Lloyd Lamble (1914-2008)-“The strutting & the fretting”*

Above and below: Lloyd Lamble in the first of many authority roles – shown here as the RAF Meteorological Officer in the British Lion film Appointment in London, or Raiders in the Sky 1953. Courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne.

The 5 second version
Lloyd Lamble (born Melbourne, Australia in 1914) is not a forgotten Australian actor. There are a number of biographies on line and in print, and several fulsome obituaries appeared when he died. Yet most make little mention of his 18 year career on the Australian stage and in radio before he moved to the UK in 1951, and there are also confusing claims about key events in his life. His British career saw him become what Brian McFarlane describes as a “sturdy, reliable character player.”[1]Brian McFarlane (2003) The Encyclopedia of British Film, P376, BFI/Methuen His first film was a 1943 propaganda short. While the IMDB lists over 160 TV and film appearances – usually as an authority figure in a supporting role – it transpires that by the end of his life he was deeply dissatisfied with his career. He married three times and died at his home in Cornwall in 2008.

* The first draft of his unpublished autobiography was entitled The Strutting and the fretting – which is a quotation adapted from Macbeth: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more.” 

Lamble in Melbourne

Lloyd Nelson Lamble was born in Melbourne, Australia on February 8, 1914, the youngest of four boys born to William Henry Lamble, a musician and secretary of the Musicians Union of Australia and Frances nee Potter. A promising soloist in his church choir, Lloyd won a scholarship to nearby Wesley College in Prahran, and on leaving school he found work as a “Junior Announcer” at Melbourne radio station 3DB, followed by a longer stint at 3KZ and then at 3AW, broken up by some work as a Dance Band singer.[2]He would later claim that he suffered periods of unemployment at this time which may well have heightened his political senses – see also The Daily News (Syd) 12 Feb 1940, P2 Via Trove Bob Walker, 3KZ’s biographer, described the young Lloyd Lamble as “tall, good looking, with blond hair and rich of voice.”[3]RR Walker(1984) Dial 1179, The 3KZ Story. P.22 Lloyd O’Neil While at 3AW he moved into radio acting with the Lee Murray Radio Players, and not surprisingly, then found his way to the stage.[4]Richard Lane (1994) The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama. P185-6, Melbourne University Press[5]Newspapers had noted his success on the amateur stage as early as 1933 – see The Argus (Melb) 13 May 1933 via Trove

His accent was described by one radio listener as “jammy,”[6]Walker P23 – which is archaic Australian slang for “posh”, a comment audiences regularly made of radio announcers of the era. Surviving examples of his accent illustrate a very well spoken, or “refined” Australian accent. An episode of popular Australian comedian Mo’s (Roy Rene) short nightly program from late 1936 – with straight roles played by Lloyd (as Willie) and Sadie Gale (as Mrs Mo) – can be heard here at the Australian Old Time Radio website.

Tall, good looking, with blond hair and rich of voice“. Photo by Athol Shmith of Lamble c1935 [7]Note: Damage on the print emulsion has been covered up Courtesy the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Lamble commented on Australian accents in his autobiography and his own “oxford accent.” This is interesting given he said some of his family and fellow students at school had broad accents.[8]Lloyd Lamble (c1990) The Strutting & the Fretting, unpublished autobiography, P60. Private collection. Other titles considered apparently include Hi Diddle Dee Dee: An Actor’s Life For Me and … Continue reading However, it is likely his accent developed with the aid of elocution or “speech” lessons at Wesley. In 1937 Lamble started his own acting and radio school, which included elocution lessons for aspiring radio artists.[9]Lamble, p93 Also see Note 1 below.

Lamble’s radio school advertising in Melbourne’s Argus in November 1938.[10]The Argus (Melb) 19 Nov 1938, P25. Via Trove

Breakthrough role

As Richard Lane has noted, 22 year old Lloyd Lamble’s breakthrough role on stage was in Emlyn Williams’ “exciting throat-gripping thriller”Night Must Fall, directed by Gregan McMahon.[11]The Argus (Melb) 17 Feb 1936 P5 Via Trove His leading role as “Baby-face Dan” was a triumph, the Age newspaper reporting that “Lamble exhibited once more a talent which should be nurtured with great care. His scene with Elaine Hamill (Olivia Grayne) in the second act was wholly brilliant…”[12]The Age (Melb) 17 Feb 1936, P12, Via Trove The play toured cities of east coast Australia and in New Zealand, to great acclaim. “It would be a difficult matter to find an actor, even in London or New York, who could handle this remarkable character as masterly as Lloyd Lamble” reported Dunedin’s Evening Star in August 1936.[13]A nice compliment from the paper, but Emlyn Williams was performing the role himself at the time on Broadway, to similar acclaim. Evening Star,(NZ) 3 Aug 1936, P6. Via National Library of New … Continue reading Before the tour of New Zealand, Lloyd became engaged to an old friend, Marjorie Barrett, a secretarial clerk from South Yarra. The couple married in Melbourne on March 18th 1937, Lloyd reputedly being required back on stage that same night.[14]Victoria BDM, marriage certificate 998/1937 18 March 1937

Another photo of Lamble in the mid 1930s, by Athol Shmith. Courtesy the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

By 1940 Lloyd Lamble was widely recognised as one of the county’s leading radio actors.[15]See for example, the breathy interview with him in Wireless Weekly, 7 Sept 1940, P9.”…Worships at the shrine of a radio actor” Via Trove From 1939 he took roles in a string of productions at Sydney’s new Minerva Theatre, for entrepreneur David N Martin.[16]The Wireless Weekly, Sept 14, 1940, Vol. 35 No. 37, P5 Via Trove Fellow performers included a long list of others who were making their name, or had already done so – the likes of John Wood, Ron Randell, Fifi Banvard, Claude Flemming, Trilby Clark, Marjorie Gordon and Muriel Steinbeck. A reviewer for The Bulletin in May 1940 wrote “Lamble is acting so well these days…that it is becoming worthwhile to go to any Minerva production just to watch his development.”[17]The Bulletin May 8, 1940, P31 Via Trove, also cited in Richard Lane (1994) P186

Left: Lamble as Denys in Quiet Wedding, Jan 1940. Right: Lamble as Lennie in Of Mice and Men, with Ron Randell, April 1940. Courtesy the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Marriages, children & communism

Several important developments occurred in the first years of the Second World War. Despite his success, Lamble’s political views had become more pronounced with his own experience of the theatre and radio scene, and in particular, he saw first hand the challenge of actors being exploited and living on a pittance.[18]See for example The West Australian, 18 Jul 1941, P3 and The West Australian, 22 Apr 1942, P3, Via Trove In his memoirs, Lamble indicates he had also faced periods of unemployment – “I’ve lived on the smell of an oil rag” he told a Sydney paper in 1940.[19]Daily News, 12 Feb 1940, P2, Via Trove Increasingly active in his union and determined to protect the rights of performers in the small industrial world of the Australian theatre, in 1942 he was elected President of Actor’s Equity, a position he held for much of the 1940s.

Another change related to his personal circumstances. On his return to Sydney he met actress Barbara Smith (a younger sister of actress Nancy O’Neil). Barbara Smith had studied at London’s RADA before returning to Australia in 1935 and was forging her own career on stage and radio at the time.[20]The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 May 1937, P54, Via Trove The couple’s affair began while they were performing together in Dinner at Eight at the Minerva Theatre in 1939. In his autobiography, Lamble describes the resulting confrontation with Marjorie, who on hearing of the affair, had rushed up from Melbourne. “Poor darling! She was shattered and it was an awful, traumatic time.[21]Lamble p101 Their divorce was finally granted in May 1943. [22]Herald (Melb) 27 May 1943, page 3 via Trove

Lloyd Lamble and Barbara Smith in 1941. Private Collection.

In his autobiography, Lamble described the war years in Sydney as an exciting time and a glance at the holdings of the NFSA (here) and the Ausstage database (which is incomplete) shows he continued to be busy on stage and in radio.[23]The most complete list of his work is in Richard Lane P278-9 He appeared in several popular radio serials – Big Sister, Crossroads of Life and in numerous roles for the Lux and Macquarie Radio Theatres.[24]Richard Lane, P185-7 and Lamble: P141 A 1946 episode of the popular radio series The Shadow featuring Lloyd, can be heard (here) at the NFSA website. It also featured Peter Finch.

A grainy but significant photo – showing Lamble involved in war work. Standing centre left, he is about to address workers to encourage subscriptions in a New Zealand War loan, in August 1944. [25]The Press newspaper, 25 August, 1944. Via Papers Past

The official war work often attributed to Lamble comprised propaganda pieces for radio as well as newsreel narration. Fox Movietone (Australia) newsreels regularly made use of his voice – the NFSA database (click here) lists a number of episodes he voiced.[26]See also the entry for Movietone newsreel, “sinking of the hospital ship Centaur” at the Australian War Memorial Several accounts of Lamble’s fundraising for war loans also exist.[27]Tribune (Syd) 31 Aug 1944, P3 via Trove And he appeared in at least one Department of Information short propaganda film – The Grumblens in 1943, with Muriel Steinbeck – his first film.[28]Smith’s Weekly (Syd), 7 Aug 1943, P19 via Trove

In 1942, Lamble fathered a child by Barbara in 1942, although – most unusually for the time – the couple had yet to formalise their relationship through marriage. However in a further complication to his life, while on a 1944 performance tour of New Zealand (without Barbara) he met Lesley Jackson, a 29 year old actress from Wellington, and again, began an intense affair.[29]In Lamble’s autobiography he also uses the spelling Leslie He returned to Australia in late 1944, Barbara then being pregnant in Sydney with their second child.

Screengrab from Lamble’s first film The Grumblens (1943) Click on the image to watch this propaganda short at the Australian War Memorial site.

Lamble’s first feature film was the ill-fated Strong is the Seed (1947-9). Unfortunately, the film was about wheat farming. It was only briefly released.[30]The Australian Women’s Weekly. 8 May 1948. P26. Via Trove. See also Pike and Cooper(1980) P272

Of his children, Lamble has nothing to say in his autobiography, but the end of the relationship with Barbara was another traumatic experience, he records, and it divided his friends and acquaintances,[31]Lamble p171 and in time, deeply embarrassed his own family. Reading his memoirs now, it is actually extremely difficult to follow the 1940s period of his life sequentially, and this writer assumes it is because Lamble found the events of the decade difficult to acknowledge, even fifty years later. An important coda is that the Smith family insisted Lloyd “do the right thing” by Barbara and their two children, and marry her. The couple married in Sydney on September 20, 1945, but Lloyd left Barbara immediately after the wedding. A divorce was finalised in March 1949.[32]The Daily Telegraph (Syd) 12 Sep 1948, P16 via Trove

Notes from Lamble’s ASIO file indicate that in 1948 he was living with Lesley Jackson in an apartment in Pott’s Point, about 2 kilometres from Barbara and their two children, whom he never saw. Lloyd Lamble finally married Lesley Jackson in April 1949. Barbara and her family clearly thought he would provide ongoing financial support, but this remained a cause of constant tension and ill feeling.[33]Barbara Lamble gave up the stage, and became a secretary to support her two children

Above: Lesley Jackson about the time she became Lamble’s third wife in 1949 [34]Cover of ABC Weekly, December 17, 1949 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Leaving Australia

While the 1940s appears to have been a busy time professionally for Lamble – he had acted and directed in almost every radio and theatrical style, it is clear that by 1950, there was suddenly less work. This was largely related to accusations of his being a communist (although some colleagues also did not approve of his abandoning his family either) formalised by the 1950 Victorian Royal Commission into Communism, when he was publicly identified as a communist.

1950 Victorian Royal Commission into Communism, P83.[35]Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

As Stephen Alomes writes, in the new cold war era, accusations of communist sympathies became the means and the justification for theatre managements to marginalise politically active figures like Lamble. He was effectively, blacklisted as a result.[36]Stephen Alomes (1999) When London Calls. The expatriation of Australian creative artists to Britain.P36. Cambridge University See Note 2 below.

Above: Lloyd Lamble and visiting British actor Robert Morley in Edward, My Son in 1949. Courtesy the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

While only months before he had been on stage with visiting British actor Robert Morley (1908-1992), Lamble recalled that in 1950 he had to resort to door to door sales to make ends meet. [37]Lamble p219-221

Not surprisingly therefore, in late 1950, Lloyd and Lesley decided to leave Australia. Despite the claim that he left Australia on a false passport, the couple departed Adelaide in early January 1951 under their own names, on the Norwegian Cargo-Passenger ship, MS Torrens. There was however, a degree of secrecy – Lloyd had hoped to slip out of the country because he did not wish to be caught up in another dispute with Barbara about support payments.

A snapshot of his British career

Lloyd Lamble’s unpublished autobiography could reasonably be expected to deal in detail with his successful 35 year career in Britain after 1951. Unfortunately, it does not. Late in life he became convinced he was “a failed actor”[38]Lamble p361 and elsewhere. The book is also dedicated “To all those thousands of actors who never quite made it” Lamble p2 and much of what he wrote for posterity is framed in this way. Of his many British TV roles, he had almost nothing to say. Perhaps the issue was that having enjoyed such success in the small theatrical world of Australia and New Zealand, he suddenly found himself consigned to being a character actor in the very large theatrical world of post-war Britain. There seems little doubt that he compared himself to his Australian contemporaries like Peter Finch, and felt he had been less successful.

Lamble was lucky when he arrived. Although he and Lesley had little money, within a few weeks Al Parker (1885-1974), then the leading London agent,[39]and husband of Australian Margaret Johnston (1914-2002) was representing him – a huge advantage professionally.[40]Lamble p250 By April Lamble was onstage in The Martin’s Nest at the Westminster Theatre. After a three week run – he felt the play was not a success – he moved on to productions at West London’s Q Theatre for a year.

Above: In his first London play – The Martin’s Nest (April-May 1951) with Yvonne Mitchell(1915-1979) at the Westminster Theatre. Courtesy the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Al Parker was also responsible for introducing Lamble to television – which was live television at the time. Lamble described his experience on The Passing Show (1951) as “agony”, due to the technical challenges. In fact, he joked that “an actor who has led a bad life will…be condemned to do live television for all eternity.”[41]Lamble p246-7 Not surprisingly, at this time he preferred film to TV – and his early film performances demonstrated his versatility. These included leading roles as “Jacko” the stage manager in Curtain Up (1952), a comedy about a rep company preparing a play, and as Inspector Freddie Frisnay in Terence Fisher’s mystery Mantrap (1953). Watched today, his beautiful speaking voice is a feature – reminding us of his extensive experience as a radio actor.

