Shirley Ann Richards – “This is not a laughing matter and don’t call me girlie”

 Above: A screen grab of twenty year old Shirley Ann Richards in Tall Timbers (1937),  her second Australian film for Director Ken Hall. The by-line is from Dad and Dave come to Town (1938) and part of it is used as the title for a documentary made by Andree Wright in 1985. Source: Loving the Classics. Author’s Collection

The 5 second version
Born as Shirley Ann Delaforce Richards in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 20 December 1917, died California, United States, 25 August 2006. Known in the US as Ann Richards. After a short stint with amateur theatricals in Sydney, she moved to acting with Cinesound. There she appeared in six films directed by Ken Hall before moving to Hollywood. Between 1942 and 1952 she performed in a dozen films, including one directed by Edmund Angelo, her husband.
She pursued writing and philanthropic interests after 1952 and returned several times to Australia.
.

Growing up in Australia

Shirley Ann Delaforce Richards hardly qualifies as a “forgotten Australian” actor. Alone amongst Australians who went overseas to pursue an acting career in the 1930s, she returned to Australia later in life to discuss the experience and celebrate a new wave of Australian film making.

Her New Jersey-born father Mortimer Richards was the Australian manager of the successful US – owned S. F. Bowser Company, while her mother Marion nee Dive was a 24 year old from New Plymouth in New Zealand. Shirley Ann and her younger brother Roderick grew up in comfortable surroundings – first at Killara on Sydney’s north shore, then in Double Bay.

Mortimer regularly appeared in newspaper reports of the doings of Sydney’s small US community, sometimes addressing business groups about Australia’s great un-tapped potential (a favourite topic of the 1920s), while Marion was active in the newly established English Speaking Union. Unfortunately, Mortimer died suddenly in August 1928, when Shirley Ann was only 9 years old.

Shirley Ann completed her Leaving Certificate at the Garden School, run by the Theosophical Education Trust in Mosman. The school was educationally progressive, with a focus on the performing arts, literature and elocution.  These interests stayed with Shirley Ann all her life, together with a strong sense of social conscience and public duty. Later in life she reflected that her upbringing and education (and the untimely death of her father) had also exposed her to an amazing group of independent and opinionated women – her mother, teachers (Lily Arnold and Jessie MacDonald at the Garden School) and family acquaintances like social reformer and politician Millicent Preston-Stanley.


A Cinesound Career

After leaving school and whilst working for the Russell Roberts Studio in 1936, she threw herself into amateur theatricals with the Sydney Players Club. While there she came to the attention of Ken G Hall, an Australian Producer-Director of enormous energy and capacity, with whom she maintained a lifelong friendship.

Truth Feb 1936By 1936, Table Talk was able to introduce her to readers, commenting on her  “lovely complexion and teeth…”  They also reported that she was an “excellent fencer and swimmer.” She was “very well read, being extremely fond of poetry… completely unpolluted; doesn’t drink or smoke; has splendid self-possession, but is always completely natural.” Some of these comments were true, even if they were all courtesy PR from Ken Hall’s Cinesound Studios, who had put Shirley Ann under long term contract as quickly as they could. Film historians Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper credit Cinesound’s “Talent School” for refining her skills.

18 year old Shirley Ann reported as interested in amateur theatricals, by Truth 23 Feb, 1936. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Her first film with Hall was It Isn’t Done,  a rags to riches comedy (or “bush to baronetcy”) with a script by Cecil Kellaway. The film was a great success, establishing Shirley Ann as a popular favourite with Australian audiences (and incidentally also providing Kellaway with a pathway to work in the US). Shirley Ann recalled that the established actors in this film, including British actors Frank Harvey and Harvey Adams, realizing the 18 year old was new to film, “spoiled her” on the set.

Shirley Ann Richards 1936 via Mitchell Library

Above: Shirley Ann Richards at the opening of Tall Timbers at the Sydney State Theatre in 1937. She toured much of Australia for Cinesound. Source: Hood Collection, via the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

TT on stage

Above: Shirley Ann Richards appears live on stage as a part of Cinesound publicity.  The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Oct 1937 via National Library of Australia’s Trove 

She appeared in a total of five feature films for Cinesound over the very busy period 1936-39. These were It Isn’t Done, Tall Timbers, Lovers and Luggers, Dad and Dave Come to Town, and Come Up Smiling. She also appeared in the surprisingly entertaining 100,000 Cobbers, a propaganda recruitment short made for the Australian Government by Cinesound after the outbreak of War. A 1984 audio interview, mostly focusing on her Cinesound years can be heard here.

L&L1   L&L2

Above: Screengrabs of Shirley Ann with Lloyd Hughes in Lovers and Luggers (1938). Unfortunately Hall’s Cinesound films have never been released on home video in Australia, they are only available via US specialist providers, often made from shortened and/or low-quality prints. Author’s Collection.

In addition to working with established Australians, the Cinesound films brought her into contact with a number of visiting British and US actors – including Cecil Kellaway, John Longden, Will Mahoney, Lloyd Hughes and James Raglan. Doubtless they talked of their experiences and the opportunities to be had working internationally. However the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and the closure of feature production at Cinesound Studios hastened her decision to try her luck in the US. She continued with some work on the Australian stage in the meantime, having toured in Charley’s Aunt through Australia and New Zealand.


Film career in the US

Shirley Ann often recounted the story of being on the last passenger ship after Pearl Harbour. It was true. She had booked to leave Australia on 13 December 1941, on the Matson liner Mariposa. She did not cancel her travel after the sudden Japanese attacks in the Pacific and South East Asia. Shirley Ann’s name appears on the passenger manifest along with other US citizens anxious to get home from Australia, and from Hawaii where the ship had a brief stop. The ship docked in San Francisco on 31 December. She arrived with “the equivalent of $75, a weighty scrapbook…  film clips and introductions” courtesy Ken Hall. (The film clips were promptly lost somewhere in Hollywood, unfortunately).

And the risk she took?  The Mariposa had no defences, but it could manage over 20 knots, while Japanese submarines of the time might manage less than 7 knots when submerged. And a slight comforting factor also existed for Shirley Ann – both her parents were US citizens, and her own birth had been registered in Australia with the US embassy. Her father’s surviving sister Grace lived in the US –  although far from Hollywood California.

