Site icon Forgotten Australian Actors

“Toots” & Lorna – the remarkable Pounds sisters

A well known photo of Toots Pounds, c1918, possibly one of a series taken by English photographer Rita Martin. In Australia, the photo also accompanied a 1926 statement attributed to Toots that “Australian girls were more moral than English girls.”[1]The point of the statement was not explained. The Campbelltown News (NSW)19 Mar 1926, P8 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

The Five second version
Good looking, vivacious, funny and charismatic, “Toots”Pounds (really Doris,1896-1976) and Lorna Pounds (1889-1963) performed in partnership on the Australian, US and British stages for almost twenty years. Arriving in London in 1911 with experience as Australian child performers but no introductions or advance bookings, their ultimate success was a remarkable transition. For ten years their act was essentially the same – a fifteen minute turn of impressions based on popular performers of the day, their act part of much larger variety shows. In 1913 they travelled to the US to tour their act on the Orpheum theatre circuit. By the end of World War One they had become regular and popular performers in some of the London stage’s extravagant full scale revues. They returned to Australia with the revue Rockets in 1923. Lorna retired after marrying in 1926, however Toots continued to perform solo, developing a “fine operatic voice” well into the 1930s. It is claimed Toots appeared as an extra in a few British films.

Growing up in Australia

“Toots” Pounds was born Doris Sophie Mary Pounds in Melbourne, Australia, on 17 November 1896[2]Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages, Certificate 1553/1897 to Henry Jouxson Pounds, an English born waiter, and his wife Sophie nee Powles, a woman from Kyneton, Victoria. Toots was the third child of the family – her older sister and performance partner was Lorna Pounds, born Lorna Eva Muriel Pounds on 7 April, 1889.[3]Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages, Certificate 13085/1889

Toots (aged 27) and Lorna Pounds (aged 34) on their return to Australia in 1923. [4]The Theatre, 1 December 1924, P4, via the State Library of Victoria

Until the time of Toot’s birth, the family lived at 61 Roseberry Street [5]then called Garfield Street in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn. This was where Lorna and brother Harold (b 1890) were born. Their neighbours were respectable, aspirational urban Australians – greengrocers, law clerks, book keepers and tailors. But about the time of Toots’ birth, the family moved to larger houses in inner-city Carlton. We know little of the family’s financial circumstances, but the move to a larger house suggests a change in fortune, perhaps a better job.

Left – 61 Roseberry St, Hawthorn, the family home until 1896, and birthplace of Lorna. Right – Terrace houses opposite the now demolished 214 Elgin St Carlton, which was the family home in 1900. [6]Public Record Office Victoria, VPRS5708, City of Melbourne Rate Book, 1900 Toots’ birthplace at nearby 115 Rathdowne St has also been demolished.

Lorna attended the Rathdowne Street Primary School in Carlton,[7]now known as Carlton Gardens Primary School – see The Herald (Melb) 8 Feb 1901, P2, and The Age (Melb) 17 Aug 1935, P6, via National Library of Australia’s Trove. but by the early 1900s the family had moved on again, interstate to Sydney, relocating to a modest terrace house at 46 Bligh Street, Newtown, Sydney[8]now entirely demolished, this street ran behind the University of Sydney’s Bligh building where another son, Walter also called Noel, was born in 1904.[9]NSW BDM Certificate 14901/1904[10]In Sydney the girls reportedly attended schools in Darlinghust – see Newcastle Sun (NSW) 20 Nov 1923, P5 via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Sweet essays in child acting” & the origin of a name

In late 1904, 8 year old Doris Pounds appeared in Blind Man’s Buff or Her Own Way [11]The Argus (Melb),10 Dec, 1904, P24,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove a new play from US playwright Clyde Fitch, which featured Nellie Stewart. Here she played one of the four child characters, a character named Toots. “It was one of the most natural and sweetest essays in child acting seen on the Melbourne stage for many years” reported Melbourne’s The Argus.[12]The Argus (Melb) 12 Dec 1904, P6,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove And the pet name stuck, apparently.[13]Not everyone thought “Toots” was such a good stage name. The Newsletter (Sydney) thought she should “find a better name or die in the attempt” 6 April 1907, P3. Via the … Continue reading

