Alf Goulding – Triumphs and Tragedies with Pollard’s

A pensive Alf Goulding with other members of the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company on the steps of the Badminton Hotel in Vancouver in 1905. He is flanked by Harold Fraser (Snub Pollard) and Teddie McNamara. The full photo of the Pollard Company is on the Vancouver As It Was website. Photo used with their permission.

The adult working life of prolific Hollywood based filmmaker, Alf Goulding (born 26 January 1885 as Alfred John Goulding), is well documented. He had an impressive output as a director – working first with Hal Roach and later Mack Sennett. By the time he made A Chump at Oxford (1939) with Laurel and Hardy, he had directed over 200 films, and had written and appeared in many others. There were of course, a few duds – including his only Australian film, A Yank in Australia (1942).

It’s less commonly known that Goulding owed much to his long experience with the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company, and that he was a Melbourne neighbour and long-time friend of Daphne Pollard (Trott) and Snub Pollard (Harold Fraser).

Alf Goulding can be traced through at least six Pollard’s overseas tours (which all ran for more than 12 months) – something of a record – this writer can only find one other Pollard’s performer who matches it – Irene Findlay. It’s hard to know if many people have ever really run away “to join the circus”,  but Alf Goulding is indeed a variation on this. Between the age of eleven, when he went on his first Pollard’s tour, and twenty-four, when he left to settle in the US, he could not have spent more than 24 months living in Melbourne.

Goulding’s place of birth was the suburb of Richmond, but he lived most of his brief Australian life in Fitzroy. His father Frank, a bootmaker, and mother Maggie (stage name Maggie Walsh) were both involved in local Melbourne theatre, with moderate success. Alf’s half-sister from his mother’s first marriage, Elsa Goulding (sometimes known as 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 later his youngest daughter Irene to go on stage. By the time of Maggie’s death in April 1895, Frank junior and Alf had developed a popular act together. Reports from papers in 1894 and 1895 stated that the brothers had the Melbourne audiences in “roars of laughter”.

 

 

Left: The white terrace house at 431 George Street, Fitzroy photographed in 2019. The Goulding family lived here in 1895. Photo – Author’s collection.
Right: Photos of Alf in his early days are hard to find. This photo, now in the public domain, is from c.1905-10 and its original source is unknown. Via wikimedia commons. 

Triumphs, Tragedies and child labour

In 1896, Frank junior and Alf  joined a troupe of the Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company. Under the management of Charles Pollard, this group of under-age performers departed in September for a tour of colonial audiences in South East Asia (Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore etc) and India, where they were received with great enthusiasm. Their father Frank was paid a monthly wage for both children performing, while their travel, food and accommodation costs were covered by Pollard’s. According to a contemporary Singapore paper,  whilst touring, the child performers with Pollard’s had the following program;

  • 9.00 am breakfast,
  • 10 am until 1.30 pm rehearsal, then had
  • 1.30 “Tiffin” (an Indian term for a meal),
  • two hours of siesta, then
  • two hours of lessons with the teacher (who doubled as the cornet player) ,
  • then play and rest before a light dinner and
  • the evening performance.

Singapore Free Press 23 Feb 1897Unfortunately a terrible tragedy occurred when Frank junior died and was buried in Calcutta, in January 1897. We can only imagine how hard this was for Alf, still on tour, let alone his father and sister back in Melbourne. His Indian burial certificate clearly lists the cause of death as smallpox, an even greater tragedy given that a vaccine existed at the time. One wonders if Frank’s father ever knew the truth, as it was never acknowledged.

Frank Junior’s death from “pneumonia” is reported by “The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser”, 23 Feb 1897, via Newspapers SG – digitized newspaper collection. 
Frank Goulding death
Frank Goulding’s death from Smallpox in Calcutta. “Confluent smallpox” generally meant the pustules ran so thickly on the skin they often formed a massive sore. Via Ancestry.com

Yet it was all back to work for the Pollard’s children. Two months later, on April 20, 1897, the same Singapore newspaper reported;  “Master Alfred Goulding scored the principal success again, this clever boy keeping the house in fits of laughter… In the part of Lurcher, the bailiff…his acting could not easily have been beaten by a professional comedian.” Of course, Alf was a professional comedian – even if he was only 13 years old at the time.