Years later Shirley Ann recalled that MGM signed her up quickly – they respected her Australian experience, but to avoid being confused with Anne Shirley, her screen name was shortened to Ann Richards. A small part in a short – to test her – followed, then MGM gave her a very, very small role in Random Harvest with Ronald Colman and Greer Garson – so small a role she doesn’t have any lines. Shirley Ann said later that most of her part ended up on the cutting room floor. But in Dr Gillespie’s New Assistant, another in the popular Dr Kildare series and also made in 1942, she played an Australian nurse working in US. This was also a small role, but at least she had a few lines and some close-ups. Richard Quine‘s “Australian-isms” are excruciating and Dr Gillespie’s (Lionel Barrymore‘s) every second comment unbelievably inappropriate for today’s viewers, but Shirley Ann manages her role with the characteristic class and good manners that she was to give all her roles.

Dr Gillespie 1  Dr Gillespie 2

Above: Screen grabs of Richard Quine as the Australian doctor and Shirley Ann Richards as the Australian nurse in Dr Gillespie’s New Assistant. TCM currently have a collection of the Dr Gillespie films for sale. 
Richard Quine and Shirley Ann in a short piece of dialogue. Quine, a US actor, tried hard to sound convincing as a young Australian doctor from Wooloomooloo, Sydney.

King Vidor‘s film An American Romance – a story of an emigrant who makes good in the US steel industry – could have been a breakthrough film for her, but it was expensive to make and at two and a half hours in length, way over-long. It was in technicolor, but it still met with a mixed reception. Australian reviewer Lon Jones felta trifle disappointed, for…(Ann Richards) is forced to compete with auto assembly lines and steel plants. The story is essentially one of men and machines and the camera is continually focused on them to the disadvantage of Miss Richards.”

Ann Richards postcard006

Above: Shirley Ann at the height of her Hollywood popularity. Her resemblance to Greer Garson was often noted. Post card in the Author’s Collection.

Despite claims that Shirley Ann was very busy in Hollywood, it seems that over the seven years 1942-48 she appeared in only eleven films – a modest output. While she was as selective as she could be with her roles, she later acknowledged that she also spent a lot of time waiting around for offers to come her way. However, it should be noted that compared to her Australian contemporaries, Mary Maguire and Constance Worth, the films she appeared in were quality films and she had credited roles in most. She worked with some of Hollywood’s leading players at this time, although Tom Vallance, her obituarist for “The Independent,” is correct in suggesting she was often consigned to “best friend” roles.

Unhappy with working for MGM, she negotiated a contract release. She then appeared in three films for independent Producer Hal WallisLove Letters (1945), The Searching Wind (1946) and Sorry Wrong Number (1948). Biographer Bernard Dick may be accurate when he suggests Wallis never intended to make a star of Shirley Ann, rather his need was for a talented actress with a faintly British accent who could also pass for an upper-class American. And although not paid at the same rate as Barbara Stanwyke or Burt Lancaster, she was still paid $US 1750 per week for her work on Sorry, Wrong Number according to Dick, the equivalent of $US 20,000 today.

Sorry wrong number
Above: Blonded-up for Hollywood,  Shirley Ann as Sally Hunt in the 1948 thriller Sorry, Wrong Number. Screen grab from the trailer, via Youtube. The film is still widely available.

In June 1946, Shirley Ann flew home to Australia for a visit to see her mother, and possibly also to convince her to move to the US. She was given a rousing welcome on arrival in Australia. The joy of her return disguised the fact that Shirley Ann and her mother had suffered some shocking news in late 1945. Her brother Roderick, who had been a Medic in the Australian 8th Division, had died as a Japanese POW in early 1945.

In early 1949 Shirley Ann married Edmund Angelo, a 36 year old theatre director and producer. In the same year, Angelo published a small book of his lectures on theatre-craft. He dedicated it to Shirley Ann, “whose brilliant artistry exemplifies what I have endeavored to express in this book.” However, the foreword by Shirley Ann makes it clear that the essays included were selected by her.

Curtain - You're On! cover

Above: Curtain – You’re On! by Edmund Angelo, with his portrait. It was dedicated to Shirley Ann, while she wrote the foreword. Author’s Collection.

She made one final film after this, with Angelo as director – a crime drama based on the boxing themed play “The Samson Slasher” – wisely retitled Breakdown for the cinema. Angelo claimed it was made in just 11 days, on “a shoe-string budget,” and it ended up being shown as a B (supporting) feature. There was talk of further films being planned and more stage work, but the couple seem to have left Hollywood film-making behind soon after that.


After Hollywood

Following Breakdown, Angelo threw his efforts into engineering and the US aerospace effort. It could be forgotten today just how exciting this period of development and space exploration was – starting in the late 1950s and culminating in the moon landing of July 1969. Shirley Ann spoke with some pride about his work as early as 1956.

Shirley Ann turned her attention to raising her three children and pursuing some of the other interests she had always had. From the early 1950s she was active in Zeta Phi Eta, an organisation of female leaders in the arts, communication and science fields, that still describes itself today as “a friendly society of service”. Much of her work appears to have revolved around fund-raising activities for social justice causes, particularly for disadvantaged children and those with speech difficulties. Meanwhile, the family lived comfortably at W.C.Fields’ former home at 2015 De Mille Drive in Los Angeles. One of Shirley Ann’s best known (of many) anecdotes was of meeting Fields whilst peeking at the property some years before. (see Los Angeles Times, 3 December 1972)

Shirley Ann 1956
Above: Shirley Ann with her two sons Chris and Mark, photographed for the Australian Women’s Weekly 11 July 1956. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove

She also continued to write poetry – her first collection – The Grieving Senses and Other Poems, was published in 1971. The US journal Poet Lore reported that her poetry “reflected a rare sensitivity to the things around her…”


Rebirth”

Bind her close with roots of flowers
And leave her dreaming in the gloom
Where the light autumnal showers
Kiss the clover into bloom

 


Later life and visits to Australia

Shirley Ann returned to Australia in 1977, in part to appear in an episode of This is Your Life with Ken G Hall. It was her first visit since 1946 and again she was given a joyful welcome home, as she had been thirty years before. Her place as a living connection back to Australia’s fledgling film industry of the 1930s and to Hollywood’s Golden Age was well understood. She was interviewed at length and yet again on another visit in 1981. In 1986 she appeared in Andree Wright and Stewart Young’s documentary film about women in the Australian Cinema. Its title, Don’t Call Me Girlie, is part of the line she has in the film Dad and Dave Come to Town.