Above: Left – As Inspector Frisnay with Paul Henreid in Mantrap (1953). Right – as “Jacko” the stage manager in Curtain Up (1952). Courtesy the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Amongst his best known film roles were his cameos in the St Trinian’s films – commencing with The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954), the story of a riotous girls’ school. Lamble played local Police Superintendent Sammy Kemp-Bird, with Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979) as his too wholesome girlfriend Sgt Ruby Gates. The running joke was that Kemp-Bird had once promised marriage to Sgt Gates but now didn’t wish to go through with it, and sought any excuse to avoid commitment. The cameo was repeated in two sequels in 1957 and 1960 and is a highlight of the films. Lamble recalled her fondly – in real life he thought she was exactly like the character she portrayed.[42]Lamble p270

Screengrab from Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960) with Joyce Grenfell. Author’s collection.

He was often typecast as a Police Inspector. As early as 1957, he said ” I suppose that by now directors are so used to seeing me in police roles, that I’m the first person they think of when casting.”[43]Leicester Evening Mail, 21 Dec 1957, P4, via Newspapers.com

At some point, Lamble fell out with Al Parker rather spectacularly, although the reason why is unknown. Lamble acknowledged in his autobiography that it was a foolish decision to leave Parker and that, in turn, Parker wrote a vitriolic letter claiming he had established Lamble in “all mediums, despite the fact that… [he was] a communist.”[44]Lamble p275 So Lamble’s reputation, whether gained unfairly or not, had travelled with him to the UK.

Lamble’s connections with Australia seem to have remained strong. In 1953, he chaired a meeting of British-based Australian playwrights at Australia House,[45]The Stage,12 March 1953, P10, via British Newspaper Archive and he was still active with an association of Australian performing Artists in the late 1970s. He knew and sometimes mixed with many of the Australians who had left post-war and were now working in the UK – Dick Bentley (1907-1995), Fenella Maguire (1935-2001), Bill Kerr (1922-2014) and John Sherman (1911-1966) were all friends mentioned in his autobiography. BBC records show he appeared in radio programs with others, including Vincent Ball, and Allan Cuthbertson in Lasseter’s Reef in 1953, and others in radio episodes of The Flying Doctor in the late 1950s. However, he complained that the national connection counted for little in the way of actual employment offers – there were only two occasions where expat Australian directors gave him work.[46]Lamble p267 This is not all that surprising, as the same phenomenon was experienced by other Australian actors in the UK and US. Australians like to believe they will help each other out without question, but perhaps internationally, the business is just too competitive for that to be a reality.

His political activities did not disappear overnight. In 1952, he felt a need to explain to British Actor’s Equity that there was no Australian Equity ban on visiting actors, rather, the field of local employment was so narrow that Australian Equity had to take “some precautions” such as refusing to work with travelling chorus performers – where Australians could be employed.[47]The Stage, 11 September 1952, P11, via British Newspaper Archive

It is notable that the stage remained his passion and his public commentary usually emphasized this. “Definitely one prefers the stage…Filming I love… But the field is wide and I will do anything that is interesting financially or artistically,” he told The Stage in 1991. Lamble had a significant body of theatre work to his credit, often in provincial theatre, that has tended to be overshadowed by his better documented screen work. Aged even in his 70s, he appeared in touring performances of Marriage Rites, On Golden Pond and A Month of Sundays – and was regularly picked out for positive reviews. Amongst his last stage performances was a run in Me and My Girl at the Adelphi Theatre.[48]The Stage, 4 July 1991, P6, via British Newspaper Archive

Above: Lamble touring in A Christmas Carol in late 1976. Program in the author’s Collection.[49]See The Stage, 18 Nov 1976, P1. Via British Newspaper Archive

With a very long list of stage and TV appearances, it was inevitable that Lamble would often be recognised in public. His autobiography provides one anecdote told against himself, when he was approached by a man who said “we’ve met…” “Oh you’ve probably seen me on the Telly” answered Lamble. “Don’t be a clot” was the man’s reply. “We worked together last week.”[50]Lamble p244-245 The anecdote also serves to remind the reader of the mundane and often underwhelming nature of so much TV work.

There were hits and misses in his career of course. He featured – briefly – in two tiresome soft-core porn films in the 1970s, Sex through the Ages (1974) and Eskimo Nell (1975) – but claimed he was misled into appearing in these. Perhaps. But rewarding roles were also a feature of his screen work – he took supporting roles in The Invisible Man (1958), Emergency Ward 10 (1966), The Kids from 47A (1973), The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), The Boys (1962) and The Naked Civil Servant (1975).

Australians Mavis Villiers (1909-1976) and Lloyd Lamble playing American tourists in London in a cameo in No Sex Please We’re British (1973). Screengrab from copy on youtube.

Determined not to be dependent on acting for his livelihood, at various times, Lamble invested and speculated in property in England – with mixed results. He also invested in commercial video technology when it first appeared, an enterprise that had limited success.

Lloyd Lamble with his daughter in 1998. Private collection

Lloyd Lamble stayed married to Lesley Jackson for the rest of his life. He adopted two children with Lesley and finally, he met and built a relationship with his two children by Barbara. Late in life, he also met Barbara while she was travelling in Britain, in an effort to make amends.

Undoubtedly his own worst critic, Lamble’s draft autobiography screams out for a ghost writer. His remarkable 50+ year career on radio, TV, the stage and film, his political idealism, blacklisting and subsequent journey to Britain as one of the great group of post-war Australian actors, was a story worth telling.

Lloyd Lamble died in Cornwall, in March 2008.

Lloyd Lamble with Lesley Jackson, 2004. Private collection.

Note 1: Lamble on accents

In a 1942 article he wrote for ABC Weekly, Lamble seemed to suggest a warm climate was responsible for the Australian accent – which was an easy-going “lazy” accent. His comments reflected contemporary thinking about accents – the desirability of an actor or announcer developing a refined accent and the value of training or elocution.[51]ABC Weekly, 31 October 1942, P22 via Trove Interviewed by students from the University of Wellington in 1944, Lamble was noted as speaking with “a pleasing voice… his accent conforms to standard English.” Asked whether New Zealand or Australian accents were acceptable on the stage, Lamble indicated they were not. He suggested “the pronounced Australian accent was only used on the stage in… low comedy, e.g. Dad and Dave.”[52]See The Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion, Victoria College, University of Wellington, Vol 7, No 6, July 12, 1944

Lamble’s natural accent can be heard in this interview with Phil Charley in 1994.


Note 2: Lloyd Lamble the Communist?

As Stephen Alomes notes, it has never been demonstrated that Lamble was a Communist party member.[53]Stephen Alomes (1999) When London Calls. The expatriation of Australian creative artists to Britain.P37. Cambridge University Press. The National Archives of Australia holds Lloyd Lamble’s 56 page ASIO file.[54]The Australian Security & Intelligence Organisation was established in 1949. It is generally regarded as the equivalent of MI5 in the UK or the FBI in the USA. ASIO’s predecessor was the … Continue reading Today the file makes for fairly unremarkable reading and one can only conclude that it says as much about Australia at the time as it does about Lamble. It was clearly his leadership of Actor’s Equity in the 1940s that first attracted official attention, and his support for causes like the Spanish Republican movement added to suspicion. Other acts, such as his letter of protest regarding the treatment of the Hollywood Ten in the USA were noted. Communist Party of Australia (CPA) meeting minutes collected by ASIO show occasional mention of him – sometimes promising to read workers poetry at Union meetings or promising to be involved in fundraising events. Yet the list of the people he associated and corresponded with [55]presumably his mail was intercepted was much more mundane – it included a wide circle of friends and acquaintances – including actors like Elsie Mackay (Montesole), Allan Cuthbertson and his brother Henry (“Bruzz”) Cuthbertson, Queenie Ashton and Carrie Moore – none of them remotely communists.

It was never illegal to be a communist in Australia. In 1950 the High Court ruled a new law to ban the Communist Party to be unconstitutional.[56]The Communist Party Dissolution Act A referendum to change Australia’s Constitution so that the party could be banned also failed. All the same, the accusation of being a communist marginalised some and stalled the careers of others. Alomes notes that Chips Rafferty, Michael Pate and Peter Finch were also listed at times as being possible Communists.[57]Alomes, P36 In a long investigative article written in 1990, David McKnight and Greg Pemberton suggested that “puritanical, anti-intellectual Australia clearly viewed Finch, Rafferty and many others as radicals because they belonged to the arts world and were strong trade unionists…” Michael Pate, who was interviewed by McKnight and Pemberton, said “In no way would we have thought to be subversive to Australia. We were radical thinkers in that we didn’t agree with all the opinions of the establishment.” [58]David McKnight and Greg Pemberton, “Seeing Reds” The Age (Melb), Good Weekend Magazine (insert) P35+ via Newspapers.com


Nick Murphy
October 2022


Special Thanks

  • To Libby White. For our long conversations, her suggestions and permission to read her father’s unpublished autobiography.
  • To Claudia Funder at the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne.

References

  • Primary Sources
    • Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne.
    • National Archives of Australia
    • Ancestry.com
    • Victoria; Births, Deaths & Marriages
    • New South Wales; Births, Deaths & Marriages
    • National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Papers Past.
    • National Library of Australia, Trove.
    • British Newspaper Archive.
  • Text
    • Stephen Alomes (1999) When London Calls. The expatriation of Australian creative artists to Britain. Cambridge University Press.
    • Lloyd Lamble (c 1990) The Strutting and the Fretting. Unpublished first draft of autobiography. Private collection.
    • Richard Lane (1994) The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama. Melbourne University Press.
    • Brian McFarlane (Ed) (2003) The Encyclopedia of British Film. BFI-Methuen
    • David McKnight and Greg Pemberton, “Seeing Reds” The Age (Melb), Good Weekend Magazine (insert) P35+
    • Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper(1980) Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford Uni Press
    • Eric Porter (1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. Rigby Ltd
This site has been selected for preservation in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Brian McFarlane (2003) The Encyclopedia of British Film, P376, BFI/Methuen
2 He would later claim that he suffered periods of unemployment at this time which may well have heightened his political senses – see also The Daily News (Syd) 12 Feb 1940, P2 Via Trove
3 RR Walker(1984) Dial 1179, The 3KZ Story. P.22 Lloyd O’Neil
4 Richard Lane (1994) The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama. P185-6, Melbourne University Press
5 Newspapers had noted his success on the amateur stage as early as 1933 – see The Argus (Melb) 13 May 1933 via Trove
6 Walker P23
7 Note: Damage on the print emulsion has been covered up
8 Lloyd Lamble (c1990) The Strutting & the Fretting, unpublished autobiography, P60. Private collection. Other titles considered apparently include Hi Diddle Dee Dee: An Actor’s Life For Me and Who the hell is Lloyd Lamble? A later draft is held by the National Library of Australia
9 Lamble, p93
10 The Argus (Melb) 19 Nov 1938, P25. Via Trove
11 The Argus (Melb) 17 Feb 1936 P5 Via Trove
12 The Age (Melb) 17 Feb 1936, P12, Via Trove
13 A nice compliment from the paper, but Emlyn Williams was performing the role himself at the time on Broadway, to similar acclaim. Evening Star,(NZ) 3 Aug 1936, P6. Via National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Papers Past
14 Victoria BDM, marriage certificate 998/1937 18 March 1937
15 See for example, the breathy interview with him in Wireless Weekly, 7 Sept 1940, P9.”…Worships at the shrine of a radio actor” Via Trove
16 The Wireless Weekly, Sept 14, 1940, Vol. 35 No. 37, P5 Via Trove
17 The Bulletin May 8, 1940, P31 Via Trove, also cited in Richard Lane (1994) P186
18 See for example The West Australian, 18 Jul 1941, P3 and The West Australian, 22 Apr 1942, P3, Via Trove
19 Daily News, 12 Feb 1940, P2, Via Trove
20 The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 May 1937, P54, Via Trove
21 Lamble p101
22 Herald (Melb) 27 May 1943, page 3 via Trove
23 The most complete list of his work is in Richard Lane P278-9
24 Richard Lane, P185-7 and Lamble: P141
25 The Press newspaper, 25 August, 1944. Via Papers Past
26 See also the entry for Movietone newsreel, “sinking of the hospital ship Centaur” at the Australian War Memorial
27 Tribune (Syd) 31 Aug 1944, P3 via Trove
28 Smith’s Weekly (Syd), 7 Aug 1943, P19 via Trove
29 In Lamble’s autobiography he also uses the spelling Leslie
30 The Australian Women’s Weekly. 8 May 1948. P26. Via Trove. See also Pike and Cooper(1980) P272
31 Lamble p171
32 The Daily Telegraph (Syd) 12 Sep 1948, P16 via Trove
33 Barbara Lamble gave up the stage, and became a secretary to support her two children
34 Cover of ABC Weekly, December 17, 1949 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
35 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
36 Stephen Alomes (1999) When London Calls. The expatriation of Australian creative artists to Britain.P36. Cambridge University
37 Lamble p219-221
38 Lamble p361 and elsewhere. The book is also dedicated “To all those thousands of actors who never quite made it” Lamble p2
39 and husband of Australian Margaret Johnston (1914-2002)
40 Lamble p250
41 Lamble p246-7
42 Lamble p270
43 Leicester Evening Mail, 21 Dec 1957, P4, via Newspapers.com
44 Lamble p275
45 The Stage,12 March 1953, P10, via British Newspaper Archive
46 Lamble p267
47 The Stage, 11 September 1952, P11, via British Newspaper Archive
48 The Stage, 4 July 1991, P6, via British Newspaper Archive
49 See The Stage, 18 Nov 1976, P1. Via British Newspaper Archive
50 Lamble p244-245
51 ABC Weekly, 31 October 1942, P22 via Trove
52 See The Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion, Victoria College, University of Wellington, Vol 7, No 6, July 12, 1944
53 Stephen Alomes (1999) When London Calls. The expatriation of Australian creative artists to Britain.P37. Cambridge University Press.
54 The Australian Security & Intelligence Organisation was established in 1949. It is generally regarded as the equivalent of MI5 in the UK or the FBI in the USA. ASIO’s predecessor was the Commonwealth Investigation Service
55 presumably his mail was intercepted
56 The Communist Party Dissolution Act
57 Alomes, P36
58 David McKnight and Greg Pemberton, “Seeing Reds” The Age (Melb), Good Weekend Magazine (insert) P35+ via Newspapers.com

Elsie Jane Wilson (1885-1965) actor and Hollywood director

Above and below; Sydney-born actor and director Elsie Jane Wilson in a spread in Photoplay magazine in late 1917. She had been working in the US for 6 years. [1]Photoplay magazine Oct 1917-March 1918, via Lantern, Digital Library

How could a successful Australian actress, who directed her first film in Hollywood in 1917, at the age of about 32, be so quickly forgotten? Unfortunately, even in her lifetime, press accounts tended to assume Elsie Jane Wilson was, like her husband Rupert Julian, New Zealand born, or perhaps English, and since then, even homegrown accounts have overlooked her. It is only in the last few decades that Elsie has finally attracted some of the interest she deserves. Recent writers include Mark Garrett Cooper at the Women Film Pioneers Project (here), Karen Ward Mahar and Robert Catto at his specialist website devoted to Rupert Julian (here).

