Practitioners [K]



Kearns, Jack [Mackellar](1872-1929) Comedian, acrobat, dancer, singer, vaudeville manager, pantomime dame.

With American acrobat Albert McKisson, Jack “Porky” Kearns carved out a successful early career during the 1890s before going solo in the early 1900s. He later toured throughout Australasia and Far East with his wife, Ida Tauchert, and daughter Vera. Considered a leading pantomime dame, he continued performing up until his death. He also co-produced the first Stiffy and Mo season for Fullers’ Theatres in 1916.

Image ca. 1924-1929. Courtesy of Colin Mackellar and Charles Dandy (private collection).



(1894-) Soubrette, comedian, singer.

Kearns, Vera - cu [SLSA]The daughter of comedian Jack Kearns and soubrette Ida Tauchert, Vera Kearns spent much of her childhood touring the variety circuits of Australia, New Zealand, and the East with her parents. Following the death of her mother in 1913 Kearns continued to tour with her father up until shortly before her marriage in 1917.

  • For further details see Jack Kearns‘ entry.
Image: State Library of South Australia.



Keating, ClaraSerio, dancer, comedian

Clara Keating established her reputation in the early 1900s, appearing under Harry Rickards between ca. 1903 and 1908. In 1910 she formed a partnership with comedian/dancer Claude Golding and together they toured internationally for nine years. Following Golding’s death in 1919 she teamed up with English comedian Harry Ross. They toured largely for the Fullers and Harry Clay between 1921 and Ross’s death in 1927. In 1926 she introduced her stage character “Fluffy” in Ross’s revusicals – initially opposite Will Gilbert (“Billo”), and later with Joe Rox (“Rusty”) and Ted Stanley (“Tibby”). Keating’s last known engagements were with Stanley McKay’s Gaieties and the George Drew Musical Comedy Company in the early 1930s.



Keating & Ross [E 30 Mar 1921, 5](1919-ca. 1927) Harry Ross and Clara Keating teamed up in the USA following the death of Keating’s former husband/partner Claude Golding. They toured their rapid-fire patter act (which saw Ross the lofty young straightman feeding the 5ft tall Keating) through the USA and possibly Great Britain before coming to Australia in 1921 for Fullers’ Theatres. Although the couple later worked for several other Australian firms they were mostly associated with the Fullers and Harry Clay. Ross also produced revusicals and toured the Harry Ross Revue Company (featuring Keating) for Clay’s company. His death in August 1927, at the age of 35, brought about the end of the partnership.

Ross’s revue company was also known as The Joybringers.
Image source: Everyone’s (Sydney) 30 Mar. 1921, 5.



aka Mrs J.P. Knowles

Keeling, Vivie [MP 22 Oct. 1903, 29][1880-1958) English-born singer, actress [Born Annie Elizabeth Keeling in Whittingham, Derbyshire]

A well-regarded contralto, Vivie Keeling’s career as an entertainer (ca. 1897-1925) ranged from concert and vaudeville appearances to musical theatre and. Although much of her early and later life was spent in Tasmania, where her parents immigrated to, Keeling lived in Melbourne with her husband, J.P. Knowles, for some ten years following their marriage in 1903. Her engagements there included roles in J.C. Williamson operettas and musical comedies, and vaudeville appearances with J.C. Bain and James Brennan, for whom Knowles was employed as pianist/music director. After the couple settled in Hobart sometime prior to 1915 Keeling continued to perform locally while also helping her husband manage several hotels.

Keeling was sometimes billed as Mrs J. P. Knowles.
Punch (Melbourne) 22 Oct. 1903, 29.



Endman, comic, singer, writer.

A member of C.B. HicksGeorgia Minstrels during its 1877 tour of Australia, African-American comedian Sam Keenan remained in the country after the troupe disbanded and went on to establish himself as one of Australia’s most influential minstrels performers of the 1880s and 1890s, notably as one of Hiscocks’ Federal Minstrels (1883-1888). Two of his most popular partnerships were with fellow African-American comedians Johnny Matlock and Alf Moynham. He toured his own company in 1889 and made frequent feature appearances in such plays as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Octoroon.



