Snub Pollard, the jobbing extra, writes to his family

Above: Snub Pollard in 1937. He made over 600 film and TV appearances between 1915 and 1962. Many of those made after the coming of sound were as an uncredited player. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.

Snub Pollard with two unnamed female friends in San Francisco, 1937. He sent this photo to his nephew in Australia. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.

Snub Pollard, born Harold Fraser in North Melbourne, Australia, in 1889, enjoyed a very long career on stage and in the US cinema.(See more about his professional life here) At the height of his success as a film comedian, he returned to Australia on a two month visit in 1923. He was well established at the Hal Roach studio, and told an Australian newspaper that he had a contract with Roach until 1927. Everything seemed to be going well. He was newly married, financially secure – to such an extent he could spend £2000 on a new house in Carlton for his mother.[1]He also paid for her to visit California the following year

Most of his letters home, surviving at the Australian Performing Arts Collection in Melbourne, are addressed to his brother George or to his nephew, also named Harold, who lived in Portarlington, a pretty seaside town south of Melbourne. The collection of letters mostly date from after this visit home, from the 1930s -1950s, by which time he was appearing in supporting or uncredited roles. His letters give no hints about his change in fortunes – the transition from being a major silent screen comedian of the early 1920s to jobbing extra [2]an actor who is taking any work to maintain their career is never mentioned. The correspondence is too late to cover the mid 1920s when Snub left Roach and set up his own production company, which then failed. However, there are other insights to be had from reading his correspondence.

Snub Pollard returns to Australia. At left is Snub and his new wife meeting the head of Amalgamated Pictures in Melbourne. At right, Snub greeted on arrival by his large extended family.[3]Table Talk, 22 March 1923, via State Library of Victoria

This writer has often wondered how strongly expat Australians working in Hollywood and Britain identified with their new cultural contexts and whether they maintained any sort of Australian identity. The evidence in the correspondence is that although Snub became a US citizen, he still regarded himself as an Australian and Australia as “home”. When he watched US newsreel footage showing the catastrophic 1939 bushfires near Melbourne, he said he felt homesick,[4]Australian Performing Arts Collection, Pollard collection, Letter 24 March 1939 when he went swimming or enjoyed the hot weather [5]APAC, Letter 25 May 1939 he thought it was because he was Australian. He said he read Australian newspapers at the RKO studios to keep up with the news.[6]APAC, Letter 25 May 1939

Snub’s trip home in 1923 remained a powerful memory. The very joyful time spent with brother George and his family at Portarlington seems to stayed with him for the rest of his life.“…Portarlington has a warm spot in my heart” he wrote.[7]APAC, Letter 18 September 1939 Even as late as 1949, he expressed his desire to visit again, “then we will all go swimming together” [8]APAC, Letter 17 February 1949 but soon after he complained that there were now no longer direct ships between California and Australia, “so that’s that” – meaning it was too much effort to travel to Vancouver to catch one.[9]APAC, Letter 14 March 1949

Snub posted a number of film publicity photos home to his nephew, including this one showing him in drag and without his trademark mustache. Unfortunately there is no notation as to what this film is. Australian Performing Arts Collection.

As might be expected, the topics covered in his letters include the mundane, like the weather in Los Angeles and how the seasons in California are the opposite to Australia’s, the opening of the baseball season, and comments about horse racing – a shared family interest that went back to Snub’s father. He also loved receiving family photos and regularly asked for more. He often listed the other family members he had just written to – it’s clear he took his family correspondence seriously.

Only sometimes does professional news feature in Snub’s letters, but several observations can be made from what he wrote. Westerns seem to have given him greatest pleasure; he mentions appearing in films with cowboy stars like Bob Steele and Tex Ritter and occasionally he mentioned the film titles by name. However, he worried that these Westerns might not be shown in Australian cinemas and therefore his family may not see them. Although he did not say so, these Westerns were second features, made quickly and on small budgets, usually with a running time of 60 minutes.

A photo sent home to Snub’s nephew in Australia. Tex Ritter with sometime sidekick Snub aka Peewee Pollard, cowboy stars of the late 1930s. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.

