Robert Maynard provided this photo of former Pollard’s star William Thomas at his butcher shop, on Hampshire Rd, Sunshine, sometime in the 1920s. William (centre) proudly holds his daughter Emma. His years performing for Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in North America and Asia are far behind him. Photo courtesy Robert Maynard.
My lecturers so long ago – Tom Ryan, Arthur Cantrill and Ken Mogg.
And the following people deserve special thanks;
Richard Bradshaw regarding Fred Stone
Joyce Mostyn, Norm Archibald, John Armine Wodehouse Earl of Kimberley, Dianne Byrne and Simone Cubbin regarding Mary Maguire
Martin Goebel, Charles Zhang and Mark Lepp regarding Saharet
Melissa Anderson regarding Lotus Thompson
Catherine Crocker regarding Midas Martyn and the Pollard’s
Robert Maynard regarding Willie Thomas and the Pollard’s
Stephanie Welsh regarding Jocelyn Howarth
Writer Robert Gott , Editors Jane Cussen & Ingrid Purnell
Henry Rosenbloom from Scribe
Sandra Joy Aguilar (Director of Archives and Curator at the Warner Bros Archives at the University of Southern California)
Joe Henderson (National Archives in Kew, England),
Dan Gulino (radiowasbetter.com),
Jock Murphy, (former Director of Collections at the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne),
Dorothy Weekes, (former Archivist at Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy),
Sister Helen Salter (Archivist at Loreto Convent in Brisbane)
A young Fred Stone from Sydney doing the splits in London in 1929 – an impressive skill only sometimes achieved by male dancers even today. Photo courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
At the age of 21, Fred Stone left Depression era Sydney on the P&O ship Benalla, arriving in London in May 1929. He never returned to Australia. In the United Kingdom he became a well known favourite on stage, sometimes also appearing in supporting roles in films and TV. Fred’s attitude to his country of birth was at best, ambivalent. While he stayed in regular contact with his Australian family until his mother died in 1956, he seems, by accident or design, to have often added to the confusion about who he was, and where he was from. This is probably reflected in the wildly inaccurate Internet Movie Database entry that currently states he was born in Derby, England!
He was born Frederick George Stone in a terrace house in Liverpool Street, Paddington, an inner suburb of Sydney, on 9 July 1908. His parents were Frederick Stone and Margaret Calder nee Nixon, both of whom had been stewards on ships. Fred and his older sister “Lalla” (Agnes), spent their childhood in a large airy home their father had built at 19 Balfour Rd, Kensington, perhaps as a consequence of his success as a punter. Both children attended the nearby Kensington Public School. At some point in his childhood, Fred discovered the pleasure of performing on stage, an interest his mother had encouraged. In his mid teens he worked for two years at Farmer’s Department Store, Sydney, but left to pursue his passion. In 1925, while attending the Harry Thomas School of Elocution, he came in for praise in the part of Paris, in Romeo and Juliet. Fred’s first professional roles were in the choruses of musicals. On 1 March 1927, Fred appeared in the chorus of “Sunny,” , a new musical by Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach at Sydney’s Empire Theatre. He also appeared (as Freddie Stone) in the chorus of Good News, a musical about US college life that opened at St James Theatre on 10 November 1928. A slightly sniffy reviewer for “The Sydney Morning Herald” described it as something that would be popular with those, who like “American jazz comedy“.
Above: Good News program courtesy Richard Bradshaw. Click to enlarge.
Left: Fred and his sister Lalla (and two of her children) shortly before Fred departed for England in 1929.
Right: Fred Stone in Wellington, New Zealand, in the late 1920s while he was in the chorus of the new musical “Sunny”. Photos courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
Fred was a good looking and talented young actor, so it is not surprising he found regular stage work soon after arriving in England. In late 1929 he had landed a role inMr Cinders at the Prince’s Theatre, Bristol, the play being a clever inversion of the Cinderella story. He went on to appear in a number of musicals and comedies in the 1930s, including The White Horse Inn, The Flying TrapezeandTulip Time. He now called himself Frederic Stone, probably to avoid confusion with the US cinema star of the same name.
Above Left: Richard Hearne, Robert Gordon and Fred Stone making up for The Flying Trapeze at the Alhambra Theatre in 1935. Courtesy Richard Bradshaw. This was a musical set in a circus, starring Jack Buchanan. Fred’s supporting role was the Ballet Master. Above Right: A screen grab of Fred in Be Careful Mr Smith, released in 1935.
In 1935, he appeared in the film Be Careful Mr Smithas a performer who sings the old music hall favourite, “The Man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.” He is on screen with leading actor Bobbie Comber for a full five minutes, which makes the lack of credit for the role he played surprising, even for a “quota quickie,” as these types of movies were characterised.
The un-credited Fred Stone sings the first verse and chorus until interrupted by Mr Smith (Bobbie Comber) who insists it be sung slowly in the traditional musical hall manner. Clip from Be Careful Mr Smith courtesy Peter Charlton.
His successful stage career in the 1930s saw him perform throughout the UK and beyond – in 1937 he joined the George Clark company tour of South Africa, performing a review called Let’s Join George. On the outbreak of World War II he was appearing in a bedroom farce called Room for Two, and not long after that, another one, called High Temperature, advertised as “a play for the broad-minded.”
By early 1940, Fred, like numerous other actors, had joined the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). By a sequence of events no longer known, in early 1942 he had ended up in the RAF and was performing in one of Ralph Reader‘s Gang Shows. With more than ten years stage experience, Sergeant Fred Stone #1223414 was leader for one Gang Show group entertaining troops in Europe. Joining him, from about 1944, was a very young Tony Hancock, who can clearly be seen in the following photos. There were at least fifteen gang show groups performing for British and Allied forces.
(Click to enlarge)
Above Left: Fred in drag (second from the left) for a undated Gang Show sketch. Hancock is second from the right. Above Right: A Gang Show sketch with John Beaver as the sleepwalker at right. Hancock is fourth from the left, while Fred is fifth from the left with buck teeth. The astute reader will note that Fred marked himself in photos with a small cross, for the benefit of his mother. Courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
Above: Another Gang show with Hancock second from the left and Fred third from the left. John Fisher’s biography of Hancock may describe this sketch: “In one sketch entitled ‘Rumours’ Tony found himself in a skirt alongside John Beaver and Fred Stone…as three charladies caught up in an air-raid …until the arrival of a Duchess played by Robert Moreton”. Photos courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
The Gang Shows are famous for giving a number of British actors valuable stage experience – amongst them comedians Peter Sellers and Dick Emery. Interviewed about his Gang Show experiences in 1963, Tony Hancock had this to say;
“My first overseas posting was with Ralph Reader’s Gang Show to Africa – not that I really knew where I was going at the time; the R.A.F didn’t really keep me very well informed… From North Africa we moved to the front line in Italy. Well not actually to it. We got about three miles behind it once, but that was the closest we ever did.
When our show came back to England it was great to see that it was still tightly disciplined. And that was entirely due to Fred Stone who later appeared in ‘The Boy Friend.’ He was a very strong personality who managed to keep 11 men who were living as closely as we were in reasonable shape. And I realise now that this was because he would have nothing wrong with the show.
No matter what he felt personally about anything, it couldn’t interfere with a performance. I was only 20 or so at the time and it was a great example to me.” (Tony Hancock in the TV.Times [U.K.], 11 January 1963)
In 1949-50 he reprised his 1932-33 role as Leopold the waiter in The White Horse Inn on tour in the U.K. for theatre impresario Prince Littler.
Fred had first performed at the Players’ Theatre Club in 1939, and after World War II he returned – appearing there (between other commitments) in their nightly show, until the 1980s, often acting as Chairman (the traditional music hall term for Master of Ceremonies) who ad-libbed with the audience and introduced sketches. Many other well known British actors appeared at Players’ Theatre, some that today’s readers may recognise include Hattie Jacques, Peter Ustinov, Clive Dunn, Ian Carmichael and Joan Sterndale-Bennett.
