Mary Maguire – An Epilogue

The Chapel of Academy of Mary Immaculate, Nicholson Street, Fitzroy – Mary Maguire’s old school. Established in 1857, the school continues to operate on the same site and in a rare Melbourne street-scape that is almost unchanged.

One of Mary Maguire’s classmates, who lived in Collingwood with a bed-ridden mother and unemployed step-father, remembered her vividly. Jo Mostyn (nee Gardiner) was one of the Academy of Mary Immaculate girls invited to a birthday party for Peggy (she never called her Mary), a very grand affair, held in 1931 at the Maguire’s Hotel Metropole. Memories of the day; dressing up in her one and only best dress – and the highlight – a Sennitt’s ice cream cake that arrived late on a hot summer’s day, to Mick’s great annoyance, remained with Jo all her life. In contrast, Jo’s own birthday, a few weeks earlier, couldn’t be celebrated at all. Jo was a charity case at the school, and her sick mother and unemployed step-father, broken-down jockey Jimmy Gardiner, were reliant for an income on his door to door sales of hand-made rag-rugs, that they made at home at night. To the end of her life, Jo remembered Peggy Maguire’s friendly nature and endless good humour, her deep black hair and flashing brown eyes. She recalled that Peggy looked like a movie star, even when she was at school. It says much about Peggy that Jo’s impoverished situation made no difference to her being a friend. Jo took a perverse delight in the knowledge that at least she was better at “adding up” than Peggy.

Jo Mostyn 19351              Mary about 1935

School friends at the Academy of Mary Immaculate.
Left: Jo Gardiner in 1935. Author’s collection

Right: Peggy (later Mary) Maguire about 1935. State Library of Queensland, John Oxley Library.  Freda Peterson (Schofield) Scrapbook

Maguire enrolment

A school enrolment from another era! Peggy Maguire’s (spelled McGuire) enrolment record at the Academy of Mary Immaculate in 1923. Her pet name was good enough apparently, plus father’s name and his hotel in Bourke Street! How different to the 21st Century. Courtesy Academy of Mary Immaculate.

A few years before she died, in about 1972, Mary Maguire did finally make contact with a few lost school friends, including Jo Mostyn. Jo had last seen news of Mary when she married Bobbie Gordon-Canning. She had imagined Mary was still living in great style in some English castle, or a stately home somewhere, but she also worried that the invalid-chair she saw in photos meant Mary had a serious illness. It was a relief to hear from her, through the good graces of one of the nuns, who had somehow made contact. The letter came out of the blue, and Jo read it and reread it, perhaps searching for some understanding of why Mary was now in the US, whether she had children and was she still in films.

The letter, which no longer exists, was apparently only a page or so long. Written in Mary’s distinctive hand, it apparently painted a fairly superficial picture of Mary’s life in California – the sunny weather, the good food and the interesting things happening around her. She mentioned her regular church attendance and one or two friends she often saw. She mentioned Phil with some pride, touching on his success as an Engineer and his recent death; but of her career in films, her Hollywood friends and her time in England, she said nothing. As always, she ended with a promise to return to the Australia she still missed, “soon.” “I would love to ride on the Melbourne tram to the beach again” she wrote.

Jo Mostyn wrote back at Christmas time and again the following Christmas. But there was no further response from Mary. It was as though the letter Mary had written was her final effort to reach out, one last time, to old friends of the past, and a life she had long since lost.

Years later Jo would sigh as she told the author how beautiful Mary was. She would relate at some length how much everyone at the school admired Mary and her sisters. By the time she told me this, Jo was living a happy but modest life in Melbourne’s eastern suburb of Ringwood, with a husband, three grown up children and four grandchildren. Little did she know that Mary had then been dead for ten years, and her later life had not been one of film-star glamour, ease and luxury. Jo’s own childhood had been one of significant hardship and poverty in depression-era Melbourne. But in the end, she lived a life as fulfilling and rewarding as Mary’s, although she was never to know it. Jo’s fantasy that a school friend from grimy Melbourne of the 1930s had succeeded in the film world and was living in luxury and comfort, stayed with her to the end of her days.

IMG_3354 AMI2
Most of Mary Maguire’s Melbourne has been demolished. However, she would recognise this stretch of Elizabeth Street between Bourke and Collins.(left) It would have been visible from windows at the rear of the Hotel Metropole.
Her old school in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, appears almost unchanged from this angle (right). Author’s Collection.


Nick Murphy
September 2018

A list of further readings can be found at the end of Part 1.

Mary Maguire – The filmstar and the fascist, 1939-1974

Mary Maguire – the darling of Hollywood – for oh so brief a time, beams as she sqeezes the hand of the man she had just  married, Captain Robert Gordon Canning, in London on 10th August 1939.  The marriage was a disaster.
Photo from the Herald and Weekly Times Portrait collection. State Library of Victoria, Picture Collection

Profound changes occurred in Mary Maguire’s life in 1939 and these were to colour the remainder of her life.

In May 1939 she began work on “An Englishman’s Home” for Aldwych films. It was based on a well known play by Guy du Maurier. The plot concerned an invasion of Britain (the threatening power is un-named, but clearly meant to be Germany) and starred Austrian-born Paul von Hernried, another refugee to Britain from fascism. It again featured John Wood, in what was to be his last film before returning to Australia.

Englishman's home 1939

Above – A little over two years after this photo was taken on the set of “An Englishman’s Home”, Paul Henreid (left) had simplified his name and was in Hollywood, playing Victor Laszlo in “Casablanca”. John Wood (right) however, was to find himself a prisoner of war of the Japanese at about the same time. After his return to Australia in 1939, he joined the Army and was posted to Singapore. He was captured in early 1942. He spent the next three-and-a-half years working tirelessly to maintain morale through theatre performances. Source probably Aldwych films. Author’s collection.

About the time she was filming An Englishman’s Home”, Mary became engaged to Robert Gordon Canning, a wealthy and decorated British World War One veteran. It was, she later admitted, a whirlwind romance. Known to his close friends as “Bobbie”, he was a former Captain in the 10th Hussars and had earned the Military Cross for bravery in action at Arras in 1916. They were introduced to each other by Miles Mander, during a visit to England. At almost fifty-two, Bobbie was over thirty years Mary’s senior.

bobbie GC

Enlargement of Robert Gordon Canning on the wedding day, 10th August, 1939. Photo from the Herald and Weekly Times Portrait collection. State Library of Victoria, Picture Collection

What did Mary see in this man who was older than her father? At the time, Mary said, “Bobbie conforms to my idea of the ideal man … when I met Bobbie, nothing else mattered.” There was however, another dimension to Bobbie that would have made him less attractive to some, although it did not discourage the Maguires. Bobbie was an opinionated, active and influential fascist. From 1934 until mid-1938, he was a senior figure in the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and was close to BUF leader, Oswald Mosley, although he split from the movement in 1938.

Follow this link  – photo of leading BUF members including Bobbie and Mosley, 1935. Source: The Friends of Oswald Mosley (F.O.M. London)

At the time of the engagement, Bobbie had little to say publicly about what had attracted him to Mary, but he was quoted as saying that she was the first actor he met who “didn’t talk shop.” He apparently also disliked “bridge and golf-playing women.” “I am neither,” Mary pointed out. The impending marriage was celebrated with a portrait of Mary by popular artist Vasco Lazzolo.

Mary was wise enough to publicly disassociate herself from Gordon Canning’s political extremism and virulent anti-Semitism. She told Australian Women’s Weekly journalist Mary St. Claire, “I was given my big chance in Hollywood, where there are many Jews. It would be both ungrateful and unkind of me to ally myself because of marriage with the Fascist Party… I have no fascist sympathies and do not intend to take part in my fiancee’s political life.” This unsophisticated comment reveals a certain lack of worldliness on Mary’s part – how she expected not to be part of his political life is hard to imagine. She maintained the argument that she was not involved in his political activities, or at least, was largely ignorant of them, all her life. Looking back on the marriage in late 1944, she said of fascism “I didn’t understand what it was all about.”

MM signature

Not surprisingly, Mary Maguire’s signature in 1938-39 still looked unsophisticated. She was only 20 at the time. She maintained a strong affection for Australia all her life, but never went home again. Author’s Collection.

Part of the answer to the riddle of Mary’s attraction to Bobbie lies in a disaster that befell her about the same time. In July 1939, towards the end of filming An Englishman’s Home”, Mary became ill again. What seemed to start as another cold ended up very seriously. It was Bobbie who suspected something sinister and encouraged Mary to visit a specialist to have a proper assessment. Maxwell Chance, a highly regarded Mayfair doctor, diagnosed her with acute pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) and immediately sent her to an exclusive nursing home to rest and “dry out.”  It was a shock, an embarrassment, and it put an end to her acting for the time being, as well as her social life. Of course, the family did not publicly report her condition as TB, but rather as fatigue from “overwork” or “lung trouble” from working in the cold.

The condition explains why she was carried to her wedding in an invalid chair and why she immediately returned to the nursing home after the event. Her treatment for TB included a revolutionary procedure designed to deflate and rest the infected lung, using oxygen introduced by a pneumothorax needle. Mary lay on her side to have the needle inserted between her ribs, a treatment that was repeated every few weeks. Antibiotic treatment for TB was still years away.

Only a few weeks after the wedding, Britain found itself at war again. Unfortunately, nothing had changed Bobbie’s anti-Semitic opinions or his admiration for aspects of the German model of National Socialism. As a former member of the BUF, he was already under close observation and MI5 had developed a significant file on him and all those he associated with.  As the tension of “the phony war” progressed, at least one of Bobbie’s old friendships was strained to breaking point. Bobbie and Miles Mander fell out quite spectacularly. In letters written to Mander in Hollywood in February 1940, Bobbie described the war as “a ramp” (a swindle), singling out “Jewish financiers” as the architects of the conflict, in the best fascist tradition. We know this because Mander, in a steaming fury, complained about him to the Home Office.

Mick on the Germans Daily Express April 23 1940

Mick continues to spin stories. This is part of an article headed “Screen Star’s father joins the BEF again”.  Mick had not served in the British or Australian Army in the First World War and he had not been a Welterweight Champion, as he suggests here. From The Daily Express, 23 April 1940. Via ukpressonline

Then, on Saturday 13 July, 1940, Bobbie was arrested and interned under the British government’s Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, Defence Regulation 18B. This law gave the Government power to imprison, without trial, individuals it thought had the potential to be fifth columnists.  Understandably, Mary, now at home, was shocked when police arrived at their London flat to arrest Bobbie (although she should have had some warning, as others like Mosley and his friend retired Admiral Barry Domvile had already been arrested). She was later to complain that the Police suspected her of being disloyal; with allegations made that she had “flashed signals to submarines lurking off (her home at) Sandwich.”

