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Snub Pollard (1889 – 1962) of North Melbourne

Above: 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.

The 5 second version
He was born Harold Hopetown Fraser in North Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 9 November 1889 and died in Los Angeles, California, USA, 19 January, 1962. Having travelled to South Africa with “Harry Hall’s Juveniles” in 1903, he joined other Australian child performers in Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in 1904 and went on two long tours of  the “far east” and North America in 1905-7 and 1907-9. From mid 1909 he worked in variety on stage in the US. He made the transition to film work in about 1915, his first generally accepted to be Essanay Studio’s A Coat Tale. Over the next decade he sometimes appeared with other Pollard’s alumni members, such as Alf Goulding and Jack Pollard (aka John Cherry). Following his busiest era of activity in the early 1920s, he performed occasionally in variety, and continued in often un-credited roles in film and on TV. The origin of his stage name “Snub” is unknown. 
Above: Snub’s photo – dedicated to an Australian nephew also called Harold, and whom he affectionately called “Snub” in return.  Courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.  

Also see Snub Pollard writes to his family, based on his letters home to his extended Australian family, here


“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 late 1910s and early 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. (Also see Note 3 below)

Above: “Snub Pollard” in 1922 or 1923, in his familiar Hollywood make-up, including characteristic “walrus” moustache. This persona was developed in Hollywood but may have some origins in his on-stage experiences. Source – unidentified film from an advertisement for Pathé Exchange films , January 6, 1923 Exhibitors Trade Review. Photo via Internet archive and wikipedia commons.

Harold’s father, George Gunn Fraser, was a horse-drawn (hansom) cab driver. Museum Victoria reminds us there were over 200 registered hansom 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.

Above: Snub Pollard’s birthplace – 59 Courtney Street, North Melbourne in 2019. The house (centre left) was almost certainly too small for the family. Author’s collection.

 

Above: 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.

Of his childhood and schooling we know little. In March 1903 Harold and May joined Harry Hall’s Juvenile Australian Company tour of South Africa, in company with other young Australian and New Zealand children like May Dahlberg and Nellie Finlay – a performance tour that appears to have lasted at least 8 months, cut short by Hall’s death in October. One South African memoir recalls Harold Fraser as a shy young man. “When spoken to, he (Harold) would hesitate for a few seconds before he answered, rather vaguely.”(Powell in M. Fraser, 1985) In mid 1904, now aged about fifteen, Harold and May joined Charles Pollard and Nellie Chester’s Lilliputian Opera Company, in time for another of their marathon performance tours – first testing out shows in Queensland, then to the “far east” (performance stops in Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai 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, although this appears to be another of Snub’s creative stories about his life and ignores his previous experience with Harry Hall in 1903.

Above left: Snub Pollard as a Melbourne choir boy, from an unidentified US paper c 1950.  Courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne

Above: 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.

Charles Pollard and his sister Nellie Chester had already managed several previous tours of the “Far East” and 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 over two years. (See a photo of the troupe in Manila here c1904-5) 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 another 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. After a quick return home, in March 1909, Harold – accompanied by former Pollard troupe members Fred Bindloss (aka Fred Pollard), John Cherry (aka Jack Pollard), Eva Moore and Emily Davis sailed on the SS Aorangi for the US. They seem to have performed together for a year or so, then drifted apart – although the evidence suggests they remained on good terms.

Above 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 is almost certainly Alf Goulding. Source; The Bakersfield Californian, November 1910. Via Newspapers.com. 
Above right: “Harry Pollard” performing with Dixie Blair in HMS Pinafore at Idora Park, Oakland, California, in August 1912. The annotation on the reverse states he was about to tour overseas.
Courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne

For the pre-war period, the professional life of Harold Fraser often remains unclear. However, we know that in August 1912 he joined a small company at Idora Park, which included Roscoe Arbuckle, Walter De Leon and others and with an intention to tour light opera to Honolulu, Japan, China, Manila and India – a sort of reverse order to the old Pollards Lilliputian Company tour. Apparently a speculative performance tour, they were all back in California by February 1913.(see The Honolulu Star-Bulletin 17 Feb 1913, P3 for the SS Persia’s passenger list) The tour’s success or otherwise remains unknown.

The accounts of his entry into Hollywood’s emerging film industry vary considerably. Known in his early years as “Harold Fraser,” then “Harry Pollard” (an unfortunate choice because actor-director Harry A. Pollard was already well established – see photo of him here), 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. Writer Matthew Ross estimates that Snub was turning out one film a week for Roach at one stage – an extraordinary workload.

Above : An ad for a Hal Roach Rolin Comedies with Snub Pollard. 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.

Kalton C Lahue and Sam Gill’s 1970 history of early cinema comedians Clown Princes and Court Jesters provides one of the best surveys of Snub Pollard’s work – “he had some of the necessary talent and the good luck to work under several directors whose understanding of comedy construction was well enough developed to showcase Pollard’s strengths and gloss over his weaknesses” (P286). Lahue and Gill date Snub’s parting from Hal Roach (perhaps Snub was annoyed that he was back to making one reel comedies) as occurring in early 1926, when he made the mistake of setting up his own company to make “Snub Pollard Comedies”. A mistake because neither his new directors, nor the Weiss Brothers who distributed his films, were able to do him justice. His company failed.(P295)

Above: Snub Pollard  with fellow Australians Joe and Vera White, and in the foreground, child actor Ernie Morrison or “Sunshine Sammy.” The photo appeared in Sydney’s Theatre Magazine, Jan 1, 1921, P25. Via State Library of Victoria.

