By April 1916, Margaret had recovered her health sufficiently to resume her busy rounds of filmgoing. The first was Carmen, starring Theda Bara, which she saw either at the Strand or Majestic Theatre.
The debut of Carmen represented a number of firsts for Australia. It marked the arrival of the Fox Film Corporation, a company that would later play a major part in the local film industry. In 1930, Fox purchased a half share of Hoyts, one of Australia’s two major film distributors, also producing a successful weekly newsreel, the Fox Movietone News, for many decades.
Carmen was also the first foray into film presentation by theatrical producers J.C. Williamson, marking a new attempt to ally what was still seen by some as an inferior art form with the prestige of legitimate theatre. Carmen had its Australian premiere not in a cinema but the famous Theatre Royal in Sydney, complete with a full orchestral accompaniment under the direction of Monsieur G. Slapoffski, playing excerpts from Bizet’s famous gypsy opera.
This was a new kind of luxury presentation. The theatre’s stage was dressed and lit to complement the production. “A gorgeous scene leads the eye right up to the screen,” reported the Sunday Times. “Softly lighted, the cleverly-blended colors serve to effectively bridge the gap between this work-a-day world and the country of romance into which the audience is soon carried. The orchestra, an excellent one, is concealed beneath ‘a lattice fair,’ and the airs of the opera so sweet and familiar steal out and enter into the picture as the story is unfolded."
Carmen also introduced Australian audiences to the exotic Theda Bara for the first time. The company employed a much lower key approach in promoting her Australian debut than it had in America. There were no outlandish tales about Bara’s birth being foretold in hieroglyphs on the walls of the pyramids. Instead, in keeping with the attempt to promote Carmen as high art, publicity played up Bara’s credentials as an experienced tragedienne - which were actually no less fantastical. Australians were told that Bara was a famous French stage actress, a veteran of Paris’ Theatre Antoine and a worthy successor to Sarah Bernhardt.
Articles began appearing in Australian newspapers as early as July 1916 that explained the truth - the former Theodosia Goodman was born in Cincinnati, had begun her career as a "five-dollar-a-day extra”, and was in real life “one of the most home-loving and demure of young women.” Film fans may well have found this rags-to-riches tale just as romantic. Once her popularity was established in Australia, her earlier films received a steady release. Her first big international hit, A Fool There Was, did not arrive until 1918.
Of Bara’s Carmen, the Sunday Times said: “She has invested the character with a potency that makes one forget the film part of the business. This Carmen is not the opera Carmen; it is the living realisation of Merimee’s original heroine."
Melbourne’s Punch was not quite so convinced, particularly when they witnessed Bara in the more typically vampish role which became her Australian follow-up to Carmen, The Devil’s Daughter (1915): ”Theda’s wild eyes and heaving corsage seem appropriate to Carmen; but as Satan’s offspring, she glowers and grimaces in a manner that isn’t far removed from pure burlesque.“ As Carmen was making its premiere in Australia,Variety was already declaring the vamp fad over.
In providing the first photo of the star to be published in an Australian newspaper, J.C. Williamson also ran a competition, asking participants to answer the question 'Would you marry Theda Bara?’ One entrant was inspired to poetry:
"Her kiss is death, her love red flame, That scorches like a white-hot brand, But living lightning in her eyes, Beckons to that forbidden land, Where blasted lives, like hollow sculls, Lie whitening on the sun-bit sand.”
Another was more prosaic, and more humorous: “I would like to marry Theda Bara, and manage her business. It would be an ideal combination!” Like the vast majority of Theda Bara’s pictures, Carmen has not survived. Margaret’s verdict on the film? One word: “Unique”. Nevertheless, Theda was apparently not to her tastes. Although a steady stream of the actress' films appeared on Sydney's screens during the rest of 1916, she did not opt to see a single one.
3rd April 1916
Source: The Sun (Sydney) - 20 February 1916
The Heart of A Painted Woman
Margaret must have been sufficiently impressed by The Vampire as to seek out The Heart of A Painted Woman, a second collaboration between Olga Petrova and Alice Guy Blaché. It had actually debuted before The Vampire in Sydney - in fact, it was the first Metro picture ever to be shown in the city, as the opening feature for the Australian Picture Palace, where it was accompanied by a full orchestra. Margaret had to wait until it arrived in one of the less expensive suburban cinemas, and probably saw it at the Audley Theatre.