Mary and MichaelMary was well enough to escort Bobbie to the gates of Brixton prison, announcing that he had long since given up membership of “certain organisations.” A couple of weeks before he was interned, Mary had given Bobbie some good news. She was pregnant and was expecting early the following year. However, she was still continuing with her TB treatments. Her doctors feared the birth would be difficult, even hazardous.  On 3 February 1941, in the midst of the London Blitz, Mary gave birth to an eight-pound son. It was a difficult cesarean birth, aggravated by her weakness from the TB treatment and her petite size. Bobbie was briefly released from Brixton to attend to Mary and his new son.

Mary and her baby, named Michael Robert. The Sun (NSW) 5th June, 1941, Via National library of Australia Trove

It was Bina who passed on details of baby Michael’s birth, as she had after the wedding. The birth had cost Bobbie £2,000. She told journalists that the baby looked the image of Mick, who had joined the British Army. Bina then gave enthusiastic interviews to the press about the arrangements for the christening. “The baby will wear a christening robe made …from a beautiful old point lace robe which has been worn by his father’s mother, and has been in the Gordon Canning family for a hundred years.”

In various appeals to the British authorities, friends, politicians and doctors argued for Bobbie’s release, without any success. The following letter from Maxwell Chance, Mary’s doctor,  is now held in the British National Archive file on Bobbie. It also makes very clear how serious her condition was.

MM7

W.H.C Rollo was Bobbie’s lawyer, and also the father of Primula Rollo, the first wife of David Niven. The Committee reading this to review his detention recommended release, but it was not to be. The Home Secretary, again acting on the advice of M15, decided to keep Bobbie in detention. Source British National Archives. File KV 2-877/8

Mary was well enough by the second half of 1941 to return to work, although, as she was later to point out, it was extremely difficult to get film work with a husband in gaol on suspicion of treason. The work was a supporting role in the 70-minute “This was Paris”, made by Mary’s old studio, Warner Bros, at their Teddington studios in south–west London. The plot revolves around three or four key characters who are participants battling the activities of fifth columnists in France in 1940. Several of the players in the film, including Mary, would have been very well known to US audiences. Ben Lyon, a well known US actor, plays Butch, a perpetually drunken reporter for an Australian newspaper called “The Sidney Chronicle.” (Despite the incorrect spelling, it is clearly meant to be a newspaper in Sydney, Australia he works for). Mary plays his girlfriend with a degree of ability and confidence not seen in many of her earlier films.

Mary Maguire’s first line as Blossum Leroy in her final film “This Was Paris.” Her boyfriend, Butch, a reporter for “The Sidney Chronicle” (sic) has come home drunk, with British spy Bill Hamilton in tow. Listen to that accent! Is she meant to be Australian? It’s worth noting that by the time she was in England, her accent was noticeably refined. Audio clip from VHS copy in the author’s collection.

In wartime England, the joy of parenthood and the pleasure of working in film again was not to last for long. Over Christmas 1941 little Michael became ill. In February 1942, he succumbed to  pneumonia – an operation failed. The little boy was buried at a church at the Gordon Canning ancestral seat of Hartpury in Gloucestershire, his name listed on a monument next to adults killed in Britain’s war effort. Even Bina was unable to put a positive spin on this awful event and could find little to say. Still in prison after a year and a half, Bobbie could not console her. Mary was absolutely devastated.

With the best medical support the Maguires could find, Mary slowly regained something of her former self, although distractions were difficult to find in the very desperate days of 1942. The war was not going well for the Allies. Mary was later to say that she had very little to do during the war.

Bedtime story
A grainy photo of Mary in August 1942. From “The Courier” (Tunbridge Wells), August 7, 1942. Via The British Library Newspaper project

Finally, in the middle of 1942 she felt strong enough to take up some acting again – this time in the theatre. Sister Joan was already achieving some success on the stage in London, so it made some sense to follow in her footsteps. Mary’s play was a production of Bedtime Story”, a “light comedy in 3 acts”, touring through southern England for a month – Bradford, Hull and Tunbridge Wells. Based on the Cinderella story, it was well received by war weary audiences. Although looking thinner and wearing her black hair shorter, Mary was still a glamorous film star and the provincial English press were thrilled when she hit town. But Mary didn’t stay with the play – by the end of the year she had left and the production moved on to Glasgow. She did not return to the stage.

Mary and Patsy 1942
Any news is good news. Sydney Truth reports on the wedding of oldest Maguire daughter Patricia to Peter Aitken, youngest son of Lord Beaverbrook. Truth, Sydney, 1 November 1942. via National Library of Australia’s Trove

But there was some good news. Sometime, early in 1943, Mary met an up-and-coming US aeronautical engineer, Phillip Legarra. Four years her senior, Phil worked in England for North American Aviation on the highly successful P-51 Mustang fighter project. The Mustang was soon to become the war’s breakthrough fighter aircraft, and in its final form was undoubtedly the finest US offensive fighter of the war. At the time they met, Phil was the company’s English representative. They fell in love.

To force Bobbie’s hand and give him no choice but to agree to a divorce, Mary took the unusual step of moving in with Phil, to a comfortable flat in Kensington.  Mary said; “I am not apologising for falling in love with someone my own age. That is natural.”

Phil Legarra fro Skyline

Below: Phil Legarra: “Notes from England” Skyline Magazine, July-August 1943. North American Aviation (in-house magazine), July-August 1943. Author’s Collection.

Bobbie was amongst the internees released in August 1943. Following a post-imprisonment interview conducted at Hartpury in late August 1943, two MI5 officers wondered if Bobbie was suffering “some form of mild mental derangement.” His eccentric behaviour over the next ten years also suggests this. Bobbie blamed Jewish pressure on the Government for his internment while Barry Domvile blamed “judmas;” in his damaged mind a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy was responsible. Bobbie remained an unrepentant national socialist to his death in 1967.

Bobbie Gordon Canning can be seen here in a Movietone newsreel. This is a 1945 auction of formerly impounded German embassy items. Bobbie purchased an enormous bust of Hitler.

Bobbie and Mary divorced in 1944 – despite his determination to put his marriage “in order”. Soon after, in a courageous step, Mary decided that honesty was the best policy, and she bared all to journalists, publicly making reference to her bout of TB for the first time. Phil and Mary’s plan was to marry and return to the US, where Mary could settle down and restart her Hollywood career and Phil could return to the aviation industry. Aware that not all her relatives in Australia would approve of a divorce, she tried to pre-empt their reactions. “Apart from the shock this is going to be to my grandparents in Melbourne, and also to many other of my Australian friends, I am unashamed of what I have done … It’s distressing, but that’s the way it is. I’m sure there are lots of people who won’t forgive me, but most women would do the same in similar circumstances.”  Uncharacteristically, Mick and Bina could find nothing to say publicly about the matter. They were obviously conflicted between their Catholic faith, the embarrassment of a looming divorce and their loyalty to a daughter whose marriage they had encouraged.

Phil and Mary married in March 1945 and left for California just as soon as they could. As newspapers of the time reported, Mary hoped to get a role in “Forever Amber”, a major “Gone With the Wind” style production based on a popular novel by Kathleen Winsor. But in Hollywood, things had changed. Her great mentor and family friend Miles Mander suffered a heart attack and died suddenly after dinner at one of Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurants in February 1946, only a few months after she returned. Richard Monter, her former agent, died in 1947. Even Mary’s one-time friend, Marion Davies, had moved on, selling her huge seaside Ocean House at Santa Monica in 1945. Her hopes of returning to acting on the screen came to nothing.

Mary and Phil were also denied the joy of parenthood. The female reproductive system is particularly vulnerable to TB – the damage the disease can do to the fallopian tubes can be irreparable and successful conception extremely difficult. It may be this was the reason there were no children from their marriage. If so, it must have been a bitter blow.

Mary decided that a career as an extra was not for her. She could have followed Jocelyn Howarth’s example and continued to try – she might have taken uncredited roles or worked as an extra as old Melbourne friend Joan Winfield did, but she seems to have made a conscious decision not to. It says a great deal about her that she could walk away and leave it all behind. Mary and Phil must have been reassured though – the US aircraft industry, largely based in Southern California – employed hundreds of thousands of people at the war’s end, and the couple’s security and prosperity must have seemed assured by Phil’s connections and ability as an engineer.

Mick Maguire died suddenly in England in June 1950. A few years later, Bina returned to Australia for a holiday. It was at this time she made her “you simply HAVE to meet the right people and at the right places” statement to explain the girls’ successful marriages. She was also reported to have said “if you want marry money, you have to go where money is.”  When she died in 1963, there was another flurry of newspaper accounts. She was, said friends, a woman of “great personal charm and very clear purpose… a motivating force in the whole operation” said another friend.

Mary to Mick's funeral

Mary flew home to the US from Mick’s funeral in London.This airline manifest shows she was still travelling as an Australian in 1950. Mary was often to say she wanted to return to Australia, but never did. Her interest in flying dated to the 1930s. (This image has been modified from the original manifest) From National Archives, via Ancestry.com

The couple settled into a comfortable home in the trendy beachside suburban development at Surfridge, near the airport. The houses in this development faced westwards and had views of the Pacific Ocean, a suburb in the rolling sand dunes popular with former Hollywood stars and the modestly wealthy. Unfortunately the suburb was reclaimed in the 1960s for Los Angeles airport redevelopment. Today, this area is a ghost-suburb; footpaths and streets without houses and palm trees shading what were once verdant gardens and green back yards.

Mary died on 18 May, 1974 – aged only fifty-five. Phil had died in 1971 – alcohol played a part in both their deaths. In her last years Mary lived in a small apartment on Pasadena Avenue in Long Beach. Built in 1922, it still stands and is one of the older apartment blocks in the area. In appearance it could be straight out of Nathaniel West’s classic expose of life of the margins of Hollywood – Day of the Locust.

Two of Mary’s sisters returned to Australia in the 1970s, visiting relatives and being interviewed by state and local papers. Patsy said her strongest Australian memories were of life as a child in the Maguire hotels, and the interesting guests she met. Australian comedian and thirties film star George Wallace stayed in her mind particularly.

carmel lupe and joanMary’s sisters – Carmel, Lupe and Joan Maguire (and Patsy not shown) all achieved the “glittering marriages” their parents hoped for. Press Association Photo about 1938. Author’s collection 

Mary Maguire’s career in the mid-1930s also mirrored that of many other young starlets who sought an acting career in the golden years of Hollywood. She did not leave behind a significant body of film-work; indeed, most of her films are unremarkable second feature or B-films. She developed to become a competent actress, but over six years and a dozen films; she was regularly consigned to the one, almost identical role, the young love interest – the ingénue. This is hardly surprising in the context of the time, in an industry famous for stereotyping actresses. She was barely sixteen years old when she had her first speaking role in a film and twenty-three when she had her last.