An easily accessed survey of Snub’s cinema work is also given in Matthew Ross’s Lost Laugh Magazine in Snub Pollard, The Man behind the Moustache. Links to many of his existing films are provided in the article. The classic short It’s A Gift  (1923) can be viewed online (here) and Ross also provides some context as to how that film evolved. Ross suggests Snub Pollard’s act had become dated by the mid-20s and his films for Weiss were “a step down” in quality from his work with Hal Roach.

Snub still found an audience as a live vaudeville entertainer, however reviews seem to suggest his live acts were also a step down from past successes on the screen. One Australian paper reported on the mediocre nature of Snub’s US vaudeville act in 1930: “[He is] now doing sketch called, ‘Out of Gas’ According to reviews, Snub’s new act is just fair. Snub looks the part, but in vaudeville he hasn’t any directors to tell him what to do to be funny, and no gag man to think out the situations.” (Daily News, WA, 3 Jan 1930, P.10)

Above: Snub Pollard live on stage in Los Angeles. A postcard sent to Snub’s young nephew Harold in Australia, dated October 20, 1930. Courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.  

Snub’s film output had slowed by the time talkies arrived, but he was still able to find supporting character and extra parts, generally of increasing insignificance. A long run as a side-kick to Tex Ritter in Westerns of the late 1930s provided him with exposure and steady income, but one needs to realise these were B films, cheaply and quickly produced. However, he remained busy in film and later in TV almost until his death in 1962. There is more on Snub’s period as an extra here, based on his letters to family in Australia.

During this final phase of his career – Snub displayed the skills of an unusually effective self-promoter. However, its difficult to see his later film roles as professionally very rewarding. Even his cameo performance made no difference to the underwhelming 1934 Australian 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

Snub Pollard 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. Even his correspondence with his nephew, surviving in the collections of the Australian Performing Arts Collection in Melbourne, tells us less about the man than we might expect. 

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Above: 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.  Snub appears to be channelling Stan Laurel. Video in the author’s collection.

Yet unlike many Australian performers of the time, Snub Pollard 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, a joyful reunion. In 1924, Snub also paid for his mother to travel to California to see him.

Above left: Before Snub’s return to Australia in 1923, his parents moved into this house at 83 Palmerston Street, Carlton. Newspapers reported that Snub 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.
Above right: Harold Fraser aka “Snub” Pollard, at the time of his visit home to Melbourne. Author’s Collection.

Harold Fraser 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”?

Above: 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 Snub is the one syndicated in Australian papers in May 1951 under the headline – “Snub Pollard, Melbourne born silent day star looks back” Now consigned 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.”

Above: Screen grab showing Snub Pollard (right) as an extra in the background of “The Earl of Chicago” (1940), with fellow Melbourne actor Harry Allen in the foreground. Allen had a small speaking scene and fellow Australians Tempe Pigott, William H O’Brien, Billy Bevan and Frank Baker also appeared in the film. MGM and Warner Home movies re-released this film on DVD in 2011.

Above: Screen grab showing Snub Pollard’s very brief scene as a taxi driver in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) . Copy at the Internet Archive.

Snub’s close involvement with the new labour union, the Screen Extras Guild, is not well documented, but his correspondence with his Australian nephew shows he had a senior role and the organisation occupied much of his time in the 1940s. Also involved was another Australian and perennial Hollywood butler, William H. O’Brien. Long since absorbed by the Screen Actors Guild, it was set up to protect the rights of background actors. Snub served in a senior role in SEG for at least 15 years.

Above: Snub Pollard on holiday in the 1950s – a private photo sent to his nephew in Australia. Apparently a heavy smoker all his life, he died of cancer in early 1962. Courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne. 

Unfortunately, the stories about Snub became more inaccurate after his death in 1962. A brother of Daphne? An original Keystone Kop? No. But some newspapers reported so and these stories still appear in print today. See Note 1 below.

Snub’s mother died in Carlton in 1930, his father (a cabman to the end of his days) died ten years later. His 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.


NOTE 1
An original Keystone Cop?
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 Snub 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, Snub did act as a Keystone Cop. He also appeared as a policeman in several early comedies and as a Cop on some later personal tours. On his death, several of the real surviving Cops gently attempted to correct the record and pointed out that in the early days, Snub had worked for Hal Roach, not Mack Sennett. (see Los Angeles Times, 24 Jan 1962). But the story has persisted anyway.

NOTE 2
Origins of the stage name Snub?

While we know why he chose Pollard as a stage name, the significance of the stage names Snub and the later, lesser used “Peewee,” in some of the Tex Ritter Westerns, is unclear.

NOTE 3
Birth certificate, showing his 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.

Above: 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].  – Violet 8, George 5, Ralph 2, Georgina dead [Names and ages of other children]
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
2018, Updated December 2022


Thanks

Further Reading

Websites

National Library of Australia – Trove Newspaper Collection

Newspapers.com

Lantern Digital Media Project

Original documents sourced from

This site has been selected for preservation in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive

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