Considered one of Australia’s leading comedians of the late nineteenth century, Charles Fanning worked for most of the leading managers of the period, including Harry Rickards. He also operated his own companies at various times. Fanning formed a sketch act in 1894 with American soubrette Georgie Devoe and the pair later toured internationally for many years before settling in South Africa.
- More details
- See also: Fanning & Devoe [below]
(1874-1945) Singer, coon impersonator, comic, actress.
Maud Fanning appeared on stage at age five and by the early 1890s had established herself as arguably Australia’s most popular female coon singer, working for every major vaudeville organistation in the Australasian region. From 1900 she toured with her husband, Arthur Elliott, and their four children (including Violet Elliott and Lulla and Mercia Fanning). Fanning worked in radio in the 1930s and made her last stage appearance in 1940.
FANNING & DEVOE
(1894-1915) Sketch artists
American comedienne Georgie Devoe, who had been in Australasia with Fred Davys from 1888, first met Charlie Fanning in 1893 while working for Harry Rickards. After separating from Davys in early-1894 she transferred to Harry Barrington‘s Alhambra Music Hall (Sydney), and was followed soon after by Fanning. After returning to Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre in September the pair presented a joint sketch for the first time. They remained in partnership, both professionally and personally, until Fanning’s death in South Africa. Highly sought after for their original novelty turns, the couple toured Australasia for all the leading variety firms until leaving the region in 1910. They went on to tour England, the USA and South Africa.
- For further details see Charlie Fanning [above]
- See also: Georgie Devoe
1: Fanning and Devoe married in Sydney on 19 January 1898. Their only child, Charlotte, was born in Melbourne in 1900.
2: Two of their most popular sketches were spoofs of scenes from Shakespeare – one from Hamlet and the other being the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (with Fanning as Juliet). The couple, and Fanning in particular, was highly regarded in Great Britain. At one stage the pair toured with Cinquevalli and Little Tich.
Image source: N.Z. Freelance and Observer 3 June (1899), 16.
FARRELL & GAFFNEY
John Farrell and Jim Gaffney are believed to have met while working for Harry Clay in Sydney in early 1909. Their first known engagement (to date) was in Adelaide in June that same year, appearing at the Empire Theatre for Lennon, Hyman and Lennon. During their short time together Farrell and Gaffney also worked for James Brennan, Wilton Swift (Swift’s New Comedy Co), North’s Vaudeville Co, Marino Lucas, Ted Holland, and Fullers’ Theatres. The Fullers engagement included appearances in New Zealand in 1910.
- See also: Jim Gaffney
Farrell, reportedly the older of the entertainers, renowned as “Australia’s only one-legged” dancer. While not dancing he usually used a crutch.
Image source: Punch (Melbourne) 17 June (1909), 17.
aka Bobby Folson
(1893-1977) Male impersonator
Initially billed as Master Freddie Manners, “Australia’s Perfect Boy,” Effie Fellows toured the Fullers’ Australian circuit in the early 1920s and then, as Bobby Folson, Great Britain and the USA. She returned to Australia (as Effie Fellows) a number of times during the 1920s and continued performing into the 1930s.
NELLIE M. FERGUSON
aka Nellie Ferguson
Pianist, singer, musical monologist.
A student of Sydney pianist/teacher G. Vern Barnett, Nellie M. Ferguson (often billed simply as Nellie Ferguson) was a classically-trained pianist who gave numerous recitals during the 1920s and 1930s, both on the concert stage and on radio. Her first known broadcast performance was as a singer during a student recital broadcast from King’s Hall in December 1925. Ferguson’s radio appearances, often billed as either “piano and songs,” or “entertainer at the piano” were typically presented as part of variety programmes and sometimes included musical monologues. Her association with variety entertainment included occasional stage performances, notably with Ike Beck‘s New South Wales touring company in the early 1930s.
Not to be confused with well-known stage and film actress Nellie Ferguson (aka Baby Ogden) the daughter of actors Richard Ogden and Helen Furgus. This Nellie Ferguson also occasionally appeared on radio during the same period (presenting monologues and acting in dramatic and comedy sketches).