Nick Murphy, September 2018

Mary Maguire, Epilogue

Further Readings appear at the end of Part One.

Mary Maguire – The filmstar and the fascist, 1919-1938

Mary Maguire – the darling of Hollywood – for oh so brief a time, beams as she squeezes the hand of the man she had just  married, Captain Robert Gordon Canning, in London in August 1939.  The marriage was a disaster.
Photo from the author’s collection. (Originally widely distributed in the UK by the “Makers of Wayfarer Tailored Clothes”) 

Mary Maguire of Melbourne always loved the movies. According to an unsourced account in her school’s history, she would sometimes skip school to see the latest releases. Born in Melbourne on February 22, 1919, she was the second of five daughters parented by publicans Michael (Mick) and Mary Jane “Bina” Maguire. Mary’s acting career was to be unbelievably short. She appeared in her first film in Australia in 1933, aged 14, and in her final film in the United Kingdom in 1942 when she was just 23 years old. In all, a total of only fourteen films. She died, aged 55, completely forgotten, in Long Beach California. Yet for a little while, in 1937 and 1938, she was the talk of Hollywood.

Mick and Bina’s own upbringing is central to the story of their film star daughter, and their other daughters too. Mick was born and bred in the working class suburb of  Richmond. His very modest family home in Kent Street has long since been demolished, but similar small cottages still stand nearby. His mother and father were aspirational, but not wealthy. Like his brothers, Mick went to school at Parade College, a Catholic boys school, and excelled at sports – becoming a very young player for Richmond Football Club at the age of 16, and dabbling in amateur boxing with mixed success. In later life, Mick was to claim he was the Australian football code’s youngest ever player, and still later, that he was Welterweight boxing champion of Australia. Neither claim was true.

Mary Jane Carroll met Mick when he was playing football. Five years older than Mick, she had been born into a struggling farming family in the Wimmera region of Victoria. Her Irish mother and father gave up the herculean task of trying to make a farm pay and took up work with the Victorian Railways. In time, Bina (the origins of her nickname now being forgotten) would suggest she was also of Irish birth – perhaps she felt it preferable to admitting to her new, swell, friends in London that she had lived a childhood in the Australian bush. In the early twentieth century almost all of her extended family had become hoteliers, as did she and Mick – an assured way to make money in the difficult times between the two wars.

Mick and Bina held the licences to a series of major Melbourne hotels by the early 1920s – The Bull and Mouth, then The Hotel Melbourne and finally the Hotel Metropole, all in bustling central Bourke Street.  They were an ambitious couple, intent on making good and determined that the girls would succeed. Running a hotel was one sure way of achieving this. Mick and Bina were also great self – promoters; as a few who knew them  recalled in later life. On Bina’s passing in 1963, one old friend told The Courier Mail “she was a great contact woman and admitted quite frankly that she cultivated the ‘right’ people because that was the thing most likely to advance her daughters interests.”

Bay View today

Above: One of the many Carroll family hotels – the now de-licenced Bay View Hotel in Kensington. Run by Mary Maguire’s auntie Alice, it was also where her maternal grandparents retired to. Mary visited them here before heading off to Hollywood in 1936. Photo – author’s collection.
Below: Peggy (Mary) in about 1934. Photo – John Oxley Library Collection, State Library of Queensland.

John Oxley Library 2Mary’s name at birth was Helene Teresa Maguire. Her “pet name” was Peggy – used by all the family.

She appeared in her first film in 1933. This was a small bit part in Pat Hanna’s Diggers in Blighty”, filmed in Melbourne. It was a largely pointless non-speaking role as a clerk, where she giggles at the soldier antics of Hanna, Joe Valli and George Moon. How did she get the role? It’s almost certain that the ever affable Mick Maguire used his connections to get his daughter a break doing something she loved. He arranged a similar introduction again in mid-1934, when pioneering filmmaker Charles Chauvel chose her for a role. The Maguires were now living in Queensland and running Brisbane’s premier hotel – The Bellevue. Based largely on her looks and ability to do an Irish accent of sorts – apparently her party piece – Chauvel cast Peggy as Biddy O’Shea, an Irish immigrant girl, in his panorama of Australian history “Heritage”.

Watch a clip with Peggy’s first scene from Heritage here (The Australian Screen – National Film and Sound Archive)

James Morrison (a rather effete Teamster who spies Biddy as she steps off the ship): Excuse me miss, may I carry your bundle?
Biddy O’Shea: You will not, I’ll carry me own bundle.
James (insisting and grabbing her bag): I’ll carry it miss!
Biddy: Give me my bundle! (Hitting him and stamping on his hat) … That’ll teach you to play tricks on an Irish girl!

Thus began Peggy Maguire’s acting career in film.

Peggy’s breakthrough role came on the heels of Heritage”. Miles Mander, a British actor and director was hired by an Australian syndicate to make a movie, based loosely, very loosely, on the 1934 novel The Flying Doctor”, by Robert Waldron. Peggy won the part of Jenny Rutherford, with Hollywood actor Charles Farrell imported for the lead. In January she announced she was now calling herself Mary – a name more suited to a sophisticated film star. Today, the rarely seen finished product looks unconvincing and old-fashioned. Even in 1936 it attracted mixed reviews – The Sydney Morning Herald’s reviewer complained about the film’s endless scenes of “local colour… what amounts to tourist propaganda.” The cameo appearance of Don Bradman delighted and annoyed reviewers in equal numbers.

Photos and posters from The Flying Doctor can be found here (The Ozmovie site)

Actress Mary Maguire with family and friends welcoming her to Brisbane Queensland 1936
The Maguire family welcome Mary home after filming The Flying Doctor; from left –  Lupe, Mary, Mick, Joan, Bina, British screen writer JOC Orton, Patsy and Carmel, April 1936 . Director Miles Mander had left hurriedly for the US a few days before, following a court case for speeding.
Photo from Queensland Newspapers  – John Oxley Library Collection, State Library of Queensland.

Whatever the reviewers said, the Maguires were immensely satisfied and the decision was made to pursue Mary’s acting career. Miles Mander had also been very encouraging – and assured them Hollywood was the place to go. Mick was to accompany Mary to the US as her personal manager, intent on bulldozing a path through any obstacles and clearly confident that he could make things happen as successfully as he had in Melbourne and Brisbane. There were discussions about the rest of the family following soon after, especially if, as expected, Mary made a go of it in Hollywood. It was all very exciting – but also very daunting. As it turned out, she was never to see Australia again.

Mary (or more correctly her father, as she was underage) signed a contract with Warner Brothers soon after arriving in the US, and over 1936-37 she appeared in four films for the company. Only one was a main feature film, Confession”, a vehicle for leading star Kay Francis. Her three other films were cinema program fillers, all produced by Brian Foy’s “B-film” unit, all running to less that 60 minutes, and all constructed around scripts that were regularly recycled and filmed quickly.

mary signs up signed off

Left:  Mary and Mick’s signatures on a contract in 1937. Mary’s handwriting remained the same throughout her life. Source Warner Brothers Archives, School of Cinematic Studies, University of Southern California.
Right: Doris Weston, Thais Dickerson and Mary Maguire, photographed in October 1936, having just had their contracts approved in Court. All three started with Warner Bros. at the same time, on wildly different salaries. Mary outlived both these women. Weston made her last film in 1939 and died in 1960. Dickerson, as Gloria Dickson, died in a house fire in 1945. Source: Syndicated Press Photo. Author’s collection.

Even in 1937, these Warner Brothers B-films; “That Man’s Here Again”, “Alcatraz Island”and Sergeant Murphy”, were underwhelming. Her roles were limited and perhaps, as a few unkind reviewers noted, she just wasn’t as good as some of the others chasing acting careers at the time. Warner Brothers out-take compilations, which include very short clips from some of these films, can be found here in  Breakdowns of 1937  (see Mary briefly at 4:05) and Breakdowns of 1938  (see 4.10). The film she made with Ronald Reagan, “Sergeant Murphy”, is perhaps the easiest of her B-films to find in specialist collections. (Not withstanding the claims made since; there is not a shred of contemporary evidence she had an affair with Reagan during the making of the film)

Despite the lack of big-picture experiences, with the public relations assistance of Mick as well as Warner Brothers, Mary’s star seemed to be on the rise and she was enjoying extraordinary publicity.  In letters home to Queensland, Bina dutifully passed on everything she said and did to the Australian press, with a helpful smattering of commentary. And at age 18, Mary was meeting all the people she had read about or watched on the screen, only a few years before. Some were extremely powerful figures – including millionaire racehorse owner Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II, newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst and his girlfriend Marion Davies, and the head of Twentieth Century Fox, Joe Schenck. Despite all this exciting socialising, her closest real friend seems to have been fellow Warner’s actress Jane Bryan, also being groomed for ingénue parts.

Picture play 1937
Above – Mary as she appeared in PicturePlay magazine in an article entitled “Ladies of Leisure”, in 1937. This is typical of articles designed to profile up and coming starlets. Source probably Warner Bros. Pictureplay Magazine, 1937, via Lantern

Self-publicity was also an important part of the Hollywood experience then as it is today. Australians who tried their luck in Hollywood, including Jocelyn Howarth, Mona Barrie and Mary Maguire, tended to wheel out the same story about the start to their US careers. This was that they had been offered work during a casual visit to a studio, while they were on their way somewhere else, like New York. It was nonsense of course.

Here is  Mary Maguire spinning this line to US journalist Harrison Carroll, in early 1938. CBS’s “Forecasting 1938.” Audio recording. Author’s collection. Recording can also be found at Library of Congress. 2 sound discs. (48 min., 51 sec.) : analog, 33 1/3 rpm, mono. ; 16 in. https://lccn.loc.gov/00584434. Copyright CBS.

Her nicely spoken but very self-conscious English pronunciation could not be described as the “transatlantic” accent, as favoured by so many Britons and Australians in Hollywood at the time.

In July 1937, the whole of the Maguire family were finally reunited in Hollywood. The license on the Bellevue had been sold and Bina had packed up the girls for the voyage across the Pacific. It was timely, because Mary was recovering from a “nervous breakdown” – one of several she suffered in the US. Older sister Patsy commented, perhaps a little unhelpfully; “You know, I think she was just lonely. When we arrived on Saturday she was so jittery she could scarcely speak. Now she’s a different person… You see, we’ve always been together and although dad has been marvellous, I think Mary has really missed us.”