In her entertaining but not always accurate autobiography, British Actress Ada Reeve recounted being taken to the Player’s Theatre for her 80th birthday in the early 1950s; “here, on the very stage where I had made my first West End appearance as a girl of fourteen, I once more had the thrill of being announced by a chairman – handsome Fred Stone, in appropriately Victorian garb.”
In 1953, Players’ commissioned Sandy Wilson to write a 45 minute piece to end the evening show – which became the genesis of The Boy Friend. It was so well received, that after four weeks, he was asked to expand it, and this became the musical so well known today.
Fred’s contribution is noted in Sandy Wilson’s own autobiography:
“Freddy’s presence in the show turned out to be another invaluable asset, since his experience went back to the Twenties themselves and he had actually been in the chorus of the kind of show we were trying to recreate. “
Wilson also acknowledged that he based ‘The Riviera’ dance’ in The Boy Friend on the ‘Varsity Drag’ from the musical Good News. Wilson recalled “Fred Stone’s advice was again invaluable because he had been in the chorus of that show.” Producer Vida Hope also incorporated many of Fred’s experiences – he reportedly said; “She made no bones about using everything I suggested…But, being an actor, I did far too much… So Vida would cut it down. She would let me do it for about twenty-four hours, and then she said, ‘Now, darling, we’ll tidy this up.'”
Fred as Percy Browne, the millionaire father of the heroine, in The Boy Friend, with Joan Sterndale Bennett as Madame Dubonnet, sometime in 1954. Photo courtesy Richard Bradshaw. Hugh Paddick also played this role.
The hugely popular musical The Boy Friend opened at the Wyndham Theatre in January 1954. This is the modest program from around that time. Author’s collection.
Fred’s other well known role was playing various pantomime dames, in fact a contract to perform as one took him away from The Boy Friendfor a short period. Fred’s 1995 obituary in “The Daily Telegraph” includes a mid 1960s photo of Fred en point in ballet shoes, with tutu and makeup, as “Madame Stonaskaya” and clearly enjoying the outrageous role.
Ever versatile, in 1959 Fred Stone finally took on the role of a villain, Captain Herbert Skinner, in a new version of a once popular Victorian melodrama The Silver Kingperformed by The Players’.
Fred playing the villain Captain Skinner, with Madeleine Dring and 27 year old Prunella Scales, in The Silver King. The Stage, 1 January 1959 via the British Library Newspaper Archive.
Between November 1961 and June 1962, a troupe of the Players’ club regulars travelled to New York to appear at the Strollers Theatre Club, where Fred performed as Chairman. A New York “Daily News” reviewer described that “delightful Englishman Fred Stone” as “a cross between (designer/photographer) Cecil Beaton and (actor) Cyril Ritchard.“ The journalist was unaware apparently, that like Fred, Cyril Ritchard was Sydney born.
(Click to enlarge) A troupe from the Players’ club arrives in New York, as shown in two publicity photos taken for Pan Am’s in-flight magazine “Clipper,”c 1961.
In the group photos with bicycles are, left to right: Fred, Jean Rayner, Anthony Bateman, Margaret Burton, Archie Harradine, Joan Sterndale Bennett, Sheila Bernette, and Geoffrey Webb. The review was called Time, Gentlemen Please.
Fred continued to be active to the end of his life. British director Lindsay Anderson recalled meeting Fred while making a Ronson shaver commercial in May 1965. His published diary records that at the time, Fred had just finished performing in Divorce Me Darling, the sequel to The Boy Friend. It also confirms Fred’s reputation as the consummate professional;
“Called wearily to St John’s Wood Studio at 8:30 for Ronson Shavers commercial … Fred Stone turns out [to be] excellent casting: the (only slightly) camp father from ‘The Boy Friend’ – has just closed in Sandy’s ‘Divorce Me Darling’. A trouper, and good. On hearing me sing ‘Spread a Little Happiness*’ remarks ––”I was in that show ––Mr Anderson’!”
(*This was a song in “Mr Cinders”)
Fred’s last theatre appearance may have been with the Players’ Theatre in 1990, when a dozen of the original performers in The Boy Friend reprised their roles. A reviewer for “The Stage” reported “At the end, a roaring surge of affection rewarded this great and gallant troupe of performers for providing an occasion at once historic, enthralling and deeply touching.” Fred Stone was 81 at the time, and he had been performing for over sixty years.
Late in life, Fred lectured and provided witty after dinner speeches about the great days of music hall entertainment. He also toured community centres in London, in entertainments organised by Peter Charlton.Always keen on physical fitness, he recovered quickly from a stroke which hit him during a performance later in life. He lived much of his life in a flat at 116 Great Titchfield Street in London, not far from the theatres of the West End. He died at Denville Hall, a retirement home for actors in Northwood, London, on 8 July, 1995. He had no partner and no strong ties to Australia. The obituaries were effusive – one spoke of a “marvellous man, full of vitality and a fabulous character…when he was up there on stage, there was nobody to touch him.”
For some years after his death, Fred was still introduced at the start of the second half at the Players’ Theatre with words to the effect “It gives me particular pleasure tonight, ladies and gentlemen, because the next artiste is none other than your own, your very own, Fred Stone!” There would then be an apology to explain he was not available tonight. Fred would have enjoyed the joke.
Special Thanks The Australian puppeteer Richard Bradshaw (OAM), former Artistic Director of the Marionette Theatre of Australia, is a nephew of Fred Stone. The author thanks him for generously providing so much information about Fred’s life and sharing so many of the photos Fred posted home to his mother.
Nick Murphy August 2019
John Fisher (2008) Tony Hancock: The Definitive Biography. Harper
Jean Anderson, Leonard Sachs (Eds) Archie Harradine (1943) Late Joys at the Players’ Theatre. Staples Press.
Reeve, Ada (1954). Take It for a Fact: A Record of My Seventy-Five Years on the Stage. Heinemann.
Paul Sheridan (1952) Late and Early Joys at the Players’ Theatre. T. V. Boardman and Co
Paul Sutton (2005) The Diaries – Lindsay Anderson, Methuen.
Sandy Wilson (1975) I could be Happy: An Autobiography. Joseph.
The Daily Telegraph (UK) Fred Stone Obituary. 25 July 1995
National Library of Australia – Trove
British Library – British newspaper Archive
The Stage (UK) The Boy Friend in Concert. 8 February 1990
This screen grab shows Harry Allen as the photographer in “Ella Cinders”, a 1926 Colleen Moore film. He was 47 by this time this film was made. Source – author’s collection. The film is now in the public domain.
Born in Carlton, Melbourne, in 1878, Henry “Harry Radford” Allen’s story is a familiar one. A stage actor who worked hard to establish his name, Harry found himself in the later part of his career working in Hollywood, taking on minor supporting and often un-credited roles, generally as a cockney cabman, a doorman, a butler or similar. Harry had at least 100 film credits of this type, unfortunately many of these quite forgettable. It was an experience shared by other Australian actors in Hollywood, including Charles Coleman, Robert Greig, Clyde Cook and Snub Pollard, who had also arrived there after successful careers on stage – usually in vaudeville.
Above: A bald Harry Allen in his small speaking scene from The Earl of Chicago (1940), with fellow Melbourne actor Snub Pollard as an extra clearly in the background. The two children may be Allan’s own. Australians Billy Bevan and Frank Bakeralso appeared in the film. MGM and Warner Home movies re-released this film on DVD in 2011.
Harry was born in Barkly Street in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton, near the busy intersection of Johnson and Nicholson Streets, on 10 July 1878. Harry’s parents were Cordelia Potter, a singer and pianist from Fitzroy, and Robert Owen Allen, from Tasmania, a sometime storeman and clerk, who may also have been a comic singer. Although many of the small cottages in this area have been demolished, those surviving give us an idea of the area in the time Harry was born.
