Practitioners [S]

Scales to Slavin ……. p.1
Small to Sylvaney ……. p.2

JOE SMALL

(ca. 1830-1875) English-born comedian, Irish character specialist, comic singer (basso), acrobat, songwriter, businessman

Small, Joe - cu [Te Ara]Joe Small emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1836 and started his working life in Sydney as a clerk. He tried his luck at gold mining in New South Wales and Victoria during the early 1850s and while at Beechworth (Victoria) he appeared with the New Orleans Minstrels, and following the success of his song “The Unfortunate Man,” pursued a career in entertainment. Over the next two decades he travelled widely – through Australia, the East, America and New Zealand working with numerous troupes and in 1872 toured with magician Professor Haselmayer. Small started a curio import business soon afterwards but died at sea while returning to Hong Kong.

  • For further details see: Robert H. B. Hoskins. “Small, Joe.” Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (2012) [sighted 5/11/2014] • Graeme Skinner. “Small, Joe (Joseph).” Australharmony. [sighted 5/11/2014] • Clay Djubal Joe Small.” AustLit: The Australian Literature Resource (2014) [sighted 5/11/2014]
Extracts from Small’s diaries, mostly concerning his experiences on the goldfields, are included in his New Zealand and Australian Songster (1866). Published by Tribe, Mosley and Caygill (Christchurch, NZ) it comprises songs written and performed by Small up until that time. While much of his comic material concerns failure, underdogs, and human blunders, Robert H. B. Hoskins notes that a rebellious attitude is also present, a factor that no doubt gained him much popularity as a comic.
Image source: Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

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LINN SMITH

aka Lynn Smith / Lynne Smith

Smith, Lynn [STS 7 FEb 1926, 23]Linn Smith accompanied singer/songwriter Jack Wells on the Tivoli circuit in 1921, and according to one critic was the “mainstay of the act” (one stunt involved playing the piano left-handed while plucking an imaginary harp with his right hand). He toured his own jazz band between 1923 and 1929, while also working in vaudeville as a solo piano act, with pianist Albert Hanlon, and as a member of the Melody Trio. Smith appeared regularly on radio as a novelty pianist/accompanist and in revues (both radio and stage) throughout the 1930s, and was still working as a jazz musician in 1950.

The spelling of Smith’s given name alternates throughout his career, in both advertisements and reviews (Linn and Lynn are the most common representations). It is presently unclear which is correct
Image source: Sunday Times (Sydney) 7 Feb. (1926), 23.

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PHIL SMITH

English-born comedian, revusical writer, director, troupe leader, musical comedy actor/singer, dramatic actor.

Smith, Phil 1 [GR Feb 1920, 5]While working in a London warehouse Phil Smith reportedly approached producer George Edwardes and asked him for a role in The Geisha Girl. Staggered by the young man’s audacity Edwardes gave him an audition and subsequently started a career that eventually saw Smith become one of Australasia’s leading variety and theatrical comedians of the 1910s and 1920s. He made his Australian debut in J.C. Williamson‘s 1913 production of The Prince of Luxemberg, and was still working professionally in the 1940s. His variety career included engagements on the Tivoli and Fullers circuits. With the latter firm he toured his own Zig-Zag revusical troupe during the mid to late-1920s. He also appeared in four films during the 1930s.

1: The Rexona company used Smith’s testimonial in its advertisements during the late-1920s.
2: Smith’s wife was English-born variety performer/actress Jessie Barlee (they divorced in 1919). His London-born daughter also worked in Australian theatre as Mona Barlee. She made her feature film debut in George Wallace’s His Royal Highness (1932) and went on to appear in more than 50 Hollywood films between 1934 and 1953 (as Mona Barrie).
Image source: Green Room Feb. (1920), 5.

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WALLY SMITH

(ca. 1871-1916) Dancer, dance teacher.

An acclaimed dancer and teacher, whose best known students were Clyde Cook and Fred Leslie, Wally Smith won numerous trophies as an amateur before turning professional in the late 1880s/early 1890s. He is believed to have opened his own studio sometime around the turn of the century and quickly established himself as both a dance teacher and a trainer of future vaudeville performers. Smith died in early 1916 aged only 45 years.

