A tense month over, Margaret started November by attending several stage plays, the first of which was Romance, featuring Frank Harvey (whom Margaret had seen earlier in the year in Under Fire), and the British actress Madge Fabian, who was only days away from the conclusion of a six month Australian tour under the auspices of J.C. Williamson.
A survey of her initial reviews suggests that Fabian’s visit might have been another case of a performer visiting Australia when they were not at the height of their powers. Her initial outing, On Trial, was widely considered surprisingly underwhelming. In her second, Madame X, many reviewers admired her performance whilst still considering the production itself inferior.
However, reviews for her third production, Romance, suggest that this role was more suited to her abilities. “When Miss Madge Fabian was seen in the mechanical dramatic arrangement known as On Trial the effect was rather disappointing,” said the Sunday Times. "She showed as an able actress with good moments, but she did nothing to suggest that she might one of these days do something big. But last night she shone forth and surprised us all … If Miss Fabian can do work like this, so consistent, so real, so true, there is no reason why she should do other work so patchy as some that she gave us earlier.“ The Catholic Press agreed: "Her acting was immeasurably superior, and more convincing than on any previous occasion on which she has appeared before a Sydney audience.” Fabian’s wardrobe of elaborate crinolines and the gently nostalgic atmosphere of early Victorian days further contributed to its appeal.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 16 September 1916
Romance tells the story of a moralistic Anglican preacher who falls in love with the most unlikely of women - a self-absorbed opera singer, Madame Cavallini. He enters into a tragic love triangle with the singer and a banker (originally played by Sydney Sterling, who was on paternity leave and temporarily replaced by Arthur Greenaway when Margaret saw the play). The play was an enormous success in both London and New York, at which it played for several years and over 1,000 performances.
In Australia, it was the best received of Fabian’s plays, playing first at Her Majesty’s Theatre and later at the Criterion, at which Margaret saw it, for a further seven weeks. It remained popular enough to receive several revivals over the following decades, including one in which Nellie Stewart, known as ‘Australia’s Sarah Bernhardt’, played the main role. Margaret described the play as “Lovely.” It would soon become more difficult for overseas stars to make lucrative Australian tours. More passenger ships were being requisitioned for troop transport by the day. This was good news for the talented local performers that Margaret herself felt were often unfairly usurped by higher profile overseas imports. That year, when J.C. Williamson planned its major Christmas pantomime, both the theme and the cast were quintessentially Australian: The Bunyip, or The Enchantment of the Fairy Princess Wattle Blossom, starring future Australian comedy legend Roy Rene.
2nd November 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 22 October 1916
Tonight's The Night (Stage Play)
Margaret enjoyed a second night of stage entertainment in a row at Her Majesty’s Theatre, where a three-hour stage extravaganza called Tonight’s the Night was on the bill.
The play was a follow up to So Long Letty, which Margaret had so enjoyed earlier in the year, boasting much of the same major cast and the same leading lady, Dorothy Brunton. Rumours had already begun to circulate that Australia was about to lose their home grown star to Britain or America, and while this would not come to pass for another year, the rumours probably did not hurt attendances.
Every review gives the impression that Tonight’s The Night was lighter-than-light fare, ideal for audiences weary of dwelling on weightier matters. “Pretty women in novel styles of luxurious attire, backed by beautiful scenery, and dainty, tinkling music, formed appreciated elements in as flimsy a theatrical confection as has been presented for some time back,” said the Sydney Morning Herald, whilst still lending their wholehearted recommendation. “It makes no severe demands upon the intellectual capacity of the public, and its frivolity is accepted by many people as a welcome relief in these strenuous days,” agreed theCatholic Press. If there were ever a time for escapist entertainment, this was it.
While the Sydney Morning Herald claimed that “an incessant feminine appeal had much to do with the apparent success,” the show was equally popular with the servicemen who had adopted Dorothy Brunton as their mascot, and had as much reason as their mothers, sisters and partners to wish to forget the world outside for a few hours.
The story, such as it was, took the French stage farce The Pink Dominos as its inspiration, the very frothy tale of a group of women who decide to test their husbands’ fidelity via a masquerade ball.This was as good an excuse as any to debut a number of catchy songs and dances. The inclusion of a character who was a tango teacher would have been more significant to the play’s original London audiences, the great tango dancing craze of 1914 having been seen by many as the last moment of frivolity before the war began.