Harry was almost certainly encouraged onto the stage by his parents, but of his upbringing we know little except that a sister, Georgina Ethel, died in infancy in 1880. We also cannot easily trace what happened to his parents, although it appears Cordelia may have later remarried. Nor do we know much about Harry’s career in the late 1890s and early 1900s. We do know that by his late twenties, Harry had some stage experience with J. C. Williamson’s in Australia, although curiously, unlike so many of his contemporaries, he consistently avoided publicity. In June 1910, he married a fellow actor – Marjorie Josephine Condon, at the Brisbane registry office. Here, on a remarkably inaccurate marriage certificate, he gave his age as “27” (he was 32) and his birth place as “New York”. In March 1912, Harry managed a J. C. Williamson’s fund- raising “monster theatrical carnival,” held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. But soon after this, he abandoned Australia and Marjorie forever. In May 1913 he set off for New York via Vancouver on the SS Marama, in company with well known comic Sam Rowley, who had considerable experience working in North America. On the ship’s manifest Harry again claimed he had been born in the United States.
While Sam Rowley continued to make a name for himself as “the little man with the big voice” in Canada, Harry settled into work for prolific producer William A. Brady in New York. His breakthrough role came in early 1919, when he was cast as Bert in the new British musical comedy, The Better ‘Ole. The play was based on three popular cartoon soldier characters – Old Bill, Bert and Alf, drawn by Bruce Bairnsfather for the British weekly “The Bystander” under the title “Fragments from France.” It was such a great success that several companies performed the show across the US and Canada at the same time.
Above left: Australian performer Sam Rowley, who travelled with Harry to North America. But once they were there, they seem to have parted company. The Saskatoon Daily Star. 25 Oct 1913. Above Right: Harry Allen in character as Bert in The Better Ole. The Buffalo Times. 19 January 1919. Via Newspapers.com
Following this success Harry was offered a string of important roles in musicals, comedies and farces – including June Love, For Goodness Sake and Her Temporary Husband. The path to success had been a long one – he was 40 years old, but now an established actor. At the same time, he made a decision to stay in the US for good. In 1917 he began the process of applying for citizenship – his application noting he lived with his “wife Sue” and that the small finger of his left hand was missing.
The 1915 New York census also suggests Harry had married, or at least cohabited with, a woman named Susan W.
Harry Radford Allen’s Application for US citizenship, April 1917 (enlargement) Note the annotation “my wife name Sue she lives with me”. Via US National Archives, via Ancestry.com
Sometime in April 1920, Susanne Westford Allen (1865-1944) of New York, the youngest sister of the famous actress and political activist Lillian Russell (1860-1922), announced publicly that vaudeville actor Harry R Allen was “no longer regarded as a member of my family”. The problems were his straying affections and also a matter of money borrowed and not repaid. Susanne (also known as Susan or Suzie and sometimes using the surnames Leonard or Russell) was performing at the time in the play Clarence at the Hudson Theatre. This writer has not found a marriage certificate for Susanne and Harry R Allen, but The Daily News of New York suggested at the time they were married and the matter was going to court. Today it’s easy to dismiss this as a mixed-up newspaper story.
Left: Lillian Russell in The Evening Statesman. Washington, 20 May 1907.Via Newspapers.com Centre: Susanne Westford in The Daily News. New York, 19 April, 1920. Via Newspapers.com.
Right: Owen Westford and Susanne Leonard (Westford) performing together in Washington in 1902. Note the heading –“Polite Vaudeville.” IS there such a thing!? The Washington Times, 21 December 1902. Via Newspapers.com
And yet… there was, apparently, a real connection. Susanne Westford had been married to actor Robert Owen Westford (1858 – 1908), a native of Tasmania, from the mid 1880s until his sudden death in Washington in February 1908. Regularly praised for his versatility as an actor, Westford sometimes added Allen to his surname and had performed often as a comic singer with Susanne and Lillian Russell. He seems to have first appeared as an actor in Australia in 1880, and thus, obviously closely resembles the description of Harry’s own father.
Furthermore, when Harry died in 1951, his death certificate clearly listed an Owen Westford as his father. The reader will thus be wondering – did Harry really marry or cohabit with his step-mother? Or was this just all an arrangement to smooth his transition into the US that went horribly wrong? Unfortunately, we do not know the answer. Nor can we tell what impact this might have had on his career, as Harry remained characteristically silent.
The Saskatoon Daily Star advertises Harry’s first film. 18 March, 1922. Via newspapers.com
Harry’s first film role was for Ralph Ince in After Midnight, made in 1921 – reviewers describing it as “finely staged, and highly acted, and …a thrilling story”, apparently set in New York’s Chinatown. Being quite well known he was listed as one of the film’s “popular players.”
In 1923 he married another actor, Dorothea Hyde, and in 1925 they moved to the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles in California. There, he began to appear regularly in entertaining character roles in a series of silent films. Two children were born of the union in the late 1920s.
Left to right: Harry as the photographer in Ella Cinders (1926), as Riggs the butler in The Enchanted Cottage (1924), and as Dad Mason, in The Adorable Cheat (1928). These films are widely available on the net and now in the public domain. (Click to enlarge)
As the 1920s came to an end, and as sound films arrived, the roles he found were more perfunctory. This was hardly surprising – given his age and the fact that Hollywood was changing again. The impact of the depression and the rise of the Hollywood studio system saw thousands of small producers and independent theatres go under and fledgling national cinemas (like Australia’s) crippled. In this environment, film making became more formulaic and the opportunities for the old vaudevillians like Harry, were fewer. Thus many of his later roles hardly register on the screen. In 1943’s massive patriotic effort by Britons in Hollywood, Forever and a Day, when he plays an air raid watcher, or in 1945’s Hangover Square, his presence is so fleeting he is hard to notice.
The Internet Movie Database notes that Harry appeared in several Best Picture Academy Award winners and nominees in the 30s and early 40s. However, because he didn’t ever comment on his choice of role – we can’t assume this was anything more than good luck. Yet again – many of these roles are entirely unnoticeable. In Of Human Bondage (1934) for example, he apparently plays the taxi driver at the very end of the film – but its definitely a case of “blink and you would miss it.”
In 1951, Harry’s Melbourne contemporary Snub Pollard provided some perspective on the work he was now doing as an extra. “I have no…regrets, not a one. I get plenty of work and I live comfortably and sensibly. I am in good health and have lots of friends. The fact that I am not on top now does not bother me. Most people never get there at all.” Hopefully Harry Radford Allen shared this view.
Harry’s two children, Radford and Paula, made brief appearances in several of Harry’s later films but they did not pursue acting as a career. Harry died in Los Angeles in December, 1951 at the age of 73. He worked almost until the end of his life. As was often the case, his passing was reported in US newspapers, but in Australia it went completely unnoticed.
Note 1: Harry’s date of birth was 10 July 1878. The confusion on various websites may relate to freely existing documents that are not accurate and like many performers at the time, Harry may have contributed to this. There are various claims he was born in 1876 (citing his 1917 US naturalization application) and 1883 (citing his WWII registration card). However, his Victorian birth certificate is quite clear.
Nick Murphy July 2019
Gerald Martin Bordman (1978) American Musical Theater: A Chronicle. Oxford University Press.
George Kemp Ward (1910) reprinted 2017. Andrew Warde and his descendants, 1597-1910. Forgotten Books.
Mark Evan Swartz (2000) Oz before the Rainbow. L. Frank Baum’s the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage. John Hopkins University Press.
J.P. Wearing (2013) The London Stage 1890-1899: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press.
A very young Patti Morgan on the cover of Sydney’s Sunday Sun, 19 May, 1946. She was almost 18, and the world was at her feet. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove. Photographer unknown.
Patti Morgan was born Patricia Joan Morgan in Sydney in 1928. Her mother was Irene, her father James was a company manager, and the family lived in the comfortable eastern suburb of Vaucluse, Sydney. Their old home has long since been demolished but looking around the suburb today one can still imagine what a sunny life was had by Patti and her younger brother Jim, at 99 Kings Rd, even in the dark days of the early 1940s. Patti attended Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School, a private girls school that still operates in inner Sydney today.
Throughout her life, Patti’s modelling and acting was well documented by an enthusiastic Australian press. Patti’s appearance – she was 172 centimetres or 5′ 8″ tall, blonde and trim, epitomized the stereotypical sporty outdoors Australian girl. In the end Patti did relatively little acting, although she did become a well known model and TV hostess in England.
