Adele Crane (1894 -1988), Jan Rubini & a career that went West

Above: Adele Crane photographed by William Frederick Hall, c1925. Collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum. [1]Although undated and not officially titled, the 2 photos in the ANNM collection match the known photos of Adele. The name Crane is also scratched into the image at the top *Went west is contemporary British and Australian slang for meeting with disaster.

The 5 second version
For about eight years Adele Crane enjoyed a highly successful career on stage in Australia. Born in Melbourne Australia in 1894, she studied music at the Melbourne Conservatorium before becoming a popular star on stage for JC Williamsons, the Australasian theatrical firm. At the height of this success, she married US based composer- conductor Jan Rubini in Melbourne in 1929, before heading to the US to pursue a career in film. Despite her good looks and beautiful voice, her achievements in the US during the next decade were very modest. Her efforts were overshadowed by Rubini’s regular court appearances in the 1930s, and finally their divorce in 1939. However, she lived in California for the rest of her life, and died at Palm Springs in 1988.
 Adele in Kid Boots in 1925. [2]Table Talk (Melb)16 Jul 1925 
 P30 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove


Born in Melbourne Australia in December 1894, Laura Adele Crane was the second child of Alfred Crane, the engraver at Gaunt & Co, a large Melbourne jeweller and instrument firm, and Florence nee Hawley.[3]Victoria, Birth Deaths & Marriages, Laura Adele Crane certificate 6305/1895 – birth 29 December 1894 Engraving a name or inscription on watches, bracelets and other gifts was very common practice at the end of the nineteenth century, and Alfred’s skills were apparently held in high regard. The family lived very comfortably in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, with music and mixing in good society high on the family’s priorities, even after Albert’s sudden and early death in 1920. Adele and her younger sister Joan attended St Michael’s Grammar in St Kilda, Melbourne,[4]Daily Standard (Bris) 18 Jan 1928, P2, citing a radio 3LO interview. and were regular attendees at local society events – mayoral and charity balls – in the 1910s.[5]Punch (Melb), 12 Jun 1913, Page 26

Adele’s musical ability was recognised at a young age. She was performing at Ballarat’s South Street music competition as a soloist in her teens, and by the age of 19 was attending the Conservatorium of Music in East Melbourne (also known as the Melba Conservatorium).[6]The Argus (Melb) 11 Dec, 1920, P28 via National Library of Australia’s Trove. In early 1921 Table Talk predicted – “She has all the qualities that make success -voice, a good stage appearance, brains, and an alert intelligence coupled with perseverance.”[7]Table Talk (Melb) 24 Feb 1921, P27 via National Library of Australia’s Trove The Ausstage database lists her earliest performances for the JC Williamson organisation as being in the comic operas Dorothy, The Chocolate Soldier and The Mikado, all in 1922. Following this she appeared in musical comedies for “the firm” for eight years, touring Australia and New Zealand. Years later, Adele named George Tallis – the Melbourne director of the firm – as a particular mentor. Tallis had first seen her singing in the Conservatorium’s opera Figaro in 1920.

Despite her wonderful voice, in 1922 she was yet to develop her stagecraft and was still regarded as “an immature soprano“.[8]The Australasian (Melb) 15 April 1922, P35 Australian theatre entrepreneur “Ted” E.J. Tait even dismissed her as “Not a world-beater, very ordinary” at about this time.[9]Admittedly this was in a private letter to George Tallis. Cited in Tait (1971) P114 However, by 1928 she could describe with some pride the transition she had undertaken – explaining that she put in an immense effort to develop herself:

“I had to start from the bottom, and it was hard work, but eventually I proved myself and was promoted. Even then I think I was fortunate. My experience is not the general rule, but I find the added advantage of my voice… carried me through. To win through on the stage a girl must have the necessary temperament, she must be prepared to work hard [and] she must look after her appearance…”[10]Daily Standard (Bris) 18 Jan 1928, P2, citing a radio 3LO interview.

