This page is devoted to the international variety firms and circuits which employed Australian and New Zealand performers – especially those operating in India and Asia (formerly referred to as “The East” and/or “Far East”). The later region comprises such countries as Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, China and the Philippines. Other vaudeville circuits to be included are those based in South Africa, the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom.
1. African Theatres Trust (South Africa)
2. Bandmann Circuit (India and Far East)
3. Grand Theatre (Noumea)
4. Loew Vaudeville Circuit (USA)
5. Orpheum Circuit (USA)
6. Pantages Circuit (USA)
7. Port Louis Theatre (Mauritius)
8. Ramos and Ramos Circuit (Far East)
9. Sullivan & Considine Circuit (USA)
10. United Booking Office of America (aka B.F. Keith Circuit, USA)
AFRICAN THEATRES TRUST
(1913-1956) Isidore William Schlesinger established the African Theatres Trust (later African Consolidated Theatres) in 1913 after buying out the ailing Empire Theatres Company, absorbing Amalgamated Theatres and the Palladium Company, and merging with two film distribution companies. Left with almost no competition the firm subsequently dominated South Africa’s entertainment industry. Both J. C. Williamson’s and Fuller’s Theatres had connections with the company. Sole international bookings were initially through Rufe Naylor’s World’s Variety Agency, with the Australian representative being P. Tinker (Melbourne). African Consolidated Theatres was acquired by 20th Century Fox in 1956.
Image: Referee 5 Nov. (1913), 15.
(India and Far East)
(1873-1922) The son of American-German actor Daniel Bandmann (1837-1905), Maurice E. Bandmann turned to management in 1895, touring his own companies through South America, the West Indices, Canada and India (1900) before establishing a base in Calcutta in 1905. In partnership with a rich Armenian, Mr Stephen, Bandmann built an entertainment empire that stretched from Gibraltar, Malta and Egypt through to Burma, the Malay states, the Straits Settlements, China, Japan, Java, the Philippines and Siam. They also built several of their own theatres. In 1914 Bandmann and Hugh D. McIntosh formed an alliance which led to an increase in Australian-based artists touring the circuit. Bandmann died in Gibraltar shorlty after opening his Empire Theatre there.
The Straits Settlements comprised Malacca, Dinding, Penang (aka Prince of Wales Island) and Singapore (along with Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands). The island of Labuan, off Borneo, was incorporated in 1905. The Malay states (now Malaysia) comprised Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang. Siam is now known as Thailand.
Image: Maurice Bandmann. Source: Statesman and Friend of India (Calcutta) ca. Mar. 1922.
GRAND THEATRE (Noumea)
Built sometime in the early 1900s by a Mr Menard, the Grand Theatre is said to have been equal in size to Sydney’s Royal Standard Theatre. Sometime around 1910/1911 Menard began offering contracts (of up to three months) for Australian-based vaudeville artists to play his theatre. The shows also included Pathe Freres pictures. His Sydney agent at that time was Leonard Dalton (Dalton’s Vaudeville Agency). Among the acts known to have played Noumea were The Musical Traveres (comprising Belle Solomon, Doris Baker and Lily Eckman). Menard provided private accommodation for his contracted artists.
LOEW VAUDEVILLE CIRCUIT (USA)
(1908-mid-1920s) Considered one of the first movie moguls, responsible for establishing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Marcus Loew (1870-1927) was also heavily involved in vaudeville during his early career. In 1908 he leased four unprofitable New York theatres from the Shuburt brothers and converted them into movie houses with vaudeville as between films entertainment. His policy of largely employing second string or emerging artists rather than headliners saw him become known as the “king of small-time vaudeville” Loew’s Consolidated Enterprises (1910), became Loew’s Theatrical Enterprises in 1911 and by the 1920s his circuit comprised some 40 theatres, with several in Canada. Vaudeville was phased out of Loew’s theatres during the mid-1920s as he invested more attention and resources towards film.
By the 1920s the Loew circuit included theatres in New York City (the American, Avenue B, Boulevard, Delancy St, Greeley St, Lincoln Square, National, Orpheum, State, and Victoria) • Brooklyn (Bay Ridge, Gates, Loew’s Bedford, Loew’s Hillside, Loews’s Melba, Metropolitan, Palace, Premier, and Willard) • Atlanta (Georgia) • Birmingham (Alabama) • Boston (Massachusetts) • Buffalo, White Plains (New York) • Chicago (Illinois) • Cleveland (Ohio) • Dallas (Texas) • Evansville (Indiana) • Hoboken (New Jersey) • Washington, D.C. • Milwaukee (Wisconsin) • Memphis (Tennessee) • Newark (New Jersey), New Orleans (Louisiana), Norfolk (Virginia), Providence (Rhode Island), Springfield (Maine) • London, Toronto, Montreal (Canada).