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W. H. (BILLY) SPEED

Minstrel comedian Billy Speed first toured Australasia with Hicks-Sawyer Minstrels – later the American Coloured Minstrels (1888-91). During the early to mid-1890s he worked for Dan Tracey and Harry Rickards before co-managing several minstrel troupes with Thomas Delohery (1895-96). Speed settled in Perth between 1898 and 1903, operating various companies, including Speed and Hagan’s Comedy Co (with Martyn Hagan), and Speed’s Silk and Satin Co. He disappeared off a beach near Broome owing money but was reportedly seen in Singapore on his way to Europe the following year.

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CLARA SPENCER

(ca. 1864-) Danseuse, singer, sketch artist, equestrian

Clara Spencer and her siblings began performing in the early 1870s at their father’s Mechanical Waxworks Exhibition (Sydney). By the early 1880s she was touring Australia with Barlow’s American Circus as “Australia’s Premiere Danseuse” while also doubling as a horseback exhibitionist. She returned to variety in the mid-1880s and in 1887 joined Alf Lawton’s company. The two artists later married and toured the Antipodes, both in their own troupes and for various firms, up until Lawton’s death in 1907. Spencer soon afterwards retired from the stage to set up a teaching academy in Sydney.

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ELVIE STAGPOOLE

(ca. 1900-1964) Soubrette, comedienne, dancer, choreographer.

The daughter of variety practitioners Alec and Madge Stagpoole, Elvie Stagpoole was born in Launceston, Tasmania and trained as a dancer under Lucia Dolan. Her earliest recorded performance was at a 1914 Patriotic Fund held by Dolan in Richmond, Melbourne. Although she is known to have performed a solo dance in a pantomime staged at Sydney’s Grand Opera House in 1917, Stagpoole’s principal employment during the late-1910s was with Harry Clay (for whom her father worked as scenic artist). While engaged by Peter Brooks in Perth in 1920 she met and soon afterwards married comedian Charles “Ike” Delavale. They remained professional and personal partners until their separation in the early-1930s. Between 1923 and 1931 Stagpoole choreographed most, if not all, of her husband’s revusicals.

See also: Delavale & StagpooleAlec StagpooleThe Stagpooles [below] • Ike Delavale

1: Although Stagpoole retired from performing for several years to give birth to and look after her son John (born in 1924), she likely continued to work as her husband’s choreographer.
2. The last recorded joint appearances by Delavale and Stagpoole were in Brisbane in early 1932. The couple are believed to have separated within a year. Stagpoole’s final engagements were with George Sorlie in 1933 and Les Shipp [above] in 1934. Both were short-term contracts.
3. Stagpoole died in Potts Point, Sydney, on 21 January 1964, aged 63. Her death is recorded as being the result of a cerebral hemorrhage.

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THE STAGPOOLES

aka The Four Stagpooles

Stagpooles 1Knockabout comedy, strength/acrobatic and song and dance act.

Madge Stagpoole (soubrette), her husband, Alec (comic/singer/scenic artist) and her brother Ted (strongman/acrobat) toured their show throughout the Antipodes between ca. 1899-1908. With Ted’s wife, Ada, they toured a comedy sketch act through the USA for several years with much success. Ted was especially acclaimed for his death-defying acrobatics” They returned to Australia in 1913 after playing Cuba and the East. Alec and Madge retired from the stage two years later, leaving Ted and Ada to continue working the Australasian and international variety circuits through until the mid-1920s.

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STAMPINI

aka Guglielmo / “The Steel-Skinned Marvel” / Stampeni

(ca. 1912-1916) Acrobat, stuntman (barefoot nail and sword walker, circular saw act)

Stampini [National Archives of Aust]Although regularly billed during his career as “direct from Italy,” Guglielmo Lizzani was in fact a Melbourne billiard table maker (whether he was born in Italy or Australia is yet to be determined). He is believed to have begun his vaudeville career in 1912 as part of an acrobatic/stuntman team known as Guglielmos (or The Guglielmos), working initially in Melbourne and regional Victoria before taking up an engagement at Perth’s Shaftesbury Theatre. By 1915 he was working solo as either “Stampini” [aka “Stampeni”] or “Guglielmo” for firms such Dix-Baker (Newcastle), Harry Clay (Sydney) and the Puglieses (Sydney) before touring with Wirth’s Circus (ca. 1915-16).

Lizzani’s last known engagements (to date) were in regional Victoria in early 1916.
Image source: National Archives of Australia.