She first popped up in publicity in 1944, when she was 16. She was a young singer and dancer with ability and some connections, and she gained a small role in a Red Cross show for US Forces in Australia, singing and taking on the role of cartoon character “Windy City Kitty”. (Kitty was a similar character to Norman Pett’s “Jane” who appeared in the London Daily Mirror during WWII). Despite the publicity, she did not particularly resemble Jack Crowe’s character, drawn for Yank Down Under magazine, nor the many Kittys who were usually drawn on the noses of USAAF aircraft. Never the less, appearing to enthusiastic service audiences was a great opportunity for a patriotic young woman who had her heart set on a career as a performer, and she seems to have reveled in it.
In May 1945 she entered the Miss Australia contest with the support of the New South Wales Police Boys Clubs. The preliminaries for the contest dragged on for months and in the end she didn’t win, but it didn’t matter – the fund raising events, parades and modelling assignments put Patti firmly in the public eye. Patti’s appearances as a “pin-up” photo model also dates from this time. She gained such popularity that one RAF Lancaster squadron allegedly wrote to her asking her “permission” to paint her image on one of their aircraft. Writer Madeleine Hamilton’s survey of Australian women who became pin-ups at this time includes Australasian Post’s account and Patti’s response. The Australian War Memorial also holds the accompanying photo.
Above left: Patti Morgan (Undated but probably 1945-46) from the Australian War Memorial collection. The record accompanying states Patti’s portrait was painted on one of the Lancaster bombers of 50 Squadron RAAF. (But 50 squadron was a RAF squadron)
Above right: Patti with Sub Lieutenant Geoffrey Ross Downer of HMS Venerable, shortly after their engagement was announced in April 1946. She broke off the engagement in October 1947. The Sunday Telegraph, April 1946, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
In April 1946 her engagement to a Royal Navy officer from the British Pacific Fleet (then based in Sydney) was announced. She continued modelling and took up acting classes. In October, newspapers picked up the story that she had been offered a 7 year contract with the Rank film organisation. It was wrong, of course. Rank had offered her an audition if she made her way to London. Somehow, Australians and their journalists remained convinced a film contract could be offered to an untested but beautiful antipodean. Very similar accounts of Mary Maguire and Jocelyn Howarth being offered overseas film work had appeared ten years before.
Patti in July 1946, photographed by Norm Herfort. Source Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd. This is part of a large folio of photos of Patti now in the Mitchell library.
In mid March 1947, Patti and her mother headed off for England aboard the MV Selandia. The Daily Telegraph reported that she took a wardrobe that “included 20 evening gowns, 35 dresses, 15 suits, three dozen pairs of shoes, and a dozen hats.” On arrival in London she may have been tested by Rank, but within a few weeks she announced that she had a contract with Premier Productions, a new company under the leadership of Maurice Ostrer. Ostrer had left a successful career at Gainsborough films after a serious disagreement with J Arthur Rank, regarding the artificial and “lurid tone” of films he believed the public liked. Rank did not approve.
Patti had good reason to be confident about her first film, Idol of Paris. Apart from Ostrer’s involvement, the director was Leslie Arliss who had directed The Wicked Lady and the cast included well known actors Michael Rennie, Margaretta Scott and Miles Malleson. Unfortunately, the completed film, meant to be in the “Gainsborough style,” was a complete critical and popular disaster. The film is impossible to find today, but we know that on release the reviews were universally negative and the box office did not ignite. C. A. Lejeune, the London Observer’s film reviewer, even felt it could be the worst film of 1948, were it not for the fact it made him laugh and laugh it was so silly. “Such stupendous imbecility in a film… (with) such excruciating dialogue, demands a sort of recognition…” he wrote in his 7 March review. Variety’s review dismissed the script as “ill-written and corny” and the film not worthy of export to the US. The film stalled the careers of a number of young actors, including Beryl Baxter and Patti, while it ended Maurice Ostrer’s efforts at independent film production altogether.
Patti was able to develop a profile through work as a model however, and a new opportunity also beckoned in Britain’s fledgling TV industry. In 1949 she met and married Victor Silvester (Junior) and at the same time, joined Victor Silvester (Senior)’s very popular television show Dancing Club, as the regular hostess.
Left: Victor Silvester Junior with Patti. The Sydney Sun, May 9, 1948. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove Middle: Patti on her wedding day – in a dress made by mother Irene. The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, July 29, 1949 via British Library Newspaper Archive Project. Right: Patti met younger brother Jim again, when HMAS Sydney visited Britain for the Coronation. Here she stokes Jim’s naval beard. The Argus, May 15, 1953. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove
Although Patti did not find more than a few roles as an extra in British films and the odd role on stage in a production for charity, she was very active throughout the fifties as a mannequin for designers like Norman Hartnell and with her television work. British Pathe newsreels regularly featured Patti, the following being some examples:
In 1957 Patti finally did take a leading role in a film. Booby Trap was a rather silly suspense/crime film that at 70 minutes in length was almost certainly intended as a cinema program filler – a second feature. Here Patti finally did demonstrate her ability as an actress – and she performs well given the limitations of the role as Jackie. Even after ten years in the UK, her voice sometimes still sounds as though it’s straight from Sydney, as in this example!
Patti Morgan as Jackie and Harry Fowler as Sammy in “Booby Trap” (1957). Renown Pictures re-released this film in 2015.
Patti’s marriage to Victor Silvester ended soon after she made this film. In January 1958 she married Dany Chamoun, the second son of former Lebanese President Camille Chamoun. Thereafter she spent much of her time in Beirut. Her 2001 obituary in the London Daily Telegraph, apparently written by someone who knew her well, states that she set up her own modelling agency and television production company in Beirut. But her businesses and her marriage did not survive Lebanon’s catastrophic civil war – that raged from 1975 to 1990. She moved back to London in about 1980. Dany and his second wife were murdered in 1990.
Patti made several return visits to Australia – briefly in 1962 and for a longer visit in 1972. On the latter occasion, The Sydney Morning Herald claimed “the goddess has returned,” and indeed she was welcomed by many old friends, spending her month in Sydney near the beach at Bondi, where she had spent so much time in the 1940s.
Patti died in London in 2001, aged only 72. Almost every account of Patti records her good humour, confident sense of self and her resilience. There are numerous press references to the difficult life she coped with while living in war-torn Beirut. Her obituary also states that she struggled with diabetes in later life.
Patti’s daughter Tracy Chamoun was born in 1960 and closely resembles her Australian-born mother in appearance. Fluent in Arabic, French and English, she has been a key voice advocating for liberal democracy in Lebanon. At the time of writing she is Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan.
Patti’s signature – c 1955. Author’s collection
The Internet Movie database incorrectly credits Patti with roles in several films made in Hollywood in 1947. However, the Patti Morgan who signed with the Hal Roach studio in the US in April 1946 was a US born actress, and a brunette.
Nick Murphy July 2019
Madeleine Hamilton (2009) Our Girls; Aussie pinups of the 40s and 50s. Arcade Publications
Harris M. Lentz (2002) Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2001: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre, Dance, Music, Cartoons and Pop Culture. McFarland Books
Joe Moran (2013) Armchair Nation: An intimate history of Britain in front of the TV. Profile Books
James Nott (2015) Going to the Palais: A Social and Cultural History of Dancing and Dance Halls in Britain, 1918-1960. Oxford University Press
Maie Saqui as she appeared at the height of her fame on the London stage as a “Gaiety Girl,” on a W.D. and H.O. Wills collectible cigarette card, c 1900. Author’s collection. Below – the stereotypical Edwardes chorus girl from the play A Gaiety Girl. Public domain image by Dudley Hardy, Paris, 1896 via Wikipedia Commons.
May Vivian Saqui was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne Australia on December 19, 1879. For a short period of time she was one of London’s celebrated “Gaiety Girls”, performing in musical comedy at George Edwardes Gaiety Theatre. Her father John Isaac Saqui (also known as “John I” or “Jack”) was a bookmaker and property speculator, later to try his hand at cigar manufacturing. Her mother Esther neeBarnett (or “Stella”) was the daughter of the owner of a large central Melbourne grocery store. She and John I married in 1877. At the time of May’s birth, the family home was listed as being on the corner of Nicholson and Moor Streets, Fitzroy. Five years later, they lived next door. The two fine “boom era” buildings still stand, and today they speak of the opulence, wealth and confidence of the young colony. The family were wealthy enough to be advertising for servants at the time of May’s birth.
