JACK COYNE, Founding Member of the Bert Levy Appreciation Society (BLAS), offers a tribute to Australian vaudevillian and illustrator, Bert Levy. Receiving wide international recognition in the entertainment industry for his original and innovative contribution, Levy’s work is mostly unfamiliar and underappreciated in his native Australia.

NYPL 1Bert Levy, c.1910. New York Public Library.

In 1871, Bert Levy was born in ballarat. He was the ninth of 16 children (surviving to adulthood) to Jewish parents, Simon and Mina Levy who had emigrated from Poland/Russia via London to Australia just five years earlier. At a young age his family moved to Melbourne and Bert received a brief formal education at the now defunct Hebrew School in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Economic circumstances impelled him to leave school at an early age, though his initial entry into the workforce was inauspicious. At first, he worked as an eyelet machinist in his father’s boot factory in West Melbourne, but quickly proved to be unsuited to that line of work. He was then decamped to his brother-in-law’s pawn shop in Bourke Street, but left after receiving managerial feedback that he would ‘never have the brains for pawn broking’.1

From an early age, Bert had developed an interest and skill in drawing. In desperation at his son’s underwhelming interest in manual labour or sales, his father negotiated an apprenticeship as an assistant screen artist to the renowned Scottish scenic artist George Gordon at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne. ‘Assistants were referred to as “splodgers” and the work involved long hours of hauling pots and mixing paints under close supervision. These young go-to blokes plunged brooms into “gallons of distemper” (aqueous paint bound with animal glue) and painted sections of scenery.’2 In spite of the tedious nature of this work, Bert was elated, describing his new circumstance as ‘Bohemia’. Concurrently, he commenced after-hours study at the National Gallery School in Melbourne with many of Australia’s budding artists.

His work in the theatre exposed him to many local and international artists. One of the more influential was the English sketch artist, Phil May who had been commissioned by the Bulletin and Punch magazines. May happened to be a frequent visitor to Gordon’s paint room, and his bold sketching style was to be later emulated by Bert.

In 1894, Bert moved to Sydney where he continued to work with Gordon painting stage scenery. The following year, he married Harriet Waxman, an accomplished pianist from a distinguished theatrical East Melbourne family. Harriet would follow Bert to Sydney where they lived in the suburb of Waverly. In 1898, their son Alwyn Gordon Levy was born.

In addition to the set work, Bert developed his sketching skills, and became a free-lance cartoonist to the nation’s notoriously satirical magazine, the Sydney Bulletin. At the time, the Bulletin was a proponent of the White Australia policy, and disparaging in its depictions of anyone who didn’t fit that profile. Caricatures of Jewish, Indigenous and Asian individuals were generally unflattering, affirming the stereotypical views of many Bulletin journos and editors.3 His affiliation with the Bulletin attracted opprobrium from some quarters of the Jewish community yet he persevered in order to earn a living for his young family. He also became manager of the Alba Photography studio in Sydney’s Strand Arcade and quickly established a reputation for his experimentation in the new visual medium of photography.4

During this time, he joined the Mossman Artist camp on weekends, forging friendships with Australia’s future art elite including Streeton, Roberts, Longstaff and McCubbin, and referred to himself as being ‘a brother of the brush’.5

In 1899, Bert and family moved from Sydney to Bendigo where he was appointed the Music and Drama critic at the Bendigo Advertiser. By the turn of the twentieth century, underground mining had made this Victorian city one of the wealthiest and most vibrant in the country. It possessed four well-established theatres, a stock exchange, and a grand hotel to rival any in the country. It also had a sizable Jewish community, an ornate Synagogue and energetic young entrepreneurs such as the Myer brothers whose first department store was opened in Bendigo in 1900.

Significantly, the city had three daily newspapers and an independent weekly publication (The Bendigonian) which enabled Bert to publish photographs and sketches. It was here that Bert commenced his career as an insightful, and sometimes acerbic, commentator and journalist.

Quickly, Bert became a prodigious chronicler of life in Bendigo. Although new to journalism, his talent was obvious, and he was encouraged by management to develop his own style, not only in relation to music and arts, but on general reporting as well. His razor-sharp humour and irreverence in opinion pieces and sketches made him immensely popular. A month after arriving in Bendigo, he depicted its most famous and wealthiest identity, ‘Quartz King’ Sir George Lansell in a cheeky and risible sketch for The Bendigonian Supplement.6 This impudent representation of one of the richest men in the British Empire as well of other local notables, imbued widespread affection among his readership.

As an art critic, Bert was similarly fearless. He did not hesitate in taking to task decisions by the trustees of the Bendigo Art Gallery in allocating large sums of money for English and European art pieces, when he believed local Australian artists should be preferentially supported instead. An example of his commitment to that cause, was his donation to the Gallery of Arthur Stretton’s ‘Manly Beach’, which he had acquired or was given by Streeton when in Sydney. To this time, this remains one of the most treasured pieces in the Gallery’s collection.7

During his time in Bendigo, Bert wrote extensive humorous pieces concerning the city’s history, institutions and characters. In possibly the first for any city in Australia, Bert wrote and illustrated A Souvenir of the Golden City of Bendigo, a privately funded venture that would quickly sell out.8

He would later reflect on these contributions to a Melbourne journalist in Table Talk, ‘I have made a financial success in the USA, but my best work was done in Australia.’ He continued and gave an example. ‘In 1900 I wrote a piece titled “A Seat in the Park”. I received 10 shillings for “the park bench” article when in Bendigo and later in America dusted it off again, had it syndicated and received $1,200 and was still getting paid for it, ten years after I originally wrote it.’9

In 1901, Bert’s unique style came to the attention of media magnate and proprietor of the Age, David Syme during a Commonwealth Conference in Sydney. Bert was at the celebrations working for the Bendigo Independent newspaper. Syme offered Bert to sketch across his stable of papers, an opportunity that was quickly accepted. The Levys left Bendigo for Melbourne, and Bert would spend the next two years with Syme’s Leader newspaper group. In the process, he produced many black and white portraits of some of Australia’s most famous people in the ‘People We Know’ series which can be viewed online in the State Library Victoria collection.10

