John Gielgud

  • Encounters with Stars of the Theatrical Kind (Part 2)

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    In the 1990s, RAYMOND STANLEY prepared a manuscript recalling the many stars of the stage and screen that he interviewed during his fifty year career in Australia. Published for the first time by Theatre Heritage Australia, in Part 2, he tells of his encounter with Hollywood's man of horror, John Carradine, and discovers a mutual love of Shakespeare.

    ‘Now, what do I know about John Carradine?1 What questions can I ask him?’

    I was experiencing a temporary memory blackout. To my shame, I couldn’t name a single John Carradine movie, yet I must have seen him dozens of times, mainly as villains, in horror films and leads in numerous B pictures. He was tall, thin and gaunt, and with saturnine features. That much I could recall. And I was on my way to interview him!

    It was February 1981, and it had all happened so rapidly. The New Zealand Film Commission had invited me to New Zealand for eight days, all expenses paid, to write about their burgeoning film industry, and visit sets of three films which simultaneously were before cameras around the country. A sudden pilots’ disruption had aborted plans, then unexpectedly a seat on a plane was available and, days behind schedule, I was on the first leg of the trip, in Auckland.

    There I was due to visit the set of a horror film called The Scarecrow.2 However, shooting had taken place all throughout the previous night and the production office informed me there was no shooting that day. Producer, director, cast and crew currently were getting much needed sleep. I would meet the producer later in the day, but meantime an interview had been set up for me with the picture’s imported star—John Carradine.

    Normally I would have turned this down, aware it had no hope of being published. All that was needed was a few words with the Hollywood star, sandwiched somewhere into an article on the film’s production. Now there was no choice. A charade of doing an interview had to be maintained. An interview for which I was in no way prepared; until that moment I had no idea Carradine was in Auckland!

    The Scarecrow apparently was to be a ‘funny, scary and moving picture.’ It had been adapted from a novel by Ronald Hugh Morrieson, published in 1963, and was set in a small town in the early fifties. Carradine was playing Hubert Salter, a magician and murderer, hypnotist and necrophiliac, who insinuates himself into the heart of the town somewhere between the pub and the funeral parlour.

    ‘Salter’s a very difficult role,’ the producer later told me. ‘We know all the obvious people in New Zealand and auditioned them. I made a list of about six American and English actors who could play the role. I approached them all, but each was either far too expensive or else unavailable. One of them was John Carradine.’

    Eventually the film was cast with a local actor who seemed perfect for the part. Then a call came from Carradine’s agent, saying he was available after all—did they want him? The producer checked with the investors.

    ‘They were anxious to get Carradine purely and simply for the commercial possibilities, which made it very embarrassing for us back here. So we cast Carradine and he’s turned out splendidly.’

    I looked out of the window of the taxi taking me to the Auckland suburb where Carradine was staying in a flat. It was a reasonably warm summer’s day.

    With a small tape recorder clutched tightly in one hand, I knocked on the door of the flat. After what seemed a lengthy period, I heard some shuffling and the door slowly opened and a tall, frail-looking, very aged man stood in the doorway. It was John Carradine. Although he was 75 at the time, he looked even older.

    He was expecting me and ushered me into the main room of a very dark, dingy, and untidy flat. He introduced me to his wife, who could have been anywhere between fifty and seventy. Plump and not looking at all well, she was seated in front of a television set with a blanket covering the lower portion of her body, viewing a Western. All throughout the interview (except for a brief break when she made some coffee), Mrs. Carradine3 watched that Western, so that the noise of the dialogue, horses and gunfire sometimes made it difficult to hear what her husband was saying.

    Carradine too sat with a blanket around his legs. Both seemed to be suffering from the cold (although it was warm outside) and presented rather a depressing sight.

    He spoke with long pauses and a distinct drawl but seemed to have total recall. Probably he was disliking the thought of being interviewed as much as I was of interviewing him; but circumstances had forced us into this peculiar situation.

    Not having a clue what to ask, I began with very conventional questions, to which he politely responded, but without any enthusiasm. They were the questions he must have been asked scores of times. But he was doing the job required of him.

    He told me that he had been able to come to New Zealand because of the abrupt folding of Frankenstein, the play he had opened in on Broadway.4

    ‘I had a year’s contract and thought it would run for a year, but the critics didn’t like it. I thought it was good. It was a very expensive production. Elaborate and magnificent, wasn’t it honey?’ He referred to his wife who merely nodded her head and continued staring at the television set in front of her.

    ‘It was a magnificent production. We had about six weeks of previews and it just lasted one night. The preview audience loved it. Almost immediately after it I was offered this film.’

    What had attracted him to the part?

    ‘A job! It’s a good role. A nasty guy. I’m a degenerate scoundrel.’

    Wasn’t coming to New Zealand, working with people he knew nothing about, a bit of a risk?

    ‘I don’t care who I work for so long as they pay me. That’s the important thing. I work for a living. If I know a man’s dishonest, I don’t work for him.’

    What were his favourite film roles? What had given him the greatest satisfaction?

    ‘Oh, The Grapes of Wrath5 … The unfrocked preacher Casey in The Grapes of Wrath, Captains Courageous6 and—among the dozen greatest pictures ever made—Stagecoach7 … The gambler in Stagecoach.’

    ‘When you were making those movies, had you any idea of the impact they would make?’

    ‘I knew they were bigger pictures. In the first place they were John Ford8 pictures, and he never missed. Ford only made one flop. It was called a flop when it was first released, but now it’s not considered so. That was Mary of Scotland,9 which I was in. You knew any picture of Ford’s would be of quality, and I did eight pictures for Ford.’

    ‘Was he your favourite director?’

    ‘Oh yes.’

    ‘What other directors?’

    ‘I liked to work with so many of them. Richard Boleslawski,10 I liked very much; he was a very fine director, but unfortunately he died early. He directed me in The Garden of Allah11 and Les Misérables.12 He also directed Clive of India13—the first time I worked for him—with Ronald Colman.14 He was a great gentleman and a fine director.

    ‘Then I did a number of pictures with Cecil de Mille: The Sign of the Crossand his last film, The Ten Commandments,15and several others in between. I did a sculpture—a bust of him … He gave me permission to do a bust of him, which I did in 1931. We were good friends.’

    ‘Were there any films you made which you think should have been rated greater that they have been?’

    ‘Oh yes, I think The Grapes of Wrathshould have got an Oscar—at least a nomination.

    ‘Yes, but that has since become a cult film. Are there any others?’

    Captains CourageousWinterset—which introduced Burgess Meredith16 to the screen—was a great picture but didn’t seize the popular imagination.’

    ‘What about the actors you worked with? Who did you enjoy working with most?’

    ‘I enjoy working with actors. I of course did several pictures with Spencer Tracy,17 who was a hell of an actor. He was a fine actor. I don’t think he was the best actor in the world. No. But he was a damn good actor; he was very convincing. He had a quality—which the critics noticed—called sincerity. He had a tremendous sincerity. That was something professional in Hollywood. He was a hell of a nice guy.’

    ‘What about actresses? Which did you admire?’

    ‘Oh, I got along with all of them. I got along very well with Hepburn,18 and we’ve been good friends over the years.’

    I asked him about his sons, three of whom had been in films: David, Keith and Robert.19

    ‘I’m very proud of them. They’re doing very well, and they’re good actors. They all worked on the stage with me, under my direction. That’s how they learned their business.’

    Now Carradine seemed to be taking an interest in the interview. I asked if he had tried to discourage them.

    ‘No. I said, “look, the theatre’s a literary profession, so go to college and take an Arts course and major in English literature, because that’s what you’re going to deal with all your life.” And they did very much as I suggested, except they didn’t stay at college. David did, he went all the way through.

    ‘Keith got started in college, in a production there of The Lion in Winter20—playing the King—and that did it for him, he got bit. So, he quit. Came back to the West Coast and ran into David, and David was about to try out for a part in the musical Hair,21 and he invited Keith to go along with him for his audition. When they got there the people took one look and said: “We don’t want you, we want your kid brother.” They hired Keith on the spot and took him to New York. He was in Hair for a year; that got him started in a big way. David never was in Hair; he went on to other things.’

    ‘Are you critical of their performances? Do they come to you for advice?’

    ‘No, they don’t. In fact, I’ve given them advice just once. I saw David in a production of Romeo and Juliet, and I went backstage afterwards because I knew he was aware I was out front. I had to go back to him. He was 19 at the time, playing Tybalt. I thought he was pretty good.

    ‘He said: “Well?” “You smile a good deal,” I said. “What’s wrong in that?” he asked. I said: “Nothing, except that Tybalt is not a pleasant man. If you smile it can’t be a pleasant smile, and if you want to know how to achieve that, well smile only with your eyes. Let your eyes smile and it becomes menacing.” So, he tried it and wrote me later and said it worked like a charm. That’s the only time I ever advised them.

    ‘Of course, they worked under my direction. I’d directed Keith and Robert in Tobacco Road22 with me, and I directed David in Hamlet.23 I was playing Hamlet and was directing the production and he played Laertes. I’d seen him play it with somebody else and he wasn’t very good. I said: “Come and play it with me and I’ll show you how to play Laertes.” I did and he did, and it worked out. He was the best Laertes I ever had. Then David had his series, Kung Fu,24 and we all worked in that. We haven’t worked together as much as we’d like to.

    ‘Three of the boys were together in The Long Riders.25 They had two scripts for that, one of which included the boys’ stepfather, but they didn’t do that script, and they had wanted me for it. Too bad because the boys were expecting me to be along with them in that. But it didn’t work out that way.’


    ‘You obviously have a great love of Shakespeare.’

    ‘Oh yes, that’s why I became an actor.’

    ‘Are there any roles you wish you had played?’

    ‘I’ve not played Lear, and I wanted to play Lear. I’d still like to—if I can get away with it. Some people have said it’s an impossible role, that it’s impossible to play Lear. I don’t agree because I’ve seen it well played. I’ve seen Morris Carnovsky26 do it very well.’

    ‘Have you seen any of the English actors do it? Gielgud27 for instance?’

    ‘The only time I saw Gielgud was when he did his Shakespeare recital.28 I didn’t think much of it. I’ve done the same things myself and I thought I did a better job with it.29 “The Seven Ages of Man”,30 which he did, he did nothing with it at all. He gave it no expression, it requires a certain amount of anemometry [sic], which he didn’t do. He makes nothing of it at all. It’s a tour de force for an actor, that one speech, and he did nothing with it.’

    ‘How did your recital differ?’

    ‘Well, I made something of it. He just read the words. That’s the only thing I’ve seen him do. I haven’t seen him play Hamlet. I saw Olivier’s31 film Hamlet. I saw Burton do it on Broadway without any scenery32—and half a costume and that sort of thing, and I didn’t think much of that. They put out the news in their publicity that this was done as a sort of semi-dress rehearsal. That was no excuse for it: having not much scenery and not much in the way of costumes. If you’re going to do Hamlet, then do Hamlet!’

