Fred A Leslie
BOB FERRIS concludes his appraisal of the career of musical comedy performer Clara Clifton. Part 3 charts her appearances with J.C. Williamson's Royal Comic Opera Company, from her role as Mrs. Girdle in the 1906 production of The Spring Chicken through to her performance in The Lady Dandies and her retirement in late 1908.
The Melbourne racing season was well underway and on Victorian Derby Night, 3 November 1906, The Spring Chicken had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, with later performances in Adelaide starting on 6 April and Sydney on 8 June 1907 and a revival in Melbourne for Show Week the following August.
The plot of this musical was simple, although some thought the storyline improper. Gustave Babori (Reginald Roberts) a staid lawyer and dutiful husband in winter is involved in flirtatious exploits and infidelity in the springtime, a practice which his dutiful wife, Dulcie (Olive Morell in her first appearance in Australia) wants to stop. There are endless complications—Babori falls in love with a client, Baroness Papouche (Alma Barber) who is seeking a divorce and he is also infatuated with Rosalie (Florence Young) a ‘playful’ French maid. He is aided in his amorous adventures by his father in-law, Mr. Girdle (George Lauri), who is similarly incline.
Clara played the part of Mrs. Girdle, the mother-in-law of Babori, a character role which suited her burlesque skill perfectly. Her performance was the subject of another cleverly drawn sketch.1
Mrs Girdle drew upon her experience of men and her female guile in dealing with her own flirtatious husband to benefit the ladies in their endeavours and to finally reconcile the parties. Clara’s rendition of ‘I Don’t Know, But I Can Guess (what I don’t know of Babori, or any other man, I can guess)’, a pointed reference to the philanders, was according to the Argus review one of the most lilting airs of the piece (and) the keynote of the whole production.2 And the Leader wrote that the song would have startled the moral purists out of their propriety.3
The Bulletin, however, in a biting comment, thought there was a lack of spice in the performance and that it was ‘not counteracted by the cloying sweetness of mother-in-law Clara Clifton … Charmingly chubby and coyly arch in her appeal to audiences, this ingratiating lady, regarded in the light of a pickle for devilled son-in-law, is sadly deficient in mustard, pepper and vinegar. ’4
While Clara’s comic skill was often acknowledged, little was said of her singing, although of her Mrs. Girdle performance in Sydney it was said that she sings very prettily and was also referred to as the ‘silver-voiced’ actress.5
W.S. Percy as Girdle’s Son, Clara Clifton as Mrs Girdle and Alma Barber as Girdle’s Niece in the 1907 production of The Spring Chicken. Photo by Talma, Melbourne & Sydney.
National Library of Australia Collection
According to the Leader there was a special feminine interest in the musical because the costumes were of the height of fashion—or what would be the fashion next week.6 Clara was fastidious with her stage wardrobe, which was splendid; she dressed as a fashionable society woman. Likewise, her off-stage attire was most elegant. The fashions seen on stage were often copied by stylish women and many in the social set attended the theatre merely to see what was in vogue.
Reviews of performances and ‘Ladies Pages’ in daily newspapers often devoted space to an actress’s wardrobe and the quality of her dress. Clara’s wardrobe was regularly singled out for comment including in her role as Mrs. Girdle in The Spring Chicken where it was noted that Clara’s handsome personality was more pronounced by two effective toilettes: ‘the second an exquisite gown of white brocade, the corsage draped with white chiffon and lace, a trail of bright crimson roses just giving the necessary touch of color, a couple of dark roses worn in the becoming grey hair.’7 The ensemble can be seen in the Talma postcard above.
Almost twelve months to the day when last in Melbourne, The Girl from Kay’s was again performed at Her Majesty’s, playing for a week in early December 1906. As a finale to the performance on 17 December, a number of popular selections from some of the Company’s previous musicals were performed, including a rendition of ‘Zo Zo’ from Kitty Grey by Clara, the song which first gave her prominence in Australia.
Two days later the company left on the Riverina for a tour of New Zealand with a repertoire of performances scheduled in major cities through to Easter 1907. The season opened at the Wellington Opera House on Boxing Day evening with a performance of The Orchid and Clara ‘easily stepped into the good graces of patrons, and she bids fair to become a warm favourite with New Zealand audiences... If it were possible, the audience would have had her sing “In My Time” all night to them’.8
During the tour, the illness of George Lauri gave W.S. Percy the opportunity to play Meakin (the gardener) in performances of The Orchid at Christchurch and the press reported that his scenes with Miss Clifton were full of spontaneity and fun. 9
Cast list for The Dairymaids, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, October 1907. Click here to view program.
