Practitioners [B]

Babicci to Bluett ……. p.1
Borradale to Busch ……. p.2

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SAM BABICCI

Babicci, Sam [powerhouse]Sam Babicci won a scholarship to the New South Wales Conservatorium to study clarinet and piano and later spent six years as solo clarinetist/saxophonist with Verbrugghen’s Orchestra. He toured with Bert Ralton (1924-25) and worked as J.C. Williamson‘s orchestra leader at the Sydney Tivoli before forming the vaudeville act Tom Katz and His Saxophone Band in 1927. After seven years constant touring throughout Australasia he took the band to Great Britain but left it in 1936 to return home. Over the next 20 years Babicci led several bands (notably Romano’s cabaret orchestra) while also establishing himself in the Sydney restaurant trade – initially as manager and later as a proprietor.

1: Babbicci’s father was clarinetist Francesco Babicci of Trieste (a one-time musician at the Vienna Opera House).
2: In 1952 Babicci became a “person of interest” during the New South Wales Royal Commission into Liquor, and was eventually indicted for perjury (along with several other colourful Sydney identities – notably Abe Saffron). The charge was dropped in 1954.
Photograph by Thomas Lennon. Source: Powerhouse Museum (Sydney).

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VERNA BAIN

Bain, Verna 2(ca. 1905-) Danseuse, actress, singer.

The youngest daughter of J.C. Bain, Verna Bain’s stage career began as early as 1914. She toured extensively throughout Australia and New Zealand during the 1910s, while also undertaking tours of South Africa and the East. From 1920 onward she appeared  on both the Tivoli and Fullers circuits as a vaudeville performer and pantomime/musical comedy artist.

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DORIS BAKER

(ca. 1892-) Dancer, singer, actor, troupe manager/proprietor [Born Doris Maude Baker]

Doris Baker made her first appearance alongside professional variety entertainers in Sydney in 1903 at a benefit for her dance teacher, Tom Donnelly and debuted on Harry Rickards‘ circuit the following year, aged 11. Over the next few years, however, her performances were largely confined to Donnelly’s student shows and tours, with occasional suburban appearances and charity/benefit concerts. From 1906 Baker steadily built her reputation as a vaudeville act, securing solo work as an acrobatic and fancy dance specialist with managers like Ted Holland, Dix-Baker, James Brennan and Harry Clay before teaming up with Bert Corrie (ca. 1911-1925). No details regarding Baker’s show business career after 1926 have yet been located.

1: Baker’s billing in the early-1900s as “Little Doris Baker,” was as much a response to her small stature as it was to her age. Following her Tivoli debut a Sydney Morning Herald critic wrote: “A dancing pupil of Mr. Tom Donnelly, a little girl named Doris Baker, gave a successful and somewhat novel dance, insomuch that it was mainly of the acrobatic order, and therefore was not lacking in agility (21 Nov. 1904,3).
2: Baker and Bert Corrie (aka Herbert Corrigan) married ca. 1911/1912 and divorced in 1926. At that time Baker was employed as a barmaid in Newcastle (Evening News 26 Feb. 1926, 7).

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PROFESSOR S.S. BALDWIN

(aka Samuel Spencer Baldwin / Samri Baldwin / “The White Mahatma“)

(1848-1924)  Magician, medium, showman, manager/company proprietor.

American magician Samuel Spencer Baldwin made four tours of the  Antipodes  –  the first three with his wife, Clara (1878-79, 1884, 1887-88) and the fourth with Baldwin’s Butterfly Company. After departing Australia the troupe, which included Ada Delroy and James Bell, undertook a two-years international tour.

Image: Courtesy of Magicpedia.

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BALMUS

Strongman, muscular and artistic posing act, equilibrist. [Born: Walter Wheatley]

Balmus [AV 17 Sept 1920, 7]All-round Melbourne athlete Walter Wheatley turned to farming in Western Australia for before making his vaudeville debut in Perth in 1920. He secured engagements with the Fullers, Harry Clay and Tivoli circuits before film of him performing dangerous balancing feats in 1921 led to engagements in the USA. He returned to Australia ca. 1928 with an equilibrist act billed as Balmus and Irmette (later Balmus and Phyllis, and the Balmus Bros) and toured for some time with George Sorlie. Balmus’s last known engagement (as “the Human Fly”) was at Sydney’s Luna Park in 1939.