FERRY THE HUMAN FROG
aka Ferry the Frog / The Mystery Man
Considered one of the greatest contortionists to visit Australasia, Ferry the Frog toured the region three times (1899-1903, 1920-23, and 1945-46). Films of Ferry performing were also exhibited between ca. 1906 and 1911. Ferry’s act, which evolved over the years, was initially played out in a swamp setting and typically ran for about 15 minutes. Ferry first came to the region with McAdoo’s Minstrels and Cakewalkers in late 1899. The following year he began touring his own variety and bioscope company. Ferry’s Australasian engagements included leading vaudeville circuits (Harry Rickards, Percy Dix, and Fullers’ Theatres etc), circus and buckjumping troupes. He also featured in pantomime, burlesque and the occasional drama.
1: In Profiles of African American Stage Performers and Theatre People, 1816-1960 (2001), Bernard L. Peterson records that Ferry performed in an act with equilibrist, contortionist and character actor Billy Williams. Williams was at that time known as “the Human Frog.” (310).
2: The Camperdown Chronicle refers to Ferry as “David Mitchell, 78” (28 June 1946, 2). All other references to his non-stage name found to date record it as William Ferry.
Image source: Otago Early Settlers Association, Dunedin (NZ)
aka Buster Fiddess
(ca. 1914-1972) Comedian.
A Tivoli favourite in revue and pantomime for more than twenty years (Van Straten, Tivoli, 20), Buster Fiddess began his career in the mid-1930s performing a knockabout comedy act with his brother (as the Fiddess Bros). Although they made their Tivoli debut in 1936 the partnership folded soon afterwards and by 1938 Buster was working as a solo comedian. Highly regarded for his physical comedy style Fiddes was especially suited to playing pantomime dames. He entertained troupes during WWII and spent time in Britain (notably with the Aussie Show). Fiddes began appearing on radio from the late-1940s and later transitioned successfully into television, making numerous appearances on late-1950s and 1960s variety shows, and film – including Wake in Fright (1971).
1: Most secondary sources, including Frank Van Straten (Tivoli), Jonathan Bollen (jonathanbollen.net) and the Internet Movie Database spell the comedian’s name Fiddess. However a search for his presence in Australian newspapers via Trove (National Library of Australia) indicates that almost every review and advertisement published between 1936 and the early 1950s has the spelling Fiddes.
2: Fiddes’s Internet Movie Database (IMDb) entry also records that he was born Leslie Anderson. No source is given. Interestingly several newspapers in 1936 report on the arrest, conviction and fining of five men for selling sly-grog at a dance/cabaret called The Graham. Two of the men are named as Joshua Fiddes (waiter) and Buster Leslie Fiddes (artist). See for example Truth 11 Oct. (1936), 15. One would expect that the brothers were required to give their real names to the police and to the court. Three newspapers give Fiddes’s age as 22, while one records it as being 25.
Image source: TVRage.com
(1856-1916) Librettist, songwriter, journalist.
The son of journalist Edmund Finn Snr, Pat Finn was educated at Melbourne’s Scotch College, and like his elder brother Edmund Jnr, carved out a joint career as a journalist and writer. He collaborated on many theatrical productions – notably pantomimes, musical comedies and variety entertainments, including She (1901), Mrs Goldstein (1902, with J.F. Sheridan), and Happy Holland (1910, for Harry Rickards) – but had his greatest success as a songwriter. Although written mostly about Melbourne life his songs were nevertheless performed around the country by leading artists of the era.
- See also: Edmund Finn
A popular concert singer in Melbourne during the early 1890s, Ernest Fitts established a wider reputation in Tasmania, regional Victoria and Sydney before finding stardom in Williamson and Musgrove‘s extravaganzas Djin Djin and Matsa, Queen of Fire and their touring vaudeville company. He was a regular headline act on the Harry Rickards (Australia) and Percy Dix (New Zealand) circuits during the early 1900s, continuing his career as a concert singer and variety artist until retiring in 1909. Fitts returned to part-time performing ca. 1916 and could be heard on radio in 1926.
- See also: Bonnington’s Irish Moss
Image from Matsa, Queen of Fire program (1896). Source: State Library of Victoria.
aka Nelle Fleming / Nell Flemming
(ca. 1888-) American comedian Nell Fleming came to Australia with Arthur Aldridge in 1919 on a Tivoli contract. After a Brisbane engagement with the Town Topics (1920-22) and a return to the Tivoli in 1922, she and Aldridge parted ways. Over the next two decades Fleming was associated with numerous firms and troupes, including George Marlow, Moon and Morris, Edgley and Dawe‘s Midnight Frolics, and Paul Warton’s Frivolities. She also appeared frequently on radio in the 1930s, including sketches with George Edwards (as Darby and Joan), and in the late 1940s was employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) as its New York representative.