    ‘What did you think of Olivier’s film of Hamlet?’33

    ‘I didn’t think very much of it. I knew him then and he was very young. I couldn’t fault him for what he did, I could only fault the direction. For instance, with the line “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King,” he did a strange thing. On the line before that he took a run up the corridor, pirouetted, elevated himself on his toes and said “The play's the thing …” I couldn’t understand why he’d do that.’

    ‘But he was his own director on that!’

    ‘I guess he was. I guess he was. But I haven’t seen him do it on the stage.’

    ‘What about Maurice Evans?34 How do you rate his performances in Shakespeare?’

    ‘I didn’t like him at all. He sang it—he sang it all. Chanted it, and that sort of Shakespeare went out fifty years ago.’

    ‘Orson Welles?’

    ‘Orson Welles was extraordinary. He didn’t stay with it very long. I didn’t see his Lear, which he played briefly on Broadway. But I saw his Macbeth. I saw it on the stage and then saw the picture. It was unbelievably bad. He had some idea it rained all the time in Scotland. Whenever you saw Macbeth, he was standing in a puddle of water, being drenched with water pouring down.35

    ‘Then they tried to use something resembling a Scottish burr. It wasn’t very good and finally re-dubbed the whole soundtrack and got rid of the burr, but it didn’t help the picture. It was a terrible flop. I saw it in Boston, at the opening performance. There were local drama students there and within twenty minutes they whistled it off the screen. That was that.’

    I asked Carradine what other Shakespearean performances had impressed him, and he thought deeply before replying.

    ‘Well, I was impressed with Paul Robeson’s Othello36 in a way. I was impressed by the fact he didn’t do anything. He was a lumbering man; he didn’t move well, so they put him in a chair centre stage and said: “Sit there,” which left all the action to Iago. Jose Ferrer,37 who played Iago, just danced around Othello all evening, and I didn’t think much of him. Robeson had a magnificent voice, but it was a very limited voice. He had about eight notes. As a singer he had eight rich bass notes, but that’s not enough.’

    ‘What about the Julius Caesar film, with Gielgud, Brando and Mason?’38

    ‘Well, I thought Brando was full of splendid surprises. He didn’t mumble, his English was impeccable, and I thought Gielgud was very bad in the instigation scene but wonderful in the quarrel scene. I don’t know why there was such a difference in his performance in those scenes.

    ‘I’ve played Cassius several times and I was anxious to see what he would do with it. In fact, I wanted to play it, I tried to get the part myself in the picture, but they chose Gielgud. But I was pleasantly surprised with Brando because he was known as a mumbler and his English was perfectly clear and crisp, British and natural. I thought he did a very good job.’

    ‘What do you think of English actors as a whole?’

    ‘By and large they’re the best actors there are. They have the best training you see. They don’t get a chance in the West End of London till they’ve had three years of repertory. By that time, they’ve played everything—Shaw and Shakespeare and Chekhov—everything. They may not be great artistes, but they know their business. English actors are the best actors we have in the English language.’

    ‘Have you ever seen Paul Scofield?’39

    ‘Yes, I have. I saw him do A Man For All Seasons.40 He disappointed me. He did nothing with it at all, but he may have had an off night. It’s the only time I’ve seen him. But, having seen it, I decided I wanted to play it and, when he quit it, bearded the producer [Robert Whitehead] in his den and tried to get the part, but he wanted an Englishman and brought over Emlyn Williams41 to do it for three months. Then, when I heard Williams was quitting, I bearded Whitehead again, and this time he chose the understudy, who was an Australian actor. I got a chance at it later and I’ve done it several times since. It’s my favourite part in the theatre now.

    ‘I had a very amusing experience with it. I was doing it in South Dakota in the States, and it was an outdoor theatre—the stage was covered, but the audience was not—and during the intermission we had a cloud burst. Of course, the audience got soaked and sheets of water poured down on the stage and the apron was just flooded and before we started the second act, the stage hands came out with big wide brushes, and swept all this water off the stage into the orchestra pit, and I just couldn’t wait for the second act to start, because I knew what would happen.

    ‘The second act starts with the Common Man coming out and saying: “A lot of water has gone under the bridge …”.’ Here Carradine burst out into hearty laughter. ‘I just couldn’t wait, and of course the audience roared—it was so apropos.’

    ‘All these great roles you’ve played on stage—how do you feel when you’re playing murderers and suchlike in films?’

    ‘They’re jobs. I love to act. I remember one time I was doing a TV show written by Raymond Massey, The Hanging Judge. He’d had it done on the stage in London … ’42

    ‘With Godfrey Tearle.’43

    ‘Yes, Godfrey Tearle, and he was the wrong man, he was a too warm-hearted personality to play this cold-minded judge. So, when de decided to do it in the States, Massey decided to play it himself on TV and he hired Cedric Hardwicke44 and me to play the opposing counsels. I was Counsel for the Defence and Cedric was Queen’s Counsel.45

    ‘We had a scene together playing a game of pool in our club, and we consulted each other about it, and I said: “Why don’t we actually play a game of pool and sandwich the lines in between shots—really play the game of pool.” So, we did. John Frankenheimer,46 who directed, thought that was a wonderful idea, and he loved it.

    ‘When we got through it, we were sitting on the sidelines of this big rehearsal hall in this big Hollywood studio. It was in the summer season, and we had this huge rehearsal hall and this was the dress rehearsal, and Cedric and I were sitting on the sideline watching the rest of the rehearsal and Cedric turned to me and said: “You know, John, we have something in common.” Well, I’d known Cedric for 25 years at least by that time and we’d been pretty good friends for years. “What is that, Cedric?” I asked. “We both love to act, and we’re damn good at it!” he said.

    ‘Cedric was a fine actor. He had a wonderful quality that I noticed even before I ever met him. A wonderful quality of stillness in his face. Not a muscle ever moved, yet he conveyed wonderful things. First time I’d seen him was in Les Misérables—as a matter of fact that’s where I met him. I was playing the young student who starts the French Revolution, and he was playing the Bishop from whom the candlesticks are stolen, and his acting had a quality of extraordinary serenity. He had that in his face, and it always impressed me. Tremendous serenity in his face.

    ‘He was a fairly serene man considering he had a great deal of trouble in his life. His wife was a dipsomaniac—they didn’t live together—he had her in an asylum in Canada. She would escape every once in a while: get a bowl of liquor and make a mess of things. And he had this to contend with for years and all his friends knew it. He was very fond of her, because she was a lovely lady when she was in her right mind. But he had to suffer this for years, he never divorced her. So, his life was not a serene life. He had an extraordinary modest serenity in his personality considering the trials and tribulations he had to suffer.’

    ‘Well, he was a great Shavian actor. What’s your opinion of Shaw?’47

    ‘I’ve only played one Shaw play, and that was one of his very early plays they revive in London every couple of years or so. That’s a play called You Never Can Tell.48 I played the waiter—a lovely role. Some top English actor plays it every five years or so. They get the top actor of the time, and they love to do it. I did it in stock somewhere. I was travelling doing stock all over the country, you know, doing different plays.’

    Surprisingly, Carradine never played in Chekhov, Ibsen, or O’Neill. During the War, he told me, he had his own Shakespeare company, touring the West Coast of America.

    ‘I did three plays: Hamlet, Othello and The Merchant of Venice. It was a big heavy production, a beautiful production, which I designed. When I played San Francisco, they not only complimented me on my acting but for my production, designing the set and my direction. It was a going proposition, very successful.

    ‘After eight weeks of touring the West Coast, I was about to embark on a cross-country tour and couldn’t get out of Los Angeles. I couldn’t get a truck, couldn’t get a baggage car, couldn’t get anything. This was ’43. So I had to give it up. I played Shylock, Othello and Hamlet. Sometime I played Iago.’

    I brought the conversation round to more contemporary playwrights, like Tennessee Williams.49

    ‘The only Tennessee Williams play I ever did was Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, which I liked. I played Big Daddy. Do you know, the funny thing was it was offered to me some years before when they were first doing it. They were rehearsing out of town—New Orleans—and they called me up and wanted me to do it in New York, but I couldn’t get away, I was engaged in another production. I was doing Volpone on Broadway with Jose Ferrer—I was playing Voltore and Jose Ferrer was playing Volpone—so I couldn’t do it. I found out they got Burl Ives. [Carradine’s memory was at fault here. He played in Volpone in 1948 and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof did not premiere until 1955!]

    ‘Tennessee’s original idea for the part was a tall gaunt man, instead of a beefy man like Burl. Tennessee revived it under his own aegis in Paris a couple of years later and he got a tall gaunt man to play Big Daddy. He was talked out it apparently by the production people in New York. He had wanted me for it, but I was not available. It was too bad, because it’s a great part. But I did it later, just for one week.’

    The interview had come to an end. I had enjoyed it more than I thought possible, and so I think he had. I was getting up to leave, when he suddenly said: ‘Put your recorder on again—here’s an anecdote you might like to record.

    ‘I had an idea about Romeo and Juliet. I was playing Mercutio and the tradition was that Mercutio was killed offstage and Benvolio comes on and informs Romeo: “Mercutio is dead, that gallant spirit, etc. etc.”

    ‘I had a better idea for it. Instead of having Benvolio come on and announce the death of Mercutio, I had him come in carrying the dead Mercutio in his arms, with his sword still in his dead hand, and I had Romeo run to him and help him, and they laid Mercutio on a bench upstage and at that point Tybalt comes in and challenges Romeo, and Romeo turns, prises open Mercutio’s dead hand and with Mercutio’s sword he turns on Tybalt and kills him. It’s a hell of a piece of business.

    ‘I found out—oh, years later—that Henry Irving did it in 1880. The same piece of business. Nothing new under the sun! I thought I’d invented a wonderful piece of business—and Irving did it in 1880! Same piece of business!

    ‘When it was done on Broadway the producer hired Jack Hawkins50 to play Mercutio. I was trying to get the part, but he decided he wanted Hawkins, which was all right with me because Hawkins was a fine actor—a hell of an actor, one of my favourite actors in the world was Jack Hawkins. I thought: “Well, I didn’t get the part, but I’ll tell them the business I invented.” At that time I didn’t know that Irving had done it—and I told the producer, but they didn’t use it.’

    Whilst still in New Zealand I was told a nice little ‘in’ story of John Carradine on The Scarecrow set.

    ‘Carradine, playing the murderer, comes into the town disguised as a visiting magician. They drove him onto the set in a Mercedes to give him the right treatment; it was an all-night shoot, about 1 a.m.

    ‘He got out of his Mercedes, walked slowly over to the front of a movie theatre and there was this big poster saying: “Dracula—starring John Carradine”.51 He looked at it, didn’t flicker a muscle, just looked at it, obviously thought something, and then walked on. He was getting into position. Didn’t say a word. But it obviously made quite an impression, seeing that poster.’

