Saturday, 07 December 2019 16:05

Thus Far: The Story of My Life (Part 3)

Written by Madge Elliott

Thus Far banner 1200px

 

Thus far Madge Elliott has told us of her childhood, her early essays in dancing, her first stage appearance. She has danced with the Exquisite Eight. She has met Cyril Ritchard; and the foundations of a life partnership. Now stardom is within reach. Read on. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2»

 

Madge ElliottThe Cabaret Girl theatre programme cover.
State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library, Performance Programme Collection.
It is true in the theatre that unusual things are usual and in 1923 the usual unusual things began to happen to me. It is, of course, the dream of every young actress that some day she will get her big chance, and now mine came along. The Firm had bought the Australian rights of The Cabaret Girl, and I was offered the leading part. It was my first principal role, and the joy of this new experience nearly made me forget that I was far from well. I have yet to hear of any other business that equals the stage in the drive and pressure of the terrible weeks before the opening of a new musical comedy. On an ill-lighted stage in a dark theatre you begin rehearsals. The chorus, in practice clothes, learn the music and the cues. Later a dance director gives them their "steps”. A pianist plays the tunes over and over. Principals rehearse their songs. In the meantime, back-stage, or at another theatre or in a basement, other members of the cast may be reading lines. The scenic artists are designing sets; the electricians are planning lights; dressmakers are busy with tape measures; the property man is hunting tables and chairs, and the musical conductor is arranging the score.

By the time we were ready for the first night my nerves were frazzled, and I felt on the verge of hysteria. I sat in my dressing-room, making up carefully and slowly. Flowers and telegrams kept arriving for me, and occasionally a member of the cast would tap at the door and say “Good luck”. Cyril was all thrilled and in a bright mood. He kept hovering about in an effort to cheer me up. When the call-boy passed the door calling "Fifteen minutes, Miss Elliott”, my heart seemed to stop beating and my knees felt like giving way. All this was the result of months of overwork, the strain of travelling, and “one-night stands” in New Zealand, and the after-effects of influenza.

However, this was my night; I had risen from the ranks, and now it was up to me. So when the stage manager called “Overture” and “Places”, I was ready. And gave that night a performance that eclipsed anything I had ever done in the theatre. After the final scene I took curtain after curtain. I looked into the wings, and Cyril was standing there. He was waiting for me, and as I met his eyes I felt again some of that joy which had come over me when we bowed to each other in New Zealand after two years of absence. When the audience released me I walked straight off the stage and into his arms.

The lamentation so often ventilated by some unsuccessful players that Australia treats its stage people badly is hardly borne out by my own experience after this wonderful first-night opening. The press was good to me, and I received an abundance of invitations to lend my presence to ladies' club teas, private parties, and social gatherings of importance. [1]

I have grave doubts that in any other country in the world is a popular actress so rewarded and petted as here. Australian players look for their praise from the masses of the people, and this praise in the mass is always forthcoming if the talent pleases. The season of The Cabaret Girl ran into the following year, and a very happy season it was for all the members of the company. Cyril continued to perfect his dancing, and together we invented routines and new steps, which were to be useful to us in the future, and although I worked very hard I did not believe in too hard work.

  • ElliottMadge 002

    The principal cast of The Cabaret Girl, with Musical Director, Victor Champion, Ballet mistress, Minnie Everett and Producer, Harry B. Burcher.

    Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

I still felt the strain of dancing and acting, and decided that when The Cabaret Girl was withdrawn I would take a trip to England and rest.

While I have no particular regard for money, I am not poseur enough to affect an air of disdain of it, and as money is essential if one must rest, I accepted an offer to play in Whirled Into Happiness at the end of The Cabaret run, and so further postponed my holiday visit to England. [2]

  • Theatre programme cover—His Majesty’s, Melbourne.

    Rob Morrison Collection.

  • Madge Elliott as ‘Delphine De La Valliere’ and Alfred Frith as ‘Matthew Platt’ in Whirled into Happiness.

    National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148807227/view

  • Cast list for the Melbourne premiere season of Whirled into Happiness (1924).

    Rob Morrison Collection.

It is the belief and common asseveration of actors and actresses that whenever two or more players are gathered together, there you have a theatre. The more cynical of us know, of course, that wherever two players get together there you have loud denunciation of all managers and other actors. It is perfectly true that without actors the theatre would be in the position of an ice-cream freezer without the ice, but it is also perfectly true that without professional management the theatre is in the position of an ice-cream freezer with all the ice but no man to turn the handle.

However, in the case of Cyril and myself, being two "players”, the above remarks do not apply. We were always together at this time, but seldom talked “shop”. We had the common interest of dancing to discuss, and this kept us quite busy. Mostly we practised and practised and practised, to the exclusion of idle gossip. We were happy planning a future for the firm of Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard.

I was still far from well. Rehearsals were becoming a nightmare to me; the strenuous dancing I loved so well was now an almost unbearable task; my never failing vitality was deserting me, and many members of the company were amazed at the change.

Some of them had known me for years, and knew what I was capable of in the way of work. I would have excused them if they had thought I was trying the widely famed and then effective privileges of temperament. I badly needed a holiday away from the theatre.

This was in 1924, and at the end of the year Cyril all of a sudden decided that “America was his oyster”. The idea was that he should go ahead as a sort of “advance agent” for Elliott and Ritchard. From every viewpoint—fresh fields to conquer, wider scope, and more musical comedies on offer—the proposal looked good. I made some demur, naturally, but promised to be brave—as a woman should in the circumstances—and wait and see what the good fairies brought us.

As it turned out the elves of luck played their part. On arrival in New York Cyril was engaged for Puzzles of 1925, which opened at the Fulton Theatre in February of that year. It was a typically frothy little show, all colour and movement. Some of the critics of the piece were kind; others were not so kind, and Puzzles solved its own problem by growing beautifully less until it just faded away. [3]

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Sheet music cover (detail).