Image: Australian Variety 17 Sept. (1920), 7.

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NORMAN BAMBURY

(1889-1963) Comedian, acrobatic dancer, singer (baritone), stage manager, theatrical agent/manager, tour manager.

Born in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Norman Rupert Rex Bambury established himself in Darwin, Northern Territory, as an entertainer/stage manager. In the early 1920s he toured the southern states, and Queensland with such companies as Bryants Bellringers (1922), The Entertainers of 1923, and Hector St Clair‘s Vaudeville Company (1924). He partnered James H. White in the short-lived Sydney-based agency Bambury and White (1924-25). Bambury also acted as producer/manager/performer with the firm’s own touring company, the Gay Crusaders (1925), and later managed it himself (1926-27). His last known theatrical engagement was with Harry Penn’s touring company the Vagabonds (1928). Bambury died in Manly on 11 September 1963, aged 74 years.

1: Bambury’s Darwin career was mostly linked to the Piquant Pierrots. One of his brothers, Alwyn, was employed as a rigger in the Northern Territory capital before enlisting in 1917. No record of Norman’s movements between mid-1919 and early 1922 have yet been located.
2: Bambury was employed as both Hector St Clair’s personal manager and tour manager in 1924.
3: Publicity for the 1928 Vagabonds tour records that Bambury was “direct from the Sydney Tivoli.” This claim has not yet been confirmed.

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YVONNE “FIFI” BANVARD

Banvard, Yvonne - 1923 [SLQ](1901-1962) Actress, variety entertainer, producer. [Born: Yvonne Horley]

Yvonne Banvard made her stage debut in the USA at age 7 with the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company. She came back to Australia in 1920 and married the first of three husbands, American Edward de Tisne. The pair toured the Fullers‘ circuit and later co-founded Reynolds-de Tisne Players in Brisbane before separating in 1923. After a long run of J.C. Williamson’s musicals Banvard toured the USA before returning to Australia in 1931. She worked almost continuously up until her death in film (Strike Me Lucky), theatre (as actress and producer) and radio.

Image: State Library of Queensland. Sources: Stig Hokanson. “From Broadway to Brisbane – and Back.” Thespian Times (2013) • Anne-Marie Gaudry. “Banvard, Yvonne (Fifi) (1901-1962).” ADB: 13 (1993).

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BILLY BARLOW

[1819-1907] English-born minstrel comedian, monologist. [Born Robert Barlow]

Billy “The Blue Tail’d Fly” Barlow established himself as one of England’s leading comic monologists and singers of the 1840s, during which time he touring throughout the British Isles and released several song books. In 1852 he and his wife immigrated to Australia, settling in Victoria. Over the next four decades he worked in most states (and notably Victoria and South Australia), while also undertaking of New Zealand and the East. During this time Barlow was associated with numerous troupes and managers, including Rowe’s Circus, J. C. Rainer, George Coppin, Campbell’s Minstrels, and F.M. Clark. He also toured his own troupe.

The well-known “Billy Barlow” character and the famous song of that name were rarely included in his act. The song he was most identified with was “The Blue Tail’d Fly.” Barlow possibly toured the USA briefly in the late-1840s, resulting in him being billed for a time as “The American Barlow.” He retired ca. 1897 and died in Gympie, Queensland on 12 February 1907 from rheumatic arthritis, enteritis, and exhaustion.

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HARRY BARRINGTON

Singer, interlocutor, stage manager, manager and entrepreneur. Largely associated with Frank Smith at the Alhambra Music Hall in Sydney (1884-92) and Harry Rickards (Tivoli Theatre, Sydney) between 1898 and 1912. Barrington operated his own variety companies in Sydney during the mid-1890s and between 1913 and ca.1915.