By 1904, Bert had become restless. In May, he sailed for the United States, a decision he said came to him in an hour. Leaving Harriet and Alwyn in Melbourne, the plan was, Bert would make a start in the United States and then send for them. During the 17-day cruise between Sydney and San Francisco, he created a series of sketches and amusing stories that were posted on the bulletin board for the passengers. The owner of the shipping line John D. Spreckles boarded in Honolulu, saw and liked Bert’s work. Spreckles, who was reading Ezra Brudno’s, Hebrew novel of Russian, American immigration, The Fugitive, cabled San Francisco, purchased the rights to the book, and hired Bert to sketch key pieces for his newspaper, the San Francisco Call. Bert would have work and money in his pocket on his arrival to the United States.11

Once the assignment was complete at the San Francisco Call, Bert travelled overland to the east coast of the United States. Reaching New York his money had run out, and he was virtually destitute. After spending several rough nights on the streets, he eventually found work sketching women’s fashion at a local music hall. His work was noticed by the editor of New York Morning Telegraph who offered him work, a place where he continued to contribute for the next two decades.

In contrast to the Australian newspaper market, syndication of newspapers across America provided greater opportunities for Bert to tender work with other dailies to earn extra income. In April 1905, his opinion piece and sketches of Hebrew scholars living in the ghettos of New York was published in the New York Times. He forged close connections with the city’s Jewish community, who were often subjects of his writing and sketches.

It was in 1905 when Bert’s career really took off. He did so by assimilating the various skills and innovations he had developed by venturing on stage as a vaudeville entertainer. His big break would come by chance, described later, ‘he took the apparatus he had developed in Australia to America, and at times gave private exhibitions, and one evening happened to give one at a well-known club in New York. The next week the “top-liner,” as the “star turn” is called in America, disappointed the management of the leading music hall at the last moment, through illness, and the manager, who had been at the club, remembered Mr. Levy and his turn, and sent for him, asking him if he would fill the gap. He did so and scored a success’.12

In the final week of 1905, Bert debuted on stage at Keith’s Theatre on 14th Street, Broadway. In an act titled, ‘The Artist and the Model’, Bert sat on the stage, sketching model Dorothy (Lottie) Vernon in various poses using a novel apparatus that projected his drawings on a large screen behind him. He also added sketches of notable people, ‘Men of the Hour’ all the while, without dialogue just whistling while he worked. The New York Times review said, ‘the audience seemed to take to the novelty immediately and made Mr. Levy feel that his new step had been taken in the right directions’.13

The projection apparatus that Bert used for this purpose was of his own invention, first developed whilst working at the photography studio in Sydney during the late 1890s. Many attempts were undertaken to describe the apparatus, from a Magic Lantern, to a Cycloidotrope, in which a glass disc was darkened with soot or nitrate emulsion used in the photograph development process.14

Bert patented this projection apparatus and was acknowledged as its inventor. Entitled to legal recourse against anyone who attempted to copy it, theatre managers were forced to withdraw acts that tried to copy the projector, either out of respect for Bert or from anxiety of being taken to court. Although full details of the apparatus were never made public, it is reasonable to credit Bert Levy with inventing the fore runner to the overhead projector.

By the end of 1907, Bert Levy had become a rising star on the American vaudeville stage. He no longer required the services of Lottie Vernon as a co-performer, renamed his act and was on the road constantly. Five years later in 1911 when returning to Melbourne he claimed to have performed in over 120 US cities. He performed on the same bill as some of the biggest stars, including Houdini, Ole (Al) Jolson, Will Rogers and an earlier incarnation of the Marx Brothers act. He travelled across America by train with friend Mark Twain prior to the novelist’s death and was credited with being the highest paid performer on Vaudeville and at one point was booked for two years.15

Bert took his successful Broadway show to London in October 1908 without a booking agent or any theatre arrangement. He eventually was engaged at the Palace Theatre and again his performance was an instant success. Remarkedly, his tour ended up being a remarkable 13 weeks, only shortened by his need to be back in New York for contracted performances over the Christmas vaudeville season.16

Whilst in London, Bert’s reputation was further enhanced after he organised two charity events at the end of his tour in 1908. The first was a successful fundraiser to recoup earnings for a number of American performers in London who had been mis-treated and embezzled of their earnings by unscrupulous theatre managers leaving many without funds to return home. In turn, these actors reciprocated the favour to Bert by assisting him with a fund-raising concert free of charge. Bert’s All–American Vaudeville concert for East End children not only raised considerable funds but attracted the support and patronage of several extremely wealthy families including the Rothschilds of London. Bert was dismayed by the squalor of London’s East End where his parents and elder siblings had once lived before emigrating to Australia. During his 1908 tour, he was reported as standing on street corners encouraging the Jewish residents to migrate.17

Bert’s meteoric rise in the US and London had remained largely unnoticed in Australia. It was not until he had been invited to perform for the King and the Royal Family at Stafford House in London on 21 July 1909 that Australian newspapers started to report on Bert’s fame and success overseas. Soon after, he went on to perform at the famous Folies Bergère in Paris and Berlin, where his non-verbal show featured him whistling on stage as he magnified his images on a screen behind him. Interest in this innovative device and non-speaking act facilitated an entrée into European theatre that was generally not offered to other English-speaking performers. He broke off his planned Russian tour in 1910, because authorities there attempted to change the name on his passport to Monsieur Bert, an attempt to cloud his race which he resented.18

His stellar vaudeville career continued to flourish throughout the next decade, yet at the same time, he continued to work as a black and white sketch artist. In August of 1911 one of his sketches appeared in the prestigious Life magazine. The full-page sketch titled ‘Moths’, depicted insects transforming into the newly invented biplanes flying too close to a lit candle, symbolically ‘the flame’, crashing to earth.19 In 1911, this sketch had been intended to highlight the potential pitfalls of a life on the stage, those seeking fame, but was eerily prophetic of a tragic personal event to unfold seven years later.