    Private Collection.

  • Theatre programme title page (detail).

    Playbill Vault.

In the meantime I had definitely decided on my holiday, and now that Cyril was in New York I chose the American, in preference to the direct route to England.

Looking back on that vacation I regard it as my first real rest from the strenuous life of the theatre. The voyage to ’Frisco was delightful. My fellow passengers were pleasant people, and they enlivened the voyage with the usual sociabilities, flirtations, and bickerings of a long sea trip. Joyous days they were as we sailed through the tropics, days of crisp, warm sunshine and blue sea and sky, with an escort of flying fish for company as we rolled along.

When I met Cyril in New York, Australia seemed “just around the corner”. Already I was feeling some of the beneficial effects of my holiday, and after three weeks of sightseeing, I left for England. Puzzles of 1925 promised a long run, otherwise I believe Cyril would have travelled with me across the Atlantic.

I recall that at this time in New York the legitimate theatre was diminishing in interest. The American people are very sentimental, and they have a great fondness for “heroines” in their plays, and the heroine, in the old sense of the word was fast disappearing from the stage. Even in Australia there has always been a certain amount of “heroine appeal” associated with successful plays. A percentage of the public goes to the theatre in quest of what it regards as beauty and romance, and glamour, and these it seeks, after the tradition of centuries, in the embodiments of girlhood and womanhood. It used to get these consoling and satisfying embodiments once upon a time, but no more. Actually there are more “heroines” in musical comedies than in straight plays to-day. I had gone to London with the sole intention of “resting” in both the theatrical and physical sense. Although I arrived in early spring and temperatures were still low, the change benefited me to such an extent that I began to feel the call of the theatre again.

The old urge to dance which had so often asserted itself in far-off Toowoomba, became persistent, and, the more shows I saw, the more was I tempted to be up and doing for myself. So when a part in Better Days was offered me I did not hesitate to accept, and I made my first London appearance in this piece at the Hippodrome on March 19, 1925. [4]

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    George Baker as ‘Nanti Booh’ & Madge as ‘Phyllis’ in ‘A G&S Cocktail or a Mixed Savoy Grill’—Better Days.

    Private Collection.

  • Madge dances with Claude Anthony in front of a “living curtain” of wisteria-clad chorus girls—Better Days.

    Private Collection.

 

I revelled in the work, despite the fact that conditions in English theatres, are not the same as in Australia. Audiences received me well, my health was excellent—and crowning joy, Cyril arrived from New York. Immediately, the Australian “firm” of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard “put out its sign” in the metropolis. Our first engagement was in a revival of Bubbly at the Duke of York's Theatre in June. This was Cyril's London debut, and the quiet little celebration we had after the show is another of the purple patches in my memory. [5]

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Theatre programme cover.

    Overtures Collection. Courtesy of Rex Bunnett.

  • Madge at the time of Bubbly (1925).

    Photo by Dorothy Wilding, Old Bond Street, (London). Private Collection.

London appealed to us immensely. We had some very good friends both in and out of the theatre, and although the work was exacting, we found plenty of time for social pleasures. Often we would meet actors and actresses who had been to Australia and on these occasions we did talk “shop”—theatres, Sydney Harbour, Sunday in Melbourne—and the usual topics of mutual interest to exiles.

Theatrical people in England are most loveable, warm hearted, gay, and careless of almost everything except their work, which they take very seriously indeed. I have spent many charming days and interesting nights in the company of the hierarchy of the stage in foggy old London. The fact that I stayed so long—seven years—is proof of my love for the English theatre—and testimony of the regard of London audiences for myself.

After a season in Bubbly we had the choice of several engagements, and finally selected one which meant work under the same management for five years. To look ahead that length of time in the theatre meant something. After all we were comparatively strangers in a city where the greatest talent in the world could be hired; we had a start, and the beginning was good enough to make us sanguine. That was an achievement, and we were quite satisfied; but greater heights were yet to be scaled.

To be continued …

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

Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld), 4 April 1935, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182044056, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), 25 April 1935, p. 56, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92367183, and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), 3 July 1935, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30094005

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

Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison with additional information supplied by Rex Bunnett and Elisabeth Kumm

  1. The Cabaret Girl (Music by Jerome Kern. Lyrics by George Grossmith and P.G. Wodehouse; additional lyric by Anne Caldwell). Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, Saturday, 25 August 1923. Principal cast included Madge Elliott, Alfred Frith, Cyril Ritchard, Harold Pearce, Mona Magnet, Cecil Kellaway, Millie Engler, Field Fisher, Fred MacKay, Harry Wotton, Nellie Payne and Marie Eaton. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The critic for The Sydney Morning Herald, Gerald Marr Thompson wrote:

“THE CABARET GIRL”.

“The Cabaret Girl” revealed itself at Her Majesty's Theatre on Saturday as differing from most other pieces of the same kind in being extended over three acts instead of two, in an attendant excess of dialogue, and in a blossoming of sentiment so pronounced that even the coarser flowers of low comedy could not choke it. The performance lasted until 11.30, and should Mr. Harry B. Burcher consider some abbreviation necessary he may cut down the dialogue. However, as a rule producers are shy of tampering with the words of a great London success past its 400th representation, proof positive that it has delighted even in its imperfect form 60,000 people.