Source: National Library of Australia
The Melbourne and Sydney markets were subtly different, and it was not uncommon for certain elements of the same production to be tweaked as it moved from one city to another. It is probable that political considerations led the hit of the Melbourne season, ‘Little Billy Hughes’ - debuted in So Long Letty earlier in the year - to be quietly retired from the show. The most popular of the new tunes that was substituted also showed a canny knowledge of the Sydney market, so proud of the natural beauty of their home town - and more than a bit competitive with Melbourne. Have You Seen Our Harbour? was sung in the show by Maud Fane, the ingenue who was already being spoken of as Brunton’s natural successor: Have you seen our harbour? Have you seen our harbour? Did they show you all the sights that we have got? Did they show you over dear old Sydney town? Take you out to ev'ry beauty spot? Did you go to Manly? Down to good old Manly? Where the girls are all as lovely as can be? They may sing their praise in ditties Of the whole world’s other cities, But it’s good old Sydney town for me!“ Margaret rated Tonight’s the Night as "v[ery] good.”
11th November 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 22 October 1916
Traffic in Souls
The film Margaret records in her diary as ‘Slave Traffic’ was actually titled Traffic in Souls. It was a production by IMP, a predecessor to Universal Pictures. Set in New York City, its controversial topic was 'white slavery’ - the polite name for the phenomenon of forced prostitution.
It was an odd selection when there were so many other movies showing that were more suited to Margaret’s usual tastes; or, if she were particularly determined to see a 'problem’ film, Lois Weber’s 'Where Are My Children?’, which was being promoted as 'the sensation of Sydney’. The most plausible explanation is that Margaret relied a good deal on reviews and advertisements to determine her viewing choices, sometimes against the grain of her usual tastes. Much as is the case today, if a film is causing a sensation, there is a natural desire to wish to see if it lives up to the hype. It’s also possible that she simply wanted to see the next instalment of The Iron Claw, which was shown before the main feature.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 29 October 1916
Traffic in Souls was already three years old by the time it reached Australia, and had it not been such an outstanding success in America, it seems unlikely thatit would ever have received a local release. Sexual slavery in the form the picture describes was a phenomenon of which middle class Australian women had little to fear, and though sex trafficking was not unknown in the nation, its victims were far more likely to be European or Asian foreigners brought to Australia than the other way around.
Promoters could therefore not rely on the same sorts of scare tactics they had used to advertise the film in America - though they dutifully repeated the highly dubious stories that appeared in the American media about women in cinemas who were unknowingly jabbed with a 'stultifying fluid’ and carried away by a white slaver pretending to be a family member; shades of urban myths that are still repeated today.
Australian publicists instead attempted to play up the artistic qualities of the film, quoting the recommendations of an American preacher, The Rev G. L. Morril, pastor of the People’s Church of Minneapolis, who claimed the film “realises Shakespeare’s sermons in stone, tongues in running brooks, and good in everything. It is a lighthouse that shows rock and reef and signals danger.”
In any case, the film proved a popular phenomenon, its two-week run breaking records at the Lyric Theatre, after which the picture was transferred to the nearby Empress Theatre to appear for a further week.
It may have been the film’s more salacious elements that attracted many viewers. Traffic in Souls has since been seen by some as the grandfather of the 'sexploitation’ genre, which subtly provides sensationalism and titillation under the camouflage of an important social message.
The storyline of Traffic in Souls was described at the time as “the experiences of a poor and pretty girl who, seeing well dressed women riding in taxis and dining at expensive restaurants, desired to taste those joys herself. She seized at the chance when offered by a supposedly wealthy "friend,” to find, when too late, the awful fate he had designed for her.“ With minimal changes, the plot would be duplicated in many low-budget, pseudo-educational 'midnight movies’ during the sound era. Margaret came away unimpressed, dubbing the film ”rotten“. This is one case modern viewers can make up their own mind, as Traffic in Souls is not only extant but is available on DVD from Flicker Alley.
12th November 1916
Source: Mirror of Australia, 16 September 1916
"No Fred. Lonely"
November progressed in very busy fashion for Margaret. The wedding of Fred’s brother Tom meant skipping her usual Saturday movie on the first weekend of the month, and instead of making up for it on the Sunday, she and Fred visited Taronga Zoo, which had opened the previous month. Under construction since 1912, the zoo was described as the most beautiful in the world. Aside from its harbour setting, the animal enclosures had been designed to be ‘as natural and congenial as possible’ - a quite radical concept that had only come into vogue in the past decade, and marked a welcome departure from the old Sydney Zoo at Moore Park, with its ’forlorn and frowsy eagles, perched sadly upon strong poles in odoriferous cages,’ as one newspaper observed. This visit might have provided a good opportunity for Fred and Margaret to talk over their future. Though the conscription referendum had been defeated, Prime Minister Hughes soon issued ’Compulsory Training Proclamation’. All men who were not otherwise subject to exemptions were now obliged to report for a month’s compulsory military training. This included Fred.
Source: Border Mail (Albury, NSW), 11 November 1916
The Compulsory Training proclamation was expensive, and heavily criticised by many members of the working class, but was justified by Defence Minister G. F. Pearce on various bases - that men with military training would be essential should the war suddenly take a turn for the worse or, in a worst case scenario, that fighting should reach the Australian mainland.
