Pattie Browne

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Pattie Browne as Lady Babbie in The Little Minister Pattie Browne as Lady Babbie in The Little Minister Photo by Talma; State Library of Victoria

Pattie Browne1Pattie Browne as herself. Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.Pattie Browne was a darling of the Australian stage – a pet of the public; an Australian-born actress and singer, whose specialty was saucy serving wenches and cheeky soubrette roles. She was variously described as ‘a huggable bundle of charms', ‘the daintiest and sauciest of comediennes’ and ‘the spoiled darling of the Antipodes’. (1) She enjoyed a career that spanned some thirty years, making her first stage appearance in 1882 when only twelve years of age. By age fifteen she had performed before audiences in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane; and at the age of sixteen and a half underwent an impetuous marriage. Still not twenty, she was involved in a messy divorce, and as a young divorcee became betrothed to a highly regarded actor-manager for whom she worked, though the engagement was broken off. In 1892, she left for England where she became a popular comedienne on the London stage, appearing in plays by Pinero and other leading playwrights. Following a return visit to Australia, she married a successful London stockbroker, and apart from performing a key role in a new play by J.M. Barrie in London and New York, settled into comfortable married life and faded from public gaze. She died in 1942 aged 73 and despite the accolades lauded on her during her youth, her passing remained unrecorded in the press.

Pattie Browne was born Sarah Ann Brown on 10 May 1869 in Parramatta when it was still a semi-rural area of market gardens and orange groves. Her father Orbell Brown died in 1879, leaving behind a wife, Elizabeth (née Taylor), and seven children under the age of twelve, prompting the family to move to Sydney. When she was twelve, Pattie and her older sister Molly decided to try their luck in the theatre. Pattie made her first stage appearance at Sydney’s Theatre Royal in 1882 under the newly-formed management of Williamson, Garner and Musgrove. Some four months later, she moved across to the Queen’s Theatre, then under the management of G.R. Greville ‘where she was occasionally entrusted with parts suited to her years’. (2) One of her first credited roles was in July 1882 as the Messenger in a revival of King Lear, when tragedian W.E. Sheridan made his first appearance in Australia. During these early years she performed under the name of Miss S. Brown.Pattie Browne12Pattie Browne, c.1889. State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.

In December 1882, she joined Emelie Melville’s Comic Opera Company, touring with them throughout Australia. This was Emelie Melville’s second visit to Australia. The young American prima donna had previously performed in Australia during the 1870s. Pattie remained with Melville for some twelve months, playing minor roles in Fatinitza, Boccaccio, The Royal Middy, Girofle-Girofla and The Little Duke. She scored her first big success in October 1883 as Prince Paul in The Grand Duchess at Melbourne's Princess's. As the Argus noted:

Miss Brown played the part of Prince Paul in such way that if she had been the creator of the role in Melbourne the standard would have been looked upon as fixed, but Miss Brown is quite young and very pretty, and very naive in her manner, and although comparisons must necessarily be made between her and those who have preceded her, the intelligence she displays and her genial bearing content in the fullest way even those of largest experience. (3)

It was during the run of The Grand Duchess that Miss S. Brown was transformed into Miss Pattie Browne. Significant roles in La Belle Helene and La Perichole followed. Her engagement ended November 1883 when she re-joined WG&M’s company in support of George Leitch, who was making his first appearance in Australia. On 17 November 1883 at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, she was seen as Finette in Coming Home; and later, in December as Annette in The Bells.

At Christmas 1883 she performed in her first pantomime, Aladdin, at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne. In this production she played Ho-Li, the principal girl, opposite the Aladdin of Maggie Moore.