The two central events were the return from England of Alfred Frith, and the popularity of Madge Elliott, after a considerable career in “seconds”, in her first essay at a leading part, as the Cabaret Girl. Mr. Frith's welcome was uproariously universal, the whole house joining in, and the comedian, working like a tiger, kept up the laughter throughout the length and breadth of a comic character not exempt from weak patches. Gripps and Gravvins are Bond-street music-publishers, whose business is carried on by groups of girls of bewildering loveliness, who drop into song and dance at slight provocation. Gravvins is a gay dog, who makes his entrance in evening dress after a night out. Inquiring “If his head is on straight”, cooling his fevered brow with soda water, and unloading innumerable bottles from inexhaustible pockets. Resounding cheers accompanied this feat of leger-de-main, and there was more laughter when Gravvins encountered his furiously “correct” partner, Gripps. Cyril Ritchard emphasised the dry-as-dust demeanour of Gripps in the first duet of alternate recrimination, followed by a comic dance, and the actor was of value in his dances with Miss Elliott, who won much applause with him in “Through the Night”.

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Madge Elliott as ‘Marilynn “Flick” Morgan’—The Cabaret Girl.

    Photo by Ashby Studios, Sydney. Private Collection.

  • Alfred Frith as ‘Gravvins’ in Act 1 of The Cabaret Girl.

    Photo by Ashby Studios, Sydney. National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148752613/view

James Paradene, a nephew of the Marchioness of Harrogate, is violently in love with Marilynn Morgan, mercifully alluded to as “Flick”, a cabaret girl in search of a job, and in his faithful devotion, and in Flick's self-denial in refusing a good match for his sake, the lovers are unusually to the fore throughout the story. Paradene was taken by a new English artist, Harold Pearce, who played the role frankly and with refinement, and used a light baritone voice, effectively in “First Rose of Summer”, and other songs. Jerome Kern's lightly tuneful music is daintily scored, and its modern tendencies now and again require the soloists to come in without a cue, and keep in the key in spite of discords, feats which the two singers achieved without a tremor. Miss Elliott's best acting was in the pretty love-making in the beautiful garden-scene of the second act, and both partners to it displayed ease and spontaneity in their innocent joy. Their duet, “Looking All Over for You”, with chorus, caught the house, and they had another charming number in “Journeys End in Lovers Meeting” (“Twelfth Night”!), which was piquantly scored, and the little dance went well.

The Marchioness, presented with aplomb by Millie Engler, and her son, the Marquis, in which Fred MacKay was fairly in place as a heavy swell, must be satisfied that Flick is a suitable bride for Paradene, and a plot is accordingly formulated by which Flick's Cabaret troupe impersonate the leading residents of Woollam-Chersey, Herts. These “All-Night American Follies” also figure grotesquely at the music-shop, turning the comedy into broad farce. The head and front of their offending is Mona Magnet, as Little Ada, in a velvet Scotch bonnet, and very short check skirts, who amusingly assumed an air of crass, back-woods stupidity. Miss Magnet made her success in a verbal assault-at-arms with Mr. Frith arising from her anxiety to recite the only line allowed her in her last panto.:—“Did the shepherd herd his sheep?” Gravvins, the grammatical, insisted, until he nearly wept, that It must be “Has the shepherd heard his sheep?” and Little Ada continued to bawl her version of it at intervals throughout the act! Everyone was freshly convulsed—and that's what it is to be a humorist! Cecil Kellaway, who generally depicts staid old age, appeared as the burly western cowboy Harry Zona, and several times lassoed Little Ada to the great joy of a hilarious crowd of first-nighters. Marie Eaton was stylish in brown as Lily de Jigger, and Stuart Fraser and Lucy Frith gaily completed the party. These buskers duly appeared In disguise at the garden party, and made more fun there, being joined by Mr. Frith admirably made up as the Vicar, ultimately confounded by the arrival of the real vicar, a life-like character presented without exaggeration by George Jennings. Mabel Monro made her debut as Mrs. Drawbridge, the housekeeper at “The Pergola”, and her dignified manner and English enunciation met all the requirements of an unfortunately colourless role.

Field Fisher was prominently in the cast as Feloosi, a vaudeville agent, and drew to the life the portrait of an impudent, self-made vulgarian of intrusive habits. There was a scene in which Flick gave him “a piece of her mind and the slap direct”, and Gripps and Gravvins capped her spirited speech by hurling him from the shop Into outer darkness. Harry Wotton made an artistic hit as Quibb, the ancient, dilapidated piano-tuner in sandy hair and a seedy black suit, drawn with pathos, like a character from Dickens. Quibb's despised song was taken up by Flick, who sang it sweetly, and subsequently under the title of “At the Ball” it ran all through the piece as a haunting valse air, out-rivalling “Journeys End” in popularity. Nellie Payne played Effie Dix brightly.

“It's a long lane which has no turning”, and at last the audience reached the actual Cabaret, a gorgeously staged scene, all pageantry, dazzle, and dances, with a fetching mannequin show, an oriental song “Ka-lu-a” for Miss Elliott, a danse eccentrique for Reita Nugent and Jack Hooker, which brought down the house, and a final triumph for Mr. Frith as a Vamp, in which he amazed everyone by appearing “becomingly feminine”! Then did the gallery rise to the occasion as the curtain fell, and when everyone else felt desperately tired exhibited an insatiable appetite for speeches. Mr. Burcher languidly elegant as the J.C. Williamson producer, Miss Minnie Everett, all smiles at the success of her ballets, and Mr. Frith eager for a long run after a fortnight of awful rehearsing, all had something to say; and Madge Elliott tearfully expressed her gratitude at the end of her arduous role.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 27 August 1923, p. 5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16090089

  • ElliottMadge 002

    Alfred Frith as ‘Gravvins’, Reita Nugent & Cecil Kellaway as ‘Harry Zona’ in Act 2 of The Cabaret Girl.

    Photo by Monte Luke. National Library of Australia, Lady Viola Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148792728/view

Extracts from other Sydney reviews

The Cabaret Girl, Williamson's latest importation from the Winter Garden Theatre, London, is all it is intended to be—a brilliant entertainment, full of melody, wit and pretty girls. Being a musical comedy, it has a plot too slender to be criticised, but Frithy is back again (what a welcome he got!) and Madge Elliott is all that could be desired in the leading role—two facts which should be sufficient to draw crowded houses for many a day.