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
After a successful run at the London Apollo Theatre the previous year, The Dairymaids had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday, 7 September 1907. The musical had been eagerly anticipated by Melbourne theatre patrons and the show attracted full houses throughout its season.
In this farcical musical, Clara played Lady Brudenell who had established a model dairy for the well-being of young ladies. Two of the dairymaids are her wards, Winifred and Peggy, played by Florence Young and Fanny Dango. It was Dango’s first performance in Australia and she also played the part of the chief Sandow girl.10 Emma Temple, in her first appearance with the Comic Opera Co., played Miss Penelope Pyechase the severe and pedantic schoolmistress. Besides the frolicsome dairymaids, there are naval officers, Brudenell’s flirtatious nephews and a gymnasium scene involving many young attractive ladies in clinging white gowns, doing various ‘Sandow’ exercises.11
The script, according to Punch, provided few opportunities for Clara to excel in what was described as a chanceless, thankless role. Moreover, as a capable vocalist Clara was not given the opportunity to sing, other than in chorus work, a shortcoming in the production which also applied to other well-known singers in the cast: Reginald Roberts, Alma Barber and Claude Bantock.12
The Melbourne Herald, however, considered Clara’s performance a great triumph, writing of ‘her wonderful skill in getting en rapport with her audience’ and that ‘she uses melodramatic phrases with almost perfect melodramatic enunciation and gesture’, concluding that ‘the part suits her to a nicety, and her style has improved since we first had the pleasure of seeing her in Melbourne.’13
Some four months later The Dairymaids played in Sydney for the first time on 1 February 1908 for a six-week season. As in the Melbourne production, Clara was said to be handsome and dignified as Lady Brudenell, with reference again being made to her singing—what little vocal work was attributed to the role was rendered with the artiste’s usual care.14
Writing on the Sydney show for Punch, ‘The Don’ felt The Dairymaids had suffered in comparison with The Girls of Gottenberg, the previous production at the theatre. It was, he said clumsily constructed, the comedy was fifth rate and the music commonplace and monotonous. On the contrary the reviewer said it was unnecessary to write anything about Clara’s character as ‘whatever the piece or the part, she is always Clara Clifton. “Semper Eadem” [always the same] is her motto, and she never shifts from her moorings’.15
With her public popularity Clara’s private life often caught the attention of the press and any titbit, sometimes less than flattering, was newsworthy. For instance, the Critic wrote: ‘Miss Clara Clifton goes riding into the country on fine days. Being no light-weight, she has to use great judgement in selecting a trusty steed. She generally finds him.’16 And the Bulletin also weighed in with an invasive passage: ‘the latest footlighter to turn to the “d.f. villa …” is Miss Cara Clifton. That genial soul, what time she isn’t impersonating ladies of various qualities, is enthusiastically playing housewife in a nest at Albert Park. Nowadays the imported busker frequently shows an amiable leaning towards domesticity, and modestly avoids the unblinking observation of public tables-d’hote.’17
Clara wrote an indignant denial and demanded the statement contradicted. The Bulletin reluctantly agreed, but not without a final barb— ‘Miss Clifton doesn’t cook her own chop in her own domicile. She hangs out at the Old White Hart, Melbourne.’18
Due to ill health, Clara could not take her role as Mrs Privett when Alfred Celier’s popular pastoral comic opera, Dorothy opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 20 July 1907 and was replaced by Pressy Preston. Clara returned to the role when the comic opera played for a week’s run in Melbourne the following October, Preston stayed on for the Melbourne production in the lesser role of Lady Betty.
Clara’s role of Mrs. Privett, the sister of Squire Bantam, was that of a comely, middle aged widow and reviews of her performance were mixed. The Age, for instance, commented that she ‘went through her appointed task on conventional lines, but never once looked as though she felt them to be either appropriate or convincing.’19 Whereas Table Talk wrote that she was a superb Mrs. Privett and was the perfect foil to George Lauri’s, Lurcher which enabled him to fully realise the humorous possibilities of the piece.20 This comment was echoed by the Bulletin which wrote: Lauri and Miss Clifton got full allowance of applause and delighted guffaw for their buffoonery as Lurcher and Mrs. Privett. 21 And the Gadfly said of her role that she loses more of the Clara than usual and assumes a good deal more of the character.22
The Royal Comic Opera Co’s next attraction was the military musical comedy The Girls of Gottenbergwhich had its first Australian performance at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne on 26 October 1907, in a season which coincided with the Cup racing carnival. There was a packed house on opening night and most numbers were encored by an enthusiastic audience, many who were no doubt buoyed by a successful day at the races. Following its very successful run in Melbourne the musical moved to Sydney as the Christmas holiday attraction.
