Willie Thomas’ great adventure with Pollard’s Lilliputians

More than a century later – this is the remains of Willie Thomas’ make-up box, including false moustaches. Photo courtesy of his grandson Robert Maynard.

“Willie” Thomas was a child performer in Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company, as it toured cities in South East Asia and North America, several times, between 1901 and 1906. He is shown below with his older sister Emma Thomas, while the company was in Vancouver.

willie and may
Willie was perhaps only 11 in this photo, while his sister Emma was 18. The full photo of the Pollard Company is on the Vancouver As It Was website.

William Thomas was born in Collingwood in January 1889 to Ironmonger William Albert Thomas and his wife Emma, nee Stone. There were four older children – two brothers and two sisters in the family. Two other sisters died in infancy.

Much of the history of Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company is lost to us today and confusingly, there was more than one troupe of performers using this or a similar name in the early twentieth century.  But we know that this particular troupe ran several extended and highly acclaimed tours to the Philipines, Japan, China and North America between 1901 and 1909 – each lasting a year or more, punctuated by a short break of a few months at home in Melbourne. The performers were talented young Australians, most from suburbs of inner Melbourne. Managed by Charles Pollard and his sister Nellie Chester, this troupe is also of interest historically, because a number of its performers went on to stay on in the US and work in Hollywood – including Alf Goulding, Harry Fraser or “Snub Pollard“, Daphne Pollard and Teddie McNamara. And the talented Willie Thomas from Collingwood worked amongst them.

Pollards call for kids

Pollard’s advertises for new child performers. The Age, 13 Feb, 1907. Ford’s Hall, at 150 Brunswick Street where these auditions were held, was very close to the former home of Daphne Trott (Pollard) in King William Street. Perhaps Willie had seen an advertisement like this when he joined up.

Willie (with Emma serving the company in a supporting role) went on three separate trips with Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company.  Historian Gillian Arrighi points out that several Australian companies employed child actors for prolonged offshore tours at this time. This practice enabled the producers to avoid contravening child labour and education laws in newly federated Australia. And apparently it was lucrative – for families and the organisers. Child performers made pocket-money selling postcards of themselves, parents back in Australia were paid via a trust fund.

Pollards

Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in costume, taken in the US about 1905. It appears to show Willie Thomas, second from right at the front, next to Daphne Pollard. Copy of postcard courtesy Robert Maynard

The Thomas’ names are found amongst other Pollard performers on the shipping manifests of the time. More interesting are the accounts that appeared in US and Australian papers as they travelled, that documented some of their experiences. Willie was amongst the Company’s leading performers.

Sioux_City_Journal_Wed__May_28__1902_     San Francisco Chronicle 6 Sept 1903 cropped

Left: On his first tour of North America, Willie Thomas and three other performers had a near miss with a gas leak, according to The Sioux City Journal (Utah), May 28 1902. Via Newspapers.com
Right: A second tour, another performance. The San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1903, announces a new Pollard season and some of the stars – including Willie. Both these articles confirm the constant rotation of shows while on tour. Via Newspapers.com

willie Thomas4

Robert Maynard still holds the postcards, makeup box and other ephemera that belonged to his grandfather. There are also over 50 postcards that Willie collected including several from Shanghai, Japan, Suva, Canada and the United States. These are unmarked, so he apparently never posted them home, rather – keeping them as mementos of his travels. The remains of his makeup box includes fake moustaches and numerous sticks of grease paint etc.

Willie’s final North American tour with Pollard’s seems to have ended in 1906, when he was 17 years old. Perhaps it was his age, but the reasons for leaving are not clear today, particularly as he ceased performing altogether. Now called “William,” he became a butcher. He was a competent Australian Rules Football player, playing for teams in Boulder Western Australia (where he spent a few years between 1910 and 1913) and Sunshine, Victoria.

Above left: William in the Boulder City (Western Australia) Football Club in 1911, seated front left,
Above right: William seated at right with Sunshine Braybrook Football Club in 1914. Photos courtesy Robert Maynard.

Following the outbreak of war and during the surge of enlistments following the Gallipoli landings, William and his two older brothers Albert and Jack (John) joined the Australian Imperial Forces. With other soldiers of the 3rd Division AIF, they sailed on the Medic, arriving at England in July 1916. William went on to serve in France with the 29th and 30th Batteries, 8th Field Artillery Brigade. In the photo enlargement below, William is seated on the left, Albert is on the right – unusually the two brothers served together. In February-March 1918 William’s military record shows he was granted leave in England. There he saw Albert De Courville‘s latest review, Box o’ Tricks, at the London Hippodrome, featuring a very old friend, Daphne Pollard in the line-up, whom he met after the show. The conversation must have been a joyful one about show-biz;  it defies belief that William, having been under fire and in action for the last 14 months, would wish to talk about the appalling reality of trench warfare.

