William Anderson’s entrepreneurial career saw him operate two permanent dramatic companies. He also built Sydney’s Wonderland City fun-park and Melbourne’s King’s Theatre, and produced several early Australian films. Among the biggest names associated with his theatricals were Eugenie Duggan (his wife), and English actor Roy Redgrave. Forced to abandon the Kings Theatre in 1911, he moved to Adelaide in 1916, producing drama, variety and pantomime there until the late-1920s (with occasional Sydney and Melbourne ventures). His last major production was the 1939 Charles Wenman-directed pantomime Sinbad the Sailor.
J. C. BAIN
One of Australia’s leading comedians and managers, J. C. Bain worked extensively around Australia and New Zealand for three decades beginning 1894. During that time he leased several theatres, and operated companies and circuits around Tasmania, regional Victoria, Queensland, Sydney, and New Zealand. He was also General Manager of James Brennan‘s National Amphitheatre (Sydney) between 1911 and 1914.
Ragtime singer, dancer, manager, entrepreneur.
A dancer in his early career, Ike Beck (“The Fashion Plate”) briefly went into management with Bert Howard (1917) and during the late-1910s and early 1920s had links to Harry Clay [below]. Over the next 30 years he alternated his entrepreneurial career with performing, establishing a particularly strong connection with the Hunter region of New South Wales. As a touring showman Beck appears to have continued his association with regional New South Wales, along with southern Queensland, well into the 1930s. He is recorded as performing on stage professionally as late as 1946. The 1940s also saw him find popularity as a pantomime actor.
VINCENT M. BEEBE
American ballooning engineer and showman Vincent Beebe has been identified with the Australasian region as early as 1908. At that time he operated a ballooning, vaudeville and film amusement with partner Jack O’Donnell. The pair toured their show through New Zealand and Australia until ca. 1910, after which time it is believed they parted company. Beebe is recorded as having toured his own vaudeville and minstrel company though South Australia, Victoria and south-west New South Wales between April and October 1911. His name then disappears from newspaper coverage.
- See also: Jack O’Donnell • Polite Vaudeville and Minstrel Co • Biograph and Trans-Atlantic Entertainers
Jack O’Donnell reportedly toured his ballooning operations in the East for several years before turning to full-time artist and theatrical management.
Lessee, producer, manager.
Joseph Billin owned and managed the Victoria Hall (Melbourne) during the early 1890s, presenting variety entertainment in the form of minstrelsy, vaudeville, and burlesque. Among the best-known Australian minstrel performers to work under Billin’s management were W. Horace Bent, Will Whitburn, Alf and Tom Holland, John Fuller Snr, McKisson and Kearns, Fred Davys, and Amy Rowe.
GEORGE H. BIRCH
(1862-1917) English-born theatrical manager/entrepreneur, hotelier. [Born in Hull, Yorkshire]
George Henry Birch came to Australia in the mid-1880s as a Customs Officer and later worked as a Brewery Inspector before turning to the hotel industry. As lessee of Rockhampton’s Union Hotel and Theatre Royal from 1892 he played a major role in promoting live entertainment. He also pioneered moving pictures in Rockhampton (with the British Bioscope Company in 1908) and toured film and vaudeville shows out west. In 1909 Birch and Edward J. Carroll formed the partnership that would eventually become Queensland’s most successful entertainment circuit – Birch and Carroll (later Birch, Carroll and Coyle). The following year he purchased the Goodson’s Concert Grounds and redeveloped it as Earl’s Court.
- More details (research notes)
- See also: Birch and Carroll • British Bioscope Company • E. J. Carroll [below]
1: Among the hotels Birch leased and/or managed were of the Grand Hotel, Emu Park (1887-92); Comley’s Hotel, Emu Park (1892); Union Hotel, Rockhampton (1892-); and the Criterion Hotel, Rockhampton (1903-).