    I have never seen The Scarecrow, but understand it is a very bad movie.

    I often wonder what Carradine was like, in his heyday, playing Shakespeare. Ephraim Katz’s admirable The International Film Encyclopaedia says that in Hollywood Carradine had a reputation as an eccentric and a ham, and was known as the ‘Bard of the Boulevard’ for his habit of reciting Shakespeare in his booming voice while walking the streets.

    Lloyd Fuller Dresser, in The Illustrated Who’s Who of the Cinemais kinder and says: ’The man’s credits are a roll of honour of the American cinema.’

    Leslie Halliwell’s description of Carradine is of an actor ‘who scored a fine run of character roles in the thirties and forties but later sank to mad doctors in cheap horror movies, touring meanwhile with one-man Shakespeare readings’.


    Endnotes compiled by Elisabeth Kumm

    1. John Carradine (1906–1988), American film and stage actor.

    2. The Scarecrow, directed by Sam Pillsbury, was released in 1982. It was known as Klynham Summer in America.

    3. Carradine’s fourth and final wife, Emily Cisneros, whom he had married in 1975.

    4. Frankenstein was a play by Victor Gialanella, with incidental music by Richard Peaslee. It was directed by Tom Moore. The principal roles were played by David Dukes (Victor Frankenstein), John Glover (Henry Clerval), Keith Jochim (The Creature) and Dianne Wiest (Elizabeth Lavenza). John Carradine played DeLacey, a blind hermit. The play commenced previews at the Palace Theatre, New York, 9 December 1980, eventually opening on 4 January 1981, but it closed the same night.

    5. The Grapes of Wrath was a 1940 American film based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The film was directed by John Ford. The principal roles were played by Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), Jane Darwell (‘Ma’ Joad) and John Carradine (Jim Casey).

    6. Captains Courageous was a 1937 American adventure film based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 novel of the same name. It was directed by Victor Fleming. Its virtually all-male cast included Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Mervyn Douglas, Mickey Rooney and John Carradine.

    7. Stagecoach was a 1939 American western film directed by John Ford. Based on a short story by Ernest Haycox, it followed nine strangers riding through dangerous Apache territory in the 1880s. The principal stars were Claire Trevor and John Wayne.

    8. John Ford (1894–1973) was an award-winning American film director best known for his westerns, notably Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

    9. Mary of Scotland was a 1936 American costume drama based on a 1933 play by Maxwell Anderson. It starred Katharine Hepburn as Mary, Queen of Scotland, and Fredric March as Bothwell.

    10. Richard Boleslawski (1889-1937) was a Polish theatre and film director. Resident in America from 1922, he founded the American Laboratory Theatre in New York in 1923. He made several important films for major studios before his premature death aged only 48.

    11. The Garden of Allahwas a 1936 American adventure film based on the 1904 novel of the same name by Robert S. Hitchens. The stars of the film were Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer.

    12. Les Misérableswas a 1935 American drama film based on the 1862 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. The film starred Fredric March as Jean Valjean and Charles Laughton as Inspector Javert. John Carradine played the small role of Enjolras, a revolutionary.

    13. Clive of India was a 1935 American biopic starring Ronald Colman as Robert Clive, the nineteenth century colonist and founder of the British East-India Company.

    14. Ronald Colman (1891–1958), English film actor and leading man in Hollywood from 1920s-1940s.

    15. Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959), American film director. His 1927 silent film The King of Kings, based on the life of Jesus established his reputation as a maker of epic films. His first sound film was The Sign of the Cross (1932), based on the 1895 play by Wilson Barrett, and starring Fredric March as Marcus Superbus, with Elissa Landi as Mercia. The Ten Commandments (1956) was a Biblical epic based on the life of Moses. Shot in VistaVision with colour by Technicolor, it starred Charlton Heston in the principal role. According to the Guinness Book of Records it is the eighth most successful film of all time.

    16. Burgess Meredith (1907–1997) was an American film and stage actor. He established himself as a leading man in Hollywood after playing Mio Romagna in Winterset (1936), a film based on the 1935 play by Maxwell Anderson, loosely based on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. It was directed by Alfred Santell.

    17. Spencer Tracy (1900–1967), American film actor and major star of Hollywood’s Golden Age. During the 1940s and 1950s he co-starred in nine films with Katharine Hepburn.

    18. Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003), American film and stage actress.

    19. David Carradine (1936–2009), Keith Carradine (b.1949) and Robert Carradine (b.1954)

    20. The Lion in Winterwas a 1966 play by James Goldman, based on events surrounding Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. The play premiered at New York’s Ambassadors Theatre, with Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris in the central roles.

    21. Hair was a 1967 rock musical by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot. Featuring nudity and drug taking, it championed the hippy movement and free love. Several of its songs became anthems for the anti-Vietnam War peace movement, namely ‘Age of Aquarius’. Having its premiere off-Broadway in 1967, it moved to the Biltmore Theatre in April 1968 where it played 1,750 performances. It spawned numerous touring productions and was hugely successful in the UK and Australia.

    22. Tobacco Roadwas a 1933 play by American playwright Jack Kirkland. In 1970 John Carradine mounted a touring production in Florida with son Keith, who was later replaced by son Robert.

    23. John Carradine directed a production of Hamlet at the Gateway Playhouse on Long Island in 1963, with himself as Hamlet and son David as Laertes.

    24. Kung Fu was an American martial arts television drama starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine. The series ran for 63 episodes between 1972 and 1975.

    25. Long Riderswas a 1980 American western film directed by Walter Hill. It starred four sets of real-life brothers as the central protagonists: the Carradines (David, Keith and Robert), the Keaches (James and Stacy), the Quaids (Dennis and Randy), and the Guests (Christopher and Nicholas).

    26. Morris Carnovsky (1879–1992), American stage and film actor. He played the title roles in Othello and The Merchant of Veniceat the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut during the 1950s.

    27. John Gielgud (1904–2000), English stage and film actor.

    28. Gielgud’s one-man Shakespeare recital was called Ages of Man. Devised by Oxford scholar George Rylands in 1939, Gielgud first performed it at the Edinburgh Festival in 1957. It was a huge success and he subsequently took it on tour around the world over the next decade. 

    29. In 1952 he gave a one-man recital at the Village Vanguard, a nightclub in Greenwich Village. The recital include Shakespeare as well as passages from Shaw, Rupert Brooke, and the Bible.

    30. ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ is the colloquial name given to Jaques’ speech from As You Like It, beginning ‘All the World's a stage’ (Act II, Scene VII, Line 139. The speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play and catalogues the seven stages of a man’s life.) 

    31. Laurence Olivier (1907–1989), English stage and film actor. He directed three major film productions of Shakespeare: Henry V(1944), Hamlet (1948) and Richard III (1955) with himself in the title roles.

    32. Richard Burton (1925–1984), Welsh actor. He played Hamlet on Broadway in 1964. Directed by John Gielgud, the production opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on 9 April and ran until 8 August. Achieving 137 performances, it became the longest running Hamlet on Broadway. The production’s success has been attributed in some part to Burton’s romance with Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor, whom he married just before the play opened in New York.

    33. See Note 31.

    34. Maurice Evans (1901–1989), English stage actor active in America from 1936. He first played Hamlet on Broadway in 1938, when the play was performed in an uncut version for the first time. In 1945 he produced his ‘GI’ Hamlet, a modified version of the play that he had performed before troops during WWII.

    35. Orson Welles (1915–1985), American stage and film actor, director and producer. Considered something of a Wunderkind, he shot to fame with his first film, Citizen Kane,in 1941. Prior to this, in 1936, he achieved notoriety when he directed a production of Macbeth for the Federal Theatre Project’s Negro Theatre Unit. Featuring an all-black cast, and moving the action from Scotland to the Caribbean, it became known as the Voodoo Macbeth. Welles did not play Macbeth on Broadway, but he did star in his own 1948 film of the play. It was shot in just 23 days at Republic Studios in Los Angeles using sets left over from low-budget westerns. Welles played King Lear at New York’s City Center during January 1956. Prior to this, he had played the role in a 1953 live television version directed by Peter Brook.

    36. Paul Robeson (1898-1976), American actor and vocalist (bass baritone). Played leads in The Emperor Jones, Show Boat and All God’s Chullin Got Wings on Broadway and in London. He also carved out a significant career as a concert singer and recording artist. His rendition of ‘Ol’ Man River’ remains unequalled.

    37. Jose Ferrer (1912–1992), American film and stage actor.

    38. Julius Caesar was a 1953 American film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It featured Marlon Brando (Mark Antony), James Mason (Brutus), John Gielgud (Cassio) and Louis Calhern (Julius Caesar).

    39. Paul Scofield (1922–2008), English stage and film actor. His only Broadway appearance was as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (1961).

    40. A Man for All Seasonsby Robert Bolt began as a 1954 BBC radio play featuring Leon Quartermaine as Sir Thomas More. In 1956 Bolt adapted it for BBC television with Bernard Hepton in the title role. In 1960 it reached the stage. After a short try-out season in Oxford and Brighton, it opened in London at the Globe Theatre on 1 July, with Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, Leo McKern as the Common Man, and Andrew Keir as Thomas Cromwell. When the London season closed on 1 April 1961, the play transferred to Broadway’s ANTA Playhouse, opening in November 1961 with Paul Scofield in his original role of Sir Thomas More. Leo McKern now played Thomas Cromwell, and George Rose was the Common Man. The play enjoyed an 18-month season on Broadway, winning a Critics Circle prize and five Tony awards.

    41. Emlyn Williams (1905–1987), Welsh actor and playwright. Emlyn Williams played Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons from 25 June 1962 to 4 May 1963. He was replaced by William Roderick who had played the role in South Africa.

    42. Raymond Massey (1896–1983), Canadian stage and film actor. Father of actors Anna and Daniel Massey. In 1952 his (only) play The Hanging Judge, adapted from Bruce Hamilton’s 1948 novel Let Him Have Judgement, opened at the New Theatre in London on 23 September 1952, with the recently knighted Sir Godfrey Tearle as Sir Francis Brittain, an ruthless judge who is revealed to be leading a double-life. It was directed by Michael Powell. The following year it was produced as a radio play on the BBC with Boris Karloff as the Judge. A US TV production, directed by John Frankenheimer, aired in January 1956, with Raymond Massey as the Judge and Cedric Hardwicke as the newspaper magnate, Sir George Sidney. In 1958, Raymond Massey swapped to the role of the newspaper magnate in a UK television adaptation, directed by George More O’Ferrall, with John Robinson as the Judge (Robinson had played Sir George Sidney in the original stage production).

    43. Godfrey Tearle (1884–1953), American-born, British stage and film actor. Son of actor Osmond Tearle and brother of actors Malcolm and Conway Tearle. The role of Sir Francis Brittain in The Hanging Judge was his final stage appearance.