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PAUL STANHOPE

Stanhope, Paul [TT Apr 1915, 1]American-born Comedian, revusical writer/director, troupe leader.

Paul Stanhope came to Australia in 1913 with the American Burlesque Company. After it disbanded in 1914 he formed the Paul Stanhope Musical Burlesque Company and helped pioneer the Australian one act musical comedy (revusical) format with a series of shows built his partnership with comedian Les Bates. Stanhope’s character was the wild Irishman, Spike Murphy. After returning to the USA in 1916 he came back to the Antipodes in 1917 to tour the Paul Stanhope Revue Company with his wife Helen Le Cain.

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KITTY STANLEY

(1885-) Singer , actress, comedian, dancer. [Possibly born: Madge Bracey]

Madge Bracey began singing at age eight and at 14 joined the chorus of the German Grand Opera Company. She made her variety debut at Melbourne’s People’s Concerts in 1901 billed as the “brilliant soprano balladist.” The following year she married comedian George Pagden, and from around 1904 worked professionally as Kitty Stanley. Pagden and Stanley toured together, both as a double act and as individual artists, into the mid-1920s and were well-known throughout Australasia as both vaudeville artists and as revusical pioneers. Although Stanley retired from full-time performing in the late-1920s she continued to make radio appearances into the 1950s and occasionally featured at balls and other social functions.

An Australian Women’s Weekly article celebrating the life of Mrs K. Pagden identifies her as the widow of George Pagden. It also records that Mrs Pagden’s stage career was under her single name Madge Bracey. No record of her appearing on the stage under that name has been found after 1902. Pagden and Stanley are identified as a double act from 1905 through until 1926. It is likely that the journalist got confused about her stage name. The “K” in Mrs K. Pagden is almost certainly the initial for “Kitty” (see “Busy Life for 71-year-old.” 23 May 1956, 26).

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TED STANLEY

Descriptive and comic vocalist, comedian/endman (tambo), radio entertainer.

Stanley, Ted [AV 23 May 1917]First identified touring the Western Australian goldfields in 1898, diminutive comedian Ted Stanley worked for J.C. Bain, the Fullers , James Brennan, Dix-Baker, Holland and St John, and Harry Clay during the early 1900s, and in 1914 scored a major role in George Willoughby‘s Babes in the Wood. During his long career touring around Australasia Stanley worked for most of the leading variety firms, occasionally in double acts. He was also popular on radio, finding particular success as a children’s entertainer for 2CH (and Anthony Hordern’s, Sydney) in the late-1930s and early 1940s.

Image source: Australian Variety 23 May (1917), front cover.

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HECTOR ST CLAIR

St Clair, Hector [QF 31 Oct 1925, 7]English-born comedian, musician. [Born: Hector Alfred Tomkins]

Hector St Clair came to Australia in 1920 to appear in J.C. Williamson’s Humpty Dumpty pantomime and remained in the country until his death from lung disease in 1932. A droll-type comedian whose act featured a battered old violin and the catch-phrase “isn’t it awful,” St Clair toured Australia and New Zealand in both variety and musical comedies, working for Williamson’s, the Tivoli circuit, Fullers’ Theatres, George Marlow, and Connors and Paul among others. His career also saw him tour his own troupes (including The Ambassadors), star in the 1923 Raymond Longford film Prehistoric Hayseeds and appear on radio.

Image source: Queensland Figaro 31 Oct (1925), 7.

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SAM STERN

(1883-) American-born Hebrew comedian and dialect singer, songwriter, actor. [Born in New York]

Sam Stern made his stage debut with a Jewish repertory company in Chicago in 1901 but soon afterwards turned to vaudeville. He worked largely in Great Britain from 1910, but also toured South Africa (1914/1919), before coming to Australia in 1921 for Fullers’ Theatres. Stern was still working here professionally as late as 1956. His first decade in the country saw him work largely for the Fullers, Harry Clay and the Tivoli circuit. He also made a number of sound recordings and started performing on radio in 1925. He later appeared in a sound film, toured with F. Gayle Wyer’s Bandbox Co, George Sorlie, Ed Warrington and Ike Delavale among others, continued writing and performing his own songs, and from the 1940s also specialised in ‘legitimate’ theatre.