Her skills were undoubtedly sharpened by nine months work between August 1922 and May 1923, when she was part of a JC Williamson’s Gilbert & Sullivan’s Opera Company tour of India and the “Far East.” This company performed a repertoire of popular musical comedies, always a welcome diversion for the home-sick expats of colonial outposts.[11]The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 1923, P10 The only place the tour was not a success was Japan, where locals showed little interest in the English musical comedy tradition.[12]The Advertiser (Adel) 12 Jan 1926, P10

Adele Crane in The Student Prince in early 1928. [13]Table Talk (Melb) 16 February 1928, P1, via State Library of Victoria

By 1925, Melbourne’s Herald reported that she was now “possessor of a soprano voice of extreme purity” and “her future in musical comedy roles was assured.”[14]The Herald (Melb) 17 Jan 1925, P17 A year later, Adelaide’s News reviewed her performance in the musical So and So’s, and reported “Adele Crane is deservedly popular… she is distinctively pleasing to look upon, wears her charming frock with grace and sings with ease and expression.”[15]The News (Adel) 4 Jan 1926, P2

Her surviving JC Williamson’s contracts also provide ample evidence of her rising popularity, with a very steady stream of employment with the firm. Her starting salary had been £9 per week in 1923. By the time the lavish Broadway production Kid Boots was being staged in Australia for the first time in early 1925, she was 30 years old and a leading player, on £12 a week. But at least one source suggests she was earning £30 a week by 1929.[16]Truth (Sydney) 15 August, 1937, P18

Above: Another photo of Adele Crane, c1925, by William Frederick Hall, Collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The Capitol advertising – including Jan and Adele, 1929. [17]Advocate (Melb)12 Dec 1929, P28

Sometime in early 1929, Swedish born, US based conductor-composer and Violinist Jan Rubini (1897-1988) arrived in Australia. He had been employed by Melbourne’s Capitol Theatre to lead their orchestra, for a fixed term. These were exciting times – the art deco theatre had been designed only a few years before by US architects Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin and Rubini was a star import, helping to remind Australians of the big new cinema’s exotic Hollywood connections. At some stage in mid 1929, Jan Rubini met Adele Crane, and their engagement was announced in September. Newspapers indicated the couple would make their home in the US, and although Adele was cautious in her comments about the future, it was at this time enthusiastic Australian headlines stated that she would soon “make talkies” in the US. [18]The Herald (Melb) 21 Sep 1929, P4

In November 1929, the couple married at the Wesley Methodist church in Lonsdale St, Melbourne.[19]Victoria, Birth Deaths & Marriages, Laura Adele Crane and Jan Child Rubini, Marriage Certificate 12683 / 1929, 27 November 1929 Such was their combined fame that Police were on hand to manage the very large curious crowd who assembled outside the church, eager for a glimpse of the couple.[20]The Herald (Melb) 21 Sep 1929, P4

In the beginning, it was clearly a romantic relationship. In 1930, Jan Rubini dedicated an original piece of music to Adele Crane.[21]Everyone’s (Aust), Vol 11, No 522, 19 Feb 1930

Jan and Adele also began to work together. In December 1929, the Capitol Theatre presented On With the Show (1929), Vitaphone’s breakthrough colour feature length film. The program also featured Jan and Adele performing together, live onstage, before the feature film. At about the same time they also performed together on Australian radio station 3LO. (An example of Adele singing while Jan Rubini conducted can be heard here.) Adele’s final appearance at the Capitol was in a (live) stage performance entitled Hello Paris, which accompanied the RKO (film) musical comedy Rio Rita (1930). Adele’s career prospects attracted great public interest – it seemed she was another young Australian about to succeed in the US, and the marriage to a well known US-based musician from Hollywood added to the glamour.

Adele and Jan on their wedding day, with sister Joan (left) and Jan’s best man (right).[22]Table Talk (Melb), 5 Dec 1929 P7

In early April Adele and Jan boarded the SS Ventura bound for the US. They arrived in San Francisco on April 24, 1930.

