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The online magazine of Theatre Heritage Australia
To mark 100 years since the death of saucy British music hall artiste Marie Lloyd, FRANK VAN STRATEN recounts her visit to Australia in 1901, performing under the auspices of Harry Rickards, notably at his newly opened Opera House in Melbourne.

Harry rickards was an English comic singer who came to Australia first in 1871. He returned in 1884 and found success not only as an entertainer, but also as a music hall entrepreneur. Before long he was shunting popular vaudeville companies between the Tivoli in Sydney and the Opera House in Melbourne.

The turn of the nineteenth century was the peak of Rickards’ career. He was 58 years old, filling his bills with some of the world’s best vaudeville talent, and also providing opportunities for up-and-coming Australian talent. His imported acts for 1901 were a tantalizingly mixed bag. Among them were Celina Bobe, ‘Parisienne Violiniste’; Frank Latona, the musical tramp; Dan Le Mont and his dogs, one of whom could throw twenty-five consecutive somersaults; Herr Winschermann’s Educated Acrobatic Bears, led by Tony, the Sacred Bear of India; Professor De Wynne and his shadowgraphy (the art of throwing on a screen shadows of recognisable objects formed by manipulating the hands and fingers); Little Eric, a juvenile comedian and impersonator from England; the Dartos, a famous French dance team whose specialities were the Valse Tourbillon and the Swirl Twirl; and Rosie Aquinaldo, a lady contortionist from Cuba. There were Bioscope pictures of the funeral of Queen Victoria and of the great fire at the Anthony Hordern store.

But Harry Rickards’ biggest attraction for 1901 was undoubtedly Marie Lloyd. She was, simply, the queen of the Music Hall. A London devotee tried to encapsulate her magic: ‘Our Marie. The baggage, the saucy puss, with a wink and a husky voice and the energy of ten men. A wonderful vulgarity, a way of ploughing the audience with a wink, a sense of wild Bank Holiday spirits. How Homer and Shakespeare and Dickens would have laughed! How Rowlandson would have drawn her! No one could be more British. She’s London if you like, she’s beanos down to Epping Forest, horse char-à-banc, cornet and all, and she’s baked potatoes and barrel organs, and fish and chips. She is the height of vulgarity with a great heart.’1

T.S. Eliot also tried to explain her mystique: ‘Her superiority was in a way a moral superiority. It was her understanding of the people and sympathy with them, and the people’s recognition of the fact that she embodied the virtue which they genuinely most respected in private life, that raised her to the position she occupied at her death. I have called her the expressive figure of the lower classes; there is no such expressive figure for any other class. The middle classes have no such idol: the middle classes are morally corrupt.’2

Then approaching the peak of her enormous popularity, the magnetic Marie was at first reluctant to commit herself to the tour. Rickards told her, ‘Sign up with me for three months and, if you aren’t absolutely stuck on the Australians and their country, if you have just one home sickness pang, then I’ll release you on a moment’s notice and pay you for the full three months’.3 Marie signed up at £250 a week, an enormous salary. Part of the deal was that Coster comedian Alec Hurley, a star in his own right, should come with her. He was paid £100.

The couple travelled as Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd and were accepted as such, although they were not married until five years later.4 Perhaps this accounted for an incident that occurred on the trip out. The first-class passengers tended to snub them, but when the ship’s concert was being organised Marie was asked to sing. ‘Not on your life!’ she told them. ‘If I’m not good enough to pass the time of day with, I don’t see why I should burst myself to entertain you!’ Not surprisingly, when the steerage passengers’ concert came along, there was the little Cockney sparrow, singing song after song.5

Marie and Alec opened to standing room only at the Tivoli in Sydney on 6 April 1901. The house was enthusiastic, but the press wasn’t. The Daily Telegraph commented sourly that: ‘Marie skates rather close to the brink of what there is a steady determination on the part of theatregoers not to tolerate much of. The field of mirth and humour is certainly wide enough to make incursions into the realms of suggestiveness quite unnecessary.’6 The Sydney Morning Herald thought that ‘She had no claim to be considered a singer, but the vocal powers are pleasingly sufficient for the development of her character sketches.’7 Over fifty years later, Gayne Dexter was still able to recall vividly Marie Lloyd at the Sydney Tivoli: ‘The acrobats had finished. On the darkened stage one backcloth shot up into the flies, another was lowered. Call-boys whipped a new name into the program panels on each side of the proscenium. Orchestra and audience poised in a dim, vibrant suspense, cut suddenly by the spotlight. An urgent roll of drums, a roar from the gods, and Marie Lloyd was on. Petite yet plumpish, in short blue skirt and cartwheel hat adorned with a long white feather, she strutted down-stage. She sang harmless lyrics with scandalous innuendoes, or outrageous verses with wide-eyed innocence. The gesture meant everything.’8