The very grand building at left, now No 122 Nicholson street, was built in 1862 by architect John Denny. The white building next door is “Heatherleigh”, a more traditional terrace. The Sands and McDougall directories reveal that in 1880 the Saqui family lived at 122, while by 1885 they lived at No 120. These constant moves probably reflect John I’s activities as a property speculator. Photo- Author’s Collection.
May’s English-born grandfather, Abraham (Austin) Saqui (1834-1889) had arrived with some of the extended family in the colony of Victoria in the mid 1850s – like so many, they were attracted by the fabulous stories of easy fortunes to be made on the goldfields. A talented musician, Austin departed for Beechworth, in the centre of the Ovens Valley goldfields almost immediately. In time, he became a Melbourne hotelier, a “flamboyant bookmaker” and dabbled in owning horses. Austin’s great breakthrough came in 1869, when his horse “Warrior” won the Melbourne Cup, at odds of 20-1, winning him almost £20,000 – a fortune at the time.
Left: Newly arrived Austin Saqui making money performing at the El Dorado Hotel in June 1857. From “The Ovens and Murray Advertiser.” June 6, 1857. Source National Library of Australia’s Trove.
“John I” Saqui (1855-1916) thus followed his father’s footsteps as a bookmaker, and after May’s birth, fathered several more children – Barnett “Baron” Napoleon (1881-1967), Gladys Mignonett (1884-c1919) and HazelEileen (1887-1975). Another daughter, Phyllis, died in infancy. By the time Hazel was born at Zabulon Terrace in Drummond Street in 1887, John I described himself as a cigar-maker, although he was also still a bookmaker and the constant move of addresses suggests he was still speculating on properties.
The spectaular Zabulon Terrace in Drummond Street, Carlton where the Saquis lived when Hazel was born in 1887. The family lived at No 22, the unaltered building on the left. But by 1890, they lived over the road at an almost identical terrace at No 27. Photo – author’s Collection.
From the late 1880s, May and sister Gladys appeared in concerts under the tutelage of a relative, well known dance teacher Miss Julia Green. May earned a name for herself as a talented dancer before she was ten – even in 1888, “Melbourne Punch” noted “this little lady really deserved the encore she received”with her performance in Dance Du Nuit. The family valued music and dance, and May was also to become a talented violinist. By May 1892, at the age of only 13, she had apparently done with school and moved onstage for good, joining the cast of the Australia tour of the London Gaiety Company, in Faust up to Date, (choosing to spell her name “Maie” from this time on). This brought her into the company of numerous talented English performers – Maud Hobson, Grace Wixon amongst others. From 1893 she appeared in pantomimes including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and then Djin-Djin. Perhaps the highlight was performing in the first Melbourne run of Trilby in 1896, a play based on a new novel by George du Maurier. May’s high-kicking dance in Act 2 was particularly memorable. The anti-Semitic theme of the play (the evil manipulator of the heroine is Svengali, a archetypical Jewish villain of the Fagin, Oliver Twisttype) was apparently something May could live with or was used to.
Click to enlarge. Left: Maie appears in the first Melbourne outing of Faust Up to Date in 1892, with some of George Edwarde’s visiting London troupe, including Maud Hobson and Grace Wixon. “Lorgnette”, Tuesday 3 May 1892. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Centre: Maie performing at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre, at the age of 16. “The Australasian”, 30 March, 1895. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Right: John Saqui advertising his services. (He was a little hopeful in selling his father’s “gout cure.” In 1889 Austin had taken a fatal overdose of laudanum to manage the pain of his gout) “The Sportsman,” Tuesday 9 Jan 1894. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
The pantomime Djin-Djin, The Japanese Bogie Man, A Fairy Tale from Old Japan, opened in Melbourne on December 26, 1895. These screen grabs are from the full program held by the State Library of Victoria – which can be viewed online. Maie Saqui is listed in the program, together with numerous other well known actors of the time, including Carrie Moore. Written by Bert Royle and J.C.Williamson, with music by Leon Caron and with strong Australian themes, the show was hugely popular and according to Ian Dicker, the audience refused to leave on the final night of the Melbourne season.
Unfortunately, at the same time her career was taking off, Australia and particularly the otherwise booming city of Melbourne had slumped into a severe depression. A number of Australian banks closed between 1890 and 1893, numerous businesses shut down and scores of land speculators were ruined. Unemployment surged while the only public works to continue was the building of Melbourne’s much needed sewerage system. It has been suggested that John I Saqui lost all his money at this time, and indeed, given his business interests, it would be unusual if he did not take a hit of some sort. But there was another even more serious reason why his business closed.
Some time in 1890, John I was assaulted as he arrived home to Drummond Street. (The illustration at right is from the “Truth” newspaper account some thirty years later) He was found unconscious at his front door – he had been struck on the head. It was thought this was part of a campaign to rob wealthy bookmakers. Although he recovered and returned to work, his mental health failed over the next six years. In August 1896 Stella took the heart-wrenching decision to have John I admitted to the Yarra Bend Asylum. He had become seriously delusional. Stella blamed his state on the old injury to his head, and a note from a doctor she consulted (still in the asylum records) seems to concur. We can imagine the anguish the tight-knit family must have felt and one wonders just how bad John had become before Stella was forced to have him hospitalised.
In May 1897, at the end of the run of Trilby, it was announced that Maie was heading to England. She travelled as a “23 year old” on the RMS Orizba. By giving that age, there were fewer questions to answer than if acknowledging she had yet to turn 18. Good fortune and good connections were with her. Within weeks of her arrival in London she was performing, and soon had a contract with George Edwardes of the Gaiety Theatre. It was claimed Grace Wixon helped mentor her. In July 1898 Stella and her three other children set sail for England on the RMS Ormuz, while John I’s mother Julia took up residence for a time at 27 Drummond Street. (This also suggests the family had weathered the 1890s crash reasonably successfully.)
Left: The Messenger Boy cast, half way through its 1900 run, from “The Standard,” June 14, 1900. Via Newspapers.com. Right: Maie – about the time she arrived in London and began work for Edwardes. From “The Black & White Illustrated Budget”,1899.Via the Internet Archive.
She proved to be spectacularly successful in Edwarde’s musicals. She notably performed in The Geisha (1897), The Messenger Boy (1900) with Maud Hobson, The Toreador (1901) and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (1902). Melbourne newspapers enthusiastically reported on her London performances, she was after all, a local girl. For example, on October 13 1899, “Table Talk” reported that “Miss Saqui’s… dainty dancing so delighted the patrons of ‘A Gaiety Girl’ at the Gaiety Theatre… Some two years ago… she submitted her credentials to that excellent judge, Mr. George Edwardes, who being more than satisfied with them, secured her services for three years, and she at once stepped, or bounded, into public favour….”
Both Maie’s sisters Gladys and Hazel performed on stage for Edwardes, appearing in musicals at the Gaiety between 1902 and 1910. Gladys in particular gained publicity, partly because she was thought to closely resemble Maie.
Left: 13 year old Gladys Saqui performing on a local tour in Victoria, with Elsie Golding (Alf Goulding’s half sister). “The Bendigo Independent,” Oct 5, 1897. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Right: 18 year old Gladys Saqui – a new performer at the Gaiety Theatre, introduced to the public by “The Sketch,” December 3, 1902. Author’s collection. Copyright held by Illustrated London News Group.
In 1904 Maie married Arthur Hope Travers, a Captain in the Grenadier Guards who had seen service in the Boer War. She chose to retire from the stage. A daughter was born of the union in 1905. Sadly Maie’s health began to fade soon after. She was reported to be very ill in early 1907, and she died in March 1907, aged only 27. Travers eventually remarried and served with distinction again in the First World War. Maie’s English stage career had lasted just six years. Gladys too, had a short career on stage – less than ten years.
