As the grandson of Melbourne theatre architect Gordon Murphy, Nick Murphy grew up with a fascination for all things theatrical. A teacher and Assistant Principal for many years, he also worked at Melbourne Museum and in educational settings in China, and tutored pre-service teachers at the University of Melbourne. He has lived most of his life just a few streets from Daphne Pollard's birthplace in Fitzroy. The children of Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company remain an ongoing interest.
Born in italy and australia respectively, Mario and Giorgio Majeroni1 were the children of celebrated Italian actors Eduardo and Giulia Majeroni.2 The brothers performed on stage for over a decade in Australia and New Zealand before departing for the United States in late 1905. With their friend Paul Scardon, they were amongst the first wave of actors to arrive in the US from the new Australian Commonwealth. By the time of the Great War, they had drifted into the booming and lucrative US film industry, as versatile character actors, although their preference seems to have remained the stage. Tall (they both stood about 182 cms or 6 feet) good-looking, well-travelled, multi-lingual, and able to step across cultural boundaries with ease, they had plenty of stage experience when they arrived in the US, as well as carrying their family’s notable theatrical heritage.
There are various competing claims made regarding who was the first Australian to appear in or to make a career in US films in the early Twentieth Century. Was it adventurer J.P. McGowan? Or vaudevillian Clyde Cook? Swimmer Annette Kellerman has a strong claim. Perhaps it was former Sydney hairdresser Marc McDermott—who arrived in New York in 1902. So much early cinema history has been lost and the cultural identity of being an ‘Australian’ as distinct from ‘British’ had yet to emerge. In addition, in the first decade of the new century, the money to be made from movie making was not yet appreciated, and the concept of the film actor or star who was a celebrity icon was still emerging. However, we can still identify many of these pioneer Australian performers, whose first intention—as late as the First World War—was usually to try their luck on the US stage, not necessarily to dive into the new, revolutionary world of moving pictures. Brothers Mario and Giorgio Majeroni were amongst the earliest Australians to travel to the US to try their luck in the new century.
The Majeroni brothers professional record suggests that by the time they were settled in the US, they were having no difficulty finding work. By way of example, the Internet Broadway database (IBDB) lists more than a dozen Broadway productions each, while the Internet Movie database (IMDB) lists more than thirty film appearances each. Unfortunately, we are dependent on a narrow range of sources—newspapers, trade and fan magazines—to verify their careers, while details of short film and provincial touring records are often lost.
In a lengthy interview for Table Talk in 1902, their mother Giulia Majeroni said that her sons had ‘true artistic instinct, developed by artistic associations.’3 It is quite likely they learned their stagecraft through family mentoring and close observation of their parents—no evidence exists of any other training, although in Australia they consistently performed with leading actors of the day. The presence of strong family traditions is also suggested by the fact the brothers sometimes worked together during their careers and remained close personally throughout their lives. A survey of the Australian career of the Majeroni parents possibly goes some way to explaining Mario and Giorgio’s later success.
In July 1875, Adelaide Ristori and her Italian Dramatic Company arrived in Australia—at the tail end of a long and grandly named ‘Farewell Tour of the World’. With Signora Ristori were Eduardo and Giulia Majeroni and their five-year-old son Mario. The Ristori troupe had performed in New York, then travelled across the US, before moving on to Australia. Eduardo took many of the male leading roles for the company, while Giulia, a niece of Adelaide Ristori, also played leading roles.4
The Australian leg of the tour took in Sydney, Bendigo, Ballarat, Melbourne, Geelong and Adelaide. The company performed a repertoire of plays that included some especially written for Ristori—such as Elizabeth, Queen of England (written by Paolo Giacometti). The tour was a critical success, despite the fact the plays were performed in Italian, to overwhelmingly English-speakers, and seats were relatively expensive.5
A review given by Melbourne’s Argus in August 1875 provides a taste of the enthusiastic reception given to the Italians in Australia.6 The paper reported at length on Madame Ristori’s ‘superior energy’ and ‘emotional power on stage’. A correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald went further, describing Ristori as ‘the greatest tragic actress of the age, the first great artist of world renown who has visited this far off country’.7 In December 1875 Ristori’s troupe went home, but Eduardo and Giulia chose to stay on in Australia. Years later, Giulia explained that this was to give the couple a chance to learn English. By mid-1876, Eduardo had learned enough to perform The Old Corporal in English, again to enthusiastic Australian audiences. Giulia found the new language easier to learn–to such an extent that in 1893 she wrote a novel in English, based on one of their plays.8 Meanwhile, the couple's second son, Giorgio, was born in Melbourne in January 1877. Only a few months after the birth, Giulia was back on stage, touring Jealousy and A Living Statue with Eduardo.