Interviewed in 1973, Tex Ritter seemed to suggest he had a role in Snub’s appearance as his sidekick in a dozen of his westerns made between 1936 and 1938. “I had seen Snub in his own little comedies when I was a kid. He was always one of my favourite comedians when I was growing up…I convinced them to put the old mustache back on him because a lot of people my age would remember him.”[10]John Booker (2017) The Happiest Trails. P142-3. Ent Books. The interview was conducted by Grant Lockhart during Tex Ritter’s last UK tour in May 1973

The film Snub mentioned most often in letters sent during the period 1943-44 is the Pete Smith film Self Defence, one of a string of 10 minute comedy shorts made at MGM.[11]APAC postcards, 12 June 1943, 26 May 1944, 21 June 1944, 4 Nov 1944 Unfortunately, it appears to be lost, although other Smith shorts have survived. Snub makes the point in one letter that as an extra, he didn’t really know how good his part would be until he started work on the picture.[12]APAC Letter 14 March 1949 This may explain why he appears to have little awareness of the significance of some of the films he appeared in – such as the now classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still, in 1951 or the musical Singin’ in the Rain in 1952. In May 1948, he wrote of working on a Bing Crosby film for two weeks in San Francisco, although what this was seems difficult to identify now – possibly it was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. [13]APAC Letter 15 May 1948

Snub Pollard without makeup. c1940s. Australian Performing Arts Collection

One of the most significant matters alluded to by Snub was his involvement in the Screen Extras Guild, an association he joined in the later 1940s. [14]APAC Letter 23 March 1949 He was on the board of directors of the Guild by March 1949 and remained so for at least ten years, in company with another Australian actor, perennial Hollywood butler William H O’Brien.[15]Valley Times (CA) 14 Jul 1952, P4 via While there is no evidence his politics were as radical as those of another famous Australian-born unionist in the US, Harry Bridges of the International Longshoremen’s Association, the activities of the SEG were designed to protect the rights of worker members who might otherwise easily be exploited. SEG’s efforts included demanding health and welfare benefits for extras [16]Los Angeles Times, 1 June 1955, P16. via and refusing compromising conditions to employment.[17]The Fresno Bee (CA) 24 March 1949 via Snub’s first travel in a commercial aircraft was on SEG business in 1949. He wrote about the experience at some length and posted the United Airlines information packet home to his nephew.

The technology Snub often wrote about in the later 1940s was television – as he was beginning to be employed in TV shows and started to see his old comedies replayed. He seemed to have lived in hope that the new medium might see him making comedies again in his old makeup, and he wrote that he had some good proposals. Television in Australia was still being planned when he wrote to his nephew to explain how the exciting new medium worked: “you sure will like it. After dinner you go in your front room, turn on the television set and see all the pictures you want to, even Snub Pollard comedies.” [18]APAC letter 4 Jan, 1952 “Yes television over here is great I see a lot of my old comedies…”[19]APAC Letter 15 (possibly) July 1952 Television began in Australia in late 1956, when to fill screen time, Australian TV stations no doubt turned to the readily available work of silent comedians like Snub.

A photo sent to Australia in the early 1950s. On the back Snub wrote “this is… from a television picture I was in recently. What do you think of the girl?” What the TV program was, remains unknown. Australian Performing Arts Collection.

Of Snub’s personal life, the surviving letters tell us only a little. After the Second World War he lodged with old friends, including a director of some of his old comedies.[20]But he does not say who the ex director was. APAC Letter 13 May 1949 He spent Christmas and festive occasions with friends and still received fan mail. He had married three times, but by 1944 could assure his family he was no longer married and by 1946 had apparently decided he wanted to stay single.[21]APAC Postcards 30 Sept 1944 and 30 April 1946

Occasionally Snub sent small gifts home in a parcel – combs and pens. He also sometimes posted the comic sections of US newspapers to his nephew, and forwarded on postcards he had been sent by fans, that tickled his fancy. Several of these were fairly risqué for the time, and might tell us something about Snub’s own sense of humour.