The highlight of the tour came in Melbourne, where they topped the first bill at the New Opera House. It was a heady time in Melbourne, as the city welcomed the Duke and Duchess of York (later to be King George V and Queen Mary). They were there to open the first Federal Parliament at the Exhibition Buildings on 9 May. The streets were gaily decorated and the excitement of the royal visit was reflected in the handsome new theatre in Bourke Street, the focus of Melbourne’s night life. It was in an area that was ‘uninhibited and vulgar, perhaps, but decidedly picturesque. Bourke Street was a flaring gas-lit canyon awash with tragedians “resting”, punters, jockeys, scene-shifters, horse trainers, lads of the village and their “donahs”, hot gospellers, racecourse urgers, bookies, peanut sellers and mysterious turf commissioners.’9

Harry Rickards was justifiably proud of his new Melbourne home—so proud, in fact, that the opening night program effused into Latin: ‘“Quod facimus, valde facimus” [‘That which we do, we do well’]—Surely none could more reasonably and modestly claim the right to adopt the motto than Mr. Harry Rickards, after erecting such a handsome building as that of the New Opera House, which has sprung at his bidding from the old theatre in Bourke Street where most, if not all, of the classic successes on the lyric and dramatic stage of Melbourne were made.’10

William Pitt had done his job well. The New Opera House was Moorish or Mogul in style, recalling the extravagances of the Alhambra Music Hall in London, Flinders Street Station, the Cyclorama building in Little Collins Street and the lounges of Melbourne’s Menzies’ and Grand Hotels.11 The Bourke Street frontage was four stories high, of warm red brick embellished with coloured tiles and ornate cast iron work, and surmounted with a huge revolving illuminated globe, similar to the one that would adorn the London Coliseum. Two long corridors lavishly decorated with salmon pink and turquoise frescos led from Bourke Street to the main foyer, which boasted a rockery with ferns, palms and a fountain. On either side of the rockery, grand marble stairways led to the dress circle.12 The Australasian commented on the dress circle’s extreme slope, ‘designed apparently to minimise the inconvenience of the matinee hat. Building a theatre in order to beat the matinee hat is rather like burning down a house in order to boil an egg, but the seats are delightfully comfortable, and the innovation is not unpleasant.’

The auditorium was decorated in red, blue, old gold and cream, embellished with gold and silver leaf. It was brilliantly illuminated with electric light and ventilated by an ornamented sliding shutter in the roof. Two thousand patrons were accommodated on its three levels.13 Strangely, William Pitt failed to take advantage of recent British technical developments that would have permitted the dress circle and the gallery to be constructed without a forest of annoying supporting columns. Still, the new Melbourne Opera House was warm and intimate and welcoming. A Herald reporter likened it to Daly’s Theatre in London.14

The first item on the opening night, 18 May 1901, was, naturally enough, ‘God Save the King’. It was sung by Mary Lynne, an English contralto who had appeared with the Musgrove Opera Company. ‘At the conclusion of each verse,’ the Leader reported, ‘the audience, which crowded the building in every part, took up the refrain, and at the end gave three hearty cheers.’ Then came the traditional First Part but ‘there was a welcome change from the stereotyped arrangement of the opening scene. Instead of the customary half-circle of chairs on the old nigger minstrel style, with the funny men at the corners, the stage represented a fancy dress carnival and the special performers came out from among the crowd to do their turns. There was always life and movement to attract the eye.’

After interval came dainty Irene Franklin, a re-appearance by Mary Lynne and then Rickards’ daughters, Noni and Madge, in their ‘Grand Vocal Coon Ballet entitled “Mama’s Carolina Twins”, at present the rage of London and New York’. The Australasian thought this was ‘a task rather beyond their means at present.’