Photos courtesy of Robert Maynard

Miraculously, all three Thomas brothers survived the war and returned to Australia in 1919. In the early 1920s William set up a butcher’s shop in Sunshine, a western suburb of Melbourne, in partnership with brother Albert. In 1924 he married Lizzie O’Brien and brought up a large family, at first in the house next to the shop, and later in nearby Adelaide Street. Lizzie, the “life of the party” and a favourite with all the children in the family, called him “Butcher.” Like many returned soldiers, William liked a drink, and earned a reputation for regularly being thrown out of the Sunshine pub. One can’t help wondering if the Sunshine pub became the place he liked to practise the keen sense of humour he had developed on stage with Pollard’s, years before.

Thomas Butchers Sunshine c 1927

William Thomas’s Butcher shop, on Hampshire Rd, Sunshine. William Thomas is proudly holding his daughter Emma, with brother Albert (second from left) and nephew William (at right) and another butcher. Before widespread refrigeration, the horse and gig was a quick and convenient way to sell and deliver meat. Photo Courtesy Robert Maynard.

Unfortunately, the Depression hit William’s family hard. Such businesses were used to extending credit and dependent on a regular cash flow. A kind man (in 1924 he had paid for his nephew to travel to a scout jamboree in England) William’s generosity eventually got the better of his business in the hard times of the 1930s, and it closed down.

By 1941, the family had relocated to Boulder, Western Australia, where William, determined to make a fresh start, became a butcher again. He died there, aged 80, in 1969. Sister Emma had died in Sunshine in 1963.

A few years after Willie Thomas’ final tour, the era of the travelling troupes of Australian children came to an end. In 1910, another Pollard family member, Arthur Hayden Pollard, who had been on some of the North American trips as a mechanist, raised a mostly new troupe to perform in South East Asia and India. It was a disaster and amid the claims of impropriety, cruelty and underpayment, the troupe broke up, with the children forced to find local support to make their own way home. William had no association with the company anymore, but he knew Irene Finlay, one of the performers, well enough to write her postcards. New legislation in 1910 banned Australian children travelling overseas to perform.

William kept his Pollard’s make-up box all his life, which says something about how fondly he viewed this exciting stage of his childhood. If he regretted his five years of travel and performing, and then leaving the stage behind forever, he never said.

Special Thanks

To Robert Maynard, William Thomas’ grandson, for so generously sharing his family history – much more than I could fit in this article.

Note:

The Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company Tours of South East Asia and North America under the leadership of Charles Pollard appear to be:

1. Departing Australia via SS Sierra 3 September 1901
Returning to Australia via SS Aorangi 17 October 1902

2. Departing Australia SS Chansha 18 January 1903
Returning to Australia SS Miowera 2 April 1904

3. Departing on a Queensland tour July – Sept 1904, then to “the far east” late 1904, then SS Empress of India arriving Vancouver BC, March 1 1905
Advertised as ending in March 1906, with some returning to Australia on RMS Moana, others on the Moana in February 1907. (Daphne Pollard and Teddie McNamara appear to still be consistently performing for Pollards in Canada until early 1907).

Further Reading


Websites

“STAGELAND.” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 27 September 1902: 2 (EVENING NEWS SUPPLEMENT).

Evening Entertainments.” The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947) 26 July 1904: 7.

SEND-OFF TO SCOUT THOMAS (1924, May 24). Sunshine Advocate (Vic. : 1924 – 1954), p. 4.

“POLLARD’S LILLIPUTIAN OPERA COMPANY.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 2 April 1910: 23.

“THE POLLARD TROUPE.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 21 May 1910: 24. Web. 15 Oct 2018

“POLLARD OPERA COMPANY.” The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) 22 April 1910: 8. Web. 15 Oct 2018

Frank W. Healy’s San Francisco Opera Company 1907

A joyful but anonymous chorus line in Gertude Lederer’s collection. It may include Laura Vail (3rd from right) and Gertrude Lederer (4th from right), performers in Frank W Healy’s San Francisco Opera Company, in 1906-7.

(Note: Needless to say, this article concerns mostly US performers)

Several years ago, I purchased a small group of photographs that came from the estate of a Gertrude Lederer in the USA. I was told that Gertrude M. Lederer had been born in Illinois, USA, in 1884. She appears to have been a very young performer in Frank W. Healy’s San Francisco Opera Company from early 1907 and amongst other things she collected a number of photos of fellow performers. Through changing ownership, the collection found its way to an online auction. Having purchased them, it occurred to me that while I love them, the collection needs to be available online for US theatre historians. So here are some of them. Most images have been cropped to fit.