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A.V. BARRY

aka Alan Barry

(1902) Sportsman, singer, radio personality, film exhibition voiceover.

Born in Geelong, Victoria, Allan Victor Barry excelled at cricket, Australian Rules Football, rowing and singer while a student at Geelong Grammar School. He began performing on radio shortly after it was introduced in Melbourne in 1924 and also found engagements presenting prologues to films. In 1929 Barry beat 8,000 other entrants to win an Australian Broadcasting Company voice competition. He performed regularly on Australian radio throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, apart from 18 months in the USA where he worked in vaudeville. After returning home Barry appeared in variety for Fullers’ Theatres, J.C. Williamsons, Ernest C. Rolls, Frank Neil, and Bruce Carroll among others. His last established engagement was at the Perth Tivoli in 1946.

1: The Australian Broadcasting Company (1929-ca. 1950s) should not be confused with the Australian Broadcasting Commission (1932-1983), later the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
2: The Sunday Times (Perth) records that the Barry, who was born 4 November 1902 (half an hour after the Melbourne Cup) was given the middle name Victor in honour of that year’s winner, The Victory. The horse was ridden by jockey Bobby Lewis, a close friend of Barry’s father (“A Likeable Singer,’ 23 May 1937, 13).
3: In the same article it is claimed that Barry played nine games for Geelong as centre half-forward but was forced to toss “senior football owing to his slight build.” A list of Geelong Football Club Players published in Wikipedia does not include Barry, however. If he did play for the club his games may not have been official season matches.

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ELSIE BATES

Singer (soprano), serio-comic, actress, businesswoman. [Born Elsie M. Tottey]

bates-elsie-av-23-may-1917-1Elsie Bates established her credentials as a singer/dancer around in the early 1900s, working for F.M. Clark, and Joe Solomons (Melbourne), Leonard Davis (Perth) and Marino Lucas (Tasmania) before teaming up with comedian/writer Arthur Morley. The couple married in 1907 and went on to tour Australia as both stage partners and in individual turns for more than a decade. Following her husband’s breakdown (ca. 1919/1920), they spent some time in the Rockhampton region of Queensland where Bates ran a millinery shop. Although Morley returned to the stage a few years later, and eventually became a well-known radio personality in Brisbane, Bates remained retired form the industry.

1: Bates and Morley (aka Albert Morley Welch) married at St Peters, Darlinghurst, in Sydney on 8 May 1907.
2: In 1915 Bates featured in the Brisbane Comic Opera Company’s production of The Stenographer Girl (Tivoli Theatre, 31 July – 6 Aug). Morley was at the same time working for Harry Clay in Sydney.
3: The couple’s daughter appears to have been working as a Brisbane-based variety artist during the early to mid-1930s. She was known professionally as Al Morley (and typically billed as “the personality girl”).
Image Source: Australian Variety 23 May (1915), Cover.

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LES BATES

Bates, Les [TT Apr 1915, 1](1877-1930) American burlesque and film actor, ragtime and raconteur comedian, troupe leader, director.

Initially billed in Australia as the “quaint comedy king” and America’s “drollest comedian,” Lesley A. Bates came to the Australasian region in 1912 with Jansen the Master Magician. The following year he secured a contract with Brennan-Fuller, making his debut with the firm at Adelaide’s King’s Theatre in August. Bates appeared in revusicals as Paul Stanhope‘s off-sider (1915-1916) and later led the Follies of Pleasure troupe (1916-1918). After returning to the USA he carved out a decade-long career as a Hollywood actor, appearing in more than 30 films between 1920 and his death in August 1930.

Image Source: Theatre Magazine Apr. (1915), 1.

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SYD BECK

(1898-1948) Comedian.

Beck, Syd [NLA]Syd Beck’s theatrical career began after he was discovered by Hugh Huxham. Between the mid-20s and the mid-1940s  he cemented his position as one of Australia’s most popular comedians, working in revue, pantomime and follies. He also worked as Nat Phillips‘ stage partner (Stiffy, Joe and Syd) and appeared frequently on radio.