… In Madge Elliott, Australia has found a musical comedy actress to be proud of. She sings sweetly, acts well, and looks lovelier than we ever remember her. Every number she sang last night found favor with the vast audience, and her dance with Cyril Ritchard in the second act brought down the house.

… Regarding the remainder of the cast, they were all equally excellent. … Cyril Ritchard was as polished an artist as we ever hope to see …

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 26 August 1923, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12054394

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

The story does not matter, excepting that it introduces the sylph-like Madge Elliott in a leading role, one that fits her like the proverbial glove. She sings the music with abundant expression, and dances with the singular grace and charm that are invariably characteristic of her work. Her success was pronounced to a degree, and when the over-fed gallery girls realise that her idea is to please rather than make endurance dancing records they will show some slight consideration for her. It is not fair to an artist that, after giving of her best two or three times, she should be compelled to respond a fourth. And because a popular idol will do her best to entertain everybody is no reason why she should be imposed upon. Miss Elliott's voice was better than usual, and one of the tit-bits of the evening was a duet with Mr. Harold Pearce—melody and counter-melody—which produced a delightful effect.

W.J. O'NEILL.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 27 August 1923, p. 3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article246067078

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

Music & Drama

A closely-packed audience at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night uproariously welcomed Alfred Frith back from England and gave a tumultuous reception to Miss Madge Elliott in recognition of her well-deserved promotion to stardom.

… The premiere was marked by more than usual enthusiasm, and when the curtain finally fell, after the principals had been almost hidden by piles of floral tributes, and Mr. Frith, Miss Elliott and the producer Mr. Harry Burcher had responded to repeated calls of “Speech!” it seemed certain that “The Cabaret Girl”, which had won great success at the Winter Garden Theatre in London, would have a brilliant career in Australia.

… At various times during the past year or so we have referred to the consistent improvement in the acting of Miss Elliott, who made her stage reputation primarily as a dancer, and we are pleased to see that her undoubted talent has so speedily won for her the position of leading lady. The J.C. Williamson Company, it is good to see, is finding that with Australian girls like Madge Elliott and Josie Melville available it is not necessary to always import artists to fill leading roles. In this play Miss Elliott thoroughly justifies her selection. She sings quite well, acts intelligently and gracefully, and dances most exquisitely.

… Miss Engler is somewhat heavy as the Marchioness, and Mr. Ritchard’s work would be much improved if he varied his intonation occasionally.

Sydney Mail (NSW), 29 August 1923, p. 13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article159035408

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

THEATRICAL GAZETTE

Cabaret Girl big Success

Williamson's latest importation, The Cabaret Girl, scored an immediate hit at Her Majesty's Theatre last Saturday night, when it was presented to a crowded house. Being the occasion of Alfred Frith’s return to the Australian stage, as well as Madge Elliott's debut as a leading lady, there was more than an ordinary amount of excitement among customary first-nighters.

… The fun starts in a Bond-street store, namely Gripps and Gravvins’ music shop. Mr. Gripps (a part well played by Cyril Ritchard) and Mr. Gravvins (a role surely written for Frithy) are the two partners in the firm, and the first is as serious and matter of fact in manner as the other is frivolous …

AN AUSTRALIAN MAKES GOOD.

In Madge Elliott Australia has found a musical comedy actress well up to the standard of any West End theatre. She sings sweetly, looks beautiful, and acts better than we ever remember her doing before. Opportunity in her case is undoubtedly “the thing”, and we shall see her doing better still as her initial nervousness wears off. Every item she sang on Saturday night (particularly Ka-lu-a and Shimmy With Me) found favor with the vast audience, and her dance with Cyril Ritchard brought the house down.

… As for the remainder of the cast, they were all equally proficient, from Cyril Ritchard (one of the best dancers we have) to Mona Magnet (a scream) as Little Ada, the head of the cabaret troupe.

Referee (Sydney, NSW), 29 August 1923, p. 15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128108466

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

SUNDRY SHOWS

… The company is capable, and in some departments strong. Madge Elliott’s promotion to a leading part in warranted by her agreeable singing and acting, and her admirable dancing—always graceful and never more effective than in this production. Absence hasn’t robbed Alfred Frith of his talent for impersonating drunks, vicars, vamps and other natural resources of musical comedy, and the odd fish has one or two capital songs. But one gets too much of Cyril Rltchard, his partner in the music-publishing business, especially when Ritchard’s metallic voice half-spoils the effect of an excellent bit of serio-comic work by Harry Wotton, as a sawn-off piano-tuner and composer. The young man is always a trier, and with Miss Elliott he dances brilliantly, but his part and that of Mona Magnet … are urgently in need of revision.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 30 August 1923, p. 34, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-616258696

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Programme issued for the opening of the Melbourne season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which was subsequently (and belatedly) renamed “His Majesty’s” on the commencement of the Melba Grand Opera season at Melba’s suggestion.

    Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

The Melbourne season of The Cabaret Girl commenced at Her Majesty’s Theatre on the 8 March 1924 before transferring to the Theatre Royal on 25 March (to make way for Dame Nellie Melba’s season of Grand Opera) for an overall run of eleven weeks and was followed by a three-week revival of Kissing Time (music by Ivan Caryll, lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse) at the Royal from 24 May. Produced by Harry B. Burcher with dances by Minnie Everett, the production won praise from The Argus critic who wrote:

“KISSING TIME”.

Revival at Royal.