In 1878, and now more confident about performing in English, Eduardo and Giulia moved back to the United States with their sons. Over the next five years they toured new and favourite plays, while the 1880 US census showed the family living in New York. Despite making the US their new home, the Majeronis were not always happy with their treatment by managers, and their seasons met with mixed success. Finally, ongoing illness saw Eduardo step back from the stage into theatre management, after losing his voice, and, according to one 1882 newspaper report, suffering ‘malarial fever’ in New York’s ‘severe changeable weather’.9 A decision to return to Australia was apparently made based on Eduardo’s health.
By April 1883, the Majeroni family were again in Australia, with every indication this was now to be their home. However, in the 1902 interview for TableTalk, Giulia recalled that Eduardo’s change to theatre management was a mistake—she felt he did not have the business sense to succeed.10
The couple’s performance tour to India and China in 1889–91 was also not a success.11 In July 1891 a grand benefit performance was given in Sydney to support the couple–which Mario also performed in. Sadly, Eduardo succumbed to tuberculosis (TB) in Sydney later that year, while Giulia was so ill with chronic influenza, she could not attend his funeral.12
During his education at Sydney’s Royston College,13 Mario had at least one documented appearance on stage in 1884, while his parents toured, however his definitive pathway to the stage can be traced through amateur theatre in Sydney in the early 1890s. Perhaps the death of his father and the crippling 1890s depression encouraged young Mario to search for secure employment—because records show he sought steady work as a clerk in the Post Office at the age of twenty-one. Soon after, he applied for a New South Wales Certificate of Naturalization—suggesting his intention was to live in an Australian colony for the foreseeable future. At the same time, he was also a regular in amateur dramatics in Darlinghurst. However, within a few years he had left the Post Office and was appearing professionally. In 1893, Shakespearean actor Walter Bentley employed him for a six-month tour of Australia, in a program of Shakespeare and comedies.14 Following this he appeared in a tour of New Zealand with the Myra Kemble Dramatic Company. Mario reportedly also first wrote for the stage at this time. Contemporary newspapers referred to his newly authored play A Rebel Flag in May.15 He appeared with Bentley again in New Zealand in 1894.
Giorgio’s professional acting career began in Sydney in May 1893, in a supporting role in George Rignold’s production of the melodrama East Lynne. He had spent some of his schooling as a boarder at Queen’s College (a now defunct school in St Kilda, Melbourne) and at sixteen, his youthful inexperience on the stage was noted. But later that year he was in the cast of George Darrell’s Australian play The Double Event, a tale of the Melbourne Cup. By 1894 he was a regular in the Charles Holloway Dramatic Company—in My Jack, A King of Crime and The Ring of Iron. He stayed with this company until early 1896. In 1898 Giorgio attracted attention in the role of the mute servant Clon in Under the Red Robe, played with ‘dramatic vigour and intelligence.’16 The cast at Her Majesty’s Sydney included leading actors of the time—Julius Knight, W.F. Hawtrey and Gaston Mervale. Possessed of a fine baritone voice, in 1900 newspapers reported J.C. Williamson’s were training him for opera roles. It transpired that he did not have an important singing role until he was in the US.
Giulia’s stated desire was that she might act one day with her boys. She did appear at least once on the same bill with them at another benefit concert (for her) in Melbourne in December 1895—when she recreated the sleep-walking scene from Macbeth. The strength of her bond with her two sons and her anxiety about their future was indicated in the preface to her 1893 novel and the long 1902 Table Talk interview. In both, she worried that by living in Australia she was keeping her sons from pursuing careers overseas. ‘I would like my boys to go to England or America, but I fear I have been the means of keeping them in Australia … I have always said what will become of me if you go, and they have stayed for my sake.’ What the boys thought about this, we do not know, but they did not leave Australia until well after her death.