As with The Vampire, the title is something of a non sequitur. The 'painted woman' of the title is not a go-getter, but a penniless woman named Martha (or Selma, as some reviews called her), who is literally painted - forced to take a job in New York as an artist's model after a failed attempt to become a singer. Much like the protagonist of The Vampire, she is seduced and then abandoned by the artist, who leaves her in favour of a wealthy heiress. Her reputation now in tatters, she is offered up as the grotesque prize in a card game. Spendthrift millionaire's son James Barrett (James O'Neill) is the winner, but she refuses to stoop to prostitution.
In yet another twist upon the vamp genre, it is her virtue and not her vice that enslaves the shamed Barrett. Inspired by her comment that she would have made something of herself, had she the advantages he has had, he gives her a large quantity of money anyway. She uses this to start an orphanage. The wide knowledge of this fortune leaves Martha vulnerable to further advances by fortune seekers. She and Barrett are reunited amidst sensational circumstances - as Motography put it, "at the banquet - but words fall short of describing the allegorical ending of the picture, as one must see it in order to appreciate it." Sadly, we do not have that option asThe Heart of a Painted Woman is a lost film, but reviews suggest a fantastical sequence in which Barrett, falsely accused of murder, has a vision of committing the crime that proves to be a drug hallucination. "Double exposures and trick photography are put forward to excellent effect in this section," added Variety.
As Sydney newspaper The Sun noted, the vamp was an innately theatrical conceit. "Such women as they depict never existed in the history of vice," they said. "They are purely creations of the scenario-writer's brain, with their languid ha-ha as their victims totter to death or the felon's cell, with their faces Medusa-like and contorted with rage when aught happens to thwart their wills." Between them, Petrova and Alice Guy Blaché offered something more nuanced, more realistic, and more satisfying. Within two decades, audiences were discussing The Heart of A Painted Woman in the same breath as such classics as Cabiria (1914) as one of the pictures that made them pine most for a return to the silent era. All the more pity that it is lost. The Heart of A Painted Woman caused a sensation upon its Australian debut, receiving excellent reviews and establishing Petrova as one of the pre-eminent stars of the decade, and Metro as a company to watch. Within a decade, it had become part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, widely considered the gold standard of Hollywood filmmaking.
5th April 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 19 March 1916
At a time when women office workers were sometimes regarded with suspicion or contempt, women filmmakers were even fewer, and those that did exist were often carefully kept out of the limelight. Writer, director and actress Lois Weber, producer of Sunshine Molly, which Margaret saw on April 5 at the Audley Theatre, was a notable exception. Unlike Alice Guy Blaché, whose direction of The Vampire and The Heart of A Painted Woman was not even mentioned in newspapers, Australian publicity proudly trumpeted Weber as the most talented woman in Hollywood.
Weber’s films were phenomenally popular in Australia,The Hypocrites(1915) reportedly becoming the top film to be shown since Quo Vadis? (1912), in spite of - or perhaps, because of - the controversial appearance of the allegorical figure of Truth, played by a nude woman.
The film, and the character’s appearance, were a powerful and progressive indictment of the ‘hypocrites’ of the title, personified in the film by those who condemn immorality while indulging in it themselves, or who affect religious fervour to camouflage their own lust for money. "I heard the coarse laugh when the Naked Truth first appeared on the screen,“ said Weber. "But in an instant that mockery died away, for Truth turned her mirror on to their own soul, revealing to the world the heart of the pretender. It was a chastened body of scoffers who left the theatre. The Naked Truth, and the figure that represents it, are pure except to those whose warped and twisted minds seek immorality in everything.”
Source: Moving Picture World, July 1916
Weber would fearlessly address many other controversial issues throughout her career, including birth control, racism, antisemitism, prostitution, infidelity and society’s growing materialism.Sydney's Sunday Times did not shy away from Weber’s achievements, or her status as a woman:
“When ’Hypocrites’ startled Australia a few months ago the most profound impression it left was one of respect for the ability of the woman who not only conceived the idea but actually put it into effect. That woman was Miss Lois Weber, who in her short career has been responsible for some of the biggest achievements in filmdom. She is really the brains of the Bosworth studios, and many of the unique ideas of producing which have made Bosworth films popular have come from her.”