Motion Picture Feb July 1938 P82With Bina now on hand to join those guiding her, in late 1937 she declined a role in another B picture, Mystery House”, and was promptly laid off by Warner Brothers. Her star was at its zenith by this time, and she clearly believed she could bargain her way into better roles, even if she still had little acting experience. In early April 1938 Mary obtained a new contract with Twentieth Century Fox, doubtless through her friendship with the 62-year-old Joe Schenck, with whom she was very friendly – they had attended the 10th Annual Academy awards together. Bina unhelpfully speculated to the press in Australia that a wedding might be imminent.

Above – Joe Schenck and Mary at the Santa Anita Handicap in March 1938. Motion Picture Magazine, Feb-July 1938, page 81 via Lantern.“Joe regards me as a kid” she said of the relationship.

Following a role in Fox’s Mysterious Mr Moto”,  with Peter Lorre as the Japanese detective (the absurdity of Lorre, a Jewish émigré from fascist Europe playing a Japanese detective, who often disguises himself as a person of another ethnicity, in this case a German, could not have been lost on discerning audiences, even then) she suddenly departed for Britain. Her assignment was to appear in a Fox musical called Keep Smiling” (later changed to Smiling Along”) with Gracie Fields in the lead. Joe Schenck travelled to London in mid July, officially for work, staying at Claridge’s hotel, not far from her apartment. We know nothing of the outcome of any meeting they had, except we do know that Fox dropped Mary’s contract in September 1938 and Schenck took no further interest in her or her career. It suggests a really serious “falling out”.

After Smiling Along”, Mary, apparently now settled into British filmmaking, and with Bina’s supportive presence and a comfortable flat in Hayes Mews in Mayfair, started work for the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC). This brought Mary into contact with Walter C. Mycroft, a dynamic British film producer, running the company’s Elstree Studio, and famous for churning out mostly uninspiring film fare, through the same technique Brian Foy used – scripts recycled from previous films or adapted from stage plays, rather than expensive original screenplays. Mary’s first film – Black Eyes” was such a remake – this one of a 1935 French film. But even for the time, it was a dull story – preoccupied with notions of class and with a predictable storyline. A highlight was Sydney born actor John Wood, who played a supporting role.

MM 1938-39   MM 1939

Mary as she appeared in 1938-9. These collectable British photos were about half the size of those produced by US studios. Author’s Collection.

Mary’s second film for Mycroft and ABPC was The Outsider”. For this film, Mary received top billing with leading male player George Sanders, who played the charismatic but self-absorbed medico. Audiences today would guess he is a chiropractor, although it is never really explained. Sanders’ role is Anton Ragatzy, a slightly oily foreigner of some sort, the type that inhabited British films for decades. Mary plays Lalage Sturdee, a beautiful “crippled” musician, whom he finally cures with the aid of a device he has invented, a type of stretching machine. Here Mycroft had chosen another cheap option for the company – the script had been filmed before in 1931 and 1926. By the time this film had been made, the whole family had relocated to London.

cannesIn early 1939, Mick and Bina took a lease on Villa Esterel near Cannes in the south of France, apparently oblivious to the rising political tensions in Europe. Explaining the Cannes sojourn in an interview in 1957, Bina said they had chosen it because “you simply have to meet the right people and at the right places.” As with the move from Melbourne to Brisbane, the motivation for travelling to Cannes appears to have been to advance opportunities for the girls, in this case, to find suitable husbands for them.

In one of the few publicly released photos of the Maguires in Cannes, Lupe and Carmel laze about on the Villa’s sunny front steps, while Bina, wearing sunglasses, stands ominously and proprietorially behind her girls.

 Source for newspaper photo above – The Truth, 26 November 1944. Page 18 via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Part Two is here

Epilogue

Nick Murphy
August 2018

Further Reading:

Archives

Digital

Documentary films

  • Don’t Call Me Girlie (1985) A film by Stewart Young and Andree Wright. Director Stewart Young, Script and Research by Andree Wright. Producer Hilary Furlong. Narrator: Penne Hackworth-Jones. Ronin Films
  • A History of Australian Film 1896-1940: Film Australia
    – The Pictures that Moved 1896-1920
    (1968) Director Alan Anderson. Writer Joan Long
    – The Passionate Industry 1920-1930 (1973) Director Joan Long. Writer Joan Long
    – Now You’re Talking 1930-1940. (1979) Director Keith Gow. Script Keith Gow.

Books

  • Michael Adams (2019) Australia’s Sweetheart: The amazing story of forgotten Hollywood star Mary Maguire. Hachette Australia.
  • Olga Abrahams, (2007). 88 Nicholson Street; The Academy of Mary Immaculate 1857 – 2007, Academy of Mary Immaculate. ISBN 978 0 9589817 1 2.
  • Christopher Andrew (2009) Defend the Realm. The Authorized History of MI5. Alfred Knopf, New York. ISBN 978 0 307 26363 6
  • John Baxter, (1986) Filmstruck – Australia at the Movies. ABC Enterprises, Sydney. ISBN 9 780642 527370.
  • Kevin Brownlow (1968)The Parade’s Gone By… reprint 1976, University of California Press, Berkeley, California. ISBN 0 520 03068 0
  • Daniel Bubbeo (2002) The Women of Warner Brothers: the lives and careers of 15 leading ladies. McFarland and Company, North Carolina. ISBN 0 7864 1137 6
  • John Roy Carlson (Avedis Derounian) From Cairo to Damascus. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1951. (http://spitfirelist.com/books/cairo-to-damascus/)
  • Charlotte Chandler (2007) The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. Bette Davis, A Personal Biography. Pocket Books, London. ISBN -13: 978-1-4165-2222-5
  • Elsa Chauvel, (1973). My Life with Charles Chauvel. Shakespeare Head Press.
  • Diane Collins, (1987). Hollywood Down under. Australians at the Movies: 1896 to the present day. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. ISBN 0 207 15267 5
  • Ronald L. Davis (1993) The Glamour Factory; Inside Hollywood’s Big Studio System. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas. ISBN: 0 87074 358 9
  • Ray Edmondson and Andrew Pike (1982) Australia’s Lost Films. National Library of Australia. ISBN 0 642 99251 7
  • Ken Hall, (1980) Australian film: The Inside Story. Summit Books. ISBN 0 7271 0452 7
  • Julie V. Gottlieb & Thomas P. Linehan (Eds): The Culture of Fascism; Visions of the far right in Britain. I.B.Tauris
  • Clive Hirschhorn, (1980) The Warner Brothers Story. Octopus Books, London. ISBN 0 7064 0797 0
  • Thomas P. Linehan; A Dangerous Piece of Celluloid? British Fascists and the Hollywood Movie School of Arts at Brunel University
    (http://arts.brunel.ac.uk/gate/entertext/Linehan.pdf)
  • Miles Mander (1935) To My Son, In Confidence. Faber and Faber, London
  • Janet McCalman (1998) Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965. Hyland House. South Melbourne ISBN 1 86447 048 8
  • Brian McFarlane, Anthony Slide, 2003. The Encyclopedia of British Film. Methuen Publishing Ltd, London. ISBN 0 413 779301 9
  • Robert Murphy (Ed) (2008) The British Cinema Book. Palgrave Macmillan for the BFI, London. ISBN 978 1 84457 275 5
  • David Nasaw. (2000) The Chief: The life of William Randolph Hearst. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York. ISBN 0 395 827590
  • Pamela Pfau and Kenneth S. Marx (Eds) (1977) Marion Davies, The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst. Ballantyne Books, Random House, New York. ISBN 978 0 345 32739 0
  • Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper (1998) Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Vincent Porter, (Ed) (2006). Walter C. Mycroft: The Time of My Life. The Memoirs of a British film Producer. Scarecrow Press, Maryland. ISBN 0 8108 5723 5.
  • Eric Reade (1979) History and Heartburn: The Saga of Australian Film 1896-1978, Harper and Row, Sydney. ISBN 0 06 312033X
  • Jeffery Richards: The Unknown 1930s: An alternative history of the British Cinema 1929-1939.B. Taurus
  • W. Brian Simpson, (2005) In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention without trial in Wartime Britain. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-825949-2
  • John Stewart (1984) An Encyclopedia of Australian Film. Reed books, New South Wales. ISBN 0 7301 0059 6
  • John Wodehouse, The Fourth Earl of Kimberley, and Charles Roberts, (2001). The Whim of the Wheel: The Memoirs of the Earl of Kimberley. Merton Priory Press, Cardiff, England. ISBN 1 898937 45 1
  • Andree Wright, (1986). Brilliant Careers; Women in Australian Cinema. Pan Books, Sydney. ISBN 0 330 27065 6.
  • Angela Woollacott, (2001).To try her fortune in London. Australian women, Colonialism and Modernity. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 9 780195 147193

Alice Crawford – the actress from Bendigo

Above: Alice Crawford in costume for “Matt of Merrymount”, c.1908, The New Theatre, London. A reviewer described her as “charmingly natural as the puritan maid.” Postcard in the author’s collection.

Alice Crawford was one of six children born to a prosperous family, on January 5, 1880. Her mother, Margaret Jane nee Layden and father, George Hunter Crawford, lived in the regional  mining town of Bendigo. Her father was a director of the very successful Frederick the Great Company, which worked several locations to mine Bendigo’s rich gold-bearing leads – at depths of up to 800 feet. He was also a well-known member of the influential Mine Managers Association of Bendigo.

Below: Alice Crawford is praised for her elocution in Melbourne Punch, 13 July 1899. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

1899 Bendigo elocutionistAlice and her siblings grew up in “Del Oro,” a large house that still stands opposite Palmerston Square in Bendigo. She performed on stage from a young age and consistently attracted very positive reviews for her impressive recitations, the earliest given at the age of only 10.

Through the later 1890s she won numerous awards as an elocutionist, and by August 1899 was performing in Melbourne, sometimes with Amy Castles , a noted Bendigo soprano of about the same age. In late 1900 she joined US actress Nance O’Neil‘s company on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, but abandoned it in June 1901 to join British actor – manager Wilson Barrett‘s travelling company. This took her to South Africa, then in September 1902, to England. In December she appeared with Barrett on stage in The Christian King, a “panorama” of the life of King Alfred, at the Adelphi Theatre.

Even a savage bout of pneumonia and the death of her mother did not impact her rise as one of the most popular and admired London actresses. Her mentor Wilson Barrett also died in July 1904, but she quickly found a small role as Iris in The Tempest with leading British dramatist Beerbohm Tree. Success as a Shakespearian actress quickly followed. By the end of 1907 she was regularly hailed as a leading British (or occasionally acknowledged as an “Antipodean”) actress. In 1907 she performed with Tree’s company in Berlin. Ever able to find humour in difficult situations, Alice wrote home to Bendigo of being mistaken for a wayward daughter by a German mother who saw her photo.