2: After Birch’s death his business activities continued to be run by his widow, Mary. Prior to this she had a played a major role in her husband’s various business ventures, including co-managing their hotels. The inclusion of the Birch name in the formation of Birch, Carroll and Coyle Ltd in 1923 was therefore as much an acknowledgement of her involvement in the continued success of the Birch-Carroll firm as her husband’s.
(1885-1948) Film exhibitor, circuit proprietor, businessman, theatre lessee and company director.
In 1907, aged 22, Herbert Boland took control of the Crown Theatre, Wollongong (New South Wales). He later established a circuit of regional venues called South Coast Picture Theatres. Forced to lease the circuit to Union Theatres (later Greater Union) in 1928 due to ill-health, Boland moved to Sydney. In 1931 he became a sleeping partner with Mike Connors and Queenie Paul (Con-Paul Theatres), which effectively kept the Tivoli circuit operating during the Depression. One of his final theatrical ventures included leasing the Haymarket Theatre in Sydney.
Details for this entry have been sourced from Robert Parkinson.
Singer, composer, music director, businessman, company owner, manager.
English-born singer Edward Branscombe toured the Antipodes five times between 1896 and 1909 with such companies as the English Concert Party, Westminster Glee Concert Company and Scarlet Troubadours. In 1909 he began establishing a circuit of open-air theatres around Australia. These were used initially by his elegantly costumed Dandies companies. Branscombe also founded the Smart Set Entertainers in 1915 (the troupe specialised in presenting musical scenas) and revived the Westminster Glee Singers in the early 1920s. He was still associated with the latter company well into the 1930s.
Racehorse owner, bookmaker, sports promoter, theatre and circuit owner, businessman, producer.
James Brennan entered the variety theatre industry in 1906 when he converted the athletic hall of the National Sporting Club (Sydney) into the National Amphitheatre. The following year he took over the lease of Melbourne’s Gaiety Theatre, and later toured Brennan’s Vaudeville Entertainers around Australia. In 1911 he set up Brennan’s Amphitheatres Ltd and took up the lease of the Newtown Hippodrome. After building a new Amphitheatre in Melbourne in 1912 Brennan sold his circuit to Ben and John Fuller and returned to bookmaking.
- See also: National Amphitheatre (Melbourne) • Gaiety Theatre (Melbourne) • National Amphitheatre (Sydney) • Brennan-Fuller Vaudeville Circuit
(1886-1959) Businessman, manager, company director and co-owner, producer, film exhibitor.
Dan Carroll joined his older brother Edward as a business partner in 1908. Following Edward’s move to Sydney in 1913 Dan remained in Queensland to manage the various Birch and Carroll (and later Birch Carroll and Coyle) enterprises. He nevertheless continued to be closely involved in all their Australian operations. After Edward’s death in 1931 Dan became managing director of the family companies. Between 1932 and 1959 he was also Chairman of the Motion Picture Industry Benevolent Fund.
- For further details see E. J. Carroll [below].
Image: Portrait by L. F. Reynolds. Source: Table Talk 16 Aug. (1938), 13.
E. J. CARROLL
Edward Carroll’s entrepreneurial career began in 1906 when he bought the Queensland exhibition rights to J. and N. Tait‘s moving pictures. He and his brother Dan promoted theatre, film and skating Brisbane before establishing a chain of regional Queensland theatres with George Birch (their partnership with T. V. Coyle in 1912 eventually became Birch, Carroll and Coyle). Carroll began expanding into artist management and film production in 1913, and in 1920 he co-founded a theatrical firm with George Musgrove. He remained active as an entrepreneur until his death.
Image source: Showman Oct. 1950, 7.
(aka Nellie Pollard)
(1861-1944) Musician , company proprietor, manager, producer
Born in Launceston, Eleanor Jane Pollard was the fourth daughter born to James Pollard and his first wife, Mary. She performed locally with her brothers and sisters before touring with the original Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company (1881-85). In 1884 she married Daniel Chester, a military engineer (the couple had six children), but returned to the family business in the mid-1890s, largely in association with Charles Pollard. Together they toured juvenile companies around the USA, the East and South Africa between 1896 and the early 1910s (leaving Australasia to her brother-in-law Tom Pollard). She eventually moved to the USA permanently and died in Seattle.
