Fanny Dango banner(left) W.D. & H.O. Wills ‘Actresses’—Miss Fanny Dango. (right) W.D. & H.O. Wills ‘Stage and Musical Hall Celebrities’—Fanny Dango. Author’s collection.

BOB FERRIS takes a look at the career of Fanny Dango from her early work in England through to her 1907 Australian debut in J.C. Williamson’s, The Dairymaids to her performance in The Belle of New York.

Very popular themes for collectors of cigarette cards are actresses and stage performers. A number of choice sets on this theme were issued in Australia in the early 1900s, including ‘Actresses (Talma)’ by the Melbourne company Sniders and Abrahams; Actors and Actresses ‘WALP’, an anonymous set issued by several companies; and two series of ‘Stage and Music Hall Celebrities’ (portraits in oval and portraits framed), issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills between 1900–05. Fanny Dango is card number 35 in the framed set of 50 cards. Wills also issued a set of ‘Actresses’, 100 unnumbered cards between 1903–10 which feature a Who’s Who of stage actresses of the period, including Fanny Dango.1

Fanny Dango was born Fanny Rudge on 20 October 1878 in Birmingham, England. She was one of the five Rudge sisters who all appeared on the stage under assumed names—Letty Lind (Letitia Rudge),2 Lydia Flopp (Lydia Rudge), Millie Hylton (Sarah Rudge), Adelaide Astor (Elizabeth Rudge) and the youngest sister, Fanny. In a 1909 interview with Melbourne’s Table Talk magazine, Fanny said, ‘In our family we all followed my sister Letty on to the stage; that is the girls not the boys. We all appeared under different names. I think our idea was to make our own way on merits, without any help from Letty and it was not until we began to get on a bit that it leaked out we were sisters.’3

Fanny Dango was a nascent actress and an exceptional dancer with appearances in several pantomimes on the London and Provincial theatre stage. Her catalogue of pantomime performances is impressive from her debut at the Prince of Wales Theatre in her home city of Birmingham in December 1894 (shortly after her 16th birthday) with a small part as ‘Chinese Dolly’ in Dick Whittington. From 1901 to 1905, she appeared in five successive Christmas pantomimes: Gulliver’s Travels at the Avenue Theatre, London, 1901–1902 (as Glumdalclitch); Dick Whittington at the London Hippodrome, 1902–1903 (as Alice, opposite the Dick of Ruth Lytton), Santa Claus Junior at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 1903–1904 (as See Mee); in Dick Whittington, Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, 1904–1905 (as Alice, opposite the Dick of Hetty King); and Aladdin, Theatre Royal, Birmingham, 1905–1906 (as Princess So Shi, opposite the Aladdin of Ada Reeve).4

Fanny was also actively involved on the musical stage. As well as performing in touring productions such as The Geisha (1896, as Tommy Stanley), Three Little Maids (1903, as Hilda Branscombe), San Toy (1904, in the title role), and A Girl on the Stage (1906, as Lady Isabel), she also created several roles in new London productions or took over roles. Original roles included Juanita in Florodora (Lyric, 1899, and Angela Gilfain on tour), Millicent Ward in The Silver Slipper (Lyric, 1901, and on tour), Antoinette in The Medal and the Maid (Lyric, 1903), and Yvette in The Spring Chicken (Gaiety, 1905). In London, she was also seen in A Runaway Girl (Gaiety, 1898), replacing Marie Fawcett as one of the two Miss Hakes; in Little Miss Nobody (Lyric, 1899), replacing Lydia West as Tiny Triplet; and in The Love Birds (Savoy, 1904), replacing Louise Raymond as Lillie de Jones.

Fanny Dango was vivacious and a charismatic young actress and danced exquisitely. J.C. Williamson saw the early promise of her becoming a favourite of Australian theatre patrons and he engaged her in England to play the part of Peggy Sabine in the Royal Comic Opera’s production of The Dairymaids.5 This was some achievement for Fanny to play the part which had previously been performed by Australian-born Carrie Moore with outstanding success in the 1906 Apollo Theatre production.

Fanny sailed to Australia on the P & O RMS Mongolia which left Marseilles on 19 July 1907 and arrived in Melbourne on 26 August, leaving the same day for Sydney to commence rehearsals. She made her Australian debut in The Dairymaids as Peggy Sabine and the chief Sandow girl at Her Majesty’s Theatre Melbourne, on 7 September 1907 and later in Sydney, opening at Her Majesty’s some four months later, on 1 February 1908.

Brief details of her engagement with the Royal Comic Opera Co. are recorded in a hand-written note, dated the day of her debut performance: 52 weeks on a salary of £20 per week and £25 during pantomime performances. An added note renewed her engagement for 52 weeks from 5 September 1908. Possibly a more formal contractual letter exists (somewhere).