    44. Cedric Hardwicke (1893–1964), English stage and film actor.

    45. Contemporary reviews and other sources suggest that Cedric Hardwicke played Sir George Sidney and that John Carradine played Colonel Archer, the police constable. See Note 42.

    46. John Frankenheimer (1930–2002), American film director. His best films were made in the 1960s: Birdman of Alcatraz(1962), The Manchurian Candidate(1962), Seven Days in May (1964) and Grand Prix (1966).

    47. George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), Irish playwright and critic. The term ‘Shavian’ refers to someone or something encapsulating the views and ideals of Shaw.

    48. You Never Can Tell was an 1897 play by G.B. Shaw written in the style of a farce. Though it has been staged many times, Carradine exaggerates the frequency of its revival in London. Following its original production at the Royalty Theatre in 1899 (a single Sunday performance by the Stage Society) and at the Strand Theatre in 1900 (six matinee performances), it was revived at the Court (1905, 1906 & 1907), Savoy (1907), Garrick (1920), Little (1927), Westminster (1938), Wyndham’s (1947), Haymarket (1966 & 1987), and Lyric Hammersmith (1979). On these occasions, the role of the Waiter was played by James A. Welch (1899 & 1900), Louis Calvert (1905, 1906, 1907 & 1920), J.D. Beveridge (1907), Frank Darch (1927), Stanley Lathbury (1938), Harcourt Williams (1947), Ralph Richardson (1966), Paul Rogers (1979), and Michael Hordern (1987).

    49. Tennessee Williams (1911–1983), American playwright. His most famous works include The Glass Menangerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955).

    50. Jack Hawkins (1910–1973), English stage and film actor. Romeo and Juliet played 49 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre from 10 March 1951. It was directed by Peter Glenville and the production was designed by Oliver Messel. The lovers were played by Olivia de Havilland (her Broadway debut) and Douglas Watson.

    51. John Carradine played Dracula in numerous films: The House of Frankenstein (1944), The House of Dracula (1945), Billy the Kid vs Dracula (1966), Mil Mascaras vs Las Vamiras (1969), Blood of Dracula’s Castle(1969), McCloud Meets Dracula (1977), Vampire Hookers (1978), Nocturna, Granddaughter of Dracula (1979). For more on Carradine’s Dracula movies watch:

    Next time... Carol Channing

  • The Comedy Theatre: Melbourne's most intimate playhouse (Part 4)

    IMG 1757 sunscreen again

    In Part 4 of the Comedy Theatre story, RALPH MARSDEN takes a look at the plays and performers that graced the stage of the Melbourne playhouse during the period 1960 to 1986.

    Celebrated French entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, interrupting a revival of his American film career, starred in a one man show for a month from 24 February 1960. The Phillip Street Revue, from Sydney’s Phillip Street Theatre, ran just over a month from 21 May, preceding Cyril Ritchard and Cornelia Otis Skinner in The Pleasure of His Company, a comedy by Samuel Taylor and Ms Skinner, which began its nine-week run on 2 July. The year ended with two serious plays: an AETT production of Brendan Behan’s The Hostage and Clifford Odets’ Winter Journey, which starred Googie Withers and ran two months to 25 January 1961. Then came Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, also with Withers, until 29 March.

    17 June 1961 brought that uncommon Comedy attraction—a musical—Irma La Douce, which had flopped in Sydney but ran here for over four months. This was followed by an even rarer bird—a successful Australian musical: The Sentimental Bloke, with book and score based on C.J. Dennis’s poems by Albert Arlen and his wife, Nancy Brown with Lloyd Thomas, which also ran for over four months from 4 November.

    Highlights of 1962 included an AETT production of The Miracle Worker, British actor Robert Speaight in A Man for All Seasons and—much lighter and more successful—Under the Yum Yum Tree, a comedy which played for over two months from 8 August. 9 November brought back Googie Withers in Ted Willis’s Woman in a Dressing Gown, which ran until 19 December. This was revived for a few weeks from 30 April 1963, following famed French mime, Marcel Marceau, who had been appearing for most of that month.

    Who’ll Come A-Waltzing, a local comedy by Peggy Caine, ran six weeks from 22 May 1963, followed by another six weeks for British comic actress Irene Handl in Goodnight Mrs. Puffin, which was also revived late in November. Another fondly remembered English comedienne was Joyce Grenfell who brought her own show here for a few weeks from 29 August, followed by Muriel Pavlow, Derek Farr and Dermot Walsh in the comedy Mary, Maryfor eight weeks from 18 September.

    1963’s most distinguished visitor was Sir John Gielgud, who performed his Shakespearian compendium, Ages of Man, between 9 and 28 December. A completely different but equally celebrated performer was American comedian Jack Benny, who played the Comedy between 16 and 26 March 1964. That year was also the quatro-centenary of Shakespeare’s birth, celebrated here by The First 400 Years—excerpts from the most famous plays starring Googie Withers and Keith Michell for three weeks from 23 April.

    A couple of comedies—Never Too Late and Rattle of a Simple Man—the latter with local husband and wife John Meillon and June Salter—then preceded Britain’s Michael Flanders and Donald Swann in their famous revue, At the Drop of a Hat, for a month from 29 August. Go Tell It On the Mountain, an all negro folk-song entertainment, saw out the year and made way for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre from 16 February 1965.

    British actor Robert Flemyng starred in Difference of Opinion for two months from 25 March 1965, then came Googie Withers and Richard Wordsworth in Beekman Place, followed by the bare breasted Guinean dancers of Les Ballets Africains, and then another Britisher, Robin Bailey, in another drama, A Severed Head. That most original of all Australian entertainers, Barry Humphries, was given his first hometown season at a major theatre in Excuse I, which began a three-week run on 20 September and proved popular enough for a three week revival from 5 February 1966.

    Other familiar faces in 1966 included Googie Withers, now partnered by Ed Devereaux, in a new local play, Desire of the Moth, from 5 March, and Irene Handl in a comedy-thriller, Busybody, from 16 April. The Melbourne premiere of the musical The Boys from Syracuse began on 8 June, followed by returns of Les Ballets Africains on 3 August and Joyce Grenfell on 31 August. Fresh attractions included the Phillip Street revue, A Cup of Tea, a Bex and a Good Lie Down, doing seven weeks from 20 September and Cactus Flower, an American comedy with a local cast, which closed just over a month after its 19 November opening.

    More successful was Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, with Keith Petersen and Frederick Parslow, beginning a two-month run on New Year’s Eve. 11 March 1967 brought a much bigger hit with the British musical, Half a Sixpence, starring Scottish actor Mark McManus. This ran four months and was followed by a British comedy, There’s a Girl in My Soup, with expatriate Ron Randell (ten weeks from 14 July) and another musical, Man of La Mancha, with Charles West and Suzanne Steele, whose first four-month run here was later topped in the show’s numerous revivals.

    British comic actor Alfred Marks starred in his London success, Spring and Port Wine, for two months from 10 February 1968. Black Comedy and White Liars, two Peter Shaffer one-acters, made an unexpectedly modernist Comedy attraction for three weeks from 23 May, and from 15 July Barry Humphries was back for a month in Just a Show. Also of note that year was a South African musical, Wait a Minim, which ran seven weeks from 26 September and the British musical satire, Oh, What a Lovely War, in a St Martin’s production that ran 25 nights from 23 November.

    Musicals again predominated in 1969: a revival of The Boy Friend, directed by its author, Sandy Wilson, ran for three months from 15 February, but Your Own Thing, a ‘mod’ musicalisation of Twelfth Night, flopped badly after four weeks from 7 June. More successful was the bawdy British Canterbury Tales, which did ten weeks from 16 August and was revived for a couple of months from 31 December. Prior to this Googie Withers and Alfred Sandor co-starred in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, which did seven weeks from 5 November and was also revived for a month from 9 May 1970. Another month-long revival from 1 July 1970 was The Secretary Bird, a comedy with Patrick McNee, which had originally played at the Princess.

    22 October 1970 was the advertised opening for Anthony Shaffer’s comic thriller Sleuth, starring Patrick Wymark, a formidable presence in several British TV series. Just 48 hours before this, however, the 44-year-old Wymark died suddenly in his Melbourne hotel suite and the season was cancelled. Entrepreneur Harry M. Miller rushed in a revival of The Boys in the Band to salvage the booking, but it was not until 30 June 1971 that Sleuth had its Melbourne premiere with Stratford Johns, also from British TV, now the star.

    Sleuth ran for two months and was followed by another Miller attraction, a British Army drama called Conduct Unbecoming, with English pop singer Mark Wynter, which closed exactly a month after its 9 September opening. Another flop which opened on 8 January 1972 was The Jesus Christ Revolution, a locally-penned religious rock opera. Backed by erratic Sydney entrepreneur Harry Wren, this closed after three weeks, leaving its cast stranded and unpaid.

    In September 1971 J.C. Williamson had amalgamated with Perth entrepreneur Michael Edgley to form a subsidiary company, Williamson–Edgley Theatres. Their first show at the Comedy was the farce Move Over Mrs Markham, with British stars Honor Blackman and Michael Craig, from 3 March 1972. Harry H. Corbett, another popular British TV, performer, followed them on 6 May in Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, which also played two months. Googie Withers returned on 12 July in an MTC company with Dennis Olsen, Dinah Shearing and Frank Thring in The Cherry Orchard and An Ideal Husband. But the most popular performer that year was British film and TV comic Sidney James, who had a ten-week run in the farce The Mating Season from 30 September. The new management also installed bars and additional toilets in the theatre during the year.

    Robert Morley, back for just 28 days in Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves, from 15 January, reopened the Comedy in 1973. Other highlights included Sir Michael Redgrave in John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father (six weeks from 14 March) and another ten-week MTC season from 12 September, beginning with Alex Buzo’s Batman’s  Beach Head and ending with Lewis Esson’s 1912 comedy The Time Is Not Yet Ripe. In between came more familiar Comedy fare: The Love Game, a British farce with Bernard Cribbins, and Suddenly At Home, a thriller with Michael Craig.

    26 February 1974 brought more of the same with Eric Sykes and Jimmy Edwards in Big, Bad Mouse but an Old Tote Theatre Company production of David Williamson’s What If You Died Tomorrow?was followed by an immaculate English National Theatre production of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 comedy The Front Page on 14 May. Leslie Phillips in The Man Most Likely To... and a fortnight by Marcel Marceau preceded Barry Humphries in At Least You Can Say You’ve Seen It. This did well during its eight weeks from 21 August and was followed by As It’s Played Today, a contemporary satire written and acted by John McCallum, which did not.

    Patrick Cargill in the self-explanatory Two and Two Make Sex played eight weeks from 14 February 1975 and on 23 April came Edward Woodward and Michele Dotrice in Alan Owen’s The Male of the Species. Scapino, a farce adapted from Moliere, with Barry Crocker, arrived on 19 June then, after a month’s darkness, came Derek Nimmo on 5 September in Why Not Stay for Breakfast?, another farce which stayed for ten weeks.