Then it was Marie Lloyd’s turn. She sang ‘Everything in the Garden’s Lovely’ and ‘Milly from Piccadilly’ and the audience loved her. She went on to sing ‘Folkestone for the Day’ and ‘The Barmaid—the Idol of the Rose and Crown’. The Argus noted her ‘dainty, although somewhat peculiar figure, a fascinating laugh, and some extraordinary creations in the way of dress. The songs were, for the most part, irredeemably vulgar and, sung by anyone else, would probably have been ill-received. Coarseness may at times be associated with wit, but these songs had not even the saving grace of humour. Apparently they pleased a number of those present, but the laughter and applause were often gained by double entendre.’

Noted British theatre historian W. MacQueen-Pope was present on that auspicious night. He wrote: ‘When Marie’s number went up in the frame, there was that same exciting hubbub from the people in the auditorium which it aroused in London. It was different in tone, maybe, for the feeling of personal friendship and real affection was not yet there. These people had never seen, although they had heard of her, and were on tiptoes with curiosity. But they had come to be critical; they scarcely believed that this fabulous woman could be as good as they had been told. They had heard stories about her; they had heard of her naughtiness and her “blue” songs; they were prepared to be shocked, but they were not prepared to take her at her—or England’s—valuation. She had to show them.

‘The orchestra blared forth her first song, and then, on the stage, full of vitality, full of personality, full of charm, was the small woman with the trim figure, the round face, the shining eyes and teeth, the warm, friendly smile, the perfect command of herself and the situation, and shedding upon them that radiance which was so peculiarly hers. They gave her a thunderous welcome; they could not help it. And she sang to them. The house was at once full of the electricity she always generated. Her genius for understatement, her genius for letting the audience fill in the blanks, while she just indicated with those hands, the winks, the little nods, coughs and pauses, was fully displayed. But what captured them completely and had them yelling with delight was the advice she gave them in the last of the songs which formed the act. It met a response in every heart, and they all knew and loved the essentially British, lively, homely, yet appealing, direct, yet unaggressive woman, a lady who was essentially a product of the place they regarded as ‘Home’, and who was therefore one of themselves. They liked what she had to tell them, which was that a little of what they fancied did them good.

‘Her success was instantaneous, complete and immense, and it was the same wherever they went—and they went all over Australia. They had long journeys, but they did not mind that. Both of them were nomads. They liked the Australians, Marie highly approving of their absence of ‘side’, their plain speech, and their habit of saying what they thought as they thought it. She was that way herself. She never minced matters, nor chose words; her profanity was pretty exhaustive, and in another woman might have shocked, but in her it seemed so naturally a part of her that it did not give offence, save to the terribly refined and genteelly squeamish. But Marie did not mix with them.

‘Australia was a triumph. She was there with her “husband”, under a sun which vied with her own radiance. She was the most popular woman on the continent.’15

The Australasian decided that the new theatre was ‘acoustically good—so much so that directors of Sunday schools might be led, indeed, to believe that the acoustic properties were a bit too good during some of Miss Lloyd’s songs, and that a measure of indistinctness would not be amiss. Marie Lloyd sails close to the wind, and her ditties about the bicycling girl, the barmaid and the bather were frankly of the smoking-room type.’ Valentine Day recalled Marie’s ‘full and expressive countenance, a fine and large set of teeth, a large torso, and a small waist, a neat ankle, and a pretty foot. She could put a depth of meaning into every word she sang or said, but her enunciation was sometimes faulty. I wrote of her at the time: Marie Lloyd is as hot as mustard, which is doubtless the reason she draws so well.’

The next item on the program was another ‘Rage of London, the Great Coster Scene, Entitled “The Lambeth Walk”.’ with Alec Hurley as a swaggering Flash Bill. The playlet was climaxed by the song ‘The Lambeth Walk’, with the stage filled with coster boys and girls in their sparkling ‘pearlies’. This particular ‘Lambeth Walk’, written and composed by E.W. Rogers, has been replaced in our memories by Noël Gay’s 1937 version; Hurley’s was a good-natured Cockney swipe at the cake-walk:

Talk about the cake-walk—Why, the Lambeth Walk ’ud knock it all to smithereens.

It ain’t a bloomin’ fake walk,

It’s the same as we use when we’re out a-selling greens.

