Thus Far: The Story of My Life (Part 6)

Written by Madge Elliott

Thus Far banner 1200pxFront page image: Studio portrait of Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott, 1932. Falk Studios, Sydney. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

London, The Gaiety Theatre: And the twinkling electric lights blazoning the names of Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard to the heart of the world of the theatre. Thus Far has “The Firm” of Elliott and Ritchard progressed. It was an amazing achievement. Madge Elliott has looked back down the years to tell us how these heights were attained. To tell us of those she met on the upward road. Of Melba. Now read on.  Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» | Read Part 4» | Read Part 5»

The presentation of a new musical comedy is never without its headaches. First it is one thing and then the other. The only certainty seems to be the fulfilment of the theatre slogan, “The show must go on.”

01 Madge Cyril 1931Portrait taken during the London season of The Millionaire Kid in 1931, subsequently reproduced in publicity throughout Madge and Cyril’s 1932-33 Australasian tour. Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.Musicians may be out of harmony, producers sullen and morose, dressmakers tardy in completing their work; scenery may fall, and the lights go wrong in that dreadful period preceding a “first-night.”

The Greeks had a word for most things, but none to fittingly describe this ordeal of preparation. And so it was with Blue Roses, [1] the musical comedy in which we were to make our return bow in Sydney.

In the theatrical business there is always talk of “come-backs.” You know what I mean. Actors and actresses who have reached the heights only to tumble with such suddenness and force as to make us, as well as themselves, dizzy; who pick themselves up and climb the steep grade again exactly as though they had never climbed it. They are legion; enough to populate a small town; a “willy-willy” sweeps relentlessly upon them. Proud and majestic one moment, destitute and bereaved the next. But a few years later?—rehabilitated; reorganised. And proud and majestic.

Now, in a sense, Cyril and myself could feel for the players who had struggled and made a come-back. Of course, we had never glissaded into theatrical oblivion, but those seven years of absence from Australia would take some sweeping away. We had intended our return appearance to be very simple. It was to be neither an advertisement nor an ego parade. It was to be just “Madge and Cyril” meeting their friends, so it was rather amazing to find crowds flocking to the theatre. At the same time, this tribute to our evident popularity was very flattering; Sydney, at any rate, had not forgotten us.

I have only a blurred recollection of walking on the stage as “Susan Winslow.” Previously in my dressing-room I had felt all the old qualms of a “first night,” plus the mental agony which comes through thoughts of a doubt of recognition. I recall the footlights flickering and dancing ... and the sudden welling up of sound which started as a low murmur and reached its crescendo in a terrific burst of cheering. It was all for me ... In a minute the footlights were glowing normally, and I saw the conductor's baton raised. Still the applause went on ... I bowed ... and bowed ... and bowed.

My heart glowed with the warmth of that reception, leaving no doubt in my mind that I was home again. At the end of the performance I spoke to that marvellous audience. Cyril stood by me and gave me confidence. I told them a little of my gratitude. I meant it, and I mean it still. I will always acknowledge that I am in the hands of the public, and I can never fail to marvel and wonder at its loyalty to me.

If you can imagine the inspiring effect of playing to an audience alive with sincere enthusiasm, you will know in what mood I went back to my dressing-room, and the joy I felt in contact with people who still remembered me. And here let me say that “the audience”—that comforting generality—is a much more complex thing than most playgoers can appreciate, and plays a much greater part in the success of a stage presentation than is generally thought. With a sympathetic “house” many a mediocre musical comedy can be positively entertaining, while even the best of plays is frequently unable to survive the frigid atmosphere of, say, a matinee in a more than half empty theatre.

Of course, there are audiences and audiences, although actually there is not much difference between the people who visit the theatre in the West-End of London, and those of Sydney and Melbourne. I do not care so much about what the people in the stalls think about my performance; their judgement may—or may not—be more trained and sophisticated than that of the people in the gallery—but the enthusiasm from the back of the theatre and “the gods” is what is really worthwhile. There must be something good, solid, and genuine about the opinion of men and women who will stand in a queue, sometimes cold and sometimes hot, and wait for hours to see a new production. Perhaps they realise more truly the vast amount of talent, nervous energy, and hard work that has gone to make the piece; they give the players their due even if the production happens to be bad.

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London audiences ask more—and often get less—of a play than in the American theatre. American acting on the whole is less emphatic than English acting, and in New York the players are prepared to “throw things away” because they can rely on the audience taking them up.

The Australian audience is critical and demands good entertainment. Overseas opinions count for little and “the play’s the thing.” New York is essentially more “theatre-minded” than London; but not more so than Sydney or Melbourne.

When I first visited New York I was surprised that a city superbly equipped with modern architecture should have so many dowdy and old-fashioned theatres. I had expected streamlined auditoriums and some of that spic-and-span polish of the American railway terminals and the interiors of sky-scrapers. The London theatres have much larger foyers—and fewer people to fill them between the acts.

In short trips about the city I learned something of the real depression affecting America. Crowds of out-of-work men and women ... seemingly with all hope gone.

All of which has nothing much to do with our return to Australia, and our appearance in Blue Roses. The bright musical piece “caught on,” and we had a delightful season in Sydney.

On May 13 we opened in the piece in Melbourne at the Theatre Royal. Once again the ordeal of a “first night”; and once again the applause and the friendly reception.

In the cast were many of our theatrical friends of long standing—Cecil Kellaway, Leo. Franklyn, Vivian Edwards, Jean Duncan, Frank Leighton, and Dulcie Davenport. And there was one young woman who since has made a name for herself in English and American motion-picture studios—Mona Barlee (Barrie).

Followed a year of treats coming on top of one another. We had revived Follow Through. [2] Revivals are always something of a gamble, but this modest little thing was quite successful. At this time I was always meeting people who decried the theatre and all its works, claiming that it never would survive the attack of motion pictures. With the best will in the world—for I tend to react adversely against “popular” enthusiasm myself—I could never agree with them. I find it difficult to understand the state of mind which prompts people to suggest that films will kill the stage. It is like claiming that aeroplane transport will kill the motor trade, or put steamships out of the Australia–England run. There is a need for both forms of entertainment. So why confuse the two states of mind.

In July, 1933, we again appeared at the Melbourne Theatre Royal, this time in a revival of The Quaker Girl, [4] which when originally produced had a run throughout Australia almost equalling the success of its companion play, Our Miss Gibbs. [3]

It is rather strange in looking back to find how in a few short years a play can become “dated.” The “Firm,” realising this, modernised the production, and the demure Quaker Girl was presented against a background of lavish ensembles and gorgeous fashion displays. Cyril, by the way, played Leslie Holland’s old part of “Tony Chute,” and I filled Blanche Browne's original role of “Prudence.” This is a delightful part to play, and enacting this role night after night I came to the conclusion that acting is not so much inspiration as artifice. It does not matter how inspired an actress may be, all her inspiration goes for nothing unless she has the artifice with which to “put it over.” Many a time previously I had thought along these lines, but the joyful little Prudence convinced me of the truth of this theatre maxim.

This same year (1933) England beckoned to us again. Call it wander lust-ambition, opportunity, what you will—but a restlessness possessed both Cyril and myself, and the old debates between us were resumed. Should we go to England? Should we stay in Australia? ... England won. We felt a certain amount of initiative which implied a living in the theatre, whether it was in Sydney, London, or New York.

So off we went by way of America.

We looked upon it in the light of a holiday trip—for the time being at any rate. The Mariposa made me feel something of envy for the old Flying Dutchman—made me feel that it would be wonderful to roam the seas for all time—as a saloon passenger, of course.

In Honolulu we renewed several acquaintances, and there followed a round of dancing, visits to the naval depot, lazing in the moonlight at Waikiki, and a little golf at Waitai. We travelled on the Lurline to San Francisco, and one of our fellow passengers was Edna May Oliver, the motion-picture actress, whose “sniff" you all know. She was very quiet on the voyage and seldom ventured far from her cabin.

