Snub Pollard of North Melbourne

Harold Fraser, aka “Snub Pollard” photographed without makeup about the time he returned to Australia to see his parents, c 1922. Press photographer unknown. Damaged photo in the author’s collection.

“Snub Pollard” was born Harold Hopetown Fraser in North Melbourne on November 9, 1889. According to the Internet Movie Database he has a staggering 600 US movie and TV credits to his name, although his most active years were the 1910s and 1920s when he appeared in numerous comedy “shorts”. Even if his later roles were little more than walk-ons, it is an impressive record for a working class boy from the inner suburb of North Melbourne.

7d60180f5e12ce84ee0403caefb07771

“Snub Pollard” in the mid 1920s, in his usual Hollywood make-up, including characteristic “walrus” moustache. His expression was usually “deadpan.” This persona was developed in Hollywood but may have some origins in his on-stage experiences. Photo via Internet Movie Database.

Harold’s father, George Gunn Fraser, was a horse-drawn (handsom) cab driver. Museum Victoria reminds us there were over 200 registered handsom cabs in Melbourne in 1899. His mother, Isabella (nee Elliot) had already had three children when Harold was born in their modest terrace home at 59 Courtney Street, North Melbourne. Another daughter, May Evelyn Fraser, was born in 1892.

59 courtney 1

Above: Snub Pollard’s birthplace – 59 Courtney Street, North Melbourne in 2019. The house (centre left) was almost certainly too small for the family and may not have suited George’s cab driving needs. Author’s collection.

71 leveson 2 snub pollard c 1901-5

By 1905, the Fraser family lived at 71 Leveson Street, North Melbourne. The cobbled lane (Jones Lane) beside the house may have provided better access for a cab driver. George’s horse and cab would have been kept nearby – perhaps in stables off the lane. In the distance is the North Melbourne Town Hall spire. Author’s collection.
At right – and photographed around 1905, Harold Fraser, with Alf Goulding and Teddie McNamara as part of Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in Vancouver. A clear photo of the entire group can be found on the Vancouver As It Was website here

Of his childhood and schooling we know little, but this is partly because in mid 1904, at the age of about fifteen, he and his younger sister May joined Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in time for another of their marathon performance tours – first to Queensland, then the “far east” (performance stops in Hong Kong and Japan) and finally North America. Years later, he was to suggest he had been picked out of a church choir by one of the Pollards.

a gaiety girl

The Pollard’s program for performance of the popular musical “A Gaiety Girl” in Montreal, 29 November 1905. It features May and Harold Fraser in addition to Daphne Pollard, Alf Goulding and other well known Pollard performers. The ages of performers were deliberately under-stated. Program in the author’s collection.

The Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company tour Harold and May joined was organised by Charles Pollard and his sister Nellie Chester, who had managed several previous tours of North America. It is hard to believe, but this writer can find no evidence that this troupe returned home before February 1907 – apparently a performance tour outside Australia of two years. Even if the performers were not as young as claimed (Harold was 16, not 12, while Daphne Pollard was 14, not 10), it was an extraordinary undertaking for children at the time. Their tour of North America took them up and down the US East coast several times, and across most of Canada. The SS Moana brought most of them home in late February 1907.

By July 1907, the company, featuring Harold Fraser and many of the familiar Pollard performers, were back in Queensland performing and testing the usual favourite shows. Then the company departed again for the “far east,” Canada and the west coast of the USA. In early 1909, at the end of this very long tour, Charles Pollard announced his retirement and some of the older performers, including Harold Fraser and Alf Goulding, decided to form their own “adult” Pollard’s group. They seem to have stayed together for a year or so, then drifted apart – although the evidence suggests they remained on good terms.