Cast list for The Girls of Gottenberg, Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, October 1907. Click here to view program.
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
The musical was an extravaganza of colour from the military uniforms to the costumes of the chorus girls and the dressing of the principals. A cast of some thirty characters included most of the Company’s principal players, with Clara in the role of Clementine, the Burgonmaster’s daughter. Of particular note was the appearance of the Comic Opera tenor Reginald Roberts after an absence of 18 months in America, as Otto Prince of Saxe-Hildesheim an officer in the Blue Hussars.
The storyline concerned two regiments, the Red and Blue Hussars, both which are languishing in Rottenberg where there is only one girl. Both groups want to be transferred to Gottenberg where there are plenty of beautiful, fun-loving girls at a military college. The Kaiser choses the Red Hussars but then enters Max Moddelkopf (George Lauri) a trickster who impersonates a special envoy, switches the orders to have the Blue troops transferred to Gottenberg. Throw into the mix a prince, the burgomaster and daughter, an innkeeper and daughter and a General and his daughter and plenty of romantic intrigue.
As Clementine, Clara’s was once more a buxom and attractive lady with her humorous persona at its best and her song ‘You Know How Shy I Am’ and her duet with George Lauri, ‘Birds in the Trees’ were redemanded by the audience. In one of Clara’s comic sketches the audience was ‘almost broken up when she bundled Adolf, the Town Clerk (W.S. Percy), almost onto the footlights for daring to interfere between father and daughter’.23
From about the 1907 season of the Opera Co., or possibly earlier, some theatrical scribes had noted a changing role for Clara and that despite her being a vast favourite with musical comedy audiences, she was being restricted to minor character roles. The reviewer for the Melbourne Leader for instance, in a backhanded compliment, thought that Clara as Clementine had been given more prominence than she has recently been afforded, 24 and the correspondent for the British Era magazine thought that ‘Miss Clara Clifton a veritable idol to both sexes of playgoers, had too little to do as the Burgermeister’s daughter, but it was good vocal and histrionic ballast in a ship freighted with frivolity’.25
The ‘too little to do’ comment was also noted by ‘The Don’ of Punch in his review of The Lady Dandies when he wrote that Clara as Egle (and Evelyn Scott as Liane ) have little or nothing to do, 26 a view echoed elsewhere—Miss Clara Clifton as Egle has nothing to do with the action of the piece (but does brighten the third act with her song).27 And as a throw-away line, Miss Clara Clifton as Egle and Miss Evelyn Scott as Liane, are also in the cast.28
The Lady Dandies, a comic opera of the French Revolutionary days during the infamous Directoire, began its season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 21 March 1908 and was later transferred to the Theatre Royal in early April before its final performance on 9 May. Clara played Egle the flirtatious young wife of her gout ridden old husband, Des Gouttieres (Arthur Hunter), secretary to the Directors.
Shortly after the season finished Clara was on board the RMS Britannia for a five-month holiday in England, leaving Sydney on 6 June 1908, with the stated intention to return to Australia in time for the Christmas production of The Duchess of Dantzic. When interviewed on her return on board the RMS Orotava in Perth, Clara reiterated her intention: ‘I am now travelling direct to Sydney for the purpose of joining the “Duchess of Dantzic” Co.’29
But her return to the stage did not eventuate. Clara’s role as Egle in The Lady Dandies was her last with the Royal Comic Opera Company.
Clara retired and soon after married George Cartwright on Monday, 15 February 1909 at Christ Church, South Yarra, Melbourne.
George Cartwright was educated in England and had work experience at the Woolwich Arsenal before he came to Victoria in 1901, aged 21 to work at the Colonial Ammunition Company in Footscray. The following year he was appointed its Manager. The company played a prominent part in Australia’s World War 1 activities.30
The Cartwrights had two sons and a daughter and resided on Beaconsfield Parade, St. Kilda, with a rural property near Officer, Victoria.