One night in Frisco we decided that our next stop would be Los Angeles and Hollywood, where we could see for ourselves something of the glamour of the picture studios. Here we met Mona Barrie, who had played with us in Blue Roses, and through her we received many invitations to meet film stars. We called on Herbert Marshall whom we had known in London, and had several meetings with George Barraud (who had returned to America after his Australian tour with Isobel Elsom in Private Lives). [5]

I have pleasant memories of drinking tea with Elizabeth Allen, Heather Angel, Diana Wynyard, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, and Reg. (“Snowy”) Baker in the commissary of a studio, and of the screen artists’ ball at the Hollywood Biltmore. [6] Here we met all the “stars”—all except the elusive Greta Garbo, who, as Cyril said, “never meets anybody.” Charles Chaplin was there, and Gary Cooper with Jeanette McDonald—who sang in the cabaret entertainment—and Adolphe Menjou.

While in Los Angeles we were offered a dancing engagement at the Paramount Theatre, but the call of New York and London was too persistent. Just before we left, May Beatty and her daughter Bunny called, and a few minutes later Robert Greig and Beatrice Holloway dropped in. We made a regular Australian night of it. The only thing not in the picture was the Californian champagne. It was awful.

The thing that most struck me about Hollywood was that in spite of the amazing climate nearly everybody you met wanted to get away from it all. And that was not a pose. They admitted that the incessant talk of films, the terrible strain of competition, and the monotony of the work in the studios bored them to tears after a few months.

But they stayed on because their earnings were high. My own reaction to the film city was principally along the lines of living in a fairy-tale town. It is a fantastic spot ... but its real values are too low for cataloguing ... And so to a Pullman car, on the way to New York.

 

To be continued

 

Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Wednesday, 10 April 1935, p. 15—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182039125, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), Thursday, 9 May 1935, p. 55—https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92325182 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Wednesday, 24 July 1935, p. 3—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30097297

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. Blue Roses (music by Vivian Ellis, lyrics by Desmond Carter)—following a try-out season at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, Birmingham from 15 December 1930, the musical (directed by Harry B. Burcher) premiered in London on 20 January 1931 at the Gaiety Theatre, where it ran for a disappointing 54 performances, closing on 7 March; nonetheless the Australasian performing rights were purchased by J.C. Williamson Ltd. and it was given its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 February 1932 and proved to be a successful vehicle for Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard. The JCW show was directed by Frederick Blackman with dances by Maurice Diamond and “Miss Elliott’s and Mr. Ritchard’s Dances arranged by Mr. Ritchard”, additionally the “Episode De Ballet” was “Invented and Arranged by Cyril Ritchard.”

    On the Monday following the opening the critic for the Sydney Morning Herald enthused:

“BLUE ROSES.”

Bright Musical Comedy.

MADGE ELLIOTT AND CYRIL RITCHARD.

There was a great welcome for Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard when they returned to the Sydney stage in the musical comedy “Blue Roses” at Her Majesty’s on Saturday night. The theatre was packed and the roar of cheering with which they were received must have proved inspiring to them, coming back from their successes abroad. They played prominent roles in the new piece, Miss Elliott as Susan Winslow, and Mr Ritchard in a bright, breezy interpretation of a comedy part as Chepstow Potts, but it was their dancing above all that won high popular favour. Light, perfect in finish and grace, both artists were superb in this dancing.

The occasion seemed to inspire all the members of the company, and a cheerful and spirited performance was given of a musical comedy which is of the average irresponsible type, designed mainly as a medium for gay melodies and pleasant fun. The great audience was in high good humour, readily responsive to every feature of the entertainment, and interrupting the action of the piece by delightedly cheering all the principals as they came on.

There is a plot, but it is not permitted to interfere unduly with all this music and comedy. It is a story of a genuine blue rose and a bogus one, which are exchanged when the real flower is carried off by an American collector, to be finally restored to the rightful owner towards the end of the evening. But the plot matters little in a piece of this kind. Some attractive music, charming in melodic invention, and not in the least profound, has been composed by Vivian Ellis, like the duet, “Let’s Be Sentimental,” lightly scored in bright vein, and with an effective change of key at the refrain, the quaint “Dancing in Your Sleep,” the spirited “Where Have You Been Hiding,” the entertaining “Lathering” of the shaving scene, and the duet, “My Heart’s a Compass.” These are typical of the tunefulness of the score, and the easy, facile touch of the composer. Mr Andrew MacCunn brought out fully the light, graceful qualities of the music, and under the supervision of Mr. Frederick Blackman as producer, the performance proceeded with sparkling effect, the stage a mass of animated colour in the attractive ensembles in the two main settings, the decorative interior of Septimus Winslow’s home and the elaborate Mayfair flower shop.

Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard impersonated one pair of lovers, and Miss Dulcie Davenport and Mr. Frank Leighton the other pair, all of whose fortunes are more or less affected by the fate of the blue rose. Miss Elliott proved light in voice in her music, but acted gracefully and pleasantly. Mr. Ritchard developed with certainty the humour of the role of Chepstow Potts; Miss Davenport, also light of voice in her songs, was thoroughly animated in her acting, and Mr. Leighton was effectively cast in the role of Jimmy Mallows. Mallows and his friend, Chepstow Potts, both come down to Winslow’s home on some mission concerned with the blue rose, and both make good comedy in the first act, from the moment of their entrance in a motor car. In the duet, “Let's Be Sentimental,” Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard gained their first success of the night, when they danced to a waltz measure, hardly seeming to touch the stage as they moved, and then suddenly changed to a rapid theme in the manner of a polka, and made a whirlwind exit which led to three recalls. When Chepstow surprised the guests by appearing in a suit of pyjamas, his resourceful friend, Jimmy, explained that he was walking in his sleep. This introduced the amusing “Dancing in Your Sleep,” in which Mr. Ritchard, under a blue spotlight, while the figures of the supporting ballet, in evening costumes, were in red tones, marched in automaton-like progression over the stage to the rhythm of the tuneful theme sung by the other principals and chorus. A laughable climax was reached in the scene when Mr. Ritchard, with a sudden swoop into the air, was raised above the heads of the others, and remained suspended in all kinds of grotesque attitudes ere he vanished into the wings.

Mr. Cecil Kellaway made the most of the role of a fatuous detective, engaged to guard the blue rose, and easily persuaded to give up the bogus one—the genuine rose having already disappeared—when he is allowed to gaze at an ordinary rose through a pair of blue spectacles. Mr. Leo Franklyn was adequately American as the collector who stole the rose, and was dispossessed of it finally in a ludicrously comical scene in a stateroom of an ocean liner, where Mr. Ritchard disguised as a caricature steward, administered remedies for sea-sickness to the American while Chepstow’s two friends feverishly searched the luggage for the missing flower. Miss Alathea Siddons as the proprietress of the Mayfair flower shop, and Mr. Arthur Cornell, as the irate owner of the blue rose, were well in character. One of the most charming features of the musical score was the duet, “I Saw the Moon Through the Window,” sung tastefully by Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard to an attractive counter melody for strings. Some beautifully alert step dancing for both artists followed the song, and then, with brusque chords from the orchestra, the music changed as Miss Elliott, from a flight across the stage, landed in her partner’s lap, a feat which had to be twice repeated in reply to the imperative applause. The artists appeared In another striking dancing feature towards the end of the piece, in which they were supported by six members of the ballet in brilliant dancing. The loud applause at this point was changed to screams of laughter when Frank Leighton and Cecil Kellaway (the latter in a fantastic garb resembling in a way that of Simplicitas in “The Arcadians”) amusingly burlesqued the dance. Their comedy here was much more certain than in the earlier and pointless scene in which they designed a road map, with a bottle of whisky to represent “the local pub.” The fine vocal quality of the chorus commanded attention, and the members of the ballet, always enthusiastic, shared in the honours of the ensembles, looking particularly charming in their white evening gowns. Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard acknowledged the cheering at the end of the performance by brief speeches of thanks.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Monday, 15 February 1932, p. 4—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16840875

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Sundry Shows

Her Majesty’s, Sydney, which had not seen a new play for so long that it must have forgotten there are such things, got a shock on Saturday night when the two-act musical comedy “Blue Roses”—words by Desmond Carter, music by Vivian Ellis—made positively its first appearance on the Australian stage. It brought with it Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, and the rest of the cast was filled by actors and actresses so well known to Sydney that the audience gave each one a salvo of applause as he or she entered. In this chummy atmosphere the opus of Desmond and Vivian, which was nicely dressed and competently produced, went very well.