Directing was “man’s work” Elsie suggested to interviewer Frances Denton in the Photoplay interview. But the posed photograph used in the article presents Elsie as a woman of ability and authority.[2]Photoplay magazine Oct 1917-March 1918, via Lantern, Digital Library

One of a group of women who directed at Universal Studios in the 1910s, Elsie had enjoyed a successful Australian stage career before appearing on stage in the US and acting in 40 films. She is known to have directed at least 10 films and also wrote several screenplays – all this before 1920. Her working life after 1920 remains obscure, although there is evidence suggesting she kept working in partnership with Rupert.

The Wilson family

Elsie Jane Wilson was born in Sydney on November 7, 1885[3]NSW Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 3700/1885 to James Wilson, a 51 year old Scottish immigrant and his 37 year old English wife Jane nee Jordan. By the time of her marriage to New Zealand actor, Percival Hayes (stage name Rupert Julian) in 1906,[4]Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages Marriage Certificate 6213/1906 Elsie was able to describe her father as “a gentleman”, which – in the language of the time – suggested a person of independent means. Records show however, that most of his life he was a bootmaker[5]or “clicker” – a skilled tradesperson who cut boot leather and the family lived for many years in Riley Street, in the inner eastern Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo.[6]A City of Sydney Archive photo of nineteenth century houses in Riley Street can be seen here

The Wilson family and their neighbours in the 1889 Sands Sydney directory.[7]Sands 1889 Directory, City of Sydney Archives & History Resources

James and Jane Wilson were typical of immigrant couples who had arrived in Australia in the mid 19th century, attracted by the goldrushes, or by the government bounties designed to address skilled labour shortages. The couple had married in Adelaide, South Australia in 1866, but ten years later they were living in Sydney. In addition to Elsie, two other daughters – Nellie (born Catherine Eleanor Wilson in 1877) and Marie (born Marion Wilson in 1889) had stage careers. Undoubtedly encouraged by James and Jane to see the stage as a pathway to success and financial freedom (secondary schooling and university education was not usually an option for working class families), the three girls all appeared on the stage from an early age.

Success of sister Nellie Wilson

Nellie Wilson was born Catherine Eleanor (or sometimes Helen) Wilson in Sydney in 1877.[8]NSW Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 2389/1877 She is important in this story because she enjoyed great success on the stage – and Elsie would have grown up as an observer to that success. Elsie was just seven years old when Nellie was touring Australia and New Zealand, notably with Tom Pollard’s Lilliputians, and in company with the likes of Wilmot Karkeek, Harry Quealy, Will Percy and Maud and Mae Beatty – all of whom Elsie is likely to have met, and – significantly, all of whom ended up pursuing careers overseas.[9]See Auckland Star, 28 Nov 1901, P2 Via National Library of New Zealand Papers Past

Elsie’s older sister Nellie Wilson in 1910 [10]Sunday Sun (Syd) 20 Nov 1910, P12, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Nellie continued on stage in Australia and New Zealand through the 1900s, taking only a little time off for a marriage in 1902 to George Irish, a flamboyant Melbourne motor salesman.[11]Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages Marriage certificate 3786/1902 The marriage did not stop her performing however, and she toured South Africa in 1904 and 1905. The theatrical firm of JC Williamson’s made use of her repeatedly in their Royal Comic Opera Company touring Australasia – which included consistently popular musicals like Florodora, The Belle of New York and The Mikado.

Elsie Wilson – the “promising Australian actress”

Elsie Wilson[12]not yet using her middle name appeared on the Australian stage – with the John F Sheridan touring company in 1904 – performing in the familiar repertoire of musical comedies that Australians liked – Naughty Nancy, The Lady Slavey, The Earl and the Girl and The Mikado, [13]The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People (Syd) 21 Jan 1905, P7 via National Library of Australia’s Trove later joining Julius Knight’s company. It was while performing in Melbourne in 1906 that she married fellow company member Rupert Julian.

Elsie Wilson, in costume, “one of the most promising of Australian actresses” on the cover of Adelaide’s Gadfly, in October 1907.[14]The Gadfly, 30 October 1907, Cover, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

For the next five years, the couple worked in the same company and developed their stagecraft. A glance at contemporary newspaper advertisements suggests an exhausting schedule of touring regional and sometimes remote Australia and New Zealand. But the reviews of Elsie’s work became increasingly enthusiastic – by late 1907, Adelaide’s The Gadfly could profile Elsie on their front page and express great confidence in her future as an up and coming actor. The paper reported that it had “arrived at the opinion that the lady is a much finer artist than people think she is, for the obvious reason that most critics have ignored her.”[15]The Gadfly (Adel) 9 Oct 1907, P8 via National Library of Australia’s Trove In early 1909, her excellent voice and spirited dancing were being celebrated in Sydney[16]Sunday Times (Syd) 21 Mar 1909, P6 via National Library of Australia’s Trove while only a few months later, on the other side of Australia, Kalgoorlie’s Sun predicted she had all the makings of “a star emotional actress.”[17]The Sun(WA) 6 June 1909, P7 via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In 1908, JC Williamson’s offered her a salary of £8 per week,[18]about $AU 1,100 today. Her contract survives in the Australian Performing Arts Collection a modest salary when compared to Julius Knight’s £50 per week, but acceptable for a 23 year old whose husband was also earning. The very successful Julius Knight tours included a repertoire of costume dramas such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Royal Divorce, The Prisoner of Zenda and The Sign of the Cross, and plays by George Bernard Shaw.[19]See Veronica Kelly (2003) “Julius Knight, Australian Matinee Idol: Costume Drama as Historical Re-presentation” in Australasian Victorian Studies Journal, Vol 9, No 1, 2003

Above Left: Elsie’s husband Rupert Julian in costume, c1917.[20]Motion Picture Magazine, April 1917, P18 via Lantern Digital Library Right: One of Elsie’s mentors, Julius Knight, in costume as Napoleon, c1900 [21]Enlarged from a Talma Photo, State Library of Victoria collections

Elsie Jane Wilson appears in the US

Elsie in Everywoman in 1913.[22]Marysville Appeal(CA), 22 Jul 1913, P3 via Newspapers.com

There was no publicity accompanying Elsie and Rupert’s decision to leave Australia or their departure – rather, it was all done on the quiet – a not uncommon strategy by Australian actors in case things did not go to plan and they had to come home. The couple arrived in Vancouver on 26 July 1911, on the SS Zealandia. Officials recorded her height as 5’7″ (170 cms), almost the same as her husband. Elsie now launched herself in the US using her full and more distinctive name, although at various times she also called herself Elsie Hayes or Elsie Julian. The couple made their way to New York, and they both found work – but not together. Elsie was on stage touring in A Fool There Was in 1912, followed by Everywoman in California. She progressed to Little Theatre performances, but by the end of 1913 had joined Rupert Julian and immersed herself in the booming film industry. Attracted by Elsie’s success in the US, older sister Nellie joined them in California in mid 1913. See Note 1 below.

Elsie’s pathway from the stage to film was likely identical to her husband’s. In a 1916 interview, Rupert Julian claimed he had been “induced… against his will to try… the screen… (and) contrary to his expectation… found it fascinating.”[23]Moving Picture Weekly, 11 Nov 1916 via Lantern Digital Library The IMDB lists Elsie’s first film acting role in The Imp Abroad released in January 1914, followed by The Triumph of Mind, directed by pioneer female film director Lois Weber (1879-1939). The film also featured Rupert.

Elsie in 1914 [24]Motion Picture News, July-Oct 1914, P85. Via Lantern Digital Library

We do not know whether Elsie and Rupert became friends with Lois Weber and her husband Phillips Smalley (1875-1939) – or whether the newly arrived antipodeans were simply another of the professionals Weber famously mentored.[25]Perhaps the couple intrigued Lois Weber. Elsie and Rupert hailed from budding democracies – Australia and New Zealand – where Caucasian women could vote, in fact Elsie would already have … Continue reading Rupert Julian appeared in all of Lois Weber’s films in 1913 and it seems likely his “fascination” extended to developing his own skills as a director. Elsie also acted in several Lois Weber films in 1914, but throughout 1915 and 1916 she became a regular in films directed by Rupert – many of these being “shorts,” part of Universal’s policy of producing a “balanced program” of shorts and occasional features – Westerns, comedies and dramas.[26]Jeannette Delamoir “Louise Lovely, Bluebird Photoplays and the Star System.” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 2004), pp. … Continue reading Unfortunately, most of these films are lost.

Creative partnerships between husband and wife, collaborating together in actor-writer/director/producer roles, were a feature of filmmaking in the 1910s. Apart from Elsie Jane Wilson & Rupert Julian and Lois Weber & Phillips Smalley, other collaborative partnerships included JP McGowan & Helen Holmes, Ida May Park & Joseph de Grasse, and Ruth Stonehouse & Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson. These partnerships sometimes saw scripts and scenarios formulated that the couple then performed in or directed. Elsie contributed to at least two scripts that were filmed, one – The Human Cactus(1915) – being directed by Rupert. In this case, the couple also acted together in it.

A Pygmalian-type story by Elsie Jane Wilson formed the basis of The Human Cactus. Elsie played Evangeline, the slum girl who is “cultivated”. [27]The Moving Picture Weekly, June 24, 1915, P31 via Lantern Digital Library

Elsie Jane Wilson acting. Left: Elsie with Rupert Julian in The Evil Women Do (1916) also directed by Julian.[28]Motion Picture News, Sept 23, 1916, via Lantern Digital Library Right: As Nancy in the Jesse Lasky version of Oliver Twist (1916), directed by James Young.[29]Photoplay, February 1917, via Lantern Digital Library

Elsie as a Director

Elsie’s first directing experience was as an uncredited assistant to Rupert Julian on The Circus of Life, another film she also starred in, released in mid 1917.[30]The Moving Picture Weekly Nov 3, 1917, P28 Via Lantern Digital Library Her first credited solo directing assignments were on four feature films featuring child star Zoe Rae (1910-2006), released in later 1917.

Advertisements for two of Elsie’s films featuring Zoe Rae.[31]Motion Picture News Aug 25, 1917, P1297 and The Moving Picture World Dec 8, 1917 P1410 via Lantern Digital Library

Regrettably, only one of her films has survived and is freely available today, making analysis of her work extremely difficult. The Dream Lady (1918) has been beautifully restored by the French Centre National de la Cinématographie – it can be seen (here). For an understanding of her other films, we are dependent on synopsises in trade journals and a few reviews – not enough for this writer to attempt any commentary. She acted in several serials in 1917-18, but again unfortunately these have not survived. Her last acting role is reported to have been in an Eddie Lyons comedy short, in 1920.

We know that many of Elsie and Rupert’s films were made under the Bluebird photoplay brand, one of Universal’s subsidiaries with an association for quality, as Jeannette Delamoir has explained.[32]For more on Universal Studio’s production strategy see Jeannette Delamoir “Louise Lovely, Bluebird Photoplays and the Star System.” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association … Continue reading However, Universal’s head Carl Laemmle made decisions entirely based on commercial principles – rather than any feminist sympathies. By the early 1920s, the studio system had become increasingly dominant. Anthony Slide and Karen Ward Mahar have both written of the post war changes in Hollywood and the consequences for the ten women directing for Universal, including Elsie.[33]See Karen Ward Mahar (2006) Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood. Johns Hopkins University Press and Anthony Slide (1996) Lois Weber: the director who lost her way in history. Greenwood Press

What happened to Elsie’s career?

Elsie (at right) directing action, in a 1919 Photoplay article entitled “The Women Lend a hand” by Grace Kingsley.[34]Photoplay Magazine, March 1919, P78. Via Lantern Digital Media Library

Elsie’s last credit as a director was in early 1919, on The Game’s Up. But as Mark Garrett Cooper has noted, there is a problem of attribution for female directors of the era, including Elsie Jane Wilson. For example, Cooper notes actor Ruth Clifford (1900-1998) recalled that it was Elsie Jane Wilson who directed her on The Savage (1917), yet the film is traditionally credited to Rupert Julian.[35]See Mark Garrett Cooper (2013) “Elsie Jane Wilson.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University … Continue reading Contemporary reports also suggested Elsie helped Rupert direct Mother O’Mine (1917) although again, the film’s credits attribute it to Rupert Julian alone.[36]Motion Picture News, August 25, 1917 via Lantern Digital Library However, it is clear that Elsie continued working after her last credited directing assignment. While formal film credits do not exist, there is a body of evidence in the contemporary press indicating that she was regularly assisting her husband in film production – and keen to seek further work as a director.

The cast of Rupert Julian’s The Honey Bee (1920) on set. Elsie Jane Wilson is in the second row. There is no information regarding why Elsie was there.[37]Motion Picture News, Feb 28 1920, P2127 via Lantern Digital Library

On several occasions after 1919, Elsie was publicly announced in trade magazines and newspapers as the director for a forthcoming production. In February 1920 she was announced as director for Opened Shutters, an upcoming Edith Roberts film.[38]The Los Angeles Times, 6 Feb 1920, P23, via Newspapers.com However, in the end it was directed by William Worthington. In late 1922 The Los Angeles Times announced she was planning to direct again,[39]The Los Angeles Times 29 Nov 1922, P15, via Newspapers.com and in March 1923, she was announced as the director of a new series of Baby Peggy films for Universal, with Rupert Julian writing scripts.[40]Baby Peggy, born Peggy-Jean Montgomery (1918-2020) was a popular Hollywood child star Elsie said she was “elated” over her return to pictures and felt certain she had some new ideas to offer. But it was not to be, although Universal did make a Baby Peggy film in 1923, directed by King Baggot.[41]See Exhibitor’s Trade Review, April 7, 1923, P947 via Lantern, Digital Library. Also see The Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar 1923, P22 via Newspapers.com

However most telling, in June 1924, Universal Weekly, the studio’s own magazine, reported that on account of her work on Rupert Julian’s Love and Glory (1924), Elsie had been given “a letter of thanks and a substantial check” by Julius Bernheim, Universal Studio’s General Manager.[42]Universal Weekly, 14 June 1924, P26, via Lantern, Digital Library The article went on to explain that “although not employed by Universal” she was an active aide to her husband as director, handling his working script and assisting him in directing. It was an unusually fulsome public acknowledgement for someone who was not on the payroll. Some months later, several reports credited her with managing Mary Philbin’s makeup and costumes for Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925).[43]See for example Oakland Tribune (CA)19 Oct 1924, P64 via Newspapers.com

Whether or not Elsie’s last contribution to film was really in 1925, or perhaps after that date, we know that Rupert Julian’s final films were only 5 years later, in 1930, at the beginning of the sound era.[44]See Robert Catto’s website on Rupert Julian for a synopsis of his career He died suddenly in 1943 as a result of a stroke. Elsie lived on in Los Angeles until her death, aged about 80, in early 1965.[45]The Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan 1965, P40 via Newspapers.com Both had become US citizens and there appear to have been no trips home to see extended family in Australia or New Zealand. Elsie and Rupert had no children. I can find no evidence Elsie was ever interviewed about her screen or stage work and sadly, she was completely forgotten in her country of birth until relatively recently.