pollards in 1910Snub_Pollard_&_Ernie_Morrison_-_Rolin_Comedies_Ad_1920.jpg
Left: In 1910, Harold Fraser performed with some of the former Pollard’s Lilliputians, now adults, and now just calling themselves “the Pollards” in the US. Alfred Pollard may be Alf Goulding. Source; The Bakersfield Californian, November 1910. Via Newspapers.com.
Right: Ten years later. An ad for Rolin Comedies with Snub Pollard and Ernie Morrison (“Pickaninny Sammy”), August 7, 1920 “Exhibitors Herald”. The ad from the Exhibitors Herald (Aug 7, 1920) shows a still from “Insulting the Sultan” (1920) which starred Pollard, Ernie Morrison, and Marie Mosquini, and was directed by old friend Alf Goulding. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The accounts of his entry into Hollywood’s emerging film industry vary considerably. Known in his early years as “Harry Pollard” (an unfortunate choice because actor-director Harry A. Pollard was already well established), film fans today delight in identifying him as an extra in some of the early films of Ben Turpin and Charlie Chaplin. However, the most plausible account of his entry into film-making was also the most simple, an explanation he gave to Table Talk in 1923, on a return visit to Melbourne rings true; “I just naturally drifted into them…I don’t exactly know how.” Harold’s background in vaudeville and his friendships with emerging filmmakers like Alf Goulding almost certainly helped. But the “Lonesome Luke” films made for Hal Roach between 1915 and 1917, where he played second fiddle to Harold Lloyd, helped establish him as a bankable and recognizable star. Although he had used the stage name “Snub” as early as 1915, it is from about 1917 that he adopted it consistently. This also coincides with his most prolific years – 1917 to 1924. The classic short “It’s A Gift” (watch it here) was made in 1923. His work output had already declined by the time talkies arrived, but he was still able to find supporting character and extra parts, generally of increasing insignificance. He remained busy almost until his death in 1962.

During this final phase of his career – Harold displayed the skills of an unusually effective self-promoter, clearly intending to maintain his personal profile no matter what. However, its difficult to see his later film roles as professionally very rewarding. Even his cameo performance made no difference to the underwhelming 1934 Bushranger musical, “Stingaree”, (also featuring fellow Australians Billy Bevan and Robert Greig).

Left: Snub complains about Hollywood humour. Corsicana Daily Sun 14 May, 1957. Via Newspapers.com.
Right: Snub with others discusses plans to combat communism. Los Angeles Times, 24 Sept, 1950. Via Newspapers.com

Harold Fraser remains much of an enigma to the student of cinema today. As an adult and without makeup he was average in every way – he weighed about 150 pounds, stood an average height of 167 centimeters (5 foot 6 inches), had receding brown hair and brown eyes. Interestingly, he had a tattoo on his right upper arm – although what it was or said is now unknown. It was noticeable enough to be listed on his citizenship documents. In his public commentary he did not assist any real understanding of himself, his comments were designed to promote “Snub Pollard” the star rather than reveal much about the man behind.

Snub Pollard’s voice. From “Just My Luck” (1935). Here Mr Smith (Snub Pollard/Harold Fraser) and Homer Crow (Charles Ray) discover they have lost their money, whilst eating at a cheap diner famous for beating up any non-paying customers.  He appears to be channelling Stan Laurel. Video in the author’s collection.

Yet unlike many Australian performers of the time, Harold Fraser undertook the long sea voyage home to see his family, and he did it at the height of his popularity. In March and April 1923 he visited Melbourne, whilst on his honeymoon with Elizabeth, his second wife. He visited his parents – his father still driving a cab. He travelled to Portarlington to see his older brother George, a blacksmith. In the early 1920s, Harold also paid for his mother to travel to California to see him.

palmerston street       snub pollard wout makeup

Left: About the time of Harold’s return visit in 1923, his parents moved into this house at 83 Palmerston Street, Carlton. It is interesting to speculate whether Harold purchased it for them. The ornamental parapet on this 1880s cottage is highly unusual and appears to be a later addition – perhaps dating to a renovation in the 1920s. This writer cannot think of another inner Melbourne terrace decorated this way. Is it the “Spanish style” more often found in Hollywood? Author’s Collection.
Right: Harold Fraser aka “Snub” Pollard, at the time of his visit home to Melbourne. Author’s Collection.

Harold married three times – each ended unhappily. He married 17-year-old Myrtle Webb in April 1917 – he claimed to be 23 – but he was in fact 28. Within a matter of months the relationship had ended. He married Elizabeth Bowen in March 1922, claiming to be 30 – when he was now 33. This marriage also broke down and ended in divorce in 1927. In 1935 he married again, this time to Ruth Bridges aka Gibson. He was 46 by this time, but registered his age as 38. This relationship was also over by 1940. One error in age on a marriage certificate seems understandable. But the same error existing in all three marriage certificates perhaps points to other problems of identity and sense of self. Or, is it just a case of “everyone does it”?

snub and marie

Snub Pollard on set with Hal Roach Studio co-star Marie Mosquini. In March 1922 it was reported they were engaged. They weren’t.