The plot is extremely complicated. There is a blue rose, which is guarded by a detective (Cecil Kellaway). It is sold by the detective for £100 to an American millionaire in plus-fours (Leo Franklyn), and a white rose dyed blue is substituted (it should be explained that the botanical specimen is in a pot). By inducing the detective to wear blue spectacles as a cure for headaches the nephew (Cyril Ritchard) of a titled lady (Alathea Siddons), who runs a flower-shop in Mayfair, is enabled to steal the dyed rose, substituting a pure-white one. Love interest is provided by the aristocratic lady’s nephew and a daughter (Madge Elliott) of the blue rose's rightful owner (Arthur Cornell). Another daughter (Dulcie Davenport) has an affair with the rose-stealing nephew's pal and confederate (Frank Leighton). The situation is made still more uproariously and devastatingly humorous by some of the characters mistaking a private house for a pub, and by an argument in which people in a florist's shop endeavor to show with a whisky bottle and other props the direction in which their old school lay from the village tavern. To describe how the tangled skein is unravelled would not only be unfair to future audiences but quite beyond this Showman’s powers.

The piece, which provides plenty of pretty stage pictures, is entirely a background for the very light and facile dancing of Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard. Their agility is pronounced, and they waltz divinely, but some of the postures they adopt are the reverse of graceful. The music is as shallow as a teaspoon, but deftly composed, with occasional flashes of ingenuity. The voices of the Misses Elliott and Davenport, who do most of the singing, are small, but Vivian’s twitterings were not written for Melba. Taken as a whole the piece ranks perhaps a step higher than the late Lionel Monckton's worst, but at that Monckton never had so poor a libretto to cope with.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW)—17 February 1932, p. 18

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  1. Follow Through (music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Lew Brown and B.G. DeSylva) received its Australian premiere under the management of JCW Ltd. at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 8 February 1930 and ran until 14 March in a production directed by Frederick Blackman with dances by Al Fisher. The musical did not immediately tour but was staged later that year at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney from 23 August to 3 October 1930 in a production directed by George A. Highland with dances by Maurice Diamond. The musical was subsequently revived at His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane as a star vehicle for Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard on 5 May 1932 and also played on tour in Adelaide and in New Zealand.

THEATRE ROYAL.

“FOLLOW THROUGH.”

“Follow Through,” which will be presented at the Theatre Royal this afternoon and evening by the J.C. Williamson Musical Comedy Company, is notable for the clever work of the principals, Miss Madge Elliott and Mr Cyril Ritchard.  There are jealous bickerings between Lora Moore (Madge Elliott) and Ruth Van Horn (Jean Duncan) over Jerry Downs (Frank Leighton), the professional golfer. Downs is employed by wealthy Jack Martin (Cyril Ritchard) and his main duty is to follow the dictates of his paymaster, but affairs of the heart must work their havoc. Jerry soon finds that Jack’s humorous blunderings are disturbing his love affairs, and the inevitable split comes. Jack, however, is the perfect optimist, and his beneficent strategy brings Lora and Jerry together again in the perfect, conventional ending. Any bashfulness possessed by Jack Martin, who is lady-shy and stutters, is soon banished by his experiences at the Bound Brook Country Club, and one of the best bits of delight in the whole show  appertains to the regaining of his heirloom ring, which he has presented to a female party of whom he knows nothing while at a masquerade. The supporting members of the company are uniformly good in their parts, and assist to build up a combination of solid strength.

The season will conclude this evening, and the company will leave on Monday for Wanganui, and later Hastings and Palmerston North, to open in Auckland on August 27th.

The Press (Christchurch, NZ)—20 August 1932

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“FOLLOW THROUGH.”

GOLF-INSPIRED GAIETY.

Exploiting the golf craze as the vehicle for a medley of vivacious action, merry quip and “wise crack,” catchy music and colourful dancing, the musical comedy, “'Follow Through,” with a revival of which the Williamson Comedy Company last night followed up their “Blue Roses” success at His Majesty's Theatre, left everyone of the audience in mellow mood. “Follow Through” has pleasant memories for Aucklanders. A typical jazz-age production of the day when golf was an obsession in America, it ran a merry course in the city some years ago with George Gee as the comedian of the day. Not everyone plays golf, but everyone hears enough about it, and its effect on the language of the victim to enable him to appreciate the play and to credit even the most outrageous parody perpetrated in the name of those who sport its insignia of plus fours and tartan colour scheme dressing effects. With the sketchiest of plots as an excuse for an entertainment cocktail and the effect of “just one damn thing after another”— comedy, dancing, jazz jingle, ballet, ballad, more comedy and a dash of drama—the concoction is really very cunningly contrived, and is both pleasant and exhilarating.

Romances and tragedies of the links, and of the patrons of one particular club, focusing on the game and heart-affairs of its lady champion, provide abundant material for music, dress, dance and mirth. Madge Elliott’s supple grace in rhythmic motion lent special interest to her dance accompaniments with Frank Leighton and Cyril Ritchard in song numbers, reaching a climax in the “dance apassionata,” in which she and Cyril Ritchard achieved one of their well-known triumphs of dramatic dance interpretations. Miss Elliott’s dancing, however good, is but incidental on this occasion in the leading role, in which she is called on for a sustained effort of characterisation, and of which she gave a very nicely-balanced study. Cyril Ritchard, too, appeared as a deal more than the dance artist he is; he was also a capable comedian. The fun-making was contributed to by many members of the cast, but Cyril Ritchard and Cecil Kellaway had the chief burden, with the latter doing the lion’s share as a new club member, who had business ideas on this game of golf, which rather put the regular members off their putt. This partnership’s efforts culminated in a surreptitious invasion of the women's dressing room and a terrific tangle of comedy complications.

Frank Leighton lent capable support to Miss Elliott in her singing and dancing numbers. Dulcie Davenport was one of the livest wires of the performance, with a special penchant for adding an eccentric touch to her bright dancing. Elved Jay contributed to the fun as one of the younger generation of nuisances, in which he was well supported by Mona Zeppel. Jean Duncan's singing, dancing and acting gave her a merited place among the principals.

The music, while not notable, is bright and snappy and is given its best value by a strong orchestra; the dressing is a feature, as is the youthful ballet, while many of the stage settings are unusually beautiful, and the ensembles generally introduce some new feature. “Follow Through,” which makes three hours pass merrily and all too soon, will be performed each evening to the end of the week, with a matinee on Saturday.

Auckland Star (NZ)—8 September 1932

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POPULAR ARTISTS TO REMAIN

Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard

Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard are to stay in Australia. This announcement was made today by Mr. Frank Tait, a managing director of J.C. Williamson Ltd., who added that the Leslie Henson management, of London, had agreed to release them until the spring of 1933.

“Hold My Hand,” a new musical comedy written by Stan Lupino, with lyrics by Desmond Carter and music by Vivian Ellis [sic], has been bought specially for them. This show has had a most successful run at the Gaiety Theatre, London, since the beginning of last December. It is faster moving and more spectacular than “Blue Roses.”

Mr. Ritchard was almost in this show in London. He was offered the male lead, and only his previous arrangements made to visit Australia prevented him from accepting it. “Hold My Hand” will have its Australasian premiere in Sydney in October, and, according to present arrangements, will be seen in Melbourne toward the end of this year.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.)—(extract) Saturday, 25 June 1932, p. 24—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242981067

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Hold My Hand (music by Noel Gay, lyrics by Desmond Carter) premiered at the Gaiety Theatre, London on 23 December 1931 for a run of 212 performances. It subsequently received its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 1 October 1932 starring Madge and Cyril in a production staged by Charles A. Wenman and Cyril Ritchard, with dances by Cyril Ritchard and Maggie Dickinson.

Once again the critic for the Sydney Morning Herald was full of praise in his review published on the Monday following the opening:

“HOLD MY HAND."

Charming Musical Play.

