Practitioners [R]

Racoons to Rinaldo ……. p.1
Roberts to Ruddles ……. p.2

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VIC ROBERTS

English-born theatre, film, and radio scriptwriter.

Vic Roberts first came to Australia around 1926/27 as a comedian and in 1928 directed his own companies The Mirthquakers (Brisbane) and Smilestones (Perth) before heading back to Britain. After returning to Australia in the early 1930s he became a much sort-after writer, working in theatre, film and radio. One of his earliest film scripts was a collaboration with George D. Parker on Roy Rene’s [above] 1934 film Strike Me Lucky. Although it has been claimed that Roberts contributed scripts for Stiffy and Mo no evidence of his contributions (if any) have yet been identified.

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AMY ROCHELLE

(1898-1978) Soprano, pantomime principal boy, child impersonator, pianist, musical comedy artist.

Sydney Conservatorium-trained singer, Amy Rochelle made her first stage appearance in 1912 aged 14. After becoming one of Harry Clay‘s leading attractions (1914-1918) she spent the next 10 years on the Fullers’ Theatres circuit – notably as a pantomime principal boy and with Nat Phillips’ Stiffy and Mo Revue Company. She also expanded her vaudeville repertoire with child impersonations and as a pianist. Rochelle continued performing into the 1950s, appearing on radio as a singer and actor. Her first husband was Harry R. Kitching (editor of Australian Variety and occasional manager/producer).

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ALF ROCKLEY

(ca. 1873-1930) New Zealand-born comedian, endman, acrobat, poet, actor, troupe manager, iron worker.

Once described as the “smiling cuss,” Alf Rockley was the younger brother of comedian Wal Rockley and is thought to have followed his brother to Australia in the early 1890s, initially securing work in small-time touring variety troupes before landing a part in George Coppin‘s 1892 pantomime Babes in The Woods. The following year the brothers (billed as “celebrated acrobats”) featured in the “thrilling Irish drama” Ayma-na-Nick; Or, The Rebel Chief (Melbourne). They continued to work together off and on for almost three decades. Rockley appears to have retired from showbusiness in 1920, his last recorded engagement being at Sydney’s Alhambra Theatre with Bert Howard‘s Razzle-Dazzle company. His brother was also in the company.

  • See also: Rockley Brothers [below] • Wal Rockley [below]
1: While never reaching the same level of acclaim as his brother, Alf Rockley was nevertheless regarded as a quality comedian, and worked for most of the leading managers of the day, including Harry Rickards, Harry Clay, James Brennan, and the Fullers. He also toured in pantomime and musical comedy for Philip Lytton (ca. 1910).
2: Rockley was killed on 28 October 1930 while working as a fitter’s assistant at the Homebush Abattoirs. According to the numerous reports published around the country, he died instantly when a piece of iron weighing 20 lbs (9 kg) fell on his head from some 50 ft (15m). Descriptions of his injuries ranged from a fractured skull to his head being pulverised. Interestingly Rockley’s age was reported variously as being 20, 30, 40 or 45. His age at that time can, however, be ascertained from his  appearance before a Sydney court in 1896 on a charge of assaulting a constable. His age was given as 23 (Walter’s age was recorded as 27). If correct this would have made Alf 57 years of age at his death (see Rockley Brothers entry below for further details of the 1896 assault charge).

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LILY ROCKLEY

rockley-lily-sts-29-apr-1923-3(Aust: ca. 1903-1916) Singer, comedian, musician (piano), dancer, actress.

The daughter of comedian Wal Rockley, Lillian Rockley’s earliest recorded stage appearances were in 1903 and 1904 when she performed in a cake walk at a Sydney Grand Bal Masque (1903) and sang at Australian Native Association (A.N.A.) meetings (1904). Between 1906 and 1914 she and her father toured together, working as both solo artists and as comedy sketch partners (The Two Rockleys). She began working independently in 1915, initially as a solo act, then briefly with the Rockley Revue Girls, before teaming up with Olga Pennington in 1916 as the Australian Sapphires. The pair toured the USA vaudeville circuits that same year. Rockley remained in America as a vaudeville artist and eventually carved out a career there in musical comedy and opera.