Writing in the early 1960s when many of his biographical subjects were still alive, Australian theatre historian Hal Porter described Alice Crawford’s diction as “notably pure” and praised her performances as Shakespearian heroines. Contemporary writers commented on her height, prepossessing manner and “beautifully modulated voice”. Like Carrie Moore, (the Australian born star of musical theatre and light comedy), she was quickly absorbed into the British theatre tradition, and over the next fifteen years was never without work. She appeared in endless newspaper articles, was asked for her opinion on theatre topics (providing an interesting commentary on stage fright on one occasion) and appeared at charity events and fundraisers – notably several for Australian soldiers in England after the outbreak of war.

383px-Lieutenant_Valentine_Williams_(6498250535)  1906 Crawford

Above left: Valentine Williams photographed in late 1915, when he was commissioned an officer in the Irish Guards. Alice Crawford’s brother George was also in the Irish Guards.  Photo from Imperial War Museum Collections @ Flickr Commons and Wikipedia Commons.
Above right: Alice Crawford in 1906, firmly established in the style of popular stars of the time. Postcard in the author’s collection

In 1911 she became engaged to Valentine Williams, a well-known journalist from the Daily Mail, but it was not until 1916 that they finally married. Valentine Williams might be thought of as an “adventurer-journalist”, because even before the Great War he had travelled to cover other conflicts – including the Balkan Wars, the Riff Rebellion and the Portuguese revolution of 1910.

A correspondent at the British Army’s GHQ in 1915, Valentine was seriously wounded in fighting on the Somme, soon after he had joined the Irish Guards – earning himself the Military Cross in the process.

Alice’s stage career slowed at about the same time. The widely believed reason was that she was caring for Valentine, which may have been true, although it is more likely he was nursed back to health in a military hospital. It’s possible she took less stage work because she wanted to try something different. In 1912 she had written her first piece for the theatre, and she also began to try out roles in comedy during the grim years of World War One. In fact, it was reported that she had come to prefer comedy to serious drama.

In 1919 Valentine was back at work covering the Versailles Peace Conference for the Daily Mail.  But after the war he increasingly turned to writing spy thriller novels, of the genre also inhabited by John Buchan, and inspired (he said), by his adventures as a correspondent – and on advice of Buchan himself. He left the Daily Mail in 1922. The first of his Clubfoot series, featuring the evil German master spy, Dr Adolph Grundt, appeared in 1918. Grundt is opposed – naturally – by a wholesome British hero, Desmond Okewood, and his secret service brother Francis.

Alice did not stop work, but the nature of her work changed. In 1921 she appeared in her only film, but a significant one – J. Stuart Blackton‘s The Glorious Adventure, a revolutionary early colour feature film made using a process called Prizma-colour. Seen today, it is unusually easy to watch – beautifully costumed and well acted by an experienced cast, including by Alice Crawford in a supporting role. Increasingly, Alice and Valentine’s work and lives became intertwined. For twenty years Alice’s letters home to Australia, which were often released to the press, recounted her adventures on stage and with Valentine.

The Sketch 1921 Alice and Valentine 1924

Above: In 1921, weekly magazine, The Sketch heralded Alice’s role in “The Glorious Adventure” an early colour film, while in 1923 they portrayed Alice and Valentine, living like any middle class English couple, at their comfortable home in Mayfair. Copyright held by The Illustrated London News, accessed via the British Library and the British Newspaper Archive project.

According to Phillip Stafford, in the mid 1920s Valentine visited the US on a publishers tour and apparently fell in love with the place – Alice had visited New York briefly in late 1909. Six years later they returned, living there until the late 1930s. Together, they wrote and sometimes performed together – a genuine and loving partnership. The 1931 play Berlin, based on one of his novels, was credited to both Alice and Valentine. Together they also wrote and performed in four radio plays for NBC. Valentine went on to write several scripts for films and more popular novels.


Williams and Crawford in the The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 26 April 1931, when they were appearing on NBC. Via Newspapers.com

When his autobiography, The World of Action came out in 1938, it included numerous anecdotes of his life, including many that involved Alice. Five pages were devoted to Alice and her achievements alone. Not everyone enjoyed his autobiography however,  the reviewer for the Adelaide News took exception to his failure to acknowledge Alice as an Australian. To Valentine, Alice was apparently as English as he was, and perhaps by 1938, that was how Alice saw herself too. And they were not alone in seeing the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the Empire as a collectively British – confusing to Australians today perhaps.

The UK National Portrait Gallery holds a photo of the couple taken in 1939 here.

On the outbreak of war, Valentine joined the Secret Intelligence Service. Malcolm Muggeridge recalled that he was screened for service by Valentine during a visit to his London club.”Writers of thrillers tend to gravitate to the secret service” Muggeridge commented. Kim Philby also came across Valentine in his secret service role. But soon Alice and Valentine were sent back to the US to work for the British Embassy developing propaganda – the kind of messages intended to encourage the USA into supporting Britain.

Crawford c1908Unfortunately, of Alice’s later life we know nothing. Following Valentine’s death in a Manhattan hospital in New York  in November 1946, she simply disappeared from the historical record and so far, this writer, has found no trace of her life at all.

Left: Alice Crawford’s signature was quite distinctive, as can be seen in this example. Author’s collection c.1906

Notes

  1. The very few websites that canvas Alice’s life and career claim she died in 1931, and all cross-reference each other in perpetuating the error, in typical internet fashion. In fact, as the 1940 border crossing note from the US below shows, she was alive long after that.Alice 1940
    Above: July 18, 1940. Rouses Point border crossing details for Alice Crawford Williams. US National Archives via Ancestry
  2. Alice’s younger sister Ruby Gertrude Crawford (born 1886) acted on stage inRuby crawford 1904 Australia before she married Albert Victor Leggo in 1916. Leggo, a manufacturer, property and mine owner like Crawford, was the brother of Henry Leggo, who operated a preserves and canned foods business that still operates in Australia today as Leggos. (The now US owned company suggests the name is Italian in its current advertising. In fact, Leggo is a Cornish name)
Above right: Ruby Crawford, from Table Talk, 1 December 1904. Via National Library of Australia Trove

Nick Murphy
June 2018

References

  • Alan Burton (2016 ) Historical Dictionary of British Spy Fiction. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • David Stafford (2012) The Silent Game. The Real World of Imaginary Spies. Chapter 5. University of Georgia Press.
  • Hal Porter (1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. Angus and Robertson.
  • Nigel West (2005) Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence.  Scarecrow Press.

National Library of Australia, Trove Digitised Newspaper Collection

British Library Newspaper Archive Project

Newspapers.com

Joan Winfield – the celebrated violinist

Above – Joan Winfield in 1942. Press photo, source unknown, in the author’s collection. 

Joan Marie Therese MacGillicuddy was born in Melbourne in 1918, the second child of Dr Maurice and Nell MacGillicuddy, important figures in society and the local charitable community. Joan and her older sister Mary Mauricette (born in 1913 and called Billie by the family) had grown up with a love of performance and music. Maurice ran a well known and successful medical practice in the city and Richmond. Both girls gained fame in Melbourne as musicial prodigies – Mauricette was an accomplished pianist studying at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, while Joan, still a student at Catholic Ladies College, was a skilled violinist.

Joan as violinist 1934Mauricette farewell 1936

Joan and Mauricette as they appeared in The Advocate, the Melbourne Catholic newspaper.
Note that Joan had won the Victorian Open Violin Championship for Under 25 years, not as is often claimed, “The Australian Violin championship.” All the same, it was a remarkable achievement for a 15 year old.
[Via Trove – The Advocate 26 July, 1934 and  The Avocate, 26 March 1936]

Joan also enjoyed the stage, and took a leading role in several pantomimes performed for charity. In 1930 she appeared in The Doll’s House Tea Party, with another aspiring actress, Peggy Maguire, who she would later meet again in Hollywood as Mary Maguire. Joan apparently enjoyed this so much she played the same role again in 1931.

Joan and Peggy

[Via Trove – The Argus, 16 June, 1930] Peggy Maguire is in the maid’s costume, 6th from the left. Joan MacGillicuddy appears to be in the centre, 8th from left.

Life changed in 1936, when the family decided to travel to Britain so that Mauricette could continue her studies in music. John Meredyth Lucas (Joan’s husband after 1951) suggested the move was also because Maurice had discovered he had terminal cancer and wanted to make the most of his final years. After numerous parties and farewell concerts, the family departed Melbourne in April. In July 1937, Mauricette, now making a name for herself in London as a musician, was presented at court. Joan was studying “dramatic art,” – it was later reported to be at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The family resided for a time at the Duke Street Mansion Apartments in Grosvenor Square and then in June 1939 sailed to New York on the SS Normandie.  (Maurice’s sister lived in New York and he died there in August 1942)

Below right: Joan and another Warner Bros. starlet, Faye Emerson, in a typical wartime publicity shot. The film they appeared in together was actually “Lady Gangster” and the cups they were pictured with an obvious studio stunt. [Hollywood Magazine Jan-April 1942, Via Lantern]

Hollywood Jan-Dec 1942According to John Meredyth Lucas, it was in New York sometime in 1941 that Joan was spotted by a Warner Bros. scout and offered the standard contract  – the type that enabled a studio to “try out” new faces for up to seven years, but did not necessarily offer much in return. Merle Oberon described the studio system at this time as a “sausage machine,” an apt metaphor for its treatment of young stars like Joan. She was to be known professionally as Joan Winfield, a name plucked from Bette Davis‘ character in the 1941 film “The Bride came C.O.D.” It was claimed her spectacular swimsuit body made her a popular pin-up with allied troops, which is almost certainly another studio publicity story. After years of completely unremarkable B-films for the likes of Warner’s prolific director “Breezy” Eason, (see the rather underwhelming 50 minute “Murder on the Waterfront” for example), her career was confined to un-credited supporting roles, later in father-in-law Michael Curtiz‘s films. If this annoyed her or disappointed her, she never publicly said so.

V3

Above: Joan Winfield
as she appeared in the Australian Women’s Weekly in 1944. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

This is probably because she found interests beyond acting. She became a US citizen and married Hollywood writer – director – producer John Meredyth Lucas (son of director Wilfred Lucas and Bess Meredyth) in 1951. They had met on the set of the wartime drama “The Gorilla Man,” in 1943. Together they raised three children and Joan increasingly worked for charitable causes, continuing to take small film parts until 1957.

Hotham St East Melbourne

Hotham St East Melbourne in 2018. The old MacGillicuddy home, now a private residence again, looks out on this streetscape that has changed little in 90 years. Author’s collection

Joan returned to Australia in 1959, while John was directing and writing scripts for the TV series Whiplash, an Australian “western” starring Peter Graves. They visited the beautiful MacGillicuddy home in Hotham Street, East Melbourne. Much to her horror, it had become a scruffy boarding house. But her old school nearby, Catholic Ladies College, was still operating and some of the nuns who taught Joan were there to greet her. In his autobiography, John recalled being deeply moved by the welcome given to his wife in the school’s best parlour. Sister Bernard held Joan’s hand for the entire visit and recounted what had happened to her classmates and all of the nuns.