Compounded of equal parts of graceful and original dancing, sparkling songs, and dialogue well sprinkled with lively humour by the author Stanley Lupino, the musical play “Hold My Hand” had a most successful premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. While the freshness, vigour, and spontaneity of the work of all the principals, the brightness of the music, and the whimsicality of the humour carried the first act along to a fine denouement, with the interest sustained to the last moment, there were some weak links in the development of the story in the second act, where the plot toyed rashly with the inappropriate topic of industrial strife, and an uneasy feeling manifested itself in spite of the speed and energy of the acting that this was thin ice that needed to be skated over as rapidly as possible. A few judicious cuts in this section would improve the production, and there is ample justification for excisions, as the play was not over until 11.25. The second act picked up the interest quickly, when the action got back to its first environment, and a series of beautiful numbers led up to a picturesque and brilliant climax.

There is enough plot to keep the audience guessing at the problem of how it is to be unravelled. A guardian who falls in love with his ward is far from being a rarity in romantic fiction but when the guardian is represented by Cyril Ritchard as Eddie Marstone and the ward by Madge Elliott as Paula Bond, it may be confidently expected that the thing will be done not only properly, but with originality. The fact that Marstone is affianced to the graceful daughter of a disreputable old peer, who arrives on the scene straight from a fancy ball as a slightly intoxicated Robinson Crusoe, provides an obstacle which is quickly surmounted, when it is made clear that the lady prefers Pop Curry, the friend of her not very ardent lover, to the lover himself. In a play so full of happily conceived and artistically executed dances as this, the evolution of changing partners is of course, easily effected; enabling the final tableau of a double wedding to be arranged with appropriate splendour. Need it be said that the two pairs are supported by a whole sequence of subordinates, whose mission is to provide artistically exaggerated character studies of the members of the entourage of the millionaire Marstone, and to provide the songs and dances, unexpected interludes, and magnificent ensembles which help forward the story and assuage his distress when he finds that he has ruined himself on the Stock Exchange, and that the only asset left to his charming ward is a bankrupt newspaper.

As Sydney playgoers are well aware, Cyril Rltchard possesses natural gifts polished by training and experience which place the part of Eddy Marstone “right into his hand.” Along with a magnificently developed physique, he displays a lightness of foot and a gracefulness of movement that give his dancing a special Individuality. He sings well enough to give every song its full value, and his vivacity never flags. He makes an ideal partner for Madge Elliott, whose graceful movements and aerial poses in her scenes with him roused the audience to enthusiasm. Their duet, “Hold My Hand” was given with a ring of convincing sincerity. In their performance together on the wedding eve the talented pair gave a thrilling illustration of passionate devotion through the medium of the dance. Leo Franklyn, as Cuthbert the millionaire’s confidential secretary, proved himself a tower of strength to the company He was always funny, and never vulgar. His capacity for expression by facial gesture is practically unlimited. He can burlesque emotions like fear and anxiety convincingly.  Dulcie Davenport was a most engaging representative of the character of Helen Milchester, first the fiancee of Marstone and finally the bride of Pop Curry. She danced with poetic grace, and was always in the picture. Frank Leighton did an immense amount of sound work as Pop Curry, the millionaire’s right-hand man. He has a fine speaking voice, and the bright quips of Stanley Lupino’s humour with which the dialogue is well studded were delivered so that nothing was lost. Mary Rigby made a stately Lady Milchester, and spoke the tart utterances of that “grande dame” with becoming asperity. The part of Lord Milchester was taken by Cecil Kellaway, who made the peer a most amusing old reprobate, who displayed perfect manners, even when he was reduced to pawning his wife’s jewels without her permission. Rene Murphy made as much as possible out of the part of the millionaire’s lady secretary; and Margaret Vyner was a picturesque maid. The specialty dance of Zeppel and Bush was a clever bit of acrobatic fooling, which provided a foil to the many picturesque ballets with which the play is interspersed. The Pied Piper of Hamelin, with Frank Leighton as the piper, and the ballet as the rats, was a charming bit of work; while the quartette “Springtime,” sung and danced by the four principals, was the poetry of motion.

The audience manifested appreciation demonstratively at the fall of the curtain and Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard both made short speeches of thanks.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Monday, 3 October 1932, p. 2—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16896265

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  1. Our Miss Gibbs (music by Ivan Carryll and Lionel Monckton, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank) received its Australian premiere under the management of JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 24 September 1910 starring Blanche Brown and Langford Kirby in a production staged by Gerard Coventry with dances by Minnie Hooper. The popular musical remained in the repertoire of JCW touring productions for many years and was frequently revived into the 1920s. It was subsequently revived by JCW at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 7 January 1933 starring Madge and Cyril in a production staged by George A. Highland with dances by Minnie Hooper.

The opening night of the revival was especially notable for the presence of a special guest in the audience, as noted by the Sydney Morning Herald:

AMUSEMENTS.

“OUR MISS GIBBS.”

The opening presentation of “Our Miss Gibbs” at Her Majesty’s Theatre to-night will be also be a gala performance in honour of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, who will be present. This will be his last public appearance before his flight to New Zealand, and various interludes and a song, “Happy Landing,” appropriate to the occasion, will be introduced.

The cast to-night will include Madge Elliott as Miss Gibbs, Cyrll Ritchard as the amateur “crook,” Leo Franklyn as the professional “crook,” Gus Bluett as Timothy Gibbs, and Frank Leighton, Gwyneth Lascelles, Marie le Varre, Elved Jay and others.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Saturday, 7 January 1933, p. 8—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16943905

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While the performance itself garnered its fair share of critical bouquets from the newspaper’s resident critic on the following Monday: 

"OUR MISS GIBBS."

An Interesting Revival.

ENTHUSIASTIC AUDIENCE.

“‘Our Miss Gibbs’ is one of J.C. Williamson's old buses,” said Mr. E.J. Tait from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday, in night extending the good wishes of the directors to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

Traffic has become more rapid since this “old bus” was put on the road 20 years ago. The bodywork of the musical play rattles a good deal, and its upholstery of humour has worn very thin. Still, a jaunt in it is a pleasant experience, if only for old times’ sake; and the audience on Saturday night seemed to enjoy itself thoroughly, judging from the bursts of ecstatic applause.

The spectators were not predominantly middle-aged, either. Looking round the auditorium, one saw whole rows of young, or youngish, faces. Enthusiasm was perceptible almost before the curtain went up. Actors making their entrance received rounds of applause which began even while they were invisible to the audience. The players, in their turn, responded to the atmosphere of [the] gala by stepping quite out of their parts, and bowing profusely until the clapping had subsided.

The performance was a triumph, not only for familiar music and a familiar play; but also for a cast which had previously endeared itself to the local public. Again and again encores were exacted from the not unwilling singers and dancers. Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott gave the second part of one of their dances to an obligato of almost continuous applause. The vagaries of Mr. Gus Bluett and Mr. Leo Franklyn, called forth laughter in hearty shouts. As a result of this enthusiasm, it was twenty minutes past eleven before the final curtain fell.

At the end of the play, when all the combined company had lined up to receive its flowers and make its little speeches, Mr. Tait and Sir Charles Kingsford Smith suddenly emerged behind the footlights. Already at eight o’clock, when he came into a box, the airman had had to bow repeatedly in response to clapping. The theatre had been specially decorated in his honour, with masses of coloured lily and hydrangea—another feature which added to the evening’s liveliness. Now a large placard, wishing “Smithy” a happy landing in New Zealand, descended from the files, and Mr. Tait launched into a happy speech. Australians, he said, too often failed to appreciate the fine and courageous men of their own country—a suggestion which found little support in the beaming faces and the tumultuous clapping which a moment later filled the theatre.

The part of Our Miss Gibbs, the demure Yorkshire lass who is “only a shop-girl,” and thus is scorned and rejected by her lover’s aristocratic relations, according to the best traditions of 20 years ago, was brightly played by Miss Madge Elliott. Miss Elliott’s singing voice is not a large one; but it has been so excellently trained, and she uses it with such judgment, that it never seems inadequate. In the pretty song, “Yorkshire,” for instance, she illustrated very quaintly the contrast between London sophistication and downright Yorkshire ways. Still, it is her appealing smile and her grace of movement which most surely establishes Miss Elliott in the favour of the public. All her dances with Mr. Ritchard on Saturday were artistic, according to the precedent the pair have set in “Blue Roses” and “Hold My Hand”; but in the dance of the second act, following “It's Not You,” they excelled themselves. At first, the motion was languorous, the expression on the faces serious. Then a band of revellers darted across the stage; and, in their passing, changed the mood. Faster and faster went the tempo now; but always with the most captivating grace, until at last the dancers leapt from a parapet and out of sight.