  • For further details see: “Sam Stern.” Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance (ESAT) [sighted 16/04/2017]
1: While in South Africa Stern was cast in the 1920 film, The Madcap World of Veld. His Australian film appearance was in The Man They Could Not Hang (1934).
2: In 1915 the American Variety magazine published a disapproving account of his movements, accusing him of fleeing a bankruptcy in London and leaving his wife and child destitute while he played an engagement in South Africa (ctd. ESAT)
3: Stern was still appearing on radio as late as 1952. His last known stage role was in The Teahouse of the August Moon (Victoria Theatre, Newcastle, May 1956).
Image source: Critic (Adelaide) 1 Mar. (1922), 10.

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TUBBY STEVENS

[Aust: 1921-1927] English comedian, troupe leader

Diminutive Yorkshire funnyman Tubby Stevens found much popularity with Australasian audiences during the 1920s with an act styled along the lines of Little Tich and Wee Georgie Wood. Reportedly only 4′ 8″ (142 cm) tall, he and his wife/stage partner Kitty Crawford came to the region via South Africa for Fullers’ Theatres. They made their debut in Sydney on 8 September 1921. The couple’s last known performances were in Sydney in October 1927. In between they played each of Australia’s mainland capital cities (bar Darwin), several major regional centres, New Zealand twice, and the East once. Steven’s featured in the Fullers 1922 panto, Dick Whittington. During the mid-1920s he toured with Walter George’s Sunshine Players and in 1927 played Perth and Sydney with his own Tit-Bits Revue Company.

  • See also: Tubby Stevens’ Tit-Bit Revue Co
  • Not to be confused with (Sir) Bertram Sydney Barnsdale (aka Tubby) Stevens, who was the New South Wales premier between 1932 and 1939.
1. The son of music hall comedian Happy Attwood, Stevens’ family name may have been the same as his father’s stage name. In a 1922 interview Stevens’ claims that his father suggested he adopt a professional name so as to not invite comparisons. His given name is currently unknown.
2. The “Peeps at People” column in Perth’s Sunday Times newspaper notes on several occasions in 1927 that Stevens’ nickname “Tubby” was given to him at school as a joke – he being the antithesis of a well-known policeman from his “native town” (see for example: “Peeps at People.” 18 Sept. 1927, 14). However, P.C. John William “Tubby” Stevens, then considered England’s heaviest and burliest policeman, was a twenty-year plus veteran from Leicestershire and not Yorkshire. His fame was such that he is believed to have been the inspiration behind the song “The Laughing Policeman” due to his witty, jovial and good humour. It is unclear if the “Peeps at People” par was in error or whether Steven’s provided the mis-information.
3. Stevens’ New Zealand tours ran from Nov. 1921-March 1922, and Mar.-July 1923). His tour of the East in 1927 reportedly included Java, India, Ceylon and the Malay States.
4. Stevens and Crawford’s whereabouts from November 1927 are yet to be ascertained.
Image source: Daily News (Perth) 29 July 1927, 10.

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NELL STIRLING

(1909-1951) Singer, dancer, soubrette, radio actor. [Born Helen Dorothy (Nell) Malmgron in Summer Hill, Sydney]

Nell Malmgron determined to go on the stage from childhood and after studying classical dancing under Frances Scully performed her own act at the Sydney Tivoli at age 16. She later joined Jim Gerald’s Revue Company as a soubrette and by 1929, as Nell Stirling, was a member of the acting ensemble. An engagement with George Wallace followed in 1930, and by 1931 she was appearing on stage and in radio sketches with George Edwards. In December 1932 she and Edwards, along with his daughter Chandra Parks, starred in The Ghost Train, which Edwards produced for Sydney radio station 2UE. Its success led to the founding of the George Edwards Players, and Stirling went on to play almost every lead female role in the company’s radio series for more than a decade.

1: Edwards and Stirling married in 1934. Although the couple became extremely wealthy through their radio productions they lost much of their money in the mid-1940s when his racing stable and her nightclub both failed. Edwards gambling and drinking led to their divorced in 1948. Stirling soon afterwards married their accountant, Alexander Atwill.
2: Stirling died of an accidental overdose of carbitral capsules on 10 November 1951 at her Vaucluse home. She was survived by her husband, their daughter and a daughter from her marriage to Edwards.
3: Martha Rutledge’s claim that George Edwards was “an unsuccessful actor” prior to his radio career is disputed by the Australian Variety Theatre Archive, as are similar claims by Sumner Locke Elliott, Richard Lane, and Coral Lansbury. See the “Historical Notes and Corrections” in Edwards’ biography for details relating to this issue.

edwards-stirling-francis-lane-1994-32

Image: George Edwards, Nell Stirling and writer Maurice Francis (ca. late 1930s). Source: Richard Lane. The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama (1994), 32.