Note 1 – Nellie Wilson in the USA

Nellie Wilson joined Elsie in the US between 1913 and 1918. Left: Nellie as Nella in So Long Letty (1915).[46]Los Angeles Evening Express,19 Jul 1915, P7, via Newspapers.com Right: Nellie, arrived home in Australia in 1918.[47]Table Talk, 26 Dec 1918, via State Library of Victoria

Nellie Wilson arrived in the US in mid 1913.[48]Variety, 25 July 1913, P25, Via Lantern Digital Library (Her marriage to George Irish had come to an unhappy end when he was admitted to Kew Asylum in May 1912.) But despite her enviable reputation on the Australian and New Zealand stage, Nellie appears to have struggled to establish herself in the US. It was not until 1915 that she found an ongoing role on the stage – in the musical So Long Letty, having renamed herself “Nella” Wilson in the meantime.[49]The San Francisco Examiner 19 Jul 1913,P3 and The Los Angeles Times 24 Jun 1915, P26 via Newspapers.com She returned to Australia in late 1918.[50]Table Talk, 26 Dec 1918, via State Library of Victoria Nellie visited Elsie in the US again in 1931.

Nellie Wilson’s later fate is unknown. One newspaper report suggested she ran a millinery shop in Sydney.[51]Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1934, P9, via National Library of Australia’s Trove Marie Wilson married bank officer Phillip John Madden in Melbourne in 1914 and also retired from the stage.


Note 2: Other Elsies and different Nellies

The English Nellie Wilson in 1895.[52]Music Hall and Theatre Review, 1 February, 1895 via British Library Newspaper Archive

There were several performers called Nellie Wilson – it was not an uncommon name. English performer Nellie Wilson visited Australia in the 1890s, and she can be found on the cover of the British paper Music Hall and Theatre Review, 1 February, 1895 (at left). In addition, a long interview with her after her Australian tour can be found in the same paper, May 26 1899, P331. She resembles our Nellie Wilson in appearance and the two are sometimes confused in collections.

This photo in the collection of the State Library of Victoria appears to show our Nellie Wilson (Click here), see also Peter Downes, The Pollards, P110. Confusingly, an additional photo in the collections of the State Library of Victoria appears to show the English Nellie Wilson.

Another Elsie Wilson was active in Australia in the late 1910s. Her JC Williamson’s contract from 1917 survives in the collections of the Australian Performing Arts Collection.

Elsie Wilson was also the name of the long time companion of Gladys Moncrieff.


Nick Murphy
September 2022


References

  • Newspaper & Magazine Sources
    • National Library of Australia’s Trove
    • Newspapers.com
    • State Library of Victoria
    • Hathitrust digital library
    • National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past
    • Internet Archive Library via Lantern Digital Library
  • Primary Sources
    • Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.
    • Ancestry.com
    • Victoria, Births, Deaths and Marriages
    • New South Wales, Births, Deaths and Marriages

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

Footnotes

Footnotes
1, 2 Photoplay magazine Oct 1917-March 1918, via Lantern, Digital Library
3 NSW Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 3700/1885
4 Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages Marriage Certificate 6213/1906
5 or “clicker” – a skilled tradesperson who cut boot leather
6 A City of Sydney Archive photo of nineteenth century houses in Riley Street can be seen here
7 Sands 1889 Directory, City of Sydney Archives & History Resources
8 NSW Births Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate 2389/1877
9 See Auckland Star, 28 Nov 1901, P2 Via National Library of New Zealand Papers Past
10 Sunday Sun (Syd) 20 Nov 1910, P12, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
11 Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages Marriage certificate 3786/1902
12 not yet using her middle name
13 The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People (Syd) 21 Jan 1905, P7 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
14 The Gadfly, 30 October 1907, Cover, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
15 The Gadfly (Adel) 9 Oct 1907, P8 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
16 Sunday Times (Syd) 21 Mar 1909, P6 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
17 The Sun(WA) 6 June 1909, P7 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
18 about $AU 1,100 today. Her contract survives in the Australian Performing Arts Collection
19 See Veronica Kelly (2003) “Julius Knight, Australian Matinee Idol: Costume Drama as Historical Re-presentation” in Australasian Victorian Studies Journal, Vol 9, No 1, 2003
20 Motion Picture Magazine, April 1917, P18 via Lantern Digital Library
21 Enlarged from a Talma Photo, State Library of Victoria collections
22 Marysville Appeal(CA), 22 Jul 1913, P3 via Newspapers.com
23 Moving Picture Weekly, 11 Nov 1916 via Lantern Digital Library
24 Motion Picture News, July-Oct 1914, P85. Via Lantern Digital Library
25 Perhaps the couple intrigued Lois Weber. Elsie and Rupert hailed from budding democracies – Australia and New Zealand – where Caucasian women could vote, in fact Elsie would already have done so, in the 1910 Australian Federal elections. In the US, women’s suffrage was still 6 years away
26 Jeannette Delamoir “Louise Lovely, Bluebird Photoplays and the Star System.” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 2004), pp. 64-85. University of Minnesota Press
27 The Moving Picture Weekly, June 24, 1915, P31 via Lantern Digital Library
28 Motion Picture News, Sept 23, 1916, via Lantern Digital Library
29 Photoplay, February 1917, via Lantern Digital Library
30 The Moving Picture Weekly Nov 3, 1917, P28 Via Lantern Digital Library
31 Motion Picture News Aug 25, 1917, P1297 and The Moving Picture World Dec 8, 1917 P1410 via Lantern Digital Library
32 For more on Universal Studio’s production strategy see Jeannette Delamoir “Louise Lovely, Bluebird Photoplays and the Star System.” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 2004), pp. 64-85. University of Minnesota Press
33 See Karen Ward Mahar (2006) Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood. Johns Hopkins University Press and Anthony Slide (1996) Lois Weber: the director who lost her way in history. Greenwood Press
34 Photoplay Magazine, March 1919, P78. Via Lantern Digital Media Library
35 See Mark Garrett Cooper (2013) “Elsie Jane Wilson.” In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries.
36 Motion Picture News, August 25, 1917 via Lantern Digital Library
37 Motion Picture News, Feb 28 1920, P2127 via Lantern Digital Library
38 The Los Angeles Times, 6 Feb 1920, P23, via Newspapers.com
39 The Los Angeles Times 29 Nov 1922, P15, via Newspapers.com
40 Baby Peggy, born Peggy-Jean Montgomery (1918-2020) was a popular Hollywood child star
41 See Exhibitor’s Trade Review, April 7, 1923, P947 via Lantern, Digital Library. Also see The Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar 1923, P22 via Newspapers.com
42 Universal Weekly, 14 June 1924, P26, via Lantern, Digital Library
43 See for example Oakland Tribune (CA)19 Oct 1924, P64 via Newspapers.com
44 See Robert Catto’s website on Rupert Julian for a synopsis of his career
45 The Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan 1965, P40 via Newspapers.com
46 Los Angeles Evening Express,19 Jul 1915, P7, via Newspapers.com
47, 50 Table Talk, 26 Dec 1918, via State Library of Victoria
48 Variety, 25 July 1913, P25, Via Lantern Digital Library
49 The San Francisco Examiner 19 Jul 1913,P3 and The Los Angeles Times 24 Jun 1915, P26 via Newspapers.com
51 Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1934, P9, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
52 Music Hall and Theatre Review, 1 February, 1895 via British Library Newspaper Archive

Harry and Nellie Quealy ~ Life and death in variety

Above: Nellie and Harry Quealy in 1910, at the height of their popularity on the Australian stage.[1]The Theatre (Syd) 1 December 1910, P6, via State Library of Victoria
The Five Second version
Harry Quealy
was another Australian variety performer who had started his career on the stage at a very young age. He worked for Tom Pollard for a decade, developed a reputation for clever comedy and was much liked by audiences. When he met an early death in Australia in 1927, there was widespread and genuine regret. He worked in the US for six years and had a leading role in the US film Madame Sherry in 1917. But he maintained that he always preferred the stage.
Nellie Quealy, nee Finlay, was his partner on stage – the couple working together with great success in Australia. She had also begun her career as a child performer in the early 1890s, appearing overseas with Pollards in 1898. She married Harry in 1904, and as well as pursuing her own career, took on the role of parenting her three performing siblings – Nattlie, Myra and Irene Finlay. She died in the US in 1936, after a long battle with TB.
A stage turn like Fun in the Kitchen (above and below) was only intended to last 15 minutes being part of a mixed variety program.There is nothing in the sketch itself… it is all in the acting, swing and drollery of the situations.”[2]The Northern Miner (Qld) 25 April 1911, P7. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

It is rare to have photos based on scenes from a variety turn. These are from the boxing scene in Fun in the Kitchen – taken for The Theatre magazine in 1910. [3]The Theatre (Syd) 1 December 1910, P5, via State Library of Victoria

Harry Quealy, born 1876

Harry was born Henry Joseph Quealy in Brisbane in July 1876 to Thomas, a shoemaker, and sometime mechanic at Brisbane’s Theatre Royal – and who was, according to Harry, also “the best dancer in Queensland”[4]The Theatre (Syd) on 1 December 1910, via the State Library of Victoria and his Irish born wife Margaret nee Byrne.[5]See State of Queensland, Births, Deaths and Marriages, Birth certificate Henry Joseph Quealy, 25 July 1876 Harry’s stories about being encouraged onto the stage at a young age are true. He recalled that he was on stage in a benefit concert as early as 1882, when he danced to much acclaim.[6]The Brisbane Courier (Qld) 21 Feb 1882, P1,via National Library of Australia’s Trove By 1891, 15 year old Harry was a part of Tom Pollard’s new juvenile troupe touring Australia. He continued to be associated with Tom Pollard’s troupes of players as they matured, until they finally broke up, about 1908.[7]See Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards, P80-81 Harry’s associates are not well remembered now but were very well known at the time and included – Maud Beatty(1878-1959) and May Beatty(1880-1945), William S Percy (1872-1946), Nellie Wilson(1877-) and Jack Ralston (1882-1933). See Note 1 below regarding various Pollard tours.

Harry Quealy in Tom Pollard’s The Gondoliers, the King of Barataria, The Princess Theatre, Melbourne Australia, October 15, 1892 [8]Program via State Library of Victoria

Harry developed to become a popular comedian for Tom Pollard’s comic operas, taking on numerous character roles –“a list too long for me to give it to you right off” he told The Theatre in 1910. In 1903 he joined Pollard’s “Royal Australian Comic Opera Company” for an extended tour of South Africa.[9]So named because the performers were now too old to be called Lilliputians It was here that Harry met Nellie Finlay, who was touring with Harry Hall’s Juvenile Australian Company at the same time.[10]It is hard to believe Tom Pollard and Harry Hall had not reached some type of agreement regarding itinerary and performances in South Africa

Both Harry and Nellie were short and slight – a physical profile famously preferred by juvenile companies. Harry was inclined to claim he was even shorter than his 162 cms (5’4″) inches while Nellie stood just 152 cms (5′) in height. But it was their skills as dancers, singers and comedians that made them so popular, even before they teamed up on stage. “We both revel in sketch work” Harry assured Theatre magazine.[11]The Theatre (Syd) December 1, 1910, P1-4. Via State Library of Victoria

Nellie Finlay, born c1885

Nellie Finlay was born c1885 in New Zealand.[12]The US census of 1920 lists Nellie’s birthplace as Port Chalmers, New Zealand Details of her childhood are obscure, almost certainly because her mother Millie Robins was unmarried.[13]While her birth certificate has yet to be found, Nellie is listed, aged 6, with sister Nattlie aged 4, on the Queensland birth certificate of her youngest sister Irene. See State of Queensland, … Continue reading Nellie and her sisters Nattlie and Irene adopted the surname Finlay when her mother married George Charles Finlay in 1893.

A photo of Nellie, presumably taken well before its publication in 1916.[14]The Sun (Syd) 9 July 1916, P18. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

According to Harry Quealy, Nellie’s performance career began when she was aged only 4 and a half – or in about 1890. She was documented onstage in 1892, dancing a sailor’s hornpipe in a program at the Exhibition Hall at 232-234 Brunswick Street Fitzroy and the Finlay family moved permanently to this area soon after.[15]Fitzroy City Press (Vic) 2 Dec 1892 P2, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove A few years later, this part of inner city Melbourne had become the main recruiting ground for Charles Pollard & Nellie Chester nee Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company troupes and it is not surprising that Nellie and her sisters would end up being associated with them.

By 1897, Nellie had a reputation for her dancing – which included a version of Bessie Clayton’s “back kick dance” – meaning she was flexible enough to kick backwards and touch her head. In late 1898, Nellie and Nattlie joined a Charles Pollard tour of South Africa – performing the usual repertoire of musical comedies – The Geisha, The Gaiety Girl and the like. A report written for Sydney’s Referee included interviews with Nellie and Nattlie: “Nellie Finlay, aged 12 years, who is a bright and clever girl, said: ‘I like South Africa, and travelling. I came to Cape Town from Australia on November 17, 1898. I like playing parts and dancing. My best part is Mamie Clancy in The Belle of New York.[16]The Referee (Syd) 5 Jul 1899, P10, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

The Era reports on the success of Charles Pollard’s troupe in South Africa in August 1899.[17]The Era, London, 26 Aug 1899, P15, via British Library Newspaper Archive

In 1900, Nellie and Nattlie joined Harry Hall’s own troupe to perform in South Africa. [18]Charles Pollard & Nellie Chester nee Pollard attempted to stop Hall’s tour in the Victorian Supreme court but failed. Hall’s group was also made up of other adult members of the … Continue reading However, even by the permissive employment standards of the time, the choice of South Africa as a destination for a children’s troupe was unusual – the country was then in the midst of the Second Anglo-Boer war. See Note 2 below regarding Irene Finlay joining the Pollards.

Nellie Finlay remained connected with Hall’s company in South Africa for several years [19]Referee (Syd) 27 Feb 1901, P10 via National Library of Australia’s Trove – she travelled there again in early 1903, with other up and coming juveniles like Harold Fraser (later Snub Pollard) and Mae Dahlberg (later Mae Laurel). Hall died suddenly in South Africa in late October 1903,[20]Otago Daily Times (NZ) 2 Dec 1903 P6 Via Papers Past and his Australian Juveniles mostly returned to Australia. However, Nellie returned to Australia on the same ship as Harry Quealy, and the couple married in Western Australia in 1904.[21]See State of Western Australia, Births, Deaths and Marriages, Marriage certificate 1336/1904

Working together

Fun in the Kitchen included Nellie dancing on a table, humorous songs and concluded with the boxing match ~ shown here ~ between Cook (Nellie) and Buttons (Harry). Australian audiences loved it.