In the “silly ass” part of Hughie Pierrepont, Mr. Ritchard relied on conventional over-acting to carry him through; and, with the help of his dancing, it did. The role is symptomatic of all the humour in the play. Intrinsically, the plot of “Our Miss Gibbs” is an energetic hurly-burly about nothing in particular. All the fun has to be made from moment to moment by the comedians. “Gags” are at a premium; and on Saturday one noticed many which could not possibly have occurred in the production of 1911.

In these circumstances, Mr. Gus Bluett and Mr. Leo Franklyn were invaluable. Mr. Bluett has not done such a clever piece of acting since he appeared as the plumber in “Kempy.” As a rule, he fools and extemporises in a way that is certainly uproarious, but lies a little outside the sphere of true theatrical art. As Timothy Gibbs, he never stepped beyond his character for a moment. This innocent yokel, wearing one of the most absurd hats that have ever been seen, developed in a richly farcical vein.

Mr. Leo Franklyn’s portrait of the nimble fingered Slithers, was also exceedingly clever, in Mr. Franklyn’s individual and highly resourceful style. Mr. Frank Leighton and Miss Gwyneth Lascelles made the most of colourless parts; Miss Marie Le Varre made a welcome reappearance as Madame Jeanne; and the others who appeared included Mr. Edwin Brett and Mr. Reginald Dane; Miss Mary Rigby and Miss Lorna Forbes.

Under the direction of Mr. George Highland, with Miss Minnie Hooper to arrange the ballet, the play had been costumed in a highly attractive way, with bright, but carefully chosen colour. The setting of the first act was not unattractive. That of the Franco-British exhibition, however, after a momentary sense of spaciousness had worn off, began to seem oppressively artificial and tawdry. Under the direction of Mr. Andrew MacCunn, the orchestra enunciated the well worn old tunes with pleasant grace and freedom.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)—Monday, 9 January 1933, p. 5—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16944190

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  1. The Quaker Girl (music by Lionel Monckton, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank) received its Australian premiere under the management of JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 January 1912 starring Blanche Brown and Leslie Holland in a production staged by Wybert Stamford with dances by Minnie Hooper. Numerous revivals by JCW followed over the ensuing years, including that which launched at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 22 July 1933 starring Madge and Cyril in a production staged by Charles A. Wenman and Cyril Ritchard, with dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Melbourne revival of the musical also had its share of off-stage drama, as related by the daily newspapers:

COMEDIAN’S ILLNESS

Gus Bluett In Hospital

SUBSTITUTE CHOSEN

Mr. Gus Bluett, the comedian, who collapsed at a rehearsal of  “The Quaker Girl” in the Theatre Royal yesterday afternoon, is in hospital. Mr. Ernest Arnley, an English comedian, who has been appearing in the revue “Tout Paris” at the Princess [Theatre], has been “lent” by Mr. Ernest C. Rolls to J.C. Williamson Ltd. to take his place in “The Quaker Girl.” Mr Arnley learned the words of Gus Bluett’s role of Jeremiah from midnight to 2 am today, and attended the dress rehearsal today. “The Quaker Girl” will be performed tomorrow night.

Mr. Bluett had not been well for some time. He collapsed just after a concerted number. 

Although he has played in several musical comedies in England, Mr. Arnley has never appeared in or seen a public performance of “The Quaker Girl.”

J.C. Williamson Ltd. has thanked Mr. Rolls for lending the services of Mr. Arnley in the emergency.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.)—(extract) Friday 21 July 1933, p. 3

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Amongst the supporting players, Ernest Arnley received his share of praise in the subsequent Melbourne newspaper reviews, as did local actress, Coral Brown in a rare appearance in musical comedy (albeit in a non-singing character role): 

MELODIES AND MEMORIES

Charm of “The Quaker Girl”

Probably the most successful revival in recent years was that of “The Quaker Girl,” which was produced by J.C. Williamson Ltd. at the Theatre Royal on Saturday evening. Few of the musical comedies of 20 years ago—and indeed of the present day—are so rich in lilting, infectious melodies and light dance numbers as “The Quaker Girl,” ”Come With Me, Come to the Ball,” the famous waltz song, and the “Dancing Lesson” duet; Prudence’s songs, “Little Grey Bonnet” and “Tony From America” and “Mr. Jeremiah, Esquire,” are a few of the irresistible melodies of Lionel Monckton’s delightful play. Everyone of them was rapturously received on Saturday by playgoers of three generations. It may be said safely that even those who did not have to look at the back pages of the programme to recall the original cast of 1912 which included Andrew Higginson, Blanche Browne, Grace Palotta, Leslie Holland, Ivy Schilling, Fred Leslie, and Bertie Wright, made no odious comparisons. “The Quaker Girl” was enjoyable as a musical comedy as it was as a revival—which is about the best thing which can be said of any revival.

From the opening scene in the Quaker village of the West of England, with its ballet of primly modest maidens, into which a French Bonapartist bride suddenly precipitates herself, to the Parisian salon of Madam Blum, and Prince Carlo’s magnificent ball at the Pre-Catalan, where the simple Quakeress’s tact saves the Princess from the clutches of the State, the musical comedy takes its time from Cyril Ritchard, who dances through the part of Tony Chute, the American attache—and indeed throughout the whole play—on winged feet.  His engaging pirouettes began with “A Runaway Match” in the first act, but they were never more delightful than in the “Dancing Lesson” duet, in which he was partnered by Prudence (Madge Elliott) in her most finished manner.  In the famous “Champagne Dance” (since apparently Quakeresses may not mingle in such worldly amusement) Mr. Ritchard was partnered by Winifred Morrison, whose youthful verve and charm made a splendid foil to Mr. Ritchard’s cosmopolitan air of distinction. Frank Leighton, as Charteris, the King’s messenger, has much to do, and he is valuable in the singing – particularly in “Wonderful,” his duet with Princess Mathilde (Kathleen Goodall) and in the stirring march number “Barbizon,” with Dulcie Davenport (Phoebe). Marre La Varre is a splendid Madame Blum, Kathleen Goodall and Ernest Arnley, whose playing of the comedy role of the Quaker Jeremiah at only a few hour’s notice was a tribute both to his craftsmanship and to his artistry. Leo Franklyn played the part of La Rose, chief of police with characteristic ability, and Coral Brown made a fiery Diane.

Nothing could be more demurely coy than Miss Elliott’s version of Prudence, the Quaker girl, nor more charming than her frocking. A feature of the production, in fact, is its gowning. Doubtless many patrons will obtain as much enjoyment from the beautiful frocks of the piece as from the fragrant bouquet of its melodies and memories.

The musical comedy is produced by Charles A. Wenman and Cyril Ritchard. 

The first matinee of “The Quaker Girl” will be given next Wednesday.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.)—Monday 24 July 1933, p. 5—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4750596

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“THE QUAKER GIRL” STILL FRESH AND FASCINATING

A NOTABLE PRODUCTION

Fresh and fascinating in its new dress, “The Quaker Girl” has many excellent qualities. The picturesque settings, and the smart and beautiful frocking make this a notable production, and in it Madge Elliott gives her best performance.

When Miss Elliott sang her dainty first number, “A Quaker Girl,” on Saturday night, everybody in the Theatre Royal felt that the revival would be a success. From that stage to the final curtain the performance, which had lacked spontaneity at the opening, was invested with charm and gaiety.

Several new features are given to “The Quaker Girl.” Prudence's book of confessions suits the mock solemnity of the occasion. “I Started Laughing,” written and composed by Jack O'Hagan, is a capital duet, but its modern idiom makes a sharp contrast to Lionel Monckton's simple and graceful tunes.

Miss Elliott, a very winsome Prudence, acted with spontaneity and refinement, danced with grace, and used her light soprano tones with taste.

All the dainty charm of “The Little Grey Bonnet” was revealed, and in this engaging melody the artist made her chief singing success. Miss Elliott sang her first number with charm, and gave animation to “Tony from America.”