Following Edmond’s death in 1983, she remarried. She continued pushing personal boundaries until very late in life, writing poetry and lecturing on travel – for example being amongst the first Western wave of tourists into China and Tibet in the 1980s. We use the hyphenated term “Australian-American” often today, to describe Australian actors working in the US, probably because we cannot think of a more apt descriptor. In Shirley Ann’s case, she really did straddle two cultural environments with complete ease.

Much admired and always fondly remembered in Australia, she died in 2006, long after most of her Australian and Hollywood contemporaries.

 

Nick Murphy
March 2020

 


Note 1: The IMDB currently conflates Shirley Ann Richards with US-born actress Sally Ann Richards (1947-2005) – in doing so muddling up some of their appearances.

Note 2: The claim that Shirley Ann Richards “often appeared on TV” in the ’50s and ’60s appears to be another case of mistaken identity. The person referred to is almost certainly US-born Jazz Singer Ann Richards (1935-1982). Other than repeats of Shirley Ann’s films, the author cannot find any evidence to support this claim.

 


Further Reading

Documentary films

  • Don’t Call Me Girlie (1986) Directed by Andree Wright and Stewart Young. Available from Ronin Films
  • History of Australian Film 1896-1940, Part 3 “Now You’re Talking” (1979) Directed by Keith Gow. Film Australia

Film Clips @ Australian Screen, an NFSA website

Youtube

Audio Interviews

Hollywood Forever Family Memorial Site

Text

  • Edmund Angelo (1949) Curtain-You’re On! Murray & Gee Inc.
  • Bernard F Dick (2004) Hal Wallis, Producer to the Stars. The University Press of Kentucky.
  • Ken G Hall (1980) Australian Film, The Inside Story. Summit Books
  • Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1980) Australian Films 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature production. Oxford University Press/ AFI.
  • Ann Richards (1971) The Grieving Senses and Other Poems. Branden Press.
  • Andree Wright (1986) Brilliant careers. Women in Australian Film. Pan Books.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

National Library of Australia, Trove

  • Smith’s Weekly, 10 Apr 1937; The Rise of Shirley Ann Richards.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Mar 1937; Amateurs carry on stage traditions.
  • Table Talk, 28 Oct 1937; Cinesound School for Talent.
  • Truth (Sydney), 23 Feb 1936; The Jottings of a Lady
  • Evening News, 14 Aug 1919; Young Australia. Needs Virus of Self Reliance.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Sep 1944; Romance and Steel. Ann Richards’s role.
  • The Age, 4 July 1946. Advice to would be film stars.
  • The Canberra Times, 1 Jul 1977; An Australian star remembers

Newspapers.com

  • The Monrovia News-Post. 1 July 1988: Actress to speak of China and Tibet.

The Independent

 

Wanda Radford – The Australian “Wunderkind”

Above: Wanda Radford, photographed for a German postcard in about 1910. Courtesy of Jean Ritsema.

The 5 second version
Born Blanche Wanda Radford on 22 June 1896 in Adelaide, South Australia. Died 16 September 1982 in Sydney, New South Wales. On stage from a very young age, first in Australia, then Germany and Britain, attracting considerable publicity. In 1915 she appeared in a few British films as Blanche Bryan and then another in 1918  under her own name. Returned to Australia after WWI and took up art and costume design.

For a short time in the early Twentieth Century, “Little Wanda Radford” from Adelaide was heralded as the Australian “Wunderkind” (wonder child),  an outstanding child prodigy. She was an entertaining elocutionist, reciter, singer and dancer, if we are to believe British, German and Australian newspapers of the time – and so, so young.

Blanche Wanda Radford was born in South Australia in 1896 to Randolph Radford and his London-born wife of “Polish-German” origin, Minna Henrietta nee Kuwatsch. She was an only child, an older brother having died in infancy the year before. Wanda first appeared on stage in early 1903, in a concert organised by a Sydney Temperance Lodge. In August she was appearing for Harry Musgrove singing In the Pale Moonlight at Centenary Hall. At the ripe old age of 7 she was one of Musgrove’s artists and debutantes appearing who “were free to accept engagements for the stage, concert platforms, or at homes.” In December 1903 she was on stage in Sydney for J.C. Williamson’s, performing in the pantomime Sleeping Beauty and the Beast. We know Minna managed and accompanied her, as she is repeatedly mentioned in accounts over the next few years.


Happy New Year C 1905-6    Flohm on Wanda 20 April 1907 SMH

Left: Prosit Neujahr! Happy New Year! A Georg Gerlach postcard c 1905. Courtesy Jean Ritsema.
Right: Bertram Flohm advertising himself and profiling his work with Wanda – Sydney Morning Herald 20 April 1907. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

In 1904-5, Wanda trained under Bertram Flohm, a young elocutionist who had won the first ever Ballarat Royal South Street Championship for speech and drama in 1898. Flohm had quickly established himself in Sydney as a “Lecturer on Vocal Physiology and Elocution at Theological Institutions; Teacher of Elocution for Stage, Pulpit, Platform and Bar.” Clearly Wanda became one of his star pupils. By March 1905, Flohm was hosting a farewell concert for Wanda – she was about to leave with her mother to pursue a career in Europe. Indeed, she spent some months there and performed in Berlin and Vienna.
in late 1905, Oscar Klein, a jounalist for Berlin’s Bühne und Brettl wrote the following of “little Radford. She sings English, but how! … The 8-year-old girl, brunette with black fiery eyes, performs like a mature woman. Graceful in every movement, even refined in her facial expressions. I am not usually a fan of the Wunderkinder, but Angelika [another performer] and Radford, the smallest soubrettes on the world’s stages, fascinated me and delighted the audience to the highest degree.” 

Wanda also appeared at the new Apollo Theatre in Vienna in late 1905. But one could be forgiven for thinking Wanda performed on her own, as Australian newspaper reports suggested. In fact, she was part of a variety called the Liliput Circus, and was one of a number of juvenile performers appearing at the Apollo.