Pattie was equally at home in drama, comedy, pantomime and opera bouffe, and during her years with the Triumvirate was given opportunities to prove her versatility as an actress. During the early part of 1884, she performed in It’s Never too Late to Mend (featuring Alfred Dampier), Rip Van Winkle (supporting J.C. Williamson and Maggie Moore), and the highly successful drama The Silver King (with G.S. Titheradge in the lead). She also supported visiting English tragedienne Genevieve Ward, appearing in The Queen’s Favourite and Macbeth in Melbourne and Sydney. On 23 August 1884, as a member of the Royal Comic Opera Company, she created the role of Lord Johnnie in the first Australian production of The Merry Duchess, in which she was reunited with Gracie Plaisted, who had performed with Emelie Melville’s company the previous year. She also played the small role of the Page when Estrella was given its first performance in Melbourne. The year ended with a spot in the annual  Christmas pantomime, Red Riding Hood, at the Sydney Theatre Royal, in which she played Irradianta, the Good Fairy of the Fable, the principal boy and girl characters being taken by Emma Chambers and Alice Deorwyn.

Towards the end of the pantomime season on 29 January 1885, sixteen year-old Pattie married William George Baumann, a young man her own age, who had aspirations to run a hotel or a catering business. Pattie next performed in the Australian premiere of Nita’s First, a farcical comedy by T.G. Warren, playing the small role of Jane, when it was presented at the Theatre Royal in Sydney by WG&M’s Royal Dramatic Company on 7 February 1885.

For the next year she was absent from the stage. During this period the couple moved from Brisbane to Sydney to Melbourne to Tasmania, where Baumann pursued various occupations, including a hotel business in Brisbane. It was while Baumann was in Tasmania that Pattie decided to return to the stage. Her relationship with her husband began to crumble and despite numerous attempts by Baumann to keep the marriage together, Pattie no longer cared for him. The two would later divorce when Baumann applied for a decree nisi citing Pattie’s ‘misconduct’ with the actor Philip Beck as mitigating circumstances. The case was made even more scandalous as Beck had committed suicide in 1889. Baumann married again – his first wife died in childbirth, while his second was left a widow after his premature death from pneumonia in 1909. He died aged 48, the proprietor of a successful Sydney institution called Baumann’s Café.Pattie Browne2As Peggy in The Country Girl. Photo by Falk. Private Collection.

Pattie returned to Sydney in August 1886, where she re-joined WG&M’s Royal Comedy Company in support of Harry St Maur and Alfred Maltby. Over the next couple of months she performed in The Great Divorce Case, Pink Dominoes, Truth, Betsy, Two Too Many, The Candidate and Jim the Penman; many of these plays being performed in Australia for the first time. Seasons in Melbourne and Adelaide followed, with the company returning to Sydney in December.

She next appeared in the Christmas pantomime, The Sleeping Beauty, which opened at the Theatre Royal on Boxing Night, with Pattie as Progressa, one of Princess Beauty’s fairy godmothers.

With the pantomime season over, Pattie joined the ranks of WG&M’s Royal Dramatic Company for the first Australian production of Harbour Lights at Melbourne's Princess's. The large cast included Philip Beck as Lieutenant David Kingsley, with H.H. Vincent, Frank Cates, William Elton, Isabel Morris and Louise Davenport in supporting roles. Pattie performed the soubrette part of Peggy Chudleigh. Harbour Lights played for a sterling 54 performances from 26 February until 29 April 1887, after which the same company took the piece to Adelaide and Sydney.

Over the following months, the Royal Dramatic Company performed revivals of Human Nature, The Silver King, The Streets of London, Rip Van Winkle, Eureka and Nita’s First.

In November 1887, the company presented another new play – The Red Lamp, a Nihilist drama set in Russia, with G.W. Anson as Paul Demetrius, the Chief of the Secret Police, the role created by Herbert Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket Theatre in London earlier in the year. Philip Beck portrayed a Russian Prince and Pattie that of Olga. When the play was withdrawn on 24 November, both Pattie and Phil Beck both seceded from WG&M’s management and joined the ranks of the Brough-Boucicault Comedy Company.