Program for Blind Man’s Buff, 1904. [14]via State Library of Victoria

Both Toots and Lorna quickly developed reputations as attractive performers, with great stage presence, for such young child actors. In mid 1906 they went on tour together, for producers Clyde Meynell (c1867-1934) and John Gunn (c1869-1909), in the popular melodrama The Fatal Wedding, playing small Australian towns for several months.[15]National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW) 31 Jul 1906, P2,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove By 1907, they were developing their own act – which involved clever impersonations of contemporary actors. “That of Miss Tittell Brune… was so life-like that it was hard to believe that it was not Miss Brune actually speaking” reported Table Talk.[16]Table Talk (Melb) 20 June 1907, Page 22,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

As this writer has noted previously, this was an era when Australian child labour laws were permissive and juvenile performers were regularly in demand to provide popular theatre turns. Like Lorna and Toots, many inner Melbourne children were part of extended acting families – for example, Toots’ 10 year old companion on stage in 1904 had been Ella Nugent (born 1894 and an older sister of future singer Reita Nugent), who in 1909 joined the disastrous Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company tour of India. Queenie Williams (born 1896) was another contemporary, a popular child actor who also appeared in local performances of The Fatal Wedding and then left Australia to accompany the final Pollard tour of the US in 1912. A difference with Toots and Lorna was that they made the transition to being successful adult performers, when so many child performers did not.

Child actors. While photos of Toots and Lorna as children have not been found, these samples give a taste of the extraordinary popularity of child actors in Australia in the early twentieth century. From the pages of The Theatre Magazine, L-R, Baby Watson (1906), Baby Sutton (1906), Little Gertie Cremer (1908) and Little Eileen Cappel (1907). [17]The Theatre Magazine (Sydney) via State Library of Victoria

Trying their luck in London

Mrs Sophie Pounds did not send her daughters overseas to perform with a Pollards troupe, as some inner Melbourne parents did. Rather, she kept Lorna and Toots close at hand, becoming the girls dresser and manager. Interviewed several years later in the US, Lorna described her mother as “a regular old trouper… it makes us work harder when we know she is standing there in (the wings) watching us and listening to the applause…[18]The Des Moines Register (Iowa) 9 Feb 1914, P7, via Newspapers.com

In April 1911, the family decided it was time to “try their luck” on the London stage. Sophie had scraped together enough to pay for third class passages to England on the SS Suevic for herself, Lorna, Toots and her 5 year son Noel. Henry Pounds probably also contributed to the enterprise, although in 1908, he had moved to New Zealand to take up work as Head Waiter at the Grand Hotel in Wellington, later moving to the Clarendon Hotel in Christchurch. The oldest son of the family, 21 year old Harold, stayed in Melbourne Australia, working as a salesman.

Lorna and Toots in early 1918, by now well established in London, appearing in a Dick Whittington panto. [19]The Sketch, 30 January 1918, P2. Photos Copyright Illustrated London News Group via British Newspaper Archive

Their act – only 15 minutes long – eventually brought them attention in London, but it took seven months of hard work to be noticed. By December 1911, it was reported that they were making £25 a week.[20]Newcastle Herald and Miners Advocate (NSW) 8 Dec 1911, P7. In contrast, by 1925 it was £350 a week, or about $AU 27,000 in 2020 money. Truth (Syd) 4 Oct, 1925, P6. Via National Library of … Continue reading

Lorna and Toots’ 15 minute turn was part of the London Palace theatre lineup in May 1912. [21]Daily Telegraph, 10 May 1912, P12, via Newspapers.com