A 1948 postcard that had been sent to Snub by a US fan with the annotation “Im wondering about your trip here last year” and sent on to his Australian nephew. “Sure is a funny one” Snub added. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.

Snub Pollard did not return again to see his family, but stayed in California.[22]Several Australian newspapers announced he had returned for a performance tour in 1931, however, there is no other evidence of this Although he never stated it directly, there is a sense of regret about this in his letters. However, he had spent most of his life at a remove from his family – first travelling the world with the Pollard child performers, then with older ex-pollard players, and then in Hollywood, which had more than a sprinkling of former Australian vaudevillians amongst them. Snub worked almost to the time of his death in 1962.

Snub Pollard on a holiday, late in life. c1950s. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne


The collection consist of postcards, photos, Christmas cards and letters, the majority are dated between 1939 and 1953. Correspondence from the war years are all postcards. The recipient of most is Harold Fraser, the son of Snub’s older brother George. The Australian Performing Arts Collection purchased this collection in the early 1990s. As noted, Snub wrote to all his family, and we must assume this is only a partial record.


  • Claudia Funder, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne, who convinced me to leaf through their Snub Pollard Collection.
  • Kevin Summers and Geoffrey Wright, whose patient persistence demonstrated that I was wrong and Snub Pollard did indeed appear as a taxi driver in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Further Reading

  • John Booker (2017) The Happiest Trails. P142-3. Ent Books.
  • Kevin Brownlow (1968) The Parade’s Gone By… University of California Press.
  • Ted Holland (1989) B western actors encyclopedia; Facts, photos and filmographies for more than 250 familiar faces. McFarland & Co
  • Kalton C Lahue and Sam Gill (1970) Clown princes and court jesters. Some great comics of the silent screen. A S Barnes
  • 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
  • Matthew Ross. Lost Laugh Magazine, Number 13.

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


1 He also paid for her to visit California the following year
2 an actor who is taking any work to maintain their career
3 Table Talk, 22 March 1923, via State Library of Victoria
4 Australian Performing Arts Collection, Pollard collection, Letter 24 March 1939
5, 6 APAC, Letter 25 May 1939
7 APAC, Letter 18 September 1939
8 APAC, Letter 17 February 1949
9 APAC, Letter 14 March 1949
10 John Booker (2017) The Happiest Trails. P142-3. Ent Books. The interview was conducted by Grant Lockhart during Tex Ritter’s last UK tour in May 1973
11 APAC postcards, 12 June 1943, 26 May 1944, 21 June 1944, 4 Nov 1944
12 APAC Letter 14 March 1949
13 APAC Letter 15 May 1948
14 APAC Letter 23 March 1949
15 Valley Times (CA) 14 Jul 1952, P4 via
16 Los Angeles Times, 1 June 1955, P16. via
17 The Fresno Bee (CA) 24 March 1949 via
18 APAC letter 4 Jan, 1952
19 APAC Letter 15 (possibly) July 1952
20 But he does not say who the ex director was. APAC Letter 13 May 1949
21 APAC Postcards 30 Sept 1944 and 30 April 1946
22 Several Australian newspapers announced he had returned for a performance tour in 1931, however, there is no other evidence of this

Marcia Ralston (1906-1988) – finding her place in Hollywood

Above: Marcia Ralston in a Warner Brothers publicity pose, about the time she appeared in Sh! The Octopus in 1937. Her resemblance to Merle Oberon was noted at the time. Author’s Collection.

The 5 second version
Marie Mascotte Ralston
Born Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 19 September 1906, died Rancho Mirage, California USA, 23 November 1988. Active on the Australian stage 1923-1927. Moved to the US with first husband Phil Harris. She re-booted her career several times in the mid 1930s but only made a few films. From the late 1960s she appeared semi-regularly in the Marcus Welby M.D. TV series.

Above: Marcia Ralston and Mona Barrie (right foreground), in Busby Berkeley’s romantic comedy Men are such Fools made by Warner Bros in 1938. Also in these screen grabs are Humphrey Bogart and Wayne Morris. The two Australian girls have supporting roles to Bogart, Morris, Priscilla Lane and Hugh Herbert. The film is still available for purchase through TCM. Author’s Collection.