Mario’s success in Australia from the mid-1890s was undoubtedly in part because of his close association with another acting family—that of actor-manager Robert Brough (1857–1906) and his wife Florence. Mario first joined the Brough–Boucicault company in 1894, and over the next seven years, regularly appeared in supporting roles with Brough.17 In the words of his ADB biographer, Brough was a ‘champion of refined and legitimate drama’ in Australasia.18 Hal Porter described the contribution of the Brough-Boucicault company to Australian theatre as ‘greater than that of any other company’ of the era, their casts being ‘meticulously schooled’.19 For a young and ambitious actor like Mario, it was the right theatrical company to be part of.
In 1896, Table Talk noted that Mario had ‘impressed theatregoers very favourably of late, by the vitality of his acting in subsidiary characters’.20 Both the Majeroni brothers joined Robert Brough’s Comedy Company tour of India and the far east, departing Australia in September 1897. Indian and Shanghai newspapers welcomed the visiting company with enthusiasm. Their repertoire included comedies and farces—such as Darnley’s The Solicitor, Grundy’s Sowing the Wind and Pinero’s The Amazons; the productions being turned over every few days for expat audiences—who longed for culturally familiar productions from home. The Broughs always took first billing and leading roles, while the ever-reliable Majeronis took supporting parts.21
The relationship between the Broughs and Mario in particular, was not merely professional. When Mario married Nellie Harbin in Sydney in September 1899, Brough and his wife Florence were in attendance, together with other company members. Another performing member of the Brough family—Percy Brough—was groomsman, while brother Giorgio Majeroni was best man.
In late 1902, Mario and Giorgio established their own Majeroni Dramatic Company, to tour Australia and New Zealand with a repertoire of ‘tip-top sensational melodramas’ including Brother Against Brother, The Banker’s Daughter, My Jack, Judge Not and Wages of Sin.22 Mario more often than not took roles as villains in these—notably Stephen Flint the merciless wicked landlord in The Shamrock and the Rose and as callous villains in The Flight for Life and Enlisted. Also in their repertoire was a version, probably Mario’s, of the convict story For the Term of His Natural Life. He also wrote his own version of the very popular Kelly Gang story, the troupe performing this for the first time in Brisbane in July 1904.23
One member of the Majeroni troupe, Lionel Walshe, left a vivid and entertaining memoir of the tour. It was exhausting he recalled and struggled to make a profit. Interviewed ten years later he still thought it the ‘most exciting time of his stage life’.24 The Majeroni troupe was in New Zealand in August 1903, when Giulia Majeroni finally succumbed to her chronic influenza (back in Melbourne). Performance commitments meant they could not return for the funeral.25
In late 1905, Nance O’Neil offered both Mario and Giorgio work on her return tour of North America. They took this opportunity to try their luck in the US, as did their friend Paul Scardon, who had most recently been touring Australia with Minnie Tittel Brune. The O’Neil company arrived in San Francisco in December 1905. Mario’s wife Nellie did not join them. She was possibly unwell when the boys left, as she died in a Sydney hospital nine months later. Possibly—like Paul Scardon’s Australian fiancée Elizabeth—the couple were waiting to see whether a US career would take off.26 The six-month tour with Nance O’Neil—performing works by Ibsen and Shakespeare–wrapped in Boston in May 1906. The Majeronis then made their base in New York. Following the Nance O’Neil tour, Mario and Giorgio had success in finding work—more readily than others, probably given their theatre antecedents. Over the next few years, both established themselves as reliable supporting actors on the New York stage.
Like many actors of this era, Mario and Giorgio apparently had no desire—or saw no need—to publicise their acting credentials or to provide any ongoing narrative on their career, even after they began to appear in the US, when one might expect more commentary to appear.