Apparently a heavy smoker all her life, Joan died after a battle with cancer, aged only fifty-nine, in June 1978. Mauricette went on to perform and act on stage in California in the 1940s, using the name Dale Melbourne. She married John Herklotz, a Californian businessman and philanthropist, and died in 1998.

John Meredyth Lucas’s autobiography, with its entertaining accounts of making a pioneering TV series in Australia, was published shortly after his death in 2002. He is, of course, remembered for his own prolific and diverse body of work especially on television – which included writing, producing and directing Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man, Harry O and The Fugitive.

Note: Lucas’ parents, US actress and writer Bess Meredyth and director Wilfred Lucas, made three films in Australia in 1920-1 with Snowy Baker and local producer E. J. Carroll, one of which, The Man from Kangaroo has survived to the 21st Century. 

 

Nick Murphy
May 2018

 

Further Reading

John Meredyth Lucas (2004) Eighty Odd Years in Hollywood: Memoir of a Career in Film and Television. McFarland and Co.

Ross Carpenter Legends of Australian Ice – Site also includes photos of Joan and Mauricette.

Further reading from National Library of Australia, Trove,
Digitised Newspaper Collection

 

 

 

Jocelyn Howarth – Endless disappointments

Above: Constance Worth (Jocelyn Howarth) manages a smile while being made up during shooting of the utterly abysmal “The Wages of Sin”, her first film after the Brent divorce. Author’s collection. Photographer unknown.

Enid Joyce Howarth was born in Sydney on 19 August, 1911. She was one of Australian director Ken G Hall’s “finds,” making a great impression under her stage name, Jocelyn Howarth, in “The Squatter’s Daughter” (1933) and “The Silence of Dean Maitland” (1934) before moving to Hollywood in 1936, where she was known as Constance Worth.

But her story was not a happy one. Indeed, her US film career would end up being one of frustration and continual disappointment. She spent much of her Hollywood career chasing film roles that either did not eventuate or failed to live up to expectations.

To family and friends she was known all her life as Joy. The youngest of three daughters born to wealthy Sydney importer Moffat Howarth and his wife Maryellen, her childhood was privileged but the family had its moments of unhappiness – and her parents finally divorced very publicly and acrimoniously in 1921. After leaving Ascham College, she involved herself in amateur theatre, appearing in a production of “Cynara”. In 1933, Ken Hall tested her for “The Squatter’s Daughter”, his entertaining film of Australian pastoral life. Hall made much of her ability and composure during the film’s spectacular scenes – especially the bush fire scene. Publicity from production company Cinesound helped establish her reputation as “Australia’s bravest girl”. Cinesound ensured she appeared at screenings of the film around Australia and she certainly impressed reviewers. In late 1933, a reviewer from the Melbourne Argus wrote; “She is a most winning and attractive figure, who both looks and acts her part. She will establish a reputation for her work in this film.” She certainly looked the part of the glamourous film star, but her answers to the press as she traveled Australia were well considered and also revealed a mature and thoughtful mind. In May 1934 “The Silence of Dean Maitland” was released with Joy in a supporting role and again, she enjoyed good reviews. According to Ken Hall, she had wanted the leading role in this film.

Find clips from The Squatter’s Daughter here at the Australian Screen website

Below: A very young Jocelyn Howarth on an Allen’s lolly card. C.1933. Author’s collection.

filmstars010Through 1934 and 1935, Joy waited for more parts in film. She performed on stage in “Ten Minute Alibi” and “The Wind and the Rain” and in several radio plays. 5’5, Blonde, blue eyed, and widely admired for her willingness to throw herself with gusto into her roles, Joy was a talented and seemingly confident young Australian about to go places. She attracted great attention, and appears to have been briefly engaged to “Digger Comedian” Johnnie Marks. But unfortunately the problem for all of Australia’s enthusiastic young actors was that there were few feature films being made. In April 1936, aged 25, Joy sailed for California on the Matson liner Monterey, determined to try her luck in Hollywood.

Journalists reported Joy and a travelling companion mixing cocktails for well-wishers in their cabin on the eve of departure. Although she publicly claimed to be “loaded with introductions to people in Hollywood,” she was cautious enough to add “it seems to me going to Hollywood in search of a career is like taking a ticket in the lottery …” And so it was. Despite travelling on the Monterey with actor and director Miles Mander, and enjoying welcome dinners with the likes of expat Australian director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan, by August 1936, Joy had received no film offers. In an angry despair she apparently made a half-hearted attempt to take her own life. She was saved by the timely intervention of struggling young actor friend, Tyrone Power, whom she telephoned for help. Unfortunately, Joy found herself dogged by this event for the rest of her Hollywood career, and the explanation of what had happened with the gas in her flat changed and therefore became less believable (a gas leak, a pot boiling over, a new type of stove, a heater) over time. Years later, she would publicly acknowledge how hard her early years in Hollywood had been. “I really was in an emotional state in those days… I had little faith in myself and still less money.”

Howarth1

Constance Worth in her first Hollywood movie, playing the leading female role in the exotic 1937 RKO thriller “China Passage”. The film was possibly influenced by the success of MGM’s “China Seas,” made a few years before. Photo is an enlargement from an RKO film publicity photo. Author’s Collection.

Joy’s luck changed soon after this incident and she finally secured a contract with RKO. She took the lead in two adventure films, “China Passage” and “Windjammer”, both released in 1937. On “China Passage” she was to co-star with Vinton Haworth, so at the suggestion or perhaps insistence of RKO she changed her stage name to Constance Worth. In the midst of this excitement, she met another actor, a friend of Tyrone’s, and began an intense relationship. Unfortunately the object of her affection was serial Hollywood womaniser, George Brent, who already had two failed marriages and numerous relationships behind him. Under intense pressure from Brent, they married, secretly, in Mexico in May, 1937. It was a disaster and within months the entire saga was cw and brentplayed out in the press in agonising detail. After a week of marriage, Brent had become morose, withdrawn and uncommunicative, later to suggest he realised he had made a terrible mistake. Within a few days he had left Joy. Brent attempted to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that having been conducted in Mexico it wasn’t a legal marriage, but before the end of the year it ended up as a full-blown stoush in a US divorce court.

Above- Joy and George Brent, about the time of their marriage in 1937. Picture play Magazine, 1938, Via Lantern 

When Joy’s mother Mary-Ellen was pressed to comment she said; “when I first met Brent I was not impressed.” But “Joy…was in love and that was all that mattered to me.” Mary-Ellen was to spend the next twenty years worrying about Joy, while Moffatt Howarth repeatedly told his daughter to come home to Sydney.

Joy’s sister Gwen Howarth visited Hollywood in 1937, to support her sister through the divorce. Her thoughtful and considered views about Hollywood appeared in The Australian Women’s Weekly, in September and October 1937. While she celebrated Australian successes, amongst them that of Mary Maguire, she didn’t balk at reporting the reality, which was often quite the opposite to the well-peddled stereotype of Hollywood success. She also told The Sydney Morning Herald of “Some of Hollywood’s Failures” in August: “Hollywood … is a city of hopes which are fulfilled for few. Its drug-stores, shops, and restaurants have as assistants and waitresses scores of beautiful girls who linger on in the hope of gaining employment in films. And most of them wait in vain.” Little did she imagine that a few years later, her sister Joy would also turn to waitressing when acting jobs dried up.

Gwen also wrote a scathing account of the way the press reported events relating to her sister in Hollywood: “I was rather amused to read in a recent paper here… ‘Miss Worth had been seen out dining alone and she would be leaving for Europe next month.’ She has not dined out alone since she has been here, and will not be leaving for Europe next month. But that is Hollywood. What they don’t know, they invent.”

Of course, there is an irony in Gwen’s “letters from Hollywood.” Despite her efforts to report to Australian readers with a high degree of reflection and honesty, the papers that carried her occasional accounts were the same ones that reported the nonsense and fed the impossible fantasy.

The Brent affair of 1937 undermined Joy’s public standing as a serious actress and RKO offered her no further roles. She was too closely associated with a messy public divorce to warrant more effort by the studio. In a 1945 interview, she acknowledged that not only had Brent’s rejection hurt her deeply, it had also hurt her career. Joy’s next film was also a starring role, but in a minor studio exploitation flick – “The Wages of Sin”, a story of a young woman lured into prostitution. Producer Willis Kent was notorious for his sensationalist films made outside the Hollywood production code. The young Australian was desperate for work after the Brent divorce and apparently felt she had no other option. Perhaps she convinced herself that there was something worthwhile about the film. There wasn’t, but she made a great effort with the useless script, her Sydney accent sounding incongruous alongside the broad US accents of her co-stars.

In this short audio clip, hard working Marjorie (Constance Worth) scolds her oafish family for not giving young Tommy milk, and her father for not working. “The Wages of Sin” is now in the public domain. From a VHS copy in the author’s collection.

The scandalous film had only limited release in the US, usually opening and closing in towns before local authorities could act, and was never released in Australia.

Not surprisingly, when Joy returned home to Australia in June 1939 she let slip her true opinions about working in the Hollywood studio system. It gave an actress “no scope” she said, and added that she “far preferred the stage.” However, after seeing family and friends, modelling the spring collection for Anthony Hordens and appearing in a play at the Minerva Theatre (under her real name), Joy gritted her teeth and returned to a career in Hollywood B pictures.

Back in Hollywood as Constance Worth again, she worked tirelessly to re-establish herself as an actress. She freelanced, taking a mixture of uncredited, minor and supporting roles while apparently also waitressing. In 1943 she landed a leading role in CW & John BealRepublic’s fifteen part serial G-Men Versus the Black Dragon. Playing British agent Vivian Marsh, she lurches from one hair-raising scenario to the next, tied to buzz-saws and fiendish torture machines by wicked Japanese spies, regularly saved “just in time” by US agent Rex Bennett, played by Rod Cameron. Her character has some spark however, and she handles a Thompson machine gun with ease. Unfortunately, while Director William Witney admired Joy as an actress, he also remarked on the reputation the thirty-two year old Australian had developed for copious drinking. Joy’s smoky, throaty voice, extraordinary arched eyebrows and striking looks consigned her to more and more supporting roles. There was now steady work, but this was often as “the girl your mother warned you about”; the voluptuous nurse, the bar room vamp, the treacherous female spy.

Above: Joy (Constance Worth) and John Beal on the set of “Let’s Have Fun” in 1943. Hollywood Jan-Dec 1942 via Lantern

In 1943’s Crime Doctor, the first of a long running series of crime films, she plays a nurse who is in the ward just before the hero, Ordway, awakes (He has amnesia and doesn’t recall that he was a gangster). Joy’s lines, as Nurse Betty, include this banter with another nurse as they fuss about Ordway. Here was Constance Worth – well and truly typecast.