Bert and family returned to Australia in late 1911 and he was contracted to the theatre owner and promoter Harry Rickards. He performed in the new Opera House in Melbourne and the Tivoli in Sydney, completing his engagement with a free performance for children at the Tivoli Theatre which was followed by a day out for all attendees.

In late 1914, he added a third string to his artistic bow. Bert signed with World Film Corporation to produce four photo plays titled ‘Bert Levyettes’, which were novel one-reel films depicting Bert’s rapid sketch artist work. These were described as totally unique and again may have been a forerunner in development of animation features made popular in the twenties and thirties. Whilst Bert’s movies were shown extensively across America, they were not considered box office hits and he and the producer later became the embroiled in successful legal proceedings when the original reels were lost by the Film company.

It was, however, his commitment to charity events for children across the United States and England that became his overriding passion. He would lock into any contract requiring the theatre owner to include a Saturday morning concert without charge for children to attend free of charge. His fundraising supported the American and British ‘Fresh Air Fund’ which was established for ‘street urchins’ from the poorest districts of the major cities to have a day in the country. This organisation became the forerunner to the American Summer Camp program.

Papers dubbed Bert the ‘Kids Pal’ and lauded his unwavering commitment to the cause. Other artists supported the campaign by providing their services free of charge. However, not all performers were pleased that Bert was attracting attention for his children concerts. Former co-star on many of the same vaudeville bills, Harry Houdini wrote to Broadway Magazine in 1916 complaining that it was unfair that Bert’s should receive so much acclamation for organising charitable events when he himself had done likewise.20

In addition to the Rothchilds in London, Bert enlisted the patronage of other wealthy American families to support his ‘Kid’s concerts’ and the ‘Fresh Air Society’ fund including Mrs Randolph Hearst. He embarked on raising money for children’s hospitals and was a frequent visitor /entertainer to wards of sick children. He did not limit his generosity to paediatric causes only and would entertain prisoners with his collection of photographic images of indigenous people from across the globe.

The war in Europe had embroiled the United States by 1916–1917. Bert actively campaigned on behalf of the British and Commonwealth forces and raised extensive amounts of money for wounded Canadian soldiers returning home. In January 1918, when his son Alwyn reached recruitment age, they crossed the border together from New York into Canada to voluntarily enlist. At the age of 46 with failing hearing, Bert’s application was rejected. However, the Canadian Government decided to officially recognise his recruiting work by assigning him the role an honorary Captain. Alywn aged 19 was accepted for service, and initially placed in the Signaller’s Corp. A few months later his talent and initiative saw him accepted in the Royal Canadian Flying Corp.21

Tragically, in August 1918, the 19-year-old Canadian RFC First Lieutenant Alwyn Levy was killed in a training exercise in the skies over London. The circumstances were even more distressing for the Levy / Waxman families when it became known that Alwyn and his 18-year-old first cousin Lieutenant Cyril Whelan (son of Albert Whelan, Harriet’s brother who had the stage name of Whelan) a stunt instructor from Melbourne had collided mid-air, both being killed on impact.22

hollywoodfilmogr91holl 0053 8 June 1929Charlie Chaplin.
From Hollywood Filmograph,
8 June 1929, p.11
Bert’s sketch of 1911 of the ‘Moths’ in Life magazine could have no more chilling portent and brought him, his wife and their families across three countries great sadness.

In 1921 Bert added ‘author’ to his repertoire of skills. His book was a compilation of short stories that he had published in newspapers during his time in the United States. Most of these stories reflected his long vaudeville career on stage and the various characters he had encountered. One story of a stay in Australia would be a light-hearted piece of spending a day sailing on Sydney Harbour with Dame Nellie Melba at the helm. The title and the lead story ‘For the good of the Race’ would convey a strong message to his fellow Jewish people to not deny their faith and customs and urged fellow Jews who had been swept up in modern America to not fall for the derogative stereotypical image of Jewish people.23

By the 1920s Bert was established as one of the most respected artist-entertainers in America. He was often sought to address or preside over some of America’s biggest events. His characteristic, dry sense of humour was very popular and in great demand. One emphatic speech in Washington delivered in front of ex-President Wilson had the audience on their feet as Bert called for Americans to support the new League of Nations and end of all wars. The former President wrote and personally thanked Bert for his sentiments.24

Bert continued his sketch artist work, vaudeville commitments and made movies with his closest friend, Charlie Chaplin. He no longer trusted Film Distribution Companies and produced his own movies predominantly for children’s concerts and other charities. One American newspaper reported in 1923 that Bert Levy had conducted over 190 free children’s concerts over a two-year period.

Bert returned to Australia in 1924 primarily to see his ageing mother who was 86 years old. She would die a year after his visit. Family commitments did not stop him from organising children’s concerts in both Melbourne and Sydney, and on the closing night of his season at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney he was personally thanked with gifts from Sir George Tallis and J.C. Williamson Ltd.25

Bert joined MGM studios in Hollywood in 1927 as cartoonist and writer of scripts and made Los Angeles home. That year at the invitation of his good friend and director Cecil B. DeMille, he was given the honour of the role of courtroom artist in the original silent movie Chicago. In the 1930s he would join Paramount Pictures and would continue to work with some of biggest names in Hollywood.

Despite Bert’s fame in the United States he retained his strong connections with Australia and would entertain Australian artists and dignitaries whenever he could. Artist Will Dyson, Jim Bancks, creator of the Ginger Megs cartoon strip, and the wife of theatre entrepreneur Sir George Tallis are just some of the people photographed with Bert and his wife Harriet in the United States. In the early 1930s Bert was also actively involved in assisting some key Australian movie people (Frank Thring Senior of Efftee Films) in bringing the ‘talkies’ to Australia.26

Bert battled deafness and bouts of serious illness which restricted his vaudeville touring. He remained patron and Dean of the Los Angeles Cartoon Society and in one report was carried by fellow cartoonist on his chair onto the stage to address them.27 Still working, Bert died in Los Angeles in 1934 at the age of 63. Tributes in America were extensive as he was credited with 27 years on the vaudeville stage. Sadly, the time away from Australia meant Bert’s death passed with little acknowledgement, and his career to this day remains unrecognised and underappreciated.