1: In 1903 Rockley was identified as a student of a Miss Connolly, a Sydney-based teacher of juvenile performers. Another of Connolly’s students at that time was Queenie Paul (Sunday Times 30 Aug. 1903, 2). Sydney’s Sunday Times also records that Rockley debuted her father’s song “Young Australia,” at one A.N.A. meeting (“Social Items.” 7 Feb. 1904, 2). Although Wal Rockley also entertained at these shows he and Lily performed as separate acts.
2: Rockley’s early career was also at times undertaken in association with her uncle, Alf Rockley (although the two do not appear to have worked a regular act together).
3: She married American theatrical director and radio producer Charles Lewis Carrell. He died in either January 1934 or December 1933. The couple had at least one child, a son called Charles. In 1946 Lily Carrell was living in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
Image source: Sunday Times (Sydney) 23 Apr. (1923), 3.

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WAL ROCKLEY

(1869-1946) New Zealand-born comedian, acrobat, director (stage/radio)

rockley-wal-tbt-29-feb-1912-14A true veteran of Australasian variety entertainment, Walter John Rockley’s extraordinary career began as a teenager in the early-1880s and continued into the mid-1940s. A specialist in minstrelsy, vaudeville, revue, and pantomime, he performed as both a solo comedian or in partnership with other artists – notably Alf Rockley (Rockley Brothers), his daughter Lily Rockley, or with established comedians like Tom Sadler. It has also been said that there were few Australian towns or cities he didn’t play at least once, and very few firms or managers he didn’t work for either. During the 1930s Rockley also headlined and produced his own minstrel shows on radio.

1: Rockley’s earliest recorded stage appearance was in Thames, New Zealand on 11 December 1887 with the Perman Mohawk Minstrels. This engagement suggests that he had been working as a comedian for at least a couple of years. His first known Australian performance was with the same company at the Theatre Royal, Hobart beginning 4 August 1888, while his last known stage appearance was in Newcastle in June 1946 at a Veterans of Variety show. In addition to Australia and New Zealand Rockley is also known to have worked in Manila, Philippines (ca. 1900).
2: Some of the firms and troupes Rockley appeared with were Lizzie Hastings Minstrels, Harry Rickards, Cogills, Harry Clay, J.C. Williamson, Tivoli Circuit Australia, Ted Holland, Dan Tracey, Frank Smith, Dix-Baker, Fullers’ Theatres, J.C. Bain, Frank Reis, K-Nuts, Continental Vaudeville Co, Post Mason, Happy Harry Salmon, and Bambury and White.
3: Rockley died at his home in Lewisham, Sydney on 12 December 1946, aged 77. He was survived by his wife, Nellie, daughter Lillian, and grandson, Charles.
Image source: Table Talk (Melbourne) 29 Feb. (1912), 14.

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ROCKLEY BROTHERS

(ca. 1893-1920) Comedy sketch, acrobatic, patter and song and dance act.

Walter Rockley and his younger brother Alf worked together off and on (either as a duo or as solo artists) between the early 1890s and 1920. Their first known joint-engagement was as specialty acrobats in the Irish drama Ayma-na-Nick; Or, The Rebel Chief at Melbourne’s Alexandra Theatre in 1893. At the time Wal was in his mid-20s while Alf was barely out of his teens. By the end of the 1890s the brothers had become stars on Harry Rickards‘ circuit. Their appearances together over the next two decades with various companies were typically a highlight of most programmes. Their last known engagement together was with Bert Howard‘s Razzle-Dazzle company at the Alhambra Theatre, Sydney in 1920.

  • See also: Alf Rockley [above] • Wal Rockley [above]
1: Another brother, Jim, is also believed to have been involved in the variety industry around the turn of the century.
2: On several occasions the brothers found themselves arrested and brought before a magistrate. Their own tour of regional Victoria in 1893, for example, saw Wal and other member of the company, Charles Davis, arrested in Macorna and returned to Kerang where they were charged with having failed to pay local creditors. Rockley argued that his brother Alf, who he identified as the troupe’s manager, had disappeared with the money and that he and Davis were in the process of trying to arrange payment of their debts. Although the two men were eventually discharged for lack of evidence, the judge acknowledged that the actions of the police had been justified [For further details see “Court of Petty Sessions.” Kerang Times 19 Dec.1893, 2]. In 1896 the brothers were convicted of maliciously assaulting a police constable in Hyde Park, Sydney, and sentenced to nine months hard labour [ For further details see “Waylaid in the Park.” Evening News 1 June 1896, 2].