In August 1898, a second Pollard’s troupe, including Alf and now with Irene, arrived in South Africa. Interviewed in July 1899 by a correspondent for the Sydney Referee , the children were probably all instructed to put a positive spin on their work, the endless travel and to not mention their homesickness. From Johannesburg, South Africa, the correspondent wrote of Alf Goulding, as “the clever young comedian of the company, aged 12 years” and Irene Goulding, “a bonny girl of 8 years.. who hadn’t been very well lately.”  Pollard practice was very typically never to accurately give the ages of the child performers. Alf was in fact 14, and Irene 10.

china mail dec 26 1900With the outbreak of the Boer War, Manager Charles Pollard apparently rushed the company to safety. But it seems he was in no hurry to bring them home – it was July 1900 before the children were all back in Australia, via Hong Kong and other stops in the “far east”, and Charles with exciting war stories to tell. How seriously at risk they were is impossible to tell now.

Gillian Arrighi and others have written of the phenomenon of the child performer tours, and the later impact of the disastrous 1910 Pollard tour of India; which saw new Australian laws restricting children leaving Australia to be performers. It’s also worth pausing and looking past the modern nationalist sentiment we might attach to these pioneer Australian performers today, to wonder whether this was really just another form of child exploitation, even by the standards of the time.

Above: Alf Goulding now listed as the Pollard’s stage manager by the “China Mail,” December 26, 1900. He was almost 16 and the troupe were perhaps on their way home from South Africa. Image via Hong Kong Public Libraries Multi Media Information Systems.

There is some good reason for thinking this. By leaving Australia, not only did Pollard’s avoid Australian education laws, they were also able to essentially not pay their performers, certainly not at adult rates. Parents were paid via a trust fund. And was a life on stage a healthy upbringing for a child? Even at the time, many didn’t think so. The influence of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or the “Gerry Society” kept Pollard’s away from the east coast of the US, as is obvious from the tour map below. The society’s opposition to children performing on stage was well-known. The Chicago Tribune of 19 May 1902 touched on this issue in a long article about the company during their only visit to that city; “Although the idea of keeping children on the stage is repugnant to Americans, and although it is forbidden by law in some states, the Pollards claim that their children… suffer no evil effects from the experience.” 

We should also remember that the Pollard’s performers were playing adult roles on stage, a fact that some commentators found confronting, given the adult content of the musicals they performed. One correspondent for the Hong Kong Daily Press on December 27, 1907 reminded readers “Pollard’s Lilliputians are children, but their performance is anything but childish… That shrimp of a maiden …who portrays a woman many times divorced, how are we to regard her?” (in reference to a leading character in The Belle of New York). Yet at the end of their review, the writer felt the need to abandon their concerns and recommended all readers should see it. The Pollard’s performance was “beyond praise” the writer concluded.

A life of touring

Alf’s tours with Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company, managed by Charles Pollard and Nellie Chester – as identified so far by this writer are:

  • I. Sept 1896 – c. Sept 1897, Tour to India and the “Far East” (meaning Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong)
  • II. August 1898 – c. Dec 1900, Tour to South Africa and the Far East.
  • III. September 1901 – October 1902, Tour to North America
    Manifests show SS Sierra departed Sydney 3 Sept 1901, SS Aorangi arrived back in Australia on 17 Oct 1902. Then, three months later…
  •  IV. January 1903 – April 1904, Tour to North America.
    Manifests show SS Changsa departed Sydney 18 Jan 1903, SS Miowera arrived back in Australia on 2 April 1904.

None of this travel seems to have bothered Alf Goulding, indeed he may well have had his own reasons for not wanting to live at home. Back in Melbourne, Frank Senior found the new century and the life without wife, children and oldest son increasingly hard to deal with. Now a bootmaker, 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 by Pollard’s was not being 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. Now in 1903, his stream of abusive letters saw him end up in court again, a lonely father, perhaps also disconnected from his two children. When he failed to pay the £20 fine, he went to gaol for a month.

Returning to Australia on SS Miowera on 2 April 1904, Irene, now aged 15, apparently decided she had had enough of performing and touring.