“Nurse Betty: From where I sit he promises to be good looking
Nurse 2: I wonder if he’s married…
Nurse Betty: If he appeals to me, he’s married!
Nurse 2 (laughing): Well you can’t do anything with an unconscious guy!
Nurse Betty: You should know some of the men I’ve been out with!”

And later when Nurse Betty asks a doctor whether there is any news as to the patient’s identity:

“Doctor: Apparently no one misses him
Nurse Betty: (aloud, but almost to herself) I would, if he were mine!”

In 1946, Joy was in the news again in connection with another court case, but this time she was named as co-respondent. The wife of Bill Pierce, a Hollywood scriptwriter, had found her husband in Joy’s flat. Joy was apparently semi-naked when private detectives burst in, but Joy insisted there was nothing illicit in their relationship. They were just friends. She claimed Pierce had too much to drink “and decided to spend the night on the apartment couch, while she used the bedroom.” However, a year after the Pierce divorce, Bill and Joy were living together. She kept on working and in total, had appeared in 35 Hollywood films in the thirteen years between 1937 and 1949. Unfortunately, the increasingly meaningless roles in underwhelming films became the norm for her.

Her final film was in the B-western film, “Western Renegades”, in 1949. With light entertainment offered by the plump and ever good-humoured Johnny Mack Brown, lots of western stereotypes and “comedy relief” provided by aging ventriloquist Max Terhune and his dummy Elmer, the audience for this film was clearly the emerging post-war generation of young American boys, about to be exposed to the onslaught of TV westerns. Taking another minor supporting role and looking thinner than ever, Joy played a flashy “actress” hired to impersonate a missing mother, Ann Gordon. In her final scene, she is strangled or bashed-up, it’s not clear which, at the foot of the stairs of the Gordonville hotel by the angry daughter of the real Ann Gordon.

Australasian Cover August 25, 1945  cw 1940s005
Older but in classic film star makeup and pose –  left; the cover of Australasian, 25 August, 1945. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.  At right; in Klondike Kate (1943). Author’s Collection, Source probably a public relations photo by Columbia Pictures.

According to her extended family, it was reported in the late 1940s that she was pregnant. If this was true, she did not carry the child to full term successfully as there were no children from Bill and Joy’s relationship. There were also no more film roles after 1949, despite several reports that she was about to re-boot her career. Joy Howarth died at age 52,  on 18th October 1963, of complications arising from cirrhosis of the liver. Bill was by her side. It was a thoroughly dismal end to what had started out as a brilliant career for a genuinely capable actress. With the benefit of hindsight, it would seem Joy’s greatest pleasure came from performing on screen and stage at home, where to Australians, she was always a star.

Cw signature
 Joy Howarth  was never completely happy with her stage name. She complained on one occasion that it brought her bad luck. Her signature here, for a 1940s fan, looks like it was scribbled under sufferance. Author’s collection.

Note:

  1. Her DOB is often incorrectly cited as 1913.
  2. Many of her US films now appear to be in the public domain and can be found online. These include Windjammer (1937),  Borrowed Hero (1941) , Criminals Within (1941),  City without Men (1943), The Kid Sister (1945) Sensation Hunters (1945) 

Nick Murphy, May 2018

Further reading:

  • Ken G. Hall (1977) Directed by Ken G. Hall, autobiography of an Australian film maker. Lansdowne Press.
  • Charles Higham & Roy Moseley (1990) Cary Grant. The Lonely heart. Avon Books
  • Scott O’Brien (2014) George Brent: Ireland’s Gift to Hollywood and Its Leading Ladies. Bear Manor Media
  • Eric Schaeffer (1999) “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!” A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Duke University Press.
  • William Witney (1996) In a Door, into a Fight, Out a Door, into a Chase: Moviemaking Remembered by the Guy at the Door. McFarland & Co.
  • Andree Wright (1987) Brilliant Careers: Women in Australian Cinema. MacMillan

Further reading from National Library of Australia, Trove

  • Digitised Newspaper Collection

Daphne Pollard – I had to know 36 operas by heart!

Daphne Pollard, an experienced performer yet aged only in her late twenties, on a British postcard, c1920. Author’s collection.

The talented actress Daphne Pollard was born Daphne Trott at 56 Kerr Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, in October 1891 to Walter and Annie (nee Daniels). She was one of those rare gifts to the stage – she could sing and dance and became an expert in slapstick – the physical comedy so popular at the start of the twentieth century. Standing less than 1.40 metres tall (or 4 foot eight inches as she claimed) as an adult, she was on stage from the age of six. She was a good-looking child performer, with great confidence for her age. She was to become the star attraction of the Pollard Daphne photographed in ShanghaiLilliputian Opera Company, an Australian troupe (or more accurately – series of troupes) featuring talented children often from inner Melbourne suburbs, who took on the adult roles in musical comedies. However, Gillian Arrighi and other researchers have also reminded us that the musical comedies performed by Pollard’s, such as their perennial favourite, “A Gaiety Girl,” were suggestive, with a plot preoccupied with sexual relationships – or “playful gambolling on the verge of indecency” as Edwardian theatre critic William Archer wrote (see Arrighi p.154).

Above: Cheong, Ying. Portrait of Daphne Pollard, Shanghai, China, ca. 1901-1905.  Source -National library of Australia. It is likely the photo was taken between during one of the Pollard Company tours between 1901 and 1905 (see below).

“Lovers are silly young things you know
and I am as silly as any.
I’ve worn two engagement rings you know,
but two, you’ll agree are not many”


From The Lady Slavey. Song – Baby Baby. Written by Hugh Martin and Gustave Kerker

It is interesting to reflect on the impact of a childhood spent growing up “on stage” – as Daphne and some of the Pollard’s children experienced. There is little evidence to help us – although Willie Thomas’ story may contain some clues.

In time, Daphne Trott was to become an outstanding vaudevillian in her own right. The headline photo on the top of this page shows her in 1920, at the height of her popularity on the London stage. Like Harry Fraser (Snub Pollard), she took the stage name Pollard, partly as convenience but also because many of the company performers liked to maintain the pretence of belonging to a family troupe. Later in careers it was a familiar and easy remembrance of times past.

In Melbourne, Daphne Trott’s father Walter and an uncle ran a large furniture upholstery and French polishing business, although the Melbourne depression of the 1890s hit the family’s fortunes hard. We don’t know what attracted Daphne to the stage – perhaps as a child she saw that other well-known Fitzroy girl, Florrie Forde perform at the Melbourne Opera House or the Theatre Royal. Daphne joined Pollard’s troupe in about 1897, with older sisters Ivy and Myrtle, while the family lived at 96 King William Street, Fitzroy.

King William St and Brunswick St
About the time of Daphne’s departure for the US, the Trott family business operated on the corner of King William St and Brunswick St, Fitzroy (site now occupied by the orange and white supermarket in the distance). Their shop and probably a home behind may have looked like the building on the right. Author’s Collection. 

54-56 Kerr St Fitzroy

56 Kerr St, Fitzroy, was listed as Daphne Trott’s October 1891 birthplace and the family home for most of the 1890s. It is hard to believe this very modest single story terrace house had room for a baby and five older siblings! 

In early September 1901 the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company sailed for an extended tour of South East Asia, Canada and the United States, under the management of Charles Pollard and his sister Nellie Chester. But only a few days before Daphne’s departure, the Trott’s much loved youngest child, four year old Wally, died as a result of typhoid fever. He had lingered in the Children’s Hospital for several weeks. (The story that he broke his neck doing somersaults on the bed on the eve of Daphne’s departure seems to be just that, another showbiz story). Although Wally’s headstone lies broken and forgotten at Kew cemetery, the surviving inscription reveals the depth of the family’s grief. It must have taken great strength for Daphne and her sisters to leave Australia. Twelve months later, in October 1902, the company arrived home, having won positive reviews up and down the North American west coast.

Wally Trott

“So dearly loved, so deeply mourned.”  Wally Trott’s headstone at Kew Cemetery. Author’s Collection.

Performing for the Pollard opera companies was not for the faint-hearted. Their Australasian and overseas tours involved rigorous preparatory training and took child performers away from home for months, sometimes a year or more. The Company were on a second tour between January 1903 and April 1904. In May 1904, before departing on a third extended tour, an effort by a US entrepreneur to undercut Pollard’s and entice the performers away led to a messy court case. It also revealed some of the Company’s workings – that the parents of Pollard’s child performers would be paid via a trust fund – 10 shillings a month in the first 6 months, followed by £1 per month thereafter. Charles Pollard and Nellie Chester provided a tutor and paid for all the travel costs and accommodation. The child performers made pocket money by selling autographed souvenir photos after each show. Operating outside Australia, laws regarding education did not apply.

Pollards advertised Calgary Herald 3 Jan 1906
Pollard’s advertising-already picking out its most popular stars during its third tour of North America. The Calgary Herald, 3 January 1906 via Newspapers.com

Following a short season in July – September 1904, testing and refining their repertoire for Queensland audiences, the Pollard Lilliputians arrived in North America in March 1905, after 5 months in “the Far East”. Their stops along the way included enthusiastic colonial audiences in Hong Kong and Shanghai. One surviving photo from this tour shows the performers and supervising adults sitting on the steps of their Vancouver hotelDaphne Pollard 1905. At the front, sitting slightly apart and wearing a large hat, is young Daphne, her poise and confidence unmistakable. Her older sister Maud, who accompanied her, sits at the left, among the women at the back. Also in the back row stand three decidedly naughty looking boys, Alf Goulding, Harry Fraser and Teddy McNamara – all of whom, like Daphne, would eventually find their way to Hollywood.

Above:  Daphne Pollard in Vancouver. Enlarged from a group photo via Vancouver As It Was: A Photo-Historical Journey

Program notes from performances in Montreal, Canada in 1905 reveal a typical Pollard’s schedule, which included six different popular musical comedies delivered across a week of performances – A Runaway Girl; The Belle of New York; A Gaiety Girl; The Geisha; HMS Pinafore and The Lady Slavey. It was no leisurely tour. Years later Daphne told a reporter
“As a child actress in the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company… I had to know thirty six operas by heart. (In) one I played the part of an old sheriff with side-whiskers, although I was only twelve at the time. One of the side-whiskers came off before the audience, but that, of course, made it all the funnier. We were all children, but we included grand opera in our repertoire.”

filmstars041
Part of a Pollard program from Montreal during their marathon 1904-07 North American tour.  The ages are obviously wrong. Author’s Collection.