Following their marriage in Western Australia, Nellie and Harry both appeared on the Australian and New Zealand stages for Tom Pollard, with Nellie increasingly choreographing for productions.[22]Daily Post (Hob), 13 Jun 1908, P7, via National Library of Australia’s Trove Fun in the Kitchen was first performed in September 1908.[23]Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 21 Sep 1908, P6, via National Library of Australia’s Trove It met with great approval and appeared in Australia on and off for six years, being entirely devised and regularly refreshed by Nellie and Harry.[24]The Sun (Syd) 27 Apr 1913, P10, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In April 1909 Arthur Pollard asked Nellie and Harry to accompany his new Lilliputian tour of the “Far East,” India and North America – Nellie as Ballet Mistress and Harry as Stage Manager.(Charles Pollard had announced he was retiring from running his North American tours) [25]Truth (Bris)18 Apr 1909, P8 via National Library of Australia’s Trove About thirty young performers departed in July 1909 on the SS Gracchus, bound for Java and Singapore as first performance stops. However, as this writer has noted elsewhere, the tour of India was a disaster. Pollard was inexperienced as a manager and temperamentally quite unsuited to be a supervisor of children. The tour fell apart and the child performers returned home in early 1910, with considerable press attention. Harry went out of his way to protect the name of his mentor and friend Tom Pollard, but it didn’t help – the Pollard family reputation was ruined and new Federal legislation followed soon after to restrict the employment of children overseas. Harry also studiously avoided saying anything about his sister in law, Nellie’s youngest sister, Irene, who had disappeared with Arthur Pollard after the troupe broke up in Madras. This writer can find no evidence Nellie and Irene saw each other again. Perhaps the early death of their mother Millie Finlay in Melbourne in 1907 saw the family relationships fracture for good.

Above: Harry Quealy is one of the few who can be identified in this photo of the disastrous 1909 Pollard tour of India. He is standing, sixth from right, behind two seated girls in black. [26]The Leader 2 April, 1910. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove

Back home, Harry and Nellie resumed their career in vaudeville. For six years, they toured far flung towns and cities in Australia and New Zealand, as part of varied variety lineups, almost without a break. Fun in the Kitchen made a regular return, but they also had new acts – Ragtime Musical Stores, On the Stage and Only a Dream unfortunately only the titles survive. Fun in the Kitchen continued to tickle Australia audiences, in late 1912 the Kalgoorlie Miner reported that the huge audience “screamed with laughter, and wanted more.” [27]Kalgoorlie Miner (WA) 15 Nov 1912, P7, via National Library of Australia’s Trove At the conclusion of a final, very long run on the Fuller circuit and shortly before they left Australia in September 1916, the Sunday Times of Sydney reported that Nellie “possesses all the accomplishments necessary for success in vaudeville, with a good voice, a good presence, and shapely figure she has all the essentials for success in the rapid-fire sketches she and her husband present.[28]Sunday Times (Syd) 2 Apr 1916, P19,via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Harry, Nellie and their first daughter Maize in 1915.[29]The Theatre (Syd) 1 Feb 1915. Via State Library of Victoria

Working in the US

It was wartime, but the Quealys were able to catch a ship to South Africa, and in January 1917 they arrived in Boston – the shipping manifest for SS City of Lahore suggests they had work already arranged. Harry’s first few years in the US saw his enthusiastic self promotion at work again – but many of the claims he made at this time to boost his profile now appear to be without foundation.[30]For example – that he tried to enlist in the Australian Army 4 times, that he was Scottish singer Harry Lauder’s cousin, and that he had performed on every continent

In 1917 Nellie was pregnant with their second child, Aileen, born in that year in New York. Harry found work in a film in mid 1917 – just one – a version (silent of course) of the musical comedy Madame Sherry. Clear photos of Harry, credited as H J Quealy, can be seen at Kay Shakleton’s Silent Hollywood website.[31]Why just the one film? Perhaps the experience of friend and former Pollard colleague William S Percy, who had also dabbled in film in Australia and then on his arrival in the US, had some influence He then found work in Oh Boy, a successful New York musical comedy that had opened in August at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre.

Harry Quealy (as H J Quealy) at right, in Madame Sherry, released in September 1917 [32]Exhibitors Herald (Jun-Dec 1917 Reviews, via Lantern Media History Library

There is also evidence the Quealys were working together on tour at the end of 1920, in the “novelty” vehicle On Manilla Bay, but after this the couple did not work together again.[33]These so called “mechanical electrical” novelty shows were an effort by vaudeville to respond to the growing power of the moving picture. Married by Wireless, also produced by former … Continue reading

Harry and Nellie touring the US together, (and using their connections in a Pollard designed show), in late 1920.[34]Logansport Pharos-Tribune (Indiana) 14 Dec 1920, P9 via Newspapers.com

Nellie was busy – without Harry – in the early 1920s, on tour performing with Frank Roberts in Time – a sequence of episodes in the night life of a large city, and later in partnership with Jack Girard, who was sometimes listed as “Jack Quealy” in Shoe Echoes.

In 1920 Harry toured the US in the musical SeeSaw, followed by a run in Canada with fellow Australian Alma Gray in The Royal Perriots in 1921. And in 1922 he took a role in Rain, at the Maxine Elliott Theatre in New York – a Somerset Maugham story,[35]Daily News (New York) 9 Jan 1923, P20 via Newspapers.com later filmed several times, as Sadie Thompson.

It is not clear whether Nellie and Harry had separated by this time, or whether their careers just took them in different directions, by some sort of mutual agreement.

Early and tragic deaths

Fate did not treat Nellie or Harry well.

Harry Quealy (centre) as Quartermaster Bates in Rain, 1923.[36]Hearst’s International, Vol 43, 1923, P93, Via Internet Archive

In October 1923, during the long run of Rain in New York, Harry suffered a debilitating stroke, bad enough to keep him off stage and in hospital for some months.[37]Variety, 11 October 1923, P9 via the Internet Archive Library With financial support from friends, he returned to Australia in March 1925, and lived with his sister Mary at her home in Lyon Street, Randwick, Sydney.[38]The Telegraph (Bris) 12 Mar 1925, P5 via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Despite the positive spin he tried to put on his circumstances – he claimed he was much improved by the sea voyage home – he required nursing and died in 1927, aged 51.[39]See State of New South Wales, Births, Deaths and Marriages, Death certificate Henry Joseph Quealey(sic), 2 July 1927

Still working in the US, Nellie was diagnosed with tuberculosis in late 1929.[40]Variety Oct 9, 1929, P84. via the Internet Archive Library Before the era of antibiotics, bed rest, fresh air and diet were all that could be done to treat the disease. Nellie went into a specialist sanitorium at New York state’s Saranac Lake, run by the National Vaudeville Association.[41]See Saranac Lake Historic Wiki – Gonzalez Cottage And there she stayed, her progress regularly reported for the benefit of other performers, in the pages of Variety – in a public fashion we would find unthinkable today. In December 1935 Variety reported she was “doing nicely after a slight setback,” but she succumbed to the disease in 1936.[42]Variety Dec 11 1935, P70, via the Internet Archive Library She was aged about 50.

Harry and Nellie’s two daughters lived out their lives in the United States.

Nellie’s youngest sister Irene eloped with Arthur Pollard after the disastrous 1909 tour, went to England with him and finally married him in New Zealand, in 1925. Nattlie Finlay and step sister Myra Finlay both left the stage. A step brother Nigel Finlay, pursued other interests.


Note 1 – the Pollard tours

Based on Peter Downes work, we might define the Pollard troupes this way:

  • James Pollard‘s (Original) Lilliputians (mostly comprising his own children, 1880-1886),
  • Tom Pollard‘s Lilliputians aka the Pollard Opera Company (Australasia, the Far East and South Africa, 1891-1905)
  • Tom Pollard‘s Juvenile Opera Company (mostly Australasia 1907-c1908)
  • Charles Pollard & Nellie Chester nee Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Companies (one to South Africa, then generally to the Far East and North America 1896-1910 )
  • Arthur Pollard‘s Company (to the Far East and India 1909-1910)
  • Nellie Chester nee Pollard’s “Pollard Company” (only active in North America 1909-1914 but mostly comprising Australians)

Tom Pollard’s troupes are the subject of Peter Downes book The Pollards (2002) – and their members came from across New Zealand and Australia. Charles Pollard & Nellie Chester nee Pollards companies were mostly enlisted from inner Melbourne. Most child actors did not swap companies.

Note 2 – The Finlays and the courts

There were at least 7 civil cases brought by Charles Pollard & Nellie Chester nee Pollard against members of their troupes, between 1898 and 1904, including several against the Finlay family. Despite the legal wrangling in 1900, Nellie’s youngest sister Irene Finlay joined a Charles Pollard & Nellie Chester nee Pollard troupe to North America. She ended up travelling on five overseas tours with them, reminding us again that the Pollards were running a business and parents of child performers were entering into transactions with them – there was no altruism involved.


Nick Murphy
August 2022


References

Text

  • Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow (2014) Entertaining Children: The participation of youth in the entertainment industry. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Gillian Arrighi (2017) “The Controversial ‘Case of the Opera Children in the East’: Political conflict between popular demand for child actors and modernising cultural policy on the child.” Theatre Journal No 69, 2017, Johns Hopkins University Press via Jstore.
  • Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards. Steele Roberts.
  • Maryna Fraser (Ed), Edmund Bright, Thomas Richard Adlam (1985) Johannesburg Pioneer Journals, 1888-1909. (Excerpts from the memoirs of William T Powell) Van Riebeeck Society
  • Camille Hardy (1978) “Bessie Clayton: An American Genée” Dance Chronicle, 1978 – 1979, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 251-278. Taylor and Francis via Jstore.
  • Kirsty Murray (2010) India Dark. Allen and Unwin
    [Note: While written as a novel for teenagers, this beautiful book is closely based on the events of Arthur Pollard’s troupe in India and is highly recommended]

Web

Newspaper & Magazine Sources

  • National Library of Australia’s Trove
  • Newspapers.com
  • State Library of Victoria
  • Hathitrust digital library
  • National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past
  • Internet Archive Library

Primary Sources

  • Ancestry.com
  • Victoria, Births, Deaths and Marriages
  • New South Wales, Births, Deaths and Marriages
  • Western Australia, Births, Deaths and Marriages

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

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 The Theatre (Syd) 1 December 1910, P6, via State Library of Victoria
2 The Northern Miner (Qld) 25 April 1911, P7. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
3 The Theatre (Syd) 1 December 1910, P5, via State Library of Victoria
4 The Theatre (Syd) on 1 December 1910, via the State Library of Victoria
5 See State of Queensland, Births, Deaths and Marriages, Birth certificate Henry Joseph Quealy, 25 July 1876
6 The Brisbane Courier (Qld) 21 Feb 1882, P1,via National Library of Australia’s Trove
7 See Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards, P80-81
8 Program via State Library of Victoria
9 So named because the performers were now too old to be called Lilliputians
10 It is hard to believe Tom Pollard and Harry Hall had not reached some type of agreement regarding itinerary and performances in South Africa
11 The Theatre (Syd) December 1, 1910, P1-4. Via State Library of Victoria
12 The US census of 1920 lists Nellie’s birthplace as Port Chalmers, New Zealand
13 While her birth certificate has yet to be found, Nellie is listed, aged 6, with sister Nattlie aged 4, on the Queensland birth certificate of her youngest sister Irene. See State of Queensland, Births, Deaths and Marriages, 16 August 1891 – Birth Certificate, Irene Robins
14 The Sun (Syd) 9 July 1916, P18. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
15 Fitzroy City Press (Vic) 2 Dec 1892 P2, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
16 The Referee (Syd) 5 Jul 1899, P10, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
17 The Era, London, 26 Aug 1899, P15, via British Library Newspaper Archive
18 Charles Pollard & Nellie Chester nee Pollard attempted to stop Hall’s tour in the Victorian Supreme court but failed. Hall’s group was also made up of other adult members of the Pollard family – Alice Landeshut nee Pollard, Will Pollard and May Pollard were all supervising adults – and thus, these actions suggest a tradition of tension and mistrust within the Pollard family itself.
19 Referee (Syd) 27 Feb 1901, P10 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
20 Otago Daily Times (NZ) 2 Dec 1903 P6 Via Papers Past
21 See State of Western Australia, Births, Deaths and Marriages, Marriage certificate 1336/1904
22 Daily Post (Hob), 13 Jun 1908, P7, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
23 Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 21 Sep 1908, P6, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
24 The Sun (Syd) 27 Apr 1913, P10, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
25 Truth (Bris)18 Apr 1909, P8 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
26 The Leader 2 April, 1910. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove
27 Kalgoorlie Miner (WA) 15 Nov 1912, P7, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
28 Sunday Times (Syd) 2 Apr 1916, P19,via National Library of Australia’s Trove
29 The Theatre (Syd) 1 Feb 1915. Via State Library of Victoria
30 For example – that he tried to enlist in the Australian Army 4 times, that he was Scottish singer Harry Lauder’s cousin, and that he had performed on every continent
31 Why just the one film? Perhaps the experience of friend and former Pollard colleague William S Percy, who had also dabbled in film in Australia and then on his arrival in the US, had some influence
32 Exhibitors Herald (Jun-Dec 1917 Reviews, via Lantern Media History Library
33 These so called “mechanical electrical” novelty shows were an effort by vaudeville to respond to the growing power of the moving picture. Married by Wireless, also produced by former Pollard members and toured in the US, was another
34 Logansport Pharos-Tribune (Indiana) 14 Dec 1920, P9 via Newspapers.com
35 Daily News (New York) 9 Jan 1923, P20 via Newspapers.com
36 Hearst’s International, Vol 43, 1923, P93, Via Internet Archive
37 Variety, 11 October 1923, P9 via the Internet Archive Library
38 The Telegraph (Bris) 12 Mar 1925, P5 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
39 See State of New South Wales, Births, Deaths and Marriages, Death certificate Henry Joseph Quealey(sic), 2 July 1927
40 Variety Oct 9, 1929, P84. via the Internet Archive Library
41 See Saranac Lake Historic Wiki – Gonzalez Cottage
42 Variety Dec 11 1935, P70, via the Internet Archive Library

“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

  • Newspaper & Magazine Sources
    • National Library of Australia’s Trove
    • Newspapers.com
    • State Library of Victoria
    • Hathitrust digital library
    • British Library Newspaper Archive
    • National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past
    • Internet Archive Library
  • Primary Sources
    • Public Records Office, Victoria
    • Ancestry.com
    • Victoria, Births, Deaths and Marriages
    • New South Wales, Births, Deaths and Marriages
    • General Register Office, HM Passport Office.