Music source: Frank Van Straten. Tivoli Echoes (2003). Image source: National Library of Australia.

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BOB BELL

Bell, Bob [R 5 Dec 1900, 10](1868-1937) English-born comedian, comic singer, advance rep.

Considered one of Australia’s premiere comic singers of the early 20th century, Robert “Bob” Bell was born in Liverpool and joined the merchant navy at age 12. After spending ten years at sea he left the service in 1890, initially settling in Brisbane where he came to the attention of Darcy Stanfield. After several years with Stanfield’s burlesque, pantomime and comedy companies he made his vaudeville debut with Prof. Fred Davys‘ troupe. He later secured work with Jones and Lawrence (Perth), Harry Rickards, F.M. Clark, Lennon, Hyman and Lennon and Wilson and Hawthorne among others. His career during the 1900s and 1910s was largely associated with Harry Rickards and the Hugh D. McIntosh-led Tivoli circuit, however. Bell remained active as a comedian into the mid-1920s.

Before retiring Bell briefly acted as advance rep for Thorpe McConville’s Wild Australia (ca. 1924). He passed away in Melbourne’s Aged Actors’ Home.
Image source: Referee 5 Dec. (1900), 10.

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JAMES (JIM) BELL

(1847-1916) Eccentric blackface comedian, dancer, singer, musician (banjo), sketch artist, tour manager, theatre manager.

James Bell’s career from the mid-1880s was largely associated with his adoptive sister, Ada Delroy. He and his wife (Alice) and Delroy came to Australia in 1888 with Harry Rickards and later toured internationally with Prof. S.S. Baldwin. All three returned to the Antipodes in 1895 touring with the Ada Delroy Company, remaining in the country thereafter (apart from short oversees tours). Bell became Harry Rickards manager at the Melbourne Opera House in 1909.

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MADAME (ALICE) BELL

(aka Marion Constance)

Song and dance artist, clairvoyant, medium, telepathist.

Alice Bell was largely connected with the Australian variety industry through her husband James Bell (above) and sister-in-law Ada Delroy. Before coming to Australia in 1888 she had been performing as a song and dance artist in Britain for some 8 years (billed as Marion Constance). The dream vision act she brought to Australian in 1895 was developed after her tour with Baldwin’s Butterfly Company in the early 1890s.

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HEATHER BELLE

Belle, Haether [WN 4 Apr.1914, 5]Dancer [Born Daisy Platt]

Champion Scottish dancer Heather Belle studied dance for seven years under the direction of J.C. Williamson’s (which ran classes in Geelong) and won hundreds of competitions around Victoria during her early years (as Daisy Platt). She began appearing at Melbourne suburban shows, the People’s Concerts, and in regional centres in the early 1910s and made her Tivoli debut in 1914. She maintained an association with the circuit up until at least 1926. Harry Lauder also engaged her for his 1919 Australian tour. Although based in Melbourne, Belle toured worked extensively around Australia for firms and troupes like the Scarlet Gaieties, Edward Branscombe’s Dandies (Scarlet Dandies), Vogues and Vanities, George Drew, and Dix-Baker. Her last known appearance was in Horsham, Victoria, in 1926.

1: According to the Geelong Advertiser Belle came to the attention of Harry Lauder when he was touring Australia in 1914 and was personally invited to tour with him in 1919. She was also highly sought after by Scottish societies as a feature artist for events and celebrations.
2: Belle’s father was Captain F. Platts, of McIlwraith , McEacharn Co.
Image source: World’s News 4 Apr. (1914), 5.

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VERA BENSON

aka Vera Blandford

(1892-1936) Singer (soprano), dancer, musical comedy, revue/revusical actress, principal girl, producer/director

benson-vera-ss-25-oct-1925-28As a specialist singer Vera Benson was largely involved musical comedy, comic opera, vaudeville, revue and revusicals. Her first big break, with the D.B. O’Connor Opera Company (ca. 1915), was followed by work with firms like J.C. Williamson’s, Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton, Jack Waller, William Anderson, Musgrove’s Theatres, the Tivoli circuit and Fullers’ Theatres. In 1921 Benson played the lead role in a national tour of Maid of the Mountains, and in the late-1920s formed a variety partnership with Frank Perryn that involved both stage and radio work. In 1933 she moved to Lismore (New South Wales) to manage a “Frock Shop” for the Bentley’s chain. Benson died in Lismore after spending six weeks in hospital.