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MARJORIE STREETER PAIN

(1917-) Dancer, singer, comedienne, model, actress

Streeter Pain, Marjorie [STP 2 Feb 1936, 25]Trained as a dancer by Jennie Brennan, Marjorie Street Pain travelled to America with her mother in 1927. While there she posed for fashion photographs and appeared as a “show girl” in New York and later in Hollywood featured in films for MGM, Paramount, Fox, Warner Bros, Universal and Movietone. After returning home the following year Streeter Pain secured irregular engagements at vaudeville houses and cinemas in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne before relocating to England. Between 1932 and 1936 she worked mainly in London – appearing in vaudeville and in musical comedy, largely as a member of Theatre Royal ballet (and notably in Ivor Novello’s Glamorus Nights, 1934). She also appeared in the 1934 film Evergreen.

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THE SUNDOWNERS

(1926-ca. 1950s) Male vocal quartet

Melbourne-based singers Herbert Sanderson, Robert Alan, Tom Semple and Robert Gillard are believed to have made their debut when they took part in evening’s entertainment broadcast by 3LO on 27 August 1926. They were still performing together more than 25 years later. The Sundowners name was adopted following the success of their one-off radio revue for 3AR on 28 November 1927. Although formed primarily for radio, the quartet sometimes appeared live on stage at concerts, community singing and civic events, as between-films entertainment, and very occasionally in vaudeville and revue. Altogether the Sundowners gave more than 770 radio performances (comprising more than 4,000 songs) and sold records as far away as New Zealand, South Africa and England. Robert Gillard was the quartet’s pianist.

1: The 1952 Argus article was published in celebration of their Silver Anniversary (25 years) together. The date of their debut is identified as 27 August 1927. Interestingly, there is no mention of any quartet performing on Melbourne radio on the evening of that day. Radio programme listings for the same evening the previous year, however, do record an unnamed quartet.
2: The 27 August 1926 broadcast featured at least two of the men, Sanderson and Gillard, as soloists. Although Tom Semple’s name is not mentioned, a tenor billed as Tom Masters was part of the same programme. The name Masters may have been a typographical error.
3: All four men are believed to have remained semi-professional entertainers despite their popularity. Robert Gillard, for example, was a well-known and long-time Post Office employee. This may explain why they never pursued a (travelling) career in the variety industry.
5: The Sundowners were filmed by Frank Thring for his Efftee Entertainers series in 1932. The quartet also featured in several radio revues in the 1920s along with actor J. Harcourt-Bailey.
Image: The Sundowners in the car park of the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, 1933. Source: Palais Theatre website

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ELSA SYLVANEY

(aka Elsa Silveni / Elsa Chauvel / Ann Wynn

Sylvaney, Elsa [SM 4 Aug 1929, 12](1898-1983) Melbourne-born actress, variety entertainer, filmmaker, screenwriter.  [Born Elise May Wilcox]

Elsa Sylvaney spent much of her youth in South Africa. There she was involved in the family’s theatrical activities (her father was known professionally as Sylvaney) and later appeared in various dramatic and variety companies with her brothers. She returned to Australia in 1924 to work in vaudeville and musical comedy, and in 1927 married filmmaker Charles Chauvel. As Elsa Chauvel she played an integral role in all of his projects, and is considered a key Australian film pioneer. Following her husband’s death in 1959 she continued to promote Australian film and was actively involved with several charities.

  • For further details see Pam Crichton. “Elsa ChauvelAustralian Dictionary of Biography 17 (2007). [sighted 5/05/2014]
  • See also: Kyrle McAllister
Sylvaney was the sister of Kyrle McAllister (1896-1929) and actor/stage manager Gilbert Terrance.
Image source: Sunday Mail (Brisbane) 4 Aug. (1929), 12.

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Published on April 27, 2011 at 8:11 am  Comments Off on Practitioners [S]