Kissing, says a solemn authority, is “a familiar form of salutation by touching with the lips, mostly limited by modern Englishmen to the domestic and dearer relationships of life”. Whether it is so limited by modern Frenchmen is the question considered by the authors of “Kissing Time” in the spirit of light farce. The vivacity of the musical play made it popular immediately on its first production, which took place at the end of January 1920. In revival it has had similar success, though the cast has altered greatly; and the performance at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night was welcomed by a large audience, eager to enjoy the melodies, dancing, comedy, and colour remembered from earlier productions.

No one was disappointed. Mr. Alfred Frith is so expert in the art of laugh-making that he could not fail to be most amusing as Bi-bi St. Pol, the husband who is forced by circumstances to let an intruder, Max Toquet, be mistaken for himself, while he poses as the household cook. In the long list of parts played by Mr. Frith this is one of the best. Miss Madge Elliott's work continues to show advance, especially in singing. She did justice to the quiet roguery of Lucienne Toquet, who has the surprising experience of visiting her friend Madame St. Pol and finding that her own husband is addressed as Monsieur St. Pol. Miss Elliott’s songs were well treated, and there was particular applause for a duet with Mr Cyril Ritchard, who presented the light comedy of Max Toquet with ability. Daintiness was a feature of Miss Nell Payne’s impersonation of Georgette St. Pol. Her songs and her humorous scenes with Mr. Ritchard were all pleasingly given. Among noticeable parts capably acted were those taken by Mr. Field Fisher (Brichoux), Mr Cecil Kellaway (Colonel Bollinger), and Miss Floie Allen (Zelie). Mr. Jack Hooker and Miss Reita Nugent showed their familiar accomplishment in eccentric dancing, and another dance of the kind was given by Mr. Hooker with Miss Dorothy Seaward.

There will be Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Mr. Cyril Ritchard is making his farewell appearance before going to England.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 May 1924, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4348369

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Kissing Time—stage setting for Act 2 Scene 3—The Reception Room of the Café Sylvaine.

    Theatre Heritage Australia, JCW Scene Book 8.

  1. Whirled into Happiness (Music by Robert Stolz. English lyrics by Harry Graham.) Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on Saturday, 14 June 1924 (before transferring to the renamed His Majesty’s Theatre on 21 June). Principal cast included Madge Elliott, Alfred Frith, Kitty Reidy, Nellie Payne, Harold Pearce, Cecil Kellaway, Field Fisher, Roger Barry, Fred MacKay, Harry Wotton, Mabel Monro, Jack Hooker and Reita Nugent. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The weekly Table Talk offered the following critique of the plot and Madge Elliott’s contribution:

If first night impressions are any criterion, and first night enthusiasm, then J.C. Williamson have a big winning card in “Whirled Into Happiness”, which was given its initial production at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night. It is decidedly above the average musical play in all respects, for it is really musical comedy, with a good and humorous plot well sustained to the end, and the musical setting is admirable in its tuneful appeal. The plot turns upon a case of mistaken identity. A hairdresser, greeted as Lord Brancaster because he by chance has assumed what was to have been the distinguishing badge of that young gallant, is tempted to play the part. During his masquerade he falls in love with a successful hat manufacturer's daughter, but is derided and scorned by that vulgar, but ambitious, person, when his imposture is discovered. Next day the daughter makes her way to the fashionable hairdressing parlors, and is reunited to her lover, who has just been dismissed because he defies his employer.

This story gives scope for plenty of humorous situations, and some excellent comedy by Cecil Kellaway as the vulgarian Albert Horridge, hat manufacturer; Alfred Frith, as Matthew Platt, an attendant at the Majestic Music Hall, who becomes deeply involved In the deceit, and by Rosie Le Varde as Mrs. Horridge, whose command of English is dubious.

The music by Robert Stolz is bright, melodious, and captivating in quality, the orchestration being particularly effective.

The book by Robert Bodanzky and Bruno Hardt-Warden was adapted by Harry Graham, who is also responsible for the lyrics. So it looks as though this bright and attractive musical work had its origins in much the same direction as “The Merry Widow” and other big musical successes which followed, and which were made in Austria.

With its haunting rhythms, plenty of action, beauty of setting, and charm this new production will surely make a success. It is lavishly and beautifully mounted and dressed, so that there is ample attraction for eye as well as ear.

Another big factor towards success is that there is no star part, for the favors have been fairly equally distributed among a rather numerous cast of characters.

Madge Elliott makes an outstanding success as a temperamental musical hall star, Delphine De La Valliere, who has designs on the young Marquis of Brancaster. She shows decided development as an actress and vocalist, and in this role she reaches her highest attainment so far. Her voice has improved in quality, and she is using it more artistically and with greater effect. Her acting, too, shows more dramatic force and understanding. She seems to have really caught something of the volatile Gallic impetuosity.

… There are quite a number of song hits, chief among them being "Mdlle. Delphine”, specially written for Madge Elliott by Frank St. Roger, which she sings and acts with infectious verve.

… The dancing, though a marked feature, is at the same time not overdone, and is always effective. Madge Elliott and Fred McKay are associated in a beautiful dance scena, “Sleep”, which was one of the biggest successes of the evening. It is charming in its grace and picturesqueness.

Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 19 June 1924, p. 25, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146460123

Extracts from other Melbourne reviews

… Miss Madge Elliott is advancing rapidly in the line she has chosen. People have been inclined to regard her solely as a dancer, in which she excels. In her part as the volatile, imperative and vile-tempered French dancer, she proved her right to be numbered among the best of Australian comedy actresses. Her performance contributed very largely to the enjoyment of the audience.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 16 June 1924, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203644584

… Miss Madge Elliott danced with great skill as Delphine de la Valliere, of “the halls”, and added songs and displays of Delphine’s fiery temperament.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 16 June 1924, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4321503

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    Madge Elliott as ‘Delphine De La Valliere’ in Whirled into Happiness.