Amongst the first to document their struggle was William Buchanan-Taylor, a journalist for Sporting Life. Under the heading “Two Clever Girls,” he wrote “Toots and Lorna Pounds are the names of the young Australian girls… It may be recalled that I told of two girls who, having come to England seven months ago, were offered six weeks’ engagement if they were willing to work for nothing. Thanks to Mr Alfred Butt and Mr Jack Hayman, his booking manager, they have been given an opportunity to show what they could do … and… they are being paid for it. They appeared at the Victoria Palace last Monday, and were an immediate and undoubted success… [22]Sporting Life, 1 March 1912, P7 via British Newspaper Archive Years later, Mrs Sophie Pounds also told Australian newspapers a similar story of her daughter’s struggle to establish themselves in London. She regretfully explained “we had come to London with plenty of ambition, but no dates (booked).”[23]The Herald (Melb) 21 Apr 1923, P14, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Their act seems to have been a mix of light humour and clever parody, based on close observations they had made of the actual performers. Buchanan-Taylor wrote “Their work consists of mimicry of a high order. Perhaps their most successful item was a scrap… from Kismet, in which the older girl played Oscar Asche’s part, and the younger figured as Lily Brayton. Their reproduction of scene from Sweet Nell of Old Drury in which they played King Charles and Nell respectively, was capitally done. A dramatic fragment, called At the Telephone, is also included in their repertoire… “[24]Sporting Life, 1 March 1912, P7 via British Newspaper Archive

The real Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton in Kismet, 1912.[25]Australian Play Pictorial No3, 1912. Via State Library of Victoria

Toots and Lorna’s act toured throughout the UK as part of a variety lineup, but in August 1913, having signed up with the Orpheum circuit in the US, they departed for New York. Mrs Pounds also went, together with young Noel. Reviewers noted the challenge the girls had in making sure their impressions were topical and updated for US audiences – who needed to see the original performer to appreciate the act. Co-stars in US variety included Australian artist-comedian Bert Levy and cowboy star Will Rogers. Eight months later they were back performing in Britain. Amongst their partners in British variety were George Robey and up and coming singer-dancer Laddie Cliff.

Toots and Lorna listed in a Christmas 1916 entertainment for Australian soldiers on leave in London. Tragically, at about the time of this concert was on, their brother Harold was killed in action in France.[26]“On the wallaby but still smiling” is slang, meaning – on the move and looking for work. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In September 1916, Harry Pounds travelled to England to rejoin his family.[27]The long separation appears not to have affected his relationship with the family. He joined them at 7 Duchess Street, W1. The London address also indicates how much the family fortunes had changed It is unlikely he or any of the Pounds family met oldest son Harold again – he had joined the Australian Army (AIF) in late 1915, arrived in France in March 1916, and was killed in action at Villers-Bretonneux on Christmas Day 1916, and had no known grave – an awful fate shared by so many. Lorna felt his death particularly keenly. [28]A very modest package of his effects finally reached his father in May 1918. See correspondence in the National Archives of Australia for Harold John Pounds

Those spectacular London revues

Lorna and Toots with Lewis Sydney in The Bing Girls are There, 1917.[29]Photo copyright the Illustrated London News Group. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, April 21, 1917, P212, via the British Newspaper Archive

Toots and Lorna’s transition from variety turn to more substantial roles in spectacular revues was a reflection of their success but also a reminder of the other changes at play – particularly with the challenge of cinema as a competing source of entertainment by the mid 1910s. The revues had a kind of loose narrative to them, but over the course of a season the program and actor lineup could easily be refined and changed. The shows were characterised by lots of dancing and singing of catchy tunes, big chorus numbers, and impressive costumes and sets. Not their first big revue, but certainly amongst their most memorable, was The Bing Girls are There at the Alhambra Theatre in 1917, a show that followed the great success of The Bing Boys are Here the year before.