We owe their contemporary Paul Scardon an acknowledgement, as unlike the Majeronis, he had no qualms about maintaining his public profile by feeding Australian newspapers with reports of what was happening to him and his network of friends. About 12 months after they had arrived in the US, Scardon wrote to Melbourne Punch from New York, to recount the following: ‘There was quite a bunch of us here during the summer, chasing the nimble engagement, but they’re considerably scattered now. George Majeroni and my self being the only two in town at this moment—(the) balance being out on the road …’
Scardon went on to describe what had occurred to Mario and Giorgio in late 1906. His description of their experiences provides an insight of what was probably typical for many jobbing actors of the era. He wrote ‘Mario had rotten luck—gave a trial rehearsal of the Prince of India and satisfied them, and signed at a big salary; however after rehearsing a fortnight [he] contracted a bad cold … [Producers] Klaw and Erlanger … [said] he wasn’t physically strong enough for the part; then came the news of his wife’s death two days later … Giorgio had landed a leading role in The Kreutzer Sonata, but the whole production had been laid up because leading lady Bertha Kalich had appendicitis.’27
Despite Mario’s bad luck with Prince of India, New York Producer Charles Frohman was impressed with him. He was given supporting roles in three of his New York productions between mid 1907 and December 1910—My Wife based on a French comedy by Robert Charvay and Paul Gavault, Jack Straw—a comedy of ‘good quality’ by W. Somerset Maugham, and Israel, a study of race prejudice by French playwright Henri Bernstein.
Giorgio also had good fortune despite the difficulties with The Kreutzer Sonata in September 1906.28 In January 1907, Lee and J.J. Shubert picked Giorgio up for a supporting role in the musical The Belle of London Town, but a more successful experience followed in the musicals The Top o’th’ World, which opened at New York’s Majestic Theatre in October 1907, and The Motor Girl, which opened at New York’s Lyric Theatre in mid-1909. In 1910 he also took the role of Sugar in a staged version of the fairy tale The Blue Bird. In the same year, Mario took a role in the popular farce Why Smith Left Home. There was also good news personally for Mario at this time. In November 1910 he married fellow actor Gwendolyn Lowrey, touring with her through cities of the US east coast for a time.
Although there is convincing evidence that while the Majeronis performed in a diverse range of characters in their first years in the US, it seems clear that within a relatively short time, both were consigned to a narrower range of character roles—distant authority figures or sinister villains. When Giorgio appeared as the white slaver and gang leader Enrico Savelli in Charles Frohman’s stage production of The Conspiracy in 1913, audiences were treated to his satisfying demise in the finale. In late 1913, when Mario appeared in At Bay, reviewers commented on Mario’s established reputation for playing society villains. His portrayal was reportedly so good that when his character—the ‘despicable blackmailing lawyer’ Judson Flagg suffered a heart attack in the second act, audiences invariably welcomed the death.
At the same time the Majeronis were becoming well known figures on the stages of New York and the east coast, the US film industry was rapidly emerging. By the end of the First World War it was the country’s fifth largest industry. Voracious for material and talent, it was yet to become the organised studio system we associate with Hollywood’s golden age. And at this time, the industry was still based in New York and New Jersey, on the US east coast—near the established centres of finance, population and creativity. It was not until after the First World War that Hollywood California became the dominant centre of film production. What better place to find actors for film parts than the New York stage?
For established stage actors, work in the new medium of film was financially too attractive to ignore, even if they preferred the stage or had misgivings about the transitory and populist appeal of the ‘moving pictures’. Unfortunately, the Majeroni brothers left no commentary about this themselves, but some of their contemporaries did. Queensland actor and elocutionist Tempe Pigott, who arrived in the US about ten years after the Majeronis at the late age of 49, yet who went on to forge her own remarkable US acting career, recalled the attraction of film work. Interviewed years later she said: ‘More money may be made in a day in pictures than in a week on the stage; so, naturally, everyone is attracted to film work.’29 Bevan Harris, a vaudevillian from Orange NSW, who went into US movies as Billy Bevan in 1915, similarly observed; ‘this is the highest paying business in the world …’ He was astute enough to add however, ‘Of course, one fine morning, like every other actor, I’ll wake up and though I may not know it, I’ll have done my last day’s work in pictures.’30
The timing of the Majeronis entry into film was therefore not accidental and matches the experiences of many others. Melbourne-born Paul Scardon first appeared as an extra on screen in about 1909, and then in featured parts several years later, when he left the stage for good. He turned to directing in 1913. Sydney-born Marc McDermott also left the New York stage for good in 1909. J.P. McGowan from Adelaide first appeared for the New York based Kalem company in about 1910. Another young adventurer, Sidney Bracey, also from Melbourne, first appeared on screen in 1909. Annette Kellerman arrived in New York in 1908 with the brightest reputation of all and found her way from variety theatre and into filmed shorts soon after.