  • V. July 1904 – February 1907, Tour to the Far East and North America. Departed July 1904 for Queensland and then 27 September 1904 for Hong Kong. Arrived July 8 1905 in Vancouver. Arrived back in Australia 26 February 1907 on the SS Moana.

 

Pollard's in Canada and the US 1905-1907

The Pollard Company’s “Grand Tour” of North America (March 1905- Jan 1907) avoided much time in the eastern USA, where child labour law made performances impossible. The troupe was in Sacramento during the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map is based on company member Midas Martyn’s diary. Thanks to Catherine Crocker for sharing this information. Courtesy Google Maps. Click to go to the google map
  • VI. July 1907 – April 1909, to the Far East and North America
    Another trip departed in late July 1907,  again testing out shows in Queensland before departing for the Far East. The Company arrived in the US on the SS Nippon Maru from Yokohama, Japan on 3 March, 1908. It appears most of the company from this tour arrived home in Australia on RMS Makura in April, 1909.

Ald 1911Charles Pollard announced his retirement in March 1909, while the company was in Honolulu, heading home. At this point, many of the older company members, including Alf, decided to branch out with their own Pollard’s Company (dropping Lilliputians from the title). With about 15 others, including Carrie Moore’s sisters Olive and Ivy, Harold Fraser and Teddie McNamara, a new adult Pollards troupe would be established. And indeed, through 1910, the group set off again back across Canada, with Alf as Actor – Director-Stage Manager. But instead of storming the US east coast as they planned, they again specialised in visiting all the familiar Pollard’s locations where their popularity was assured.

Alf in makeup as Ko-Ko for the Mikado. The Province, British Columbia, 11 April, 1911. Via Newspapers.com

But by 1914, the adult Pollard troupe had broken up, and for a time they went their separate ways.

LA Times 28 May 1914

Alf and Daphne Pollard performing together in “A Knight for a Day,” Los Angeles, May 1914. Los Angeles Times, 28 May 1914. Vis Newspapers.com

Alf Goulding appears to have maintained a personal and professional friendship with former Pollard Company performers for much of his life. In 1911, 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 used, exactly three months before.

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

 

 

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”. He also worked closely with Snub Pollard (Harold Fraser) in his early years in Hollywood.

 

 

Left: This is the only photo I have seen of Goulding at work. It shows Snub Pollard (Harold Fraser), Harold Lloyd, and Alf Goulding at right, on the set of “Somewhere in Turkey” (1918) Source: Unknown – via Pinterest.
Right: Advertisment for Rolin Comedies – Snub Pollard and Ernie Morrison, directed by Alf Goulding. Source: Wikimedia Commons. 

There was perhaps a real camaraderie amongst the old Pollard players. For Alf, the performers he knew had probably been family. When former Pollard alumni Teddie 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, Snub Pollard and Billy Bevan. 

Alf Goulding died in Hollywood in 1972, after a long and very well documented career as a screenwriter and director. The later career of the talented Irene Goulding is not clear, but it appears she may have worked in sales in Melbourne. She married Albert Smith in 1931, and lived most of her later life in a comfortable house in Riversdale Rd, Hawthorn.

Nick Murphy, May 2018 updated February 2019

 

Note 1
His date of birth is regularly and incorrectly given as 1896. However, the Victorian BDM, which can be searched for free, are quite clear. Its possible that Goulding himself may have contributed to this confusion – it was not uncommon in Hollywood’s golden age to “drop a few years”.

 

Further reading

  • 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.
    (This can be purchased at https://www.press.jhu.edu )
  • Amy Kitcherside: Turn The page; a review of Kirsty Murray’s “India Dark”
  • Stage Whispers; Theatrical Child Labour Scandal
  • Child Stars of the Stage; Gillian Arrighi, National Library of Australia.
  • Brent E. Walker (2010) “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 and Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-3610-1

From National Library of Australia, Trove, Digitised Newspaper Collection

Hong Kong Public Libraries Multi Media Information Systems

Singapore Government Digitised newspapers project Newspaper SG

Newspapers.com

 

 

 

 

Stars of Old Fitzroy

The inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, looking north from St. Vincent’s hospital. Gertrude Street can be seen in the foreground. Author’s Collection.