Pattie Browne3Pattie as Miss Fauntleroy in Dr Bill. Photo by Falk. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.The B&B Company was only six months old, having been formed the previous July by Robert Brough and Dion (Dot) Boucicault, two actors who had originally been brought out to Australia by WG&M; Brough to play the Lord Chancellor in the first Australian production of Iolanthe, and Boucicault as a member of his father, Dion Boucicault senior’s company. The company comprised many members of the two actor-managers’ families including Brough’s wife, Florence Trevelyan, his mother, Miss E. Romer, and sister Brenda Gibson, as well as Dot’s sister Nina Boucicault, and Florence Brough’s sister, Emma Temple.

Pattie made her first appearance with the B&Bs at Melbourne’s Bijou Theatre on 26 December 1887, playing Honor in the first Australian production of Sophia, a dramatisation by Robert Buchanan of Fielding’s novel Tom Jones. When she performed the role in Adelaide in February 1888, the South Australian Advertiser observed:

Of the ladies next the heroine the character of Honor, by Miss Pattie Browne, stands out with most distinctiveness, and the adapter has judiciously converted her into a smart soubrette who knows how to humour her mistress in her various moods…The comic scene, in which the waiting maid attacks the phlebotomist in a fit of the tender passion, and virtually secures him for a husband, is irresistibly funny, and fairly brought down the house; and Miss Browne’ acting throughout was so clever and appropriate as to be convincing that she will achieve a very high place in her profession, as well as in public favour. (4)

For the most part Pattie was entrusted with the ‘ingénue’ roles, which suited her perfectly, and over the following years she performed in many of the B&B’s productions in which her ‘saucy audacity’ and coquettish behaviour charmed audiences and added to the success of the plays. Following her triumph as Honor in Sophia, she was seen in a round of characters including Thomas Jefferson Thursby in Hans the Boatman, Susan in Bachelors, Miss Vere in The Balloon, Nora Fitzgerald in Havest, Peggy in The Schoolmistress, Jane in Jane, Miss Fauntleroy in Dr Bill, and Peggy in The Country Girl. She was also seen in revivals of Captain Swift (as Mabel Seabrook), Betsy (as Betsy), The Candidate (as Lady Clarissa Oldacre), Caste (as Polly Eccles), School (Naomi Tighe), The Schoolmistress (Peggy Hesselrigge), The Jilt (Phyllis Welter), Sunlight and Shadow (as Maud Latimer), Led Astray (Matilda), and Captain Swift (Mabel Seabrook).

In December 1891, she was given the opportunity to indulge her love of pantomime when she was ‘lent’ to George Musgrove for his mounting of The Forty Thieves at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. On this occasion she played Ganem opposite the Morgiana of Rose Dearing, an English performer especially engaged for the production. In addition to creating many of these characters for Australian audiences, she also infused new life into many of the revival characters she portrayed, such as Naomi Tighe and Polly Eccles in T.W. Robertson's 'cup and saucer' comedies.

Pattie Browne4With Rose Dearing in The Forty Thieves. Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.In 1890, after seeing Pattie performing in School at the Criterion Theatre in Sydney, visiting English comedian J.L. Toole offered her a position with his London company. Pattie was tempted to accept, but declined on the basis that she still had more to learn in Australia. London could wait.

During the early 1890s she was romantically linked with Dot Boucicault and after eight years of courtship, wedding bells were in the offing. However, the marriage was not to be. According to an interview in 1898, Pattie admits to breaking off the engagement. (5)

A portrait piece in the Illustrated Sydney News called her ‘the Lottie Venne of the colonies’, the same writer going on to say:

Since her appearance with Messrs Brough and Boucicault, her progress has been most marked; here was her legitimate field, and she has taken root, as it were, amidst many memorable and artistic productions, with which her name and clever impersonations must ever be associated. Pattie Browne has her fortune in her own hands. Her name is in the hearts of the public, of whom she is yet destined to be the inevitable pet. (6)