1. The Lone Hand (Sydney), 1 February 1912

2. Simon Plant, ‘Enjoying the Scenery’, Part 1, 15 December 2020, Theatre Heritage Australia

3. The Bulletin (Sydney), 27 August 1898, p.20

4. The Bulletin (Sydney), 22 October 1898, p.10

5. Bendigo Advertiser, 19 September 1900, p.6

6. The Bendigonian, Supplement, 17 April 1900

7. Bendigo Art Gallery Collection

8. Bert A Levy, A Souvenir of the Golden City of Bendigo, Syd Day, Melbourne, [1901?], State Library Victoria

9. Table Talk (Melbourne), 9 November 1911, p.13

10. Bert A. Levy, ‘Sir Edmund Barton’, State Library Victoria

11. The Lone Hand (Sydney), 1 February 1912

12. Table Talk (Melbourne), 9 November 1911, p.13

13. ‘The Stage and its Players’, The New York Times, 31 December 1905, p.3

14. J.A. Marx, ‘A Stranger Among His People: The art, writing, and life of Bert Levy’, Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, XXXIII, 2020, pp.140–164

15. The Lone Hand (Sydney), 1 February 1912

16. Variety (New York), 14 November 1908, p.8

17. Jewish Herald (Vic.), 30 October 1908, p.381

18. The Newsletter (Sydney), 22 January 1910, p.3

19. ‘Moths’, Life (New York), 17 August 1911, p.273

20. Variety (New York), 21 April 1916, p.8

21. The Bulletin (Sydney), 31 January 1918, p.14

22. New York Tribune, 30 April 1918, p.4

23. Bert Levy, For the Good of the Race and Other Stories, Ad Press, New York, 1921

24. Morning Telegraph (New York), 8 July 1923

25. Everyones (Sydney), 28 May 1924, p.32

26. The Age (Melbourne), 20 January 1931, p.8

27. Hollywood Filmograph, 11 August 1934, p.2


Californian Digital Newspaper Collection, UCR Centre for Bibliographical Studies and Research

Chronicling America, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Digital Collections, New York Public Library

Hathi Trust Digital Library

Internet Archive

State Library Victoria, Melbourne

Trove, National Library of Australia, Canberra


Mr Jack Coyne, Founding Member ‘Bert Levy Appreciation Society’ (BLAS)

The Hon Howard Nathan, QC & Member of the Australia Council  

Founding Member BLAS & Number 1 Ticker Holder 

Mr Phil Lipshut, Founding Member BLAS & Great, Great Nephew of Bert Levy

Dr. Bill Connell, Founding Member BLAS, ‘Bert Levy Appreciation Society’

More information about Bert Levy and the Bert Levy Appeciation Society may be found at


Published in Profiles

Theatrical caricaturesMontage by Judy Leech. Image on front page: Oscar Asche in Kismet by Alick P.F. Ritchie. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

In Part I of ‘Caught in the Act’, Elisabeth Kumm looked at the history of theatrical cartoons and caricatures following their progress from Britain to Australia in the nineteenth century. In Part 2 of the series, BOB FERRIS delves further into the evolution of this medium in Australia, exploring its popularity up to the late 1920s.


By the beginning of the twentieth century live theatre in Australia was at the height of its popularity and attendances at both ‘cultured’ and ‘popular’ theatre continued to expand. Both Sydney and Melbourne boasted several central city theatres as well as numerous vaudeville and variety halls. International theatre companies regularly performed in Australia and their principal stars added to the popularity of the productions.

World War I had an initial impact on theatre attendance, but numbers soon returned, perhaps as a distraction from the European conflict, and Australian audiences continued to enjoy a wide range of entertainment. More than 350 different plays were staged in Melbourne alone during the war years.1

Newspapers, leading magazines and journals responded to their readers’ passion for the theatre and gave it considerable coverage with reviews and commentary and most had dedicated ‘theatre critics’ on the payroll. Increasingly, and of present interest, this theatre copy was punctuated with illustrations by a raft of ‘black and white’ artists who plied their craft to portray theatrical personnel, often in unflattering, humorous caricatures and cartoons.

While a few of the artists had more or less regular arrangements with the press, for most their input to the theatrical theme was intermittent and only one aspect of their freelance work in a highly competitive profession. Without question, these artists were fortunate to be working in a time when cartooning and caricatures came of age and their output was prolific.

No newspaper or magazine in Australia in the early 1900s did more to encourage black and white artists than the Bulletin. It employed some of the finest artists of the time, including Will Dyson, Harry Julius, Hal Gye, Jim Bancks, D.H. Souter, Tom Glover and Mervyn Skipper. The Bulletin was where many cartoonists made their start. However, the Bulletin was not alone in nurturing the growing number of freelance black and white artists; Smith’s Weekly, Lone Hand, Sydney Sportsman, Bookfellow, Gadfly, Clarion, and Critic were some of the publications that regularly printed cartoons and caricatures.

Unlike other sections of a newspaper or magazine where illustrations were usually editorially driven, it is probably fair to say that as these artists were adding pictorial comment to written theatrical reviews—usually an actor or a scene—many of these theatrical caricatures and cartoons were included without editorial direction; the ‘black and whiters’ enjoyed a large degree of artistic independence.

There are too many artists in the black and white school of cartoonists and caricaturists to do them all justice, as such the following represent this writer’s personal favourites.

Many would agree that Australia’s greatest caricaturist was the exceptionally gifted Will Dyson (1880–1938). Arguable, some of Dyson’s best work were the numerous theatrical caricatures he drew for the Bulletin around 1904–10 as the magazine’s theatre cartoonist.

Dyson was acclaimed for the penetrating force of his cartoons and caricatures and saw the pretentious theatre personnel as a target for his acerbic penmanship; although it was once said that while he did not often attack the ladies with his pointed crow quill, he did the ‘wicked deed’ now and again.2

A ‘wicked deed’ perhaps, was Dyson’s 1908 sketch of Lady Dunscombe (Nellie Mortyne) in Jim the Penman at the Theatre Royal Melbourne, where the lady, a decorative titled visitor of some importance, is portrayed with a rather unflattering figure. More sensitive was Dyson’s portrayal of Arthur Greenaway as the hunched and doddery King Louis XI in the musical The Vagabond King, which was produced by J.C. Williamson Ltd. in spectacular style during 1928–1929.