Fitzroy v4

 

Although much of the suburb of Fitzroy has been redeveloped, many of the homes of the actors featured on this site still exist. The Melbourne online encyclopedia reminds us that Fitzroy was amongst the city’s first suburbs, land being auctioned in the area as early as 1839. So this concentration of creative personalities is not all that surprising. It was a small area with great contrasts in wealth, education and opportunity.

A: The Academy of Mary Immaculate. Melbourne’s oldest girls’ school. Mary Maguire and her sisters attended this school from the early 1920s until the family moved to Brisbane in 1932. The girls lived at the family hotels in Bourke street, about two kilometres south.

B: 120 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. Birthplace in 1879 of Maie Saqui, daughter of well known Melbourne bookmaker John I Saqui and a very young “Gaiety Girl” in the George Edwards company in London. Maie’s sisters Gladys and Hazel also had careers on stage. Maie died in England aged only 27. The house still stands.

C: 168 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. Home, briefly, to the mother of Saharet when she gave birth to another daughter, Julia (Millicent), in 1881. Saharet herself was born in Rowena Parade, Richmond in 1878, a few kilometres away. The building in Nicholson Street still stands.

D: 56 Kerr Street, Fitzroy. Birthplace of Daphne Trott (Daphne Pollard) in 1891, and home to the large family through most of the 1890s. The modest terrace house still stands.

E:  The right arrow points to 431 George St, Fitzroy, where the Goulding family (Frank and Maggie, children Frank Junior, Alf and Irene) lived in 1895 – the year Maggie died. This building still stands. While Alf Goulding was born in nearby Richmond, the family appear to have lived most of their lives at various addresses in Fitzroy.

The left arrow points to 25 Hanover Street, where Frank lived until his death in 1940, long after his son Alf had established himself as a director in Hollywood and his daughter Irene had moved away. This building was demolished sometime in the 1960s.

F: Building and residence on the corner of King William and Brunswick Streets. The home of the Trott family in about 1900, as Daphne Trott (Daphne Pollard) began to travel the world. This building was demolished and the site is currently occupied by apartments and a supermarket.

G: Birthplace of Florrie Forde – likely to have been the former United Service Club Hotel at 122 Gertrude St, or possibly nearby at 203 Gertrude Street, formerly her grandparent’s shop and residence.

 

Nick Murphy
Updated April 2019

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 15 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 Thomas (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 early 1907, 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. Maybe the marathon Pollard tour of 1905-1907 (see below) convinced him performing on stage was not what he wanted to do.

Pollard's in Canada and the US 1905-1907

The Pollard Company’s “Grand Tour” of North America (March 1905- Jan 1907) avoided much time in the eastern USA, where child labour law made performances impossible. The troupe was in Sacramento during the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map is based on Midas Martyn’s diary. Thanks to Catherine Crocker for sharing this information. Courtesy Google Maps. Click to go to the google map – the author’s attempt to illustrate this extraordinary tour.

This writer has written elsewhere of the controversy accompanying Pollard’s travels to the Far East and North America.  The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or the “Gerry Society” kept Pollard’s away from the east coast of the US. The society’s opposition to children performing on stage was well-known. The Chicago Tribune of 19 May 1902 touched on this issue in a long article about the company during their only visit to that city; “Although the idea of keeping children on the stage is repugnant to Americans, and although it is forbidden by law in some states, the Pollards claim that their children… suffer no evil effects from the experience.” 

Whatever his reason for leaving the stage, a few years on and now calling himself “William,” he had became a butcher. He was also 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 1909, 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 Findlay, 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.

Nick Murphy, Updated January 2019

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 September 1904, then SS Empress of India arriving Vancouver BC, March 1 1905
Apparently returning home on the SS Moana in February 1907, an extraordinary tour of over two years.

4. Under the leadership of Arthur Pollard, another trip departed sometime in late 1907, arriving US on the SS Nippon Maru from Yokohama, Japan on Mar 3, 1908.
Arrived home in Australia on RMS Makura on April 17, 1909

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

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.”

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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).

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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”