General articles

cartoons on blueMontage by Judy Leech. Image on front page: Caricature of Maurice Moscovitch by Len Reynolds, 1927. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

As detailed in ‘Caught in the Act: Theatrical cartoons and caricatures’ (Part 2), the popularity of live theatre in Australia from 1900 through to the 1920s was accompanied with detailed press coverage, complemented by theatrical cartoons and caricatures by prominent black and white artists of the day.  In this, the final part, BOB FERRIS and ELISABETH KUMM focus on the 1930s and early 1940s when theatrical cartoons were superseded by patriotic images of war.

By the late 1920s significant social and economic factors had seriously affected the viability of the Australian theatre industry. The combination of the depression, the arrival of new talking films and the imposition of entertainment taxes, resulted in several theatres and vaudeville houses in Sydney and Melbourne closing or being converted into cinemas to accommodate movies. According to Kenneth Slessor, the decay of live theatre was a revolution brought about by shadows on a screen.1

A consequence of this decline in live shows was fewer opportunities for black and white artists to caricaturise theatrical performers. Moreover, newspapers and magazines increasingly directed their resources away from live theatre to reporting and reviewing ‘talkies’. The Bulletin, for instance, ran a new movie-based segment, ‘Sundry Shadows’ alongside ‘Sundry Shows’ and it was not long before the movie section became more prominent. The shift in entertainment also saw a change to Everyone’s magazine masthead from ‘Australian Variety and Show World’ to ‘Motion Picture Authority’. Movies were in vogue. Live theatre was no longer the principal form of popular entertainment in Australia.

While initially it looked as if talking pictures would kill the live theatre industry, it soon became clear that the public wanted more than just a straight programme of canned entertainment.2

During the depression years Australia’s largest theatrical enterprise J.C. Williamson Ltd turned to revivals of musical comedies and Gilbert & Sullivan to weather the storm. Home grown stars such as Gladys Moncrieff and Claude Flemming, and Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, who returned to Australia after success in London, helped to keep the theatres open and the black and white artists busy. The arrival of the London companies of Margaret Rawlings in 1931 and Sybil Thorndike in 1932 were a sign that things were improving, and with the re-opening of His Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne in 1934 (having been ravished by fire in 1929), theatre seems to be back to normal—that is until 1939 with the onset of war.

The 1930s also saw the growing importance of independent theatres, little theatre and amateur shows. Commenting on the growth of the Little Theatre Movement in Australia, Harry Tighe, playwright and novelist, said the movement had largely arisen because the public was starved of decent drama.3 While independent theatres staged a variety of plays, these did not generally provide much scope for theatrical cartoons, although Harry Julius did a number of cartoons of performances by Doris Fitton’s Independent Theatre Players in Sydney.

Several of the leading black and white artists of the 1920s continued their theatrical artwork into the next decade. Harry Julius was now sketching cartoons for the Sydney Mail, Sam Wells was drawing for the Melbourne Herald, Mervyn Skipper was active at the Bulletin until his departure in 1933, and Stanley Parker was the principal cartoonist at Table Talk.

But there was also change! A number of the practitioners had extended their artwork away from theatrical cartooning and caricaturing to other aspects of art. Harry Julius, Jim Bancks, Dunstan (Zif) and Souter, among others, were producing comics and comic strips and Julius was the first Australian to make animated cartoons for the cinema. Tom Glover’s work now focused on political and social issues and Mahdi McCrae and Syd Miller had added illustrating movie stars to their repertoire.4

The 1930s also saw the arrival of a number of ‘new’ black and white artists who were drawing theatrical caricatures and cartoons. One of these was John Frith, others included Kerwin Maegraith, Mick Armstrong, Thomas Arthur Challen, Noel Counihan, Don Nicol and George Johnston.

In 1929, after two decades at the Bulletin, Harry Julius (1885–1938) joined the Sydney Mail, contributing cartoons to their theatre pages from 1930–32. One of Sydney’s most recognisable and popular cartoonists, Julius was also one of the busiest with his newspaper and cinema commitments. Julius died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1938 aged only 53.