(1926-1927) Song, piano and dance act

American tenor/pianist Fred Witt, a former “harmony boy” (with Mike Connors, toured with singer/dancer Jean Keith for a little over a year, largely playing the Fullers‘ circuit. The pair also appeared as between-films entertainments on a number of occasions. Billing their act as “happiness in every song,” Keith and Witt performed solos and duos accompanied Witt’s on piano. Keith also utilised her skills as a dancer to entertain audiences. Their first established engagement was at Sydney’s Rialto cinema in July 1926. Their last was possibly in Brisbane at the Empire Theatre in April 1927.

The 1926 Rialto engagement billed the pair as coming direct from the Tivoli. A Trove search has not found any reference to Keith and Witt playing the Tivoli circuit prior to July 1926. Also, neither artist appears to have had any individual association with the circuit in the lead up to the Rialto season.



aka Keith’s Merry Jesters / Keith Connolly’s Syncopating Jesters / Gladys Shaw’s Syncopating Jesters

Keith's Syncopating Jesters [Sharon Connolly](1925-1927) Comedy jazz band.

Led by comedian/singer Keith Connolly and his comedienne/ musician sister Gladys Shaw, Keith’s Syncopating Jesters presented “jazzmania and funniosities” (music, comedy and dancing). First identified with the Tivoli organisation, the eight-member group made its debut for that firm at Sydney’s Haymarket Theatre in late-1925. Although often described as comprising “international musicians” during its time on the Tivoli circuit, the group was later revealed to be all-Australian. The Jesters appeared on radio and later toured for Ike Beck, Harry Clay and Fullers’ Theatres. The group also headlined its own brief vaudeville tour in 1927. When Connolly left in late-1927 to tour with his new wife, Elsie Hosking, the group briefly toured as Gladys Shaw’s Syncopating Jesters.

Image source: Sharon Connolly



Variety entertainer, actor, producer.

After arriving in Australia in 1923, Alec Kellaway worked extensively for Fullers’ Theatres as a specialist singer and comedian. Associated with Nat Phillips’s Whirligigs during the mid to late 1920s he later appeared in numerous musical comedies and revues. In the early 1940s he assisted Wallace Parnell produce numerous productions for Tivoli Theatres Australia before taking over the role of producer in 1944 under David N. Martin’s direction.

  • More details
  • See also: Jack Kellaway [below] • Sylvia Kellaway [below]



(ca. 1903-1941) Variety entertainer, comedian, actor.

Jack Kellaway, as with his brother Alec, established himself as a comedian after arriving in Australia in the early 1920s. With the Fullers’ Theatres he was associated with F. Gayle Wyer’s Band Box Company and Nat Phillips’ Whirligigs (as Roy Rene‘s replacement, ‘Erb). He and his wife Sylvia worked a vaudeville act in London in the early 1930s and after returning to Australia he secured work in musical comedies with J.C. Williamson’s.

  • More details
  • See also: Alec Kellaway [above] • Sylvia Kellaway [below]



aka Sylvia Gardner

Soubrette, theatre/film actress, dancer, choreographer.

The daughter of Sydney racing identity Jimmy Gardiner, Sylvia Gardner trained as a dancer under Chrissie Royal and in 1922 secured a minor role in the George Marlow pantomime Little Bo-Peep. This led to her joining F. Gayle Wyer’s Band Box Revue Company on the Fullers circuit in early 1923. Over the remainder of the decade she largely engaged as a soubrette and ballet mistress by Nat Phillips (Stiffy and Mo and Whirligigs companies). She became known professionally as Sylvia Kellaway following her marriage to Jack Kellaway. The pair toured Great Britain as a vaudeville act in the early 1930s and after coming home she appeared in several films. Kellaway continued her theatrical career into the late-1960s.

