Mercury newspaper was very happy about this because the bigger companies tended to avoid little Tasmania. It was an expensive trip. The paper was convinced that the population of Hobart had the intellect to enjoy Shakespeare.

In the letter Allan says that he will return to Tasmania every year with a different repertoire because the reception he received was so 'flattering'.

Allan, his wife and the company stayed in Australia until about the 1930s, but the depression was too much for them and they disbanded. Allan returned to England. He married a third time after Frediswyde died.

He is remembered for his attempts to bring Shakespeare to places that were starved of theatre. Much like today, his plays were seen by school children who were studying the bard and perhaps the tradition of taking Australian pupils to see Shakespeare on stage was started by the Wilkies.

Allan died in 1970 in Scotland.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Her Majesty's Theatre Fire

Fire was an enemy to many theatres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Almost all the theatres in Australia had to be rebuilt during that time due to fires caused primarily by gas lighting.

In the early morning hours of 23rd March 1902 another fire occurred in the heart of Sydney.

Her Majesty's Theatre on the corner of Market and Pitt Street went up in flames. The theatre had a hotel attached and almost shared a wall with its other neighbours.

The fire decimated the theatre as can be seen in this photo from the Town and Country Journal

Tragically a young woman was killed when a wall at the back of the theatre collapsed upon her. She was a cleaning lady and was doing the early morning rounds of the theatre when the fire broke out.

Fortunately the fire brigade managed to contain the blaze and it did not spread to other parts of the city.

JC Williamson lost 35000 pounds worth of sets and equipment, but the theatrical community pitched in and helped with a benefit performance for him and for the people who lost their jobs through the destruction of the theatre.

Naturally they rebuilt .

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Australian theatre programmes of the 20th century

Australian theatre programmes through the first four decades of the 20th century reflected the economic troubles of the times.

For example during World War 1 programmes were on rough paper, in black and white like this

During the 1920s the programmes reflected the optimism and excitement of the times. They were also in many cases beautiful artistic worksThis is a full colour cover and a booklet printed on glossy paper.

Of course as the depression came, the programmes became less showy.

The Williamson programme above is from 1931. The same cover was used through 1931 only the pictures of the stars on the cover changed. It was a booklet, but in black and white.

As the economy improved so did the programmes. Williamson updated to colour covers, but still kept the same cover through the mid 1930s.

Of course during the Second World War the theatres had to show patriotism by keeping their programmes simple. They went back to brouchure type programmes, many with colour covers like the one below from 1943.

Theatre history is a reflection of cultural and economic history. The above programmes are a fantastic illustration of the relevance of our theatrical history to the wider history of Australia.

Monday, October 18, 2010

William Anderson

Victorian born William Anderson was a gambler, a risk taker and an adventurer. He was also one of Australia's most well known managers/theatre owners in the early 20th Century.

Bill was lucky enough to marry the beautiful and talented Eugenie Duggan (above), who was the leading lady of the Holloway company when they married.

Above are Bill and Eugenie on the cover of a programme. Eugenie soon became the leading lady of Bill's company.

Bill toured a circus around Australia, he built the Kings Theatre in Melbourne and he produced play after play after play after pantomime. But perhaps Bill's biggest folly was Wonderland City in Tamarama near Sydney


Bill spent 15000 pounds on Wonderland, it had a circus, a helter skelter, rides, amusement halls and other entertainments. At times it had its own vaudeville performances. It also had wowser neighbours who complained about the noise and the obstruction of the beach.

With all these enterprises, it was perhaps inevitable that the freewheeling Bill would get into financial difficulties. After 4 years Wonderland was closed, his productions became scarce and Bill's life became a bit less flamboyant

Above is an advertisement for one of Bill's productions which took place at the height of his fame.

Bill believed in Australian performers and plays and always supported the local product. He died in 1940, much loved and much missed.