Examples of Julius’ work in the Sydney Mail includes the principals from the 1931 musical comedy Dearest Enemy with Dorothy Brunton as Betsy Burke, Sidney Burchall as Sir John Copeland, Cecil Kellaway as the thirsty General Tyson, and Leslie Holland as General Lowe; and And So to Bed, a comedy set during the times of Samuel Pepys, with Albert Collins as Pepys and Clarence Murphy as Charles II. Doris Fitton played Mistress Knight. In July 1932 Julius captured characters from the Independent Theatre Company’s production of The Middle Watch, a naval comedy by Ian Hay and Stephen King-Hall set on a British ship stationed in Chinese waters. Directed by Doris Fitton, it starred Richard Parry, Charles Degotardi, Charles Stanley, Bruce Bennett-Smith and Elizabeth Camper. Another cartoon, also published in July 1932, depicts the production Happy and Glorious which was performed by the Margaret Rawlings Company at the Sydney Criterion. The play is concerned with the impact of the suffragette movement and the changes to society due to WWI. It featured Rawlings as a budding suffragette, Gabriel Toyne as the policeman who arrested her for window smashing, Kenneth Brampton as the Doctor who ‘forcibly fed’ her, and Barry Barnes as a Tommy waiting for the war to finish.

Taking over the illustrating of theatrical personnel from stalwarts Julius and Hal Gay was Londoner, John Frith (1906–2000). While Frith was the Bulletin’s principal theatrical caricaturist for 15 years, he also drew non-theatrical celebrities and increasingly caricatures of movie performers. He was also at one time the Bulletin’s co-art editor with Ted Scorfield. On leaving the Bulletin, Frith joined the Sydney Morning Herald in 1944 and in 1950 moved to the Melbourne Herald where he worked for 18 years, producing a daily cartoon, until his retirement.

According to one source, Friths artwork relied upon minimal background and simple lines within a compressed space to illustrate his characters. This style was influenced by Japanese prints, which he had acquired an interest in when working in Japan as a young man.His cartoon style is evident in examples of his work shown.

During the 1930s, Frith drew hundreds of cartoons for the Bulletin showcasing musical comedy and entertainments presented at the Sydney theatres. Collits’ Inn, a Frank Thring production, debuted at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne in December 1933 and played at the Sydney Tivoli the following year. Collits Inn holds a significant place in Australian musical theatre history—it was not an overseas import but an all-Australian musical production with a strong and unmistakeable parochial flavour—Australian actors, libretto, music, ballets (including a corroboree), scenery and a setting at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The Frith caricature shows the three principals: Mary Collits (Gladys Moncrieff), Captain Jack Lake (Robert Chisholm) and Robert Keane (Claude Flemming) who were involved in a love triangle and eventual fatal duel.

Another musical comedy captured by Frith was Balalaika, which opened at the Sydney Theatre Royal on 16 December 1937 following a successful season in Melbourne. Told through a series of flashbacks, the musical begins and ends in a Montmartre nightclub called the ‘Balalaika’. The story concerns two lovers, a Russian nobleman and a ballerina, who survive the Revolution, foil an attempted assassination of the Tsar, and escape to exile in Paris. Frith’s cartoon depicts Gaston Mervale, Sidney Wheeler, Robert Halliday and Clifford Cowley (with bomb).

Lilac Time Frith 3Lilac Time Frith 5Lilac Time Frith 7Lilac Time Frith 4

John Frith: Characters from Lilac Time. Bulletin (Sydney), 15 February 1933, p.18.

Lilac Time, a romantic musical comedy based on the life of composer Franz Schubert and his infatuation with a young woman, Lili, first played in Australia at Her Majesty’s Theatre Sydney in 1924 and later the Royal Theatre Sydney in 1933. Frith’s caricatures show John Ralston as Schubert, Evelyn Gardiner as Marini, Leslie Holland as Count Scharntorff and Bernard Manning as Kappel.

During October 1932, Sybil Thorndike and her London company appeared at the Sydney Theatre Royal in a round of plays. Frith was in the audience making sketches of the principals. His rendering of Ghosts shows Bruce Winston as Jacob Engstrand, Lewis Casson as Pastor Manders, Hilda Davies as Regina, Dame Sybil Thorndike as Mrs. Alving, and Christopher Casson as Oswald Alving. ‘Dame Thorndike wears a bustle with dignity’, reported the Bulletin. Another costume play, Madame Plays Nap, saw Dame Sybil as Madame de Beauvais, the Parisian pawnbroker who becomes a favourite of Napoleon. The actors in Frith’s drawing also include Norman Shelley (Captain Venatier), Albert Chevalier (M. de Beauvais), Michael Martin-Harvey (Lavalle), Lewis Casson (Napoleon), and Bruce Winston (Ferrier). The same season Dame Sybil also played Lady Macbeth and Saint Joan.