The Fatherland Nov 16 1905  Wanda 1906

Left: Ben Tieber’s Apollo Theatre, advertising in Das Vaterland (The Fatherland). 16 November 1905. Via Austrian National Library ANNO Newspapers.
Right: Wanda Radford in a very early postcard, c 1906. Society of Swedish Literature in Finland,
National Library of Finland, Via Europeana Collections

A correspondent from the Chicago Tribune who saw her perform in early 1906 wrote “I had an opportunity to hear the bright black-eyed little woman recite …from Romeo and Juliet, in a manner full of dramatic warmth, understanding and intelligent conception…” In May 1906 she travelled with her mother to London, and she spoke publicly of those she had met in Germany who encouraged her – including socialite Madam Kirsinger of Berlin and later, Australian soprano Nellie Melba. Late in 1906 she appeared for Beerbolm Tree in the title role of a stage version of Oliver Twist, in what British newspapers described as “a wonderfully natural and pleasing style”, “her clever acting and clear enunciation” evoking the “warmest admiration.”

Minna Radford, clearly an early believer in the concept that “all publicity is good publicity,” passed all these compliments on to the Australian press. The story that Wanda was to give Princess Victoria Louise (the Kaiser’s daughter) acting lessons, that first surfaced in Australia on 16 March 1907, and then a few days later in the London Sketch, also appears to owe itself to Minna’s efforts to write home with all the good news. It was endlessly repeated in Australia, Britain and even the US, a country which Wanda would not visit for another 20 years. (see Note 1, below)

Reporting of Wanda’s experiences shifted continually over the next few years, suggesting a degree of tension over work, study and what she could really manage as an adolescent. Her “temporary retirement” from the stage was announced several times – in May 1907 and again in March 1909. But then, she was always soon back on stage again, reciting and singing, in Germany and England and from 1910, reportedly studying at the Paris Conservatoire. Bad luck might have really dogged her career – in July 1911 Minna wrote to Australia of Wanda performing for W.S. Gilbert and his high opinion of her talent. But sadly, Gilbert had suffered a fatal heart attack in May and his active support of her career was not to be.

In 1910, a dramatic new series of photos of Wanda appeared. Gone was the little girl with carefully “ragged” (curled) hair. The photos of adolescent Wanda, looking dreamy and wearing not much more than cheesecloth, had widespread circulation. And Wanda was now being described “as unquestionably the most beautiful girl in Australasia.” (Alone amongst papers, London Tatler later corrected the misinformation about her age. She was only 14 when the photos below were taken). She was reportedly studying in Paris in 1911-12, but a breakdown in her health was announced in February 1913, and another temporary retirement from the stage occurred.


GGCo825   GGCo824    Wanda Radford in 1910

Above: Some of the photos of Wanda that appeared in 1910.  Left and Centre; Georg Gerlach postcards via Jean Ritsema. Right: This Gerlach photo appeared in many newspapers in Britain and the US. This copy is from The Goodwin Weekly, Salt lake, Utah, 31 December 1910. Via newspapers.com.

Perhaps the most unequivocal exposure of the conflicting forces in Wanda’s life appeared in 1914. In February and March, Minna wrote to South Australian friends, requesting they start a fund to support Wanda. Minna’s letter explained “I thought you might get up a little fund for Wanda. She is a South Australian and surely there are some rich people there who will not let such a talent as Wanda has, be lost for the want of funds. . . .  A lady gave me £10 to buy a new artificial foot*, but I had to spend it on Wanda: I could not see her want.” (*Minna apparently had some type of disability). The call for subscriptions appeared in Adelaide’s Register newspaper in May and June, countersigned by old family friend Mrs Caroline Dove, the wife of very well-known Anglican Archdeacon George Dove. Mrs Dove had also raised a public subscription for Wanda several years before.

Soon after, Wanda’s father Randolph, now managing the popular inner city Adam’s Tattersall’s Hotel in Pitt Street, Sydney, wrote to the paper to express “surprise and regret” that the subscription had been raised and asking it to be cancelled. “Sufficient funds” were being sent to Minna and Wanda he explained.

Sons of Satan
Above: What has happened here? Unfortunately we don’t know. Wanda playing Winifred West (left) in a scene from Sons of Satan, made in 1915. Moving Picture World Jan-March 1916. Via Lantern

In 1915, a year after the outbreak of war,  18 year old Wanda, living in England again, turned to the cinema. The London Film Company was a newly established British production company, and Wanda appeared in three of their 1915 films, using the stage name Blanche Bryan. The films were Sons of Satan,  the four-part “slum drama” The Man in the Attic and The King’s Outcast. Unfortunately, none of these films are easily found today. However, we know the “detective thriller” Sons of Satan was well received, with Wanda in the leading role as Winifred West. In the film, Winifred and her boyfriend Lord Desford manage to thwart an evil gang of villains. Wanda appeared in a final British film in 1918, using her own name.

Wanda Radford in 1926 The Home

Above: Wanda Radford in 1926. The Home. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove

But Wanda’s interests changed again – she did not pursue a career on stage or in film. In 1920, she was credited with designing some of the costumes for Gladys Unger and  K. K. Ardaschir’s musical Sunshine of the World, which played for a month at The Empire Theatre. She had become a skilled artist and dress designer, as became clear on her return to Australia in mid 1923. She soon found work as an artist and illustrator – much of her work appearing in The Home magazine, and was active in Sydney’s Society of  Artists.

wanda art for The Home 1 Jan 1927     Cover the Home Vol 6 No1 1925

Above:  Wanda’s art. Left A Wanda Radford illustration from The Home, Vol 8, No 1, 1927. The caption is “Pathetic instance of lady who has applied patent lip-shaped stamp in ignorance ( or deliberately regardless) of the author’s kindly warning”.
Right – Cover of The Home  Vol 6 No 1, 1925. Via The National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Wanda was reputedly also one a small group of “clever women” who Sydney’s Sun newspaper reported were drawing high salaries – in her case as a designer for David Jones department store.

Clearly talented in theatre and as a designer-artist, Wanda Radford left precious little of her own commentary on her life for historians, and her motivation for leaving the stage is still shrouded in mystery. But when she travelled back to the UK via the US in 1928 she made observations that leave us some clues. She said she loved the United States for its “youthfulness, where youth is given every opportunity for self-expression, as contrasted with the laggardness of European countries.” In this comment to the Boston Globe,  she was perhaps explaining why she chose to end her European stage career.