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BILLY ROMAINE

Romaine, Billy [SLNSW]American-born composer, jazz musician and dance band conductor. [Born: William H. Pittack, possibly in Seattle, Washington]

Billy Romaine came to Australia in 1912 under contract to Fullers’ Theatres. He was later involved in setting up a number of dance halls in Sydney and engaged as bandleader at the White City Ballroom. In 1918 he toured Australia’s first jazz band for the Fullers and during the 1920s was associated with the Palais Royal and Glacarium dance venues (Sydney). The early-1930s saw Romaine engaged as music director at Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre (1931-32) and Newcastle’s Empire Palais (1933), while also appearing on radio. His career continued up until at least 1948, and included entertaining troops in Papua New Guinea.

Image source: Hood Collection, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

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MAURICE ROOKLYN

(1905-1992) Magician, bullet-catcher.

Rooklyn, Maucie [Rooklyn]Maurice Rooklyn (best remembered as the “Human Target”) was born in London and immigrated to Australia with his parents in 1912. By age 12 he was performing an amateur magic act in Sydney with his brother Harry. When a “Substitution Trunk” trick went wrong Harry abandoned magic for a career as a vaudeville musician. Maurice began his professional career in 1920, initially mixing magic with juggling, ventriloquism and mind-reading and in 1928 was elected President of the Australian Magicians’ Club. He devised his own “bullet-catching” act in 1934 (with a .303 rifle) and was shot twice while performing it.

  • For further details see: Maurice Rooklyn. Spherical Sorcery and Recollections of a Pro’: A Treatise of Advanced Manipulations with Billiard Balls and Memoirs of a Magician (1973) • Kent Blackmore. “Maurice Rooklyn, The Human Target.” Magic in Sydney [sighted 21/05/2014]

Rooklyn, Maucie - act [Rooklyn]

Images sourced from Maurice Rooklyn.

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HARRY ROSS [1]

Australian tenor, revusical actor.

After establishing his reputation with one of J.C. Williamson’s companies, Harry Ross toured with the Grotesques Comedy Co in 1912 and the following year joined the American Burlesque Company as a member of the Grafters Quartette, and later toured the Fullers circuit with Paul Stanhope’s Revue Company. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.) in 1916 and was eventually assigned to an Australian concert party (the Anzac Coves). With that troupe he performed both at the Front and in England. After returning to Australia Ross rejoined the Fullers’ organisation, appearing in revusicals with the Tom Haverley Musical Comedy Co (1919-20) and Walter George’s Sunshine Players (ca. 1920-22) and in the mid to late 1920s was a member of George’s Smart Set. He was also often on radio during the 1920s and 1930s.

Image source: Mail (Adelaide) 20 Nov. (1926), 16.

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HARRY ROSS [2]

(1892-1927) English-born variety singer, comedian, musician, patterologist, revue company leader, writer, and director. [Born Henry Edwin Dorsett in East London, England]

Professional British soldier Henry Dorsett started out his career as a variety entertainer after being demobilised in England in 1919. He soon afterwards adopted the stage name Harry Ross and while in the USA teamed up with Australian soubrette/comedian Clara Keating. The partnsership saw Ross invariably play the straightman to Keating’s comedian role. They brought their rapid-fire patter act to Australia in 1921 for Fullers’ Theatres and were later associated with Harry Clay. Ross eventually went on to write and produce revusicals for Clay’s company and toured his own troupes – the Harry Ross Revue Company (aka The Joybringers). He died on 11 August 1927.

Dorsett spent most of his military career as a musician (trumpeter). He served with the British Army in England and Bermuda (1907-1912), and after enlisting with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917 was posted to England.
Family history details contributed by Carmen King (great niece). Additional information provided by Tony King (great nephew).