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

“The finest actress in Australia”- Gwen Day Burroughs (1888-1968)

Above: 22 year old Gwen Burroughs while in the Nellie Stewart Company, in 1910.[1] The Mirror (Perth, WA) 21 Jan 1910, P15. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Fred Niblo described her as “the finest actress in Australia” according to the Los Angeles Times.[2]The Los Angeles Times, 8 Aug 1923, P27 via Newspapers.com
Gwen Burroughs c 1908.[3]Punch (Melb) 29 Oct 1908, P17, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
 
The Five Second Version
Gwen Burroughs (or Gwen Day Burroughs more often in later life) was born into a non-theatrical family in Melbourne, Australia.  She was on stage for JC Williamsons, the Australian theatre monopoly, from her late teens, usually in ingénue roles. She made close friendships with Enid Bennett and Fred Niblo, and benefitted by appearing in support of touring players Nellie Stewart, Marie Tempest and Ethel Irving. She travelled to the US to perform in 1923, and although she returned to Australia, her 1930s New York stage work established her reputation. After 1936, she worked continually in radio in Britain, with only occasional returns to the stage. She appeared in one 1915 Australian film that has not survived.
She was probably engaged to actor Lewis Willoughby, but the couple parted company in 1918, and Gwen announced her intention to “divorce” him in 1923. Fred Niblo’s ringing endorsement about her skills as an actor dates from the same time.
Interviewed in 1947 for Radio Who’s Who, she listed one of her recreations as “sea travel,” which was fortunate, as she is amongst the best travelled Australian actors of the era. She died in London in 1968.

 


Australian career

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1888, she was named Gwendoline Helena Burroughs at birth, adopting “Day Burroughs” later in life.[4]Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages, Gwendoline Helena Burroughs, Cert 23469/1888 Her mother was Lizzie nee Harwood, her father was Thomas Melbourne Burroughs, a successful ship chandler (supplier) who turned his hand to being a grazier in 1906. Gwen attended Methodist Ladies College in Kew, where she appears to have excelled in the creative arts.

At the age of twenty she was associated with amateur theatricals at Melbourne’s Savage Club,[5]The Argus (Melb) 31 Oct 1908, P20 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove and by 1909, she was appearing professionally on Nellie Stewart’s (1858-1931) long Australian tour, playing (she later recalled) “in the funniest little out of the way places imaginable”[6]Sydney Mail, 29 Mail 1912, P21 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove – in Sweet Kitty Bellairs – where she reportedly also understudied the star. While Nellie Stewart’s own hefty autobiography contains only passing reference to Gwen, the young actor’s exposure to her – and then British actress Ethel Irving (1869-1963), was profound.[7]Irving toured Australia with the London Comedy Company in 1911-1912 “You have no idea what encouragement I have received from those two women,” she said. Early interviews also noted the influence of theatrical entrepreneur George Musgrove (1854-1916) on her career.[8]See The Sun (Sydney) 5 May 1912, P15, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Gwen as Iras in Ben Hur, a 1912 play based on the Lew Wallace novel.[9]The Town and Country Journal, 8 May 1912, P27, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Gwen’s great success in ingénue roles made her a regular subject of newspaper interviews early in her career. At 1.72cms (5’8″) in height she was taller than many of her contemporaries, with flashing dark brown eyes and black hair, and a clear, well modulated voice suited to the stage, almost certainly the product of elocution lessons that middle class Australians so valued. By 1913, some newspapers went so far as to predict this “modest Australian” would someday “be a star.”[10]see for example The Mail (Adelaide) 29 March 1913, P12, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Like so many Australian actors of the era, she was also developing plans to go to overseas to work, “some day, soon.”[11]Sydney Mail, 29 Mail 1912, P21 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove That plan appears to have been delayed by the outbreak of war in 1914 – but she stayed very busy. The Ausstage database entry for Gwen, which is not definitive, lists about twenty stage shows in Australia between 1911 and 1918.

Fred Niblo’s production of the farce The Seven keys to Baldpate in Melbourne in 1915 included his future wife Enid Bennett and Gwen Burroughs. The two women became friends.[12]J.C. Williamson scrapbooks of music and theatre programmes, 1905-1921.PROMPT Scrapbook 8 – Vol 3, P41, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Sylvia Bremer, Enid Bennett and Fred Niblo were colleagues and friends in the Australian theatre world and their assistance would be invaluable when she tried to establish herself in the US.[13]See her glowing comments about them in The Lone Hand, 7 April 1919, P23, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Gwen as the wicked blackmailer Myra, with Fred Niblo, in The Seven Keys to Baldpate, 1915.[14]Theatre Magazine (Syd)1 Oct 1914, P20-21 a two page spread – hence the crease, Via State Library of Victoria

Gwen’s one Australian movie appearance was in Monte Luke’s 1915 For Australia, a now lost film made by JC Williamson’s. Loosely based on the sinking of the German raider SMS Emden by the Australian ship HMAS Sydney in late 1914, film historians Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper note that despite the topicality of the script, it was not a success.[15]Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1980) Australian Film 1900-1977 P74. Oxford University Press/AFI The JC Williamson film studio was an experiment and it closed later that year.


Enter Lewis Willoughby 1915

Sometime in late 1914 or early 1915, Gwen met newly arrived English [16]or possibly Canadian born actor Lewis Willoughby.[17]Not to be confused with Australian theatre manager George Willoughby (Dowse) (1869-1951) Interviewed at length by Melbourne’s Table Talk in late 1914,[18]Table Talk (Melb)19 Nov 1914, P32-33, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Willoughby had a great deal to say about acting and many other things, but was also intrigued by the young democracies of Australia and New Zealand – where women could vote. Did they exercise their right to vote? And what was the attitude of Australian women to the suffragette movement, he wondered.[19]At the time, women could not vote in the UK He spent the next three years touring and performing in Australia and New Zealand – sometimes with Gwen.[20]See for example, reports in The Sydney Morning Herald 8 Apr 1916, P19 and The Register (Adelaide) 17 Jan 1917, P6 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In April 1917, after a successful tour of New Zealand, Gwen and Lewis joined Marie Tempest’s (1862-1942) company in Melbourne.[21]Sunday Times (Sydney)1 Apr 1917, P17 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Tempest was then part the way through a world performance tour. A few years later, Gwen acknowledged Tempest as one of her mentors in a long, self authored article for Australia’s Triad magazine, although her commentary on Tempest’s and Ethel Irving’s various concerns with their weight was not entirely diplomatic.[22]The Triad 11 Apr 1921, P35-36, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Lewis Willoughby and Gwen Burroughs, c 1915. Photos by May and Mina Moore, copyright held by the State Library of Victoria. [23]State Library of Victoria

Gwen and Lewis’ marriage was first mentioned in a newspaper report in September 1915.[24]See The National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW) 10 Sep 1915, P1. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove It would be easy to dismiss this as a muddled up account, except that shipping manifests in 1918 indicate the couple reported each other as dependent spouses when travelling to the US that year.[25]See shipping manifests – SS Sonoma, 9 Jan 1918 for Lewis Willoughby and SS Ventura 13 May 1918 for Gwen Willoughby via Ancestry.com Yet there appears to be no corresponding marriage certificate in Australia or New Zealand, suggesting that while they may have intended to marry, they never actually did so. See also Note 1 below, regarding Lewis’ English wife and family


Establishing herself internationally

In early 1918, Gwen and Lewis Willoughby apparently reached a decision to work in the US – and Lewis went first.[26]Variety 26 April 1918, Vol 50 Issue 9, P39, via the Internet Archive He found employment quite soon after arriving in California. In March 1918, Moving Picture World announced he would be appearing in the film Treasure of the Sea, with Edith Storey (1892-1967) – this marked the start of his modest film career as an actor and director.[27]Moving Picture World, 23 March 1918, P1682, via Lantern Digital Media History Project 30 year old Gwen “Willoughby” then arrived in California in May 1918, determined to seek work in films – in “Vampire” parts, it was reported. [28]This may have been intended to be “Vamp” roles. See Table Talk (Melb) 2 May 1918, P12, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove But she only stayed in the US for a few months – returning home in August. It seems this was also the end of her relationship with Willoughby (See Note 1 below). Over the next decade she continued to use the name Willoughby when travelling to the US, which probably relates to the documents she first presented.

On stage in Sydney again, she was soon proving herself a well established favourite with audiences and demonstrating considerable versatility – for example, in early 1919 she was performing Ibsen and musical comedy at the same time.[29]The Mirror (Sydney)17 Jan 1919, P10 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Gwen – well enough known to advertise Rexona soap for almost a decade. Note the use of Day Burroughs as a surname.[30]The Bulletin, Feb 14, 1914. P47. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In 1921, she met Enid Bennett’s younger sister Marjorie Bennett, who had been enticed back to Australia by JC Williamson’s to perform in farces and musicals, and the two performed together with English comedian Joseph Coyne in His Lady Friends.[31]The Sydney Morning Herald 28 Feb 1921, P4 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove They also appeared together in Johnny Get Your Gun.[32]New Zealand Theatre and Motion Picture, 22 May 1922, P37, Via The Internet Archive Probably with encouragement from the Bennetts, in March 1923, she made a second trip to California, arriving there at about the same time as Marjorie.[33]Sunday Times (Sydney) 18 Mar 1923, P27, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Although she again travelled using the name Gwen Willoughby, this time the passenger list contained no contact details for a husband. Instead, a pencilled annotation on the passenger list shows she was to stay with Enid Bennett and family. And soon after arrival she announced again that she planned to get roles in films, and that she was also looking forward to “getting a divorce” from Willoughby. She hoped this would “give me a new start all around.”[34]The San Francisco Examiner 10 April 1923, P13, Via Newspapers.com. However, as with a marriage certificate, no records of a divorce have been found. In her 1921 piece for The Triad, she made the following unusual comment about publicity that actors sometimes face – that hangs awkwardly at the end of the article: “any divorce case, any breach of promise case, is dissected to the most minute detailPeople are inclined to forget that the same unfortunate occurrences may thrust themselves into the very best regulated families…”[35]The Triad 11 Apr 1921, P35-36, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove But the article made no direct reference to Lewis Willoughby.

In California there were no film offers, but she was offered a role in the bedroom farce Getting Gertie’s Garter, with Marjorie Bennett, probably courtesy the rousing endorsement from Fred Niblo – who announced that Gwen was “the finest actress in the whole of Australia.” [36]Los Angeles Evening Express 4 Aug 1923, P12. via Newspapers.com. The Billboard however, quoted him as saying she was “an excellent actress” See The Billboard 25 August 1923, Vol 35 Issue … Continue reading However, after running for 11 weeks at the Egan Theatre, the play ended up in court for its “indecency.”[37]Variety 13 Sept 1923, Vol 72 Issue 4, P12, via the Internet Archive It was also very good publicity – and in the photo below, none of the cast look very worried. Changes were apparently made to the script by order of the court.[38]The Los Angeles Evening Post Record, 27 Oct, 1923, P5, via Newspapers.com The play then ran on for another four weeks.

The cast, not looking very worried about a court appearance for alleged obscenity, with Gwen Burroughs in the big hat, fifth from the left.[39]The Los Angeles Times 7 Sep 1923, P9, via Newspapers.com

In 1924, Gwen toured up and down the US east coast, some of the time appearing in the popular mystery The Last Warning, the entertaining tale of a haunted theatre. In June she appeared in One Helluva Night on Broadway with a group of actors calling themselves the “Cheese Club”. It was a one-night comedy performance, their intention was to run a play so bad it would be entertaining, and according to the New York Times the Cheese Club achieved this object – “a play so crazy in spots that it is funny.”[40]The New York Times Theater reviews. 1920-1926, P392. Via The HathiTrust But it was not funny enough to run again, apparently.

Gwen returned to Australia again in March 1926.

Gwen – second from the left in a big hat, again, on her return to Australia. February 1926.[41]Newcastle Sun, (NSW) 27 Feb 1926, P58, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In Australia she toured in another string of JC Williamson’s productions, including The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and Brown Sugar. Then, in late 1927 Gwen Day Burroughs[42] as she now usually was titled travelled to London by the ship Cathay, apparently still restless, or determined to test out new opportunities. By 1928 she was in a supporting role in the comedy Her Past, first at the Lewisham Hippodrome, and then moving to the Shaftesbury and Prince of Wales Theatres in 1929.[43]See The Stage Thursday 29 November 1928, P18 and JP Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel P646, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers But then, again, there was another change. In October 1930, Gwen “Willoughby” arrived in New York, with a contract to appear in a US version of the Frank Harvey play The Last Enemy – which opened at the Schubert Theatre in November. Reviews were mixed and the play only ran for a few nights. Not so Ivor Novello’s The Truth Game, which opened in New York a month later, with Gwen in a supporting role. It ran for over 100 performances, and was described by one journalist as “a nice clean, diverting evening in the theatre.”[44]See New York’s Daily News, 29 Dec 1930, P174, via Newspapers.com Active on the New York and US east coast stage for six years, she was now usually described as a “highly competent” member of a supporting cast – but she was no longer a leading player.


Gwen advertising makeup in 1914. [45]The Theatre Magazine, 1 June 1914, via State Library of Victoria

A career on British radio

In December 1936, Gwen Willoughby sailed back to England again. And finally, she settled down in the one place to build a career. As early as 1934, Gwen had appeared in US radio dramas[46]For example, on Hearst’s WIN radio in New York – see The Nassau Daily Review, April 20, 1934, P19 via NYS Historic Newspapers and in England, radio also became her speciality – for the next 35 years. The BBC’s very thorough list of actors and programs notes her first broadcast performance in 1937, with more than three hundred and eighty entries to 1968.[47]based on Radio Times reports Her radio career is also noteworthy for its variety.


Gwen’s experience in the US meant American roles became her speciality. Her work included original entertainments such as He’s Got Rhythm (based on the life of Cole Porter), Saddle Song (the life of Gene Autry) and Banjo Eyes (the life of Eddie Cantor). There were also radio versions of films such as Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1939) and Sunny Side Up (1939).[48]It was not uncommon for studios to licence radio versions of their popular films When war broke out, her work switched to BBC forces radio. By the late 1940s she was a regular performer for The Children’s Hour and narrated The Woman’s Hour.