Chester’s children all performed on stage as children. Several of them later branched into scenery production for the original moving picture industry in Hollywood in the 1910s. Three of the boys also founded a company in Asbury Park (the Chester Pollard Amusements Co) and in the 1930s established an engineering research business. Another son is known to followed his mother’s footsteps, managing several US theatres.
Image: Daniel and Nellie Chester. Source: Patricia and Roy Pedersen in Peter Downes. The Pollards (2002)
F. M. CLARK
One of the Australian variety industry’s leading managers of the 19th century, Frank Clark came to the country in 1882 with Clark and Ryman’s Minstrels (later Red Stockings). From 1886 onward he mostly toured his own companies – known variously as the Silk Stockings, All Star Novelty Co, European Celebrities, Clark’s Last Sensation Co, Boston Ideal Co, New Folly Co and the American English Co etc. A popular comedian and singer, Clark also wrote comic songs, burlesques and farces. After returning to the USA (ca. 1910) he appeared in at least 197 films.
(1865-1925) Singer, manager, businessman, theatre/ company owner, theatrical agent.
Harry Clay got his first big career break with Frank Smith in 1885 and later appeared with F. E. Hiscocks, Dan Tracey and Harry Rickards among other. He toured his own combination, the Australian Eleven (1896-99) and in toured Queensland annually between 1901 and 1918. Clay established a permanent Sydney circuit in 1905, built the Bridge Theatre (Newtown) in 1913 and later operated several regional New South Wales circuits. He was also associated for many years with the Coliseum (North Sydney), and Princess and Gaiety theatres.
- Harry Clay [abridged biography]
- Harry Clay: Career and Personal Chronology, 1865-1930
- Harry Clay’s New South Wales and Queensland Tours: 1901-1918, 1922, 1927 and 1929
- “From Minstrel Tenor to Vaudeville Showman“ (Australasian Drama Studies 34, 1999).
- “Audiences Were Tough When Harry Clay Ran Vaudeville” / “Sometimes His Shows Were a Riot“ (photocopied articles)
- See also “Harry Clay and Clay’s Vaudeville Company, 1865-1930” MA Thesis (1998)
Dan Clifford was born in West Adelaide and at age eleven began selling newspapers on the street. In 1902, aged 15, he erected a news kiosk outside the Supreme Court. Its success led to the opening of another kiosk at Outer Harbour in 1908. He later moved into bookmaking, and in 1916 purchased two suburban cinemas – these being at Torrensville and Hindmarsh. Clifford went on to open and build many new cinemas and in the process established South Australia’s leading cinema chain – Star Pictures. During the late 1910s and 1920s Clifford routinely employed vaudeville performers (local, national and international) as “between films” entertainment.
(1873-1937) English-born film and vaudeville showman, cinematographer
Surprisingly, little research has focused on pioneering cinematographer and film exhibitor Sidney Cook despite his achievements as Australia’s most prolific filmmaker of the early twentieth century. He came to the country with his parents in 1883, settling in Mackay, Queensland, but six years later joined the Salvation Army Guards Band in Melbourne. Cook later joined the Army’s Limelight Department, eventually becoming its film unit’s 2nd cameraman (under Joseph Perry). He established Cook’s Pictures in 1905, and from his base in Queensland made films and toured shows throughout Australasia until his death. The company also staged pictures and vaudeville programmes between 1905 and the late-1910s, with occasional all-vaudeville shows. Cook even operated a musical comedy company with Win Fowles in 1914.
- See also: Cook’s Pictures
1: Cook’s given name is often spelled Sydney in contemporary reviews and articles.
2: While playing seasons in regional towns Cook would often film the local environs and then show the films during the engagements, often as soon as the day after the footage was shot. During his early career he was also employed as cinematographer for the New South Wales government and cinematographer/ publicist for the Queensland government.