- See also: Arthur Aldridge
Image source: Just It 18 Nov. (1926), 9.
Claude Flemming made his professional debut in Perth in 1900 with Nellie Stewart’s company and was still on the stage 50 years later. After touring with George Rignold (1903-05) and Stewart again (1906), he spent ten years working overseas in Great Britain and the USA (including three Hollywood films). He was brought back to Australia to direct Snowy Baker’s 1918 film The Lure of the Bush and remained for two years playing Tivoli revues. After a brief return to the London stage Flemming came home in 1921, spending the next 15 years in revues and musicals. He appeared on radio between 1924 and 1950, and from the mid-1930s pursued a career in film production. He made a successful stage comeback in 1944.
Flemming’s first known “official” radio appearance occurred when the J.C. Williamson’s musical Sybil was broadcast live from Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, on 26 February 1924. Flemming was co-star along with Gladys Moncrieff. However, he and Moncrieff had previously been involved in a trial broadcast from a Melbourne office in 1919.
Image source: NYPL Digital Gallery
STAN “STUD” FOLEY
One of Australia’s leading revue and vaudeville comedians of the 1930s and 1940s, Stan Foley was raised on a property near Longreach, Queensland. Following the death of his father he moved to Brisbane, initially working for an engineering firm (where he was given the nickname “Stud”) while also presenting an act around the Brisbane suburbs in the early-1920s with Baby Iris. After securing his first long engagement at the Cremorne Theatre he went on to work around Australasia for some four decades – notably with Fullers’ Follies, Nat Phillips (as Stiffy and Stud), Paul Warton’s Frivolities, Ernest C. Rolls, Connors and Paul, Graham Mitchell’s Serenaders, his own revue troupes, and for numerous pictures and vaudeville shows. He was also heard on radio from 1934 through until at least the mid-1950s.
Foley claims to have written much of his own material right from the start of his career. The same article records that his mother accompanied him to all his shows during his juvenile years and that his grandfather had been the proprietor of the Domain Baths in Sydney for many years (“Youthful Comedian.” Advertiser 3 Sept. 1927, 4).
Although Foley’s last known engagements (identified to date through Trove) were in Brisbane in 1954, it is likely that he continued working for some time to come, and may have also appeared in early variety television shows.
Image source: Table Talk (Melbourne) 2 Apr. (1931), 16.
(1876-1940). Singer, actor, male impersonator, principle boy.
Once described as “the epitome of music hall gusto,” Florrie Forde gave her debut vaudeville performance in Sydney’s in 1892. After initially specialising in popular and comic songs she later established herself as pantomime actor. She travelled to England in 1897 quickly established herself as one of Britain’s great music hall and recording stars. She also appeared in several films in the 1930s. Although Forde never returned to perform in Australia she was heard often on radio from at least the early-1930s.
- More details
- ♫ A selection of “Florrie Forde” videos are available via the YouTubewebsite.
- See also: Queen of Hearts (pantomime). An extract from the 1937 filmed version. (sighted 20/6/2012)
FOUR ETHIOPEAN SERENADERS
(1849) This quartet of as yet unidentified performers is believed to have presented the first minstrel-style entertainment in Australia. This occurred at the Queen’s Theatre, Melbourne on 25 July 1849 under the management of Morton King. Their Serenaders’ act consisted of the song and dance numbers: “Dance the Boatmen, “Dance the Buffalo Gals” and “My Skiff is by de Shore.” It was not until the following year, with the arrival of Blythe Waterland’s Serenaders, that Australians were presented with a three-part minstrel show put on by a full company of blackface artists.
“Ethiopean” (rather than “Ethiopian”) is how the quartet was billed in advertising (see for example Argus 24 July 1842, 3).
Image: Argus 24 July (1949), 3.
FRANK, LANK & ALICE
(1915-ca. 1920) Comedy juggling and contortion act.