By the 1950s, there were even a few Australian authored plays and radio programs that made use of her talents. In 1950 for example, the BBC ran a ten part serial based on Rolf Boldrewood’s bushranger novel Robbery Under Arms – with numerous London-based Australian actors in the cast, including John Wood, Dorothy Alison, Gwenda Wilson, Don Sharp and Gwen. The C19th Australian novel The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was serialised, (Gwen played the character role of Mother Guttersnipe) and in 1958 Vernon Harris’s series The Flying Doctor required voice artists, presumably capable of distinctive Australian accents.[49]It was made into a popular TV series a year later In 1959, she appeared in the live play Kookaburra. Set in rural Queensland c1910, it was a “kind of Australian ‘Oklahoma'”[50]The Stage, 22 Oct 1959, P38. Via British Library Newspaper Archive and featuring fellow Australians Maggie Fitzgibbon (1929-2020) and Bettina Dickson (1920-1994). It ran for a short time regionally and then at London’s Princes Theatre, where it met with mixed reviews.[51]The Age (Melb) 28 Nov 1959, P4, via Newspapers.com

In March 1955, 67 year old Gwen returned to Australia, to see her younger sister Adele and her family, and probably to test out whether she wanted to stay long term. She found work as a regular in a series of one hour radio dramas directed by Henry Cuthbertson for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC).[52]The Argus (Melb),1 Jul 1955, P13 via National Library of Australia’s Trove She stayed for ten months, but was back in London by January 1956. She continued her British radio career almost to the time of her death in 1968. Amongst her last performances was a celebrated dramatization of E M Forster’s A Passage to India, which also featured Sybil Thorndyke (1882-1976).

For many years Gwen lived alone at Collingwood House on Dolphin Square in London. She died in a Kensington nursing home on 3 April 1968.

This writer has yet to find photos of Gwen Burroughs taken after 1927. This one was taken in 1909 [53]Table Talk (Melb) 14 Jan 1909, P19 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Note 1- Lewis Willoughby (c 1876-1968)

Lewis Willoughby, who before his Australian experience had performed and designed for the theatre in London and Glasgow, already had a family – artist wife Vera and two children – in England,[54]The Stage, 14 March 1912, P24, via British Library Newspaper Archive[55]JP Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1900-1909: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, P264, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers but later went on to a long personal and professional relationship with US based, British-born actress Olga Petrova (Muriel Harding). He appeared in her play Hurricane in 1923 at New York’s Frolic Theatre – in the same year Gwen arrived to stay with the Bennetts in California. Lewis and Olga married in September 1939, following the death in England of his first wife, artist Vera Willoughby, in May*. He died in Florida in 1968. In the US, his name was generally spelled Louis.

*The claim that Vera Willoughby was born in Hungary is wrong. She was born in England as Vera Christie, but she also used the name Vera Petrovna during the 1920s.[56]Also see a relevant V&A Museum item record entry here Her father was British mathematician James Robert Christie (1814-1879).


Nick Murphy
June 2022

References

  • Text:
    • Cyrus Andrews (1947) Radio Who’s Who. Pendulum Publications, London
    • Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper (1980) Australian film 1900-1977, P224-226. Oxford University Press/AFI
    • Eric Porter (1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. Rigby
    • Anthony Slide (2002) A biographical and autobiographical study of 100 silent film actors and actresses. University of Kentucky.
    • Nellie Stewart (1923) My Life’s Story. John Sands, Sydney
    • JP Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1900-1909: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
    • JP Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
Lewis Willoughby in Trapped by the Mormons.
  • Newspaper & Magazine Sources
    • National Library of Australia’s Trove
    • State Library of Victoria
    • Newspapers.com
    • New York State Historic Newspapers Project
    • The HathiTrust
    • British Library Newspaper Archive
    • National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past
    • Internet Archive Library
  • Primary Sources
    • Familysearch.com
    • Ancestry.com
    • Victoria, Births, Deaths and Marriages
    • General Register Office, HM Passport Office.

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

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 The Mirror (Perth, WA) 21 Jan 1910, P15. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
2 The Los Angeles Times, 8 Aug 1923, P27 via Newspapers.com
3 Punch (Melb) 29 Oct 1908, P17, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
4 Victoria Births Deaths & Marriages, Gwendoline Helena Burroughs, Cert 23469/1888
5 The Argus (Melb) 31 Oct 1908, P20 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
6, 11 Sydney Mail, 29 Mail 1912, P21 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
7 Irving toured Australia with the London Comedy Company in 1911-1912
8 See The Sun (Sydney) 5 May 1912, P15, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
9 The Town and Country Journal, 8 May 1912, P27, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
10 see for example The Mail (Adelaide) 29 March 1913, P12, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
12 J.C. Williamson scrapbooks of music and theatre programmes, 1905-1921.PROMPT Scrapbook 8 – Vol 3, P41, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
13 See her glowing comments about them in The Lone Hand, 7 April 1919, P23, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
14 Theatre Magazine (Syd)1 Oct 1914, P20-21 a two page spread – hence the crease, Via State Library of Victoria
15 Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1980) Australian Film 1900-1977 P74. Oxford University Press/AFI
16 or possibly Canadian born
17 Not to be confused with Australian theatre manager George Willoughby (Dowse) (1869-1951)
18 Table Talk (Melb)19 Nov 1914, P32-33, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
19 At the time, women could not vote in the UK
20 See for example, reports in The Sydney Morning Herald 8 Apr 1916, P19 and The Register (Adelaide) 17 Jan 1917, P6 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
21 Sunday Times (Sydney)1 Apr 1917, P17 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
22, 35 The Triad 11 Apr 1921, P35-36, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
23 State Library of Victoria
24 See The National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW) 10 Sep 1915, P1. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
25 See shipping manifests – SS Sonoma, 9 Jan 1918 for Lewis Willoughby and SS Ventura 13 May 1918 for Gwen Willoughby via Ancestry.com
26 Variety 26 April 1918, Vol 50 Issue 9, P39, via the Internet Archive
27 Moving Picture World, 23 March 1918, P1682, via Lantern Digital Media History Project
28 This may have been intended to be “Vamp” roles. See Table Talk (Melb) 2 May 1918, P12, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
29 The Mirror (Sydney)17 Jan 1919, P10 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
30 The Bulletin, Feb 14, 1914. P47. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
31 The Sydney Morning Herald 28 Feb 1921, P4 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
32 New Zealand Theatre and Motion Picture, 22 May 1922, P37, Via The Internet Archive
33 Sunday Times (Sydney) 18 Mar 1923, P27, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
34 The San Francisco Examiner 10 April 1923, P13, Via Newspapers.com.
36 Los Angeles Evening Express 4 Aug 1923, P12. via Newspapers.com. The Billboard however, quoted him as saying she was “an excellent actress” See The Billboard 25 August 1923, Vol 35 Issue 34 P118, via The Internet Archive
37 Variety 13 Sept 1923, Vol 72 Issue 4, P12, via the Internet Archive
38 The Los Angeles Evening Post Record, 27 Oct, 1923, P5, via Newspapers.com
39 The Los Angeles Times 7 Sep 1923, P9, via Newspapers.com
40 The New York Times Theater reviews. 1920-1926, P392. Via The HathiTrust
41 Newcastle Sun, (NSW) 27 Feb 1926, P58, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
42 as she now usually was titled
43 See The Stage Thursday 29 November 1928, P18 and JP Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel P646, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
44 See New York’s Daily News, 29 Dec 1930, P174, via Newspapers.com
45 The Theatre Magazine, 1 June 1914, via State Library of Victoria
46 For example, on Hearst’s WIN radio in New York – see The Nassau Daily Review, April 20, 1934, P19 via NYS Historic Newspapers
47 based on Radio Times reports
48 It was not uncommon for studios to licence radio versions of their popular films
49 It was made into a popular TV series a year later
50 The Stage, 22 Oct 1959, P38. Via British Library Newspaper Archive
51 The Age (Melb) 28 Nov 1959, P4, via Newspapers.com
52 The Argus (Melb),1 Jul 1955, P13 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
53 Table Talk (Melb) 14 Jan 1909, P19 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
54 The Stage, 14 March 1912, P24, via British Library Newspaper Archive
55 JP Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1900-1909: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, P264, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
56 Also see a relevant V&A Museum item record entry here

Reita Nugent (1905-1986) – “the girl with the smile in her voice”

Above: A very glamorous looking Reita Nugent – now with blonded hair and using the stage name Janet Lind – in London in 1936 and under the management of “Madame Cecilia Arcana”. Spotlight Directory 1936, Author’s collection


The five second version
Reita (actually Margaurite) Nugent,[1]while this spelling is unusual, it is what appears on her birth and death certificates born 1905, began her career on the Australian stage in 1916, aged just 11. She gained a reputation for impressive “acrobatic dancing” in Australia, Europe and Britain, in variety and musical comedy. After an unsuccessful attempt to establish herself on the US stage in the early 1930s, she rebooted her British career in 1935 as singer, using the stage name “Janet Lind,” performing and recording with Louis Levy (1894-1957) and on a few occasions with Webster Booth (1902-1984). She became a regular singer on BBC radio and also appeared in early television. Short and vivacious, she had a stage charm that delighted audiences and although she was not given leading roles she became a close friend and associate of other actors – like Australian Cyril Ritchard (1898-1977). In 1940 she returned to Australia with her husband, and after wartime work for ABC radio, she disappeared from the public eye. She became an interior decorator and later in life ran a second hand shop in Fitzroy, where famously, she occasionally sold some of her records to collectors. She died in Fitzroy, Melbourne in July 1986.
24 year old Reita Nugent at her glamorous best – singing and dancing in Mr Cinders at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1929. [2]Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 16 March, 1929. Copyright held by the Illustrated London News Group. Via British Library Newspaper Archives

When 75 year old “Janet Lind” was interviewed as a guest on a Melbourne nostalgia radio programme in 1978, the audience must have wondered what all the fuss was about. While Alex Kenworthy’s programme played plenty of her music, she said little that informed listeners about her achievements, and Kenworthy was poorly prepared – even to the point of not being aware she was Australian born. One must conclude she had either forgotten these achievements, or really didn’t want to discuss her working life.[3]Thanks to Stephen Langley the 1978 interview has been preserved and uploaded to Youtube and can be heard here

15 year old Reita, in a large spread on Yes Uncle! [4]The Theatre Magazine 1 Sept 1920, via State Library of Victoria

This is surprising, because her reputation as a dancer on the Australian stage was an impressive one – even before she was an adult. In 1920 the Sydney Referee reported 15 year old Reita as “One of the pleasant surprises awaiting the visitor to [the play] Yes Uncle!, at Her Majesty’s… [Her] terpsichorean abilities not possessed by many of her profession.”[5]Referee (Syd) 29 Sep 1920 P7, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

19 year old Reita (standing centre and at her full height of 5 foot or 150 cms tall) with Albert Frith and Cecil Kellaway in an Australian production of Cabaret Girl, 1924. [6]Photo by Monte Luke, Lady Viola Tait Collection, via National Library of Australia‘s Trove

Reita’s Australian career 1909-1926

Born Margaurite Olive Nugent in South Melbourne, Australia in 1905,[7]Victoria Birth Certificate, Margaurite Olive Nugent, 24 February 1905,12141/1905 “Reita” or “Rita” was the fifth child of Margaret nee O’Shea and Michael Joseph Nugent, a Victorian Railways employee. The two oldest children of the family – Ella (born 1894) and Patrick (born 1896) both performed in the ill-fated Pollards Opera Company tour of India in 1909-1910. Despite the experience, both continued performing for some time. Brothers Len (born 1902) and Ray (born 1900) also became performers.[8]Len also became a recording artist in the 1920s and 30s, by this time calling himself Terrance Nugent – hear one of his songs here, thanks to Stephen Langley

Reita’s earliest appearances on stage began when she was only five years old – she was noted as being in the chorus of Sweet County Kerry at Melbourne’s Bijou Theatre, in July 1909.[9]Table Talk,15 Jul 1909, P24, via National Library of Australia’s Trove This suggests that the Nugent family, by now living in Gore Street in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy,[10]Australian Electoral Roll, Division of Batman, 1909 had made a conscious decision that all their children should pursue careers on the stage. As this writer has noted elsewhere, this was not simply a matter of obliging an early interest by a child. It was a pathway to opportunity and wealth that was otherwise not possible for working class families. In the case of Ella and Patrick,[11]aged 15 and 13 years respectively the Nugent parents were party to an agreement with Arthur Pollard, who was taking the children on an overseas performance tour with other juveniles – and intending to be away for a year or more. The Nugents were paid via a trust fund.[12]For an example of a similar contract see Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards, P212, Steele Roberts

Reita and her regular Australian dance partner Jack Hooker. c1924[13]Enlarged from Sheet music, The Cabaret Girl, author’s collection

In later life, Reita was inclined to suggest that she was self-taught as a dancer and singer, and in her 1978 radio interview she made no reference to tutors or mentors.[14]Also see her March 1941 interview in The Wireless Weekly: the hundred per cent Australian radio journal Vol. 36 No. 12 (March 22, 1941) P3, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove However, contemporary newspaper reports confirm that she was a student of Melbourne dance teacher Jennie Brenan for most of the ten years 1916-1926.[15]The Herald (Melb) 30 Oct 1926, P22, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

The Ausstage Live Performance Database lists at least twenty-five Australian performances for her – the names Reita and Rita were used interchangeably.[16]As they were in life – Theatre programmes also spelled her first name both ways The lists also indicate that she began a serious stage career at the age of 11 or 12, and then worked almost continually – for JC Williamsons’ troupes – as a featured dancer, often in partnership with Jack Hooker. Interviewed in 1923, she stated a wish to become a singer and move into roles in musical comedy.[17]The Herald (Melb) 2 June 1923, P13 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove She did so – at the end of 1924 she had her first major speaking part in Betty, while a few months later she was dancing AND singing in Primrose, “with charm.”[18]The World’s News (Syd) 3 Oct 1925, P6, REITA NUGENT’S RISE, via National Library of Australia’s Trove One newspaper reviewer asked “Why, why doesn’t some enterprising producer make a star of Reita? She is a magnificent dancer, and can sing and speak pleasingly. The dancing was superb.”[19]The Australian Jewish Herald (Melb) 24 Sep 1925, P22, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Reita in Europe and Britain 1926+

Reita in the Empire Theatre lineup, Paris, April 1927. Programme in author’s collection

Clearly ambitious, when a chance to perform overseas arose in 1926, Reita took it. She left Australia in June 1926 with a contract to perform in a touring variety show in Berlin, Vienna and Paris, alongside Australian dance partner Charlie Brooks – although this was, again, in specialist dance numbers and part of a larger show.[20]The Argus (Melb) 22 Jun 1926, P12, via National Library of Australia’s Trove Reita’s footsteps across Europe in 1926-1927 are faint, but the variety tour she joined, likely began in Berlin. When the show reached Paris in March 1927, Paris-Midi provided a rare critical review of her performance which may also have highlighted a challenge she was experiencing: “Reita Nugent has at least as much talent as [Brooks] and she dances just as well. [But] it seems quite inaccurate to consider their complicated exercises as a dance. A dance has a rhythm… Certainly, Charlie Brooks and Reita Nugent are excellent acrobats, but… without rhythm… Moreover, they seem to forget that comedy is born of observation and simplicity. The complexity of the act… evokes the idea of ​​a terribly concerted effort. I don’t think effort, toil and application have ever provoked laughter.[21]Paris-Midi, 14 April 1927. Via Gallica, Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Translation is the responsibility of this author The reader can view Reita’s unique and acrobatic style of dancing here, in the short British Pathe newsreel entitled “India Rubber Muscles,” filmed in 1928. Perhaps, while popular with some audiences, a career in acrobatic dancing[22]or “eccentric dancing” as it was sometimes called was hard work, plus – as a niche area of performance, not likely to lead to anything else.