GOOD DANCING LESSON

The dances of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard are always among the highlights of any production in which they appear. “The Quaker Girl” does not afford them opportunity for much spectacular display, but their graceful movements to the changing rhythms of “A Dancing Lesson” constitute one of the most attractive dances they have given here.

A capital light comedian, and one who invests his work with polish, Cyril Ritchard, as the irresponsible Tony Chute, gave much zest to the play. Even when he did not have to move or sing, the actor was well in the picture. In the trance scene, in the last act, he gave good proof of his versatility. It was here that clever little Winifred Morrison gave a sprightly exhibition of the Champagne Dance. Mr. Ritchard also deserves recognition as C.A. Wenman's associate in the work of putting “The Quaker Girl” on the stage.

In cleverly fantastic make-up, Leo. Franklyn was capital as the volatile Chief of Police, and may claim a large share in the success of the revival.

Ernest Arnley, who took the role of Jeremiah at short notice, because of the illness of Gus Bluett, well sustained his conception of the character, and did not need any prompting. Working on quiet lines, Mr. Arnley soon gained confidence. His comedy improved as the night advanced, but better than it was his nimble dancing. The dance which followed his number, “Just as Father Used to Do,” was loudly applauded.

SPONTANEOUS SOUBRETTE

In the soubrette role of Phoebe. Princess Mathilde’s maid who endeavors to prevent Jeremiah from straying, Dulcie Davenport acted with great vivacity and a considerable amount of charm. This young actress has improved immeasurably in the past year. Her dancing always gives pleasure.

Marie Le Varre brought plenty of vigor, vocal and physical, to the role of Madame Blum, and if at times a little too boisterous she was very nimble on her feet. Her somersault caused the biggest laugh of the night.

The character of Captain Charteris was invested with an engaging buoyancy by Frank Leighton.

Frank Tarrant had not the necessary dignity and ease for an adequate portrayal of the role of Prince Carlo, and made one feel that the top note in the big number “Come to the Ball” was always a serious obstacle. Kathleen Goodall is among the few principals who have pleasing singing voices and know how to use them. Her number. “Oh! Time, Time,” was brightly rendered on Saturday and encored.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.)—Monday, 24 July 1933, p. 16—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245409991

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Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard’s 1932 – 33 Australasian Tour schedule:

  • Sydney—Blue Roses—Her Majesty’s Theatre from 13 February to 4 April followed by a transfer to the Criterion Theatre from 5 to 20 April 1932
  • Brisbane—Blue Roses—His Majesty’s Theatre from 23 April to 4 May followed by Follow Through from 5 to 9 May
  • Melbourne—Blue Roses—Theatre Royal from 13 May to 29 June
  • Adelaide—Blue Roses—Theatre Royal from 2 to 11 July followed by Follow Through from 12 to 16 July 1932.
  • Wellington—Blue Roses—Grand Opera House from 27 July to 5 August followed by Follow Through from 6 to 10 August 1932
  • Christchurch—Blue Roses—Theatre Royal from 11 to 17 August followed by Follow Through from 18 to 20 August
  • Palmerston North—Blue Roses—Opera House on 24 August
  • Wanganui—Blue Roses—Opera House on 25 August
  • Hastings—Blue Roses—Princess Theatre on 26 August
  • Auckland—Blue Roses—His Majesty’s Theatre from 27 August to 6 September followed by Follow Through from 7 to 10 September 1932
  • Sydney—Hold My Hand—Her Majesty’s Theatre from 1 October until 25 November 1932.
  • Brisbane—Hold My Hand—Winter Garden Theatre, Brisbane from 3 to the 9 December 1932 (twice daily) followed by Blue Roses from 10 to 16 December 1932 (twice daily.)
  • Sydney return season—Blue Roses—Her Majesty’s Theatre from 21 December 1932 until 6 January 1933 followed by a revival of Our Miss Gibbs from 7 January until 10 April 1933.
  • Melbourne return season—Our Miss Gibbs—Theatre Royal from 13 April until 16 June followed by Hold My Hand from 17 June until 21 July 1933, then a revival of The Quaker Girl from 22 July until 13 September 1933.
  • Sydney—The Quaker Girl—Theatre Royal from 16 September to 24 November followed by a second season of Our Miss Gibbs from 25 November to 15 December 1933.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Between Madge and Cyril’s visit to Brisbane in late April—early May of 1932 and their return in December of that year, His Majesty’s Theatre had become the city’s principal entertainment venue devoted to British films, and so JCW made arrangements for the Brisbane season of Hold My Hand and the return season of Blue Roses to be staged twice daily at the Winter Garden Theatre in conjunction with the theatre’s usual schedule of showing Hollywood movies. Madge shared her opinion of the arrangement in local newspaper interviews at the time.

SURF, FROCKS, AND MADGE ELLIOTT.

“HOLD MY HAND” STAR ARRIVES.

A HARD WORKER.

“Playing to the picture audience is quite a new experience. I think I shall enjoy it,” said Miss Madge Elliott, the feminine star of “Hold My Hand,” the J.C. Williamson musical comedy which opens at the Wintergarden Theatre to-day. She was quite enthusiastic about the new departure, in conversation with press representatives last evening.

In addition to the gifted dancer, and her partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the full company includes many favorite artists, and the show has only been slightly condensed. Since they were last in Brisbane, at the beginning of the year, Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard have played in Sydney and Melbourne, and in New Zealand.

With two shows a day, and rehearsals also in progress for a revival of “Our Miss Gibbs,” in Sydney, at Christmas time, Miss Elliott has little time for recreation, but she is keen on tennis, and is an enthusiastic surfer.  While staying with her parents in Sydney, Miss Elliott took full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the surf. On her journey up, by the Kyogle mall train, she enjoyed the innovation of a surf at Coff’s Harbor. The seven weeks' stay In New Zealand was described as “short, but strenuous,” Napier, revisited, still bore tragic traces of earthquake.

Frocks are always of feminine interest, and Miss Elliott designs most of her stage costumes. She was wearing a patterned frock in geranium red, with a beret and coat in the same shade, attractively emphasising the contrast of her fair curls and dark eyes. The “Hold My Hand” frocks sound inviting, particularly an evening gown of eggshell-blue satin, relieved with Parma violet, and an afternoon frock of primrose spotted net over lime green taffeta.

Miss Elliott has no complicated recipe for her grace and vitality, she simply works hard and keeps fit with her “daily dozen,” and the happy result is seen in her dancing.

Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld.)—Saturday, 3 December 1932, p. 1—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184986306

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  1. Private Lives by Noel Coward received its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 29 July 1933 and ran until 16 August. Following seasons at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide from 19 to 25 August and His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane between 9 to 19 September, its subsequent Sydney season opened at the Criterion Theatre on 7 October 1933 and ran until 3 November. The cast included George Barraud as ‘Elyot Chase’, Charlotte Frances as ‘Sybil Chase’, Isobel Elsom as ‘Amanda Pryne’, Harvey Adams as ‘Victor Pryne’ and Sadie Bedford as ‘Louise’. The play was produced by George D. Parker.

Isobel Elsom and George Barraud also played the lead roles in JCW’s Australian premiere of Her Cardboard Lover by Jacques Deval, adapted for the English stage by Valerie Wyngate and P.G. Wodehouse, at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 26 August 1933 (produced by George D. Parker), however it was Madge and Cyril who had performed in radio broadcasts of both plays, which had preceded the respective Australian stage premieres.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Madge Elliott—Cyril Ritchard

Two popular theatrical stars who will be heard on Saturday in excerpts from “Our Miss Gibbs,” and on Sunday in a P.G. Wodehouse comedy, “Her Cardboard Lover.”

Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, … both began in Australia.

Cyril Ritchard began in the chorus; then he was given a part in a “straight” comedy at the Criterion, “The Willow Tree,” and a revival of “Daddy Long Legs;” then he joined Gladys Moncrieff’s company in “Katinka,” and then he danced with Miss Elliott for the first time in “Going Up.” He went to America, was engaged in a fortnight by Florenz Ziegfeld, the contract was transferred to Charles Dillingham, and he appeared in a revue, “Puzzles of 1925;” then he went to London, and appeared in several revues, and so on. He introduced Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” as a ballet of 24 performers. Gershwin conducting the rehearsals, with costumes from designs by Bakst, the Russian. Then, with Miss Elliott, he did a season of “The Follies” at Monte Carlo and they were just about to return to Australia when they were offered the engagement in “Lady Luck,” which began their great success. Mr. Ritchard has appeared in several films, in “Piccadilly,” the last silent film produced. In England, in “Blackmail,” the first British talkie, in “Just For a Song,” and “A Symphony in Two Flats,” with Ivor Novello.