    Photo by Ruskin Studio, Melb. National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148807321/view

  • Alfred Frith as ‘Matthew Platt’ and Cecil Kellaway as ‘Albert Horridge’ in Act 3 of Whirled into Happiness.

    Photo by C.J. Frazer. National Library of Australia, Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148752710/view

  1. Puzzles of 1925 (Conceived by Elsie Janis, Songs and sketches by Elsie Janis, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Lucien Denni, Blanche Merrill, etc.) Broadway premiere at the Fulton Theatre, New York on 2 February 1925. Closed on 2 May 1925 after 104 performances. Principal cast included Elsie Janis, Jim Hussey, Cyril Ritchard, Walter Pidgeon, Dorothy Appleby, Helen Broderick, Cortez and Peggy, Lester Crawford, Georgie Hale, William Holbrook, Irma and Dorothy Irving, Helen McDonald, Janet Stone, Shirley Vernon and O'Donnel, Blair & Co. Staged by Elsie Janis. Dances arranged by Julian Alfred.

Cyril Ritchard performed in four song and dance numbers in the revue including the opening “We Beg to Announce” (music and lyrics by Elsie Janis), “Titina” (music by Leo Daniderff, lyrics by Bertal-Maubon & E. Ronn), “You’ve Got to Dance” (music and lyrics by Elsie Janis) and “The Doo-Dab” (music by Bert Kalmar, lyrics by Harry Ruby).

BROADWAY RITCHARD

Cyril Ritchard is appearing with Elsie Janis at the Fulton Theatre, New York, in the “Puzzles of 1925” revue. The New York “Herald” interviewed him last month, and it was this that the three-yard-long young man spoke:—

“I landed in ’Frisco three months ago and made the trip east very leisurely. En route I received a cable from Florenz Ziegfeld offering me an engagement with Raquel Meller, the famous Spanish artist, who was expected to come to America in January. When I arrived in New York I found that, owing to illness, Miss Meller would remain in Europe, and that Ziegfeld thereupon offered my services to Mr. Dillingham for the Janis revue. Needless to say I was delighted when I heard I was to sing the famous song “Titina”, and to act with Miss Janis in a number of sketches.” Which shows that Cyril, besides making strides in his work, has learned to “put over the stuff” to New York reporters.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), 26 April 1925, p. 25, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224045011

  • ElliottMadge 014a

    Sheet music cover.

    Private Collection.

  • ElliottMadge 005a

    The creator and star of Puzzles of 1925, Elsie Janis (left) with Cyril and Madge at the Champs Elysees, Paris in 1929.

    National Library of Australia, Cyril Ritchard album of theatrical performance and personal photographs, 1926-1930, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150723567/view

  1. Better Days at the Hippodrome … managed a three month run. This Julian Wylie revue opened in Liverpool at the new Moss' Empire, a two thousand eight hundred seat theatre only completed the morning the show opened. Rehearsals took place in chaos with the auditorium a forest of scaffold poles which were gradually exchanged for seating—and there was constant hammering. It was no wonder that it opened in bad shape and when it transferred to London ten days later little had happened to make it gel. … Lauri Wylie wrote the book, Clifford Harris the lyrics to Herman Finck's music; [R.P.] Weston and [Bert] Lee wrote extra material. The stars were Maisie Gay and Stanley Lupino supported by George Baker, Connie Emerald and Madge Elliott, … making her first London appearance.

There were many elements that were good in their own right; the comedy in the hands of the two able stars was excellent; but there was not too much of it. The settings and scenic effects, costumes and lighting were quite up to the Hippodrome standard, and the score was adequate…

… The opening item saw an attempt to introduce a slight plot. At the ‘Brighter Chelsea Club’ an author (George Baker) was looking for a new heroine. He was escorted by a whimsical Stanley Lupino as Peter Pan to the strains of ‘A land fit for heroines’ to be introduced to Cinderella and other pantomime and musical comedy heroines. The author finally carried off Madge Elliott's ‘Peggy-the-last-born’. These characters appeared spasmodically throughout the show and led the audience into several of the scenes. It was neither effective nor original and, unfortunately, it set the general standard of what was to follow.

The most original of the items was a burlesque of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, the D'Oyly Carte Company and the Savoy traditions generally. It was titled as the ‘Gilbert and Sullivan Cocktail’ although the Herman Finck music and Lauri Wylie lyrics cleverly did not use, other than opening strains of well-known numbers, any authentic material. The premise was the closing night of a D'Oyly Carte season with the opera to be performed being unknown to the cast because the stage manager had disappeared and he was the only one who knew. So it was decided to mix the operas together with the cast dressed and the stage set for different pieces. Stanley Lupino, doing a fine impression of Sir Henry Lytton, came on in a gondola for Iolanthe while the orchestra hinted at The Mikado. Maisie Gay performed the Dame Contralto Bertha Lewis parts in The Yeomen of the Guard and The Mikado, and George Baker with his fine baritone voice played Nanki-Poo.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (unpublished manuscript) by permission of the author.

  • Theatre programme biography.

    Overtures Collection. Courtesy of Rex Bunnett.

Better Days was, in fact, Madge’s second stage revue after performing in the Melbourne season of Come Over Here for J.C. Williamson’s in 1914, but it did mark her first starring role in a revue.

  • The star comics of Better Days—Stanley Lupino (left) and Maisie Gay (right).

    Photos from Private Collection. Programme from Overtures Collection. Courtesy of Rex Bunnett.

  1. Bubbly—At the end of June [1925], André Charlot revived his war-time revue Bubbly at the Duke of York's. It had originally run for over four hundred performances—this production would run for only a tenth of that. The show’s greatest asset was nostalgia … John Hastings Turner up-dated his book and Philip Braham tinkered with his original score. Two of the original artists, Laura Cowie and Teddie Gerrard, joined the cast that included Edmund Gwenn, Madge Elliott, Reginald Bach … and Cyril Ritchard in his debut in the West End.