After her mother’s death in London in the mid-1930s, she returned to Sydney, where she died in 1982. She had no children and this writer has been unable to find a husband or partner. She described herself in official documents as a journalist or artist almost to the end of her life and lived comfortably in an apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour. That she was not interviewed by Australian journalists anytime in the last forty years of her life is regrettable.

 

Nick Murphy
February 2020

 


Note 1:
Regarding Wanda’s lessons for the Kaiser’s daughter in early 1907. The author has not yet found a German source that confirms this. However, any trip Wanda took from Britain to Germany to do this at the time it was reported (March 1907) must have been quite short. She was performing again in London on 1 May 1907.

Note 2:
Regarding Wanda’s escape from Germany in 1914. In September 1915, the Sydney Sun devoted space to a long account of Wanda’s escape from Germany on the outbreak of war. Unfortunately, it is also difficult to verify this, as the account does not appear in print anywhere else.

Note 3:
An actor by the name of Blanche Bryan was performing on stage in the US in the 1910s. She is unrelated to Wanda.

 

Special thanks to

Jean Ritsema in Jackson Michigan, who kindly prompted me to research this worthy and forgotten Australian. She also kindly translated some German documents. Thank you again Jean.

Pearl Nunn is a PhD candidate who has previously done some research on Wanda. I have never communicated with her but found her light digital footsteps through the web very helpful – thanks Pearl.

 

Further Reading

Text:

  • Joy Damousi (2010) Colonial Voices: A Cultural History of English in Australia, 1840-1940. Cambridge University Press.
  • Margaret Maynard (2001) Out of Line: Australian Women and Style. University of NSW Press
  • J. P. Wearing (2014) The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Newspapers.com

  • Chicago Tribune 29 April 1906
  • Boston Globe 4 June 1928
  • The Goodwin Weekly 31 December 1910

The British Newspaper Archive

  • The Era – Saturday 15 December 1906
  • The Graphic – March – June 1929 for samples of her illustrations produced in the UK

National Library of Australia’s Trove

  • The Evening News (SA) 11 Dec 1906
  • The Evening Journal (SA) 16 July 1906 (Note: This is a reasonably accurate account of her life to July 1906)
  • Sydney Morning Herald 20 April 1907
  • The Register (SA) 8 July 1911
  • The Sun (NSW) 26 Sept 1915
  • Sydney Morning Herald 15 May 1920
  • The Sun (NSW) 20 March 1927.

The British National Portrait Gallery hold one photo of Wanda, taken by W. Walter Barnett in the early 1910s. See it here

The Dictionary of Sydney holds a photo of Wanda at the 1926 Sydney Artists Ball, (although she is mis-identified. She is almost certainly standing on the left, not the right) See it here

Europeana Collections

  • Berliner Börsenzeitung – 2 February 1908 (Berlin Stock Market Newspaper)

Austrian National Library – ANNO Austrian Newspapers online

  • Das Vaterland 16. November 1905
  • Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung: Ausgaben 1905

Lantern Media History Digital Library

  • Moving Picture World Jan-March 1916.

Hathi Trust Digital Library

Enid Bennett – The Australian who kept her accent

Above: Enid Bennett in Fred Niblo’s Strangers of the Night (1923). She was at the height of her Hollywood popularity. Sadly it is a lost film. Via Wikipedia Commons. See below for full length photo.

The 5 second version

Born Enid Eulalie Bennett, York, Western Australia, Australia, 15 July 1893,
Died Malibu, California, USA 14 May, 1969. Busy on stage in Australia 1910-1915. Also appeared in Fred Niblo’s two Australian films before working in the US. Most active in Hollywood between 1917-1927, during which time she gained great attention. Some later minor roles in sound films and worked until her death for the Christian Science Church. Married to Fred Niblo 1918-48.

Enid Bennett, a young Australian who arrived in the US with Fred Niblo and Josephine Cohan in June 1915, hardly qualifies as “a forgotten Australian actor.” She received widespread publicity in the early 1920s and was, at the time, one of Hollywood’s premier stars. Many of her films still exist and she has been the subject of numerous biographies since her death in 1969. However, there are several special reasons for including her on this website.

Although most famous as a silent star, what interests this writer is her accent, as evidenced by her voice in the talkies she appeared in between 1931 and 1941. It is not the broad and theatrical accent often heard when an “Australian voice” is used in Hollywood films, but the authentic accent of many middle class Australians living on the coastal fringe.

Why accents evolve and vary as they do is well beyond the scope of this article, but it is safe to note that Bennett’s accent is a feature of her ethnicity, social standing and education. Desley Deacon has also established that middle class girls like Bennett attended schools of acting and elocution as a first step on the path to acting on stage and screen.

It is also notable that Enid Bennett plays essentially the same role in all these films – usually an earnest and thoroughly decent mother figure. Here are some examples:


The Big Store (1941)

In this well known Marx Brothers comedy,  Bennett plays an unnamed store clerk in the millinery department. Nasty Miss Peggy Arden (played by Marion Martin) makes life very hard for her. (Harpo Marx then plays a clever trick on Miss Peggy – which is the point of the scene.)

The Big Store 1941
Above: Screen grab of 48 year old Enid Bennett in her final film role – the Marx Brothers film The Big Store, of 1941. The film is widely available on DVD. Author’s collection.

Strike Up the Band (1940)

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland star in this cheerful Busby Berkeley musical. In this scene Bennett is welcoming Jimmy, although he soon learns he is not allowed to play at her daughter Barbara’s birthday.

strike up the band

Above: This is Rooney as Jimmy Connors, with Enid Bennett playing Mrs Morgan and June Preisser as her daughter Barbara Morgan. Strike Up The Band, 1940. Author’s collection.

Meet Dr Christian (1939)

This is the first of six Dr Christian films made between 1939 and 1941, starring (and partly written by) Danish actor Jean Hersholt, as the sensible small town Doctor. Enid Bennett plays the Mayor’s wife, but her role is not reprised in the later films. In this scene she is talking to her husband.

Enid Bennett in Meet Dr Christian

Above: Screen grab of Enid Bennett as Mrs Hewitt in Meet Dr Christian. This film is widely available, and apparently now  in the public domain. Author’s Collection.