Other Dyson works include that of actor Julius Knight playing Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel, performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne—‘a hero whose tigerish nonchalance gives him the aspects of a drugged prig …’—a description which is perfectly captured by Dyson’s caricature.

Another notable caricature shows ‘Norman: The bold bad man of the Bland Holt Co.’ Albert Norman was a leading actor with the Bland Holt Co. for many years and was well known for playing sinister characters. In fact, one review described him thus: Norman ‘is such a villain as he has been many times before, and the sardonic smile of sin on his countenance is the same old smile’.3 Again, a description well captured by Dyson.

A rare survivor, the original artwork for Leave It to Jane, published in Table Talk, demonstrates the use of sepia wash to achieve the tonal contrasts in the published cartoon, and the application of white touch-up to conceal changes.

Harry Julius (1885–1938) was another fine caricaturist of the period as well as a most versatile artist—among many pursuits, he was a newspaper cartoonist, writer and illustrator, advertising executive and film animator. But it is his theatrical caricatures for which he is best known—stageland appealed to him as a splendid site for the caricaturist. Julius once remarked that for years he’d had opera glasses on actors with evil intent and it was melodrama and tragic grand opera, not placid modern plays, which moved him as a pictorial satirist.4

From around 1907, Julius consistently provided magazines, particularly the Bulletin, with humorous caricatures of performers from across the whole spectrum of the theatre from grand opera to vaudeville and pantomime; his output was prodigious. Julius had the skill of getting fine caricatures in a few lines with unmistakeable portraiture.5

There is a wonderful record of some 250 of Julius’ early theatrical caricatures (many of which had appeared in the Bulletin) of most of the prominent stars of the period presented in Theatrical Caricatures, published by the NSW Bookstall Co. in 1912. The book also includes stories on the theatre celebrities by Claude McKay. To view these pen and ink sketches in one collection gives an appreciation of how they would have ‘coloured’ the reviews of current and coming shows which the Bulletin ran in its ‘Sundry Shows’ pages.

One example of Julius’ caricatures includes Annette Kellerman in the glass tank from the Annette Kellerman Show at the Sydney Tivoli. Kellerman was an Australian long-distance swimmer, aquatic and vaudeville performer. Of her Tivoli show it was said: ‘the versatile mermaid has added submarine evolutions, toe dancing and wire walking to an endearing personality, and between them have captured the multitude.’6

Another cartoon that appears in the Bulletin illustrates a scene from the light musical comedy High Jinks, produced by J.C. Williamson at Her Majesty's in Sydney in 1915. The Bulletin review, on the same page as the cartoon, noted ‘the fair and willowy Gertrude Glyn as usual looms up in one or two gowns which stun the stalls ... C.H. Workman one of the comedians puts up a good plainclothes performance’.

In another, John Coates the English tenor appears as Radames in Aida which played at Her Majesty’s, Sydney. In this caricature, Julius shows ‘John Coates going nobly to his doom, escorted by four stalwart Egyptians. Amneris (Edna Thornton) is grief-stricken’. Of Coates’ performance, the review said, it shows ‘what the portly Yorkshireman can do—when he chooses to exert himself’.7

Another cartoon shows a scene from Hamlet at the Sydney Criterion, where Hamlet (Walter Bentley) asks Horatio (W.S. Titheradge) and an inoffensive solder to swear an oath. According to the accompanying review, ‘Walter Bentley has a way of “beefing out” his lines on occasion that compels enthusiasm regardless of the exact meaning of the phrases beefed’.

Another prominent black and white artist whose caricatures regularly appeared in the Bulletin during this period was Jim Bancks (1889–1952). His work also featured in Melbourne Punch, Sydney Sun and Sunday Sun. Bancks fame was ensured in particular, with his comic ‘Us Fellows’ which evolved into Ginger Meggs.

Bancks works include Mr Pim Passes By at Sydney Criterion: Ashton Jarry as Mr Pim, ‘only just a passer-by’. Ashton Jarry first came to Australia in 1917 with Ada Reeve and since then performed in several Australian productions. One of his notable performances was as Mr Pim. Jarry also played Count Dracula in J.C. Williamson’s production of Dracula performed at the Sydney Theatre in June 1929.

Other notable caricatures include Mischa Levitzki, the Russian born American based concert pianist who at the Sydney Town Hall was described as ‘the young man with the strong forearms and rubber fingers’ (Bulletin, 9 June 1921), and Scandal at the Sydney Criterion (Bulletin, 26 May 1921) with Kenneth Brampton as Malcolm Fraser, the rejected lover and Maude Hannaford as the heroine, Beatrix Vanderdyke. Hannaford, described as a possessor of good looks, young and ambitious, had quickly become a star of the American stage with successful roles in Redemption and as the leading lady in The Jest.

Oh, Lady, Lady! was one of a number of sensational J. C. Williamson’s musical comedies of the 1920s. The leading lady, Dorothy Brunton was a hit as ‘Faintin’ Fanny a Peel-street pick-pocket; one review said, ‘The New Dot is as impish as the old one was coy and curly’. Her performance is complimented by an outstanding cast, including William Green as Hale Underwood, a man about town.

Continuing with his depiction of stage actors, his 1921 portrait of George Gee in The Lilac Domino perfectly captures the gait of the rubber-legged dancer and comedian.

Of current ‘historical’ significance is Bancks’ cartoon ‘WHEN AT LAST SYDNEY THEATRE RESTRICTIONS ARE LIFTED: Montague Loveslush and his leading lady, Lulu De Vere, the stage’s smartest dressers, present themselves for re-employment’ (Bulletin, 15 May 1919).

This is Bancks’ take on the news on 15 May 1919 that Sydneysiders could go to the theatre again, with their masks off, after months of anti-influenza restrictions.