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MADELINE ROSSITER

Singer, dancer, song-writer, violinist, actress.

The daughter of a well-known British concert performer, Madeline Rossiter first toured Australia in 1914 as a member of the Royal Strollers (with Sydney James). She returned to Australia in 1919 following James’ death in the East and was later associated with the Town Topics, the Famous Diggers, Tivoli Frolics and the English Pierrots. A number of her songs were also published in Australia during the 1920s. Rossiter left Australia for the East in 1925 and soon afterwards formed her own musical comedy company.

  • žžž۩  “On the Promenade” (1913) by Madeline Rossiter [NLA Digital Collection, Sheet Music]
  • ۩  “I Cannot Forget” (ca. 1910s) by Madeline Rossiter [NLA Digital Collection, Sheet Music]
  • ۩  “Josie” (1923) by Madeline Rossiter/Oswald Anderson [NLA Digital Collection, Sheet Music]

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AMY ROWE

(1860-) Singer (double-voiced), entertainer, actress.

Able to sing in both the soprano and tenor ranges, Amy Row to prominence with Tommy Hudson‘s troupe in 1879. Over the next decade she appeared in companies operated by Alf Lawton, W. Horace Bent and R.G. Bachelder, the Raynor brothers, F.M. Clark and Frank Smith. She also appeared at the Peoples’ Concerts (Melbourne) and made a return to Hudson’s Surprise Party. The early 1890s saw Rowe cement her reputation with Dan Tracey, Delohery, Craydon and Holland, J. Billin and Percy St John before her Australian career crashed and burned in June 1896 following salacious divorce revelations concerning several adulterous affairs. Rowe spent the next 12 months working New Zealand (where the controversy was less reported). Her last known stage appearances were with Collet Dobson’s Dramatic Company in mid-1897.

1: In the 1896 divorce court proceedings Rowe is identified as “Rebecca Richardson (aka Amy Rowe).” She and her husband, civil servant William Richardson, had married in St Kilda, Melbourne in 1878. In his petition, Richardson claimed misconduct on the part of his wife, claiming she had committed adultery with a man named Gardener (possibly one of the Gardner brothers), as well as a singer called Edwin Herbert. He also told the court that his wife was currently living with a coloured man called William Byron, otherwise “Pompey.” The judge eventually dismissed the petition. His rationale was that while [Rowe’s] misconduct had been established, Richardson was equally also to blame in allowing his wife to travel freely around Australia and New Zealand for lengthy periods. Richardson later appealed the decision to the High Court with success. Details relating to the divorce were published in numerous newspapers throughout Australia.
2: In late-August 1898 a woman identified as “Amy Perryman (otherwise Amy Rowe)” was charged, along with her husband, Robert Perryman, of assault and robbery in Melbourne. The pair was given nine months and twelve months gaol respectively. It is presently unclear if Amy Perryman/Rowe was the same person as the singer, Amy Rowe. None of the newspaper reports of the incident and trial note any connection. See for example “Alleged Assault and Robbery.” Age 22 Aug. 1898, 7; and “Larceny from the Person.” Herald 3 Sept. 1898, 4.

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DR ROWE AMD MYSTIC MORA

Rowe, Doc & Mystic Mora [SLV]

(1880-1952) Richard Rowe: Conjurer, hypnotist, theatre lessee, author [Born in Ballarat, Victoria]; Mystic Mora (-1965): Telepathist [aka Maud Rowe]

Richard Rowe started performing stage magic in 1895 and by 1900 was a popular act at Melbourne’s People’s Concerts. During the early 1900s he worked for John Fuller (New Zealand), Ted Holland, J.C. Bain, Ada Delroy, James Brennan etc, and toured Britain before teaming up with Mystic Mora (ca. 1912). They toured for the Harry Clay, Fullers’ Theatres, Dix-Baker and Birch and Carroll circuits and with troupes like Post Mason’s Mahatma Company before undertaking their first tour of the East (including China, Java and the Malay States) in 1916. Later international engagements included the USA, Great Britain, and Jamaica. After settling in Melbourne in the late-1920s, Rowe became President of the Australian Magicians Club.