Toots Pounds with chorus in a typical revue scene – from Sky High in 1925.[30]Photo copyright the Illustrated London News Group. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, April 18, 1925, P141, via the British Newspaper Archive

The great success of this led to another production in the series that ran for most of 1918 – The Bing Boys on Broadway, again at the Alhambra, and with many of the same actors – Violet Loraine, George Robey as well as Toots and Lorna. As music historian Colin Larkin has noted, these productions (and others such as Chu Chin Chow and The Better ‘Ole) served an invaluable entertainment purpose through the dark years of the war.[31]Colin Larkin (2016 – online)(4th Edition) The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Oxford University Press – Entry: The Bing Boys are Here

Apparently Toots and Lorna began their day with “a dip in the river”. Part of a large feature on their outdoor Australian influenced English life in The Sketch in 1918.[32]The Sketch, 14 July 1918, P118. Copyright held by the Illustrated London News Group via the British Newspaper Archive

Over the next eight years, Toots and Lorna appeared in a string of spectacular productions. The long runs of these – usually at the Palladium Theatre – confirm they had become popular favourites on the London stage. The musical comedy Pretty Peggy ran for 168 performances in early 1920. But it was Rockets that was such a standout success in 1922, running for almost 500 performances. Indeed it was such a success that Australian producer Hugh Ward signed them to perform in an Australian version. The entire family had arrived in Australia by June 1923 and Rockets was performed throughout Australia through to December.

Toots and Lorna arrive for the Australian season of Rockets, with London stars Wee Georgie Harris and Charles Austin.[33]The Theatre Magazine, 1 August 1923, P27, via State Library of Victoria

Watching Palladium Pleasures several years later, reviewer James Agate felt that Toots and Lorna were the act everyone had come to see – in fact he wrote that they were “the mainstay of these popular reviews.”[34]James Agate (1926) The Contemporary Theatre, 1923-1926. London: L. Parsons, via the Hathitrust Digital Library In the same show, during performances of the song Valencia, Lorna and Toots sometimes threw bunches of violets to their adoring audiences.[35]Walter Macqueen-Pope (1975) The Footlights Flickered. P56, Severn House

Left: Lorna and Toots at the height of their fame, on the cover of the program for Rockets in 1922. Right: on the cover of sheet music for Valencia, c1925- released in advance of Palladium Pleasures. Author’s collection.

After appearing in another revue, Sky High, in 1925, in company with Melbourne born baritone Robert Chisholm (1894-1960), both Toots and Lorna took a break from performing. Toots departed for the United States again, taking a role in the operetta The Student Prince for a few months – in Salt Lake City and San Francisco. At about the same time, Lorna returned to Australia for a three month “rest”, although it seems her interest in lengthy sea travel may have had more to do with the Second Officer on P&O’s SS Naldera, Hugh Slinn. In April 1926, a few months after her return to England, Lorna and Hugh married. Toots had returned and was bridesmaid.[36]On the marriage certificate, Lorna used the name Eva Muriel Pounds, while her mother used a new name ~ Evelyn Pounds The girls’ final performances together were in 1927, when presumably, their contracts ran out.

Toots Alone

Toots, without Lorna, on the way to the US in July 1925. The exact date is scratched in reverse on the top left hand side.[37]Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Bain News Service photo of Toots Pounds

It is hard not to gain the impression that once Lorna had left the partnership and retired, Toots struggled to find her place. In March 1927 and April 1928, The Sketch and The Tatler reported the sisters holidaying in Cannes, apparently a favourite retreat for the family.[38]Sunny Bank, the english-speaking hospital in Cannes, was also where father Henry Pounds died in April 1929 In June 1929, London’s The Stage reported Toots was now studying operatic singing. However, in early 1930 she returned to the US for a third time, possibly with an eye to working in Hollywood.[39]The Herald (Melb) 2 Aug 1930, P22, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Whatever her plan really was, by November 1930 she was back in London again, visiting the Palladium Theatre[40]The Stage, 27 Nov 1930, P6, Via British Newspaper Archive and a few months later she was on stage in variety again, the London Evening Standard noting that she had developed “a first rate operatic voice.”[41]Evening Standard, 31 Mar 1931, P9, Via British Newspaper Archive

Toots back at the Palladium, in March 1931. [42]Sunday Pictorial, 22 March 1931, P10, via Newspapers.com