The Dairymaids came to Australia with a glowing reputation following a successful run at London’s Apollo Theatre and while it played for several weeks in Melbourne and Sydney it failed to get the same accolades. Punch, for example, noted that the show ‘is one of those tuneful and pleasing productions … without any great claim to special merit’6 and The Bulletin said ‘the piece on closer inspection will never look as clever as it looked in the London notices’.7

Central to the storyline, Peggy and Winifred (Florence Young) two of the dairymaids are wards of Lady Brudenell (Clara Clifton) who has established a model dairy for the well-being of young ladies. The first Act takes place at the dairy but with the arrival of Brudenell’s nephews (Sam—Fred Leslie and Frank—Reginald Roberts) who fancy the wards, and some naval officers, she sends the maids off to Miss Penelope Pyechase’s (Emma Temple) academy and gymnasium which becomes the setting for Act 2.

Fanny and FredFanny Dango (Peggy) and Fred Leslie (Sam) in The Dairymaids. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

The critics generally agreed that what success the play enjoyed was largely due to the performance of Fanny whose singing and dancing duets with Fred Leslie in ‘The Other One’ and ‘They All Lived Happily Afterwards’ were praised as excellent, as were ‘The Language of Love’ and ‘Mary and Jane’: ‘she came through with éclat’, wrote one,8 and another more moderate but still complimentary, reported that: ‘Miss Fanny Dango, the newcomer, has plenty to do and does it satisfactorily, with a small singing voice and a fair amount of “go”.’9

In what was to become a consistent theme from the theatre reviews, Fanny’s voice was said to be pleasing but not robust, but adequate for musical comedy—her merit ‘lies nearer her toes than her tongue’.10 Any vocal defects in her performance were covered up with some artful stage management in her song and dance routines, especially ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Apothecary, Ploughman, Thief’ where the characters of the song, appropriately dressed, gave her support as did the chorus girls, dressed in white cashmere gowns, lifting dumbbells in the gymnasium scene as Fanny sang of the merits of physical exercise in her rendition of the ‘Sandow Girl’. Both songs were chiefly remembered for the ‘ornamental frills that flap about them’.11

Sandow GirlsFanny Dango (centre) and a group of Sandow Girls in The Dairymaids. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

As in Melbourne, the Sydney production was carried by Fanny and Leslie. The introduction of a novel marionette act into the gymnasium scene where the movements of the figures were realistically simulated was well received by Sydney audiences.

On her debut performances in both Melbourne and Sydney, Fanny was variously described by the fawning press as a ‘bright little creature’; ‘piquant’, ‘graceful and clever’; ‘vivacious’; ‘dainty, petite and sprightly’, and [one who] ‘acts and sings so coquettishly’. Together with her blazing red gold tresses, Fanny’s favouritism with local audiences was assured.

Fanny’s next appearance with the company was The Girls of Gottenberg in which she played Mitzi the Innkeeper’s daughter. The musical opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on 1 September 1907 and after a long and successful run was performed as the Christmas attraction in Sydney at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

In an improbable storyline, two regiments the Red and Blue Hussars are languishing in Rottenberg where there is only one girl. Both regiments want to be transferred to Gottenberg which has a girls’ military college, and the Reds are selected. In a storyline twist, Max Moddelkopf (George Lauri), valet to Prince Otto of Saxe-Hildesheim (Reginald Roberts), a lieutenant in the Blue Hussars, switches the orders to have the Blue Hussars transferred to Gottenberg. And, of course there is romance. Otto is betrothed to his cousin Elsa (Florence Young in Melbourne/Olive Godwin in Sydney) but they have not seen each other since their childhood. Elsa is a student at the college, and she persuades Mitzi to change places and as the maid at the inn Elsa flirts with her unknown betrothed and finally wins him over. The situation was explained with lots of song and dance.

According to the Melbourne Herald, it is in these scenes that Fanny enhanced her reputation as a talented performer; her acting and particularly her dancing was again seen as her strengths. Fanny’s songs, ‘Titsy, Bitsy Girl’, ‘Berlin on the Spree’, and ‘Two Little Sausages’ (a duet with George Lauri), were hits of the show as was ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch’ which she sang with Reginald Roberts and George Lauri. While her voice was, again, light she overcame this with distinct articulation. However, the Herald doubted whether Fanny’s singing voice could successfully sustain the arduous singing role of an operatic heroine.12

Lady Dandies(left) Fanny Dango with Reginald Roberts, and (right) Florence Young in The Lady Dandies. From Town and Country Journal (Sydney), 15 April 1908, p.41.