When their mother Stella died in England in 1946, she left an estate of £9345 to her surviving daughter, Hazel. Hazel had married British actor Nelson Keys in 1908, after her own brief experience on stage. Hazel and Nelson raised a family of five boys, most of whom entered the British film industry with great success. Hazel died in 1975.
John I Saqui died in the Yarra Bend Asylum in October 1916. He had been there for twenty years.
Her name? May or Mary? Her 1879 birth certificate is quite clear. She was born May and she appears as May in the birth certificates of her siblings. She chose “Maie” as a stage name.
Similarly, Barnett was the family name of Esther (Stella) Saqui, not Barrett. Esther’s father, owner of a well known Russell Street grocery was named Barnett Barnett. He can be found in numerous mid C19th Melbourne newspaper accounts. When Barnett died in 1887, he left the bulk of his estate, including a significant property portfolio, to daughter Esther (Stella).
Sarah Saqui, The Psyche
Sarah Saqui, a sister of Maie’s grandfather, was the courtesan who entertained Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh on the first royal visit to Australia in 1867. Writer Steve Harris specifically names Saqui as the Duke’s main Australian consort – she was also known as “the Psyche”. Contemporary papers like “The Truth” also stated this. She is reputed to have described the Duke as “the meanest man she had ever met.” The Duke’s detective John Christie alluded to the Duke’s many amorous pursuits in Melbourne’s red light district in his notes, although he did not identify Saqui by name.
Sarah Saqui was apparently also a bartender and a well known singer. She married three times and may have lived out her days in the United States. We have no way of knowing whether Maie had met or even knew about her notorious relative.
Nick Murphy May 2019
Ian Dicker (1974) J.C.W. A Short Biography of James Cassius Williamson. The Elizabeth Tudor Press
Black & White Illustrated Budget Magazine (1899). London, Black and White Pub. Co. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.
Steve Harris (2018) The Prince and the Assassin: Australia’s First Royal Tour and Portent of World Terror. Melbourne Books.
John Lahey (1993) Damn you, John Christie! State Library of Victoria.
J. P. Wearing (2013) The London Stage 1890-1899: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press.
J. P. Wearing (2013) The London Stage 1900-1909: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press.
Maud Hobson c.1890-1900. A widely known “Gaiety Girl” in the George Edwardes’ Company, she was born in Melbourne in 1860. Her family moved back to England when she was an infant. She had lived in Hawaii, Colorado and London by the time she was 30. Talma Photographers, Sydney. Author’s collection. (I have taken something of a liberty with the title of this article. I only have one piece of evidence that she dreamed of Colorado.)
Born in the emerging suburb of Toorak, 5 kilometres south of Melbourne, Australia, on November 13, 1860, Jane Elizabeth Manson would eventually become one of the hugely popular English “gaiety girls” of George Edwardes‘ Gaiety Theatre Company, performing under her stage name, Maud Hobson. Tall, “stately, statuesque and classic” (by this the Brooklyn Standard Union meant she was attractive), she had earned a formidable reputation in Britain, the US and Australia by the end of the nineteenth century. And more than most of the “gaiety girls”, from the mid 1890s Maud was only too happy to speak at length to the press about anything that came to her mind – matrimony, the state of society, costumes and jewellery, and American as opposed to Australian audiences.
Her parents John Manson and Eliza nee Hollingshead, arrived (separately) in Melbourne in 1853, at the height of the Victorian gold rushes. For two Britons in their early twenties, it must have been an exciting environment of extraordinary opportunity. Many of the international arrivals of the 1850s were, like them, aged between 21 and 35. By 1858, half of the newly arrived Australian population lived in the colony of Victoria and Melbourne was the continent’s largest city. How the couple met we do not know, but they married at Melbourne’s St Peter’s Anglican Church in June 1855. John was soon to become “Head Teller” (Manager) of the Union Bank of Australia – an opportunity a young man could never hope to have achieved in London. Yet like some who did well in the booming colony, the couple returned to Britain soon after their daughter’s birth. Perhaps they had “made their pile” or possibly, they still weren’t convinced life in the young city was superior to life in Britain. Maybe John Manson was simply offered a better job back home.
Above: 27 year old John Manson announces the appointment of a bullion broker at the Union Bank’s Bendigo goldfields branch. The Age Saturday 9 Jan 1857. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Maud Hobson’s own account of her early childhood was – typically for an ambitious actor of the time – often short on detail. In several early interviews she suggested her parents were “just passing through” Melbourne when she was born. Later in life she embraced her Australian birth with gusto. It was claimed she was born Jennie or Jeannie, but this appears to have been a pet name used by the family.
Above: Maud appearing on stage before her marriage to Lieutenant Hayley in May 1881. The Era, 12 February 1881 via The British Newspaper Archive.
A popular up and coming performer in 1880, she admitted in several later press interviews that she owed some of her success to her uncle, the writer and manager of the Gaiety Theatre, John Hollingshead, who had also suggested her stage name. However, she left the stage in 1881, when she married Lieutenant Andrew Burrell Hayley, an officer of the 11th Hussars. A son, William Burrell Hayley, was born in early 1882. Soon after, Maud and little William joined Lieutenant Hayley in a new adventure – a posting to the Kingdom of Hawaii, of all places. There, Hayley took on the role of an attache to King Kalākaua. But while the last King of Hawaii received recognition for his efforts to reinvigorate Hawaiian national identity and shore up its economy, not all of the king’s European advisors were welcomed. On 31 July, 1884, The Honolulu Evening Bulletin took the unusual step of very publicly criticizing Hayley for his “lack of sobriety” and therefore his unsuitability as a Commander of the Mounted Police. He was appointed to this position anyway.
The Hayleys in Hawaii. Left; King Kalākaua with officers, including Lieutenant Hayley looking very splendid in white, third from the right. Via Wikimedia Commons. Right; Maud was still occasionally performing in Hawaii – The Honolulu Advertiser, 5 Jan 1886, via Newspapers.com. (click to enlarge)
In 1886, Maud returned to England, for reasons that are no longer known. Of her next few years, we only have court records to guide us, as she did not appear on stage again until mid-1889. Hayley petitioned for divorce from Maud in November 1887. He claimed Maud repeatedly committed adultery with CaptainOwen Richard Armstrong, an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders. Hayley was extremely well informed about the places and dates of his wife’s adulterous behaviour, which included travel to the US and five months living “as man and wife” in Colorado. Before the court Maud and Armstrong strenuously denied the charges, but a divorce was granted in October 1888. The case was played out in newspapers in excruciating detail, although as Maud’s stage name wasn’t used, many readers may not have made the connection. The story that Maud spent the summer of 1887 in Colorado with a man she wasn’t married to would be hard to believe, if it wasn’t corroborated by records of shadowy movements that we can access today.
The faded manifest of the ship Servia, arriving in New York in June 1887. Owen R. Armstrong, Army Officer and his wife Maud(e) are listed. Via US National Archives and Records Administration, Via Ancestry.com
From mid 1889, Maud reappeared on stage in London for George Edwardes in such productions as ‘Faust Up to Date” and “Carmen Up to Data” – both burlesques with music written by Meyer Lutz. Edwardes was Hollingshead’s successor at the Gaiety Theatre at the eastern end of London’s Strand. She moved in to live with Hollingshead and his family in Kensington at about this time, continuing to enjoy her uncle’s advice and patronage.
Left: Maud – a photo taken well before 1896 (from “Around the world with a Gaiety Girl” page 100, via the Internet Archive). Centre: Maud on an undated postcard (probably about 1890). Right: Maud in The Sketch, July 21 1899. Author’s Collection.
In March 1892, Edwardes and George Musgrove arranged for a tour of some of the London Gaiety regulars, including Maud in a supporting role, to take “Faust Up to Date” on tour to Australia. The London Gaiety Burlesque Company (note how often the name changed) first performed in Melbourne in May. Four months later the company wrapped in Sydney and headed for home. It had been a success. On the eve of the show’s closing, the Sydney Referee reported “‘Faust Up to Date’ at Her Majesty’s still draws the people, fills the exchequer, and promotes hilarity.” Interestingly, Maud sought no personal publicity and made no public comments during this first trip back to the city of her birth.