Hal Gye (1888–1967) was another brilliant black and white artist, principally working in the Bulletin stable, who provided the magazine with theatrical and sporting caricatures and in 1910 replaced Will Dyson as the Bulletin’s theatre cartoonist. Gye drew for numerous other papers and magazines; caricatures of politicians for Melbourne Punch and sporting identities for the Judge, cartoons for the Australian Worker, Vanguard, Referee, Smith’s Weekly, Table Talk and the Sydney Arrow.

Examples of Gye’s Bulletin caricatures include Oscar Asche and Caleb Porter in Count Hannibal at the Melbourne Royal in 1910; the popular Scottish singer and entertainer Harry Lauder on the occasion of his first Australia tour; J.P. O’Neill in the melodrama No Mother to Guide Her at the Princess, 1913; and comedian W.S. Percy as the gaoler in Nightbirds, an adaptation of Die Fledermaus that played at Her Majesty’s in Melbourne during 1912.

Mervyn Skipper (1886–1958) became more prominent in the mid to late 1920s with his work often printed in the Bulletin and at one time he was the Melbourne cartoon correspondent for the magazine. Skipper left the Bulletin in 1933 to start his own magazine, the Pandemonium, which ran for 12 issues. Skipper later returned to the Bulletin as the art and drama critic and wrote extensively for Australian magazines including Lone Hand.

Some of his works include The Masquerader at Sydney Royal and The Truth About Blayds, a comedy by A.A. Milne at the Criterion.

D.H. Souter (1862–1935) had a 40-year association with the Bulletin, with his first cartoon appearing on 23 February 1895. His cartoons were fanciful and loosely described as ‘art nouveau’. Two examples from the Lone Hand magazine are shown below—‘Contralto Dramatique’ and ‘Prima Donna Assoluta.

Somewhat different in style was Souter’s cartoon announcing the musical comedy, Betty. The musical was produced by J.C. Williamson Ltd. and opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney on 22 November 1924. Souter’s sketch shows Edith Drayson (Betty), Field Fisher (Duke of Crowborough), Alfred Frith (Lord Playne), Harold Pearce (Earl of Beverley), Reita Nugent (David Playne) and Harry Wotton (Hillier).

His skill as a black and white artist is also demonstrated by his portrait of Elsie Prince in her role of Judy in the Gershwin musical Lady Be Good, which opened at the St. James Theatre in Sydney on 30 July 1927. The original artwork is in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Souter, himself, was involved in the theatre and his operetta, The Grey Kimona was staged in Adelaide in 1907. He was also involved with Alfred Hill’s Sydney Repertory Theatre Society.

Tom Glover (1891–1938) was a New Zealand cartoonist who came to Australia in the 1920s and joined the Bulletin in 1922 where his cartoons and caricatures of personalities stamped him as a talented black and white artist.8 Prior to this he was cartoonist for the New Zealand Truth and also drew for the Free Lance under the name ‘Tom Ellis’. In around 1925, Glover joined the staff of the Associated Newspapers Ltd. and remained there until his sudden death in 1938.

A good example of his work is his portrait of the theatrical producer George A. Highland, drawn in 1925. Highland came to Australia in 1917 and worked with J.C. Williamson Ltd. He produced Maid of the Mountains in 1921 and many other productions.

Another portrait by Glover was of Tom Clare, the British music hall singer and pianist best known for singing humorous songs. Clare performed in a vaudeville show at the Melbourne Tivoli where it was said he ‘was better when he was less grandfatherly’.9

In 1925 he captured a good likeness of Allan Wilkie as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Wilkie and his wife, Frediswyde Hunter-Watts, arrived in Australia in 1914 and worked with Nellie Stewart’s and J.C. Williamson’s touring companies. In 1920, Wilkie established the Wilkie Shakespearean Company, which debuted at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre in September 1920 with Macbeth. The previous year, Glover captured a fine image of showman and cartoonist Bert Levy.

Ambrose Dyson (1876–1913), another of the artistically talented Dyson family, was essentially a political cartoonist, but occasionally dabbled in theatrical cartoons.

In his cartoon ‘The Tempter’, Dyson combined political and theatrical commentary with a pointed reference on Ada Ward, a former actress who had returned to Australia after ‘finding God’. Ada Ward first performed in Melbourne in 1877 with some success, but after many years performing in London she sensationally left the stage in 1897 to train as a preacher. Ward returned to Australia in 1907 as an evangelist and addressed an audience at the Melbourne Wesley Church on ‘Can an Actress be a Christian’, where she denounced the immorality of the theatre and its ruination of young women.

True to the theatrical theme, another of Dyson’s cartoon was a New Year’s card for 1905 to his theatrical friend the actor manager Bland Holt.

One of the lesser known Australian black and white cartoonists of the early 1900s is George Dunstan (1876–1946) who drew under the pen name ‘Zif’. Besides the general run of publications, Zif also contributed cartoons to the Sydney Sportsman and the Australian Worker and was chief cartoonist for the International Socialist Magazine. As one of his many attributes, Zif also took to the stage, regularly performing across Australia as a lightning sketch artist, often billed as ‘Chats in Charcoal’.

Illustrative of his style, Zif created a series of cartoons on ‘Suburban Drama’ for the Bulletin in September 1909. One was captioned, ‘East Lynne in the Suburbs’.

Around 1910, Zif produced a series of coloured postcards for the New South Wales Bookstall Co., in their ‘Art Series’. One set of six cards, ‘Theatrical Travesties’ embodied caricatures of ‘theatre types’, a style which typified his work.

Mick Paul (1888–1945), a Sydney cartoonist of the early twentieth century, contributed to the Bulletin, Lone Hand, Comic Australia, Lilley’s Magazine (cover designs) and the Australian Worker. Paul was well-known for his bohemian lifestyle, his socialist views and anti-conscription cartoons and was a foundation member of the Society of Australian Black and White Artists.

Paul’s cartoon, ‘TOO HOT’, offered a social comment on the influenza which devastated Australia around 1919, while ‘NATURALLY’ presents a feminist view on the prevailing gender imbalance in theatre life.