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Waterloo Bridge was based on the play of the same name by Robert Sherwood. In this scene Mrs Wetherby (Enid Bennett) welcomes her son Roy’s new girlfriend Myra (Mae Clarke) and insists she stays, not yet knowing she is really a prostitute. When Myra admits this later to Mrs Wetherby, she is unbelievably nice about it, although naturally she doesn’t think marriage is a good idea.

waterloo bridge 1931

Above: Screen grab of Enid Bennett from Waterloo Bridge (1931). The film is still available from TCM. Author’s Collection.

Skippy (1931)

Director Norman Taurig won the Academy Award for Best Director for this film. Jackie Cooper‘s character might be regarded as tiresome today, but in 1931 the film was immensely popular. Enid Bennett plays Skippy’s mother and Dr Herbert Skinner’s wife. A sequel was made with many of the actors reprising their roles, including Bennett.

This is a sound clip from the beginning of the film, where the Skinners are having breakfast while Skippy is still lying in bed upstairs pretending to get dressed.

Skippy 1931, Breakfast scene
Above: Screen grab of Willard Robertson and Enid Bennett as Skippy’s parents, in the breakfast scene that begins the film. Skippy is available from TCM. Author’s Collection

Did she retire? Well, not exactly. By 1930, Enid Bennett was an active Christian Scientist, in company with many Hollywood actors – including Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers and Dick Powell.

She remained so to the end of her life, and there is plenty of evidence she devoted much of her time and expertise in front of the camera and microphone in the cause of the church, particularly after the death of her first husband Fred Niblo, in 1948. She regularly appeared on radio and TV, sometimes credited as Enid Bennett Niblo, hosting short Christian Science programs on healing, including Light of Faith and How Christian Science heals. She died in May 1969.

Melbourne Age Aug 18 1956
Above: The Melbourne Age, 18 August 1956, reporting on Enid’s work as a Christian Scientist but already seriously muddled up about her connection to Australia. (If she ever lived in St Kilda, Melbourne it wasn’t for very long.) Via newspapers.com

In case you don’t know who she was !

Below: Enid Bennett photographed by May and Mina Moore, C 1910, about the time she began to develop a reputation in Australia.  State Library of Victoria, via National Library of Australia’s Trove. 

enid bennet about 1910She was born Enid Eulalie Bennett to Francis Bennett and Nellie nee Walker at York, Western Australia in 1893. She had an older brother  – Francis Reginald (born 1891) and a younger sister Marjorie Esme (born 1896). Having attempted to open his own school in the inland town of York, about 100 kms east of Perth , Western Australia, her father Francis Bennett became the founding Principal of Guildford Grammar School in 1896. It wasn’t for very long unfortunately. He apparently took his own life in 1898 while suffering the increasingly debilitating effects of locomotor ataxia. Nellie, who seems to have been the school matron, then married the school’s new Principal Alexander D Gillespie in 1898. Two children were born of this union – Catherine Fanny (born 1901) and Alexander David (born 1903). But Gillespie also died only a few years later.

Enid Bennett’s career can be traced through early performances first in Western Australia and then under the tutelage of Julius Knight. In 1910 visiting US performer Katherine Gray had also encouraged her to pursue a career on stage. In the eastern states she performed in Everywoman with British actress Hilda Spong and another up and coming Australian, Dorothy Cumming, in 1911. However, her major breakthrough was to find work with Fred Niblo and his wife Josephine Cohan, on their extended tour of Australia. About the same time Nellie moved the family back to Sydney, where she had been born, eventually settling down in Rose Bay. 

Below: Enid Bennett as featured in a US comedy she performed with Niblo, Excuse Me.  From “The Lone Hand”, 1 August 1913, via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Lone Hand 1913Niblo was effusive about the Australian performers in his company, and young Enid Bennett in particular. In early 1915 he told Perth’s Sunday Times; Miss Enid Bennett is a splendid actress, and the Perth people will watch her career with interest and pride,” noting how well she had filled in for Josephine Cohan when she was (often) indisposed. The Niblo-Cohan troupe traveled Australia for three years, despite Josephine’s declining health. In June 1915 Niblo, Cohan and 22 year old Enid packed up and headed for the US on the Matson liner Ventura. Before they departed, Niblo quickly made two filmed versions of popular plays for J.C.Williamson’s – Get Rich Quick Wallingford and Officer 666.  According to film historians Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, the surviving reels of Officer 666 “reveal a crude production doggedly faithful to the stage.” These were Niblo’s first efforts as a director – he was to significantly refine his skills in Hollywood. Watch a clip from Officer 666 here

Soon after arriving in the US, Enid Bennett appeared in a supporting role in Henry Arthur Jones‘ comedy Cock O’ The Walk, a vehicle for popular comedian Otis Skinner being performed in east coast US cities, including New York. At about the same time she also appeared in her first film, A Princess of the Dark for Thomas H. Ince and Triangle Studios.

A princess of the dark

Above: Thomas Ince marketing his latest star in March 1916. “El Paso Times”, 2 March 1916. Some commentaries incorrectly date this to a release in 1917. Via Newspapers.com

Enid Bennett first play in US

Above: Enid Bennett in her first US play, Cock O’ the Walk, with Janet Dunbar and Rita Otway, in early 1916. Author’s Collection

Enid’s sister Marjorie was to claim that the family pressured her to join Enid in the US, to keep her company.  But the early years in Hollywood appear to have a degree of excitment about them even if the transition to work in the US was tough. Sylvia Bremer‘s biographer Ralph Marsden reproduces one photo showing a happy Bremer, Enid and Marjorie Bennett swimming at California’s Arrowhead Springs, in 1917. According to Theatre historian Desley Deacon, the success of these young Australian women inspired others, including Judith Anderson.

In Australia in late 1917 Nellie, Catherine and Alexander received some catastrophic news. The family’s oldest son, Frank Reginald, had been killed in fighting at Passchendaele, Belgium on 9 October 1917, not long after being promoted to Lieutenant. Nellie’s few letters held in Frank’s Australian military file reflect the deep grief the family must have felt. Soon after, Nellie and Enid’s two step-siblings packed up and departed for the US on the SS Ventura.