Thelma, made in 1912 by the Reliance Film Company at their studio in Brooklyn, appears to be Giorgio’s first.31 Not surprisingly, given the speed at which the industry worked to fulfil the demand, it was based on a popular novel by Marie Corelli—and a version had been filmed only a few years before. Yet another movie version was an easy option for a company looking for material to film quickly.32 Unfortunately, details of this film are sketchy and it appears to be a lost film.
Mario’s first film venture was in the Ethel Barrymore melodrama The Nightingale, made in New York in 1914. This was also Ethel Barrymore’s first film and it was written especially for her. A member of the famous acting family and well established on the stage, the 35-year old Barrymore specialised in playing young female roles. Mario had a supporting role as the vocal teacher Mantz, who helps to discover Isola (Barrymore) and her beautiful voice. This is also a lost film.
In an era when films lacked dialogue, early cinema often depended on forms of expression that are foreign to us today. At the same time, familiar stage types helped audiences identify a character quickly. In 1916, Giorgio appeared in a technical treatise on motion picture acting, a still from the film My Lady Incog being chosen to illustrate ‘watchfulness, suspicion, and sharpness’. In this film, Giorgio had given a strong performance as the thief and ’polished imposter’ Rene Lidal.
Veronica Kelly’s 2011 survey of the work of Gaston Mervale, another actor who worked in film and on stage in Australia and the US 33 also throws light on the roles the Majeronis took. Mervale (who was known to the Majeronis from the Australian stage) also specialised in character work—often ‘vividly realised and sinister personalities with intimations of … dark gothic powers’.34 In the course of his career, Mervale portrayed Svengali, the wicked piano player with mystic powers, in the play Trilby, over 800 times. Giorgio Majeroni played an identical malevolent type with similar but ill-defined mystical or hypnotic powers, in the film The Stolen Voice (1915). The film script closely parallels the play Trilby—again a feature of films of this era, when scripts stole shamelessly from books and popular plays. (Mario also went on to play hypnotist/mystics in several films in 1917.)
As noted, in time, both the Majeroni brothers found themselves regularly cast as pointy-moustached villains in films. One must conclude that their age, height and their dark and swarthy appearances contributed to the roles they were given. We should also note the long tradition of foreign ‘types’ who so often appeared as villains in theatre and film in the Western world. In its review of the Charles Frohman revival of Diplomacy at New York’s Empire Theatre in late 1914, Life magazine 35 reported that Giorgio, with his ‘pronouncedly Hebraic features’ was therefore suitable for the role of the Russian, Count Orloff. He reprised this role for a filmed version of the play in 1916.
In 1917, following the release of the William Randolph Hearst funded serial Patria, Giorgio made a rare public commentary about being typecast. ‘I have been on the stage full twenty years and have been trying for the greater part of that time to quit being a villain, but it seems without success ... Throughout my stage career I have plotted crimes and murders without end and have killed and slain until this hand is redder than that of any Borgia. When there was no one else to kill, I have had to kill myself a score of times …’ In Patria, Giorgio played the wicked Senor de Lima of Mexico, who, in league with Japanese Baron Huroki (Warner Oland) plots to overthrow the US. ‘Here I am again in villainy up to my neck’, he said. 36 Some greater controversy surrounded this serial. During World War One Japan was an ally, and in a rare case of concern about the reception a US film might have overseas, the administration of President Woodrow Wilson requested changes.37
Tempe Pigott accepted that she had become well and truly type-cast as a perpetual ‘land-lady’. On a return to Australia in 1936 she told reporters: ‘Immediately you score a success in Hollywood they type you, and you play that sort of role for ever … ’38 But after her visit she happily returned to Hollywood and to more typecast roles. At 84, her last role in a Douglas Sirk film was as an ‘old crone’ in 1951.