Of the many roles she performed with the B&B, perhaps her most popular was as Peggy in The Country Girl, the last part she played prior to being tendered a farewell benefit at the Bijou Theatre on the afternoon of 8 July 1892. Looking back at the early days of the B&Bs, Florence Brough described Pattie as ‘one of the cleverest and most attractive little soubrettes we ever had’ and ‘if she did not actually start with us, got most of her early experience in our company, and was able to take her place immediately on the London stage when she went home.’ (7)

Pattie Browne6Ellaline Terriss, Lily Hanbury and Pattie Browne in The Amazons. Photo by Alfred Ellis. Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.It was through Boucicault that she got her first London opening when he recommended her for the role of Lady Thomasin Beltubet in A.W. Pinero’s The Amazons, which was scheduled for production at the Royal Court Theatre. Thus, in June 1892, she embarked for England, but on arriving in London she fell seriously ill and was forced to delay her début by some nine months. Eventually, in March 1893, she made her first appearance at the Court Theatre.

As Tommy in The Amazons, the Sydney Morning Herald (15 April 1893), quoting the London Standard, recorded:

Miss Brown, who comes from Australia, made an exceedingly promising first appearance in England, as ‘Tommy’, her bright, vivacious, and always natural performance showing her to be a soubrette actress of a very pleasing order.

After a seven month run, she enjoyed successes with various managements, at the Strand, Comedy, Criterion and Vaudeville Theatres. Roles included Agnes Champignol in The Other Fellow; Mrs Lappett in Dick Sheridan; Mrs Martlett in The Candidate; and Victorine in A Night Out. The role of Victorine was a small part, but it gave her the opportunity to introduce the ‘kangaroo dance’ which she had performed with such success in Dr Bill in Australia. She was subsequently given the more senior role of Madame Pinglet in the same production.

From September 1894 to December 1897, Pattie was at Drury Lane, appearing in a succession of long-running productions including The Derby Winner (as Annette Donelly), Cheers, Boys, Cheer (as Kitty Parker), and The White Heather (as Fanshaw). In May 1895, she assumed, at short notice, the role of Madame Amelie in An Artist’s Model, replacing Lottie Venne, who was incapacitated.

By January 1898, she returned to the Royal Court to appear in Pinero’s Trelawney of the ‘Wells’. As Avonia Bunn, her co-stars included Dot Boucicault, Irene Vanbrugh and Hilda Spong. This was the first production of Pinero’s comedy, which was staged under the direction of Dot Boucicault. Two years earlier, Boucicault returned to England and would subsequently enjoy a successful career as a London actor-manager. Towards the end of the run, Pattie left the cast and was replaced by May Edouin, having arranged with Harry Rickards to make a starring tour of Australia; her first visit to her homeland in six years.

Pattie made her reappearance at Princess Theatre, Melbourne on 4 June 1898, playing Lady Babbie in the first Australian production of The Little Minister by J.M. Barrie. She was reunited with ex-B&B actor Cecil Ward, who played the role of the Reverend Gavin Dishart, and Athena Claudius, who played Micah Dow. Her sister May Browne was also in the cast. Pattie subsequently appeared in Sweet Nancy (as Nancy Gray); in A Bit of Old Chelsea (as Alexandra Victoria Belchamber); in The Dove-cote (as Eva); and in Jane (reprising the role she had played with the B&Bs in 1891); also performing seasons in Sydney and Adelaide and other centres. She concluded her Australian tour by playing Ganem in Williamson and Musgrove's 1898 Christmas pantomine, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, appearing opposite the principal girl of Carrie Moore.

Pattie Browne5As Tweeny in The Admirable Crichton. Drawing by Charles A. Buchel. Private Collection.On her return to England, she replaced Ada Reeve in the role of Lady Holyrood in the  musical comedy Florodora, which was doing huge business at the Lyric. She performed the role until the return on Ada Reeve of 26 March 1900, after which time she remained ‘at liberty’ for a number of months. On 26 June 1900, she joined what seemed to be the full complement of expatriate Australian actors, musicians, singers, authors and artists when an Australian Benefit Matinee was held at the Alhambra in ‘Aid of the Widows and Families of Australians who have Fallen in South Africa’.