Born in the UK but raised in Melbourne, Stanley Parker (1909–1981) studied art under Bill McInnes at the National Gallery School, winning prizes for his drawings. Encouraged by dancer Stephanie Deste, he started drawing portraits of theatrical celebrities, initially from memory because he was too shy to ask people to sit for him. In 1929 his portrait study of Pavlova met with the dancer’s approval.6 His characteristic portraits adorned the pages of Table Talk throughout the 1930s (along with commentary and interviews), and although he departed for London in 1936, he continued to send sketches back to Australia informing readers of Australian performers abroad. From 1937–1960, he contributed regular caricatures to the London-based theatre journal Theatre World.

In Australia the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan were popular with audiences and many talented and popular artists numbered among the ranks of J.C. Williamson’s Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, from the 1890s onward. In 1931 Ivan Menzies and Evelyn Gardiner joined the company and soon became firm favourites. Menzies played leading tenor roles such as the Duke of Plaza Toro, the Lord Chancellor and Major General Stanley; while Gardiner specialised in the contralto roles of the Duchess of Plaza Toro, Katisha and Little Buttercup. Parker’s drawings, which dates from their 1935 season, perfectly captures their facial expressions and the lavishness of their costumes for The Gondoliers. Another drawing from the same period depicts Minnie Everett who directed many of the operas. She was said to be ‘the only woman producer of Gilbert and Sullivan that the world has known’.7

Stanley Parker‘Stanley Parker’s 1935 Christmas Cocktail Party’. Table Talk (Melbourne), 1 November 1935, p.12.

Also in 1935, on the eve of his departure for England, ‘Stanley Parker’s 1935 Christmas Cocktail Party’ was published in Table Talk wherein he imagines the crème de la crème of Melbourne society celebrating the start of the festive season. Included among the crowd are many recognisable figures from the stage including Gladys Moncrieff, Florence Austral, Alfred Frith, Mona Barrie, Margaret Bannerman, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, Dame Clara Butt, Gus Bluett, Sir Benjamin Fuller, Lewis Casson, and Campbell Copelin, to name a few.

During Parker’s two decades with Theatre World in London he contributed caricatures of all the leading performers of the day. His ‘grotesque’ portrait of Judith Anderson, who played Lady Macbeth alongside Laurence Olivier for the Old Vic in 1937, is characteristic of his cartoons during this period.

The well-known stage comedian Don Nicol (1906–1949) who appeared in J.C. Williamson’s musical comedies and other productions was a very competent caricaturist. While waiting to go on stage he would often be seen dashing off a drawing, whether it be a self-portrait, such as the one penned during the J.C. Williamson production of Follow the Girls at the Sydney Theatre Royal in 1946 when he played Goofy Gale, with Lois Green as Bubbles La Marr. Another is of the American vaudevillian Kenny Brenna, with whom he appeared in the Tivoli revue The Time of Your Life in 1940.

During the mid to late thirties and forties, Nicol’s caricatures and sketches often cropped up in the pages of Table Talk and other papers, such as his impressions of Claude Flemming and Gladys Moncrieff who revived their original roles (for the first time in thirteen years) of Francesco del Fuego and Dolores in the musical comedy The Southern Maid at Melbourne’s King’s Theatre in November 1936. His caricatures of Lois Green (Mitzi), Isobel Cue (Lena) and Diana du Cane (Liesel) in Wild Violets is only a small section of a much larger cartoon. Wild Violets, a Tyrolean musical by Robert Stolz opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 26 December 1936. Don Nicol appeared in both productions.

Another fine black and white artist of the thirties was Adelaide-born Kerwin Maegraith (1903–1970). He drew for a variety of publications including the Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Times (Sydney), Sydney Mail, and Advertiser (Adelaide). Around 1931, a major work by him—“Who’s Who in Adelaide”: Well-known people caricatured—was published by the Advertiser Newspaper Limited in Aid of the Lord Mayor’s Unemployment Fund.