The very popular Jan Rubini back in the US. Adele Crane is introduced in very small type at the bottom. Click image to enlarge. [23]Variety, June 25, 1930, via Lantern Digital Media History

Rubini was well known in the US and his 12 months away in Australia had done nothing to dent his popularity. Unfortunately, that popularity did not translate into a flood of new opportunities for Adele Crane. Possibly an incident in 1931 when she broke a shoulder badly in a horse riding accident delayed stage work.[24]Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA) May 24, 1931, P1 In spite of the injury, she found a regular place singing for KMTR, the Los Angeles’ radio station, in that year. Newspaper programming shows this engagement continued until 1934. In 1932 she finally appeared on stage again – at San Francisco’s Geary Theatre – in the Viennese operetta Love Time. Variety complimented her performance but observed that “operetta won’t take in any big dough.[25]Variety, May 31, 1932, P52 via Lantern Digital Media Indeed it didn’t. It closed after a month. Previously, in Australia, she had also indicated that she wanted to appear in films. In late 1932 she did gain a very small role in the Fox film Cavalcade based on the Noël Coward play – a sentimental view of generational changes for an English family. Adele played Ada the music hall starlet, and appeared briefly alongside numerous Britons and a few Australians (as usual, the Australians mostly took on cockney roles) – including Billy Bevan, Tempe Pigott and Montague Shaw. Unfortunately, there were no other film offers.

Left: Jan and Adele demonstrate (with a knife) how they wish to cut alimony payments to his first wife in 1934.[26]The Los Angeles Times Nov 22, 1934 P20 and Right: Rubini’s daughter and first wife Diane Rubini argue for more support in 1937. [27]The Los Angeles Times Aug 14, 1937, P3

One of the reasons her star did not shine as brightly in the US as it once had in Australia must relate to Rubini’s temperament, and his tumultuous relationship and ongoing court battles with his first wife seems indicative of this. He had divorced his first wife Diana in 1928 and was estranged from their two children, but battles over the level of child support he was providing regularly popped up in newspapers – in November 1931,[28]The Los Angeles Times, 5 Nov 1931, P 21 August 1932,[29]The Los Angeles Times, Aug 3, 1932, P18 November 1934 [30]The Los Angeles Times, 22 Nov 1934, P20 March[31]The Los Angeles Times 4 Mar 1937, P32 and August 1937.[32]The Los Angeles Times, Aug 14, 1937, P3 In November 1938, arguments over child support even led to claims and counter-claims of assault.[33]The Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov 1938, P21

It got worse. In June 1937, after less than eight years of marriage, Jan filed for divorce from Adele. The grounds were silly, even for the era. He claimed Adele had kicked him, and had only married him “so she could come to America.” He added the slightly contradictory statement that “she loathed America and Americans, and spent all her time… in the company of Australian and English people.”[34]Oakland Post Enquirer, 22 June 1937, P2 and Long Beach Press Telegram 22 June 1937, P6

Adele responded with a counter-action and named actress Terry Walker as stealing her husband’s affections. Again, this matter dragged out in the courts and newspapers for six months – until suddenly a reconciliation was announced in March 1938. Adele said “The time we were apart opened our eyes to things we didn’t think about before.”[35]Portland Evening Express, 7 Mar 1938, P8 Quite possibly it was not a reconciliation, but a practical decision driven by a realisation that their financial affairs needed to be put in order first. Either way, following more court actions (brought by a aggrieved tenant in March 1938 and again by Diane Rubini in November 1938), in March 1939 Adele and Jan finally did divorce. [36]Jan was on his way to an Australia again at the time. He and Terry Walker married in 1940, but this third marriage also ended in an acrimonious divorce in 1955. See The Los Angeles Times, June 25, … Continue reading

An embarrassed Adele Crane hides her face under her hat, most likely at a court hearing after the charges of battery brought by Diane Rubini in Nov-Dec 1938. LA Times photo by Gordon Wallace, dated 12/13/38. Copyright holder – UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections (here)

Newspapers reported that a property settlement had already been reached out of court [37]Los Angeles Evening Citizen News 7 Mar 1939, P2 and as events would show, it left Adele well catered for financially, as she lived very comfortably in the US until her death.

