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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Carrie Moore

The beautiful yet rebellious Carrie Moore was one of Australia's most successful Edwardian actresses. She was born in Geelong Victoria in 1882.

Carrie started as a child star with J C Williamson, she was 13 years old and had a role in a pantomime. She was a leading lady at age 16 and for her 21st birthday, she received a contract with George Edwardes in London.

Above is a picture of Carrie in costume for an Australian production.

So at the age of 21 Carrie went to London to work for George Edwardes, the most famous theatrical manager in England.

She performed in the Cingalee for Edwardes and reportedly argued with him about wearing white make up . "Have you ever seen a white Cingalee?" She asked Below is Carrie in the Cingalee.

Her most famous role in London was as a Sandow Girl in the original London production of the Dairymaids. She gave a very scandalous interview speaking against corsets. As a Sandow girl she wore little more than drapery as you can see below.

She returned to Australia in 1908 and was Australia's first Merry Widow.( picture below.)

She then eloped with an bigamous Englishman, whilst being engaged to another one who was conveniently in England.

Carrie was bold and adventurous and was one of the few stars who performed in legitimate theatre, vaudeville, TV, radio and movies. She had a lovely soprano voice, but it was her charismatic presence that made her a star.

I've long been fascinated by Carrie and wrote a small book about her.

She died in Sydney in 1956 after living an incredible life.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Maud Jeffries

Many English Edwardian actresses married into the aristocracy, but it was unusual for an international actress to marry into an Australian squatter family. Maud Jeffries, an American actress, did so in the early 1900s.
Maud was born in the Southern United States in 1869. She was spotted by the famous actor Wilson Barrett and taken to England to perform in his company.

Here she is with Wilson

In 1897-1898 she came to Australia in a company headed by Barrett. They returned to England and every few years Maud would cross the Atlantic with her brother Norman to visit her family.

In 1904 Maud returned to Australia with a company headed by Julius Knight.

During that tour she met a young man called James Osborne who was the son of a wealthy squatter family. He was smitten with her and somehow joined the company. They acted together, and in 1905 he asked her to marry him. She agreed, finished the tour in 1906 and then retired from the stage.

Above you can see Maud acting as a very domestic Edwardian lady. Although many of the aristocratic marriages in England caused scandal, this marriage in the colonies, wasn't really frowned upon. In fact one of the papers said that James was a very lucky man.

Maud had a son, and lived out her life in the country with James. She made one appearance on stage before her death, a benefit with Julius Knight in 1910. She died in 1946 outliving her husband.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The London Gaiety Burlesque Company

The London Gaiety Burlesque Company toured Australia in 1892-1893. They were performers from the famous Gaiety theatre in London and included E J Lonnen, Marion Hood and Robert Courtneidge. Courtneidge later became a very famous producer/manager in his own right.

They performed two burlesques of opera on the tour, Faust up to date and Carmen up to data. These were,of course, parodies of the originals.

A tour by the Gaiety company was a huge event because they represented the very best in English entertainment, so everything about the production was of high quality, including the souvenirs.

One example was a lovely, "Souvenir of the Gaiety Theatre, George Edwardes" Which included a set of eight sketches by Percy Anderson.

Above is a soldier

This is Carmen and below is Frasquita.

These are beautiful examples of the time and effort that was taken to make visiting the theatre such a special experience in the late 19th Century.

More information about the tour is here

Monday, October 11, 2010

Harry Rickards and the Tivoli Theatre

Harry Rickards was an English music hall performer who became one of Australia's most successful theatre entrepreneurs. Although Rickards isn't very well known, his theatre chain, The Tivoli, is a magic word in Australian Theatre History.

Below is a letter dated 1893 on Harry Rickards' stationery. I'm not sure if it's signed by Rickards or by his brother Jack Leete. The Tivoli circuit was a family affair and Jack managed a lot of the business side.

This is a picture of Harry Rickards from an early 20th Century magazine. It outlines all the theatres he operated in Australia. These included the Tivoli in Sydney, The Opera House in Melbourne, and theatres in Adelaide and Brisbane. As you can see, Rickards had no problem with self promotion.

Finally, below is a 19th Century postcard of the New Opera House in Melbourne. It was later called the Tivoli and was run by Rickards. A shopping mall now stands on the site.

Frank Van Straten's book on the Tivoli called Tivoli, covers everything you want to know about the history of this legendary theatre chain.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Pantomime was one of the major forms of entertainment for the Australian people in the 19th Century and J C Williamson pantomimes were for decades the highlight of the year for families in the capital cities. Every Xmas, Williamson would produce a lavish show with opulent sets, huge casts, elaborate choruses and dance productions.

Xmas 1883 saw Aladdin come to Melbourne. It starred J C Williamson's wife, Maggie Moore as the principal boy.

Everything about the pantomime experience was special, including the programmes, which detailed the names of cast and crew, the libretto of the panto and beautiful colour prints of the scenes.

10 years later Sydney was treated to Cinderella. Once again a huge production which featured a transformation scene showing the "wealth produce and progress of Australia.' Here is a part of the programme.

The nationalistic theme echoed the concerns of the community of the time. 1895 was the time of Federation debates and a rise in Australian nationalism. The pantomimes reflected the cultural concerns of colonial society and in many ways contibuted towards shaping political and social opinion.

Unfortunately pantomime is a fading art form, particularly in Australia, but in the 19th century it was the epitome of style, class and Christmas cheer.

More information about Australian pantomime.