The Jerome Kern musical comedy Roberta opened at Melbourne’s His Majesty’s Theatre on 22 December 1934, with star Australian song and dance duo Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard in the leading roles. A season at the Theatre Royal in Sydney followed on 16 March 1935. Set in a Parisian dress shop, the musical was a visual and aural feast, and marked Cyril Ritchard’s directorial debut. As an exiled Russian Princess, Madge Elliott was encored for her rendering of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’. The musical was said to have cost J.C. Williamson £20,000 to stage: a sure sign that theatre was back in the black.

In depicting the characters from the J.C. Williamson musical Nice Goings On at the Sydney Criterion during 1935, Maegraith also included a portrait of fellow artist and performer Don Nicol, described in the caption as ‘a clever black and white artist [who] is always to be found at his easel when not engaged as Mr Lehmann upon the stage’. Nicol is pictured along with Eric Bush ‘the handsome juvenile lead of the show’ who played Mr Ginkle.8

Another caricature by Maegraith shows Minnie Love going through her hilarious lines at a full-dress rehearsal of the Clare Booth comedy The Women. The popular comedienne played the part of the Countess De Large when it was performed at the Minerva Theatre. Australian audiences had seen Love, many years earlier, as the principal boy, a dashing Prince Charming in J.C. Williamson’s pantomime, Cinderella. The producer of the pantomime was Charles Wenman who also produced The Women.

A cartoon from the Sydney Mail, exploiting his penchant for profiles, depicts the leading players in Touch Wood, a drama that enjoyed a short season at Doris Fitton’s Independent Theatre in Sydney during their residency at the Savoy Theatre. Set in a Scottish Hotel, where five women are holidaying, Touch Wood candidly analyses their love life.

Maegraith also had an interest in music and composition. He wrote the words to a number of songs, including ‘The Empire Calls’, ‘Miss Australia’ and ‘The Anzac House Song’ and the words and lyrics of It Ain’t Cricket, a musical comedy first performed at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide, in December 1933 in aid of the Ernest Jones Testimonial Fund. Several Australian cricketers, including Don Bradman, were in the play and audience.

Thomas Arthur Challen (1911–1964) studied art at the Melbourne National Gallery and often exhibited his work, including a one-man show of portraits and drawings at Hogan’s Gallery in Little Collins Street, Melbourne, in 1937. Challen drew caricatures for several publications including Table Talk and the Sydney Morning Herald. He went to London in 1938 and worked as a political cartoonist on the Sunday Pictorial, returning to Australia in 1940 to take up the position of staff cartoonist on the Daily Mirror (Sydney). Challen was also an accomplished musician, skilled in several instruments, particularly the violin.

Challen’s caricature of Noel Coward was drawn during the entertainer’s seven-week tour of Australian and New Zealand. Under the auspices of the Red Cross, the tour was designed to promote Empire interest in the war effort, and to raise funds for patriotic purposes. Beginning in November 1940, he visited the major cities, attending a progression of luncheons, theatre openings and receptions that resembled a Royal Tour. Feted and mobbed wherever he went, he delivered a series of patriotic lectures that were published in pamphlet form by the Specialty Press in Melbourne as Noel Coward: His talks in Australia.

The world-famous Spanish-American dancer La Meri performed at the Sydney Theatre Royal supported by a musical trio of whom Challen was one. La Meri provided the entire two-hour programme of fifteen dances herself: ‘When Sydney audiences were watching the dancing of La Meri at the Theatre Royal, they did not realise that the solo violinist Mr. Thomas Challen was making mental sketches of her, and later translating them to paper.’9

Best known as a social realist painter and lithographer, Noel Counihan (1913–1986) sometimes ventured into cartoon art. Having enrolled as a night student at the Melbourne Gallery Art School in 1929, he held his first one-man exhibition of pencil portraits and caricatures at the Soho Gallery, Melbourne in 1933. The exhibition led to freelance work of caricatures for the weekend supplement of the Melbourne Argus. Around the same time, he began contributing caricatures to Musical News, Table Talk, the Bulletin, Sydney’s Workers Weekly and the Brisbane Telegraph.

As McKenzie wrote of Counihan’s art—‘underpinning all of his work is his superb draughtsmanship’;10 a skill which is evident in his rare excursion into theatrical cartooning.