“Wireless Weekly” saw Mr. Ritchard in his dressing-room at Her Majesty’s, in his shoes and socks, and nothing more. He said about “Her Cardboard Lover,” which he is doing over the air on Sunday. February 12: “It is the first ‘straight’ play in which Miss Elliott and I have starred together, and, I think Miss Elliott’s first essay in ‘straight’ comedy. But musical comedy is a splendid training for ‘straight’ plays, and, indeed, while many great actresses have gone from musical comedy into ‘straight’ comedy, notably Marie Tempest, Gertrude Lawrence, and Phyllis Dare, very few have been able to go from ‘straight’ work to musical comedy.

“After ‘Her Cardboard Lover’ we hope to be able to broadcast ‘Private Lives’ by Noel Coward; we both know him, and have been in touch with him personally, and hope to get his permission to put it on. If it goes well over the air, we should like to put it on the stage, out here, before returning to England.”

Here Mr. Ritchard began to crush himself into a dress shirt for the second act of “Our Miss Glbbs,” and we asked whether it would be possible to get a similar short interview with Miss Madge Elliott. We said we should enjoy it very much. Mr. Ritchard said he was sure we would, but what about Miss Elliott?  We said we hadn't thought of that.

Wireless Weekly (vol. 21 no. 6)—(extract) Friday, 10 February I933—https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-681566292

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In the event, JCW evidently considered it more lucrative to continue to star both Madge and Cyril in musical comedies for the remainder of their 1932-33 tour and it wasn’t until 1951 that they would at last be given the opportunity by The Firm to perform in Private Lives on stage for Australian audiences.

The broadcast of Private Lives took place on Sunday, 5 March 1933 from the ABC Sydney studios of 2FC and on relay to 2NC (Newcastle), 3LO (Melbourne), 2CO (Corowa), 4QG (Brisbane), 4RK (Rockhampton), 5CL (Adelaide) and 5CK (Crystal Brook, SA) at 8.30 to 10 p.m.

An item published in The Wireless Weekly the following week (17 March) noted that:

The difficulty incurred by broadcast producers in casting their productions was demonstrated in the selection of roles for the Noel Coward comedy, “Private Lives,” which was broadcast through 2FC to the National Stations on Sunday night, March 5. 

Frank Leighton, the well-known actor, was originally cast in one of the leading parts, but after a rehearsal, the producer realised that the voices of the two principal men were very similar, and would therefore confuse listeners. Mr. George D. Parker, who produced the play, decided to include Mr. Campbell Copelin in the cast in place of Mr. Leighton, in order to give more contrast to the voices.

In a stage or film play, there would have been no need for this change, because the eye would note the physical dissimilarities of the actors, and the audience would probably fail to notice the similarities of voice. But over the air, the voice is the only guide to the various actors and actresses, and many a splendid cast has had to be changed in order to enable listeners to recognise more readily the various personalities in the play.”

The Wireless Weekly programme listing for the relay by 2BL from Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on Saturday, 11 February 1933 noted that “As ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ does not lend itself to a full broadcast, like other musical plays, only excerpts will be heard. Listeners, however, will hear all the musical numbers and the dialogue that does not require action to be appreciated.” Thus the broadcast was “Interspersed with DANCE MUSIC from the Studio, supplied by the ABC DANCE BAND.”

However the success of a relay of a complete performance of The Quaker Girl from the Theatre Royal, Melbourne broadcast by 2CH (Sydney) and 2GB (Sydney) on Saturday, 12 August 1933 (from 8 p.m.) prompted a subsequent broadcast of the complete performance of Our Miss Gibbs on the closing night of Madge and Cyril’s Sydney season at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Friday, 15 December 1933 by 2GB and on relay to 3AW (Melbourne) and 4BC (Brisbane).

* * * * * * * * * * 

  1. The first annual Screen Actors Guild Ball (attended by Madge and Cyril) was held in the ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on 13 January 1934.

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Postscript

Who could better advise WOMAN’S MIRROR readers of the chances of breaking into the limelight on London’s stage than Madge Elliott, Australia’s own Gaiety Girl, now back in her own country with the “Blue Roses” musical comedy?

The Gaiety! Of all the theatres devoted to musical comedy in the English-speaking world none is so loved as the old London Gaiety. Others—Daly’s, the Adelphi, the Winter Garden—may have their enthusiastic supporters, but the Gaiety outshines them all. When a musical comedy actress becomes leading woman at the famous old theatre in the Strand she has reached the pinnacle of her profession.

Madge Elliott has held the coveted position of lead there—joining a company of some of the most famous stage stars of all time.

Knowing, as she does, the Australian and English musical comedy stages intimately, Miss Elliott’s advice to girls here who contemplate seeking fame and fortune in London, is of value, and such advice she offers in this article.

“Firstly”, she says, “I feel that I cannot impress too strongly on Australian girls the necessity of having ample money in hand when making the venture. For a venture it is, in which luck plays a large part. 

23 Madge Elliott sketch 1932Sketch by Esther Paterson“By ample money I mean sufficient to last for twelve months at least. Immediate success in getting an engagement is by no means assured. The theatrical profession in London is definitely crowded—especially at the beginning place, the bottom of the ladder—and girls may for a very long time be dependent on their own resources.

“This is a point I stress very strongly, for to paint a rosy picture without sketching in the difficulties to be encountered by girls travelling a great distance to a strange place far from their homes and their own people is, to my mind, criminal.

“One thing to bear in mind is that the English climate is not like that of Australia. It is easier here than it is in London to be down on one’s luck without being down in the mouth. Grey skies can be very conducive to a grey outlook on life, and in London there are sometimes grey skies for weeks and weeks on end.

“This is liable to be depressing. It certainly sounds so. But I am rather insistent on this aspect, because I do feel strongly that to dismiss the subject by saying, ‘Oh, there are great chances for our girls over there!’ and to utter a few platitudes about hard work and determination, though no doubt an easy way out, is far from fair to girls who are perhaps staking everything on the adventure.

“Forewarned is forearmed. There are great chances. Hard work and determination are necessary. And luck ... But, remember, there may be weary weeks or months of waiting; of living in grey streets and colorless boarding houses far from Australia’s sunny skies and golden beaches; of the weary round of agents; of fighting your way on to buses and trams; of soul-trying homesickness.

“So be sure you have money. The knowledge that a snug little bank account is behind you is very comforting. Of course, tastes differ, but assuming that a girl is prepared to live carefully and watch the pence she can do quite comfortably for everything on three pounds a week in London. Have that for twelve months and your return fare, and your greatest worry will be removed.

“As to the hearing given to aspirants from this side—it is good. Australians have done well in London, and consequently Australians generally have created a good impression with managers. But, of course, to go there without previous stage training and experience is hopeless.

“If you can take good theatrical introductions from this side, do so. They are always useful, and are often an open sesame to an otherwise difficult door. But it is assumed that any girl ambitious enough to try to break new ground in London will have her own share of determination and push. After all, an introduction is only an introduction. It isn’t necessarily a free pass to stardom.

“Talent is essential. And by talent I mean also a thorough all-round grounding in the work. It is not sufficient for a girl to be able to walk on to the stage and look beautiful. She must be able to speak well—dance—sing—and act; to do a little of everything, in fact. 

“She must have a measure of looks and a good figure. Personality counts for more than actual beauty; but, of course, a girl must have some attraction in her appearance. Cultivate the voice as much as possible. If a dancer, have your voice trained. Managers can get plenty of good dancers over there, but good singers are not so frequently met with on the English stage as they are on the Australian.

“Australian voices generally are of a very high standard—witness the success gained by our singers overseas. And voices are what they want in England.

“Great care must be taken with speech. London managers and audiences do not take kindly to any suggestion of an accent—except, of course, for character parts—and purity of speech is insisted on.