See also: Alec Kellaway [above]• Jack Kellaway [above]

Following the death of Jack Kellaway in 1941, Sylvia Kellaway remarried sometime in the late-1940s. Her second husband, Englishman H. F. Hayle, was an agent for the P & O shipping line when he came to Australia ca. 1948. In 1951 he was appointed to the position of Officer in Charge of the migrant hostels by the New South Wales government.
Image source:



Kellermann, Annette [Library of Congress]

(1887-1975) Swimmer, diver, physical culture performer, film actress, musician, writer, fashion designer. [Born Annette Marie Sarah Kellerman in Sydney]

Arguably the world’s greatest aquatic performer, Annette Kellerman, was afflicted with rickets as a child and was forced to wear leg braces throughout her childhood. Swimming eventually helped correct most of the problems and also led to her becoming an internationally recognised long-distance swimmer. Having moved to Melbourne in the early 1900s she performed a mermaid routine at Prince’s Court (St Kilda) in 1905 and the following year created a vaudeville act that initially involved a huge water tank and much diving and swimming. She later included diabolo demonstrations, wire-walking, acrobatics, violin playing, singing, and comedy physical culture and male impersonation routines. Kellerman appeared in more than 20 films and also wrote several books.

1: Newspapers and magazines often spelled Kellerman’s name with two n’s (i.e. Kellermann) during her career.
2: She has been honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and been inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame. She has had a hospital wing (King George Hospital, Sydney) and a swimming pool (Marrickville) named after her, and been the subject of a bio-pic, Million Dollar Mermaid (1952, starring Esther Williams) and a documentary, The Original Mermaid (2003). The sport of syncronised swimming and the introduction of modern women’s swimming attire are also attributed to Kellerman.
Image source: Library of Congress.



(ca. 1830-1900) Irish-born comedian, singer, interlocutor, troupe proprietor, actor, manager, doctor.

Kelly, Edwin 1 [HTC]After graduating as a surgeon from London’s St. George’s Hospital, Edwin J. Kelly moved to the USA to establish a practice in Boston but found himself drawn to minstrelsy. Possessing a fine tenor voice he debuted with Ordway’s Aeoloians in 1858 and later found fame with Kelly and Leon’s Minstrels (1863-1880). He and Francis Leon brought their company to Australia in 1878 where it  remained a single entity until August 1880. Thereafter Leon toured Kelly and Leon’s Minstrels (1880-81), while Kelly operated Kelly and Leon’s Comedy Opera Co. In September 1881 Kelly joined George’ Musgrove’s London Opera Comique and later worked for Williamson, Garner and Musgrove, Rignold and Allison, and Mrs Brown-Potter among others. He died in Adelaide during an engagement with the Myra Kemble Company.

1: Edwin Lester, a member of Kelly and Leon’s Minstrels and also Edwin Kelly’s son by his first wife, carved out a long career in Australia.
2: The 1867 Kelly/Sharpley shooting: On December 11, 1867 Kelly and Francis Leon were involved in an argument outside a New York Theatre with Tom Sharpe and his brother Sam Sharpley (a rival minstrel troupe manager). While Sharpley chased Leon in an attempt to bash him, Kelly and Sharpe struggled on the footpath. Kelly eventually managed to pull out his pistol and shoot Sharpe dead. Sharpley meanwhile fired his gun a Kelly, grazing the entertainer in the head. Kelly was arrested for murder but after a sensational trial was found not guilty due to self-defense. For further details see: Ben Williams. “The Gay Life is a Drag.” QSalt Magazine 5 Aug. 2010.
Please Note: Two online resources imply that Edwin Kelly was homosexual but provide no supportive evidence. In his 2012 article for QSalt Magazine Ben Williams, for example, writes that Kelly and Leon were “probably” lovers. He also states categorically that Kelly later became the lover of American actor W.H. Leake. In the first instance Williams has likely assumed that Kelly’s long partnership with female impersonator Francis Leon was founded on more than business and theatrical concerns. In the second, he has possibly misread and expanded on comments made by Mel Moratti in his Gilbert and Sullivan website. For the “Theatre in Melbourne in 1881” page (last modified in 2006), Moratti writes that Kelly and American actor W.H. Leake had become “involved” in the early 1880s and that both men were “strong friends.” The “relationship” innuendo appears to be confirmed by the fact that Kelly was interned in Leake’s grave (this was arranged in part by entrepreneur J.C. Williamson). While  Kelly and Leake’s friendship is confirmed in a number of newspaper reports published in the wake of Kelly’s death, the assumption that they were homosexual is questionable, especially  given that each left behind a widow. The twice-married Kelly was also survived by four children – the youngest aged eight.  [See “Obituary.” Chronicle (Adelaide) 7 Jan. 1899, 21; “Death of Mr W.H. Leake.” Lorgnette (Melbourne) 4 Mar. 1892, 3]. It is also extremely unlikely that J.C. Williamson, then Australia’s highest profile theatrical manager, would have helped arrange for Kelly to be buried in Leake’s grave had there been any suggestion of an intimate relationship between the two men. The risk of damage to Williamson’s personal reputation and business interests would have been too great, especially as the joint grave is located in an Adelaide cemetery. Commonly referred to as the “city of churches” Adelaide had already established a reputation for being Australia’s most conservative state capital.
Image source: Houghton Library, Harvard University.