One of Counihan’s theatrical caricatures, published in Table Talk, references a ‘tongue in cheek’ interview between Roy Rene and Gregan McMahon (the Gregan McMahon Players). In response to a flippant question from Rene, McMahon contends that the Australian stage is in a sorry state and to revive it someone needs to write an opus typifying the inherent spirit of Australia.

Another characteristic caricature by Counihan is of the six Comedy Harmonists in one of their musical frolics when performing at the Princess Theatre Melbourne. The Viennese ensemble toured Australia and America in the 1930s presenting their repertoire of folk songs sung in harmony with a superabundance of comedy.

Joing the staff of Melbourne Punch after WWI, Sam Wells (1885–1967) moved to the Melbourne Herald in 1922 and the following year produced a book of cartoons based on his work at the Herald. After ten years with the Herald, he went to England to work with the Manchester Daily Dispatch, returning in 1941 to re-join the Herald as their principal political cartoonist, a position he held until compulsory retirement in 1950. In his later years he worked at the Age, producing a weekly cartoon. Besides his theatrical cartoons, Wells is well-known for his sporting, particularly football, cartoons.

His caricatures were often referred to as having the ‘Wellsian touch’. His impishness and good humour is evident in his likenesses of comedian George Wallace and ventriloquist Arthur Prince with his dummy ‘Sailor Jim’. The image of George Wallace also appears on the cover of a programme in the collection of the Sydney’s Powerhouse museum.11

A rare example of original artwork is at the National Library of Australia. Dedicated to the actor Herbert Browne, it depicts Browne and Frank Bradley as Vicomte de Bethune and Napoleon in a revival of the musical The Duchess of Dantzic at the Melbourne Theatre Royal during 1931.

One woman working as a professional cartoonist during the inter-war years was Vic Cowdroy (1908-1994) who studied art at the East Sydney Technical School under the eminent sculptor Rayner Hoff. In the twenties and thirties she drew cartoons for numerous publications, including Triad, Aussie and Home, and in the mid-thirties for Man magazine under the pseudonym ‘Royston’ to avoid acknowledging her gender. Joan Kerr proposes that this was probably an editorial decision, since to name a woman cartoonist would have threatened Man’s macho image.12

The Cobra played at the Sydney Criterion in January 1927 to mixed reviews. One review described the play as ‘bunkham, pure and undefiled from start to finish’, another as ‘a sordid sex play’, complete with vampish intrigue. But there was high praise for Judith Anderson who played Elise Van Zile. Anderson was described as svelte, alluring, intelligent, mannered, and disturbing.13 A description beautifully captured in Cowdroy’s caricature.

Another female artist who published a cartoon of Judith Anderson in the same role was Mahdi McCrae (1905–1990). A competent watercolourist, cartoonist and book illustrator, she started as a fashion illustrator. She provided cartoons to Aussie, Home, the Bulletin, and other publications.

Tasmanian-born Jack Quayle (1899–1982) studied drawing at the Julian Ashton School in Sydney. He sold mainly freelance sporting cartoons to the Bulletin, Daily Pictorial, Aussie, Fairplay and Humour. Quayle created the ‘Casual Comic’ strip for the Daily Telegraph in 1927 and later ‘Dora Diary’, ‘Quayle’s Commentary’ and ‘Quayle’s Cartoonogram’ for the Adelaide News. He was also editorial cartoonist at the News for twelve years. From the late 1930s, he also drew ‘Dora’ for the Argus.

An example of his work from 1930 is his caricature of Sons O’ Guns, which he drew for Sydney’s Daily Pictorial. Set in 1914 in Australia and France, this musical comedy follows the mis-deeds and amusing situations undertaken by Jimmy Cranfield (Gus Bluett), a private who starts as a ‘slacker’ and ends as a hero. Bluett is supported by Bertha Riccardo as Yvonne, a French maid in love with Jimmy, and Hobson (Leo Franklyn), his former valet now a sergeant.

Two later examples of Quayle’s work were published during his time at the Adelaide News depicting characters in Under Your Hat and The Lilac Domino. The storyline of Under Your Hat revolves around the attempts of a screen star and his wife to recover an aeroplane carburettor stolen by enemy agents. In his typical style, Quayle caricaturises the leading man Edwin Styles as Jack Millet, Field Fisher as Sir Geoffrey Arlington, Lily Moore as the prim schoolmistress Miss Stevens and Eileen Murphy as Carole, the Russian decoy.

