Industry : Misc 2


For the vast majority of local artists, and for many of the lesser international acts to tour Australasia, life was one of great hardship. Contracts varied in length and hence artists’ incomes were rarely secure, and even if one managed to secure a long term contact the salaries on offer were typically low, even on circuits such as those operated by Fullers’ Theatres and Harry Clay. Adding to the financial strain was travel. Many firms did not pay their artists during non-working travel -supplying fares and food costs only. For long haul trips – say from Fremantle, Western Australia, to Sydney, or perhaps even New Zealand, this could mean the performers were unpaid for up to a week or more.

Asche cooking stovesTo be assured of steady work the Australian small time vaudeville artist had to be versatile. Whereas many American and English performers specialised in one type of act, it was not unusual for local performers to work upwards of four or five different types of routine – involving singing, dancing, acting, musicianship, and various specialty acts. Being versatile also allowed them more opportunities to stay in one place for an extended engagement, and with time on their hands the resourceful individuals augmented their income with a sideline business.

American radio star, Fred Allen, who toured Australia in 1916 as Freddy James “the world’s worst juggler,” recalls in Much Ado About Me (1956) that many Australian small time acts operated sidelines. “One carried a line of fountain pens and cheap jewelry. Another act, a musical one, gave violin and cornet lessons. A woman singer sold cosmetics and beauty preparations.” Allen goes on to record:

  • As they gave only one show a night [and typically matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays], the actors had time to engage in another business or profession, and a few of the American acts [also] wooed the elusive pound with extracurricular projects. One magician handled a line of Hamilton watches. The Littlejohns, the Diamond Jugglers, who had come over with me on the boat, opened a shop in Sydney and sold rhinestones. Littlejohn and his wife also carried a supply of rhinestones on the road to sell in various cities. An American musical act called Alsace and Lorraine carried an electrolysis machine. In every town they rented an empty store and advertised in the newspapers that they were accessible during certain hours to banish milady’s superfluous hairs. One English dancer named Eddie Burns specialized in photography and hauled his camera from town to town (173-174).

Even the big international stars used their celebrity status and ready access to publicity to operate sideline businesses. Oscar Asche, for example, sold a line of imported cooking stoves while touring Australia in the early 1920s.

Other performers or acts with known sidelines were:

Dan Barry: Pulled teeth.
Hosea Easton: Offered music lessons.
Emil Lazern: Photographer, specializing in racehorses.
Harry Job: Owned a speciality shop in Sydney.
Happy Harry Salmon: Photographer.
Will Whitburn: Trained and bred trotters.

Oscar Asche image: Clay Djubal Collection
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Published on October 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm  Comments Off on Industry : Misc 2