The follow up to The Hypocrites, Sunshine Molly, was a very different film to its predecessor. Described as the story of 'the love of a bad man and a good woman,’ it was somewhat lighter in tone and featured some gentle battle-of-the-sexes comedy, starring Weber herself as an uncultured, good-hearted girl who works as a waitress on the tough California oilfields.
Molly meets her match in the rough 'Bull’ Forrest, the only man whose is unmoved by her good cheer, played by her husband and collaborator, Phillips Smalley. Through a number of adventures, including the fluctuating fortunes of a fellow miner who finds that the 'big smoke’ is less attractive than the humble life he left behind, Forrest’s heart is eventually melted.
Reviews suggest there was more psychological depth to the scenario than its simple outline implies. “As is the case with most Bosworth productions, the exterior scenes possess scenic splendor,” added theSunday Times. "The big spectacles— the fire in the oilfields, for instance — have a quickening sense of reality.“ This sequence was achieved by setting fire to an actual oil well at the La Brea oilfields in Los Angeles.
Margaret would have been well aware of Weber’s remarkable achievements - and probably more than a little jealous. Today, Weber is recognised alongside D.W. Griffith as one of the great masters of early American cinema. Margaret judged Sunshine Molly to be 'V[ery] good.’ The majority of the film survives at the US Library of Congress.
11th April 1916
Source: National Library of Australia
So Long Letty (Stage Play)
On April 11, Margaret skipped the movies and instead joined her friends Daisy, Liz and Nancy to attend a second performance of the stage play So Long Letty, which she had first seen back in January and was now approaching the end of a very successful four-month run.
Star Dorothy Brunton was known as the ‘Diggers Delight’, and many young Australian soldiers, or 'diggers’, adopted So Long Letty’s “Good Bye and Good Luck” as their marching song. Dorothy loved the diggers as much as they loved her, and worked hard throughout the war on charitable enterprises, many of which went entirely unpublicised.
“The soldiers have helped me to do my best,” she said in mid 1917. “They do seem to enjoy the theatre. The 'Soldiers’ nights of So Long Lettywere marvellous for enthusiasm. They remember, too. Some soldier friends wrote to me from Egypt that in a very out-of-the way spot they found one of my portraits from an illustrated paper stuck on the stem of a palm-tree, with a verse from 'The Sentimental Bloke’ written under it. In France, my brother Jack came across another soldier, all mud[dy] from the trenches, who asked him, 'Did you ever see a girl named Dorothy Brunton?’ Jack was too shy to own up.”
She would depart So Long Letty to make her film debut in Fred Niblo’s Seven Keys to Baldpate (1916), before leaving for America and Britain in mid 1917, spending the rest of the war in the latter country. The vocal approval of Australian servicemen was sometimes so enthusiastic as to disrupt her stage appearances, much to the irritation of some famous British co-stars, bemused at being upstaged by a mere colonial upstart. It is interesting to note the identity of the authors of this piece of music. Andrew MacCunn would later operate an acting school in Sydney for many years, while Claude McKay would help found the long-running Sydney periodical Smith’s Weekly in 1919. Much as film, television and journalism are often controlled by the same entities today, Sydney’s theatrical and journalistic worlds were highly entwined in 1916. Margaret’s preferred Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Times, was owned by the operator of the Tivoli theatre chain, Hugh D. McIntosh.
15th April 1916
Source: The Sun (Sydney), 16 April 1916
Pennington's Choice Penn[ington's] Choice, V.G. Piccadilly Margaret records in her diary for April 15th. It seems that she was just as impressed by Metro's recent output as was the local media, as this was another of the studio's productions.
The plot was almost a reverse of that of Jelfs, which Margaret had seen the previous month. Corporate-minded New York banker Robert Pennington (Francis X. Bushman) falls in love with visiting French-Canadian Eugenia (Bushman's frequent co-star Beverly Bayne). Travelling to her native country to win her hand in marriage, he finds a wilderness full of rugged outdoorsmen. Eugenia's brothers decide to test Pennington's manliness via a series of physical stoushes - and even Eugenia herself gets in on the game, posing as her own, less civilised twin sister.
Determined to prove him no Eastern pretty-boy, Pennington retires to the woods to train for an ultimate showdown with the brothers. In scenes that may have been of particular interest to Margaret, his character encounters and trains with real life ex champion boxer Jim Jeffries. Margaret's brother Cecil was already one of Sydney's best known preliminary boxers, and she had followed the adventures of up-and-coming local boxing star Les Darcy, noting his defeat of the American 'K.O.' Brown in her diary in January.