In 1931, Toots also spent some time studying voice in Germany with Alma Schadow, a celebrated Hamburg voice teacher, the experience being “just like… back at school” she recalled.[43]The Liverpool Echo, 27 February 1934, P8 via British Newspaper Archive

Alma Schadow advertising in London’s Daily Telegraph in 1933. [44]The Daily Telegraph, 4 Nov 1933, P1, via Newspapers.com

Toots first appeared on radio in September 1933, with Robert Chisholm, in a radio version of the film Waltz Time. Although Chisholm was of a similar age to Toots and Lorna, and they had both spent some of their childhood in Carlton, there is no evidence they knew each other then.[45]For a survey of Chisholm’s life, see Frank Van Stratten (2016): Theatre Heritage Australia – Robert Chisholm

Yet, Toots and Robert Chisholm did spend some time in each others company in the US in 1930, as at least one film fan magazine reported them in Hollywood at the same time.[46]Screenland, November 1930, P90, via Lantern, Media History Digital Library

Toots and Robert Chisholm featured together in the Radio Times in 1933. [47]Radio Times, 1 Sept 1933, P510, via BBC Genome

Toots continued to alternate variety with radio work and in early 1935, she briefly re-launched herself as a singer with a new stage name – Maria Linda. However, she did not use this name for very long. She continued to appear until the 1940s, including in concerts for the services, but she was generally thought of as an actress of the Great War era, although she was still only aged in her early 40s. She appears to have been active as late as 1953, when The Stage reported her understudying Cicely Courtneige (1893-1980) in the revue Over The Moon.[48]The Stage, 26 Nov 1952, P9, via British Newspaper Archive

Over the years, gossip columns associated Toots romantically with several men – including First World War hero Lieutenant Duncan Grinnell-Milne (1896-1973), a pilot and POW escapee from German captivity, and later Director Norman Lee (1898-1964). In June 1945 she married William “Bucky” Buchanan-Taylor – the journalist who had first reported the girls’ act thirty years before. She nursed Bucky through a long illness before his death in March 1958.

Lorna died in 1963.[49]The Stage, 4 July 1963, P4, via British Newspaper Archive Toots’ death in January 1976 was recorded in an obituary in The Stage.[50]The Stage, 22 Jan 1976, P6 via British Newspaper Archive Youngest brother Noel Pounds also appears to have tried his luck as an actor, although his success is currently unknown.

Note 1: Toots’ birth

Born late in 1896, Toots’ birth wasn’t registered until 5 January 1897, hence it has a 1897 code. This has mislead some to think she was born that year. However, this anomaly with reporting is not uncommon with some late-in-the-year Australian births. The family address on her birth certificate was given as 115 Rathdown(e) st Carlton, but this features regularly as a rental property in newspapers of the time, and rate books and city directories do not show the family living there. The only Harry Pounds in Carlton at the time was living nearby at 214 Elgin Street in 1900.[51]Sands and McDougall’s directory, 1900, P1193, via State Library of Victoria The family’s oldest son, Harold John Pounds, lived in North Carlton until 1914.

Note 2: Toots on the screen

There are several internet claims that Toots Pounds appeared as an extra in British films in the 1940s and 50s. This writer has not be able to verify these, and the few photos of Toots circulating appear to show a much older woman.


References


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

Footnotes[+]