By 1913 the Majeronis old friend from Australia, Paul Scardon, had moved from acting into directing films—first for New York’s Majestic Pictures and several years later for Vitagraph. Most likely as a result of their friendship, Giorgio Majeroni appeared in a string of Scardon’s films—eleven in all—for Vitagraph Pictures, between 1918 and 1920. Scardon’s films were really designed as vehicles for Harry T. Morey, and usually featured Betty Blythe as the love interest. (Scardon married Betty Blythe in 1920.) Unfortunately, Paul Scardon and Giorgio Majeroni’s friendship did not lead to any change in casting practices for Giorgio. All of his appearances were as secondary characters—again, usually as dubious foreigners or society villains. In Tangled Lives (1918) he played an unsympathetic millionaire killed by lightning, in The King of Diamonds (1918) he played the poisoner Dr. Torrano, while in Beauty Proof (1919) he played Hodge the criminal; each time, thwarted by Harry T. Morey’s character.
Despite Paul Scardon’s considerable output as a director (he is credited as a director on more than 50 films between 1913 and 1924) not all of his efforts were well received, even at the time. In another Harry Morey vehicle—a story of high finance based on a play, The Gamblers (1919), Giorgio played the villain George Cowper. The Film Daily panned Scardon’s direction as stagey and posey.
Lantern Digital Library & the Internet Archive
Mario also appeared in three of Scardon’s films—playing a marquis in The Hawk (1917), the leader of a family of crooks in Partners of the Night (1920), and the Hindu servant Ali Bey in Children Not Wanted (1920). He had previously appeared as an Indian sword maker in the film Less than the Dust (1916) with Mary Pickford and a mystic Hindu Yogi in the play Eyes of Youth (1918).
Despite the easy attractiveness of acting for film, both the Majeronis remained strongly committed to the theatre, and their narrow range of roles in films may be a reason why. In 1918, Giorgio was elected to the board of the Green Room Club, one of several New York thespian clubs. Opened in 1902 for young aspiring (male) actors, by the time Giorgio had joined it producers and managers dominated—including the Shubert brothers and George M. Cohan. Mario also became a member, as did fellow Australian vaudevillian Bert Levy, who once described himself as a life-long pal of the Majeronis.
Following the release of the Paul Scardon film The Darkest Hour in early 1920, Giorgio appeared only twice more (as foreign villains), in films made in 1921. Apart from a passing role as a singer in a Betty Blythe film in 1922, it seems his interest in film had come to an end. Giorgio had married In June 1915, and settled in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, later moving to Skillman, New Jersey. He took up farming—apparently commuting to New York for acting work when he needed to. Unfortunately, at about the same time, Mario’s second marriage had come to an end in divorce.
Giorgio appeared on stage in New York again—as Signor Diranda in J. Huntley Manner’s drama One Night in Rome, opening in late 1919, followed a year later in the mystery play The Claw, with Lionel Barrymore. In April 1920, Mario took over his brother’s role in a One Night in Rome, when it opened at London’s Garrick Theatre. The play had a notably rocky start in London, newspapers reporting that an organised gang of ‘play wreckers’ disrupted the opening night,39 but it soon settled into a good run.40
In May 1924, newspapers announced Giorgio had tuberculosis, and was dropping out of David Belasco’s play Laugh, Clown, Laugh! and heading off to Saranac Lake in New York state. At this time, rest cure was the only solution for the usually deadly disease, and Saranac Lake provided the ideal fresh air climate, with numerous privately run cure cottages available for the ailing. Broadway magazine wished him well, adding that he was a ‘fine fellow and a splendid actor’.
Sadly, he declined rapidly.41 Bert Levy warned Australian readers of The Bulletin that he had been told there was no hope for Giorgio. He succumbed in early August 1924. Mario was the informant on his brother’s death certificate, indicating he had travelled to be with his younger brother at the end. Giorgio left behind his wife Ethel and two sons, an eight year old and a five month old.