And we don’t want no banjos, burnt cork or any fake:

The Lambeth Walk—there ain’t no talk—

That walk that takes the cake!16

For the sake of historical accuracy, we should record that ‘The Lambeth Walk’ had to be omitted from the opening night’s program as the music was mislaid on the journey from Sydney. Instead Hurley sang two of his coster songs. No doubt he was ‘knocking ’em all to smithereens’ by the Monday night.

After Hurley’s contribution came Celina Bobe with her violin and her xylophone. Then Harry Rickards took to the stage himself, delighting the packed audience with ‘By the Pale Moonlight’. The evening was brought to a close by Johnson, Riano and Bentley in their acrobatic speciality ‘The Man and the Monkeys’, and McKisson and Kearns in a knockabout sketch.

Marie Lloyd and Alec Hurley loved Melbourne. Rather than stay in an impersonal city hotel they rented a private home; they welcomed everybody and there was always plenty to drink. They spent their spare afternoons at the racecourses watching the horses that Alec had bought. One, named Marie, never won a race. Crowds cheered them wherever they went.17

Rickards was understandably thrilled with Marie Lloyd’s success, even though the Leader carpingly recalled that he had ‘once proudly boasted that his entertainment was one to which any lady might come without fear of having her sense of delicacy outraged. This assertion is very strongly challenged by some of Marie Lloyd’s songs.’ It had taken a lot of persuasion to get Marie Lloyd to come to Australia. Rickards was rewarded by enormous box office returns. He took more money in Marie’s first week at the Sydney Tivoli than in any prior week of his career. This prompted the following verse by one W. Evans in a 1901 Christmas theatrical souvenir:

‘O ’Arry!’ shout the gallery, ‘Wot cher?

Are you feeling pretty babbish-like and frivoly?’

And that’s the greeting Rickards likes to hear—

For he’s got a little gold mine at the Tivoli!18

Endnotes

1. Dion Clayton Calthrop, Music Hall Nights, pp.81-2

2. T.S. Eliot, quoted in Harold Scott, The Early Doors, p.184

3. Lloyd’s Sunday News, 1922

4. Richard Anthony Baker, Marie Lloyd, Queen of the Music-halls, p.87

5. J.B. Booth, London Town, p.103

6. Daily Telegraph, 8 April 1901

7. Sydney Morning Herald, 8 April 1901

8. Gayne Dexter in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1953

9. Hugh Buggy, The Real John Wren, p.3

10. Program, Mary Had a Little, TTM, 1951

11. The Grand Hotel is now known as the Windsor

12. Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, p.191

13. Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, pp.191-2

14. Herald, 26 April 1900

15. W. MacQueen-Pope, Queen of the Music Halls, pp.120-4

16. Music Hall, Issue 9

17. Dan Farson, Marie Lloyd and Music Hall, p.81

18. W. Evans in Splash, published in Adelaide, 1901. Copy in Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

Films

Marie Lloyd. Archive film c.1910s

Funeral Procession of Marie Lloyd, October 1922

Audio

‘Arry, ’Arry ’Arry’—Alec Hurley (1904)

‘A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good!’—Marie Lloyd (1912)

‘Something On His Mind’—Marie Lloyd (1903)

‘When I Take My Morning Promenade’—Marie Lloyd (1912)

‘If You Want to Get on in Revue’—Marie Lloyd (1915)

 

Published in Profiles

Palace Theatre

ELISABETH KUMM continues the story of Sydney’s Palace Theatre, focusing on the years 1897 to 1899, a period that saw the great vaudeville promoter Harry Rickards take over the reins of the theatre with mixed success. Read Part 1»

Harry Rickards, c.1895. Photo by Talma, Melbourne. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.Harry Rickards, c.1895. Photo by Talma, Melbourne. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.On Christmas Eve 1896, George Adams opened his little vaudeville theatre in Pitt Street, Sydney, amongst much fanfare. ‘With regard to decorations, the theatre has no equal in Australia, and possibly it is superior to any building of its kind in London’, wrote one paper. Scenic artist Phil Goatcher, who designed the auditorium in a spectacular Indian style, was also the first lessee. But lack of experience as a theatre manager and arguments and law suits with his business partner, spelled disaster for the enterprise. ‘For a few nights it drew large audiences, and then a bit of a frost set in.’1

After only six weeks, Goatcher’s lesseeship of the Palace Theatre came to an abrupt end. George Adams turned to Harry Rickards, striking a three-year lease with Australia’s undisputed King of Vaudeville. For Rickards this was an opportunity to secure a monopoly in this class of business, look at expanding his empire, and at the same time fend off any competition. But could Sydney support two variety theatres?