1:Among the revusical troupes she appeared with were Victor Prince‘s Revue Company (aka Prince’s Players), F. Gayle Wyer’s Band Box Company, and Robert Robert’s Smilestones.
2: During her time in Lismore Benson remained active as a performer, and also acted as producer and director for some productions and events.
3: Benson’s son, Rawdon Blandford, was also involved in the entertainment industry, notably as a producer and entrepreneur.
Image: Sun (Sydney) 25 Oct. (1925), 28.

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W. HORACE BENT

(1844-1907) Comedian, endman, writer.

Regarded by his peers as the greatest Australian comedian of the 19th century, Horace Bent’s four-decade long career (early 1860s -1899) saw him involved with several high profile troupes – notably Hiscocks’ Federal Minstrels. A specialist “bones” endman and comic lecturer he wrote much of his own material as well as numerous farces and burlesques. Bent also worked in the USA (ca. 1875-1876), appearing in New York and at the Philadelphia Exhibition (1876) among other engagements. His last known stage appearance was at Melbourne’s People’s Concerts in 1899.

  • More details  (this biography is currently being updated and expanded. It is due for re-publication soon)

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BERT RALTON & HIS HAVANA BAND

aka Bert Ralton & His Savoy Havana Band / Bert Ralton & His Band

Bert Ralton & His Havana Band - 1925 [Youtube]

(Australia: 1923-1925) Saxophonist Albert Lewis Ralton (ca. 1885-1927) rose to prominence in the USA during the 1910s. In 1919 he travelled to Cuba and two years later arrived in England where he soon took up residence at London’s Savoy Hotel with his Havana dance band and later recorded many songs (mainly for Columbia). Percy Dawson brought Ralton and a re-organised line-up to Australia in 1923 for the opening of his Ambassadors Hotel (Sydney). The group also appeared on the Tivoli circuit, played at various ballrooms around the country, recorded at least 30 songs for local labels and featured in the 1924 film, The Price. The Australian tour saw several local musicians engaged – these being Harry Mehden (trombone), Sam Babicci (sax) and Ned Tyrell (banjo).

Ralton was accidentally shot during a hunting picnic party in Rhodesia in January 1927. He died in hospital soon afterwards.
Image source: YouTube

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THE BIG FOUR

Big Four [STS 1 June 1924, 20]

aka The New Big Four / Cliff O’Keefe’s Big Four

(1923-1932, 1932-1933, 1936-37) The original Big Four line-up, Cliff O’Keefe (New Zealand), Frank Wignall (Wales), and Melbournians Harry Grunden and Charlie Perrin, came to prominence on the Tivoli circuit with their rendering of popular hits, ballads, jazz and operatic selections – all fused with comedy. They also recorded many songs for Columbia and had hits with “Gundagai” (Jack O’Hagan), “Bridget O’Flynn,” “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Dinah” among others. The quartet disbanded in late-1931 following two years in the UK. O’Keefe returned to Australia in January 1932 and briefly put together a “New Big Four” (Fred Witt, Freddie Webber, and Cyril James). The quartette was revived again in 1936 especially for radio station 2UE.

Music source: Fran Van Straten Tivoli Echoes (2003); Image: Sunday Times (Sydney) 1 June (1924), 20.