Australian reviews rhapsodised over the scope this sequence gave to showing off Bushman's muscular physique, also noting Bayne's appearance in a daringly brief swimsuit. " It is doubtful whether it would be possible to get together a couple possessed of more perfect figures," said Sydney's Sun newspaper. "And their muscles are useful as well as decorative. Both stand as perfect examples of the male and female athlete. Bushman is a boxer and wrestler of more than film-requirement standard, while Miss Bayne's high-diving act, not accompanied by an understudy, would make our local girls do some thinking." Bushman and Bayne were already synonymous with one another professionally, but few knew yet that the pair were also romantically involved - scandalously, because Bushman already married. Bayne and Bushman's eventual marriage earned international headlines in 1918.
Pennington's Choice survives in the archives of New York's George Eastman House.
Source: Motion Picture Story Magazine, September 1912
Like the majority of Metro's earliest stars, Francis X. Bushman hailed from the stage. Initially, stage actors had eschewed moving pictures as an ephemeral, inferior art form. Mary Pickford was perhaps the first major performer to see it as something more. By 1915, more and more Broadway actors were making the move, including Ethel Barrymore, Edmund Breese, and Emily Stevens. Often, as in Bushman's case, they established their own production units, often working in conjunction with their stage directors and producing screen versions of their biggest hits. The entry of stage producers such as Oliver Morosco and Daniel Frohman into motion pictures was yet another signal of the arrival of film as a legitimate art form.
Described in Sydney reviews of Pennington's Choice as possibly the most famous actor working in films at that time, Bushman is best known today for his role as Messala in MGM's classic silent Ben-Hur (1925), and though roles waned in the sound era, he made many appearance on television. The most memorable of these was probably in the 1960s series Batman, in which he played - of all things - an eccentric collector of rare silent films.
19th April 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 16 January 1916
The Coward, a film set during the American civil war, was part of the first program of Australian releases by the newly formed Triangle Pictures company, as Margaret notes in her diary for 19 April. She saw the film at the Audley Theatre at Petersham.
The Coward tells the story of a reluctant Southern son (Charles Ray) who is convinced by his father (Frank Keenan), a veteran of the Mexican-American war of the 1840s, to fight for the Confederate army. Though America would not enter World War I for another year, it would have been a theme that resonated with many Australians. Young men who had chosen not to enlist were frequently stigmatised, and those who did were glorified at pro-enlistment rallies and in newspaper advertisements. A battle was looming over the matter of conscription, which would be the subject of a referendum later in the year.
The film, produced by Thomas Ince and directed by Reginald Barker, was considered particularly naturalistic by the standards of its time. It is a quality that audiences frequently rewarded, and The Coward was a critical hit in Australia, attracting notices even from the larger daily newspapers who, in many cases, still seemed to consider the motion picture beneath their regard. The Sydney Morning Herald called the film "a fine tribute to the capabilities of the producer in staging a bewildering wonderful battle scene, with an immense panorama and an army of actors individually lost in the roar and confusion of battle.“
When D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was released shortly afterwards, some reviewers believed its battle scenes inferior to those of The Coward. Though the film is preserved at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, it is little seen today. Margaret herself deemed the film "V[ery] Good,” adding that star Charles Ray, playing the cowardly son of the title, was 'some handy kid'.
Reviewers agreed with her assessment.“Their acting has a firm hold right up to the battle scenes, when [co-director, Thomas] Ince’s capabilities as an exponent and master of screen craft manifest themselves,” reported the Sunday Times of Ray and Frank Keenan, who played his father.
After The Coward gave him his big break, Ray was Thomas Ince’s chief protege for several years, but an ill-judged and expensive attempt to begin his own production company in the early 1920s nearly bankrupted him. Ince’s own attempts to help his former star regain his profile ended with the producer’s tragic and much-mythologised death after a birthday party aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, the Oneida, in 1924.
19th April 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 9 January 1916
The New Exploits of Elaine
The New Exploits of Elaine, which Margaret saw at the Audley Picture Palace on the 19th of January, was a ten-part serial, starring Arnold Daly as the ‘scientific detective’ Craig Kennedy, and Pearl White as the plucky orphan Elaine Dodge, whose adventures in locating the notorious criminal known only as The Clutching Hand formed the basis of the earlier series, The Exploits of Elaine (1915), known in Australia as Earlier in the year, Margaret had seen an episode of the prequel series, known in Australia as The Clutching Hand, and had quite likely followed it throughout 1915.