Marcia Ralston was born Marie Mascotte Ralston to popular Australian stage performer John Ralston and his wife, former performer Rose nee Everson in 1906. Unfortunately she suffered through a disjointed acting career, circumstances requiring her to restart it several times over. One might imagine that having well-connected show-business parents and, after 1927, a husband who was a well-known band leader, would make for easy success in the US. It was not so. As with so many Australian women who went to Hollywood during its “golden age”, it appears her US career was not without frustrations.

Below: Ralston as Schubert in Lilac Time.”The Australasian,” Jan 30, 1926. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

John Ralston as SchubertJohn Ralston, better known to friends as Jack, was a popular singer and comedian who travelled the length and breadth of Australia, often performing for J.C. Williamsons, or “the Firm” as it was known and even appearing in one of their patriotic wartime films. He counted performers like Clyde Cook amongst his friends – apparently staying with him during a visit to California in 1923 and possibly performing as an extra in one of his films. Ralston apparently had no interest in staying there, his observation was that “America …is not a country for a home-loving man.”  He died suddenly in April 1933, at the age of 51, in Perth Western Australia, while on tour. The obituaries were effusive.

Despite newspaper accounts that John Ralston was not keen for his daughters to go on stage and this was the reason he sent his girls to be educated at Bethlehem Convent in Sydney, both Mascotte (her name being inspired by the Opéra comique “La Mascotte”) and Edna went on stage as soon as they could. Pauline also appears to have worked later for J.C. Williamson.

Above: The three daughters of John Ralston. Left to right – Mascotte later Marcia (born 1906), Edna (born 1904) and Pauline (born 1914).  “Table Talk,” 8 June 1933, The Sun”, 28 Sep 1924, The Herald”, 9 May 1936. Via The National Library of Australia’s Trove.

In the few biographies about her, Mascotte Ralston’s list of attributes is long, and for once these accounts of a film star appear to be true. In 1927, Australia’s “Wireless Weekly” magazine reported that the young actress, then appearing on radio, was “lavishly gifted in a dozen different ways” – these included swimming, singing, dancing, acting and apparently even playing the ukelele.

Amongst Mascotte’s first credited outings on stage were several J.C.Williamson’s productions with Gladys Moncrieff and also featuring her father –  The Street Singer and The Maid of the Mountains in 1925-26. She and her sister appear to have been working solidly with the help of their father’s patronage.


Above: Second from right, Mascotte Ralston and right, Edna Ralston in the J.C. Williamson production of Whirled into Happiness, 1924. From the Lady Viola Tate Collection – via the National Library of Australia‘s Trove.

Not only was she talented, she was also beautiful – in early 1926 she came second in the Melbourne Sun Pictorial‘s “Beauty” competition, and in June she placed third in a “Miss Australia” competition.

Wedding photo from Table Talk.In 1927, Mascotte had a leading role in Arnold Ridley‘s new comedy thriller, The Ghost Train, playing successfully around cities in Australia. However, in early September 1927 Mascotte withdrew from the play when she married Phil Harris, a visiting US band leader. Soon after, the couple boarded the Matson liner SS Sonoma bound for the United States. Mascotte never returned.

Above: Phil Harris and Mascotte Ralston as they appeared in the “Adelaide News”, 7 September 1927. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Mascotte disappeared from the public record for five years, although the travels of the Phil Harris orchestra can be traced across North America in newspaper reports. Then, in 1933 it was announced that Mascotte had signed up to act with MGM. We know her sister Edna had arrived in Hollywood at about the same time – she was probably checking out her chances too.  And from now on,  Mascotte would be Marcia Ralston. Phil reportedly said that “Marcia was very understanding” of his busy career as a band leader. She was, he joked, “willing to live a life of solitude.”