1893 saw some dramatic changes. In early April the news reached her that ex-husband Andrew Burrell Hayley had died. She did not regain custody of her son from Hayley’s family, but following this event she seemed to find her voice and her place in the world. Later in the year she took a leading role as Alma Somerset in George Edwardes’ new production “A Gaiety Girl”, alongside Marie Studholme and Decima Moore. While a few reviewers felt the leading role required her to do little more than look “exceedingly handsome,” other reviewers were effusive in their praise. At the same time she wrote and appeared in a short one act sketch for the theatre, and it was performed as a matinee at the Gaiety Theatre in early July 1894. “A Successful Mission,” concerns Alice Gray, a burlesque actress (played by Hobson), and John Winton, a conservative vestryman (played by George Mudie) who attempts to convince Gray to discourage his love-lorn son’s attentions – to the point of offering her money to shun him. Of course, by the end, he discovers she is an admirable philanthropist and more than honourable. “Brightly written and neatly condensed, it was amusing and effective… and acted with much spirit” reported The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.One cannot help wondering whether there was a strong element of personal experience being recounted here!
In September 1894, “A Gaiety Girl” was taken on tour. It opened in New York that month, had moved on to San Francisco and then on to Australia by June 1895. Finally, Maud Hobson freely discussed her Melbourne birth and talked at length about her time in Honolulu, with her “late husband”. One Sydney journalist described her thus;“a young lady tall and most divinely fair” She told the same journalist“I, who am a native of Australia…feel that in coming to this country I am just visiting my own folks.” And she went on in this celebratory tone for the entire tour.
Maud as part of a large photo spread in The Pictorial Australian, 1 April 1895, shown here with company members Cecil Hope and Harry Monkhouse. Fellow cast member Decima Moore married Cecil Hope in 1894 in New York while on tour (Hope was another former army officer whose real name was Cecil Ainslie Walker-Leigh) and like Maud and Hayley, they divorced a few years later. Monkhouse died in 1900, after being declared bankrupt. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
While she was in Australia (and two years after Hayley’s death), a convoluted account of Maud’s relationship with Captain Armstrong appeared in some western US papers. This suggested that she had divorced Hayley herself, first, in the US, on the grounds of cruelty, and then had married Armstrong, only to find these arrangements were not recognised in the UK. Someone very well acquainted with her circumstances had written or provided the story. This writer cannot find the story in any Colorado papers, but more than thirty syndicated papers in nearby Kansas carried it. Following this brief outing, the story disappeared.
At the end of October 1895, the company departed Australia for England. The rather underwhelming 1896 travel book, “Round the World with A Gaiety Girl,” documents the successful trip.
Maud Hobson was now established as a leading regular in the Edwardes’ company. In August 1897 she appeared in the musical “In Town.” She again joined the troupe travelling to the US in September 1897, where “In Town” ran at New York’s Knickerbocker Theatre, in company with another very young Australian – Norma Whalley .
Left: “In Town” At New York’s Knickerbocker Theatre. The Sun, (New York) September 11, 1897. Right; “In Town” at the Garrick Theatre a month earlier in August 1897, with an almost identical cast. The Era, August 14, 1897. Via Newspapers.com.
Maud was now approaching 40, but she was regularly referred to as the “reigning English beauty”. In 1900 she appeared in London as Lady Punchestown in the musical “The Messenger Boy.” The cast also included another young Australian, 21 year-old Maie Saqui from Melbourne. She must have felt some degree of national consciousness as she also appeared in a patriotic sketch with Maie and other Australian favourites in June, entitled “Australia’s tribute to Britannia” (in aid of widows and orphans of Australians and New Zealanders who had fallen in the Boer War).
By 1902 she was at a highpoint in her career – light comedy and musicals had become her forte. The year she played Lady St. Mallory in “Three Little Maids”. She travelled to perform in the US again, and briefly to South Africa. After a “serious operation,” Maud travelled again to Australia in 1904 with another Edwardes’ Gaiety troupe. She was extremely popular in Australia, and she knew it. A journalist for a newspaper in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, put a typically Australian voice to this popularity when he wrote “Maud is the biggest-hearted woman the stage has ever known. Last time she was here she sold some of her magnificent emeralds to pay doctor’s bills for a girl member of the Company, and more of ’em to pay the hotel bill of a now- dead fascinating man member. You never heard of a woman speaking ill of Maud. That’s the record!”
1905 was her last year of activity on the stage – she took on a role in the popular musical Lady Madcap, in company with Zena Dare, Gabrielle Ray and Marie Studholme. Over the next few years she travelled to the US again but there were now stories of serious ill health. After what some papers reported was “a lingering illness,” she died in London on January 6, 1913. Maud Hobson was remembered fondly in British, US and Australian newspapers. The Era stated she had “a handsome appearance… amiable personality and was an intelligent and agreeable actress.”
Its notable that Maud’s acknowledgement of being born in Melbourne occurred later in life, when she was well established and a contemporary of Nellie Melba, Nellie Stewart, Norma Whalley and Maie Saqui. It would be wrong to over-emphasize Maud as an Australian – for other than being her place of birth, her experiences of Australia were confined to her theatrical tours. In her mind, she was almost certainly British, more than anything else. And yet, one senses she developed a fondness for Australia – she was happy to make the long trip out on three occasions. She reputedly also made friends while on her Australian tours – perhaps these were old acquaintances of her parents, from the roaring days of the Victorian gold rushes.
Maud’s son, William Burrell Hayley died in 1967, after a distinguished military career. Her uncle and mentor John Hollingshead died in 1904. The Gaiety Theatre, which had seen Maud and the other Gaiety Girls perform so often, was seriously damaged by bombs during World War Two and was finally demolished in the 1950s.
Nick Murphy May 2019
1. The most accurate account of Maud’s divorce is the actual petition, held by the National Archives in Britain. The Era of 28 April 1888 also provides an accurate account of her life to that time. Hayley was in the 11th Hussars (not 10th or 5th as is sometimes reported) and was not a General, even if given this title as a courtesy.
2. Was she ever known as “the White Queen” of Honolulu? There is no evidence of this other than Maud’s own words.
Mona Barrie (formerly Mona Barlee) in MGM’s “Cairo”. It’s hard to accept Mona as a wicked Nazi spy while she wears this extraordinary hat! This is a convoluted 1942 spy film with music, comedy and drama, featuring robot bombers and doors in pyramids that open with the sound of a “high C”. But she was firmly established as a screen actor and had been at work in Hollywood for eight years, and before that for eleven years in Australia. Photo – probably from MGM. Author’s Collection.
Like most other Australians wanting to work in the US at the time, Mona Barrie (then Barlee) arrived in California on the Matson liner Monterey in June 1933, to pursue her dream. Her career took off remarkably quickly and for the next fifteen years she was busy in Hollywood, in more than 40 films, of varying quality. For various reasons she developed nothing like the profile of her contemporaries Mary Maguire or Constance Worth and yet, her movie career was, by any measure, much more successful. She even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mona Barrie in Hollywood. Over time she developed a reputation for glamorous and fashionable attire. This Fox Films photo was taken in 1935. Author’s collection.
The oft-repeated story that soon after arriving in the US she went to New York to stay with a friend appears to be true. Mona had enjoyed a successful career on stage in Australia and had met US performer Florrie Le Vere and her songwriter husband Lou Handman during their 1928 tour. The two women had struck up a friendship. Mona had traveled to stay with them at their apartment on Riverside Drive, New York.
It was claimed she got her film start “by accident.” The Adelaide News wrote “She was on her way to London and passed through Hollywood. Three talent scouts saw her and begged her to have a screen test. She accepted, had a test, and signed a contract.” This was the usual “rags to riches” fame story then so popular. A report by Melbourne’s Table Talk, in November 1933, told a similar story. It claimed she had been offered a screen test by a Fox Film scout, “Mr Solomon Pinkus” having been spotted on a New York bus. She had been on her way to London. This story would be more believable if it wasn’t very similar to the one Constance Worth and Mary Maguire would wheel out as well. But, perhaps it was they who were copying Mona’s experience.