Rowe’s billing people’s Concerts billing in 1900 refers to him as “Dr Rowe, world-renowned prestidigitateur, necromancer [and] magician.” No evidence has yet been found that supports such a claim. During the 1920s the Rowes toured lecture-style entertainment known as “The Mahatma Mysteries.” Rowe also published several books on magic, including Thirty Pocket Tricks That Anyone Can Do (1929) and Fifty Easy Pocket Tricks (no date).
Image source: State Library of Victoria.

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SAM ROWLEY

Comic, endman, monologist.

After establishing himself with Frank Smith during the late 1880s/early 1890s Sydney comedian Sam Rowley (“the Little Man with the Big Voice”) went on to carve out a three decades-long career in America. During that time he intermittently returned home – appearing for example with the Court Variety and Ballad Company (alongside W. Horace Bent) in 1895. His later Australian tours included engagements with Harry Rickards, Percy St John, Jones and Lawrence and Fullers’ Theatres.

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JOE ROX

(1882-1946) Comedian, writer, songwriter, director/producer, troupe proprietor. [Born Joseph Henry Toon]

The son of comedian George Rocks, Joe Rox began his career in the late-1890s and by 1902 was with Ted Holland‘s Vaudeville Company. In addition to regular billing with James Brennan (1905-12) he also worked for Holland and St John, Harry Clay, J.C. Bain, John Fuller and his sons (New Zealand), Dix-Baker and Harry Barrington among others. Rox later played a key role with Clay’s firm (1914-21, 1926), starred with Harry Borradale‘s Sparkers (1921-22), managed his own troupe (mid-1920s), toured with Stanley McKay (early-1930s), worked in radio and entertained troops in Brisbane during the war.

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BERT ROYLE

Writer, librettist, lyricist, composer, actor, and businessman.

Bert Royle came to Australia as a variety performer in 1888 and soon afterwards began his long association with J.C. Williamson. Initially employed as an actor in Williamson, Garner and Musgrove productions he was later engaged as Williamson’s literary secretary. His biggest successes were the pantomimes Djin Djin (1895) and Matsa (1896). Royle went to New Zealand in 1898 as Williamson’s representative and managed Tom Pollard’s opera productions for four years. He remained Williamson’s New Zealand representative until his death in 1929.

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DOROTHY RUDDER

aka Dorothy May

(1893-1940) Revue and pantomime artist, soprano.

Rudder 3 [Koning]Dorothy Rudder (initially known professionally as Dorothy May), appeared in numerous amateur concerts between 1914 and 1917. After touring the East with Edgar Warwick’s company (1918-19) she returned to Australia, spending the next decade associated with such troupes/firms as Harry Borradale‘s Sparklers, the Ideals of 1922, Fullers’ Theatres (notably with Walter George Sunshine Players and F. Gayle Wyer’s Bandbox Revue Co), and Harry G. Musgrove (as principal girl for The Forty Thieves, 1923). She was heard on radio regularly during the early to mid-1930s and appeared in opera in London ca. 1938 before dying suddenly in a Sydney hospital.

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THE THREE RUDDLES

aka The Ruddles / The Three Ruddles and the Miniature Charlie Chaplin

Three Ruddles [Eddy](ca. 1910-1920) Acrobatic, songs and dance act.

The Ruddle siblings, Bill, Olive and Violet likely put together their acrobatic, song and dance act sometime around 1910/11 while still juveniles. Their first known engagement was with Belcher and Smith’s Australian Vaudeville Entertainers in the Hunter Valley (New South Wales) in December 1911, at which time they were described as “wonderfully skilful.” Over the next few years they developed into a high-class act with other small-time vaudeville firms and eventually secured engagements with Harry Clay (1914-19) and Fullers’ Theatres (1915-18). By 1915 they were headlining bills on occasions or worked as feature “between films entertainment” at picture houses. Bill, the youngest, also worked in a highly popular Charlie Chaplin impersonation by 1916.

Image source: Top – John Eddy (Olive’s grandson). Thanks to Mary-Ellen Evans for corrections and additional information.

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Published on April 27, 2011 at 8:05 am  Comments Off on Practitioners [R]