Without any interruption to programming, Goatcher’s company made their final appearance on 29 January 1897, and the following evening, Harry Rickards’ company took over the stage, with Rickards’ brother John C. Leete as General Manager.

While a couple of Goatcher performers joined the ranks of the new company, most were drawn from Rickards other theatres, the Sydney Tivoli and Melbourne Opera House.

Grand Opening Night on Saturday, 30 January 1897, was a great success and boded well for the new venture. ‘Mr Harry Rickards has reason to feel satisfied with the result of his initial performance at this bright little playhouse on Saturday night’, wrote the Evening News. ‘From a financial as well as artistic standpoint it was a gratifying success.’2

The line up boasted a number of popular artists, seen before at the Tivoli, including American illusionist Carl Hertz, supported by his wife Mdlle D’Alton, and champion whistler Frank Lawton in his ‘The Whistling Waiter’ sketch. Other artists were Australian serio-comic Florrie Forde (singing ‘Oh Harris, Ain’t it Nice in Paris’ and ‘I am an Innocent Dickie Bird’); grotesque dancers and acrobats The Three Delevines; American sketch duo Albert Bellman and Lottie Moore; mandolin artists, the Winterton Sisters; child serio-comic and dancer Little Alma Gray; and Ada Colley, the Australian Canary. Of the newcomers, there was Edgar Granville, an English character comedian who delighted audiences with several songs, including ‘I Haven’t Got it Out Yet’ and ‘This Life is But a Derby’, and ‘Tiddle-ee-wink, what d’ye Think of Me’, which he sang, dressed in widow’s weeds!

Three weeks later, armed with photos of his new theatre, Rickards left for England and Europe to recruit enough new talent to fill the bills at his three theatres.

Over the next three months, the programme at the Palace changed, with new artists joining the bill. From England came vaudevillian all-rounder Will Crackles; C.H. Chirgwin (‘The White-Eyed Musical Kaffir’); serio-comic and dancer, Jessie De Grey; and comedian Harry Shine. Among the locals there was soprano Florrie Esdaile; dancers Lucy Cobb and Millie Osborne; and ‘the clever contralto’ Hettie Patey.

The vaudeville season closed on 3 April 1897 ‘pending the new engagements now being made by Mr Rickards in Europe and America’.3

While waiting for his brother to return with the new artists, John C. Leete oversaw a varied programme of entertainment at the Palace. From 17–30 April 1897, star violinist Ovide Musin gave a series of concerts, and from 1 May, John Gourlay and Percy St John’s Musical Comedy Company presented a short season of plays, including Gourlay’s musical farcical comedy Skipped by the Light of the Moon. With the conclusion of the Gourlay season on 29 May, the Palace closed, and remained so until Rickards’ return from overseas in August 1897.

Rickards’ plan was to run the Palace along new lines from the Tivoli, with completely different entertainments at his two Sydney theatres. During the break, the Palace stage was enlarged by six feet to accommodate some of the new acts.

Among the novelties secured by Rickards was the Biograph—an early motion picture projector—billed as the ‘very latest and most wonderful invention’ and the ‘marvel of the Nineteenth Century’. Rickards was said to have paid £3,000 to secure the sole Australian rights for six months. In an interview, he described it as being ‘a great advance upon Lumière’s Cinematographe’, which Carl Hertz had introduced to Tivoli audiences in 1896.4

Made and operated by the American Biograph Company, the projector was the invention of Herman Casler (1867-1939). Unlike Edison’s Kinetograph, which used 35 mm gauge film, Casler’s Biograph employed 68/70 mm sprocket-less film which produced an exceptionally large and clear image. From September 1896 it was being presented at vaudeville houses in America, and in March 1897 it was included on the bill at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in London for the first time. It would remain an attraction at the London Palace until 1902.