Enid and Fred Niblo married in late February 1918 – his first wife Josephine Cohan had died in July 1916. The impending wedding was almost certainly the main reason for the Bennett family’s arrival in the US a few months before. But there the family stayed, all building careers for themselves in the US. For a few years in the early 1920s, Catherine enjoyed a career in comedy films, often with Monty Banks. Alexander Bennett is reported to have become an accountant. Marjorie, the reluctant actress, would eventually build a remarkable career in Hollywood character roles from the late 1940s, after a long career on stage, including two years performing back in Australia (1921-23).

Fred Niblo’s first US directing experience was The Marriage Ring, with Enid in a leading role, in 1918. He had learned a lot since the days of his Australian film experience; he went on to direct until the early 1930s and the first years of sound film. Kevin Brownlow has documented Niblo’s work on one of his most famous films – Ben Hur, a Tale of the Christ made in 1925. Like Enid, he also took on small acting roles in sound films later in life. He died in 1948.

Enid Bennett was busy – her most prolific period was the ten years between 1917-1927. There were some stand-out roles in films that still survive. These included Robin Hood in 1922 with Douglas Fairbanks, The Sea Hawk with fellow Australian Mark McDermott, and The Red Lily with Ramon Novarro, both in 1924, the latter also being directed by Niblo.

Enid and Fred had three children in the 1920s – Loris, Peter and Judith. They also parented Niblo’s son Fred Junior, from his marriage with Josephine. Late in life, Enid married family friend and former film director Sidney Franklin. But Enid Bennett’s ashes were interned next to Fred Niblo’s after her sudden death in May 1969.

Marjorie Bennett outlived all her siblings. She died in Hollywood in 1982, working almost to the end of her life.

1923 comedy silence of the night

Above – The author’s favourite photo of Enid Bennett as  she appeared in Fred Niblo’s Strangers of the Night (1923). Via Wikipedia Commons  (which has more than 50 public domain images of her).

Nick Murphy
February 2020

 

Further Reading

Online

  • Film – Robin Hood 1922 – on Youtube and Internet Archive
  • Film clip –Officer 666 National Film and Sound Archive
  • National Library of Australia – Trove.
    • May and Mina Moore Collection
    • The Daily News, 3 Aug 1910. Page 3
    • The Lone Hand, 1 August 1913. Pages 326-7
    • The Leader, (Vic) 30 Dec 1911. Page 27
    • Sunday Times  21 Mar 1915. Page 25
    • The Catholic Paper – Freeman’s Journal, 10 Dec 1931. Page 3
    • The Age, 18 August 1956. Page 11
  • Peter Niblo (2006) –Remembering My Father, Fred Niblo  The Silents are Golden website
  • Australian Live Performance Database
    AusStage – Enid Bennett
    Austage – Majorie Bennett
  • Newspapers.com
    • Boston Globe. 13 July 1916. (This extraordinary newspaper article attributes Josephine Cohan’s death to “Too much dancing” rather than heart disease, which it was)
    • New York Tribune. 2 August 1915. P9
    • El Paso Times 2 March 1916 P9
    • Los Angeles Times. 30 Oct 1935. P13

Text

  • Kevin Brownlow (1968) The Parade’s Gone By. University of California Press.
  • Desley Deacon (2008) “Cosmopolitans at Home: Judith Anderson and the American aspirations of J C Williamson’s Stock Company Members” in Robert Dixon, Veronica Kelly (Eds) Impact of the Modern: Vernacular Modernities in Australia 1870s-1960s. University of Sydney.
  • Desley Deacon (2013) Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies. Vol 18, No 1 “From Victorian Accomplishment to Modern Profession: Elocution Takes Judith Anderson, Sylvia Bremer and Dorothy Cumming to Hollywood, 1912-1918
  • Desley Deacon (2019) Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage. Kerr Publishing.
  • Al Kemp, Tina Kemp (2002) Enid Bennett A Forgotten Star : Life of a Jazz Actress
    Pen Productions Media/Publishing. [Book could not be sourced for this narrative]
  • Ralph Marsden (2016) Who was Sylvia? An autobiography of Sylvia Breamer. Screencrafts Productions.
  • Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1980) Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford University Press
  • Hal Porter (1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. Rigby
  • Scott Wilson (2016) Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons.  Third Edition. McFarland and Co.

A list of ships and their actor passengers

Above: The Matson liner SS Monterey, which carried many hopeful Australian actors to the US. State Library of Victoria, Allan Green Collection. Allan C Green 1878-1954 photographer. ca. 1932-ca. 1952.

These are the first departure dates of some twentieth century Australian actors. Of course, many travelled to the US or UK under other names, but for ease of reading their best known stage name is used.

Marc McDermott
Sailed to North America in July 1902 on the RMS Miowera

Oliver Peters (O.P) Heggie
Sailed to the UK in 1906 on the SS Grosser Kurfürst

Queenie Williams, Billy Bevan, Teddy McNamara, Ivy Moore and other Pollard performers sailed to North America in August 1912 on the SS Makura

Louise Lovely
Sailed to the US in December 1914 on the SS Sonoma

Matson lineEnid Bennett
Sailed to the US in March 1915 on SS Ventura

Dorothy Cumming
Sailed to the US in July 1916 on SS Makura

Sylvia Bremer
Sailed to the US in October 1916 on SS Ventura

Marjorie Bennett
Sailed to the US in December 1916 on SS Ventura

Judith Anderson
Sailed to the US in January 1918 on SS Sonoma

Ena Gregory
Sailed to the US in January 1920, on the SS Ventura

Lotus Thompson lotusabouttodepart
Sailed to the US in March 1924, on SS Ventura.

Robert Grieg and Isabelle Holloway
Sailed to the US via the UK in 1925

Phyllis Gibbs
Sailed to the US in June 1927 on SS Sierra

Marcia Ralston
Sailed to the US in October 1927, on SS Sonoma.

Fred Stone
Sailed to the UK in May 1929 on SS Benalla.

Click to enlarge: This is the menu from the MV Warwick Castle, in 1936.  Clearly aspiring actors had to be careful what they ate from this huge menu! The Union Castle ships ran from South Africa to England, but it is probably typical of ship board food of the time. Author’s collection.

Judy Kelly
Sailed to the UK in June 1932, on the RMS CathageBlanche and Judy leave Australia

Mary MacGregor
Sailed to the UK in February 1933, on the SS Mongolia

Mona Barrie
Sailed to the US in June 1933, on the SS Monterey.