Many of the photos are signed and dedicated to Gertrude.

Top row: Frank W. Healy; Minnie Estella Clayton; Maud Beatty (New Zealand born performer and sister of May Beatty)
Middle row: Leona Rogers; The incomparable Daphne Pollard; Frank Bertrand
Bottom row: Carl Haydn (as Robin Hood); Laura Vail; Freda Wisher
Top row: Corrine Hewlette; Teddy Webb; Brownie Browning
Middle row: unknown (possibly Gertrude Lederer); Gertrude Lederer; Four unknown artists (picture mounted on card with a hook on the reverse – perhaps for a dressing room door?)
Bottom row: Stella Grey; Carl Haydn; Laura Vail 
Top Row: Joe Miller; Joe Miller (without makeup); Jack Farrell
Middle Row: Joseph W. Smith; unknown artist; unknown artist
Bottom Row: Artist named Coujuer; A mysterious request – what was going on!?
Left: Artists unknown. Right: Artists unknown – may include Laura Vail (3rd from right) and Gertrude Lederer (4th from right)

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

Daphne Pollard, an experienced performer yet 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 – Gilbert and Sullivan and other popular operettas. The extraordinary longevity and popularity of the company is attributable to this – the children dressed as adults were cute, they were impressively talented but they also provided wholesome family entertainment at a time when some vaudeville acts were decidedly for adults only.

Above: Cheong, Ying. Portrait of Daphne Pollard, Shanghai, China, ca. 1910.  Source -National library of Australia. It is more likely the photo was taken between during one of the Pollard Company tours between 1901 and 1905 (see below).

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 birth, 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 Pollard’s October 1891 birthplace, although 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 company sailed for an extended tour of South East Asia, Canada and the United States. But only a few days before their 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. The Company arrived home twelve months later, in October 1902, 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. Proprietors Charles Pollard and his sister 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.

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 on the way included Hong Kong and Shanghai. One surviving photo from this tour shows the performers and supervising adults sitting on the steps of their Vancouver hotel in Daphne Pollard 1905mid-1905. At the front, sitting slightly apart and wearing a large hat, is 14 year old Daphne, her poise and confidence unmistakable. Her 24 year old 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 1905 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 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 1905 Canadian tour.  The ages are obviously wrong. Author’s Collection.

In April 1906, the Pollard Company’s marathon 18 month tour ended. Daphne was 15 years old. It must have become obvious by this time that Daphne’s future was not just performing with Pollard’s. Daphne and sister Ivy accepted contracts with Frank Healey’s San Francisco Opera Company who began performances late that year. For the next nine years Daphne performed in vaudeville throughout the United States, more or less continuously, developing her skills and attracting widespread acclaim. (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 the Queen of Seattle’s first ever 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. The Australian war memorial holds an identical program, except with Daphne Pollard on the cover. 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 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.

Nick Murphy, April 2018

Further reading:

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

The World’s News, 4 Dec 1920, “Daphne Pollard”. Page 5

The Register, 4 July 1908, “Dramatic Notes”. Page 10

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

The Australian War Memorial holds a program copy of Zig Zag, performed at the Folies-Bergere in Paris.

Kevin Brownlow (1968) The Parade’s Gone By… University of California Press.

Angela Woollacott (2001) To Try her Fortune in London. Oxford University Press.

Letters From Stan: The Stan Laurel Correspondence Archive Project

Clay Djubal and others. The Australian Variety Theatre Archive: Popular Culture Archive 1850-1930.

Tony Martin-Jones’ research on Florrie Forde.  Florrie Forde: her early life, in Australia

Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs at the University of Washington 
(Contains numerous photos of the Pollard Company members)

 

Daphne Pollard and Alf Goulding – Aussie mates in Hollywood

Above: The great Daphne Pollard, onstage in the US  as “Dolly Varden” c1907.

The working life of prolific Hollywood based Director, Alf Goulding (born in January 1885), is well documented – he directed over 200 films between 1917 and 1959, and wrote and appeared in many others. It’s less commonly known that Goulding owed much to his juvenile experience with the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company, and that he was a Melbourne neighbour and long-time friend of Daphne Pollard (Trott). Like Daphne, Goulding was born in inner Melbourne. His father Frank, and mother Maggie (stage name Maggie Walsh) were both involved in local Melbourne theatre, with moderate success. Sadly, Maggie died in 1895, while their three children were still young – Alf was aged just 10. A half-sister from Maggie’s first marriage, Elsa Goulding (sometimes spelled Elsie Golding), had gained some reputation as a singer by 1893 and, determined to maintain the family tradition, Frank encouraged his oldest son Frank junior, Alf and younger sister Irene to go on stage. Inevitably all three Goulding children ended up in Pollard’s travelling troupes, where they met Daphne and Ivy Trott.