In the new series, the Clutching Hand has been defeated, though not before hiding a seven million dollar stash. Will Craig and Pearl find it? Not if the notorious Wu-Fang and his Chinese criminal gang can help it. It is not clear what episode Margaret saw, though it is likely to have been the first episode, The Serpent Sign.
The cliffhanger nature of the serial was designed to entice audiences into regular attendance. Advertisements for The New Exploits of Elaine carried information of different theatres that hosted the serial on different days of the week, so a patron could catch up on missed episodes. Interestingly, though Margaret attended many individual episodes of different serials during the year, there is no evidence that she was interested in following any of them from beginning to conclusion. Newspapers speculated that the growing popularity of feature length films would send the serial extinct, but they remained popular well into the sound era, usually as a prelude to the main feature.
Source: Robertson Advocate (NSW), 4 July 1916
Triangle Pictures was an early attempt to create an entertainment juggernaut as the motion picture business made its transition from short films to features. Formed in mid 1915 from a triumvirate - or ‘triangle’ - of the most powerful producers of their day, D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince, and comedy director Mack Sennett, the company built a fancy studio headquarters at Culver City, a material reminder that the motion picture business was here to stay and should at last be taken seriously.
Triangle was heavily promoted by its Australian distributors, Australasian Films. The Mirror of Australia described its output as ’the last word in motion picture production. Griffith, Ince and Sennett, the thee directors-in-chief, have been waiting for the the opportunity for years to produce pictures that were as near perfection as possible. The Triangle Corporation gave them this chance.’ Triangle's initial slate of 50 films, valued at £15,000, said to be the most valuable such shipment ever to arrive on Australian shores, their unloading covered in newsreels and newspapers. "These pictures are known in America as the two-dollar movies," explained local representative Harry Musgrove. "That being the price of admission paid by 100,000 people during the first week of their exhibition at the Knickerbocker Theatrer, New York. They mark the latest development of motion pictures, and have been the means of placing the film on equal footing with the spoken drama.' The Lyceum Theatre was completely renovated and reopened as Sydney's official home of this exclusive new product. As a committed film fan, Margaret would have been eager to see if the pictures matched the hype. Along with The Coward, Ince's The Golden Claw, and Mack Sennett’s Crooked to the End and The Submarine Pirate were part of the first Triangle program presented in Australia. The company’s later Australian releases received just as much publicity, and Margaret would go to see a number of them during the year.
The graceful 1915 facade of Triangle Studios is still extant. After serving as the MGM studios since the mid 1920s, it has more recently become the headquarters of Sony Pictures.
22nd April 1916
Source: Moving Picture World, 1 January 1916
The Dragon was the film that brought Margaret back to the Audley Theatre on Easter Saturday, April 22nd. All reviewers agreed that it was a particularly unusual screen story, but were at variance on how well its stranger aspects had been handled.
The film, according to the Moving Picture World, was:
“The story of a young girl, at home on vacation from a convent where she has lived since infancy, who is told by her father of the desertion and infidelity of her mother, who had been lured from him by the Dragon. The beast, he explains, spreads its length down Fifth avenue and its influence extends into the side streets. The child clandestinely sets out to locate the Dragon and to bring home the mother.
Like Equitable's A Warning, which Margaret sawearlier in the year, The Dragon leaned heavily on technical and thematic novelty. Using double exposures, the film superimposed the allegorical ‘dragon’ which the child misunderstood to be the real thing, over the top of the various sinister figures she met, including the corrupt millionaire who is actually responsible for spiriting her mother away. According to Motion Picture News, the way she finally disposed of the 'dragon’ and reunited her parents was unique - unknowingly, "she carries around for several hours a package containing a bomb, finally depositing it in the house of a millionaire. The house is blown up after [the child] and her mother leave.”
Source: Motion Picture Studio Directory, 1921
Actress Margarita Fischer - who changed the spelling of her name after America entered World War I in the fear that it sounded too Germanic - was a second generation actor who began her career as a child performer in Portland, Oregon. She toured for many years with her own stock company, before joining the Selig-Polyscope Company, at which she met her husband, director Harry A. Pollard. In The Dragon, Pollard gave her the difficult task of portraying the dual roles of the innocent daughter and the decadent mother.