Gwen Munro
Sailed to the US in September 1933, on the SS Monterey.Gwen on the way home

John Wood
Sailed to the UK in October 1933, on the MV Troja.

Margaret Vyner
Sailed to Europe in late April 1934, on the RMS Orsova.

Margaret Johnston
Sailed to the UK in March 1935, on the SS Mongolia

Janet Johnson
Sailed to the UK in March 1936, on the SS Largs Bay.

Constance Worth
Sailed to the US in April 1936, on the SS Montereyconstance worth returning home by Sam Hood

Mary Maguire
Sailed to the US in August 1936, on the SS Mariposa

Joan Winfield
Sailed to the UK in late 1936, then to the US in 1939

Shirley Ann Richards
Sailed to the US in late 1941 on the SS Mariposa.

Patti Morgan
Sailed to the UK in March 1947, on the MV Selandia

Allan Cuthbertson
Sailed to the UK in March 1947, on the RMS Rangitiki

Victoria Shaw
Flew to the US via Hawaii in July 1955

Photos – from the top
1. Screen grab of Lotus Thompson saying farewell in Sydney in 1924 before departing on the SS Ventura.Source Australasian Gazette newsreel via youtube.
2. Judy Kelly and her mother departing for England on the RMS Cathage. Source: The Home, An Australian Quarterly. Vol. 13 No. 8. August 1, 1932. Via National Library of Australia Trove.
3. Gwen Munro returning from the US on the SS Mariposa on 26 August 1934. Source uncredited. Photo in the author’s collection.
4. Jocelyn Howarth (Constance worth) on her return from the US in June 1939 on the SS Monterey.  Via State Library of New South Wales.
Above: Menu from the SS Orion in April 1947. The austerity of the post war world is still obvious. Author’s collection

Thanks, links and sources

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. 

Thanks to…

My lecturers so long ago – Tom Ryan, Arthur Cantrill and Ken Mogg.

And the following people deserve special thanks;

  • Richard Bradshaw regarding Fred Stone
  • Jean Ritsema regarding Wanda Radford
  • Joyce Mostyn, Norm Archibald, John Armine Wodehouse Earl of Kimberley, Dianne Byrne and Simone Cubbin regarding Mary Maguire
  • John Shrimski regarding Maie Saqui
  • Martin Goebel, Jean Ritsema, 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
  • Tony Tibballs, Cinema and Theatre Historical Society of Australia
  • Writer Robert Gott , Editors Jane Cussen & Ingrid Purnell
  • Henry Rosenbloom from Scribe
  • Katie Flack, Original Materials and Legacy Data Manager, State Library of Victoria.
  • 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)

Some other actors well-remembered (offsite)

The Women Film Pioneers Project, edited by Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, has scholarly articles on a number of pioneer filmmakers, amongst them several Australians – including Lottie Lyell and the McDonagh sisters

 

Key Sources

Further reading is provided, wherever possible, at the end of each article. Hot links exist in the text to key primary and secondary sources online. The most common sources used include

Text

  • Ray Edmondson and Andrew Pike (1982) Australia’s Lost Films. National Library of Australia.
  • Hal Porter (1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. Rigby Ltd.
  • Brian McFarlane, Anthony Slide (2003): The Encyclopedia of British Film. Methuen Publishing Ltd
  • Phillipe Mora, Peter Beilby, Scott Murray (eds) and others (1974-2001): Cinema Papers (Magazine) Cinema Papers P/L, Richmond, also MTV Publishing  and Niche Media. See digitised collection at the University of Wollongong
  • Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1981 and 1998): Australian film, 1900-1977 : a guide to feature film production. Oxford University Press.
  • Graham Shirley & Brian Adams (1989): Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years. Currency Press
  • Andrée Wright (1986) Brilliant Careers; Women in Australian Cinema. Pan Books Australia.
  • Angela Woollacott, (2001). To try her fortune in London. Australian women, Colonialism and Modernity. Oxford University Press

Digital

Lists of films and stage performances are not provided. Moderately accurate lists of films are often found on the Internet Movie Database. (IMDB), however the reader should not that these are sometimes inaccurate. A list of Broadway performances can be found at the Internet Broadway Database (IBDB).
A list of some Australian stage performances can be found at The Australian Live Performance Database.

Fred Stone – The man who influenced Tony Hancock & “The Boy Friend”

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“.


GN1 GN2

Above: Good News program courtesy Richard Bradshaw.

Fred and sister 1929 fred-stone-cropped

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 in Mr 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 Trapeze and Tulip Time. He now called himself Frederic Stone, probably to avoid confusion with the US cinema star of the same name.

Making up - the flying Trapize Richard Hearne, Robert Gordon, Fred  Fred in Be careful Mr Smith

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 Smith as 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.


FS6 Sleepwalker
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.
FS9
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 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 in The Boyfriend

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. 

BF1  BF2

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 Friend for 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 King performed by The Players’.

Fred in 1959

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

 

Further Reading

  • 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
  • The Stage (UK) Fred Stone Obituary 10 August 1995

Websites

 

Harry Allen – a long journey to Hollywood

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.

THe earl of Chicago Allen and Pollard
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 Baker also 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 as profiled in Melbourne Punch, March 1912. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove. At right – the remaining cottage near the site of his birth place in Barkly Street, Carlton. It is possible that with house renumbering and demolitions in the area, this WAS the family home. Photo – Author’s collection. 

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

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.

Saskatoon Daily Star 18 March 1922

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.” At the same time, he was still active in theatre – appearing in a string of light comedies and musicals.

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.

Harry Radford Allen birth cert July 10 1878

Above: Part of Harry Allen’s birth certificate, 10 July 1878. Via Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. NB: The clerk’s handwriting makes the “8” look variously like “7” and “6” however the record appears on a sheet headed 1878 and between other entries listed 1878.

 

Nick Murphy
July 2019

 

Further Reading

Texts

  • 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.

Newspapers.com
National Library of Australia – Trove

Australian Variety Theatre Archive – Clay Djubal

Internet Archive

  • The Argonaut, Vol 84, January 1919. Review of The Better ‘Ole.
  • The Billboard, 24 June 1944. Susanne Westford obituary.