It is possible to discern a different professional experience for Mario in his post First World War career. His roles were, like Giorgio’s, often of a type—familiar villains as in From Now On (1920) and The Snow Bride (1923) and suspicious foreigners—such as Dr Dejonge in The Substitute Wife (1925) and Count Krenko in The King on Main Street (1925). Mario was most closely associated with film productions from Famous Players-Lasky at this time, but unlike Giorgio at Vitagraph, was apparently not contracted to them, allowing him to work for others. He also worked with some notable figures in cinema—actors Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore, and emerging directors including Raoul Walsh, Allan Dwan and Frank Borzage. Films that were well received included The Valley of Silent Men (1922), Enemies of Women (1923), two films from 1924 with Gloria Swanson—The Humming Bird and Her Love Story, and the 1925 comedy The King on Main Street. His last film role was as Prince Zibatchefsky in the Famous Players-Lasky comedy Rubber Heels in 1927, released just before the arrival of sound. By then, film production had largely moved to California.
On stage in the later 1920s, Mario also took a range of character roles. In mid 1926 he appeared in Kongo, a melodrama set in an African trading post, inspired no doubt by the recent success of Leon Gordon’s play White Cargo. Mario donned blackface for 135 performances to play the voodoo priest Zoombie. In Broadway, a comedy-drama set behind the scenes of the night club world, he was back to playing a heavy role—the Greek owner of the Paradise Night Club.
In November 1931, while performing in a run of the play Cynara at New York’s Morosco Theatre, Mario died, quite suddenly. His death was put down to an unspecified stomach ailment, for which he had previously had treatment.42 Many Australian newspapers carried news of his death, a reminder that although he had lived in the US for 25 years, he still had many friends here.
In this era of heightened national consciousness, can we really celebrate the Majeroni family as distinctively Australian performers? Perhaps not. Both brothers had started the process of becoming US citizens—Giorgio in 1918 and Mario in 1923, and neither returned to Australia. This was also a time when Betty Blythe remembered her Melbourne-born husband Paul Scardon as an gentlemanly Englishman.43 The Commonwealth was only a few years old when the Majeroni brothers left and although they were sometimes described as Australians while living in the US, they were more often described as Italians. However a fitting reminder of this remarkable family still exists in Carlton, Melbourne near the heart of the Italian restaurant precinct of Lygon Street. Giulia Majeroni, was living at 99 Drummond Street when she died in 1903. Number 99 is the centre building of a large terrace block—crowned with the pediment at the top, and although now used for offices, it remains one of Melbourne’s finest Victorian-era terraces.
1. Listed as George Carlo John Majeroni on his Australian birth certificate his name was also spelled Giorgio and Georgio during his lifetime. The author has used the more common Italian spelling of his name.
2. Mario was born in Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy on 23 September 1870. Giorgio in Melbourne Australia on 11 January 1877.
3. Table Talk (Melbourne), 3 April 1902, p.14
4. Eduardo Majeroni’s interesting life experiences are recounted in numerous sources including W.H. Leavitt’s Australian Representative Men. However, it is difficult to verify all of the claims made.
5. See Tony Mitchell’s two-part account of the 1875 Ristori tour of Australia in Australasian Drama Studies, 1995
6. The Argus (Melbourne), 30 August 1875, p.6
7. The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 August 1875, p.5
8. A Living Statue: a novel by Giulia Majeroni, George Robertson, Melbourne, 1893
9. Buffalo Morning Express, 27 March 1882, p.4
10. Table Talk (Melbourne), 3 April 1902, p.14
11. See Geoff Barker and contemporary reports such as The Argus (Melbourne), 23 October 1891, p.10
12. Phillip Parsons, p.338
13. Mario was apparently an outstanding athlete at Royston.
14. Bentley had previously been associated with the Majeroni seniors.
15. The Lorgnette (Melbourne), 2 May 1894, p.2. Some accounts claim this play was written by Giulia Majeroni. It was a melodrama set in the future, but further records of this play do not exist.