The Adelaide Musical Comedy Company was an enthusiastic amateur group who produced several shows a year at the Theatre Royal, with the proceeds being donated to charity. In May 1938 they mounted The Lilac Domino. An old favourite with audiences, the musical comedy centres on three fortune-hunting bachelors who throw dice at a party to see which of them would find a rich heiress to marry, so to keep all three in a comfortable lifestyle. The plan is skuttled when Aubigny falls in love with an unknown girl who attends the party as a lilac domino. The Quayle drawing shows Ken Fraser, as the Honourable Andre Aubigny, the loser of the ungallant contest, Rex Dawe as Prosper Woodhouse, one of the trio, Cedric Trigg as millionaire Cornelius Cleveden and Reg Verran as Caraban the conductor of a gypsy orchestra who suggested the dice-game. The musical was directed by Alan Chapman, formerly with J.C. Williamson Ltd.

On graduating from the Hobart Technical College, Len Reynolds (1897–1939) exhibited with the Art Society of Tasmania, 1918-19. The following year he relocated to Melbourne. During the 1920s and 1930s he contributed cartoons to Lone Hand and Table Talk. For the latter he provided full-page cartoons, many of which were published under the banner ‘Lions and Lambs’, which featured caricatures of theatrical, sporting and society personalities. Reynolds’ career came to an unexpected end when he drowned after falling off a cliff in Beaumaris (Vic).

A rare example of original artwork by Reynolds depicts the Russian-American dramatic actor Maurice Moscovitch standing in front of a curtained proscenium stage. Moscovitch was a star of Yiddish theatre in New York and came to prominence in 1918 when he played Shylock on the London stage. He toured Australia for J.C. Williamson’s in 1925 and 1927, with a repertoire that included The Merchant of Venice, Trilby, the Edgar Wallace thrillers The Ringer and The Terror, as well as The Fake and The Silent House. During his stay, his portrait was painted by John Longstaff, winning the 1925 Archibald Prize.

A huge success for Florence Young during the 1910s and for Gladys Moncrieff during the 1920s, Dorothy Brunton played the role of Sonia in The Merry Widow for the first time at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Brisbane on 6 June 1931, scoring another triumph in a season that saw her play the ‘lovable Irish girl’ in Dearest Enemy and the ‘dam’d little hussy’ Madame Sans Gene in The Duchess of Dantzic. By the time The Merry Widow made it to Melbourne, in November 1931, some of the principals had changed, as depicted in Reynolds’ drawing. Herbert Browne replaced Sidney Burchall as Prince Danilo, Arthur Stigant succeeded Cecil Kellaway as Baron Popoff, Frank Bradley took over from Victor Gouriet as General Novikovich, and Leo Franklyn was Nisch in place of Frank Bradley. Along with from Dorothy Brunton as Sonia, Herbert Browne continued as De Jolidon. When The Merry Widow reached Sydney in January 1932, Frank Leighton was the production’s third Danilo.

Opera Armstrong Mick Armstrong: ‘Preparing for the Opera’. Herald (Melbourne), 22 September 1934, p.26.
Boheme Armstrong Mick Armstrong: Impressions of some of the leading figures in La Boheme, including Cesarina Valobra (far right) as Mimi. Herald (Melbourne), 23 July 1932, p.24.

Harold Barry (Mick) Armstrong (1903–1978) contributed mainly political cartoons to a number of publications—Bulletin, Sydney Sun, Smith’s Weekly—and was the first political cartoonist at the Argus. Armstrong worked at the Melbourne Herald from 1932 to 1934 and did many theatrical cartoons during this period.

An example of Armstrong’s theatrical cartoons includes ‘Preparing for the Opera’ which he drew for the Herald in 1934. The cartoon depicts the director Charles Moor rehearsing singers Francesca Duret, Thea Phillips and others ahead of Benjamin Fuller’s Grand Opera season at the Apollo Theatre in Melbourne. Another opera-related cartoon is of La Boheme which was performed during the 1932 Grand Opera season at the Melbourne Theatre Royal, with Signorina Cesarina Valobra as Mimi. Unfortunately for the Signorina, memories of Melba in the same role were still strong and ‘each phrase sung by the leading soprano recalled a voice of austere perfection—a unique and unapproachable art’.14

With the commencement of World War II, the number of theatrical cartoons and caricatures published in the illustrated newspapers and journals began to diminish as patriotic images of war, cartoons about diggers, politics and sport grew in popularity. Though theatre was not totally abandoned, as the war years rolled by politics remained the number one focus for Australian cartoonists.