Whatever the truth, on September 2, 1933, Fox Films announced that they had offered a contract to Mona Barrie, one of “Australia’s leading actresses”. (The change of stage name was so typical of the time) It was all remarkably quick. She was put to work on the crime drama B film “Sleepers East,” and then the more substantial historical romance “Carolina.”
Mona, centre, as one of “nine pretty girls who adorn the production (of The Merry Widow) at Her Majesty’s.” This appears to be Mona’s first outing on the stage. Table Talk, 12 October 1922. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Born in Tooting, England, a southern suburb of London, in 1906, Mona Barlee Smith and her three siblings and mother Jessie Barlee, had arrived in Australia in 1914. Her father Phil Smith had arrived courtesy a J.C. Williamson’s contract a year before.
Unfortunately, like the stories of her start in film, Mona’s Australian story is badly muddled in online accounts – these are not only confused about her date of birth but also her date of arrival in Australia. Perhaps she contributed to this confusion herself in later years. But there’s not much doubt around her real date of birth. Although often claimed to have been born in 1909, we can confidently say she was born at the end of 1905 or early in 1906. She was 5 years old during the 1911 English census, and 8 in April 1914 when she arrived in Melbourne. Not only that, we can find the index entry for her British birth – it also notes her birth registered in 1906.
Click to enlarge.
Left: 1911 English census, when the family lived at 37 Malvern Rd, Surbiton, Surrey, lists 5-year-old Mona. Right: The Australian passenger list for SS Miltiades, arriving 18 April 1914 lists 8-year-old Mona. (This image has been modified to fit). Via the British National Archives and Public Records Office, Victoria, via Ancestry.com.
Her parents Phil Smith, a comedian, and Jessie Barlee, a comedian and singer, both had successful careers of their own, sometimes working together on the stage in England, and then for 9 months in Australia. Unfortunately, their professional and personal relationship ended in mid 1915, and a very public divorce followed in 1917-18. In addition, Jessie, still supporting Irene (16), Mona (12), Roland (6) and Joan (5), took Phil to court for child support. Phil Smith disputed this claim, because Jessie and Irene were now on stage and earning money themselves – he claimed.
It’s actually Mona’s older sister, Irene Barlee Smith, stage name Rene Barlee, who first earned a name for herself on stage. In 1920 she was described as one of “J. C. Williamson’s latest finds in soubrettes.” She appeared in various touring shows – such as The Midnight Frolics, and in popular pantomimes including Little Red Riding Hood and The Forty Thieves. In language typical of the time, newspapers generally described her as a good “little singer”, a “clever little dancer”, a “pretty”, “dainty” performer. She consistently received good reviews – yet for all her success, Rene decided to leave the stage in 1927 after marrying Murray Church, a Shell Oil Company executive who lived in Western Australia. We are fortunate in that Frank van Straten interviewed Rene in the 1970s. A short extract appears in Van Straten’s sumptuous book, Tivoli.
Mona Barlee first appeared on stage at the age of 16, in 1922, in the chorus of “The Merry Widow” at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. (As theatre historian Clay Djubal notes, this is another reason for believing her birth was in 1906. Had she been born in 1909, she would have been performing at the unlikely age of 13). Within a few years Mona was appearing as a featured supporting player. In late 1925, she took the lead role in Jerome Kern, P.G Wodehouse and Guy Martin’s musical “Leave it to Jane” – for J.C. Williamson’s, and although the first Melbourne reviewer in Table Talk felt she was rather “too lightweight”, after six months touring, the Adelaide Mail was able to comment on her “delightful soprano voice and a personality which impresses the audience.” She went on to perform in the Australian run of George and Ira Gershwin, Desmond Carter and B. G. De Sylva’s brand new musical “Tell Me More”.
Mona married Charles Harold “Bob” Rayson in Melbourne, in August 1928. She did not retire from the stage as some accounts claimed, but the marriage was short-lived and less than three years later a divorce was granted.
Mona Barrie on stage in Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” at Adelaide’s Theatre Royal in 1931 – in company with other well known Australians; amongst them some familiar names – Cecil Kellaway, Mary MacGregor , Coral Brown and John Wood. The News (Adelaide) 21 August, 1931. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
In 1932, Mona had a small part in her first film – “His Royal Highness,” a musical comedy made in Melbourne by F.W. Thring and written by and starring popular comedian George Wallace. Film historians Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper describe some of the scenes as “heavy handed”, being influenced by Wallace’s experiences as a stage performer. Eventually the film was sold for distribution in England under the modified title “His Loyal Highness.” This writer regrets to admit that on viewing the film, Mona Barlee’s bit part is so minor, he was not certain he could confidently recognise her.
By 1933, reviews of Mona’s stage performances were generally very positive. Eight years after that first ambivalent review, the Melbourne Herald was effusive in its praise for her in “While Parents Sleep“, a new comedy by Anthony Kimmins. Under the heading “Mona Barlee has a future”, the reviewer wrote “Her performance was largely responsible for the play’s success… She has fine talents as a player of sophisticated parts, and this performance should leave no doubt about her future, either here or abroad.” The Western Mail in Perth was even more effusive, writing; “She has worked hard, and, backed by brains, ability, and personal attractiveness, she will undoubtedly be added to the list of Australians who have won world fame.” Indeed, Mona was apparently thinking along similar lines. Years later, when she met Australian portrait artist Stanley Parker again, he recalled they used to “drink cocoa in her little flat in Collins Street [in central Melbourne] and talk about coming to London”. In the height of the Great Depression, that had hit Australia so hard, perhaps the idea of moving country had an even greater attraction. By February 1933 she had her passport and at the end of May she wrapped up her Sydney season of “While Parent’s Sleep”, and boarded the Monterey. She never came back.
John Wood, Agnes Doyle and Mona Barlee in “While Parents Sleep”, Table Talk, Jan 26, 1933. Wood left for England and Mona for the US soon after. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Mona’s success in the US has been documented, although again somewhat indifferently. She was not tall as has often been claimed, the very thorough US immigration documents kept for new arrivals record that she was only 5 foot 2 or 3 inches, or about 1.60 metres, an average height. Her eyes were brown, not blue, as some accounts claim. Where reviews were given of her work, they were consistently positive throughout her two decades of performing in film – and sometimes on the US stage. For example, of the B-film “Strange Fascination,” made in 1952 (it was Mona’s second last film), reviewer Helen Bower said that while the picture was not to her taste, she could forgive director Hugo Haas a great deal for casting the wonderful Mona Barrie as Mrs Fowler. She stood out “like a Cartier creation amid a heap of junk jewelry. She is authentically a lady… How’s for Hollywood giving Mona Barrie a better break?” she asked. Hollywood didn’t.
Above: Mona Barrie in “Strange Fascination”. The Detroit Free Press. 8 November, 1952
And her voice? This writer would argue that while it was well spoken it was an unmistakably Australian accent. Unlike so many Australians working in Hollywood, she was an established and skilled actor and was confident in her own ability. She almost certainly felt she didn’t need elocution lessons. And if pressed on her origins she could honestly claim to being English-born, after all.
Mona Barrie’s final film was in 1953, a bit role in “Plunder of the Sun”, perhaps fittingly directed by the prolific Australian-born director, John Farrow.
Of Mona’s family, we know that her mother Jessie Barlee lived to the age of 99. She died in 1979 at her apartment in Melbourne’s St. Kilda. Phil had died in 1946. Roly Barlee, Mona’s younger brother, became a radio announcer and occasional actor in Melbourne. He died in 1988. Mona died aged 58, on 27 June 1964, from unknown causes. She is buried next to her second husband Paul Bolton – they had married in Mexico on December 14, 1933. Of the family’s Australian residences we only know that in the mid 1920s Jessie and her younger children lived comfortably at 6 Faraday Avenue, Rose Bay, in Sydney. The pretty house that was home to this creative family is still there.
Nick Murphy April, 2019
National Library of Australia’s Trove. (Citations are inline)
Ed Lowry, Charlie Foy (Paul M Levitt Ed) (1999) Joe Frisco: Comic, Jazz Dancer, and Railbird. Southern Illinois University Press.
Frank Van Straten (2003 ) Tivoli. Thomas C. Lothian, South Melbourne.