This, Moving Picture World judged a bridge too far: “While Miss Fischer is superb in the adult role of the mistress … she fails to convince as the child who would be unable to recognise beans if the bag were open,” was their rather amusing verdict on her performance. Motography disagreed, describing the performance as 'one of the most pleasing sort’.
Of the film itself, Moving Picture World concluded that “The Dragon does not ring true. In theme it seems more the effort of a writer to evolve the sensational than to adhere to the verities.” Motion Picture News was kinder, giving particular prominence to the beautiful settings, particularly the fashion salons of New York. This view, too, was not universally held. “The Dragon should be seen by all head show-women in millinery stores. It tells them what to avoid,” sniffed Perth’s Daily Mail upon the film’s Australian release.
It is unfortunate that The Dragon is not thought to have survived. Perhaps, as some publications suggested, it was a clever piece of allegory whose odder aspects may have played better to modern audiences. Perhaps, as others argued, it was a rather ludicrous attempt to transfer literary metaphor to the screen. We will probably never know, and Margaret left us no trace of her own thoughts on the film.
24th April 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney) - Sunday 5 March 1916
After enjoying Pennington's Choice earlier in the month, Margaret chose another Francis X. Bushman starring vehicle for her night's viewing on 24th April. This time, his leading lady was Marguerite Snow, and the story originated not with a popular novel but a Broadway stage play. It was the first production of Bushman's own Quality Films company, released by Metro.
The scenario was a love triangle between two soldiers, set against the background of the Boer War, in which Australia had participated. Two British officers, the young and good-looking Lt Col Miles Anstruther (Francis X. Bushman) and his older friend, Major Christopher Bingham, vie for the affections of Muriel (Marguerite Snow), a beautiful orphan. She has already promised to marry Bingham when she meets and falls in love with Anstruther. When two soldiers go to war together, they must sort out their differences on the battlefield, in scenes that reviews described as harrowingly realistic.
Audiences had already begun to expect more than just a filmed stage play, and cinematographer William F. Alder included a number of photographic effects for which standard names had yet to even been developed, including an iris shot, a travelling camera that follows a dancing couple through a crowded dance floor to give an appearance of movement in three dimensions, and what is today known as a focus pull. This was of sufficient novelty as to earn questions to technical columns in industry publications, asking how it had been achieved.
Not all viewers appreciated these innovations, however. "Watching The Second in Command, we grew so dizzy from the constant shifting to close-ups that we lost all track of plot, and as for characters, well, so many bobbed in and out that we contented ourselves watching Marguerite Snow's and Francis Bushman's attractive posing," grumbled a correspondent for Motion Picture Magazine. Variety's reviewer also described the viewing experience as 'most tiring', due to 'the number of times the director moves both camera and people at the same time." The grammar of film was still evolving, and some audiences were yet to come to grips with such things as the establishing shot, two-shot and close-ups that we accept as second nature today. Motion Picture News' Peter Milne was more complimentary, noting some over-flowery language in the intertitles but concluding that 'as a whole, The Second in Command will pass with much to spare as a fine picture.' The film was honoured San Francisco's Pan Pacific International Exposition, earning a medal for the best film to be shown in competition.
Margaret rated the film 'V[ery] G[ood]'. A copy exists at George Eastman House.
25th April 1916
Source: State Library of NSW
"Off To The Show" “Up early, hot bath, off to the show, had a great day,” writes Margaret on Tuesday 25th April. By ‘the show’, Margaret meant the Sydney Royal Easter Show, the annual celebration which has been bringing the country to Sydney’s city dwellers since colonial days, and still continues today. Aside from the Grand Parade of livestock and the exhibitions of animals and produce, there are many interesting sights that Margaret might have observed that day. She may have seen the exhibition mounted by timber merchants George Hudson and Sons to give Australians their first glimpse of a newly fashionable form of house, the California Bungalow, which would soon become so ubiquitous as to almost define Sydney. She might also have seen the display of what are now known as 'Murphy Beds’, which could be folded away into a wall, and might have been useful in her too-small house on Westmoreland Street.
As she looked at impressive displays of wheat, fruit and vegetables from the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, she could not have dreamed that many years later, her son Sydney would be a distinguished official of the same department, and a poultry judge at the Royal Easter Show.