Frank Uren, W. Thompson (jugglers) and Alice Johnston (contortionist/juggler) established their act in early 1915, drawing much praise from critics for their extraordinary skills and original routines (which initially included a Charlie Chaplin impersonation). After signing with the Fullers the trio began tour the firm’s Australian and New Zealand circuits, cementing their reputation as one of the region’s best acts over a period of some five or six years. They also featured in the Bunyip pantomime’s “Coroboree Ballet” (1916) as Aboriginal nulla nulla jugglers and boomerang throwers. The trio also secured engagements with other leading firms, notably Harry Clay, Dix-Baker and Birch and Carroll.
NB: Uren and Johnston married in 1916.
Image source: Australian Variety 1 Mar. (1916), front cover.
Knockabout comedian, actor.
Gus Franks started out his career during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and was a popular inclusion on bills for leading firms like F.M. Clark, William Anderson, and the Fullers. Although he is known to have worked solo, Franks invariably teamed up with other comedians to present comedy sketches.
Sketch artist, singer, dancer.
Best known for her long career with husband Martyn Hagan (ca. 1895-1830), Lucy Fraser’s earliest known stage appearance was at Brisbane’s School of Arts in 1878. The following year she was engaged by Samuel Lazar at Sydney’s Theatre Royal, and in 1880 worked for Edwin Kelly and Francis Leon at their Opera House (Sydney). Over the next decade Fraser worked for many leading entertainment firms, including the Cottier’s Peoples’ Concerts, Frank Smith, George Barr, Florack’s Federal Minstrels, and George Rignold. Although linked with Martyn Hagan as early as 1888 (Ryan, Fanning and Hagen’s XLCR Co), they only occasionally appeared on the same bills until 1895. From then on they are almost always billed together.
- See also: Hagan & Fraser
The 1880 Kelly and Leon engagement saw her appear in the Sydney season of Marcus Clarke‘s controversial burlesque, The Happy Land.
aka Fredo Bros / The Fredos / The Marvellous Fredos
Born in New Zealand in the mid to late 18880s, the two Fredo brothers were raised in a show business family and for a time toured Australasia with their parents as The Flying Fredos. In addition to their highly developed acrobatic skills the pair were also gifted multi-instrumentalists and in 1914 they signed with the Tivoli circuit (as The Fredos) presenting an act that involved playing various instruments while engaged in acrobatic feats. The brothers joined the Fullers organisation in 1916 and over the next two decades toured with most of the leading companies operating in Australia, New Zealand the East.
The brothers were specialist violinists but also played wind and brass instruments. Invariably billed from the 1930s onwards as “Australia’s greatest vaudeville act,” their last known stage appearances were with Barton’s Follies during its 1940 tour of New South Wales. The brothers given names are yet to be identified.
Image source: Theatre June (1916), 39
(1873-1966) Gun trick shot artist, singer, cinema commissionaire/spruiker. [Born: Carl Theodore Fredrickson]
When Melbourne’s “Sultan of spruikers” Charles Fredricksen retired in 1956 he had spent 48 years in the business. The son of a Danish professional musician, he was born in a hotel in Majorca, Victoria, and began appearing at Melbourne’s Bijou Theatre doing a blackface song and dance routine at age 11. Fredricksen went on to develop a sharpshooting act while working as a circus musician and also did the act with his family’s touring show. Well-known for his Bourke Street ghost-house of illusions and horrors in the early 1900s he commenced his spruiking career at Hoyts Picture Palace (St George’s Hall), remaining there after it was rebuilt as Hoyts De Luxe in 1915. He was still there when it became the Esquire in 1946.”
- For more details see: Keith R. Groom. “Fredricksen, Carl Theodore (Charles) (1873–1966)” Australian Dictionary of Biography 14 (1996) – online [sighted 18/06/2013] • Robert C. Cleland. “He Worked with Blondin – And Took Pot Shots at Himself.” Showman Dec. (1956), 53.
1: Fredricksen’s reputation as a spruiker was not confined to the Victorian capital. He even received fan mail from around the world – often addressed to “the man outside Hoyts.”
2: Fredricksen claims to have invented a sharpshooting routine that has never been replicated anywhere else in the world. Looking over his shoulder with a mirror his object was to shoot a ball placed on his head using four rifles. The first rifle started a chain reaction with the other three rifles, which were positioned at the corners of a triangle. The last rifle was aimed at the ball.
Image source: Showman Dec. (1956), 53.