Entrepreneurs [S-Z]


(early 1870s-1919) Comedian, manager, producer, theatre lessee.

Comedian Harry Sadler worked for Fullers, Harry Rickards and Harry Clay during the early 1900s before moving into management in 1913. He and Jack Kearns leased the Princess Theatre (Sydney) in 1916, finding much success mid-year when they produced the debut Stiffy and Mo season. The publicity surrounding his accusation of infidelity by soubrette Phyllis Faye in Perth in 1918 effectively ruined his reputation and saw him sued for libel. After losing the case Sadler returned to Sydney to co-manage the Gaiety Theatre (Oxford Street). He committed suicide the following year.



(1865-1941) Comedian, actor, showman, troupe manager. [Born: Arthur Salmon in Geelong, Victoria]

Salmon, Harry [Funny by George]Although largely known today as the man who gave George Wallace is professional start, Harry Salmon established himself as a comedian in the 1890s, before going on to carve out a 40 year career as a showman. During that time he toured overseas (including the USA, Britain, South Africa and New Zealand), travelled throughout Australia with his own companies, and appeared on bills for the firms like Fullers’ Theatres. His biggest fan-base, however, was rural Queensland. After retiring in the 1930s he settled in Brisbane, earning a living as a photographer and staging occasional charity concerts.

Image source: Funny by George (1999)



Smith, Beaumont [Pike & Cooper, 88](1885-1950) Theatrical showman, businessman, theatre and film producer/director/writer, film exhibitor, publicist. [Born: Frank Beaumont Smith]

Born in Hallet (South Australia) and educated in Adelaide, Beaumont Smith started out his working life as a journalist and later became William Anderson‘s press representative. Between 1911 and late-1913 he toured the ‘Tiny Town’ midget troupe internationally and through Australasia before turning to theatre production, including musical comedies staged by his Glad-Eye Company, and Seven Little Australians. As a film-maker his credits included 17 silent films (1917-25) and two ‘talkies (1933-34), with his greatest success being the Hayseeds series. Smith is acknowledged as Australia’s most commercially successful producer of silent films.

Image source:Pike and Copper. Australian Film 1900-1977 (1980), 88.



Theatre owner, manager, producer, sports promoter.

One of Sydney’s leading variety entrepreneurs of the late 19th century, Frank Smith was a prominent hotel proprietor owner who began promoting Sunday entertainments at the Sir Joseph Banks Pavilion and Pleasure Grounds (Botany) in 1878. In 1885 he converted the Haymarket Academy into the Alhambra Music Hall and the following year became the first lessee of the Royal Standard Theatre. Smith was forced out of the industry in 1893 as a result of the Depression. His latter attempts to reignite his entrepreneurial career were largely unsuccessful.



(ca. 1819-1877) Irish-born American blackface minstrel, dancer, musician, showman, manager, raconteur, writer.

Described by E. Le Roy Rice as “one of the earliest and best negro delineators,” J.W. Smith began his career prior to the emergence of minstrelsy. He worked extensively in the USA and toured England and Europe in the early 1840s, before playing his final America engagement with the original San Francisco Minstrels (1855-57). Smith arrived in Australia with circus showman Joseph Rowe in 1857, and over the next twenty years was actively involved in many aspects of the local industry. This included associations with W.S. Lyster, Henry Burton (Burton’s Circus), G.W. Lewis, Lance Lenton and George Coppin. He even took Australian companies to the East (notably Japan, Siam and Java), and brought Joe Brown’s Christy’s Minstrels to the country. Smith died in South Yarra, Melbourne on 31 August 1877.

1. Smith’s name first appears in connection with the Lion Circus in Cincinati in 1838, but he may have been working professionally as early as 1834 (ctd Kirby email 9 Aug. 2017).
2. One of his most successful compositions, later covered by many other singers, was “Old Bob Riddley” (1849). In 1871 Melbourne’s Leader newspaper published Smith’s six-part series “Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman.”
3. Smith’s obituary in records his age as 58, giving a birth year of 1819. He may have been born as early as 1815, however (ctd. E. Le Roy, 24).

• For further details see: “The Death of Mr J.W. Smith.” Herald (Melbourne) 31 Aug. 1877, 3.
• See also the Historical Insights page to access Smith’s “Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman” series)

This entry is sourced in part from E. Le Roy Rice (Monarchs of Minstrelsy) and Margaret Kirby, whose great aunt married J.W. Smith in 1860.



(1885-1948) Theatre entrepreneur, dancer, singer, trick cycling, baton twirler, actor, comic.

Sorlie, George 1 [internetarchive]One of Australia’s most versatile variety performers, George Sorlie established himself with Harry Clay in the early 1900s and later became a star with Harry Rickards and Brennan-Fuller/Fuller’s Theatres. In the mid-1910s he worked a popular act with African-American comedian Billy C. Brown, but from 1920 onward was best known as a travelling tent showman – touring drama, revue, vaudeville musical comedy and pantomime around Australia for more than two decades. Sorlie also contributed articles and insights to various theatre magazines, and recorded for the Parlophone label.