In the eight years between the original production and the revival, revue format had changed. Revue had become faster moving, sketches had reduced in length and stage effects had been added to even the smallest of productions. However, the sketches which still scored in Bubbly were of the old school, somewhat long and drawn-out and some did drag … ‘An Old Situation in Four Ways’ had been the source of many imitations, it was a clever idea full of many comic possibilities. The ‘Four Ways’ were in the St. James’ high comedy style, the O. Henry American crook drama, the erstwhile popular Lancashire Stage Society and the Lyceum melodrama. Ralph Coran and Madge Elliott acted as compére and commére—a nostalgic touch on its own—and Laura Cowie and Edmund Gwenn played the parents to Cyril Ritchard's susceptible son.

Arthur Weigall's Grand Guignol mime ‘A Tooth For A Tooth’, set to music by Manuel E. Gomez, had the twist in both title and the plot. Cyril Ritchard played the lover egged on by Laura Cowie to murder the horrible faceless man and in doing so made a terrible mess. Ritchard woke from what was a dream to find the policeman had become the dentist bringing him around after gas …

… Madge Elliott danced bewitchingly and sang with Cyril Ritchard ‘Whenever the moon is up’ and ‘Have you forgotten?’ Ritchard had one solo, ‘Reckless Reggie’, and aided Teddie Gerrard with ‘Sympathetic smile’. The Era wrote: ‘André Charlot has discovered a new juvenile lead in Cyril Ritchard who has a bright sense of humour and the light touch necessary for successful revue work.’

Bubbly played for only five weeks and then moved slightly north to Golders Green for another two.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (unpublished manuscript) by permission of the author.

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

Postscript

The following profile was published in the Melbourne Sporting Globe in 1922.

Cyril Ritchard’s Rise as Dancer and Actor

Medical Career Abandoned for Stage

If Cyril Ritchard were not an actor and dancer he would more than likely have been a doctor. He had actually completed a year of the medical course at the Sydney University when the love of the stage proved too strong for him and in the middle of his examinations he dropped his books for a place in the chorus of “The Waltz Dream”, then being revived by J.C. Williamson Ltd.

That was the barely six years ago, when the budding actor and dancer was in his eighteenth year. In three months’ time he was promoted from the chorus to solo dancer, and since then he has appeared continuously as dancer and playing parts in many of the most successful musical comedies staged by the firm.

Cyril Ritchard is another example of an Australian making good on the stage at the first opportunity that presented itself. He was born and educated in Sydney, and when 17 years of age was confronted, like all boys, with the problem of his career. His interest in school theatricals indicated an interest in the stage, but he received no encouragement in that direction from his parents. Then came the momentous decision that nearly made him a doctor. At Beecroft, where he lived, the local amateurs staged a revue which bore the appropriate title of the “Beecroft Bubble”, so called because the promoters, unlike the professional managers, were candid enough to admit that it was “a light and airy thing with nothing in it”. Young Ritchard took a prominent part in the show, and was in the middle of a highly successful season when his father and mother suddenly packed him off to the University to study medicine. That happened in the early part of the year, but before the year had expired Cyril had pitched his books to the winds, bade a long farewell to the intricacies of “not phil.” and “mat. med.” and was on the professional stage as a full blown member of the Williamson chorus.

Disliked Medicine

“I could not stick medicine”, he told me one day recently. “If it had been law I might have gone on with it. But I always had a fancy for the stage, and made up my mind suddenly to try it as a career. Of course, my people were very annoyed at first over my upsettal of their plans, but they have since become quite reconciled to it. Yes, the stage is a great calling if you succeed in it, but if you are destined to remain in the ruck it would be an impossible sort of life”.

In Mr Richard's own words it was the “merest fluke” that lifted him out of the ranks of the chorus; but, it can be added that the manner in which he responded and the fact that he did not return to the chorus, showed good judgment on the part of some person in authority and an inborn talent for dancing and acting in the young man himself. He had been three months in the business when his chance came. “Pink Lady” was being played and Clyde Cook had announced that he was about to leave for America. A solo dancer was required to take his place, and Mr Ritchard was selected. At the last moment Clyde Cook changed his mind about the American trip and remained with the company, but that made no difference to Mr Ritchard's position. He was retained as solo dancer, and it will be fresh in the minds of theatregoers how successfully he made his debut in the speciality dance “Nymphs and Satyrs”.

Dancing Saps Strength

In the next production, “Red Widow”, he was allotted the principal dancing part, and established definitely with a contract that assured his future career. Then followed the “Blng Boys”, and it was about this time that he found dancing was sapping his strength. He was only 19 years of age and still growing. It should be mentioned that between 16 and 17 years of age he underwent a great change physically. He himself is the authority for the statement that at 16 he was “a fat, undersized boy”, and at 17 he was “a long, lanky youth”. At 19 he was outgrowing his strength and he was considering how he could obtain a respite from dancing when, one day, George Highland, who was about to produce “The Willow Tree”, went through the male members of the “Bing Boys” Company asking them to smile. Ritchard smiled and Highland said, “You'll do”.

The explanation was that Highland was looking for someone to play the Japanese boy part in “The Willow Tree”, and so young Ritchard was transferred to an acting part with Kathlene MacDonell, after less than a week’s rehearsing. A revival of “Daddy Long Legs” followed, and he played the part of a college man, previously in the hands of Louis Kimball. Just as he was starting out on a career in straight comedy, Clyde Cook met with an accident, and he found himself back with the “Bing Boys” as a dancer. It was only a temporary change, however, as the Royal Comic Opera Company was reformed and he toured New Zealand with that organisation, playing Leslie Holland’s parts in “Mr Manhattan” and “Red Widow”.