Adele Crane made few appearances after 1934 and although it was claimed she did “radio work” during World War II, so far no records of this have been found. She returned to Australia for a visit in 1948, during which time she described Hollywood as “an incredible place.” She became a US citizen in 1940. By this time she had two homes, one in Beverley Hills and another at Malibu Beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where she enjoyed what she called “a quiet life.”[38]Guardian (WA) 4 June 1948, P4

It is easy to blame Jan Rubini’s tempestuous relationships and emotionally charged court appearances for Adele Crane’s lack of career in the US. This was almost certainly a factor. However Adele’s speciality as a soprano and in musical comedy, her lack of experience in cinema and her age [39]she was in her mid-30s when she arrived in the US – probably also conspired to limit offers of work. She was after all, another Australian hopeful living in Hollywood during its golden age, when there were endless queues of young people eager for work.

Adele Crane (at right) celebrating her divorce in March 1939. [40]The Los Angeles Times 8 Mar 1939, P2

Adele Crane died at Palm Springs, California, in April 1988. By that time she had lived in the US for 58 years.


Nick Murphy
October 2023


References

Collections

Text

  • Viola Tait (1971) A family of Brothers. The Taits and JC Williamsons, a Theatre History. Heinemann, Melbourne

Web

Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

Primary Sources

  • Australian Performing Arts Collection
  • National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Papers Past.
  • National Library of Australia, Trove
  • Newspapers.com
  • State Library of Victoria
  • State Library of New South Wales
  • Ancestry.com
  • Lantern Digital Media Library
  • State of Victoria, Births, Deaths & Marriages

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

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Although undated and not officially titled, the 2 photos in the ANNM collection match the known photos of Adele. The name Crane is also scratched into the image at the top
2 Table Talk (Melb)16 Jul 1925 
 P30 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
3 Victoria, Birth Deaths & Marriages, Laura Adele Crane certificate 6305/1895 – birth 29 December 1894
4, 10 Daily Standard (Bris) 18 Jan 1928, P2, citing a radio 3LO interview.
5 Punch (Melb), 12 Jun 1913, Page 26
6 The Argus (Melb) 11 Dec, 1920, P28 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
7 Table Talk (Melb) 24 Feb 1921, P27 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
8 The Australasian (Melb) 15 April 1922, P35
9 Admittedly this was in a private letter to George Tallis. Cited in Tait (1971) P114
11 The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 1923, P10
12 The Advertiser (Adel) 12 Jan 1926, P10
13 Table Talk (Melb) 16 February 1928, P1, via State Library of Victoria
14 The Herald (Melb) 17 Jan 1925, P17
15 The News (Adel) 4 Jan 1926, P2
16 Truth (Sydney) 15 August, 1937, P18
17 Advocate (Melb)12 Dec 1929, P28
18, 20 The Herald (Melb) 21 Sep 1929, P4
19 Victoria, Birth Deaths & Marriages, Laura Adele Crane and Jan Child Rubini, Marriage Certificate 12683 / 1929, 27 November 1929
21 Everyone’s (Aust), Vol 11, No 522, 19 Feb 1930
22 Table Talk (Melb), 5 Dec 1929 P7
23 Variety, June 25, 1930, via Lantern Digital Media History
24 Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA) May 24, 1931, P1
25 Variety, May 31, 1932, P52 via Lantern Digital Media
26 The Los Angeles Times Nov 22, 1934 P20
27 The Los Angeles Times Aug 14, 1937, P3
28 The Los Angeles Times, 5 Nov 1931, P 21
29 The Los Angeles Times, Aug 3, 1932, P18
30 The Los Angeles Times, 22 Nov 1934, P20
31 The Los Angeles Times 4 Mar 1937, P32
32 The Los Angeles Times, Aug 14, 1937, P3
33 The Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov 1938, P21
34 Oakland Post Enquirer, 22 June 1937, P2 and Long Beach Press Telegram 22 June 1937, P6
35 Portland Evening Express, 7 Mar 1938, P8
36 Jan was on his way to an Australia again at the time. He and Terry Walker married in 1940, but this third marriage also ended in an acrimonious divorce in 1955. See The Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1955, P21
37 Los Angeles Evening Citizen News 7 Mar 1939, P2
38 Guardian (WA) 4 June 1948, P4
39 she was in her mid-30s when she arrived in the US
40 The Los Angeles Times 8 Mar 1939, P2

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