The comic opera The Lady Dandies had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Sydney on 21 March 1908 and was later transferred to the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, on 16 April. Fanny played the part of Illyrine the married, divorced and remarried heroine of the piece. The setting for this light opera is Paris after the Revolution and the Reign of Terror with ‘Les Merveilleuses’ (Lady Dandies) celebrating with joyful dancing, music and revelry. The play centres on Illyrine who believing her husband Dorlis (Reginald Roberts) is dead, re-marries. But Dorlis has been away at war and returns to renew the relationship. Despite numerous complications the couple are re-united.

This was Fanny’s first part in light opera, and her role as Illyrine required more singing ability than her previous soubrette parts had demanded. While she received praise for her singing of ‘I’m Sorry’ and her duet with Roberts, ‘It Might Have Been’, generally reviews of her performance were disappointing—especially her rendition of the ‘Cuckoo Song’ with critics of the view that her voice was not strong enough for such an important number. ‘The Don’, for example, in Punch wrote that Fanny ‘was again seen rather than heard’,13 and a similar view was expressed by the Daily Telegraph: ‘Illyrine is an engaging figure but her limitations of voice handicap her in such an important number as the ‘Cuckoo’ song ... with its difficult intervals and its choral refrain it requires a fully equipped voice … the effect was generally disappointing’.14

The Bulletin was more generous, noting that the song was a little beyond her range and ‘hardened critic, as this paper is, it refuses to rebuke her for attempting that little which is too much’.15

Fanny’s next role was a chic French maid, Sidonie in the American musical, The Prince of Pilsen produced by J.C. Williamson’s newly formed Musical Comedy Company which opened at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on 30 May 1908, running for 6 weeks, and later played in Adelaide and then in Melbourne.

The plot centres around mistaken identity. Hans Wagner, a Cincinnati Brewer (Charles Loder) arrives with his daughter, Nellie (Amy Murphy) at a Nice hotel and is taken to be the Prince of Pilsen (George Whitehead); the brewer plays along enjoying the attention. The real Prince, travelling incognito, arrives and accepts the situation in good humour. Among other arrivals is Mrs. Crocker (Olive Goodwin) with her maid Sidonie, a widow from New York in pursuit of a title. The many mix-ups that arise are readily solved with plenty of mirth, songs and dance, helped by the Prince being smitten with Nellie at first sight.

The show had been an outstanding success in America and Williamson had specially engaged George Whitehead and Charles Loder from the American production to be principals in the local show. Due to illness Fanny did not appear until late-June, but on her return, she was warmly welcomed and her introduction of a new song ‘Mr. Schneider’ and dance into the program was generously applauded.

When The Prince of Pilsen finished in Sydney on Friday 10 July, The Red Mill, a Dutch musical by Henry Blossom and Victor Herbert opened the following Saturday. Said to have more to do with mirth than music the piece concerns Con Kidder (John Ford) and Kid Conner (Fred Leslie) two American tourists ‘doing’ Europe who run into trouble when unable to pay their bill for board and lodging at the Red Mill inn in a small Dutch town.

Ford had come from America with a reputation as a comedian and outstanding dancer to play Con Kidder, Fred Leslie, in his first appearance with the Musical Comedy Company, played the travelling companion, Kid Conner, Charles Loder was Willem, Keeper of the Red Mill and Fanny played the part of Tina, the innkeeper’s daughter, a dainty, pretty barmaid.

While the principal attraction of this farcical piece is the low comedy carried by Ford and Leslie with their absurd disguises and eccentric dancing there were other fine performances. Fanny was praised for her rendition of ‘Mignonette’ and for her contribution to ‘Whistle It’ with Leslie and Ford.

Following its success in Sydney The Red Mill opened at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on 29 August 1908 which happened to coincide with the arrival of the American fleet of sixteen warships into Hobson’s Bay, viewed by many thousands of Melburnians as the vessels docked at Port Melbourne. The spirit of the occasion had buoyed the opening night audience and they were treated to a unique celebration. At the finale of the first act the orchestra played a selection of American tunes, including ‘Marching into Georgia’, ‘Old Folks at Home’, ‘Way Down on the Swannee River’ and ‘The Star-spangled Banner’. Then at the last curtain call the whole company joined cast member George Whitehead on stage as he sang ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ to the rapturous applause of the standing audience. This was followed by Olive Godwin singing the National Anthem with the audience joining in.