One of Australia’s earliest surviving silent films was shot during that year’s Royal Easter Show - Charlie at the Sydney Show (1916), directed by Jack Gavin and starring Charlie Chaplin impersonator Ern Vockler, who often entertained patrons at the city theatres Margaret attended.
Filmed on location in very much the same way as Chaplin’s own Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), the film also features a young vaudevillian named Arthur Tauchert as a larrikin showgoer who gets into a fight with 'Charlie’. Within a few years, Tauchert would play the title role in the best loved of all Australian silent films, The Sentimental Bloke (1919).
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 1916
The day Margaret attended the Show, there was a record attendance of over 96,000 people. This was not only a public holiday, but the first ever Anzac Day, commemorating the first anniversary of the tragic Gallipoli Landing in which thousands of young Australians and New Zealanders had perished. There were major commemorations all over the city, including an interfaith service at Glebe Town Hall.
The bands gave the march, which worked so much on the feelings of all, and then, after a pause, the strange beauty of the “Last Post” broke the stillness which suffused the vast audience. The “Last Post” sounded by 16 Anzac buglers was a feature, we learned from Monday's servive, in yesterday’s service in the [Westminster] Abbey. Only those of us who have seen the triforium can realise the weird, unearthly loveliness of the bugle calls dying away into the dim, misty recesses of the lofty roof of Westminster Abbey. The “Last Post” is haunting, because it is not final. It does not end on the keynote, and so seems as if it gave promise that this is not the end. Into some kinds of music a magic creeps; it is sad and mournful, but contains the germ of hope. This was the message of the “Last Post” as we heard it in the Domain under a more beautiful roof than even that of the old Abbey, the blue sky of our own land.
Today, Anzac Day is treated with a ritualistic reverence, but it is interesting to note that in 1915, though many attended such services, many also thought nothing of spending the day at leisure. The Sydney Morning Herald observed this apparent contradiction with considerably more nuance than some commentators of later decades: “To-day, it may seem strange that there should be a Show, with exhibits at full strength and with every promise of a fine attendance, until the true meaning of it all becomes clear. Were it true that people were not thinking of the war as they should be, the Show would become a bad advertisement for the State … a multitude of fine exhibits of our skill and industry must in consequence be a reminder of the immediate duty, which is to save the State for the Empire at home while our soldiers are fighting for it abroad.”
Source: Sunday Times, 23 April 1916
'Dissatisfied with Pommy Artists’
1916 marked the first time that the Royal Easter Show extended into the evening, thanks to the installation of new electric lights. However, Margaret already had other engagements on the night of 25 April: “Tea at Walkers [a neighbouring family], then to panto." Pantomimes were customary at Easter and Christmas, and the one she attended would have been J.C. Williamson's Mother Goose. The story, which had been staged in Australia in various forms since at least 1907, tells of an old woman who is gifted a goose that lays golden eggs, by the Queen of Fairyland.
Much like the producers of today’s blockbuster films, the Williamson company could always be relied upon to provide a night that was rarely cerebral but usually enjoyable, and mounted on a grand scale. Casts sometimes numbered in the hundreds, and audiences looked forward to impressive special effects.
However, Margaret had an important quibble: ”Dissatisfied with pommy artists, when we have our own just as good.“ The ‘pommy artists’ in question included Harry Farrow, Arthur Reynolds and Lilian De Venny in the important 'Principal Boy’ role - which, under the strange logic of pantomime, was always played by a young and attractive woman.
Indeed, it seems that Miss De Venny was hardly a household name in her own country, let alone in Australia. The importation of inferior overseas talent is an Australian tradition that was to last well into the twentieth century, and arguably into the present day, a reflection of the ever-present 'cultural cringe’ of a young nation still unsure of its position in the world. Margaret’s response was also common, and also one that is still frequently expressed today.
Gladys Moncrieff in the 1920s. Source: State Library of NSW
It could be that Margaret was particularly miffed on behalf of two up-and-coming stars of the local stage, whose names appeared only infrequently in publicity for the play. When they were recognised, they both received excellent reviews. ”In singing 'Beautiful Roses’ Miss Gladys Moncrieff gained a triumph, and the audience greatly wanted to have her back again even after she had responded to persistent calls for an encore.“ reported the Sunday Times, of the first of the two locals.