Rickards’ Biograph-Vaudeville Company re-opened the Palace on Monday, 23 August 1897. The first night programme comprised twelve short films including ‘President McKinley Receiving the Result of His Election, ‘Union Square New York, ‘The Falls of Niagara’ and ‘The Horseless Fire Engine’. This last named film, which showed a New York fire engine ‘snorting out volumes of smoke and raising clouds of dust’ as it races off to a extinguish a fire, was one of the most popular and repeated on subsequent nights by popular demand.5

The Biograph was just one of the highlights of a packed programme. Opening night also saw the first Australian appearance of Fanny Wentworth, an English pianist, vocalist and character entertainer, who introduced the song ‘The Little Tin Gee-Gee’; the return of Lilian Tree, an operatic prima donna, who had previously been seen in Australia with the Simonsen Opera Company; Master Arthur Sherwood, a boy mezzo-soprano; illusionist Professor Charles Marritt; and Australian popular favourite, operatic and character vocalist Fanny Liddiard. The Biograph-Vaudeville combination ran until 30 September 1897.

A season of American musical comedies by Charles H. Hoyt followed on 2 October with A Bunch of Keys, featuring another of Rickards’ recent acquisitions, Addie Conyers, supported by Fannie Liddiard, Lottie Moore, Albert Bellman and George Lauri. This was not Conyers first Australian appearance, she had been seen in 1892–93 as a member of the London Gaiety Burlesque Company.

Binks the Photographer followed on 20 October, with William Gourlay, Addie Conyers, Minnie Everett, Marietta Nash and George Lauri, but it lasted only a week. It seems American plays were not a popular choice and audiences stayed away. The musical comedy season came to an abrupt end on 26 November 1897—and with it, Harry Rickards’ lease on the Palace.

With audience numbers at the Tivoli in decline, Rickards soon realised that Sydney couldn’t profitably support two vaudeville houses. He reluctantly decided, after eleven months, to give up his lease on the Palace and devote his energies to the management of the Tivoli and the Opera House in Melbourne.

With Rickards’ early departure, George Adams’ representative Harrie Skinner was given the task of finding a suitable tenant for the theatre, and soon communications were being issued to leading English, American and European agents and managers.

In order to keep the ‘lights on’ between seasons, the theatre was made available to amateur groups such as the Lotus Club and Sydney Comedy Club.

From 8 October 1898–9 December 1898, the theatre played host to an extended season by the 29-year-old American magician Dante the Great, who was making his first appearance in Australia. Hailed as ‘the greatest magician living’, Dante lived up to the hype and enthralled audiences with his ‘original experiments in sleight-of-hand’. He also performed a number of elaborate tricks including ‘The Marvellous Bicyclist’, wherein his assistant Mdlle Edmunda (the stage name of his wife Virginia Eliason] ‘cycles through the air, upside down, in and out, backwards and forwards, in complete defiance of all the laws of gravitation’. In another trick, ‘The Beggar’s Dream’, Mdlle Edmunda, wearing rags, is placed under a canopy on a platform, and almost immediately her rags vanish and she is wearing a magnificent evening dress. Dante kept audiences spellbound for two months.6

Skinner’s next big coup was the engagement of Orpheus Myron McAdoo, an American singer and minstrel impresario, who was making a return visit to Australia.

McAdoo was a big draw card, having cemented a position as a favourite with Australian concert-goers since his first trip in 1888 with Fisk’s Jubilee Singers. He made a second extended visit with Fisk’s company in 1892 and remained on until 1895 with his own company, McAdoo’s Jubilee Singers. McAdoo had a deep voice, described as an ‘A-flat basso profundo’.

The McAdoo company opened at the Palace on Saturday, 17 December 1898, for an initial three weeks, but ended up staying for two-months. The company specialised in singing plantation songs, jubilee choruses and glees. Favourite songs included ‘Steal Away to Jesus’, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and ‘Hear Dem Bells’. In addition to McAdoo, the principal members of the company were Mattie Allan McAdoo (Mrs McAdoo), billed as ‘the only lady tenor’—her rendition of ‘Come into the Garden, Maude’ was warmly encored; and Susie B. Anderson—described as ‘America’s Black Melba’—who sang the ‘Queen of the Night’ aria from The Magic Flute.

The current season ended on 28 January 1899 and in March 1899, McAdoo departed for America to organise a full-size African-American minstrel troupe. He placed recruitment advertisements in the Indianapolis Freeman informing prospective artistes: ‘The Palace Theatre, Sidney [sic], is the handsomest and most complete vaudeville house in the world.’7

During McAdoo’s absence, the Lands Department Draftsmen's Association gave a performance of Farnie and Lecocq’s operetta The Sea Nymphs on Friday, 10 May 1899. The following night, Dante returned for a four-week season (11 March 1899–8 April 1899), bringing with him a raft of new illusionistic wonders.