    Very funny British drag duo Patrick Fyffe and George Logan as Hinge and Bracket became the first night-time attraction of 1976 from 28 April. Hard on their high heels came a fortnight by Luisillo and his Spanish Dancers—their first season here since the early 1960s and their last ever at the Comedy. Eric Dare presented Lindsay Kemp and friends in Flowers, their striking paean to Jean Genet for a month from 18 June. Neil Simon’s Same Time Next Year brought back more conservative audiences for six weeks from 30 July; ditto Susannah York and Barrie Ingham in Private Lives for a month from 15 October. This was to be the last of the old style in-house productions by J.C. Williamson’s at the Comedy, for The Firm, which had been plagued by continual losses throughout the 1970s, now faced drastic reorganisation and reductions.

    Apart from a daytime panto in January, the theatre was left dark until 16 March 1977 when English husband and wife, John Thaw and Sheila Hancock, starred in four Michael Frayn two-handers under the title The Two of Us. ‘J.C. Williamson’s may be dead but the malady that afflicted it apparently lingers on,’ The Age commented, although it was a little kinder to the equally conventional The Pleasure of His Company, whose starry cast included Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, David Langton, Stanley Holloway and Carol Raye. Originally scheduled for two weeks from 25 April, it was extended an extra week when the cast was stranded by an air traffic controllers’ strike, and also returned for a couple of weeks late in November.

    The next attraction, a stage spin-off from British TV, was Doctor in Love, which ran six weeks from 14 June and was most notable as marking English entrepreneur and future owner of the theatre, Paul Dainty’s first association with the Comedy. Mike Stott’s comedy, Funny Peculiar, followed this for seven weeks then, on 1 October, came an Old Tote production of Patrick White’s Big Toys for five weeks. Year’s end brought the musical compilation Side By Side Sondheim, which ran eight weeks from 24 November.

    An early highlight of 1978 was the 28 February opening of a company from England’s Chichester Festival Theatre. Headed by Keith Michell and including Roy Dotrice, Nyree Dawn Porter, Nigel Stock and June Jago, they appeared in Othello and The Apple Cart. But the most important event for the Comedy itself was its auction by J.C. Williamson’s on 2 May. An Age report of 22 April noted that the theatre now seated 1008, was valued for rating purposes at over $1 million and that ‘Land tax on the site for a single owner would be about $30 000 a year, but it might be possible for an owner to make $100 000 a year in rent from it if it could be booked almost continually.’ The Comedy was passed in for $800 000 and sold for this sum in June to the Paul Dainty Corporation while Love Thy Neighbour, another Dainty attraction from British TV, was playing.

    Barry Humphries’ Isn’t It Pathetic At His Age? proved his most popular yet here with a nine week extended run from 24 July 1978, and from 1 to 25 November Norwegian film actress Liv Ulmann starred in Chekhov’s The Bear and Cocteau’s The Human Voice. Googie Withers and John McCallum returned as a duo for the first time in nearly twenty years in William Douglas Home’s The Kingfisher on 29 November. They enjoyed a run extended to 3 February 1979 but the series of other recent overseas successes with local casts that followed—Dracula, Bedroom Farce, Deathtrap, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead—all failed to equal this.

    The acclaimed Philippe Genty puppet company from France stayed for three weeks from 7 August 1979, then came Deborah Kerr in The Day After the Fair for six weeks from 11 September, and three weeks of Roger Hall’s Flexitime from 30 November—a few months after its first success at the Alexander Theatre at Monash University.

    Robert Morley, making his final Comedy appearance, failed to draw in Alan Bennett’s cerebral drama The Old Country, in February 1980, and the rest of that year showed something of the same patchiness that had afflicted the theatre in its last years under Williamson’s control. There was variety aplenty however: Spike Milligan was here late in April, and Derek Nimmo in the farce Shut Your Eyes and Think of England ran for seven weeks from 10 May. Vincent Price impersonated Oscar Wilde in the compilation Diversions and Delights for a fortnight from 28 July; Robyn Archer revived A Star is Torn for three weeks from 13 August; Jeannie Lewis starred in Pam Gems’ Piaf for seven weeks from 20 September and 10 November brought An Evening with Dave Allen.

    Neil Simon’s musical two-hander They’re Playing Our Song, with John Waters and Jacki Weaver, opened on 9 January 1981 and played until 9 May, giving the Comedy its longest run in years. After this came Robert Coleby in the comedy of quadriplegia. Whose Life Is It Anyway? for six weeks from 13 May, then Warren Mitchell and Gordon Chater in The Dresser for five weeks from 8 July. A Sydney Theatre Company production of the musical Chicago, with Nancye Hayes and Geraldine Turner, scored the second longest run of the year with ten weeks from 5 September, and 23 November brought three weeks of Danny La Rue in Revue.

    The Rocky Horror Show, with Daniel Abineri as Rocky and Stuart Wagstaff as Narrator, returned for fifteen weeks from 7 January 1982 and became one of the Comedy’s staple revival attractions over the next few years. Two flops followed, however—One Mo’ Time (‘the great New Orleans musical’) and a musicalised version of Candide. From 9 September the Comedy was screening films for the first time in over forty years, beginning with a revival double bill of The Life of Brian and The Elephant Man. Live theatre returned on 22 November when Nell Dunn’s Steaming was first produced here; although it initially ran only a month it enjoyed three revivals over the next eight years.

    Googie Withers and John McCallum in Maugham’s The Circle got 1983 off to a good start with an eight-week run from 18 January but the rest of the year provided very few highlights: Michael Frayn’s comedy Noises Off with Carol Raye, Stuart Wagstaff and Barry Creyton in the cast, began a five-week run on 20 April—and a revival of Born Yesterday with Jacki Weaver also did five weeks from 12 October.

    New Year’s Eve brought the Rice–Webber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which drew until 10 March 1984. Gordon Chater’s brilliant solo performance of The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin was revived for a month from 16 March and two new plays—Mark Medoff’s drama of deafness, Children of a Lesser God, and Donald McDonald’s local comedy, Caravan, were both AETT subsidised attractions in the second half of the year.

    A Withers–McCallum vehicle which did less well than usual, although it was specially written for them, was Ted Willis’s Stardust, which managed only five weeks from 3 January 1985. A ‘monster musical’, The Little Shop of Horrors, followed for six weeks from 26 February and on 10 August came another musical, Stepping Out, with Rowena Wallace, Carol Raye, Collette Mann and Nancye Hayes, which did business for eight weeks. British TV comics Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones arrived for a week in Alas the World on 15 November and last up for the year was a short series of concerts by Renee Geyer—another attempt to fill the increasing gaps between more orthodox attractions.

    Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs was the first show of 1986, doing six weeks from 1 February. Later came Alan Bleasdale’s vasectomy comedy, Having a Ball…!, also for six weeks from 11 June, and A Coupla White Chicks, with Rowena Wallace and Collette Mann, which ran a month from 13 August.

    To be continued



  • The Sentimental Bloke (Part 2)

    In the second part of his coverage of the musical version of The Sentimental Bloke, PETER PINNE spotlights the life and work of its creators, Albert Arlen and Nancy Brown. Read Part 1»

    Albert Arlen Nancy BrownAlbert Arlen and Nancy Brown

    Prior to writingThe Sentimental Bloke, Albert Arlen had had a successful career in London as an actor, playwright and composer. He was born Albert Aaron to Jewish parents in Pyrmont, Sydney on 10 January 1905. His father came from Persia and his mother from India. Very early in his career he adopted the surname Arlen, and used it throughout the thirties and forties. He legally adopted it on 16 July 1948.1

    Arlen studied at the Sydney Conservatorium and after graduating moved with his family to India. He travelled to London in November 1923 and found work as a professional pianist playing in the pit for silent movies, and in cinema orchestras and dance bands. He returned to Australia three years later and formed the ‘Trio de Paris’ with Wilfred Thomas (baritone) and Ernest Long (violin), playing popular French songs and violin solos on 2FC. 

    He studied piano in Paris in 1929, and from 1930 until 1939 played several small roles in London, in repertory, and in the provinces. In 1932–33 he toured in a production of Noel Coward’s Bitter Sweet.His first musical commission came when he was touring as an actor in the farce High Temperature. The director thought the piece would make a good musical and asked Arlen to write a score for it. He obliged, and the production was later recast with musical theatre performers, and continued to tour.2 Arlen followed with the musicalisation of another farce, Ladies’ Night, which also toured. Both were successes.3

    During this period Arlen also busied himself writing plays and musicals.In 1935 he wrote the musical Stardust which Hollywood studio MGM wanted to buy for Grace Moore. Arlen, aware of the many changes Hollywood usually made with scripts, declined the offer. Later, in late 1935, the show went into rehearsal as a London stage production with Marie Burke in the lead. Unfortunately King George V died in January 1936, and the backers withdrew their investment. The show never went ahead.4

    Arlen had his first London success when the Arts Theatre produced his play Twilightin 1935. Two years later his controversial satirical comedy, The Son of the Grand Eunuch, based on the French novel by Charles Pettit, was presented at the same theatre on 14 January 1937. The Times called it a ‘subtle and amusing satire,’ but The Stage found it ‘dull and long-winded to the point of boredom’. The story, about a poetic lover who is chosen to succeed to the honorable office of Grand Eunuch and refuses to sacrifice the joys of love, was deemed to be too candid and embarrassing for the stage, so much so that the Lord Chamberlain stepped in and banned it after several performances.5

    Arlen had more success with Counterfeit, a comedy thriller that he wrote in 1938 with Cyril Butcher. With a large cast of 20, it previewed at Richmond on 24 July 1939, getting good notices. The Times said it was ‘an amusing adventure’ and that ‘the authors have talent’, and The Stage thought it ‘fun’. The farcical plot had a Blackpool family man with a taste for criminology leave his backstreet sweetshop to track down a gang of criminals in London. Mark Stone as the Lancashire lad, Joss Entwhistle, and Laura Smithson as his wife, Maggie, were said to be ‘as jolly a couple as the North Country has put on the stage’.

    The show transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End, opening on 2 September 1939, with two added scenes and two new characters, played by Stringer Davis and Charles Hawtrey, who later became famous for his roles in the Carry Onfilms. This time The Times called it ‘unpretentious agreeable entertainment’. They liked Stone as Entwhistle and Hawtrey for his scene in drag at the opera. It played 22 performances until it closed due to the outbreak of World War 2.