16. The Sportsman (Sydney), 27 September 1898, p.6
17. Dion Boucicault left the partnership in 1896 and returned to the UK.
18. Helen M. Van Der Poorten, ‘Brough, Lionel Robert (1857–1906)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1969
19. Hal Porter, p.92
20. Table Talk (Melbourne), 15 May 1896, p.13
21. The North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (Shanghai), 18 April 1898, p.670
22. Otago Witness (New Zealand), 22 October 1902, p.57
23. Fotheringham, p.558
24. Northam Courier (Western Australia), 11 March 1913, p.4
25. She died in Melbourne but was interned next to her husband in Sydney.
26. Elizabeth Hamilton travelled to New York and married Paul Scardon. Sadly she died in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
27. Punch (Melbourne), 20 December 1906, p.38. Scardon, or someone closely associated with him, kept up the stream of reports from New York over the next few years, sometimes these featured the activities of the Majeronis.
28. Perhaps producer-director Stephen Fiske had offered Giorgio a role because he had worked with Eduardo and Giulia in the late 1870s.
29. The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 August 1936, p.8
30. The Mail (Adelaide), 22 April 1939, p.4
31. Motion Picture News, 24 August 1912, p.16
32. Unfortunately, this film appears to be lost.
33. Mervale was born in Devon, England in 1866 as Gaston Mistowski
34. Veronica Kelly, p.109
35. Life, vol. 64, no. 1671, 5 November 1914
36. Found in several US newspapers at the time including The Nashville Globe, 11 May 1917
37. Geoff Mayer, Encyclopedia of American Film Serials, p.225 McFarland
38. The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 18 September 1936, p.14
39. Daily News (London), 30 April 1920, p.1
40. J.P. Wearing, p.24
41. He was not the only Australian actor to face a battle with tuberculosis in the US. A few years later, 45 year old vaudevillian Nellie Quealy was admitted to a Saranac Lake sanatorium. She spent six years fighting the disease until she too, succumbed.
42. The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 December 1931, p.4
43. Kevin Brownlow, p.378
Geoff Barker, ‘Collodian photographic negative of Eduardo Majeroni in The Old Corporal by Freeman Brothers Studio’, Powerhouse Museum (Curator's Notes), 2012
Jean Bernique, Motion Picture Acting for Professionals and Amateurs: A technical treatise on make-up, costumes and expression, Producers Service Company, Chicago, 1916
Katherine Brisbane (ed.), Entertaining Australia, an Illustrated History, Currency Press, Sydney, 1991
Kevin Brownlow, The Parade’s Gone By, University of California Press, 1968
Clay Djubal, ‘That men may rise on stepping stones: Walter Bentley and the Australasian stage, 1891–1927’, Journal of Australian Studies, 25:67, 2001, pp.152–161
Richard Fotheringham, Australian Plays for the Colonial Stage, 1834–1899, University of Queensland Press, 2006
Veronica Kelly, ‘Australia’s Svengali: Gaston Mervale in Theatre and Film’, Australasian Drama Studies, April 2011, pp.107–125
W.H. Leavitt (ed.), Australian Representative Men, Wells & Leavitt, 1887 (See also online at State Library of NSW)
Ralph Marsden, ‘Melbourne Stage by Stage’, On Stage, Vol. 9, No. 4, Spring 2008, pp.41–44
Tony Mitchell, ‘Adelaide Ristori tours Australia, 22 July–4 December 1875’, Part 1, Australasian Drama Studies, Number 26, 1995, pp.178–199
Tony Mitchell, ‘High Art and Low Purse: Adelaide Ristori tours Australia 22 July–4 December 1875’, Part 2, Australasian Drama Studies, Number 27, 1995, p.123–141
Phillip Parsons & Victoria Chance (eds), Companion to Theatre in Australia. Currency Press/Cambridge University Press, 1995
Hal Porter, Stars of Australian Stage and Screen, Rigby, 1965
Helen M. Van Der Poorten, ‘Darrell, George Frederick Price (1851–1921)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 May 2023
Helen M. Van Der Poorten, ‘Brough, Lionel Robert (1857–1906)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 27 May 2023
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage 1920–1929 : A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 2nd edition, Rowman and Littlefield, 2014
NICK MURPHY takes a look at Melbourne-born Daphne Pollard (1891–1978), a diminutive comedienne, who having conquered the stage in London and New York became a character actress in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s.