Perhaps the most famous late-life interview with Harold Fraser is the one syndicated in Australian papers in May 1951 under the headline – “Snub Pollard, Melbourne born silent day star looks back” Now consigned to extra and mostly non-speaking roles, he made the rather wistful statement;“The fact that I am not on top now does not bother me. Most people never get there at all.”

The stories about Snub became more inaccurate after his death from cancer in 1962. Brother of Daphne? An original Keystone Kop? No. But some newspapers reported so.

Harold’s mother died in Carlton in 1930, his father (a cabman to the end of his days) died  ten years later. Harold’s sister May did not stay on stage. She returned to the family home in Leveson Street and became a dressmaker. In 1920 she married Claude Hill and moved to a comfortable house in Merton Street, South Melbourne. She died there in 1966.

Notes:

1. An original Keystone Kop?
Mack Sennett repeated the gag of 6 or 7 incompetent policemen in numerous short comedies, through to the early 1920s. We know the names of these performers, and Harold Fraser wasn’t one of them. The confusion almost certainly came about because in 1939’s “Hollywood Cavalcade”  C20th Fox’s film about silent film-making, Harold did act as a Keystone Kop. He also appeared as a policeman in several early comedies. On his death, several of the real surviving Kops gently attempted to correct the record and pointed out that in the early days, Harold had worked for Hal Roach, not Mack Sennett. (see Los Angeles Times, 24 Jan 1962). But the story has persisted anyway.

2. Origins of the stage name Snub?
While we know why he chose Pollard as a stage name, the significance of Snub and the later, lesser used “Peewee,” as stage names is unclear. If you have any ideas please contact the author.

3. Father’s profession
Snub Pollard was inclined to suggest his father was a racehorse owner. (See for example Pantomime Magazine Jan 7, 1922 “…father owns racehorses that have won many cups”)

When George and Isabella married in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1881, they gave their professions as jockey and barmaid respectively. Eight years later, George Gunn Fraser’s occupation is listed on young Harold’s 1889 birth certificate as a cab driver. Australian electoral rolls to the late 1920s also list him variously as a cab driver, cab proprietor and wagonette proprietor. Of course, he may still have been a racehorse owner as well.

Snub's birth cert

Harold Fraser’s birth certificate, 1889. Via Births, Deaths & Marriages, Victoria
Transcription of Birth Certificate;
Columns
2 –  November 9th 1889. Courtney St. Town Hotham, County of Bourke
3 – Harold Hopetown. Not present
4 – Male
5 – George Gunn Fraser. Cab Driver. 34 years. Victoria [Father’s name, age, place of birth]
6 – June 10, 1880, New Zealand [Date of marriage]
7 – Isabella Fraser formerly Elliot, 30 years. Richmond Victoria. [Mother’s name, maiden name, age, place of birth]
8 – Isabella Fraser, mother, 59 Courtney St, Hotham. [informant]

 

Nick Murphy
February 2019

 

Further Reading

  • Gillian Arrighi (2017) The Controversial “Case of the Opera Children in the East”: Political Conflict between Popular Demand for Child Actors and Modernizing Cultural Policy on the Child.
    “Theatre Journal” No 69, 2017. John Hopkins University Press.
  • Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards, a family and its child and adult opera companies in New Zealand and Australia, 1880-1910. Steele Roberts, New Zealand.
  • Kirsty Murray (2010) “India Dark.” Allen & Unwin Australia.
    See also https://insideadog.com.au/blog/incredible-india (India Dark is a fictional retelling of the disastrous Pollard tour of India in 1909 – but none of the Trott children performed in this)
  • Brent Walker (2013) “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of his Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel” McFarland & Co
  • Trav S.D (Donald Travis Stewart), (2006) No Applause – Just throw Money. The book that made Vaudeville Famous. Faber and Faber, New York
  • Kevin Brownlow (1968) The Parade’s Gone By… University of California Press.

Websites

National Library of Australia – Trove Newspaper Collection

Newspapers.com

Ancestry.com (lists some shipping manifests and citizenship applications)

Familysearch.com  (lists some shipping manifests and citizenship applications)

 

3 thoughts on “Snub Pollard of North Melbourne

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed the article. My take on the man – ‘Snub’ – will premiere at St Martins Theater from March 6th, with Dennis Coard as Snub. My research also suggested that his father had been a jockey.
    Also the IMDB has it that his second wife died in 1927. Whatever, writing on Snub’s relations with women offered challenges. In my play I have him doing his best to avoid opening up on the matter.
    The play employs Snub as emblematic of the difficulties of maintaining an acting career.
    Best.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s