In February 1907, the Pollard Company’s marathon two + year tour ended, Daphne and Ivy returning home with the company on the SS Moana. It must have become obvious by this time that Daphne’s future was not just performing with Pollard’s. By mid-1907, Daphne and Ivy had accepted contracts with Frank W. Healy’s San Francisco Opera Company and they began performances later that year. The Trott girls left Australia and never returned. For the next nine years Daphne performed in vaudeville throughout the United States, more or less continuously, developing her skills and attracting widespread acclaim. (Sister Ivy married and left the stage.) In 1908, the Trott parents and all but one of Daphne’s siblings followed her to North America, settling permanently in Seattle. It was a dramatic move, one that must have taken some deliberation by the whole family. And now, aged 19, Daphne felt more confident than ever to express her views. In April 1910 she announced that she supported a woman’s right to vote – a right enjoyed by most women in her native Australia but not yet granted to women in the United States. “Votes for Women. I’m going to march in the streets and carry a banner” she told a Seattle Star journalist. Her renown and popularity was such that she was chosen as Seattle’s first ever Queen of the Golden Potlatch Festival (now known as the Seafair Festival) the following year. Soon after, in a joyful and rather theatrical elopement, she married journalist Ellington Strother Bunch.

By mid – 1916, Daphne was a seasoned enough performer to know the ways audiences in different US cities responded. She was also deeply immersed in her stagecraft and most unusually for the time, she was prepared to pause and publicly reflect on it. In a lengthy expose of the art of a typical review performance, for The Green Book Magazine, she wrote;

“The principal first out does her scene, usually not an important one so early in the evening, and exits after a song or dance number, marking the time for applause. The audience speaks then, and—believe me—there is not one of us who has not learned to judge its tone…If the applause is liberal and pretty much from all parts of the house, hopes soar high…

Next out may be the second comedian. He notches up the pace, sets the whole show a pitch higher and works like a fiend, all the time trying to gauge results and get bearings… By the time the first act is on its feet, we’ve got that audience so well sized up that each of us knows to a nicety the impression he or she will make.”

Pollard  Zig Zag France023

Left: Program for Albert De Courville’s “Zig-Zag!” 1917. Author’s Collection.
Right: Program for De Courville’s 1917 Folies Bergere production, showing Shirley Kellogg on the cover. It also starred Daphne. The Australian war memorial holds an identical program, except with Daphne Pollard on the cover. (You can read it online) Author’s collection.

Following the success of another review The Passing Show of 1915 and at the height of the Great War, she traveled to London. There she appeared in a string of very popular revues at the Hippodrome for Albert De Courville. Zig-Zag! opened in January 1917 and was followed by Box o’ Tricks in 1918. (De Courville’s company also performed at the Folies-Bergere in Paris.) In 1919 she appeared in Joy Bells with another experienced Australian-born, US-based comedian, Leon Errol in the cast. In all, she spent almost ten years in London, taking a break for the birth of her only child – Ellington Walter Bunch in 1922 and a short return to New York to appear in the Greenwich Village Follies in late 1923. Daphne Pollard is jointly credited as composer of several of the pieces performed in these shows. Reviews of her work continued to be enthusiastic and she easily managed both US and British cultural contexts. Friend Stan Laurel recalled one of her stage acts, as a “Cockney dame” (‘Arriet ‘Emmingway from Huntershire County “Hingland”), who struggled to manage the transition to living in the US. This character was later recycled as the theme of the short films America or Bust (1930) and Help wanted, Female (1931).

Filmstars002

Above: London Sunday Pictorial. 25 February 1917. Daphne Pollard is in the centre. Author’s collection
Above: Daphne Pollard sings “The Ragtime Germ” for De Courville’s “Zig-Zag!” in 1917. She is credited with composing this with Cass Downing and John T. Murray. (Not to be confused with a 1911 song with the same name). Her voice seems typical of British musical hall performers of the time. Author’s Collection.
Below: Daphne in costume for “The Ragtime Germ”. Source – “The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News,” March 24, 1917. Via British Library Newspaper Archive Project

Rag time germ

By 1927 Daphne Pollard had been active on stage for thirty years, almost continuously, when Mack Sennett finally convinced her to appear in Hollywood films. Sennett had apparently made a few approaches to her earlier in her career. Its quite likely that the astute Daphne Pollard also saw vaudeville and music theatre as under siege from the booming cinema industry, and jumped ship for purely practical reasons. Her surviving movies often mislead the casual reader today to think these were the sum of her working life. In fact, her 60 Hollywood films, made for Sennett and later RKO and then Universal were merely a footnote – most of them made in a period of just five years.

Sennett was a prolific producer, director and actor, who churned out over 1400 titles during his career. His fondness for slapstick and physical comedy was firmly rooted in vaudeville and of course, for him, Daphne Pollard was another actress trained in this tradition. One of Sennett’s former editors, William Hornbeck, interviewed by writer Kevin Brownlow years later, commented on how unsophisticated Sennett’s films often were, even for the time. Many of the films Daphne appeared in were made during the transition of silent to sound films, and as filmmakers like Sennett struggled to adapt to what worked in this new dimension, the humour often fell flat. And seen today, audiences may find the humour tasteless and some of the storylines weak. The blackface ending to Two Smoked Hams (1934) and the burning building rescue in His First Flame (1935) are two obvious examples of seriously outdated humour.

DP1916Daphne Pollard’s first film for Sennett was The Girl from Everywhere (1927), a 20 minute comedy with Carole Lombard. She appeared in several more with Lombard, including Run Girl, Run and The Campus Carmen, both made in 1928. Several of these were directed by her friend and one time neighbour from inner Melbourne, and an old Pollard Lilliputian Opera associate, Alf Goulding.

Above- Daphne Pollard as an everyday adult, on a passport application, in about 1916. Via Ancestry, via US National Archives 

As a consequence of Sennett’s prolific approach, her roles over the next few years were varied and while she sometimes appeared as one of the leading players, character roles, especially the fussy mother or the English servant, had become her stock in trade. In the otherwise dull 1930 sound musical Bright Lights, Daphne and Tom Dugan provide the comic relief playing a feuding married couple. In 1931’s The Lady Refuses she plays the eccentric maid.

Only occasionally in her films do we see flashes of her skills as an extraordinarily energetic and highly experienced vaudeville performer– as when she demonstrates her admirable comic timing by snapping her teeth at Oliver Hardy in Thicker Than Water in 1935, or when she dances for the leading juveniles with such confidence and ease in Kid Dynamite made in 1943. But we can see her skills at their best when she takes the coquette role, one she had performed so often on the stage, wooing fireman “Smokey Mo” (Shemp Howard) in His First Flame, made in 1935. When she throws her handkerchief in front of him to gain his attention, and then wrestles him onto a park bench, it is a sequence straight from the vaudeville tradition. “I love you, I love you, I love you” she says aggressively, with her foot in Howard’s face.

Her well known straight role, as Oliver Hardy’s shrewish wife in the Hal Roach studio films Our Relations and Thicker than Water marked the end of her intensive Hollywood career. When she appeared in her last brief and uncredited role in Laurel and Hardy’s very silly The Dancing Masters, in 1943, she had been performing for 46 years.

She died in Los Angeles in 1978, her passing reported in the US but completely unnoticed in Australia. In time, the usual nonsense was written about her by eager fans – that she was sister of “Snub Pollard” or that her “Australian accent” got in the way of a career in sound films. Even the most perfunctory research shows neither proposition to be true.

Back home in Australia, Daphne’s older sister Hilda, having married Percy Wood, a Melbourne plumber, enjoyed a happy but childless marriage. She spent her last years living a few hundred metres from the Hoyts Merri Theatre in North Fitzroy, where presumably, she went to watch her sister’s movies. The descendants of Daphne Trott and her family now all live in the US.

Daphne Pollard the Passing ShowWhat sort of person was she? Unfortunately we only have sketchy evidence to make a conclusion. Stan Laurel’s correspondence seems to suggest she was a fiesty personality. Yet we also know that she maintained an affection for all her old friends into later life. When Teddie McNamara died of pneumonia in Hollywood in 1928, she attended his funeral with all the old Pollard Company performers. Willie Thomas, another performer from Pollard’s caught up with her in London in 1918, while he was on leave from the Australian forces on the Western Front. Meeting her backstage at the London Hippodrome was, Willie always said, a joyful reunion.

Above: Daphne with George Munroe in “The Passing Show.” The Pittsburg Press, 27 June 1915. Via Newspapers.com.

 

Note 1: The origin of the story that the “Emperor of China” wanted to buy her apparently has its origins in the following story. Zhang Zhidong was a high ranking Chinese official in the Qing Dynasty. The offensive comment attributed to Daphne may be true but as the contemporary journalist noted, the entire story is likely an exaggeration.

hong kong daily press daphne pollard story 1905 05 27

Hong Kong Daily Press, May 27, 1905. Via Hong Kong Public Library Multimedia System

 

Nick Murphy, updated January 2019

 

Further reading:
Publications

  • Gillian Arrighi (2017) The Controversial “Case of the Opera Children in the East”: Political Conflict between Popular Demand for Child Actors and Modernizing Cultural Policy on the Child.
    “Theatre Journal” No 69, 2017. John Hopkins University Press.
  • Peter Downes (2002) The Pollards, a family and its child and adult opera companies in New Zealand and Australia, 1880-1910. Steele Roberts, New Zealand.
  • Kirsty Murray (2010) “India Dark.” Allen & Unwin Australia.
    See also https://insideadog.com.au/blog/incredible-india (India Dark is a fictional retelling of the disastrous Pollard tour of India in 1909 – but none of the Trott children performed in this)
  • Brent Walker (2013) “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of his Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel” McFarland & Co
  • Various (1888) “Victoria and its Metropolis, Past and Present. The Colony and its people in 1888.” Volume 11B. McCarron Bird and Co, Melbourne. P. 621. (See Trott family)
  • Trav S.D (Donald Travis Stewart), (2006) No Applause – Just throw Money. The book that made Vaudeville Famous. Faber and Faber, New York
  • Daphne Pollard 1916.Rehearsing the Audience”, The Green Book magazine, Pages 737-740
  • Kevin Brownlow (1968) The Parade’s Gone By… University of California Press.
  • Angela Woollacott (2001) To Try her Fortune in London. Oxford University Press.

Websites

National Library of Australia – Trove Newspaper Collection

  • The World’s News, 4 Dec 1920, “Daphne Pollard”. Page 5
  • The Register, 4 July 1908, “Dramatic Notes”. Page 10

Newspapers.com

  • The Seattle star, April 29, 1910 “Marion Lowe has a heart to heart talk with tiny Daphne Pollard” Page 14.

Hong Kong Public Library Multimedia System

  • Hong Kong Daily Press, May 27, 1905. “Chang Chi-Tung and Daphne Pollard”