In June 1899, McAdoo returned with his new company, the Georgia Minstrels and Alabama Cakewalkers. They opened at the Palace on the seventeenth of the month. The first part of the entertainment resembled an ordinary minstrel show, ‘but the numbers introduced were greatly above those in the usual minstrel show’, including comic songs and dances. One of his leading recruits was the singer Flora Batson, known as the ‘coloured Jenny Lind’. Another was William Ferry, a rubber-boned performer known as ‘The Human Frog’. The second part of the bill introduced the ‘Cakewalk’, which saw the complete company strutting about the stage amid ‘rousing roars of laughter’ from the audience.8

Two weeks into the season, a rival minstrel company opened at the nearby Criterion Theatre. The presence of two similar outfits in Sydney proved challenging for McAdoo, and after struggling on for a further fortnight, he closed his season at the Palace on 12 July 1899 and embarked on an extended tour of the regions.

In the early hours of Monday morning on 11 September 1899, fire broke out in Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre in Castlereagh Street. The building was entirely gutted, destroying valuable sets, costumes and personal belongings. Rickards had only recently purchased the freehold of the building, having leased it since 1893. Fortunately the theatre was insured, but only for half its value. Though Rickards was in England at the time of the fire securing new acts, manager Leete lost no time in finding a new venue and the following day the company re-opened at the nearby Palace at a matinee performance. As one journalist put it:

The pretty little Palace Theatre—one of George Adams’ white elephants—will now have a chance to return the owner some interest on the outlay in its construction and elaborate decoration, which was carried out on a scale that no one but a ‘sweep promoter’ could stand.9

Rickards’ company remained at the Palace for five months, while the Tivoli Theatre was being rebuilt. To save costs, they reused the Tivoli programme covers.

Artists who appeared at the Palace at this time included the London comedian and raconteur G.W. Hunter; the world renown Polish juggler Paul Cinquevalli (said to be one of the highest-paid entertainers ever engaged by Rickards); opera singer Signor Jesse Brandani (who interrupted his walking tour of the world to appear for a few nights); character vocalist Tom Costello; and the Russian specialty performers the Newsky Family; along with numerous old favourites such as Little Alma Gray.

The Tivoli company gave their last performance at the Palace on 19 January 1900. As the new Tivoli was still not complete, Rickards relocated his company to the Criterion Theatre pending the launch of his new variety theatre on 12 April 1900.

With Rickards out of the way, Adams had big plans for the Palace.

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), 6 April 1897, p.4.

2. Evening News (Sydney), 1 February 1897, p.3.

3. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 April 1897, p.6.

4. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 August 1897, p.6.

5. Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1897, p.3.

6. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 October 1898, p.9.

7. Bill Egan, African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand, p.72.

8. Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1899, p.8.

9. Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 5 October 1899, p.24.

References

Gae Anderson, Tivoli King: Life of Harry Rickards, Vaudeville Showman, Sid Harta Publishing, Glen Waverley, Vic, 2008.

Bill Egan, African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand: A history, 1788-1941, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2019.

Frank Van Straten, Tivoli, Thomas C. Lothian, South Melbourne, Vic, 2003.

Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, Gerald Taylor Productions, Melbourne, 1980.

Newspapers

Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW); Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW); Evening News (Sydney, NSW); Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA), Sydney Morning Herald (NSW); Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic)

Acknowledgements

John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Bill Egan, Frank Van Straten

Published in Stage by stage
Wednesday, 14 June 2017

RICKARDS, Harry (1840-1911)

English music hall performer & manager. Né Benjamin Henry Leete. Born 4 December 1843, Stratford, Essex, England. Married (1) Carrie Tudor (actress), (2) Lottie D'Aste (gymnast) (de facto), (3) Kate Roscow (actress), 24 November 1880, Manchester, England. Died 13 October 1911, London, England. Father of Noni Rickards (actress).

Cockney music hall singer; visited Australia several times prior to founding the Tivoli circuit in 1893, and establishing himself as Australia's King of Vaudeville.

Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, pages 137, 206.

Published in Biographies