Despite the usual studio publicity, not much happened at MGM, and Marcia only appeared in un-credited roles in a few films. In this, Marcia was not alone. Other actors experienced a great deal of waiting around for roles, including Gwen Munro and John Wood. It was also stated to be the reason Janet Johnston and Margaret Vyner didn’t stay in the US. It must have been thoroughly demoralising, because all this happened about the time John Ralston suddenly died back in Australia.

Marcia Ralston reappeared in late 1936, now “under contract” to Warner Brothers and with another burst of publicity, that made scant reference to her work three years before with MGM. She now seemed to have more luck finding work, and over the next two years she appeared in twelve films – many of these are still widely available today. Sh! The Octopus, a B comedy thriller film made in 1937 is amongst the best known – mostly for the amazing transformation made to Elspeth Dudgeon using makeup and lighting effects. Not withstanding this, it’s a film with a ridiculous plot, as was often a feature of the B film, a program filler. Marcia spends much of this film screaming and fainting.

marcia from australia
Above: Marcia Ralston as featured in “Hollywood” magazine, Jan-Dec 1938. Via Lantern Digital Media Project.

In 1937, 18 year old Australian Mary Maguire was also working for Warner’s. Maguire made three underwhelming B films and had a small part in an a major film with Kay Francis. With high expectations of a booming career and both her parents on hand to advise her, Maguire bravely declined a role in a B comedy thriller called Mystery House, in early 1938. She was immediately laid off, and appeared in only one more Hollywood film. Marcia Ralston was turning 31 at the same time. Talented and experienced though she may have been, Marcia Ralston’s experience in Hollywood’s golden age might be viewed in the same context. The studios had dozens of aspiring young actors to use, and she was a just another commodity.

Marcia and Phil Junior 1940In 1940, Marcia and Phil adopted a child, to be named Phil Junior, known in the family as “Tookie”. Unfortunately, this did not normalise the marriage – it failed soon after. In divorce, Marcia complained that he stayed out too late and that they spent too little time together – those matters he had joked about some years before had become the issues that undermined the marriage.

Above Marcia Ralston with Phil Junior,Sydney Morning Herald,” 27 Feb 1940. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

She continued to work, but the roles were less and less significant, perhaps W.C.Fields’ Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is the most intriguing today. She also had extended work in the 1941 Universal spy serial Sea Raiders. Two years later Constance Worth waded through the very similar plot of G-Men versus the Black Dragon for Republic Pictures. These did nothing for either women’s careers.

Above: Screen grabs from her last films: In a minor role as an Air Stewardess in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) with W.C. Fields, in fleeting roles in Paris Calling, (1941) and in Out of the Blue (1947). These films are still commercially available today. Author’s Collection.

Marcia in 1954

Her last film role appears to have been a small part in the screwball comedy Out of the Blue, in 1947, which newspapers claimed, she had come out of retirement to make.

It is reassuring to this writer to find that at least some of the Australians who travelled to act on screen in the US before the Second World War eventually found some normalcy in their lives. Marcia Ralston appears to have done so.

In 1954, Marcia married John “Bud” Henderson, who was an executive with the Santa Fe Railroad. By this time, she had also established herself as an instructor for Arthur Murray Dance studios, pursuing a passion she had enjoyed since her youth. The grainy photo at left from the California “Desert News”, 8 Feb 1954, shows her with dance partner Claud Sims, with a beaming smile and still looking every inch the movie star.

Good fortune had also connected Marcia to actor Robert Young, who had married John Henderson’s sister Betty, in 1933. This connection led to a small occasional role in the very popular Marcus Welby M.D, a TV series that ran for six years.

Marcia Ralston died at Rancho Mirage, an area of southern California, in 1988. She had no family left in Australia, both Australian sisters having pre-deceased her. She was fondly remembered by those who knew her in the US. Reportedly, her ashes were scattered at sea.

Nick Murphy
January 2020

Further Reading



  • Frank Van Straten (2003 ) Tivoli. Thomas C. Lothian, South Melbourne.
  • Terry Rowan (2016) Motion Pictures From the Fabulous 1940’s. Terry Rowan
  • Scott Wilson (2016) Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons.  Third Edition. McFarland and Co.

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