“My own experience is that the girl who has gone through her apprenticeship on the Australian musical comedy stage is well equipped to enter the London field. The stage training here is excellent, and girls with Australian experience compare very favorably with their overseas sisters. But—and it is a big but—both training and experience are necessary before attacking the lights of London.

“Theatrical agents do not enter into the scheme of things out here, but—unless a girl has personal introductions—they are essential in London. They charge ten per cent or thereabouts for their services, and are quite good to deal with as a rule.

“It is, of course, of paramount importance that girls dress smartly and attractively. ‘Nothing succeeds like success’, and one must never look anything but successful. Clothes are cheaper in London than they are here, and are well cut and well made. Hats also are less expensive, as are stockings and lingerie. I am not so sure about shoes.  I have, since my return, been noticing the excellent and moderately-priced Australian shoes on sale in the shops here. They are as good as any I have seen anywhere.

“To sum up, I should say that girls who want to tackle the English stage from this end should make sure that they have, firstly, money; secondly, talent (with training and experience); thirdly, personality; fourthly, a good voice; and, last but not least, determination to succeed and an infinite capacity for hard work.

“If they have these, the chances are that luck will smile on them—and that I wish them with all my heart”.

The Australian Woman’s Mirror—1 March 1932 (Vol. 8 No. 14)—pp. 9 & 39

* * * * * * * * * * 

MADGE ELLIOTT.

The following extract, taken from the Melbourne Leader, will be of interest to many residents of Toowoomba who remember Miss Madge Elliott as a small girl. The only daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Elliott, she spent several years of her childhood here, and was taught her first steps by Miss Fanny Marlay, and made her first appearance in public when as a tiny person in a pink frilly dancing frock she delighted everyone as a solo dancer at an entertainment for charity at the Town Hall. Miss Elliott and her dancing partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, have just returned to Australia after several very successful years in England and on the Continent. They are to play the leading parts in “Blue Roses,” which will open in Sydney shortly. When a presswoman went on board the Oronsay on her arrival in Melbourne last week, with the object of interviewing Mrs. Stanley Bruce (who, by the way, has consistently refused interviews during all the years she has been in public life) she was received with a courteous smile but the usual refusal. “But,” said Mrs. Bruce, “there are much more interesting people on board than I. Miss Madge Elliott, for instance,” And this is what the interviewer says about Madge Elliott:

“Miss Madge Elliott was having breakfast in the dining saloon with her dancing partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard.

“She looked very cool and attractive in a charming white silk pique frock and a white felt hat. She wore a string of green and white beads looped round her neck so that the necklace fell equally from her shoulders. She smiled a welcome to the presswoman. “But it is Cyril who will have to give you the information,” she said. “I can talk a little, but he can talk a great deal.” Both proved charming people, unspoiled with the remarkable success they have had in London.

“Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard left Australia to try their fortune in London years ago. At least four of the shows in which they have appeared have run for a year each, and they never lacked engagements. They have danced in Paris and Monte Carlo, but most of their time has been spent in London. Mr. Ritchard has also acted for the talkies, but he gave this up, as it was too strenuous; he had to act for the talkies all day and dance at the theatres each evening. He found that though he had made good on the stage it was not taken for granted that he would be a success in the films. He had to prove his ability in this new field. He found the work very interesting, and is convinced that the English film industry will progress. Some American producers have become interested in British films, and no less a person than Fred Niblo has come to England to produce films. Miss Elliott has never tried film acting. “I don't even know if I have a film face,” she said: “I am content with stage dancing.” Margaret Bannerman, she said, is likely to make a great success on the films. She has had a test and her face is the perfect film type. She is soon to make her first picture.

“Though Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard have few free hours, they thoroughly enjoy visiting other theatres, and their chief regret in leaving London just now is that they will miss the wonderful production of Helen, by the German producer, Max Reinhardt. The story is from Offenbach’s La Belle Helene, but a new book for it has been written by Mr. A.P. Herbert. The chief part will be played by Miss Evelyn Laye, who Miss Elliott says, is the leading musical comedy artist in London, and “perfectly charming,” while George Robey is to star as Menelaus. Yetta, an English girl, who was until lately working as a mannequin in Paris, is to play the part of Venus. Elaborate costumes and scenery have been designed by Mr. Oliver Messel, famous for his masks. The two Australians are very sorry to be away from London for this production.

“There are thirty-five theatres running in London, and the majority attract good houses. Cavalcade, Noel Coward’s patriotic play, is such a huge success that seats for it are booked up to March. This play needs to draw big houses, for it costs no less than £3000 a week to produce. The good seats are priced at 23’/6—and still they sell. In London 8’ is considered a cheap price for a theatre ticket.”

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld.)—Wednesday, 27 January 1932, p. 3—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article254243808

* * * * * * * * * * 

“ONLY THE IMITATORS SWANK”

Says CYRIL RITCHARD

Cyril Ritchard, in an article written for “The Aloysian,” the magazine of his old school, St Aloysius’ College, Sydney, says: I always think that the wireless is such a Big Thing for the Little Man. When he might be trapped in a concert hall, lacking the courage to leave or protest, or buttonholed on a street corner and have a stronger man's arguments rammed down his throat, no matter who is speaking “over the air” or singing or playing, the Little Man can rise majestically from his little arm chair, smile with the utmost disdain and with one twist of his little wrist cut off the offending braggart in the midst of his most important word. Ave, Signor Marconi! 

I had intended to devote this “article” to the subject of Simplicity and I would like to say a word or two about my meeting with it. On returning to Australia after seven years away, the main remark of most of my friends was, “You haven't changed”—and they invariably looked very relieved. I knew that did not mean in looks—because I know I have, and so do they. But apparently they expected me, because I had a fair measure of success in London and in New York at my particular game—to have a plum in my mouth and a condescension in my manner. As a matter of fact it did take me quite a little time abroad to learn the lesson that was written in very plain letters at St. Aloysius' and that is—“Be simple always—be humble—be enthusiastic about small things—be grateful for the gifts God has given you—and you will be happy.”

But no, of a naturally slow mind at grasping things, I had to travel thousands and thousands of miles, meet some of the world’s greatest men and women, talk with them, observe them and study them, to learn that little lesson. After all, if you reach the utmost pinnacle of whatever you have decided to climb and plant a flag there, the milkman will not care much, nor will the man next door. And unless you have a good publicity agent the world will not know and certainly will not care—really. But your friends will, and love you for it—so why afflict them with your ideas about yourself. Be grateful to them and love them for loving you still.  I can say that, without exception, the greater the men I met, the more simple they were. I had wonderful luck—in New York, London, Paris, Berlin and other big cities of Europe—to come into very  personal contact with greatness in every walk of life. I have been privileged to dine and wine with leaders of Thought, with leaders of Sport, with leaders of Art in all its branches, and with leaders of Religious Teaching, and always did I find them the easiest people to talk to, the most charming, sympathetic and enthusiastic. It is only the imitators, or the men of no brains that “swank.” But you, dear reader, know that already. It is just that I grasp things slowly and did not realise it for a long time.

Reprinted in the J.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine programme issued for the Melbourne season of Our Miss Gibbs in April 1933.

* * * * * * * * * * 

As a publicity tie-in for The Quaker Girl, Madge appeared in a fashion spread for The Australian Women’s Weekly modelling clothes from David Jones (photographed by Monte Luke). (The magazine was then in its fourth month of publication, having launched on 10 June 1933.)

Additional Picture References

Microfilmed photos of Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard and their fellow cast members from the pages of the weekly Melbourne periodical Table Talk may be viewed on-line at the indicated webpage locations:

Blue Roses—12 May 1932, p.22—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17695962

Hold My Hand—22 June 1933, p.1—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704717

Hold My Hand—“Wedding morn” ballet—29 June 1933, p.14—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149547844

Our Miss Gibbs—20 April 1933, p.17—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704290

Our Miss Gibbs—“Moonstruck” pierrot costume—15 June 1933, p.22—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149547667

The Quaker Girl—27 July 1933, p.1—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704953

Front cover portraits: 

Madge and Cyril—19 May 1932—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17695987

Madge—13 April 1933—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704221

Cyril—20 April 1933—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17704274

 

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