At Christmas 1900, she appeared in The Thirty Thieves at Terry’s Theatre, a musical extravaganza by W.H. Risque, with music by Edward Jones. Pattie played Rhoda, the Lord Mayor’s daughter, with other roles by Florence Perry, Aubrey Fitzgerald and Sidney Howard. Not quite a pantomime and with an overlong second act, the piece was soon withdrawn.

In early 1901, she took to the road with a touring production of The Silver Slipper, replacing Connie Eddis who had created the role of Miss Jimper in London. The following year, she scored a success in the musical The Toreador at the Gaiety Theatre.

Mid-1902 saw her in South Africa, in The Little Minister, reviving her role of Lady Babbie. Later the same year, she scored a success playing Tweeny in The Admirable Crichton, when Barrie’s fantasy was first produced in London in November 1902. Her co-star in this play was Irene Vanbrugh, who in July 1901 had married Dot Boucicault. As Tweeny, The Times declared Pattie ‘capital as the serving wench’! (8) The Admirable Crichton ran for an amazing 326 performances, and following year Pattie played Tweeny on the New York stage when the comedy opened at the Lyceum Theatre on 17 November 1903, chalking up another 144 performances.

In 1903, during the run of The Admirable Crichton, Pattie married Hamilton Allen Stoneham, a London stockbroker. At the end of the season, she retired from the stage for a period. The couple took a flat in Victoria Street, Westminster, London. In 1906, she told an interviewer on the British Australian:

I have not left the stage. I am only enjoying a rustic existence – for the present. I have several plans for the future and several tempting offers. I shall certainly play again before long. (9)Pattie Browne7As Mrs Lappett in Dick Sheridan. Photo by Alfred Ellis. The Theatre (London), June 1894.

It would be another two years before Pattie made her re-appearance, playing the minor role of Maggie in The Two of Us, a new play by Rachel Crothers which opened at Terry’s Theatre in London in June 1908. Included in the cast was Australian Cyril Keightley and the American actress Fannie Ward, the latter becoming a close associate of Pattie’s.

Fannie Ward was instrumental in arranging Pattie’s next stage appearance, which took place at London’s Aldwych Theatre in November 1912, when an American drama called The Price was performed for the first time in England. Although the piece was criticised for being ‘poor material’, Pattie was said to have made ‘charming chambermaid’. (10)

Pattie’s final stage appearance, it seems, took place in America, when she played Belle D’Aube in Madam President, a French farce that featured the ubiquitous Fannie Ward in the principal role. The piece played for a rollicking 128 performances at New York’s Garrick Theatre, from 13 September 1913, before embarking on a short tour of New York State.

After this glorious send off, Pattie returned to London, where it may be surmised that she settled down into private life as Mrs Hamilton Stoneham. In 1914, Pattie was only forty-five, but she lived for another twenty-eight years, dying on 29 November 1942 at her home at 12 Lancaster Drive, Hampstead Heath. She predeceased her husband by four years. As no obituary notices recorded her passing, it is not possible to know any details without obtaining a copy of her death certificate. All we do know for sure, is that Pattie was a remarkable performer, whose charm, piquancy and slight naughtiness thrilled a generation of playgoers in Australia, London and New York.

Footnotes

(1) Sketch (London), 5 April 1893, p. 594.

(2) Town and Country Journal (Sydney), 2 March 1889, p. 30.

(3) Argus (Melbourne), 12 October 1883, p. 7.

(4) Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 February 1888, p. 6.

(5) Otago Witness, 25 August 1898, p. 46.

(6) Illustrated Sydney News, 20 June 1891, p. 5.

(7) Advertiser (Adelaide), 12 December 1923, p. 10.

(8) The Times (London), 5 November 1902, p. 10.

(9) Advertiser (Adelaide), 3 December 1906, p. 8.

(10) Illustrated London News, 30 November 1912, p. 792.

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