Little was heard of Clara following her marriage. On one occasion Table Talk of March 1912 noted that Clara had emerged from retirement for one day to work at a Theatrical Carnival in East Melbourne in aid of the Theatrical Charities Fund31 and Punch, the following year, referred to Clara and her husband being among guests attending the opening of the new Auditorium concert hall in Collins Street with appearances by Madame Clara Bolt and Mr. Kennerly Rumford.32
Clara died on 13 March 1940, she was predeceased by her husband who died on 24 January 1937.
Clara Clifton the English stage actress was full of vivacity, humour and charm. She began her career as a teenager performing in pantomimes, graduating to plays and musical comedies on the English provincial theatre circuit and later in South Africa. In 1904, in a bold and courageous move she travelled, unaccompanied, to Australia, to ply her craft and soon found engagement with J.C. Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company. Over the next five years Clara performed in most of the company’s musical comedies: The Orchid (her role as Caroline Vokins arguably her finest), Florodora, Veronique, The Geisha, The Girl From Kay’s, The Shop Girl, The Little Michus, The Spring Chicken, The Dairymaids, Dorothy, The Girls of Gottenberg and The Lady Dandies, often as an outstanding low comedienne, and generally applauded for her clever, comic character sketches.
At the time Clara was a huge favourite with musical comedy audiences throughout her relatively short career in Australia. But for an actress once cherished with warm affection, little is known about her today and she is worthy of better recognition. She deserves to be remembered.
1. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 June 1907, p.7
2. Argus (Melbourne), 5 November 1906, p.5
3. Leader (Melbourne) 10 November 1906, p.22
4. Bulletin (Melbourne), 6 December 1906, p.11
5. Sunday Sun, 9 and 23 June 1907, pp. 2 and 3
6. Leader (Melbourne), 3 November 1906, p.22
7. Critic (Adelaide), 10 April 1907, p.4
8. Referee (Sydney), 9 January 1907, p.12 & 16 January 1907, p.12 and Manawatu Standard, 22 January 1907, p.4
9. Christchurch Press, 19 February—report in Port Melbourne Standard, 9 March 1907, p.4
10. Fanny Dango was specifically engaged by Williamson to take the part of Peggy and she quickly became a favourite of local audiences.
11. Eugen Sandow promoted physical culture through weight training, attracting many students including young women.
12. Punch (Melbourne), 12 September 12, 1907 p.36
13. Herald (Melbourne), 5 November 1906, p.4
14. Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February, 1908, p. 6
15. Punch (Melbourne), 6 February 1908, p.33
16. Critic (Adelaide), 19 September 1906, p.9
17. Bulletin (Melbourne), 19 September 1907, p.21
18. Bulletin (Melbourne), 3 October, 1907, p.21
19. Age (Melbourne), 21 October 1907, p.9
20. Table Talk (Melbourne), 24 October 1907, p.21
21. Bulletin (Melbourne), 24 October 1907, p.8
22. Gadfly (Adelaide), 23 October 1907, p.8
23. Herald (Melbourne), 28 October 1907, p.3
24. Leader (Melbourne), 3 November 1907, p.33
25. The Era (London), 1 February 1908, p.21—Amusements in Australia
26. Punch (Melbourne), 9 April, 1908, p.39
27. Australian Star (Sydney), 23 March 1908, p.2
28. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 March 1908, p.4
29. Daily News (Perth), 17 December 1908, p.1
30. Punch (Melbourne), 3 August 1916, p.6
31. Table Talk (Melbourne), 28 March, 1912, p.10
32. Punch (Melbourne), 29 May 1913, p.37
Shirley & Stephen Rieger
BOB FERRIS takes a look at the career of Fanny Dango from her early work in England through to her 1907 Australian debut in J.C. Williamson’s, The Dairymaids to her performance in The Belle of New York.