Bert Levy (1871–1934) described as a clever black and white artist and showman, began his working life as an apprentice scenic artist at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne. A prolific creator, Levy was published in Melbourne Punch, the Mirror, Table Talk, drew cartoons and theatrical caricatures for the Bulletin, was the dramatic critic for the Bendigo Adventurer and cartoonist for the Age, Leader magazine. Levy travelled to America in the early 1900s where he worked for Weber and Fields Music Hall, then the Morning Telegraph while running vaudeville shows in New York.10

Examples of his work include ‘In a Vaudeville Green Room’, a cartoon which shows several performers waiting in a dedicated space—‘the green room’ before going on stage. Another is of Hugh Ward in The Emerald Isle. Ward was a major figure in Australian theatre as an actor and entrepreneur. He was one time managing director of J.C. Williamson Ltd. and after resigning from that position, formed Hugh J. Ward Theatres Ltd. in partnership with the Fuller brothers.

By the 1920s, Smith’s Weekly had become the premiere source of cartoons in Australia and unlike other publications their cartoonists were on the pay role, not freelancers. To emphasise this and introduce their staff to the public, the magazine often presented cartoons as composite drawings where all artists contributed; the cartoonists and their characters appeared side by side.11

A variation of the composite cartoon can be seen in the work of, Syd Miller (1901–1983), who joined Smith’s Weekly in 1919 and worked there for some 22 years as a cartoonist and film and stage reviewer.

Miller’s illustrations of ‘Sally in Our Majesty’s’ and ‘Six People Who Make The Flaw’ are examples of his style.

Lance Driffield (1898–1943) was a newspaper and magazine cartoonist and illustrator during the 1920s and 30s, drawing under the pen name ‘Driff’. Driffield started his career as a process engraver and went on to work for the Sunday Times, Truth and Smith’s Weekly.

Typical of his work is the cartoon of Mother Goose which stared Roy Rene and Nat Phillips (‘Stiffy and Mo’), two of the most significant comedians of the period.

Ray Whiting (1898–1975) contributed cartoons to Smith’s Weekly, Table Talk and the Bulletin in the 1920s and 30s and later sketched for the AIF ‘News’ when serving with the 9th Division Camouflage Training Unit in the Middle East during WW2. Arthur Streeton once said his cartoons display a fine decorative sense, good drawing and imagination. ‘Some of the works are weirdly grotesque, and yet they are wickedly like the objects caricatured.’12

These qualities are evident in his portrayal of Windsor, Edgar and Kellaway, a brilliant musical trio from the London Hippodrome, and Joe Brennan, Charles Heslop and particularly Oliver Peacock from Mother Goose. Peacock is an interesting figure. He had a long association with the Australian musical stage, playing support roles to Florence Young, Carrie Moore and Dorothy Brunton. Notably, in 1922, he was understudy to Oscar Asche when Asche took Cairo and Chu Chin Chow to New Zealand.

Alec Sass (Sass) (c.1870–1922) drew for Melbourne Punch and its humorous page between 1896-1912, where he introduced the Sass girl, Sass policeman and Sass johnnie. After working at the New York Journal, Sass joined Smith’s Weekly in around 1921 as an artist and art editor. As art editor he was responsible for teaching staff artists to draw for reproduction on newsprint. Like other Smith’s artists, Sass also drew composite cartoons, a style which is well-illustrated in his cartoon ‘Fooling Around at Fuller’s Panto on a Hot Night’. Another portrait shows an exceedingly stout Oscar Asche in Cairo, which was playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney.

Will Donald (1883–1959) was a pioneering cartoonist of the period who contributed to mainstream and socialist newspapers and magazines, including the Bulletin, Quit, Gadfly and the Critic. Donald was one of Australia’s early comic artists.

Examples of his work include a caricature of the Late F.H. Pollock, Lessee Theatre Royal Adelaide. Pollock was an actor and theatre entrepreneur. He acquired the lease of the Royal in 1900 from Wybert Reeve (English actor and impresario) but, following illness, Pollock appointed a manager in his stead. Pollock died in 1908. Interestingly, George Coppin was the first lessee of the theatre.

Another of Donald’s caricatures, published in the Sydney Sun during 1910, depicts Julius Knight and Reynolds Denniston in the romantic drama Henry of Navarre, set in seventeenth century Europe.

His signature profile style is also evident in his caricatures of Victor Loydall and Rupert Darrell in the pantomime Jack and Jill from the Sydney Sun; while his portraits of Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton in The Taming of the Shrew are rare pieces of original artwork.

Tasmanian-born Alf Vincent (1874–1915) joined Melbourne Punch in 1895 and a year later he succeeded Tom Carrington as feature artist for the magazine. Vincent joined the Bulletin in 1898 and drew for the magazine until his death in 1915. His style of work was similar to that of Phil May (his mentor) for which he was often criticised by his contemporaries.

Outside the usual run of newspaper and magazine caricatures, Vincent did a fine piece of work in a theatrical souvenir, a pamphlet consisting of twelve sketches (some in colour) of performers in J.C. Williamson’s Comic Opera Co. production of San Toy which premiered on 21 December 1901 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. On the occasion of the fiftieth performance of the show on 8 February 1902, a portfolio of sketches was handed out to every lady visitor.

Donald MacDonald (Pas) (1862–1945) was one of the finest caricaturists of the early 20th century to freelance his work to several magazines and newspapers in Australia and New Zealand. The scope of his work was not restricted to a particular theme, but he was particularly noted for his caricatures of theatre personnel.

For Sydney Sportsman he contributed studies of well-known theatrical personalities Bland Holt and Julius Grant. Actor-manager Bland Holt, nicknamed the ‘King of Melodrama’, was known for his elaborate stagings of Drury Lane melodramas which he produced at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney and Theatre Royal in Melbourne. Julius Grant established theatrical enterprises with Bert Bailey and was lessee of King’s Theatre for 15 years. He produced several shows including the record breaking On Our Selection. He also introduced Melbourne audiences to stars such as Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton.

In response to the composer and music teacher Signor Roberto Hazon receiving an address and testimonial from His Excellency the Governor on the occasion of his farewell performance in Sydney, Pas provided a likeness for Sydney Sportsman.