Kemble, Lindsay [CA 8 June 1918, 25](1894-1976) Female impersonator, dancer, singer. [Born Lindsay David Kemble in Kooringa (later Burra), South Australia]

Nineteen year-old Lindsay Kemble achieved nationwide fame after he was arrested in Adelaide in January 1915 dressed as a woman. His celebrity status led to the making of a short comedy film based on his escapades during the two months he posed as a young French woman and turned him into an overnight headline vaudeville act. After enlisting in the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.) in 1916 he served briefly with the 3rd Battalion before joining the 1st Divisional Concert Party (aka Sentimental Blokes). Kemble toured Australia and New Zealand as a female impersonator for much of the 1920s with troupes such as the All Diggers, Con Moreni‘s Ideals and the Smart Set Diggers, and was a Sydney-based actor in the 1930s.

Kemble was reportedly a barman in Mackay, Queensland, after World War II.
This overview contributed by Sarah Minty. Image Source: Chronicle (Adelaide) 8 June 1918, 25.



aka Billy Kerr / Bill Kerr

(1922-2014) Actor (stage, radio, film, television), vaudeville entertainer [Born: William Henry Kerr in Cape Town, South Africa]

Kerr, Willie [P&C 220]Bill Kerr came to Australia as a child and (as Willie Kerr) quickly established himself as a celebrity in Wagga Wagga (New South Wales). He appeared in Melbourne at the Tivoli and Bijou theatres in 1931 (the latter during George Wallace‘s season) and after securing a contract with Efftee Studios featured in Harmony Row (1933) and The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934), before touring Australia and internationally with the Young Australia League (1934-35). Kerr’s juvenile career (as either Willie or Billy) included numerous ABC radio broadcasts and the 1938 film Mother Earth. After the war he worked in British vaudeville, and from the 1950s (as Bill Kerr) established himself as a distinguished stage, radio, film and television actor (in the Britain and Australia).

NB 1: Once described as ” a master of laconic understatement,” Kerr’s big British break-though was as a Tony Hancock’s “Aussie” off-sider in the hit radio series Hancock’s Half Hour (1954-59).
NB 2: Kerr’s mother, known professionally as Annie Roberts, had worked in Australia and internationally for such people as J.F. Sheridan, J.C. Williamson, and Oscar Asche.
Image:  Scene from The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934). Source: Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900-1977 (1980), 220.



Baritone/character vocalist/manager.

Stan Kerridge started out as an illustrated singer. Although considered one of the country’s leading character vocalists he was forced to retire in 1912 due to health problems. He returned to the entertainment industry in 1924 as Harry Clay‘s manager at the Bridge Theatre, Newtown (Sydney), having spent the intervening years involved in various commercial interests. He remained with the company until it closed in 1929.