Very popularthemes for collectors of cigarette cards are actresses and stage performers. A number of choice sets on this theme were issued in Australia in the early 1900s, including ‘Actresses (Talma)’ by the Melbourne company Sniders and Abrahams; Actors and Actresses ‘WALP’, an anonymous set issued by several companies; and two series of ‘Stage and Music Hall Celebrities’ (portraits in oval and portraits framed), issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills between 1900–05. Fanny Dango is card number 35 in the framed set of 50 cards. Wills also issued a set of ‘Actresses’, 100 unnumbered cards between 1903–10 which feature a Who’s Who of stage actresses of the period, including Fanny Dango.1
Fanny Dango was born Fanny Rudge on 20 October 1878 in Birmingham, England. She was one of the five Rudge sisters who all appeared on the stage under assumed names—Letty Lind (Letitia Rudge),2 Lydia Flopp (Lydia Rudge), Millie Hylton (Sarah Rudge), Adelaide Astor (Elizabeth Rudge) and the youngest sister, Fanny. In a 1909 interview with Melbourne’s Table Talk magazine, Fanny said, ‘In our family we all followed my sister Letty on to the stage; that is the girls not the boys. We all appeared under different names. I think our idea was to make our own way on merits, without any help from Letty and it was not until we began to get on a bit that it leaked out we were sisters.’3
Fanny Dango was a nascent actress and an exceptional dancer with appearances in several pantomimes on the London and Provincial theatre stage. Her catalogue of pantomime performances is impressive from her debut at the Prince of Wales Theatre in her home city of Birmingham in December 1894 (shortly after her 16th birthday) with a small part as ‘Chinese Dolly’ in Dick Whittington. From 1901 to 1905, she appeared in five successive Christmas pantomimes: Gulliver’s Travels at the Avenue Theatre, London, 1901–1902 (as Glumdalclitch); Dick Whittington at the London Hippodrome, 1902–1903 (as Alice, opposite the Dick of Ruth Lytton), Santa Claus Junior at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 1903–1904 (as See Mee); in Dick Whittington, Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, 1904–1905 (as Alice, opposite the Dick of Hetty King); and Aladdin, Theatre Royal, Birmingham, 1905–1906 (as Princess So Shi, opposite the Aladdin of Ada Reeve).4
Fanny was also actively involved on the musical stage. As well as performing in touring productions such as The Geisha (1896, as Tommy Stanley), Three Little Maids (1903, as Hilda Branscombe), San Toy (1904, in the title role), and A Girl on the Stage (1906, as Lady Isabel), she also created several roles in new London productions or took over roles. Original roles included Juanita in Florodora (Lyric, 1899, and Angela Gilfain on tour), Millicent Ward in The Silver Slipper (Lyric, 1901, and on tour), Antoinette in The Medal and the Maid (Lyric, 1903), and Yvette in The Spring Chicken (Gaiety, 1905). In London, she was also seen in A Runaway Girl (Gaiety, 1898), replacing Marie Fawcett as one of the two Miss Hakes; in Little Miss Nobody (Lyric, 1899), replacing Lydia West as Tiny Triplet; and in The Love Birds (Savoy, 1904), replacing Louise Raymond as Lillie de Jones.
Fanny Dango was vivacious and a charismatic young actress and danced exquisitely. J.C. Williamson saw the early promise of her becoming a favourite of Australian theatre patrons and he engaged her in England to play the part of Peggy Sabine in the Royal Comic Opera’s production of The Dairymaids.5 This was some achievement for Fanny to play the part which had previously been performed by Australian-born Carrie Moore with outstanding success in the 1906 Apollo Theatre production.
Fanny sailed to Australia on the P & O RMS Mongolia which left Marseilles on 19 July 1907 and arrived in Melbourne on 26 August, leaving the same day for Sydney to commence rehearsals. She made her Australian debut in The Dairymaids as Peggy Sabine and the chief Sandow girl at Her Majesty’s Theatre Melbourne, on 7 September 1907 and later in Sydney, opening at Her Majesty’s some four months later, on 1 February 1908.
Brief details of her engagement with the Royal Comic Opera Co. are recorded in a hand-written note, dated the day of her debut performance: 52 weeks on a salary of £20 per week and £25 during pantomime performances. An added note renewed her engagement for 52 weeks from 5 September 1908. Possibly a more formal contractual letter exists (somewhere).
The Dairymaids came to Australia with a glowing reputation following a successful run at London’s Apollo Theatre and while it played for several weeks in Melbourne and Sydney it failed to get the same accolades. Punch, for example, noted that the show ‘is one of those tuneful and pleasing productions … without any great claim to special merit’6 and The Bulletin said ‘the piece on closer inspection will never look as clever as it looked in the London notices’.7
Central to the storyline, Peggy and Winifred (Florence Young) two of the dairymaids are wards of Lady Brudenell (Clara Clifton) who has established a model dairy for the well-being of young ladies. The first Act takes place at the dairy but with the arrival of Brudenell’s nephews (Sam—Fred Leslie and Frank—Reginald Roberts) who fancy the wards, and some naval officers, she sends the maids off to Miss Penelope Pyechase’s (Emma Temple) academy and gymnasium which becomes the setting for Act 2.