First Big Part

Returning to Melbourne the company put on “Katinka”, with Mr Ritchard as soloist in Russian and ballroom dancing. More dancing followed in “Oh! Oh! Delphine”, and he was beginning to wonder if he would ever be anything but a dancer when “Going Up” put an end to his worries. A big part was allotted to him in this production, which also marked his first association with Madge Elliott. Their first speciality dance, culminating in a jump through a window, will be fresh in the minds of playgoers. That dance was not in the “book;” it was concocted by the dancers themselves, and having been tried out with success at Wanganui, New Zealand, it became a permanent part of the performance.

Mr Ritchard and Miss Elliott have danced together in all the more recent musical comedies—“Yes, Uncle!”, “Baby Bunting”, “Oh! Lady! Lady!” “A Night Out” and now “Mary”. Admirably adapted to each other, the pair have been among the most successful dancers in the Williamson productions of recent years, and their work has always pleased for its variety, cleverness and finish. Perhaps their greatest triumph was in the Pierrot ballet in “A Night Out”. Both regard that as their best effort to date, though Mr Ritchard places the “Nymphs and Satyrs" dance in “Pink Lady” very close to it as his choice for first honors.

Not yet 25 years of age, Mr Ritchard has filled out considerably, and no longer feels the strain of continuous dancing. He weighs 12 stone, and keeps himself as fit as any athlete. His general recipe for health is to keep in the open air as much as possible, varied by tennis and swimming whenever possible.

Though the young actor describes himself as a “musical comedy useful—one who can sing, dance, and act a bit”, his ambition soars to greater things, to real acting. In the misty future he hopes to lead a company in romantic costume plays. He would be a swashbuckler, booted and spurred, clanking across stage with heavy stride, and alternately fighting duels, and rescuing fair maidens in the best D'Artagnan style.

In the meantime, he says he has not had a holiday for six years, and during 1923 he proposes to give up stage work for 12 months and travel. It will be a period of rest combined with education, for he will have his eyes well open for everything that can be learned in the profession which is now his life's work.

Behind the Scenes and Across the Screen by “O.P. Side”

Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), 22 November 1922, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184801408

N.B. Cyril Joseph Ritchard was born on 1 December 1897 at Surry Hills, Sydney, son of Sydney-born parents Herbert Trimnell Ritchard, grocer, and his wife Marguerite, née Collins. Educated at St Aloysius’ College, he fulfilled his family’s expectations by beginning medicine at the University of Sydney. His studies soon foundered, and, initially against his family's wishes, he veered towards the stage.

(Noted by John Rickard in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996)

Needless to say, Ritchard’s plans to give up stage work and travel in 1923 were revised, as he continued to perform in J.C. Williamson musicals over the next two years, including a revival of You’re in Love (as ‘Hobby Douglas’) at the Theatre Royal, Sydney in late May 1923 and Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in early June (both seasons without Madge Elliott) and once again partnered with Madge in The Cabaret Girl and the 1924 Melbourne revival of Kissing Time, at the conclusion of which he returned to Sydney to farewell his family before embarking for the United States, as reported in the theatrical columns of the Sydney Sunday Times.

Theatrical World Personals

Cyril Ritchard sailed for England, via America, last Thursday on the Niagara, and (lucky person) goes armed with letters of introduction from no less a celebrity than Melba herself, who considers the popular dancer should score well on the other side. Nothing is so comforting when you seek your fortune in new lands as to know some letters of recommendation lie hidden in your suitcase; and Cyril Ritchard is the fortunate possessor of envelopes which bear the handwriting of Sir George Tallis, Hugh Ward, Prince Obolensky. Harold Clapp (a kind and useful friend on the Victorian railways), and Madame Lipkovska. The latter became a great friend of Madge Elliott's when she toured New Zealand. They appeared in several towns together. It is Cyril Ritchard's intention to stay a while in U.S.A. on his way through, and learn what he can, and then have a good holiday in England before he thinks of work. It is the first real holiday he has ever had, and he means to enjoy it.

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 6 July 1924, p. 22, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128141508

Four months later the newspaper reported:

Writing from New York, Mr. Cyril Ritchard sends some interesting pars. He says: “Some of the revues that cost five dollars a seat would not run five nights in Australia. On the other hand, there are shows like the Ziegfeld Follies, “Kid Boots”, and “The Miracle”, of such surpassing beauty and production that they leave you quite dazed at the finish.

“The American girls cannot compare with the English Tiller Girls (there are 16 in the Follies and 16 in “Stepping Stones”) for team work and dancing, and our girls could dance them to a stand-still. But they can wear clothes, and are beautiful to the point of distraction.” (Control yourself, Cyril).

Mr. Ritchard has signed up with Ziegfeld for a musical show called “Louis XIV”, with Leon Errol, formerly of Sydney, as chief funmaker. Errol was a sensation in New York, playing the part of the waiter in “Sally”.

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 23 November 1924, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128152586

In the event (as noted in Endnote #3) Florenz Ziegfeld instead offered Cyril Ritchard’s services to fellow Broadway producer, Charles Dillingham and Ritchard subsequently made his Broadway debut in the Elsie Janis revue Puzzles of 1925.

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

Additional Picture References

Microfilmed newspaper photos of Madge Elliott and her fellow cast members may be viewed on-line at the indicated webpage locations for the following shows:

The Cabaret Girl, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 March 1924, p. 62, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140749978

The Cabaret Girl, World's News (Sydney, NSW), 8 March 1924, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130610699

The Cabaret Girl, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 13 March 1924, p. 26, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17424548

Whirled into Happiness, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 June 1924, p. 44, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17425249

Read 96 times Last modified on Saturday, 14 December 2019 09:22