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BILLY WELLS & THE ÉCLAIR TWINS

aka Billy Wells & the Éclair Sisters

(Aust: 1914-1916) Comedy and novelty dancers/singers

Billy Wells & the Eclair Twins [British Pathe]Active in Australia for some two years on the Brennan-Fuller circuit, Billy Wells and the Eclair Twins recorded appearance was at Adelaide’s King’s Theatre in November 1914. Described by the Daily Herald as the best of the newcomers, the trio is also said to have come “direct” from America. Descriptions in reviews and a short 1928 British Pathe film indicate that their routines were highly energetic and acrobatic. After leaving Australia for England Wells and the Eclair sisters worked for Moss and Stoll, and the Gulliver Syndicate, appeared in Paris and Nice at the height of the war, and later toured the USA for Pantages and Marcus Loew.

The act has been identified as Australian in later years. See for example “Australians Abroad.” Truth (Sydney) 2 Jan. (1927), 8. However, no record of any artist working in Australia under the names Billy Wells or Eclair Twins/Sisters has been located via Trove prior to November 1914.
Image source: British Pathe

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HUMPHREY BISHOP

bishop-humphrey-it-25-july-1928-2Singer (basso cantata), musician, actor, music director/conductor (stage/radio), producer (stage/radio), entrepreneur, troupe manager.

Humphrey Bishop built his reputation as a singer touring England and South Africa before taking his own company on tour through the East in 1915. He came to Australia in late-1916 and left seven months later for South Africa and another tour of the East with a company comprising mostly local artists. After returning to Australia in 1920 Bishop established himself as one of Australasia’s pre-eminent high-class variety and music theatre showmen, touring his companies extensively throughout the region up until the early 1930s. He began his association with radio in 1924 and turned to the medium full-time in 1932 with the newly-established Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). He was still hosting his Cavalcade for 2CH as late as 1955.

1: Bishop’s best known troupe was his Comedy and Operatic Company, which operated for much of the 1920s. In later years it was known variously as Humphrey Bishop’s Company, and the Humphrey Bishop Musical Comedy Company. In addition to musical comedy, revue and operetta, Bishop occasionally staged pantomime. He also produced works for established firms like J. C. Williamson’s.
2: At the peak of his popularity in the early 1930s Bishop employed as many as 40 artists at a time. Among the numerous individuals identified with his operations were Frank Perryn (producer), Kitty Reidy, Ivy Moore, Louise Meadows, Joe Valli, Alf J. Lawrance, Arthur Hemsley, Maurice Barling, Nick Morton, Maurice Jaffey, Fred Keeley, Thelma Trott, Walter Kingsley, Billy Maloney, The Gilberts (Will and Dora), Ernest Lashbrooke, Harry Avondale, Bert Crawford and Grace Savieri.
3: Bishop’s earliest known radio broadcast was in New Zealand in 1924. From 1932 onwards he worked primarily as a music director/conductor and producer of revues, musicals, pantomimes, and variety programmes, first for the ABC, and later with AWA and 2CH. The continuing shows he was involved with included The Big Parade, The Showman, and Humphrey Bishop Cavalcade (all 2CH).
Image source: Inverell Times (NSW) 25 July (1928), 2.

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OSWALD BISHOP

aka Alma the Mysterious / Alma the Court Magician / Pharos / P.H. Ross

(1880-1956) Magician. [Born: Oswald Henry Bishop in Malvern, Victoria]

Bishop, Oswald [toongabbie.vic.au]Best known in Australia as Alma (“the Court Magician,” “the Great,” “the Mysterious” and “the Black Arts Magician”), Oswald Bishop started out as conjurer in Melbourne in the early-1900s. He later secured engagements further afield with various vaudeville firms (including Harry Rickards) and toured his own company (ca. 1909-10 and 1912). Bishop changed his stage name to Pharos in early 1912 (presenting an Egyptian act) but left Australia (and his wife and son) before the end of the year in order to pursue a career in the USA. While there he changed his name to P.H. Ross but still worked briefly as Pharos. Bishop became a US citizen in 1920, and was employed by the the Bank of Hawaii from 1918 until his retirement. He died in Hawaii aged 76.