The critics generally agreed that what success the play enjoyed was largely due to the performance of Fanny whose singing and dancing duets with Fred Leslie in ‘The Other One’ and ‘They All Lived Happily Afterwards’ were praised as excellent, as were ‘The Language of Love’ and ‘Mary and Jane’: ‘she came through with éclat’, wrote one,8 and another more moderate but still complimentary, reported that: ‘Miss Fanny Dango, the newcomer, has plenty to do and does it satisfactorily, with a small singing voice and a fair amount of “go”.’9
In what was to become a consistent theme from the theatre reviews, Fanny’s voice was said to be pleasing but not robust, but adequate for musical comedy—her merit ‘lies nearer her toes than her tongue’.10 Any vocal defects in her performance were covered up with some artful stage management in her song and dance routines, especially ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Apothecary, Ploughman, Thief’ where the characters of the song, appropriately dressed, gave her support as did the chorus girls, dressed in white cashmere gowns, lifting dumbbells in the gymnasium scene as Fanny sang of the merits of physical exercise in her rendition of the ‘Sandow Girl’. Both songs were chiefly remembered for the ‘ornamental frills that flap about them’.11
As in Melbourne, the Sydney production was carried by Fanny and Leslie. The introduction of a novel marionette act into the gymnasium scene where the movements of the figures were realistically simulated was well received by Sydney audiences.
On her debut performances in both Melbourne and Sydney, Fanny was variously described by the fawning press as a ‘bright little creature’; ‘piquant’, ‘graceful and clever’; ‘vivacious’; ‘dainty, petite and sprightly’, and [one who] ‘acts and sings so coquettishly’. Together with her blazing red gold tresses, Fanny’s favouritism with local audiences was assured.
Fanny’s next appearance with the company was The Girls of Gottenberg in which she played Mitzi the Innkeeper’s daughter. The musical opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on 1 September 1907 and after a long and successful run was performed as the Christmas attraction in Sydney at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
In an improbable storyline, two regiments the Red and Blue Hussars are languishing in Rottenberg where there is only one girl. Both regiments want to be transferred to Gottenberg which has a girls’ military college, and the Reds are selected. In a storyline twist, Max Moddelkopf (George Lauri), valet to Prince Otto of Saxe-Hildesheim (Reginald Roberts), a lieutenant in the Blue Hussars, switches the orders to have the Blue Hussars transferred to Gottenberg. And, of course there is romance. Otto is betrothed to his cousin Elsa (Florence Young in Melbourne/Olive Godwin in Sydney) but they have not seen each other since their childhood. Elsa is a student at the college, and she persuades Mitzi to change places and as the maid at the inn Elsa flirts with her unknown betrothed and finally wins him over. The situation was explained with lots of song and dance.
According to the Melbourne Herald, it is in these scenes that Fanny enhanced her reputation as a talented performer; her acting and particularly her dancing was again seen as her strengths. Fanny’s songs, ‘Titsy, Bitsy Girl’, ‘Berlin on the Spree’, and ‘Two Little Sausages’ (a duet with George Lauri), were hits of the show as was ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch’ which she sang with Reginald Roberts and George Lauri. While her voice was, again, light she overcame this with distinct articulation. However, the Herald doubted whether Fanny’s singing voice could successfully sustain the arduous singing role of an operatic heroine.12
The comic opera The Lady Dandies had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Sydney on 21 March 1908 and was later transferred to the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, on 16 April. Fanny played the part of Illyrine the married, divorced and remarried heroine of the piece. The setting for this light opera is Paris after the Revolution and the Reign of Terror with ‘Les Merveilleuses’ (Lady Dandies) celebrating with joyful dancing, music and revelry. The play centres on Illyrine who believing her husband Dorlis (Reginald Roberts) is dead, re-marries. But Dorlis has been away at war and returns to renew the relationship. Despite numerous complications the couple are re-united.