Footnotes
1 The point of the statement was not explained. The Campbelltown News (NSW)19 Mar 1926, P8 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
2 Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages, Certificate 1553/1897
3 Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages, Certificate 13085/1889
4 The Theatre, 1 December 1924, P4, via the State Library of Victoria
5 then called Garfield Street
6 Public Record Office Victoria, VPRS5708, City of Melbourne Rate Book, 1900
7 now known as Carlton Gardens Primary School – see The Herald (Melb) 8 Feb 1901, P2, and The Age (Melb) 17 Aug 1935, P6, via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
8 now entirely demolished, this street ran behind the University of Sydney’s Bligh building
9 NSW BDM Certificate 14901/1904
10 In Sydney the girls reportedly attended schools in Darlinghust – see Newcastle Sun (NSW) 20 Nov 1923, P5 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
11 The Argus (Melb),10 Dec, 1904, P24,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
12 The Argus (Melb) 12 Dec 1904, P6,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
13 Not everyone thought “Toots” was such a good stage name. The Newsletter (Sydney) thought she should “find a better name or die in the attempt” 6 April 1907, P3. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove
14 via State Library of Victoria
15 National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW) 31 Jul 1906, P2,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
16 Table Talk (Melb) 20 June 1907, Page 22,Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
17 The Theatre Magazine (Sydney) via State Library of Victoria
18 The Des Moines Register (Iowa) 9 Feb 1914, P7, via Newspapers.com
19 The Sketch, 30 January 1918, P2. Photos Copyright Illustrated London News Group via British Newspaper Archive
20 Newcastle Herald and Miners Advocate (NSW) 8 Dec 1911, P7. In contrast, by 1925 it was £350 a week, or about $AU 27,000 in 2020 money. Truth (Syd) 4 Oct, 1925, P6. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
21 Daily Telegraph, 10 May 1912, P12, via Newspapers.com
22, 24 Sporting Life, 1 March 1912, P7 via British Newspaper Archive
23 The Herald (Melb) 21 Apr 1923, P14, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
25 Australian Play Pictorial No3, 1912. Via State Library of Victoria
26 “On the wallaby but still smiling” is slang, meaning – on the move and looking for work. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
27 The long separation appears not to have affected his relationship with the family. He joined them at 7 Duchess Street, W1. The London address also indicates how much the family fortunes had changed
28 A very modest package of his effects finally reached his father in May 1918. See correspondence in the National Archives of Australia for Harold John Pounds
29 Photo copyright the Illustrated London News Group. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, April 21, 1917, P212, via the British Newspaper Archive
30 Photo copyright the Illustrated London News Group. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, April 18, 1925, P141, via the British Newspaper Archive
31 Colin Larkin (2016 – online)(4th Edition) The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Oxford University Press – Entry: The Bing Boys are Here
32 The Sketch, 14 July 1918, P118. Copyright held by the Illustrated London News Group via the British Newspaper Archive
33 The Theatre Magazine, 1 August 1923, P27, via State Library of Victoria
34 James Agate (1926) The Contemporary Theatre, 1923-1926. London: L. Parsons, via the Hathitrust Digital Library
35 Walter Macqueen-Pope (1975) The Footlights Flickered. P56, Severn House
36 On the marriage certificate, Lorna used the name Eva Muriel Pounds, while her mother used a new name ~ Evelyn Pounds
37 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Bain News Service photo of Toots Pounds
38 Sunny Bank, the english-speaking hospital in Cannes, was also where father Henry Pounds died in April 1929
39 The Herald (Melb) 2 Aug 1930, P22, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
40 The Stage, 27 Nov 1930, P6, Via British Newspaper Archive
41 Evening Standard, 31 Mar 1931, P9, Via British Newspaper Archive
42 Sunday Pictorial, 22 March 1931, P10, via Newspapers.com
43 The Liverpool Echo, 27 February 1934, P8 via British Newspaper Archive
44 The Daily Telegraph, 4 Nov 1933, P1, via Newspapers.com
45 For a survey of Chisholm’s life, see Frank Van Stratten (2016): Theatre Heritage Australia – Robert Chisholm
46 Screenland, November 1930, P90, via Lantern, Media History Digital Library
47 Radio Times, 1 Sept 1933, P510, via BBC Genome
48 The Stage, 26 Nov 1952, P9, via British Newspaper Archive
49 The Stage, 4 July 1963, P4, via British Newspaper Archive
50 The Stage, 22 Jan 1976, P6 via British Newspaper Archive
51 Sands and McDougall’s directory, 1900, P1193, via State Library of Victoria
Exit mobile version