During the 1920s, for Everyone’s, he contributed a sketch of Miss Aylet, ‘Australia’s only trap drummer’ who was performing at Sydney’s Crystal Palace.

Tom Ferry (1891–1954) started his working life as an apprentice with John Sands Ltd. doing lithographic work and before qualifying, he was seconded to work for the Sun newspaper for two years, eventually joining Union Theatres Ltd., drawing and designing posters, advertisements and lobby cards. In the early 1920s Ferry had a casual arrangement with the Sydney Sunday Times to provide weekly cartoons and by 1925 he was the official artist to Fox Films in Sydney.13

Examples of his work that appeared in the Sunday Times includes the actors Cyril Gardiner, Frederick Lloyd, Frank Hatherley and Claude Dampier. A drawing he did of visiting English actor Seymour Hicks as Mr William Busby (Old Bill) in the play Old Bill, MP, was published on the programme cover.

Brodie Mack (1897–1965) combined his cartooning skills with his role as a theatrical business manager. A New Zealander, he initially worked for the Wellington Freelance as a cartoonist before becoming a theatre executive with positions as House Manager for Fullers at His Majesty’s Theatre in Wellington and then with Fullers Opera House in Auckland. Mack later moved to Sydney as Booking Manager for Fullers Vaudeville and Theatre Ltd. He was a founding member of the Society of Australian Black and White Artists in 1924 and did cartoons for Everyone’s, Fuller News, the Bulletin, Aussie, Smith’s Weekly and others.

Examples of his work from Everyone’s included Lee White, ‘the cheerful star of The Girl for the Boy’ at the Sydney Tivoli; and ‘Carter the Great’ (stage name of the American illusionist Charles Carter), who thrilled audiences with his disappearing lion act.

During 1924/24 Mack drew a series of 16 caricatures for Everyone’s titled ‘If Managers Were Artists’. Number 5 in the series depicts JCW theatre manager Tom Holt.

From the early 1900s to the late 1920s the profession of black and white artists was predominantly a male profession, and few women artists were actively involved. There were, however, a number of fine women artists well recognised for their black and white cartoons and caricatures, including Mahdi McCrae, Esther and Betty Paterson, Grace Burns and Ruby Lindsay who were regular but casual contributors to various publications. Later, Joan Morrison and Mollie Horseman were the first women to be employed on the pay roll of Smith’s Weekly.

Typically, the work of these artists, while stylish and amusing, was placed away from the theatrical section of the magazines and appeared randomly throughout, usually as page filler ‘gag’ cartoons or to illustrate ‘women’ stories.

An exception to how the cartoons of women were typically treated was the work of Esther Paterson (1892–1971) who was a student at the National Gallery of Victoria from 1907–1912. A talented artist of street scenes and landscapes, Paterson later applied her skill to commercial art, book illustrating and caricatures/cartoons. Her theatrical caricatures were regularly featured in the Melbourne Punch pre first World War and were prominently featured on the ‘Playgoer’ pages. Her caricatures often featured female performers and her artistic style of her caricatures is markedly different to that of her male contemporaries—her women are more feminine and sensual.


To be concluded in the next issue.



1. See Elisabeth Kumm, ‘Theatre in Melbourne 1914-18: the best, the brightest and the latest’, La Trobe Journal, No. 97, March 2016

2. Punch (Melbourne), 27 May 1909, p.730.

3. ‘A Life’s Romance’, Bulletin (Sydney), 25 August 1904, p.10.

4. See The Bookfellow (Sydney), 1 July 1913, p.xvii.

5. Lone Hand (Sydney), 1 August 1912, p. 352.

6. Bulletin (Sydney), 16 June 1921, p.42.

7. Bulletin, 1 August 1912, p.10.

8. Argus (Melbourne), 8 September 1938, p.9.

9. Bulletin (Sydney), 26 March 1925, p. 35.

10. See Bert Levy, ‘Bert Levy (by Himself)’, Lone Hand (Sydney), 1 February 1912.

11. Joan Kerr, Artists and Cartoonist in Black and White: The most public art.

12. Argus (Melbourne), 7 August 1934, p.5.

13. See ‘Knights of the Pencil and Brush, No. 3: Tom Ferry’, Everyone’s, 29 April 1925, p.30.


‘Black and Whiters IV: Alfred Vincent’, The Bookfellow (Sydney), 1 January 1913, pp. 20–21.

‘Black and Whiters VII: Harry Julius’, The Bookfellow (Sydney), 1 July 1913, p. xvii-xix.

David M. Dow, Melbourne Savages: A history of the first fifty years of the Melbourne Savage Club, Melbourne Savage Club, Melbourne, 1947.

W.E. Fitz Henry, ‘Stories of “Bulletin” Artists’, Bulletin (Sydney), 14 December 1955, pp. 26–28, 32.

Harry Julius, Theatrical Caricatures, with Marginal Anecdotes by Claude McKay, NSW Bookstall Co. Ltd., 1912.

Joan Kerr, Artists and Cartoonist in Black and White: The most public art, National Trust of Australia, Sydney, c.1999.

‘Knights of the Pencil and Brush, No. 3: Tom Ferry’, Everyone’s, 29 April 1925, p.30.

Elisabeth Kumm, ‘Theatre in Melbourne 1914–18: the best, the brightest and the latest’, La Trobe Journal, No. 97, March 2016, pp.6–23,

Bert Levy, ‘Bert Levy (by Himself)’, Lone Hand (Sydney), Vol. 10, No. 58, 1 February 1912, pp. 293–300.

Ross McMullin, Will Dyson: Australia’s radical genius, Scribe, North Carlton, Vic, 2006.

Carol Mills, ‘In Black and White: The little-known Lindsay: Ruby Lindsay’, This Australia, Winter 1984, pp.80-85, available from Women’s Museum of Australia,

Les Tanner, ‘The Black and White Maestros’, Bulletin (Sydney), 29 January 1980, pp.134–142.

M.G. Skipper, ‘The Art of the Bulletin’, Bulletin (Sydney), 29 January 1930, pp.40–42.


Special thanks to Elisabeth Kumm for her advice and comments.

Published in General articles