This was Fanny’s first part in light opera, and her role as Illyrine required more singing ability than her previous soubrette parts had demanded. While she received praise for her singing of ‘I’m Sorry’ and her duet with Roberts, ‘It Might Have Been’, generally reviews of her performance were disappointing—especially her rendition of the ‘Cuckoo Song’ with critics of the view that her voice was not strong enough for such an important number. ‘The Don’, for example, in Punch wrote that Fanny ‘was again seen rather than heard’,13 and a similar view was expressed by the Daily Telegraph: ‘Illyrine is an engaging figure but her limitations of voice handicap her in such an important number as the ‘Cuckoo’ song... with its difficult intervals and its choral refrain it requires a fully equipped voice … the effect was generally disappointing’.14
The Bulletin was more generous, noting that the song was a little beyond her range and ‘hardened critic, as this paper is, it refuses to rebuke her for attempting that little which is too much’.15
Fanny’s next role was a chic French maid, Sidonie in the American musical, The Prince of Pilsen produced by J.C. Williamson’s newly formed Musical Comedy Company which opened at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on 30 May 1908, running for 6 weeks, and later played in Adelaide and then in Melbourne.
The plot centres around mistaken identity. Hans Wagner, a Cincinnati Brewer (Charles Loder) arrives with his daughter, Nellie (Amy Murphy) at a Nice hotel and is taken to be the Prince of Pilsen (George Whitehead); the brewer plays along enjoying the attention. The real Prince, travelling incognito, arrives and accepts the situation in good humour. Among other arrivals is Mrs. Crocker (Olive Goodwin) with her maid Sidonie, a widow from New York in pursuit of a title. The many mix-ups that arise are readily solved with plenty of mirth, songs and dance, helped by the Prince being smitten with Nellie at first sight.
The show had been an outstanding success in America and Williamson had specially engaged George Whitehead and Charles Loder from the American production to be principals in the local show. Due to illness Fanny did not appear until late-June, but on her return, she was warmly welcomed and her introduction of a new song ‘Mr. Schneider’ and dance into the program was generously applauded.
When The Prince of Pilsen finished in Sydney on Friday 10 July, The Red Mill, a Dutch musical by Henry Blossom and Victor Herbert opened the following Saturday. Said to have more to do with mirth than music the piece concerns Con Kidder (John Ford) and Kid Conner (Fred Leslie) two American tourists ‘doing’ Europe who run into trouble when unable to pay their bill for board and lodging at the Red Mill inn in a small Dutch town.
Ford had come from America with a reputation as a comedian and outstanding dancer to play Con Kidder, Fred Leslie, in his first appearance with the Musical Comedy Company, played the travelling companion, Kid Conner, Charles Loder was Willem, Keeper of the Red Mill and Fanny played the part of Tina, the innkeeper’s daughter, a dainty, pretty barmaid.
While the principal attraction of this farcical piece is the low comedy carried by Ford and Leslie with their absurd disguises and eccentric dancing there were other fine performances. Fanny was praised for her rendition of ‘Mignonette’ and for her contribution to ‘Whistle It’ with Leslie and Ford.
Charles Loder and Fred Leslie in The Prince of Pilsen, as seen by one of the Bulletin cartoonists. The cartoon is unsigned, but it is in the style of Harry Julius.
From The Bulletin (Sydney), 19 November 1908, p.9
Following its success in Sydney The Red Mill opened at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on 29 August 1908 which happened to coincide with the arrival of the American fleet of sixteen warships into Hobson’s Bay, viewed by many thousands of Melburnians as the vessels docked at Port Melbourne. The spirit of the occasion had buoyed the opening night audience and they were treated to a unique celebration. At the finale of the first act the orchestra played a selection of American tunes, including ‘Marching into Georgia’, ‘Old Folks at Home’, ‘Way Down on the Swannee River’ and ‘The Star-spangled Banner’. Then at the last curtain call the whole company joined cast member George Whitehead on stage as he sang ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ to the rapturous applause of the standing audience. This was followed by Olive Godwin singing the National Anthem with the audience joining in.
As to the Melbourne performance, it was admired by the critics particularly the parts played by Ford, Leslie and Fanny. And, contrary to repeated criticism that Fanny’s voice lacked strength, on this occasion it was thought that her voice had strengthened and sweetened since earlier performances.16
The hectic schedule for the members of the Musical Comedy Company continued and from Melbourne, The Red Mill played for two nights in Geelong at Her Majesty’s Theatre, followed by a performance at the Crystal Theatre, Broken Hill and then enjoyed a successful short run at Adelaide’s Theatre Royal in mid-October.