Meanwhile, it was only once she had temporarily stepped into the main role that the Sydney Referee recognised the other: ”On Saturday, owing to indisposition, Miss de Venny was unable to appear, her place being taken by Miss Queenie Paul, a Sydney girl, who plays second 'boy,' who met with a fine reception.“
Within a decade, it would be inconceivable that either Queenie Paul or Gladys Moncrieff would receive anything less than top billing.
Perhaps other patrons had also complained about a lack of Australian flavour to the show. Early its run, it received a few tweaks, including the addition of a new song, 'It’s a Long, Long Trail,’ sung by a coterie of Australian swagmen by the light of their own lanterns. According to theReferee, "the number brought down the house.”
If The World’s News is to be believed, Mother Goose still provided Margaret with a nice night’s entertainment. "Enjoyment, thorough and sustained, is the verdict on the J. C. Williamson pantomime at Her Majesty’s, Sydney,“ they reported:
"Splendidly staged and well acted, the thing carries the watcher along with it, and there is no dull time. Children roar themselves hoarse with delight, and adults work themselves into fits of laughter. The song, "Little Billie Hughes,” is a dandy, and bids fair to be the most popular of panto melodies. Soldiers, both going and coming, get right into the spirit of the thing, and,the whole-hearted way in which they push the chorus along is delightful.“
Pantomimes of 1916 might be compared to the sketch comedy television shows of today, with their topical humour and frequent breaking of the fourth wall. The "Little Billie Hughes” mentioned was the current Australian Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes. According to the song’s refrain:
Oh, the man Australia’s proud of Is little Billy Hughes We love to read his speeches And to listen to his views And what Billy asks of old England We know she won’t refuse For all Australia’s right behind Our little Billy Hughes. Though the song was a popular hit, public opinion of the man in question was a good deal more complicated than the lyrics imply. Hughes was already agitating within his Labor government over the issue of introducing conscription, of which he was a vocal proponent. Matters would come to a head with a plebiscite later in the year - of which, more later.
26th April 1916
Source: The Mirror of Australia, 1 April 1916
‘Lovely Pictures at the Audley’
Margaret notes in her diary for the 26th of April that she saw ‘lovely pictures at the Audley’, but does not say what they were. The Audley did not advertise in the large metropolitan newspapers, but it is possible to make an educated guess about what she saw.
Union Pictures, the chain that managed the Audley, always debuted their films at a large city theatres such as the Crystal Palace, before sending the program on a circuit of Sydney’s many suburban theatres. At the time, there were over eighty cinemas in metropolitan Sydney, an extraordinary number when the population was just over 750,000.
It is therefore likely that the Enmore’s program of the previous week was what Margaret saw at the Audley - Triangle’s Let Katy Do It, along with the short Fatty and the Broadway Stars.
Let Katy Do It was the unusual story of a young woman whose sister and brother-in-law die in a tragic accident, leaving behind seven young children for which the girl is now guardian. She and her new charges travel to Mexico, where they help to rescue a relative who is kidnapped by bandits, as well as to reunite Katy with her sweetheart, played by Tully Marshall.
Advertisements attempted to play up the role played by D.W. Griffith in the production. In fact, Griffith had contributed to the script and played a supervisory position, but passed the direction on to brothers Chester and Sidney Franklin. Ironically, Let Katy Do It’s star, Jane Grey, would later appear in Birth of A Race (1918), a little-known attempted riposte to Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915).
It seems that Let Katy Do It was considerably lighter than the more high-minded films for which Griffith was best known. “You would hardly credit what a relief it is to producers to get away from the deep, serious themes of photo-plays for awhile,” he was quoted at the time. “Ince and I are making it a rule that there must be a smile in every Triangle drama.”
Roscoe 'Fatty’ Arbuckle was the anti-hero of Fatty and the Broadway Stars, playing a young man who receives a job as a cleaner at Mack Sennett’s famous Keystone Studios. The Sunday Times explains:
Having thoughts of a great film career, he butts into the various pictures with charming sangfroid, and thus interferes with Weber and Fields, Sam Bernard, Jackson and Clark, and Willie Collier. A spectacular fire in the studio brings the picture to a finish. The comedy is in its way a revelation of how movies are made.
Given its glimpses of the actual Keystone Studio at work, the disappearance of Fatty and the Broadway Stars was long considered a sorry loss to film history. Fortunately, approximately half of the footage has been rediscovered and restored in the past decade. Let Katy Do It exists in its entirety in several American archives.