Two tours of Australia by a magician (or magicians) named Pharos are known to have occurred after Oswald Bishop left Australia. The first was in 1922 under the under the auspices of Harry G. Musgrove. The second (1929) included involvement in a show billed as George Edwards in Magical Mysteries (direct from London). That tour was produced by Fullers’ Theatres. In both instances the magician/s billing involved variations such as “Egyptian Enigma” or “Egyptian Magician” etc. It is currently unclear if Bishop was the performer in either of these tours.
Image source: http://www.toongabbie.vic.au

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ELTON BLACK

Comedian, songwriter, writer, director, manager.

Arguably the finest Scottish comedian to make Australia his home, Elton Black’s first major break was with Kate Howarde (later his wife) in the 1890s. During his 30 or more years in Australia he specialised comedy songs and Harry Lauder and Charlie Chaplin impersonations, managed and directed several variety companies and wrote a number of revusicals and pantomimes.

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NELLIE BLACK

Musician, singer (contralto), entertainer, actress, conductor, music director. [aka Nellie Prentice]

Black, Nellie [CAFA 23 Aug 1939, 5]After touring with her family between 1899 and 1910, Nellie V. Black undertook a solo career as actress and variety artist. In 1914 illusionists Le Roy Talma and Boscoe engaged her as conductor for their 8 month tour of Australia and New Zealand. A six month stint as conductor at Sydney’s Princess Theatre in 1915 was followed by several years in partnership with fellow New Zealand musician Amy Murphy (as The Musical Maids). Black continued touring as a solo artist well into the 1930s and worked as a Sydney-based conductor/music director up until at least 1944.

  • See also The Black Family [below]
Image source: Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate 23 Aug. (1939), 5.

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THE BLACK FAMILY

(aka The All Black Family / The All Blacks)

(1899-1910) New Zealand musicians, entertainers.

Invercargill bandmaster and music teacher John Black presented his family of multi-instrumentalists at local events during the late-1890s before taking them on tour around New Zealand beginning 1899. The family of seven included John Black (basso, Scotch comique, violin, clarinet), Mrs J. Black (piano), Nellie Black (contralto, violin, piano, mandolin, trick violin), Doris Black (singer, violin, mandolin), Elsie Black (singer, violin, flute, piano, mandolin, dancer) and Bertie Black (basso, cornet, cello, violin, dancer, novelties). The family toured extensively throughout New Zealand, Australia, the East and the Pacific Island (including Fiji) up until 1910.

  • See also Nellie Black [above]

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AMY BLACKIE

Blackie, Amy [NLA](1870-1917)  Contralto, soubrette, actress.

Considered one of Australia’s leading balladists, Amy Blackie was long associated with her husband Walter Cottier (Cottier’s People Concerts). During her career which began ca. 1884, Blackie also worked for Harry Rickards, Fullers’ Theatres, and J.C. Williamson among other firms. She was also responsible for introducing several hit songs. Blackie retired in 1909 due to poor health and died in 1917  from injuries sustained in a house fire.

Image: National Library of Australia.

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ALBERT & MAUDE BLETSOE

Variety performers, comedians, dancers, revusical producers/managers.

Costume comedy sketch artists, dancers, troupe managers

The Bletsoes toured the Antipodes with their act during the 1900s and early 1910s. After 18 months in the USA and Canada they toured their own revusical company for Fullers’ Theatres (1915-16). The troupe, which featured Roy Rene, was taken over by Nat Phillips after the pair unexpectedly retired while touring Queensland. The re-organised company made its debut in Sydney in mid-July 1916 as Nat Phillips’ Stiffy and Mo Revue Co.

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BELLE BLUETT

bluett-belle-tbt-12-nov-1931-17(1909-1985) Dancer, singer, actress

The eldest of Fred Bluett’s two daughters, Belle Bluett’s Australian career was mostly associated with revue and musical comedy, and primarily in the chorus or in minor roles. Her earliest known shows were the Howard Hall-produced revues Mother Macree and Models (Empire Theatre, Sydney) in 1927. Over the next eleven years Bluett appeared in productions for Ernest C. Rolls and J.C. Williamson’s (the firm she is most associated with), and in several instances alongside her brother Gus. She married English comedian Jimmy Jewell in 1938 and soon afterwards returned to England with him. No details of her career activity after 1938 have yet been located.