3: Cook was forced to liquidate Cook’s Pictures in 1924 due to heavy financial losses. He nevertheless continued to make and exhibit films up until his death, travelling mostly along the eastern seaboard from Tasmania to Far North Queensland with a portable plant to show his own films of regional towns and significant local events.
Image source: Brisbane Courier 21 June (1924), 22.
George Selth Coppin came to Australia in 1842 and over the next 60 years established himself as one Australia’s most influential theatrical entrepreneurs. His most significant years were the 1840s through to the 1880s. During this period he built six theatres and brought to Australia such stars as Gustav Brooke, Joseph Jefferson, Charles and Ellen Keen, Emerson’s California Minstrels and J.C. Williamson and Maggie Moore. Largely associated with the Melbourne’s Theatre Royal between 1872 and 1881, he also found time to enter politics four times between 1855 and 1895.
- See also: Frederick Coppin • Harwood, Stewart, Hennings & Coppin • Coppin, Hennings & Greville
- For further details see: Sally O’Neill “George Selth Coppin (1819-1906)” Australian Dictionary of Biography (1969) – online (sighted 24/5.2012) • Frank Van Straten “The Man of Many Parts” Live Performance Australia – online (sighted 24/5/2012)
Image source: Pictures Victoria (original held by the Richmond Library).
PERCY R. DIX
Businessman, theatre lessee, circuit owner, producer.
A qualified chemist, Percy Dix moved from Australia to New Zealand in the early to mid-1890s and in 1895 began putting on concerts in Auckland. He ran Dix’s Gaiety Company in the city from around 1899 and established a Dominion circuit in 1900. After returning to Australia in 1905 he went into partnership with Reuben Baker in the New South Wales Hunter Valley (as Dix-Baker). Their main centre of operations was King’s Theatre in Newcastle. Dix died in 1917, leaving his partner to run the business through until the early 1920s.
The son of variety showman John Fuller Snr, Benjamin Fuller joined his family in Australia in 1894. Soon afterwards the Fullers moved to New Zealand, eventually establishing a successful theatrical enterprise that included both film and variety. In 1912 Benjamin and his brother John (see below) bought out James Brennan’s Australian circuit, and soon afterwards founded the company best known as Fullers’ Theatres. Their Australasian vaudeville empire lasted until the early 1930s. Knighted in 1921 for his charity activities, Fuller also helped found ABC radio in 1929 and co-founded Savoy Theatres Ltd (1936) and later Carroll-Fuller Theatres (1946).
- See also: John Fuller Jnr [below] • John Fuller Snr [below] • Fullers’ Theatres Ltd • Brennan-Fuller Vaudeville Circuit • Fuller-Ward
JOHN FULLER Jnr
(1879-1959) Singer, projectionist, businessman, theatre/company/circuit owner, company director.
John Fuller Jnr came to Australia with his family in 1891 and was later engaged as a singer and lantern show manipulator for his family’s New Zealand concerts. Between 1912 and the early 1930s he and his brother Benjamin controlled the Australasian vaudeville empire known as Fullers Theatres. Although Benjamin was the company’s public face and originator of the ideas, John was reportedly the one who made these ideas work. He later moved into real estate, while still retaining control of the St James Theatre (Sydney).
- See also: Benjamin Fuller [above] John Fuller Snr [below] • Fullers’ Theatres Ltd • Brennan-Fuller Vaudeville Circuit • Fuller-Ward
JOHN FULLER Snr
The founder of the Fuller theatrical empire, John Fuller began his career as a performer in England in the late 1860s. He spent five years in Australia (1889-1893) before moving to New Zealand where he established himself as a film and variety entrepreneur. Fuller re-established his connection with the Australia industry in the early 1900s before gradually allowing his sons take over the company.
- More details
- See also: Benjamin Fuller [above] John Fuller Jnr [above]