Below – Alf Goulding in Canada in 1905, with Snub Pollard and Teddie McNamara in front. Enlarged from a group photo via Vancouver As It Was: A Photo-Historical Journey

Alf, Harry and TeddieTragically, Frank Goulding Junior died in Calcutta in January 1897, while on a Pollard tour, aged only 13. His sad death from pneumonia, far from home, appears not to have dampened Alf and his sister’s enthusiasm to work for Pollard’s. Only a few years later Alf and Irene were on tour, Irene performing in partnership with Ivy Trott to great acclaim. Alf and Irene joined the 1901 and 1903 Pollard tours of North America and obviously the experience of working in the US sparked an interest for Alf, as it did for Daphne Pollard.

But back in Melbourne, Frank Senior found the new century and the life of a widower, hard to deal with. Now a bootmaker living in Richmond, he blamed the Pollard company management for the death of Frank Junior and began to send abusive letters to the Melbourne managers, even while they engaged Alf and Irene. He complained that the money promised to him for employment of his children had never been paid. Frank had already been publicly embarrassed the year before, when details of his passionate letters to a sometime servant/petty thief were plastered about the Melbourne papers. In 1903, his stream of abusive letters saw him end up in court again, a lonely father disconnected from his two children.

In 1908, Alf left Australia again for an Asian and North American tour with another Pollard troupe, it appears to be his fourth tour. The Company could hardly claim to be “Lilliputians” now – Alf was 23 and his role was now stage management! Soon after this tour ended in early 1909, he left the company to try his luck in the US. Perhaps he was inspired by Daphne Pollard’s great success with Frank Healey’s San Francisco Opera Company after 1907.

Alf Goulding appears to have maintained a personal and professional friendship with Daphne Pollard for much of his life. Three years after moving to the US, Alf was married to Gladys Watson, with Daphne (Mrs Ellington Bunch) and her husband as witnesses. They were married in Seattle by the same official as Daphne and her husband had been, exactly three months before.

Below: Marriage certificates for Daphne Trott and Alf Goulding weddings. US national archives via Family search.org.

 

 

Goulding and Pollard then worked together on stage in Los Angeles, performing in such musical comedies as “A Knight for a Day” in 1914. It is hardly a coincidence therefore that Goulding is reputed to have been instrumental in convincing Daphne to work for Mack Sennett, and he was apparently on hand when she arrived at Sennett studios. He also directed a number of her first films – including “Run Girl Run,” “The Swim Princess” and “The Campus Carmen”.

There was perhaps a real camaraderie amongst the old Pollard players. When former Pollard alumni Teddy McNamara died of pneumonia in early February 1928, on the eve of great success, all the Hollywood based former Pollard players attended his funeral – Goulding, Daphne Pollard, Harry “Snub” Pollard and Billy Bevan. It is fashionable to suppose that all Australians who go to act in Hollywood become firm friends with each other, “a gum – leaf mafia” as they have been dubbed. At least, we are still encouraged to think, they form some sort of loose supportive association. Far from home, working in a cut-throat environment, the idea of actors finding solace in each other’s company seems to fit with the Aussie tradition of mateship. Unfortunately, there is no evidence this actually happens very often. Alf Goulding and Daphne Pollard were two who certainly did.

Alf Goulding died in Hollywood in 1972, after his long and very well documented career as a screenwriter and director.  It appears that after Pollard’s second North American tour returned in 1904, his talented sister Irene Goulding left the company and returned to Melbourne – where she may have worked in sales. She married a storeman, Albert Smith in 1931, and lived most of her later life in a comfortable house in Riversdale Rd, Hawthorn, where she died aged 98, in 1987.

Nick Murphy, May updated October 2018

Further reading

Websites

* Ozmovies

* Australian Screen

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

From National Library of Australia, Trove,
Digitised Newspaper Collection

A COMPLAINT DISMISSED.The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954) Tuesday 8 April 1902 p1.

CHARGE OF VAGRANCY. AN EXTRAORDINARY CASE.The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) Wednesday 9 April 1902 p8

VINDICTIVE POST CARDS.The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) Thursday 7 May 1903 p8.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE AGE.The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) Saturday 4 November 1933 p6.  [Frank Goulding reminiscence]