(1828-1894) Singer (basso), musician (banjo/guitar), business manager, tour manager, treasurer, agent, hotelier. [Born in Boston, USA]

James E. Kitts started his minstrel career in San Francisco at age 21 and came to Australia in 1851 with the New York Serenaders. After touring the East Indies and India he spent some two years back in Australia (1853-54) before returning to the East (and Mauritius) with a re-organised Serenaders company. Kitts settled in Australia in 1856 and turned to the legitimate stage in 1857 as manager for The Starks and then Anna Bishop. He began his 19 year association with W.S. Lyster in 1861, first as a singer and later as business/tour manager and treasurer. During this period he travelled extensively, including tours to New Zealand, the USA and Britain.

1: During his early years in Australia as a minstrel performer Kitts was heavily involved in many aspects of the emerging local industry, and in this respect played a significant role in helping it develop.
2: After Lyster’s death Kitts briefly ran the Barkley Hotel in Carlton (Melbourne) before returning to a theatrical life. His late career saw him associated with tragedian John Dewhurst (as agent), entertainer Cecil Forrester (1886, as tour manager), Madam Simonsen (New Zealand tour manager), and Emelie Melville (as business manager). He also managed Melbourne’s Bijou Theatre (ca. 1891).
3: Kitts’ wife, Mary, whom he married in 1871, died in December 1892. Survived by his two children, his son is believed to have pursued a legal career.



aka Jean Kohlman / Kaiser Kohlman

(1862-1921) Multi-instrumentalist, comedian, singer, troupe manager. [Born: Jantz Charles Kohlman in Richmond, Victoria]

Jantz Kohlman’s 25 year semi-professional career was largely associated with Melbourne’s People’s Concerts. His earliest known performance at the Temperance Hall institution was on Boxing Night 1885 billed as Jean Kohlman and his Musical Moments (his last was in 1913). Before teaming up with Johnny Gardner in 1892 he also appeared around Melbourne with various companies, including Easton and Ashworth’s Specialty Union, and toured a troupe around regional Victoria and southern New South Wales. After the Kohlman and Gardner act ended in 1908 he worked a similar partnership with Edward Bartlett for several years. Among the instruments he played were mouth organ, ocarina, concertina and imitation bagpipes.

Kohlman was seriously injured in a shooting incident in Richmond in early October 1889 after he and two other men (one being his brother Frederick) were caught stealing vegetables from a garden owned by a Chinese man. The incident received widespread newspaper reportage through until the trial in December that year. Kohlman went bankrupt in 1890, claiming bad health as one of the reasons.



(1890-1908) Comedy Instrumentalists, singers, sketch writers/actors

“Celebrated instrumental comedian” Jantz Kohlman and “eccentric Ethiopian comic” Johnny Gardner are believed to have first performed together before the public at a charity concert put on at Collingwood Town Mall (Melbourne) in early April 1890. Their “Musical Moments” turn went over so well that they subsequently began working together on a regular basis. Over the next two decades the pair was largely associated with the People’s Concerts at Temperance Hall. In addition to their “instrumental burlesques” Kohlman and Gardner also wrote and appeared in sketches and farces such as “the New Guinea Chief,” “Barnum’s Baby Elephant,” and “Rough on Rats.” Their last known performance together was in 1908.

After ending their partnership Jantz Kohlman briefly worked a similar act with Edward Bartlett (ca. 1909-1910). Johnny Gardner returned to working solo.



Male impersonator, principal boy, pianist, descriptive vocalist,

Nellie Kolle first toured Australia in 1912 for the Brennan-Fuller organisation, and over the next two decades established herself as one of the country’s great vaudeville singers and male impersonators. During the mid-1920s she travelled around Australia with her own vaudeville show and continued performing in pantomimes, revue and in concerts up until the 1950s. Kolle’s association with radio began in the late-1920s and she was still active in the medium more than two decades later. During her later years she was particularly popular with community singing events.


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 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm  Comments Off on Practitioners [K]