As to the Melbourne performance, it was admired by the critics particularly the parts played by Ford, Leslie and Fanny. And, contrary to repeated criticism that Fanny’s voice lacked strength, on this occasion it was thought that her voice had strengthened and sweetened since earlier performances.16

The hectic schedule for the members of the Musical Comedy Company continued and from Melbourne, The Red Mill played for two nights in Geelong at Her Majesty’s Theatre, followed by a performance at the Crystal Theatre, Broken Hill and then enjoyed a successful short run at Adelaide’s Theatre Royal in mid-October.

At the Theatre Royal Fanny was again the audience favourite, she ‘was dainty and debonair … and as frolicsome as a kitten, while she danced leisurely and with grace’ wrote the Advertiser. Her renditions of ‘Mignonette’ and ‘If You Love But Me’ were well received and she held her own in the quartet ‘Go While the Going is Good’ with Olive Godwin, Ford and Leslie.17 The song ‘Whistle It’ had to be lengthened by three or four verses due to the calls for several encores.

The Prince of Pilsen played for a brief, one week run in Adelaide before heading to Melbourne as the principal attraction during the Melbourne Cup racing carnival. The musical received another enthusiastic reception and as audiences had come to expect, Fanny’s dancing was excellent and her songs were well received, particularly ‘Bedtime in the Zoo’ with the background of roaring wild animals was encored. Her duets ‘Keep it Dark’ with Jimmy the Bellboy (John Ford) and ‘Back to the Boulevards’ with the French waiter (Fred Leslie) added to the production.

In keeping with past practice of staging a musical during the Melbourne racing carnival, The Prince of Pilsen made its long-anticipated appearance on 29 October, with the opening night at the Princess Theatre before a packed house. But, for seasoned theatregoers, the ‘Pilsen’ has no special attraction, wrote the Bulletin. Although, fortunately, the review continued, ‘the majority of the players are quite interesting. Fanny and Leslie were singled out in this regard … there is soubrette Fanny Dango with her dainty dancing, and her feet play marvellously into the hands of clever Fred Leslie. Fanny Dango puts brains into her feet, so to speak, and dances with her head, in a manner of speaking’.18

While Fanny’s performance was applauded by the critics, one review noted the similarity between the different impersonations she had played.19 This seemed an odd comment as the characters Fanny played and the way she played them had established her reputation and favouritism with Australian audiences.

Belle of NYPoster for a American production of The Belle of New York, c.1901. Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Williamson’s Musical Comedy Company closed its season at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre with a six-night revival of The Belle of New York, which opened on 5 December 1908. Fanny was well placed in the part of Fifi Fricot a little Parisienne and she made a startling first appearance as the ornament on a huge wedding cake, ‘an entrance which cannot make the production any gayer’.20 Commenting on the same scene the Argus said the audience was in entire sympathy with Fifi’s father Henry Bronson (Edmund Sherras) ‘who wanted to take off a piece of “the dear little peppermint ear”.’21

In this bright piece there were several memorable musical numbers including ‘La Belle Parisienne’ by Fanny.


To be continued



1.One of the companies that issued the ‘Walp’ set was the British American Tobacco Co. Fanny also appears on several British card sets, including Gallaher Ltd., ‘Latest Actresses’ and ‘Actors and Actresses’ by Lambert & Butler.

2. Letty Lind was well known in Australia having performed in Melbourne and Sydney with Nellie Farren and Fred Leslie and the London Gaiety Burlesque Company in 1888.

3. Table Talk (Melbourne), 21 October 1909, p. 13

4. In the 1905 Christmas pantomime Dick Whittington, Fanny as the principal girl sang, ‘Geisha and the Coon’ (a song that also featured in the 1903–04 pantomime Santa Claus Junior), ‘Ma coal black coon’ and the popular ‘My Irish Molly O’, all were well received by the audience.

5. Being Letty Lind’s sister no doubt added to her appeal. This was something Fanny had to contend with during her early career.

6. Punch (Melbourne), 12 September 1907, p.36

7. The Bulletin (Sydney), 12 September 1907, p.8

8. The Herald (Melbourne), 9 September 1907, p.6

9. The Bulletin (Sydney), 2 September 1907, p.8

10. The Bulletin (Sydney), 26 December 1907, p.8

11 The Bulletin (Sydney), 6 February 1908, p.8

12. The Herald (Melbourne), 28 October 1907, p.5

13. Punch (Melbourne), 9 April 1908, p.39

14. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 March 1908, p.4

15. The Bulletin (Sydney), 26 March 1908, p.2

16. The Argus (Melbourne), 31 August 1908, p.5

17. Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 October 1908, p.9

18. The Bulletin (Sydney), 5 November 1908, p.9

19. The Age (Melbourne), 2 November 1908, p.11

20. The Herald (Melbourne), 7 December 1908, p.4

21. The Argus (Melbourne), 7 December 1908, p.9