Stephenson, George 2 [OBA 23 Sept 1916, 28](1874-1918) New Zealand-born theatrical manager, entrepreneur, auctioneer, rugby player.

George Stephenson’s involvement with Australasian entertainment was remarkable despite its relative brevity (1903-1918). Born and raised in Dunedin he was highly regarded as a rugby player in New Zealand and Britain during the 1890s, and as an auctioneer with his father’s stock and station company. After starting his entrepreneurial career in Britain in 1900, Stephenson returned to Australasia in 1903 with the Stine-Evans Comedy Company. He established his own musical comedy company in 1904 and later operated The Wanderers (1910-14) along with his Company of Comedians, and Comic Opera Company. He also toured other troupes and shows through New Zealand with Alf Lindley, and in 1916 was appointed the Fuller’s Auckland representative.

Stephenson died, aged 44, from heart disease on 6 November 1918 in Auckland. He was survived by his wife, Annie. There were no children from the marriage.
Image source: Observer (Adelaide) 23 Sept. 1916, 28.



(1856-1915) Comedian, singer, writer, manager, producer, theatre lessee, businessman [Born: Charles Percival St John-Smith]

Percy St John was engaged as both performer and writer with a number of leading firms during the 1880s and 1890s, appearing in musical plays, burlesques, pantomimes and minstrel shows. He toured his Royal Burlesque and Specialty Company during early 1900s, and was lessee of Brisbane’s Theatre Royal between 1899 and 1910. In 1911 he and Ted Holland (who had been sub-lessee of the Royal from 1905) opened the newly-built Empire Theatre. Following Holland’s death in 1914 and St John’s in 1915 the Empire was taken over by Fullers’ Theatres.



aka C. Sudholz / C. Southwood

Sudholz, Clamor(1880-1937) Tour manager, film and theatrical showman [Born: Clamor Wilhelm Sudholz]

Associated with J.C. Williamson [below] between the late-1890s and  1906, Clamor Sudholz toured with several of the his companies, including Ada Crossley and its Bio-Tableau Entertainers (1905-06). After purchasing the show in early 1906 he took it on tour throughout Australia until mid-1908 (between April and June 1907 he operated a show at Perth’s Queen’s Hall). Sudholz returned to Perth in mid-1908, becoming manager of King’s Pictures (both in Perth and on tour within the state). In November the following year he converted the Star Skating Rink into the Star Pavilion and soon afterwards opened the Olympia, Fremantle, but quickly ran into difficulties. He ran a picture show in Geraldton (Western Australia) in the early-1910s and in the 1920s was involved in film production and theatrical management (as C. Southwood), both in Australia and New Zealand.

1: Sudholz was educated at Armadale Grammar School, Melbourne, but claims to have run away from home at 14, taking a job aboard a ship bound for New Zealand. After returning to Australia he was given a job with J. C. Williamson’s by George Tallis, later rising to forwarding clerk, assistant treasurer and tour manager among other positions (“King’s Picture Company.” Daily News 18 Dec. 1908, 5).
2: During his career Sudholz also managed Leslie Harris’s Australia tour, and was Julius Knight’s representative in Perth.
3: The Cinemaweb entry on Perth’s Star Skating Rink records Sudholz’ given name as Charles. His bankruptcy hearing in 1910 records his name as Clamor, as does Sally Jackson and several court cases involving Sudholz.
Image source: MyHeritage.



(-1918) Serio-comic, singer, actress, dancer, troupe owner/manager, theatre proprietor.

Isabella Maria Sutherland’s name has first been identified with a program of entertainment put on in Melbourne in 1864 by the Lancashire Bellringers. Over the next four decades she gained a reputation as Australia’s “vital spark” playing the dramatic, concert and variety stages, and spent at least six years working internationally (including India, England, and New Zealand). She formed her own troupe, the Vital and Electric Sparks, in 1885 and revived it a number of times over the next twenty years. Sutherland also often toured with her (third) husband and business manager George Gibson (aka George Washington). She established her first Tivoli Gardens in the Brisbane riverside suburb of Hamilton in 1907. Her second and third Tivoli  ventures operated in the same suburb in 1911 and from 1912 until ca. 1921.

1: US-born George Gibson was perhaps best known in Australia as medical herbalist/botanic physician and science lecturer, Prof. G.W. Gibson.


Image: Undated postcard. Source: Sharlene Jones-Martin.



(1883-1936) Magician, projectionist, businessman, film and theatre producer, production company owner.

Frank Thring Snr started out as a magician before turning to picture exhibition in Tasmania ca. 1911. He later moved to Melbourne to work as a projectionist for Kreitmayer’s Waxworks and in 1915 became part-owner of Electric Theatres. Three years later Thring became managing director of J.C. Williamson’s Films and by 1926 was managing director of Hoyts Theatres. Although he set up Efftee Films in 1931 Thring remained active in theatre production, his biggest successes being Collits’ Inn (1933), The Beloved Vagabond (1934) and The Cedar Tree (1934).

  • More details
  • See also: Peter Fitzpatrick. The Two Frank Things. Clayton, Vic.: Monash OP, 2013.