    Arlen’s first association with the BBC came in 1936 with the radio series, Songs You Might Never Have Heard, a program that featured twin pianos (Arlen was on one and Peggy Cochrane on the other), which played for sixteen episodes during 1936–7. He co-authored the theme song with Bruce Sievier. Three years later he was back at the BBC writing the music for four radio musical plays, Dolores, Words and Music, The Land of Song(4 January 1939) and The Legend of San Michele(5 October 1939). All were scripted by Bruce Sievier. During this period Arlen appeared in two films, The Life of St Paul(1938) and Let’s Be Famous(1939).6

    Arlen enlisted in the RAF on 8 September 1943. He saw active service as a Flight Lieutenant, and at one time was based in Egypt. It was in Cairo that his most famous classical work for piano and orchestra, ‘El Alamein Concerto’, premiered in 1944. He had written it after the Allied victory over General Rommel in North Africa. Two years later, whilst still stationed in Cairo, he wrote, with Terrance Paul Stanford, the radio special, ‘The Song of England’, a dramatic narrative ballad, which told the story of Britain’s struggles and triumphs from Magna Carta to Dunkirk. Produced by Anthony Escritt, the work’s soloists were John Perrow and Kay Langford, with choir directed by Flight Lieutenant Roberts, orchestrations by Frank Cordell, and a prologue spoken by John Gielgud. It contained some words by Winston Churchill and was dedicated to him, a dedication he accepted. The work was later produced by the ABC in Sydney.7

    Arlen was transferred to the Combined Services Entertainment Unit in Singapore in 1946. During his time there he devised and produced four revues. The first, High and Low, opened at the Victoria Theatre, Singapore, on 27 January 1946. Featured in the cast was a young Kenneth Williams, who would later find fame as one of England’s funniest stage, radio and film comedians. The second show was Stardust(possibly the same show that MGM wanted to buy), which opened at the same theatre on 30 September 1946, and the third was Over to You(9 January 1947), also at the Victoria, which was produced by Arlen but devised by Barri Chatt. All three shows toured to service personnel in Ceylon, Hong Kong and Malaya. A fourth show, At Your Service, is listed in Arlen’s papers in the National Library, but dates and theatre are unknown. He was discharged from the RAF in India on 14 April 1947.8

    Arlen returned to Australia in 1948 and became program manager for radio station 2UW, Sydney. Programs he arranged or presented during his time there were Welcome Visitor(famous celebrities interviewed live), Australian Composers(featuring interviews and compositions), Radio Voyager(a musical travelogue), A Ballad for You, Musicaleand Pianogramme, amongst others.9

    nla.obj 134544944 11950s portrait of Nancy Brown by Paula Newman. National Library of Australia, Canberra.In 1949, at the age of 44, Arlen married Australian born Nancy Brown in Canberra.

    Brown had returned to Australia to appear for the Tivoli in Here from There(1949)10 after having had a major career in musical comedy in England and America. In 1929 she played the chief bridesmaid, Gloria, and understudied Evelyn Laye in the US production of Noel Coward’s Bitter Sweet(5 November 1929). She took over when Laye left six months into the run and later led the US tour. She played Teresa in Elstree’s movie version of The Maid of the Mountains, the first big musical film made in Britain, and starred in the West End opposite Viennese tenor Richard Tauber in Old Chelsea(17 February 1943).11

    Arlen’s first contact with Canberra Repertory came in 1958 when the group held a reading of his play Welcome Mate.Two years later the group premiered The Girl from the Snowy(17 March 1960), an operetta set around the Snowy Mountains scheme, and the clash between the interests of the ‘scheme’ and local landholders, and old and new Australians. The central love story involved an Australian singer returning from Europe to pick up with her old beau, only to meet a new one, a Norwegian, working on the scheme. Arlen was responsible for book, music and lyrics. The Canberra Times (18 March 1960) said, ‘The Girl from the Snowy is top entertainment’, and ‘an evening of real theatrical excitement’. In the title role Nancy Brown was praised for her ‘wonderful warmth of personality’, and Arlen’s songs were called ‘attractive’. The book and dialogue, however, were called weak, and ‘cliché-ridden’.

    Chappell & Co. intended to publish two songs from the score—the title song and ‘In My Country’, both arranged by Hal Evans—but instead published a Piano Selection with lyrics. Printed in England in 1960, it contained the songs ‘In My Country’, ‘Sydney On A Saturday Night’, ‘Laughter And Love’, ‘In Bella Napoli’, ‘The Tumbarumba’, ‘Won’t You Take My Hand?’, ‘Can This Be Love?’ and ‘She’s My Girl From The Snowy River’.   

    Although the show was successful in Canberra, Arlen was unable to secure a professional theatre production, but on Australia Day the following year the ABC broadcast a one-hour radio version. The male lead was sung by Clive Hearne and acted by Bob Peach, and the female lead was sung by Madge Stevens and acted by Marie Redshaw. Others in the cast included Douglas Kelly, Mary Hardy, Richard Davies, John Norman and Sydney Conabere. Frank Thorne conducted the augmented ABC Orchestra and Singers. The only other production of the show appears to have been by Shopwindow Theatre at St James Playhouse, Phillip Street, Sydney, on 19 November 1969. Shopwindow was an amateur group formed by Brown, with Arlen as musical advisor, in October 1968. It was renamed the Theatre Society in January 1970.12

    After the great success of The Sentimental Bloke, not one management was interested in seeing what else the Arlens had to offer,13 so it was back to Canberra again for a six-night try-out of their next show, Marriages are Made in Heaven.Arlen, collaborating once more with his wife and Lloyd Thompson, came up with an original plot set in Victorian times. Two young couples in love, devise a plan to dispose of their parents in re-marriage, in order to remove any obstacle or opposition to their own marriages. Hope Hewitt in The Canberra Times (12 October 1968), called it ‘highly diverting,’ and said that the music was catchy with some ‘touching duets and trios’. The show, which was produced by Albert Arlen Australian Productions, The Theatre Players, and ANU Theatre Group, with direction by Joyce Goodes, opened at the Childers Street Hall, and played Friday and Saturday nights 11–26 October 1968.

    Thirty-eight years after he first wrote it, Arlen’s Stars in Your Eyes, had a premiere by the Strathfield Light Opera Company at the Latvian Theatre, Parnell Street, Strathfield, Sydney, 14–17 October 1970. Set in London and Monte Carlo in 1935, the show was about a budding songwriter (Richard), who writes an operetta, A Royal Affair, his girlfriend (Mary) who becomes an overnight star in it, and a theatrical producer (Bernstein) who produces it. The original script contained references to Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and the Cole Porter musical Nymph Errant.14 Arlen rewrote it in 1958 with Bruce Sievier as co-author, but the Strathfield production credited only Arlen. Hilton Bonner played Richard, and remembers the show as ‘old-fashioned.’

    The last work of Arlen’s to be produced was Oh! Gosh, a musical fantasy suggested by C.J. Dennis’s book of prose, The Glugs of Gosh.The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust produced a studio performance of it on 19 September 1979, with members of the Australian Opera. Composed by Arlen, the work was devised, written, and had additional lyrics by Brown. The performance featured Robert Gard, Cynthia Johnston, Neil Warren-Smith, Lesley Stender, Gordon Wilcock, Anthony Lawler and John Germain, with narration by Ken Fraser, Errol Buddle on pan flute, and Arlen on piano.15

    Apart from El Alamein Concerto, Arlen’s works for orchestra include Pagoda of Jade Suite and Kings Cross Suite(1948). The latter is in four movements: ‘At The Crossroads’ (Allegro), ‘Coffee Lounge’ (Waltz), ‘Idle Woman’ (Blues) and ‘Shore Leave’ (March). Its first full performance was by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Thomas with Michael Dudman (organ), in November 1982. In the Sydney Morning Herald (28 November 1982), Fred Blanks said, ‘Local colour was introduced in the concert by Albert Arlen’s suite, King’s Cross, obviously laundered and prettied up in this musical picture á la Eric Coates, material for a symphonic salon.’

    There are three recordings of El Alamein Concerto: Peggy Cochrane (piano), with Jack Payne and his Orchestra. c.1945. Original UK issue HMV 12” 78 C-3428; Australian issue HMV 12” 78 EB-262. Monia Liter (piano) with Mantovani and his Concert Orchestra, 1945. Original UK issue Decca 10” 78 F-8533 (2 sides). Reissued on Decca EP DR9339-1, and on Vocalion CD CDEA6019 (in an album called Mantovani – The Early Years, Volume 1, released in 1999. Guy Saint-Claire (piano) with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alan Abbott (WEA 254292-1), released in 1984. Two excerpts from Pagoda of Jade Suite,were recorded as part of Chappell’s background music series, and two excerpts from King’s Cross Suite were recorded for their transcription series.

    nla.obj 135096599 1Portrait of Albert Arlen by Paddy Sayer, 1973. National Library of Australia, Canberra.In the papers of Albert Arlen and Nancy Brown (MS6311) held in the National Library, Canberra, The Magic Mirror, a one-act play, is listed as having been performed, but no dates are available. There are several unproduced musicals and plays, and unpublished works. The musicals include four written with Brown and Thompson: The Violins of St Jacques, a two-act musical based on the novel by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Omar, based on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which used some adapted quatrains from the book for the lyrics, Lead a Gay Life, a comedy with music in two acts, and Queen Of Song, a two act comedy musical. Music of the Years, a play with music, was written with Thompson, and Never Know Your Luck, and an untitled work which could be King Henry, were solo efforts. There is also a one-act opera called Pedro, the Goldsmithwith a libretto by Thornton Wilder.

    Arlen’s unproduced plays include What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?(2 Acts), Pussycat (1 Act), Two Grains of Rice(5 Scenes), Cynthia of the Minute(3 Acts, written with Sybil Weir), The End of the Section(1 Act), The Devil to Pay(3 Acts), A Tragedy in Black and White, Chicanery, Our Husband, The Broom Tree, Portrait of a Woman, The Othello Strainand a new adaptation of Camille, based on La Dame aux Caméliasby Alexandre Dumas, written in 1953/54.   

    The unpublished short stories include Career Woman, The Old Soldier, Characters in a Mirage, The Nile is Red, and a 148-page novel, Tomorrow When Apricots Grow.

    Apart from The Sentimental Blokeand The Girl from the Snowy,Arlen’s published compositions include El Alamein Concerto, Clancy of the Overflow, Pekin Love Tale(from The Pagoda of Jade Suite), The Song of England, several non-show related songs, and a setting of C.J. Dennis’s Austra-laise (Fellers of Australia).16

    Arlen received the Order of Australia in 1990. Both he and Brown died at Maroochydore, Queensland, Arlen on 24 March 1993, and Brown on 9 March 2004. Prior to her death Brown bequeathed the professional performing rights of The Sentimental Bloketo the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. A tribute show, Nancy, written by John Burls, was performed at the Independent Theatre, Eumundi, Queensland, on 5 October 2001.17  

    El Alamein Concertowas the critically acclaimed work that put Albert Arlen’s name on the music map, but of all his considerable achievements, nothing tops the sheer popular success of The Sentimental Bloke.It was his biggest hit. Audiences responded favorably in 1961, and 57 years later they are still applauding the story of the lovesick hero, his girl, and his mates. Arlen’s score is old-fashioned, but it is right for the period. It has charm, and the tunes are melodic and easy to remember. Any audience familiar with the Dennis verse has an expectation of what they want to see. Arlen’s version delivers. It has enough of Dennis to satisfy the purists, and the newly created material is in keeping with the spirit of the original. It is an intelligent stage adaptation that brings this set of well-loved characters to theatrical life. C.J. Dennis gave birth to the Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, but Albert Arlen made them sing!