Image: Marcus Loew. Source: Lower East Side History Project
(1887-1927) The Orpheum Circuit dominated the US west coast, and parts of the mid-west and Canada for four decades, and also developed a network of international booking offices. It began in 1887 when Gustav Walters opened San Francisco’s first Orpheum theatre. He went into partnership with Morris Meyerfield and Dan Mitchell in 1893, with Martin Beck joining in 1899. By 1909 the circuit boasted 27 theatres and operated as far east as Chicago. When vaudeville’s dominance began to wane in the mid-1920s the Orpheum merged with its east coast rival in 1927 to form Keith-Albee-Orpheum. Another merger, with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1928, established Radio-Keith-Orpheum (better known as RKO).
- For further details see: “Orpheum Circuit.” Wikipedia. • Will Rogers, Steven K. Gragert, and M. Jane Johansson. The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway. (2001), pp-49-55 [online at Google Books].
1: The Orpheum’s US circuit included California (Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco) • Colorado (Denver), • Illinois (Chicago, Champaign, Decatur, Moline, Rockford, Springfield) • Indiana (South Bend, Evansville, Terre Haute) • Iowa (Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City) • Louisiana (New Orleans) • Minnesota (Duluth, Minneapolis, St Paul) • Missouri (Kansas City, St Louis) • Nebraska (Lincoln, Omaha) • Oregon (Portland) • Tennessee (Memphis) • Utah (Salt Lake City) • Washington (Seattle) • Wisconsin (Madison, Milwaukee). Its Canadian theatres were in Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg.
2: The Orpheum is considered to have been as significant in the development of American vaudeville as the East coast circuit operated by B. F. Keith and E. F. Albee between ca. 1885 and 1927. Although rivals, from 1907 the Orpheum and Keith circuits collaborated in booking acts and dealing with the vaudeville artists union, the White Rats. The agreement, which saw the country essentially divided in two, created an oligopoly that had the power to not only blacklist performers, but to also blacklist any other manager/firm that did not join either circuit.
Image source: Matthew’s Island of Misfit Toys.
(ca. 1867-1936) Greek-born vaudeville entrepreneur and early motion picture producer Alexander Pantages made his way to America in the mid-1870s. While in Dawson City during Canada’s Klondike Gold Rush of the late-1890s he ran a small vaudeville and burlesque theatre with “Klondike Katre” Rockwell (later his wife). They moved to Seattle, Washington in 1902 and opened the Crystal Theatre. Another venue followed in 1904 and by 1915 Pantages owned 15 theatres. By the mid-1920s his chain comprised more than 70, covering much of the USA and parts of Canada. Pantages operated in fierce competition with fellow Seattle entrepreneur John Considine (Sullivan and Considine) before the latter firm was dissolved in 1915. His own circuit was all wound down in 1929.
- For further details see: Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly. Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America (2006) • Ilias Chrissochoidis “Alexander Pantages (1864/75-1936).” Stanford University • Dean Arthur Tarrach. “Alexander Pantages: The Seattle Pantages and his Vaudeville Circuit.” MA thesis, University of Washington (1972) • Daniel Statt. “Pantages, Alexander (1876-1936).” HistoryLink. (sighted 16/09/2015)
1: Pantages’ US circuit included: Los Angeles, Oakland, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco (California), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Kansas City, St Louis (Missouri), Newark (New Jersey), Memphis (Tennessee), Dallas, Fort Worth (Texas), Salt Lake City (Utah), Bellingham, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma (Washington), Cheyenne, Rock Springs (Wyoming).
2: The Canadian circuit included Calgary, Edmonton (Alberta), Vancouver, Victoria (British Columbia), Winnipeg, (Manitoba), Hamilton, Toronto (Ontario), Regina (Saskatchewan).
PORT LOUIS THEATRE (Mauritius)
aka Theatre de Maurice / Theatre de Port Louis / Mauritius Municipal Theatre
An island nation situated some 2,000 km off the south-east coast of Africa, Mauritius was controlled by the French (1715-1910) and British (1810-1968) before securing independence. The earliest theatres in the capital, Port Louis, operated from 1773. The Port Louis Theatre opened in June 1822, with the first known comic opera production, Petit Chaperon Rouge, staged there on 3 December 1828 (along with a vaudeville entertainment). The number of visiting variety companies began to increase from the 1890s, with British, South African and Australian troupes dominating. Among those with an Australian connection were: New York Serenaders  (ca. 1855), Boley’s Minstrels (1862), Ada Delroy Co (ca. 1891), Baldwin’s Butterfly Co (1893), The World’s Entertainers (1903), and Rowley’s Waxworks (1903).