  • See also: Fred Bluett [below] • Gus Bluett [below] • Kitty Bluett [below]
1: In a 1928 interview Bluett expressed her desire to one day pursue dramatic acting (Sunday Times 24 June 1928, 16). Her only work in this area appears, however, to have been in amateur theatricals. Her established Australian credits include: Top Hole (1927), Bright Side Up (1931), Blue Rose and High Jinks (1932), and Nice Goings On (1936).
2: Jimmy Jewell toured Australia with Ben Warriss during the years 1937-1938. He and Bluett had one son, the actor Kerry Jewell, and an adopted daughter (no details).
Image source: Table Talk (Melbourne) 12 Nov. (1931), 17.

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FRED BLUETT

(1876-1942).  English-born comedian, singer, actor.

Bluett, FredFred Bluett came to Australia in 1891, and later spent almost a decade in New Zealand for the Fullers. He moved back to Australia in 1902 under contract to Harry Rickards and over the next three decades remained one of the region’s premier comedians. During his career Bluett worked for most of the leading variety organisations, including John N. McCallum, Humphrey Bishop, J.C. Williamson’s, Leonard Davis, Ted Holland, Harry Clay, and Dix-Baker. He was also heard regularly on radio from 1924 and appeared in the role of Hollis in Norman Dawn’s film Showgirl’s Luck (1931), and featured in Ken G. Hall’s Cinesound Varieties (1934). His children Gus and Kitty also became variety stars in their own right.

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GUS BLUETT

(1902-1936) Comedian, sketch artist. [Born Augustus Frederick Bluett]

bluett-gus-1932-nlaThe son of vaudevillian, Fred Bluett and dressmaker/dresser Catherine McKechnie, Gus Bluett travelled constantly with his parents during his juvenile years. He made his first appearance on any stage at the Adelaide Tivoli Theatre on 11 January 1907, aged four, and over the next ten years was increasingly included in his father’s turns. After the Bluett family returned to Australia in late-1916, Gus continued to make occasional appearances with his father on the Tivoli and Harry Clay circuits, among others. In 1918, however, he secured minor roles with J.C. Williamson’s touring companies. His extraordinary versatility led to starring roles from 1924, particularly in musical comedy and pantomime.

1: One popular turn featuring Fred and Gus Bluett from ca. 1910 was the Scoutmaster sketch.
2: The Bluett family spent the years 1912-1916 overseas – initially in South Africa and then Great Britain.
3: Bluett died without marrying and without issue from haemorrhaging gastric ulcers on 14 March 1936 in Sydney Hospital. His death was in part the result of an exuberant and hectic lifestyle.
Image source: National Library of Australia

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KITTY BLUETT

(1916-1994) Comedian/actress (stage, radio), singer, dancer [Born in Brixton, England]

bluett-kitty-ebayKitty Bluett (as with siblings Belle and Gus) started out performing vaudeville turns with her father, Fred, before moving in musical comedy and revue – first in the chorus and latter in principal cast roles. Her radio career took off in 1940 when she featured in Jack Davey’s variety shows. She later established herself as one of Australia’s most popular female disc jockeys and became a big star partnering Dick Bentley. After returning to England in 1948 Bluett was accorded household name status through her role as Ted Ray’s wife in the radio comedy series Ray’s a Laugh (1950s). Back in Australia again in the early 1960s she appeared on both radio and television (notably in the Delo and Daly Show).

  • See also: Fred Bluett [above] • Gus Bluett [above]
1: Bluett returned to Australia not long after the birth of her daughter in 1958. Her second husband, acrobat and variety entertainer, became a successful children’s television producer here. After their divorce she moved back to England, dying in Colchester in 1994, aged 78.
2: Her first husband, Walter Robert Portingale, was a musician who played in Jim Davidson’s band. He also performed with Jim Gerald’s military entertainment shows during WWII. He and Bluett divorced in 1948.
Image source: ebay

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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 February 6, 2011 at 2:21 am  Comments Off on Practitioners [B]