    Special thanks in the preparation of this article to Fred Blanks, Claire Cruickshank (Music & Dance, National Library of Australia), Hilton Bonner, Alton Harvey, Mark Hastings (ABC), Robyn Holmes (Curator of Music, National Library of Australia), Manuscripts Collection, National Library of Australia, Patrick Thomas, Frank Van Straten, Carole Walker.


    1. Arlen Papers, NLA

    2. NLA News, November 2004, p.20

    3. Ibid

    4. Arlen Papers, November 2004, p.20

    5. Ibid

    6. Ibid

    7. Ibid

    8. Ibid

    9. Ibid

    10. Tivoli, p.184

    11. A Magic Life!

    12. Arlen Papers, NLA

    13. A Magic Life!

    14. Arlen Papers, NLA

    15. Ibid

    16. Australian Popular Music, pp.4–5

    17. A Magic Life!


    Nancy Brown, A Magic Life—The Black Sheep of the Brown Family,Pix Stories Unlimited, 2001

    C.J. Dennis, Selected Verse of C.J. Dennis,Angus & Robertson, 1950

    Richard Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama,NFSA/Melbourne University Press, 1994

    Phillip Parsons, Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency, 1995

    Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900-1977,Oxford University Press, 1981

    Peter Pinne, Australian Performers, Australian Performances,Performing Arts Museum, Victorian Arts Centre, 1987

    Eric Reade, History and Heartburn,Harper & Row, 1979

    Kenneth R. Snell, Australian Popular Music,Quick Trick Press, 1991

    John Thomson, National Library of Australia News,November 2004

    Frank Van Straten, Tivoli,Lothian, 2003

    John Whiteoak & Aline Scott-Maxwell, Companion to Music and Dance in Australia,Currency, 2003

    Adelaide Advertiser; Adelaide News; The Age; Brisbane Sunday Mail; Canberra Times; Courier Mail; Everybody’s; Listener In; New Zealand Herald; On Stage; The Stage(London); The Sun; Sydney Morning Herald; The Times(London); Weekly Times;Theatre Programs; Sheet Music; Recordings

  • Thus Far: The story of my life (Part 7)

    Thus Far banner 1200px

    After their successes in London, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard returned to Australia. Not without qualms, as MADGE ELLIOTT told us in the last chapter ofThus Far, for in a way they were making an Australian come-back. They had been away some time, and they wondered if, perhaps, they had been forgotten. They had not. They found themselves among an Australian public that welcomed them, not only as fine artists, but as friends. Following a successful tour of just under two years, they sailed for America (en route to London) where they spent time visiting friends and seeing the sights in the Los Angeles film capital of Hollywood. Now read on. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» | Read Part 4» | Read Part 5» |Read Part 6»

    On my secondvisit to New York I felt less like a stranger in a strange land, despite the fact that it was winter; and Arctic winds swept the streets. Even the dingy theatres seemed more friendly than when I first saw them in 1925, and this feeling was further enhanced through my meeting with people whom I had known in Australia and England.

    One of my first London acquaintances was Mr. John Van Druten, author of Young Woodley, Theres Always Juliet, and other successful plays, and here he was in New York for the premiere of Most of the Game, with Herbert Marshall and Edna Best in the leading roles. [1]

    After the first night on Broadway he had plenty of time on his hands, and with Cyril we made a trio of sightseers. In short trips about the city I learned something of the real depression affecting America. Crowds of out-of-work men and women thronged the streets day and night, aimlessly parading, and seemingly with all hope gone. They were mostly hard looking types, all of them with that ‘Yeah" and ‘So what?’ expression on their faces. Broadway was a favourite ‘beat’ . . . yet only a few blocks further East was Fifth Avenue with all its splendour and signs of wealth. There were no hungry looking men here. Instead glittering motor-cars purred along the street with well-dressed, clean-shaven gentlemen and beautifully gowned, bejewelled, and admirably made-up ladies as their passengers. Women visiting New York for the first time get the money-spending habit so badly in Fifth Avenue that they have to ask a policeman to remove them while they still have their car fare home.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    The Russian Ballet was in season at this time, and Cyril and myself spent many dollars at the box office. [2] There were two ballets new to us The Beautiful Danube, set to the music of Strauss, and The Ballet School, with choreography descriptive of dancing. Danilova, whom I met some years previously as premiere danseuse in Waltzes from Vienna, was a member of the company.

    My greatest thrill, however, so far as entertainment was concerned, was in an attempted visit to the premiere of Cecil B. De Mille’s picture, Four Frightened People. [3]New York, which takes its films very seriously, turned out in thousands and stormed the theatre entrances. Cyril and I managed to get in one doorway, and there we were jammed. I have never in my life seen such a vast crowd, nor such a huge auditorium. We seemed to be a mile from the screen in this wonderful theatre in Times Square. We had trouble about our seats, and after a terrible struggle with hordes of humans in a like predicament, eventually found ourselves in the street. Cyril fought his way to the ticket office and demanded his money back, and was quite disappointed to have it returned without a murmur of protest... It is a way they have in America, and are seemingly used to the procedure on first nights.

    Frank Lawton, who was playing in The Wind and the Rain, [4]Ethel Morrison, and Dorothy Purdell, well remembered by Australians, were others who visited me at the Gotham.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    London. Back once more! The mere business of unpacking reduced the two years away by at least 20 months. From now on I carry a banner ‘Travel Cunard.’ The service is simply amazing. After the usual posing for photographs and waving at the cameramen, Cyril and I were introduced by a Cunard man to the chief of the Customs, and we were really so social that he blushed at the very thought of asking us to open our luggage. Instead he wrote mysterious little signs all over the trunks and things, and these acted like magic and just dissolved barriers right and left. [5]

    The trip from Southampton to London was unbelievable for February. We had full sunshine all the way. It must have been a mistake—or perhaps the Cunard people were using their influence again. But even they could not alter dear old London, and sure enough we had glorious fogs and cold and sleet. In short, we were back!

    I found my flat at Hanover Square full of flowers and friends, with a lift-man, a porter, a housemaid, and the manager all smiling welcome in the background. Things began to move at once. Vivian Buckley—who wrote that very successful book With a Passport and Two Eyes [6]—gave a large cocktail party for us. He had very thoughtfully gathered a great many of our old friends together. Everyone seemed very pleased to see us, and refused to believe it was two years since we had left. Not very flattering, perhaps, but London is like that. Time flies, people disappear for months and return, and you resume a conversation that was commenced before they left.

    We were also bidden to a cocktail party given by Mrs. Claude Beddington. As usual, there were at least six languages being spoken very loudly in one room. Fortunately the room was gigantic. Then Leslie Henson gave a party for us at the Green Room Club. Everyone on the London stage was there, and our welcome started with the gallery girls, who were assembled outside. It was all very cheering, as Cyril and I had been suffering a little from the feeling that perhaps we had been quite forgotten.

    It was charming, too, when we went to the theatre and perfect strangers came to tell us how very glad they were to see us back. I am not writing this in any spirit of boastfulness, but to point out that the same loyalty exists in London as I always found in Australia. Much as I loved America, I do not think you would find that in a theatre there.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    The first plays I saw were Mr. Whittington, with Jack Buchanan, [7]which disappointed me a little, though London seemed to like it, and Fred Astaire in Gay Divorce. [8] This was the piece that Billy Milton played in Melbourne. Then I saw Marie Tempest in The Old Folks at Home, which Melbourne recently found rather naughty, but very amusing. [9] Marie looked younger than ever. Also In the cast were Graham Browne, Margaret Rawlings, Frank Allenby, and Ronald Ward—all of whom will be remembered at odd times in Australia by some of the people who read this story of mine.

    Cyril and I had two or three rather interesting suggestions about appearing in London. The main trouble was the little time at our disposal before we would once more be Australia bound. The newspapers every day were mentioning the Melbourne Centenary. The fact that Prince George then intended to go out undoubtedly gave the whole thing an added importance in London's eyes. I had an odd chuckle when I read that a prize offered for an Australian novel had been given, according to the Daily Mirror, by ‘Mrs. James Dyer, daughter of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne!’ I am sure no one appreciated that joke more than Sir Harold Gengoult Smith. [10]

    After a week in London I found the queer old place was getting hold of me again. My first reaction to it had been annoyance at its mixed climate and its lack of what the Americans so love to call ‘creature comforts.’ In any case spring in the offing, and the certainty of summer in Australia when London was next wrapped in its winter blankets, drove such thoughts away.

    The thing I had to fight most hard at that moment was an almost terrifying wanderlust. After more than two weeks I was still not quite unpacked, and I hesitated about taking the smallest trifle from my trunks and putting it in a permanent looking wardrobe.

    I had to exercise the greatest control and fairly run past a Thomas Cook’s office, and my breakfast often grew cold while I read of winter cruises. The south of France called so strongly—so very strongly. And Spain was quite a new country to me, with the exchange in my favour. I found that for £27 I could go to Madeira and back. For less than £50 I could go to Portugal, to Brazil, and a thousand miles up the Amazon! The luxurious motor vessel Columbia could take me from Dover for a seven weeks’ sunshine voyage to the British West Indies, and the Spanish Main, including St. Lucia and Jamaica. I had to stop thinking like that before I threw everything to the winds.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Interesting contrasts were presented in two plays I saw at that time. The first was Richard of Bordeaux, with John Gielgud, [11]and the other was Reunion in Vienna, with that incomparable pair, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. [12]

    Richard of Bordeaux disappointed me a little. It really was a beautiful production, but it could not live up to its advance publicity! I felt, too, that Shakespeare had said the final word about Richard II, and the music of his language made the other version rather trite. And I am not really a highbrow.

    For the Lunts I had nothing but praise. They are a grand pair, and can give anyone lessons in stage craftsmanship. ‘Finesse’ is the word to be applied to them.

    The people who took Cyril to Reunion in Vienna had to use a great deal of influence to get seats. We had tried several times without success. We had been on our knees to ticket agencies just bristling with banknotes, trying to get in to that show, to the first night of Magnolia Street, [13]and to Escape Me Never, [14]with Elisabeth Bergner.

    At that time I met two of the most interesting people I have ever known. They were Jerome Kern and Hassard Short. Kern wrote the music for Sally, The Cabaret Girl, Sunny, The Cat and the Fiddle, Show Boat, Music in the Air, and for Roberta, which we have recently done in Melbourne.  Short was the producer of Waltzes in Vienna and Roberta—the best man at his job in New York and London.