Madge and Cyril, 1928, So this is Love[23]Theatre programme – Author’s collection

Back in London her ability as a dancer and singer saw her in the supporting role of Peggy in the new George and Ira Gershwin musical about bootlegging, Oh Kay! in late 1927. While The Times felt the plot was “incomprehensible” and the music “commonplace,”[24]See J. P. Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. P539, Rowman and Littlefield it was a success with audiences, running for over 200 performances at Her Majesty’s Theatre. In April 1928, she appeared in a long run of Stanley Lupino’s So this is Love with old colleagues from the Australian stage, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Ritchard and Elliott were good enough friends to attend Reita’s wedding to English businessman William Fairbairn Hall in August 1931.[25]In fact, Ritchard gave Reita away at the wedding. See Table Talk, 27 August 1931, P1. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Sylvia Leslie, the petite Reita, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott in So this is Love, in 1928.[26]Theatre programme – author’s collection

Then, following a long run at the Hippodrome in Mr Cinders, Reita went to Berlin with a German version of the play. Years later her young Australian dance partner Renee Murphy recalled that performing this gender-reversed version of the Cinderella story, in German, was “heavy weather” because of cultural differences in humour.[27]ABC Weekly May 5 1945, P38, via National Library of Australia’s Trove However, German reviews of Reita’s “extraordinary dancing” were enthusiastic.[28]Sport Im Bild Issue 21, 1930. Via Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Reita was well enough known in Britain to be advertising Lux soap at the time of Mr Cinders.[29]The Nottingham Evening Post, 27 Mar 1930, P6 via British Library Newspaper Archive

Reita tries the US 1931-2

Reita and her husband travelled to the US soon after her wedding, and she did not return to London until December 1932. On her return to Australia ten years later, she gave some accounts of what she had done in the US. She said she had appeared in a 1931 tour of the play Gay Divorce[30]When made into a film by RKO it became The Gay Divorcee with Fred Astaire and Clare Luce. She also claimed she used the names Judy Kent, Janet Lorraine and Janet Faye, because of problems with Actors Equity.[31]The ABC Weekly, 22 March 1941, P9. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Perhaps. However, there is no evidence of a person going by any of these names in the touring cast, or when it opened on Broadway on November 29 1932. In her 1941 Australian accounts, Reita also claimed that she had trained in dance while in the US, which is plausible. She also mentioned performing in unspecified “variety,” but what this work entailed seems impossible to verify.[32]The Home, an Australian Quarterly, Vol 22, No 6, 2 June 1941. P60-61 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Becoming Janet Lind 1935 +

On her return to London Reita appeared in another musical, the spectacular Ball at the Savoy, at the Drury Lane. However, at the same time she was increasingly involved with BBC radio, and appeared as a singer and dancer in some of the very early televised programmes,[33]See for example, News Chronicle, March 23, 1934, P13. Via British Library newspaper Archive. Also see BBC Programme index available only to the handful of people with television receivers at the time, and unfortunately lost to us today.

Sometime in September 1935 Reita signed up with agent Cecilia Arcana, or Madame Arcana as she liked to be called. A former singer and now also a voice coach (see Note 1 below), Madame’s management coincided with the start of Reita’s serious singing career and possibly it was she who helped Reita find a new stage name and made connections.[34]Reita herself said she took the new stage name from a Bond Street store In October 1935 Madame announced Janet Lind as her new “find,” performing in a radio version of the comic opera Veronique.[35]Evening Standard (London) 8 Oct 1935, P18 via Newspapers.com The name Reita Nugent disappeared overnight. But it was not until August 1936, five months later, that there was public acknowledgement Janet Lind really was the well known Reita Nugent.[36]See for example Birmingham Gazette, 4 August 1936, P4. “Janet Lind, radio’s mystery vocalist…is a mystery no longer” via British Library Newspaper Archive and The … Continue reading

It is difficult to be certain how much influence Madame had on Reita, particularly as neither made reference to the other in later years. However, it is the case that the glamorous studio photos (see top of article and below) date from this time, as does Reita’s first appearance, now as Janet Lind, performing in the BBC programme Music from the Movies with conductor Louis Levy and the Gaumont British Orchestra.[37]The first performance by Janet Lind with Levy and the house orchestra for Gaumont British Studios is mentioned in British newspapers in March 1936. Levy was also music director for the studio In various interviews, Reita suggested she auditioned several times as a singer before she was successful. Given that Reita’s singing voice had already been heard and remarked upon in 1924, it appears that she was indeed, naturally very talented. However, it would be unusual for an Australian who had finished formal education at age 12 to have developed the singing voice we hear in her surviving recordings without some training.[38]The refined Australian accent we hear in her 1978 radio interview might have evolved in her 14 years in Britain and Europe, but is unlikely to have survived the 46 years 1940-86 in Australia without … Continue reading

As Janet Lind, Reita performed for the BBC almost continuously between 1936 and 1940. In addition to singing (most famously music from films), she appeared in radio versions of musical comedies, varieties and apparently also dramas. By 1939 she was also compering radio programmes for the armed forces.[39]See BBC Programme Index The slogan “The girl with the smile in her voice” also dates from this busy pre-war period.[40]Daily News(London) 17 July, 1936, P14. Via British Library’s Newspaper Archive

A very glamorous Janet Lind photo accompanying a very inaccurate 1941 article in The Home. The photo, probably taken in Britain, is a reminder of the skills of studio photographers at the time. [41]The Home, an Australian Quarterly, Vol 22, No 6, 2 June 1941. P60-61 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Surviving recordings of her performances with Louis Levy in the late 1930s are easily found – a number are listed at the end of this article. Also existing (click here) is one of her performances with Webster Booth (1902-1984), which collectors Stephen Langley and Jean Collen suggest showcases her singing at its best.

Janet Lind returns to Australia 1940

In August 1940, Reita and her husband decided to leave Britain for Australia, via the USA.[42]Jean Collen has reminded me that this move was quite dramatic and remains unexplained. Why would she leave a successful career in Britain? They departed Liverpool, bound for New York on the SS Samaria. In the US, Reita sang several times for radio stations, but the couple were in Sydney by early October. A performer newly returned to Australia from the London scene, and of Reita’s prowess, was a novelty in 1940 and there were numerous newspaper reports.[43]not all of which seem to match what is otherwise known of her activities – but some might be, such as her story of her luggage being on a different, torpedoed ship

Janet Lind, looking different again, on the cover of an Australian magazine in 1941. [44]The ABC Weekly Vol 3, No 12, 22 March 1941, Page 1 Cover. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In April 1941, Reita joined ABC radio’s Out of the Bag, a light entertainment style programme featuring Australian comedian Dick Bentley,[45]Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga), 11 June 1941, P4. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove who had also recently arrived home from London. It had been devised by another recent returnee – Harry Pringle (1903-1985), whom Reita had known in London, ten years before.[46]National Film and Sound Archive, Title No: 793604, collection photo of Reita with Pringle in London in 1930-not digitised

As for so many people, the Second World War seems to have changed Reita’s fortunes. Her husband joined the Army,[47]it was brief, presumably due to health issues while she continued performing on Australian radio, however there were fewer live performances – the last possibly being a US forces musical in 1944.[48]The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 11 Nov 1944, P4, via National Library of Australia’s Trove By 1948, it seems she had drifted into an entirely new career, as Australian newspapers reported that she was now an interior designer,[49]The Mercury (Hobart) 27 Sept 1948, P3. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove and now used the name Jane Hall.[50]The Argus(Melb) 25 Jan 1950, P6, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Although she lived in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak in the late 1960s and 1970s, she appears to have moved above the second hand shop she ran in Fitzroy soon after her husband’s death in 1984. Her death certificate clearly states her place of residence was 345 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, and that she also went by the name Jane Hall. While Australian newspapers appear to have missed her passing, British newspapers did not. The London Daily Telegraph ran an obituary reminding British readers of her past success as a singer, with her “light, well-articulated voice of refreshing clarity”, and stating that she had taken up singing under the guidance of Madame Arcana.[51]The Daily Telegraph, 5 Aug 1986, P10, via Newspapers.com

345 Brunswick Street Fitzroy in 2022. The vegan shoe shop was once Reita’s shop. At the time of her death in 1986, she lived upstairs. Author’s collection.

Note 1

Madame Cecilia Arcana (Olive or Mary Clifton c1887-1969) had a career on the English stage as a singer before becoming a teacher of voice and elocution. She ran her own agency in London from about 1930 until 1940 when she moved to the US and attempted to reestablish herself. In the early 1950s she settled in Kings Cross, Sydney, where she again took up teaching voice and elocution. She died in Sydney in May 1969.[52]NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages, Madame Cecilia Arcana, Death Certificate 23075/1969 To the end of her days she remained proud of the performers she had mentored and convinced of her almost mystic ability to predict success – although she did not mention Janet Lind again after the initial announcement noted above. In 1967 she predicted “Mark my words! Don Lane will become an international film star of the first water”[53]The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jan 1967, P6, via Newspapers.com US born Don Lane (1933-2009) did become a popular Australian TV presenter but not a film star. She was inclined to speak about herself in a most grandiloquent way, as this advertisement in The Era illustrates.

Madame Arcana advertising her skills in 1934. [54]The Era 28 March, 1934, P2. Via the British Library Newspaper Archive.

Madame Arcana still at work, ABC weekly, 1956
[55] ABC Weekly Vol. 18 No. 25, 23 June 1956 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
 

Special thanks

to Stephen Langley for assistance with this account.

Further Reading

  • Text
    • Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards, Steele Roberts
    • Kurt Ganzl (2001) The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre. Schirmer Books
    • J. P. Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1930-1939: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Rowman and Littlefield
    • J. P. Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Rowman and Littlefield
  • Newspaper & Magazine Sources
    • National Library of Australia’s Trove
    • State Library of Victoria
    • Newspapers.com
    • British Library Newspaper Archive
    • Österreichische Nationalbibliothek-Austrian National Library, digitised newspapers
    • Bibliothèque Nationale de France -National library of France, digitized newspapers
  • Primary Sources
    • Familysearch.com
    • Ancestry.com
    • Victoria, Births, Deaths and Marriages
    • General Register Office, HM Passport Office.

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



Footnotes

Footnotes
1 while this spelling is unusual, it is what appears on her birth and death certificates
2 Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 16 March, 1929. Copyright held by the Illustrated London News Group. Via British Library Newspaper Archives
3 Thanks to Stephen Langley the 1978 interview has been preserved and uploaded to Youtube and can be heard here
4 The Theatre Magazine 1 Sept 1920, via State Library of Victoria
5 Referee (Syd) 29 Sep 1920 P7, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
6 Photo by Monte Luke, Lady Viola Tait Collection, via National Library of Australia‘s Trove
7 Victoria Birth Certificate, Margaurite Olive Nugent, 24 February 1905,12141/1905
8 Len also became a recording artist in the 1920s and 30s, by this time calling himself Terrance Nugent – hear one of his songs here, thanks to Stephen Langley
9 Table Talk,15 Jul 1909, P24, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
10 Australian Electoral Roll, Division of Batman, 1909
11 aged 15 and 13 years respectively
12 For an example of a similar contract see Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards, P212, Steele Roberts
13 Enlarged from Sheet music, The Cabaret Girl, author’s collection
14 Also see her March 1941 interview in The Wireless Weekly: the hundred per cent Australian radio journal Vol. 36 No. 12 (March 22, 1941) P3, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
15 The Herald (Melb) 30 Oct 1926, P22, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
16 As they were in life – Theatre programmes also spelled her first name both ways
17 The Herald (Melb) 2 June 1923, P13 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
18 The World’s News (Syd) 3 Oct 1925, P6, REITA NUGENT’S RISE, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
19 The Australian Jewish Herald (Melb) 24 Sep 1925, P22, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
20 The Argus (Melb) 22 Jun 1926, P12, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
21 Paris-Midi, 14 April 1927. Via Gallica, Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Translation is the responsibility of this author
22 or “eccentric dancing” as it was sometimes called
23 Theatre programme – Author’s collection
24 See J. P. Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. P539, Rowman and Littlefield
25 In fact, Ritchard gave Reita away at the wedding. See Table Talk, 27 August 1931, P1. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
26 Theatre programme – author’s collection
27 ABC Weekly May 5 1945, P38, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
28 Sport Im Bild Issue 21, 1930. Via Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
29 The Nottingham Evening Post, 27 Mar 1930, P6 via British Library Newspaper Archive
30 When made into a film by RKO it became The Gay Divorcee
31 The ABC Weekly, 22 March 1941, P9. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
32, 41 The Home, an Australian Quarterly, Vol 22, No 6, 2 June 1941. P60-61 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
33 See for example, News Chronicle, March 23, 1934, P13. Via British Library newspaper Archive. Also see BBC Programme index
34 Reita herself said she took the new stage name from a Bond Street store
35 Evening Standard (London) 8 Oct 1935, P18 via Newspapers.com
36 See for example Birmingham Gazette, 4 August 1936, P4. “Janet Lind, radio’s mystery vocalist…is a mystery no longer” via British Library Newspaper Archive and The Queenslander, 6 August 1936, P11 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
37 The first performance by Janet Lind with Levy and the house orchestra for Gaumont British Studios is mentioned in British newspapers in March 1936. Levy was also music director for the studio
38 The refined Australian accent we hear in her 1978 radio interview might have evolved in her 14 years in Britain and Europe, but is unlikely to have survived the 46 years 1940-86 in Australia without conscious effort
39 See BBC Programme Index
40 Daily News(London) 17 July, 1936, P14. Via British Library’s Newspaper Archive
42 Jean Collen has reminded me that this move was quite dramatic and remains unexplained. Why would she leave a successful career in Britain?
43 not all of which seem to match what is otherwise known of her activities – but some might be, such as her story of her luggage being on a different, torpedoed ship
44 The ABC Weekly Vol 3, No 12, 22 March 1941, Page 1 Cover. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
45 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga), 11 June 1941, P4. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
46 National Film and Sound Archive, Title No: 793604, collection photo of Reita with Pringle in London in 1930-not digitised
47 it was brief, presumably due to health issues
48 The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 11 Nov 1944, P4, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
49 The Mercury (Hobart) 27 Sept 1948, P3. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
50 The Argus(Melb) 25 Jan 1950, P6, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
51 The Daily Telegraph, 5 Aug 1986, P10, via Newspapers.com
52 NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages, Madame Cecilia Arcana, Death Certificate 23075/1969
53 The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jan 1967, P6, via Newspapers.com
54 The Era 28 March, 1934, P2. Via the British Library Newspaper Archive.
55 ABC Weekly Vol. 18 No. 25, 23 June 1956 via National Library of Australia’s Trove