At the Theatre Royal Fanny was again the audience favourite, she ‘was dainty and debonair … and as frolicsome as a kitten, while she danced leisurely and with grace’ wrote the Advertiser. Her renditions of ‘Mignonette’ and ‘If You Love But Me’ were well received and she held her own in the quartet ‘Go While the Going is Good’ with Olive Godwin, Ford and Leslie.17 The song ‘Whistle It’ had to be lengthened by three or four verses due to the calls for several encores.
The Prince of Pilsen played for a brief, one week run in Adelaide before heading to Melbourne as the principal attraction during the Melbourne Cup racing carnival. The musical received another enthusiastic reception and as audiences had come to expect, Fanny’s dancing was excellent and her songs were well received, particularly ‘Bedtime in the Zoo’ with the background of roaring wild animals was encored. Her duets ‘Keep it Dark’ with Jimmy the Bellboy (John Ford) and ‘Back to the Boulevards’ with the French waiter (Fred Leslie) added to the production.
In keeping with past practice of staging a musical during the Melbourne racing carnival, The Prince of Pilsen made its long-anticipated appearance on 29 October, with the opening night at the Princess Theatre before a packed house. But, for seasoned theatregoers, the ‘Pilsen’ has no special attraction, wrote the Bulletin. Although, fortunately, the review continued, ‘the majority of the players are quite interesting. Fanny and Leslie were singled out in this regard … there is soubrette Fanny Dango with her dainty dancing, and her feet play marvellously into the hands of clever Fred Leslie. Fanny Dango puts brains into her feet, so to speak, and dances with her head, in a manner of speaking’.18
While Fanny’s performance was applauded by the critics, one review noted the similarity between the different impersonations she had played.19 This seemed an odd comment as the characters Fanny played and the way she played them had established her reputation and favouritism with Australian audiences.
Williamson’s Musical Comedy Company closed its season at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre with a six-night revival of The Belle of New York, which opened on 5 December 1908. Fanny was well placed in the part of Fifi Fricot a little Parisienne and she made a startling first appearance as the ornament on a huge wedding cake, ‘an entrance which cannot make the production any gayer’.20 Commenting on the same scene the Argus said the audience was in entire sympathy with Fifi’s father Henry Bronson (Edmund Sherras) ‘who wanted to take off a piece of “the dear little peppermint ear”.’21
In this bright piece there were several memorable musical numbers including ‘La Belle Parisienne’ by Fanny.
To be continued
1.One of the companies that issued the ‘Walp’ set was the British American Tobacco Co. Fanny also appears on several British card sets, including Gallaher Ltd., ‘Latest Actresses’ and ‘Actors and Actresses’ by Lambert & Butler.
2. Letty Lind was well known in Australia having performed in Melbourne and Sydney with Nellie Farren and Fred Leslie and the London Gaiety Burlesque Company in 1888.
3. Table Talk (Melbourne), 21 October 1909, p. 13
4. In the 1905 Christmas pantomime Dick Whittington, Fanny as the principal girl sang, ‘Geisha and the Coon’ (a song that also featured in the 1903–04 pantomime Santa Claus Junior), ‘Ma coal black coon’ and the popular ‘My Irish Molly O’, all were well received by the audience.
5. Being Letty Lind’s sister no doubt added to her appeal. This was something Fanny had to contend with during her early career.
6. Punch (Melbourne), 12 September 1907, p.36
7. The Bulletin (Sydney), 12 September 1907, p.8
8. The Herald (Melbourne), 9 September 1907, p.6
9. The Bulletin (Sydney), 2 September 1907, p.8
10. The Bulletin (Sydney), 26 December 1907, p.8
11 The Bulletin (Sydney), 6 February 1908, p.8
12. The Herald (Melbourne), 28 October 1907, p.5
13. Punch (Melbourne), 9 April 1908, p.39
14. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 March 1908, p.4
15. The Bulletin (Sydney), 26 March 1908, p.2
16. The Argus (Melbourne), 31 August 1908, p.5
17. Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 October 1908, p.9
18. The Bulletin (Sydney), 5 November 1908, p.9
19. The Age (Melbourne), 2 November 1908, p.11
20. The Herald (Melbourne), 7 December 1908, p.4
21. The Argus (Melbourne), 7 December 1908, p.9
Australian actor & dancer. Né Frederick William Daniel Stoneham. Born 1882, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Son of Frederick Hamilton Stoneham (Fred Leslie) and Phoebe Clayton. Married (1) Nellie Borthwick (dancer), (2) Alice Lydia Bench, 1926, VIC, Australia. Died 19 January 1963, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
On stage in Australia.