    To be continued

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Thursday, 11 April 1935, p.19, and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Wednesday, 31 July 1935, p.3,

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Compiled by Robert Morrison

    1. On 21 December 1933, The New York Times reported (on p.24) that: ‘John Van Druten, English playwright, arrived yesterday on the White Star liner Olympic in connection with the presentation next month of his play, Most of the Game, in which Herbert Marshall and Edna Best will have the leading roles. The author said he hoped to present here his play, The Distaff Side, before long.’ However Madge was mistaken in her assumption that the play received its Broadway premiere around the time that she and Cyril arrived in New York in mid-January, as The New York Times subsequently reported on 8 March 1934 that Basil Sydney would produce ‘John Van Druten’s Most of the Game, now being rewritten, with Herbert Marshall and Edna Best … probably … in the Autumn.’ In fact the next of his plays to open on Broadway was The Distaff Side, on 25 September 1934, and Most of the Game did not arrive there until 1 October 1935 (without Marshall or Best) when it flopped after a mere 23 performances. (Ref.: )
    1. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’s New York season played at the St. James Theatre from 22 December 1933 to 25 March 1934. In addition to Alexandra Danilova, the company’s principal dancers included Leonide Massine, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Leon Woizikowski, Nina Verchinina, Tamara Toumanova, Irina Baronova and David Lichine. Its repertoire of ballets included La Concurrence, Les Presages, Le Beau Danube, Petrushka, Prince Igor, Les Sylphides, Beach, Jeux d’Enfants and Scuola di Ballo. (Danilova had been the principal ballet dancer in the London production of Waltzes From Vienna at the Alhambra Theatre in 1931.)
    1. Cecil B. De Mille’s picture, Four Frightened People was released in the US on 26 January 1934. It received its New York premiere at the Paramount Theatre, Times Square on that date.
    1. The Wind and the Rain (by Merton Hodge) premiered at the Ritz Theatre, New York on 1 February 1934.
    1. Passenger lists for the Cunard line of the period note that Madge and Cyril sailed from New York City on the S.S. Berengaria on 14 February and arrived in Southampton, England on the 21 February 1934.
    1. British travel writer, photographer and lecturer, Vivian Charles John Buckley was born on 26 June 1901 in Brompton, London, the elder of two children of Charles Mars Buckley, a brewer, and his wife, Ida (née Fennings). He was the grandson of Mars Buckley (1825–1905), an Irish businessman from County Cork, who had emigrated to Australia in 1851, and co-founded the prominent department store, Buckley & Nunn (with Crompton John Nunn) in 1852, which operated in Bourke St., Melbourne for over 130 years, until it was taken over by David Jones in 1982. Charles Mars Buckley (1870–1946), the youngest of his eight children (who was born at the family mansion ‘Beaulieu’ in Heyington Place, Toorak) emigrated to England in the 1890s, marrying Ida Fennings at St Saviour, Chelsea in 1898. (Ref.: and
    1. Mr. Whittington (music by John W. Green, Jack Waller and Joseph Tunbridge; book and lyrics by Clifford Grey, Greatrex Newman and Douglas Furber; additional lyrics by Edward Heyman) received its West End premiere at the London Hippodrome on 1 February 1934 for a total run of 300 performances, which included a transfer to the Adelphi Theatre, where it concluded on 20 October 1934.
    1. Gay Divorce (music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Dwight Taylor) had its London premiere at the Palace Theatre on 2 November 1933 for a run of 180 performances concluding on 7 April 1934. Fred Astaire and Claire Luce reprised their lead roles from the original New York production, which had premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on 29 November 1932 for a run of 248 performances. Its Australian premiere was given by J.C. Williamson Ltd. at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 23 December 1933 for a season which ran until 16 February 1934 in a production directed by Charles A. Wenman with dances by Edward Royce, jun. British star Billy Milton made his Australian stage debut in the male lead role of ‘Guy Holden’ and Sydney actress, Mona Potts stepped up from the chorus to take on the female lead role of ‘Mimi’ at two days’ notice when British leading lady, Iris Kirkwhite fell and sprained her ankle at a rehearsal. (In his opening night curtain speech, Billy Milton paid tribute to Miss Potts for having mastered five dances, forty pages of dialogue and three songs in two days.) Miss Kirkwhite recovered from her injury in time to re-join the production for the Adelaide season at the Theatre Royal (from 21 to 27 April), the Perth season at His Majesty’s Theatre (from 19 to 26 May), the Kalgoorlie Town Hall on 29 May and the Brisbane season at His Majesty’s theatre (from 9 to 22 June) which played in repertory with revivals of The Girl Friendand The Quaker Girl.) Local cast members on the tour included Frank Leighton, Leo Franklyn, Elved Jay and Gus Bluett. (On their return to Australia, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard subsequently took over the lead roles for the Sydney season at the Theatre Royal from 28 July to 12 September 1934.)

    9. The Old Folks at Home (by H.M. Harwood) premiered at the Queen’s Theatre, London on 21 December 1933 and played for 203 performances concluding on 23 June 1934. J.C. Williamson Ltd. presented its Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 25 October 1934 for a season concluding on 22 November. Its Melbourne season opened at the Comedy Theatre on 5 January 1935 and concluded on 21 February.

     Old Folks at Home Tonight

    Theatregoers are to see a large number of modern plays this year. The 1935 programme will open at the Comedy tonight, when The Old Folks at Home is given its Melbourne premiere.

    An interesting fact is that this three act comedy is produced by Grace Lane, who also enacts the central character, Lady Jane Kingdom, a role in which Marie Tempest achieved a notable success on the London stage last year.

    The play is a sophisticated drama of human life, with broad situations and exceedingly frank conversation. The theme underlying the whole story is that ‘the old folks at home’ know as much and are as capable as the young people who are apt to regard their elders with a good humored contempt for their tack of worldly knowledge.

    Lady Jane Kingdom sees her strong-willed daughter (enacted by Jane Wood) and her son's empty-headed wife (Kathleen Goodall) whirling hopelessly in the frantic and purposeless eddies of young modernistic society, and saves them from themselves by her tact and understanding of life.

    The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 5 January 1935, p.24,

    1. Mrs James Dyer was the sister of Sir Harold Gengoult Smith, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne from 1931 to 1934. She served as Lady Mayoress on her brother’s behalf until his marriage to Cynthia Brookes (the daughter of tennis player Sir Norman Brookes) in 1933. As Lord Mayor, Smith chaired many of the organising committees for the 1934 Centenary of Melbourne. In her own right, Mrs. James Dyer founded the Victorian branch of the British Music Society in 1921, and acted as honorary local representative for the parent society (based in London) as well as honorary secretary of the Victorian branch. In addition she was president for five years of the Alliance Français in Victoria, and was one of the first Australian women to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government (amongst other such honours.) (Ref.:; and )
    1. Richard of Bordeaux (by ‘Gordon Daviot’ pseud. of Elizabeth Macintosh) premiered at the New Theatre, London on 2 February 1933 in a revised version (having previously previewed at the theatre for two Sunday performances on 26 June and 3 July 1932) for a run of 463 performances concluding on 24 March 1934.
    1. Reunion in Vienna (by Robert E. Sherwood) had its London premiere at the Lyric Theatre on 3 January 1934 and played for 196 performances concluding on 23 June. The Lunts reprised their roles from the original US production, which had played at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York for a run of 264 performances from 16 November 1931.
    1. Magnolia Street (by Louis Golding and A.R. Rawlinson, based on Goldings’s novel) premiered at the Adelphi Theatre, London on 8 March 1934 for a run of 36 performances concluding on 7 April.
    1. Escape Me Never (by Margaret Kennedy, adapted from her novel) premiered in London at the Apollo Theatre on 8 December 1933 starring Viennese actress, Elisabeth Bergner in her West End debut, and ran for 232 performances concluding on 12 April 1934.


    Cyril Ritchard Filmography

    • Danny Boy(1934) (British Dominions Films)—screenplay by A. Barr-Carson, Oswald Mitchell and Archie Pitt. Directed by Oswald Mitchell. Original music by Eric Spear, with lyrics by Frank Vincent. Cast included Frank Forbes-Robertson, Ronnie Hepworth, Dorothy Dickson, Archie Pitt, Fred Duprez, Denis O’Neil and Cyril Ritchard.

    In production in May of 1934 at the Cricklewood Studios, the picture was first released in London in July 1934 and in Australia in May of the following year. Local critical reaction to the film was mixed, although Cyril Ritchard received praise for his acting in a supporting role, which gave little scope for his talents.

    Picture Theatres

    A tip-top programme of British films was screened at the Athenaeum on Friday, consisting of The Triumph of Sherlock Holmesand Danny Boy

    Danny Boy proved to be a musical film with a strongly emotional story, and as a film it bears evidence of a cinema quality which has not been sustained in some of the more recent British productions. This popular picture gives us glimpses of Cyril Ritchard in a straight role, and as a theatrical magnate he fills the bill with smoothness and poise. No doubt we shall see more of Mr. Ritchard as an actor in the future. As Pat Clare, Frank Forbes-Robertson is a romantic and vagrant violinist, and Ronnie Hepworth, as Danny, is delightful characteristically English in contrast with the too precocious types of boys which Hollywood has developed. The last close-up of him in the cabaret scene is irresistible. Dorothy Dickson plays the role of Danny's mother, Jane Kaye, the actress, and Leo Newman is cast as the manager. Musically, Danny Boy is interesting, but the recording is not up to the best standard.

    The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 20 May 1935, p.10,

    ‘Danny Boy’

    A well-drawn but inadequate sob-story, deficient in action and humor. A musical genius, estranged from the wife who loves him, wanders forth with their boy of 12 to fiddle in the streets. The streets treat him as they usually treat geniuses; meantime, the wife has become a Great Star. Her continued efforts to find her husband and child failing, she is tempted to love another man, when suddenly somebody finds the husband, tells everybody he is a genius and everybody believes it. All are happy, except the noble-minded lover, who goes forth like the Boy Scout, content with his day’s good deed. The acting is worthy of a better story. Frank Forbes-Robertson never faults as the genius. Ronnie Hepworth is another of those wonderful child performers who have come into the lime-light of late. Archie Pitt as the tough proprietor of the penny doss-house is the real thing. [Dorothy Dickson as] Jane Kaye looks well as the heroine. Cyril Ritchard, as the lover who wasn’t, has little to do, but does it well.

    ‘Shadow Shows’, The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 22 May 1935, p.40

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    Additional sources

    Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson, Musical Comedy: A story in pictures, Peter Davies, London, 1969

    Ernest Short, Sixty Years of Theatre, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1951

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1930–1939: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 2nd ed.; Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2014

    Internet Broadway Data Base,

    Internet Movie Data Base,

    The New York Times on-line Archive

    ‘The Shows of 1934’, Everyone’s (Sydney, NSW)—(Vol. 14 No. 772)—12 December 1934, p.112,

    ‘The Shows of 1935’, Everyone’s (Sydney, NSW)—(Vol. 15 No. 310)—11 December 1935, p.124,