From the 1950s George Molnar (1910–1998) had theatre cartoons published in the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph. Having started his career at the Argus in 1946, Vane Lindesay (b.1920) also contributed cartoons with a theatre-focus to Australasian Post and the Bulletin. Interested in the history of cartoons, Lindesay published numerous books on the topic, and also provided the illustrations for Frank Thring and Roland Roccheccioli’s The Actor Who Laughed, an anthology of theatre anecdotes.

Another contemporary Australian artist is Col Bodie. Better known for his drawings of sport stars, Bodie was commissioned to draw caricatures of theatre celebrities for display in the Café Bar at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. Many of his drawings have been reproduced in Frank Van Staten’s 2018 book Her Majesty’s Theatre Melbourne.

From 1974 award-winning Melbourne cartoonist John Spooner (b.1946) began drawing for the Age as the paper’s editorial cartoonist and illustrator. His long association with the paper came to an end in 2016 and he now draws a daily cartoon for the Australian. While politics, social and economic issues have been his main focus, he occasionally penned caricatures of theatrical and musical celebrities, such as his portraits of the two Dames: Joan Sutherland and Kiri Te Kanawa.

Throughout the war years and beyond America and Britain both retained a proud tradition of theatre-focused cartoons and caricatures. The walls of Sardi’s restaurant in New York for example showcases the work of Alex Gard (1898–1948), a Russian refugee who was hired by the restaurant’s owner to draw caricatures of Broadway celebrities in exchange for a meal. Between 1927 and 1948 he drew over 720 caricatures. In the years that followed Gard was succeeded by artists John Mackey, Donald Bevan and Richard Baratz.

Other well-known New York-based caricaturists include Al Hirschfeld (1903–2003) and Al Frueh (1906–1962). For some seven decades Hirschfeld’s cartoons regularly appeared in the New York Times, as well as on posters and on the cover of Playbill theatre programmes. Frueh drew for the New Yorker from 1925 until his death and collections of his work were also published in book form.

In Britain, William Hewison (1925–2002) continued in the footsteps of Bernard Partridge and Phil May, specialising in theatrical cartoons and holding the post of art editor at Punch for twenty-five years. During the 1970s and 80s his cartoons were published alongside the theatre reviews of Sheridan Morley, when he was the journal’s arts editor and drama critic. Similarily Australian-born John Jensen (1930–2018), as well as drawing political cartoons for the Sunday Telegraph, contributed social cartoons to the Spectator and theatre cartoons to Tatler.

While the hey day of theatrical caricature may be over, the art is not completely dead, and as this survey shows, Australia has had a rich tradition of black and white artists who deserve greater recognition.



1. ‘Stage takes a knock’, Smith’s Weekly, 4 January 1930, p.17

2. Everyone’s (Sydney), 30 July 1930, p.4

3. Sun (Sydney), 19 June 1932, p.21

4. See for example Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), 21 January 1933, p.10 and the Sun (Sydney), 13 September 1936, p.65 and 21 August 1938, p.8

5. Cherie Prosser, ‘Distorting the Image: Caricature for an Australian audience’, 27 November 2013,

6. Bulletin (Sydney), 1 September 1927, p.46 and Bulletin (Sydney), 5 June 1929, p.44

7. Table Talk (Melbourne), 29 August 1935, p.20

8. Sydney Mail, 16 January 1935, p.16

9. Sydney Morning Herald, 3 November 1936, p.6

10. Janet McKenzie, Noel Counihan, p.5

11. ‘Monster Benefit Tendered to Professor Fred Ireland, New Town Hall, Prahran, Thursday, 16th November 1933’, Museum of Applied Arts, Sydney,

12. See Artists and Cartoonists in Black and White, pp.16-17; also Heritage, p.345

13. Triad (Sydney), 8 February 1937, p.11

14. Argus (Melbourne), 8 July 1932, p.8


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