- For further details see: “Port Louis Municipal Theatre During the Colonial Times.” Vintage Mauritius: Mauritius in the Early Years. [sighted 7/9/2015]
1: The theatre is referred to as both “Theatre de Maurice” and “Mauritius Theatre” in a letter to the Australasian in 1828 (25 January, page 3). Although built during the early British colonial era, one of the terms of agreement between the British and French in 1810 was that settlers could keep their land and property, continue speaking the French language and use the law of France in criminal and civil matters. Mauritius remains a French and English-speaking nation today.
2: Although other theatres were built on the island of Mauritius and elsewhere in the country, the Port Louis Theatre remained the main venue for touring companies well into the twentieth century. It was renovated in the 1980s.
RAMOS AND RAMOS
One of the most important pioneers of Chinese cinema and a significant presence in the Far East as a vaudeville entrepreneur, Antonio Ramos Espejo operated the firm Ramos and Ramos with Ramón Ramos (no relation) from the early 1900s, initially out of the Philippines. By 1906 they had already established themselves in China and within another three years were running live shows and films in Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tsien-Tsin, Macao and Peking. Among the best-known Australian or Australian-based artists to have toured for Ramos and Ramos were Steve Adson, the Coleman Sisters, and Olga Montez. The firm’s long-time Australian representative, Amaro Lopez, was based in Sydney.
Top Image: Antonio Ramos. Photo, additional information and corrections courtesy of Juan Ignacio Toro Escudero, PhD candidate at East China Normal University in Shanghai and Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Bottom image (Theatre Sept. (1910, 9).
SULLIVAN & CONSIDINE
(1906-1915). Theatre manager, vaudeville entrepreneur,
Actor John W. Considine (1863-1943) moved to Washington in 1889, and after managing theatres in Seattle and Spokane built a vaudeville circuit that also included Portland, Bellingham, Everett, and Vancouver and Victoria in Canada. In 1906 he and notorious New York politician and power-broker Timothy D. Sullivan (1862-1913) founded the Sullivan and Considine Agency. Their circuit eventually extended from British Columbia to the US West and East coasts and from 1911 included Marcus Loew’s New York theatres, enabling them to offer contracts of up to 70 weeks. By the time of Sullivan’s death Considine was facing financial difficulties. Most of their theatres were soon afterwards acquired by either Alexander Pantages (his Seattle-based rival) or by Loew.
- For further details see: Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly. Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America (2006) • Trav S.D. No Applause – Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous (2006).
Sullivan suffered a mental breakdown and was declared insane in 1913, the same year he died. Considine later moved to Los Angeles and became involved in the Hollywood film industry. His son, film producer John Considine Jnr (known for such films as Puttin’ on the Ritz, 1930; and Boys Town, 1938), married Pantages’ daughter Carmen. Their sons, John and Tim became successful movie and television actors.
Image: L – John Considine (Wikipedia); R – Tim Sullivan (New York Times)
UNITED BOOKING OFFICE OF AMERICA
aka Vaudeville Managers Association (VMA) / B.F. Keith’s Vaudeville Exchange
(1906-1927) In 1900 B. F. Keith and E. F. Albee co-founded the Vaudeville Managers Association, a cartel of theatre managers/owners operating on the east coast and in the mid-west. It was re-organised in 1906 by Keith and Albee as the United Booking Office of America. Every act that sought employment at any of the member theatres had to register through the association and pay a five percent commission. While many Australian acts would have worked for the U.O.B., only Annette Kellerman, George Crotty and Harold McAulife (aka Alberto) have been identified to date. In 1918 the firm was renamed B. F. Keith’s Vaudeville Exchange, and in 1927 became Keith-Albee-Orpheum. Another merger, with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1928, established Radio-Keith-Orpheum (better known as RKO).
1: UBO’s theatres were located in Alabama (Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery) • Connecticut (Bridgeport, Hartford, Middletown, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwich, Stamford, Waterbury) • Delaware (Wilmington), Florida (Jacksonville) • North Carolina (Charlotte) • Ohio (Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown) • Pennsylvania (Allentown, Altoona, Chester, Easton, Erie, Harrisburg, Hazleton, Johnstown, McKeesport, Reading, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, York) • Rhode Island (Pawtucket, Providence, Woonsocket) • South Carolina (Charleston, Columbia), Tennessee (Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville) • Virginia (Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Richmond, Roanoke). The Canadian theatres were in Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto.
2: The other entrepreneurs involved in founding the VMA included Pat Shea (Buffalo) Joe Weber and Lew Fields, Tony Pastor, and Frederick Proctor (New York City), Hyde and Behman (Brooklyn), Kohl and Castle (Chicago), Colonel J.D. Hopkins (who ran a circuit of theatres in the Mid-west), and Meyerfield and Beck (Orpheum Circuit). The Orpheum circuit soon afterwards established a similar firm for the region west of Chicago. It was known as the Western vaudeville Managers’ Association (WVMA).
3: For most of its existence Keith and Albee’s company was usually referred to as simply the United Booking Office or U.B.O. In 1914 “of America” was officially removed from its name.