Dancer, comedian, manager, theatre lessee.

Dan Tracey toured with Billy Emerson for six years before arriving in Australia in 1885. He later worked for the Cogills, Charles Hugo and Harry Rickards before setting up his own minstrel company in 1890. At one stage he also ran entertainment simultaneously at the Gaiety Theatre (Melbourne) and Gaiety Theatre (Sydney). Although his high profile entrepreneurial career ended in the early 1890s due to the Depression, Tracey was still active in Australia in the early 1900s (touring the Ethiopian Concert Party). His daughter Stella followed him onto the stage.



(1871-1941) US-born actor, comedian, theatrical entrepreneur.

Ward, Hugh J [NLA]Hugh Joseph Ward joined a minstrel troupe at age 16 and over the next 12 years learned his trade touring with various variety and dramatic companies. He first toured Australia with Charles H. Hoyt (1899-1903) and returned to the region with his own company in 1906 (in partnership with George Willoughby) and again in 1908. In 1913, two years after joining J.C. Williamson’s Ltd, Ward became the Firm’s managing director. He went into partnership with Benjamin and John Fuller (as Fuller-Ward) in 1922 and was heavily involved in philanthropy. Ward retired in 1926 and died in Sydney of a coronary occlusion some 15 years later.

Image source: National Library of Australia



aka Frank H. Weston / The Wizard Oil Prince

Weston, Frank [SLNSW](ca. 1840-) Entertainer, musician (banjo), troupe manager, theatrical showman, businessman, alternative medicine manufacturer/spruiker.

The son of a New Orleans doctor, Frank Weston toured Weston and Pendergasts Minstrels around California during the gold rush before travelling to Australia with a circus in 1866. He later toured the country spruiking his own Wizard Oil and other panaceas via free entertainments. He co-founded several minstrel troupes – notably with Frank Hussey and Nicholas La Feuillade – and for several years leased Melbourne’s St Georges Hall (as Weston’s Opera House). He spent five years in South Africa (ca. late-1880s) before returning to Australia via England, and eventually retired from entertaining in 1898. After settling in Adelaide he continued selling his Wizard Oil until at least 1917.

Weston’s death was erroneously reported on at least three occasions during his lifetime. He originally came to Australia with Cooke, Zoyara and Wilson’s Circus.
Image source: State Library of New South Wales



 (1844-1913) Actor, writer, businessman, company owner.

James Cassius Williamson started out his career as an actor in the USA and first toured Australia in 1874 with his wife, Maggie Moore. He returned in 1879 and the following year joined George Musgrove and Arthur Garner in a partnership that lasted a decade. He and Musgrove later formed a new firm (Williamson and Musgrove) before founding J.C. Williamson’s Ltd with George Tallis and Gustave Ramaciotti in 1904 (it became a Ltd company in 1910). The “The Firm” went on to become one of Australia’s greatest theatrical organisations.



Willoughby, George [TT Aug 1915, 47](ca.1869-1951). Actor, director, producer, theatre manager, entrepreneur. [Born: George Willoughby Dowse]

George Willoughy came to Australia in 1900 with Charles Arnold and subsequently carved out a high profile career in the Australasian theatre, film and radio industries. His entrepreneurial activities began in 1901 when he and Edwin Geach took over Arnold’s company and during the next two decades he managed theatres and touring companies with various partners, including Hugh J. Ward [above], while also overseeing numerous productions (including musical comedies and pantomimes). Willoughby made two films in 1916, and in the 1920s returned to acting – a career that continued well into the 1940s (in radio and on the stage).

Image source: Theatre Magazine (Sydney) Aug. 1915, 47.



(1788-1860) Theatre lessee/owner, producer, businessman.

A successful Sydney haberdashery retailer and wholesaler, Joseph Wyatt turned to property investment and in 1835 joined a consortium to lease Barnet Levy’s Theatre Royal. He assumed full control the following year and in 1838 built the Royal Victoria Theatre in partnership with hotelier William Knight. They monopolised Sydney’s theatre industry for several years but ran into trouble with the local industry in the early 1840s after importing British performers. The year after Wyatt sold the Royal Victoria (1854) he built the Prince of Wales Theatre. He was forced to sell it at a loss shortly before his death, however.



English trick cyclist and exhibition skater, manager, venue owner, hotelier.

Alfred Wyburd toured Australia in 1878. He was later engaged by Frank Smith [above] to manage the skating rink at his Sir Joseph Bank’s Pavilion and Pleasure Grounds (Botany) and during the 1880s managed a number of touring companies. He was also associated with the Ashfield Recreation Grounds and a prominent city hotel. Wyburd built the Coogee Palace Aquarium in 1887 and bought the Bondi Aquarium in 1890, selling both  prior to leaving Australia in 1894. He returned in 1899 via South Africa and leased a hotel in Coogee but died of pneumonia the following year.


Image citation details for entries without expanded biographies are noted at the bottom of the overview. All other image details are provided in the expanded PDF biographies.
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Published on April 27, 2011 at 7:05 am  Comments Off on Entrepreneurs [S-Z]