His more pertinent reason would have lent fuel to the theory that the Hughes government was planning to enforce conscription without a democratic mandate, or to send it to a second referendum (which eventually did come to pass):
'We have to get the men somehow to reinforce the men fighting for Australia at the front. It is obvious that we can not get 16,500 volunteers a month, but we must get as many as we possibly can … It is obvious, too, that we can no longer depend upon the brass bands, oratorial efforts, and all the other accompaniments to the voluntary system. We must do what is practical, and I contend that we are doing well to continue the training of these men called up under the proclamation.
“No Fred. Lonely.” said Margaret as Fred’s visit to the Medical Board approached. Regardless of how she had voted in the conscription referendum, this was the moment she must have been dreading: the prospect her fianceé going to the Front, and putting a carefully built future on hold, perhaps forever.
Again, regardless of her wider beliefs, it must have come as an immense relief when a minor condition led to Fred being declared medically unfit for service. Meanwhile, workers continued to oppose the Compulsory Training Proclamation, with rolling strikes that presaged more serious industrial action the following year. By the end of November, after a coal strike that lasted several weeks, the measure was abolished.
15th November 1916
Source: Google Maps
"Round To See New Cottage" The Higgins family had found that the house on Westmoreland Street, so much smaller than their previous home, was simply too small for the seven people who currently occupied it. Margaret’s younger brother Frank would soon be returning from boarding school, as would Molly, the young girl whom both the Higgins and Wilkins families regarded as a de facto family member, expanding the household even further. A larger house must be found, and the family was on the move for the second time in 1916.
A brief note from around the same time - ‘Cec. re compensation?’ - suggests that Margaret’s brother Cecil expected to receive some additional money for the family as a result of the industrial accident in which he was involved a few months earlier. Perhaps the thought of being in a slightly better financial position made the move to a bigger house possible.
A cottage in Leichhardt that Margaret investigates is ’too small’ and, at £1 per week, too expensive. A better option comes up - 22/6, and ’lovely inside and out’. Several anxious days are spent waiting for the landlady to come to a decision. ’No go, wants the house herself. Old cat.' A third and final option arises just a few streets away from their current home, with a house called 'Thornleigh' 'Large and old, will suit us v. well I think.' The family moved in on the 15th of November, and seemed to meet everyone’s approval. “Plenty of room for us all, no cramping.” The family would live at 'Thornleigh’ for the next several years, and like the other two houses they lived in during that year, is still there today.
22nd November 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 8 October 1916
Given the recent dramas of moving house, it’s ironic that the movie Margaret saw on the 22nd of November at her regular theatre, the Audley, was simply entitled Home. The story, written by C. Gardner Sullivan, author of a number of the Thomas Ince-produced photoplays Margaret saw in 1916 including Hell’s Hinges, Between Men, The Return of ‘Draw’ Egan and Peggy, told the story of the nouveau-riche Wheaton family, turned foolish by their fortune.
The mother and eldest daughter (Clara Williams and Louise Glaum) become outrageous snobs, while the son (played by Charles Ray ,star of The Coward), turns into a feckless layabout, who soon falls prey to a vampish chorus girl (Louise Glaum) who is only after his money.
Only the youngest daughter (Bessie Barriscale) realises what fools money has made out of them, and sets about in showing them their folly - by pretending to act even more outrageously than they did, and making them ashamed of her, and in turn, themselves. “In a difficult part, she acts with rare skill in every one of her scenes,” said Motion Picture News.
The film, described as 'serio-comic’ in tone, was seen as a departure for both Barriscale and co-star Charles Ray, both of whom had previously been best known for their straight dramatic roles. Though the story was not particularly substantial, the reviews showed why Thomas Ince’s Kay-Bee was now considered to be the greatest of the three contributing partners of Triangle Films. Director Raymond B. West, who for unknown reasons was not credited, had begun in the industry as a special effects expert. He was known to work obsessively on his films, eventually becoming so absorbed in the process that he gave himself a nervous breakdown in 1919. He never directed another film.
Source: Picture Play, May 1916
The name of Bessie Barriscale may not ring many bells today, but in 1916, she was a household name in America, thanks in part to a long career on the stage, which had begun when she was five years old. She entered films at the behest of Jesse Lasky, who produced a screen version of her stage success Rose of the Rancho (1915), under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille. As many noted the early idea that a star of the stage would be equally adept on the screen had often been proven wrong - but not in this case. "She was a success in motion pictures from the very first, and her excellent work up to the present is a sure indication that as a prime favourite her fame will continue to grow,“ observed Motion Picture magazine in 1915. She was one of many stars that the three creative heads of Triangle Pictures were able to lure to their new venture, and it was with Thomas Ince that she did her best known work. A series of independent ventures followed her departure - a far riskier prospect than the security of a studio contract. Aside from a few character roles, her career was largely over by the early 1920s.
Source: Who's Who On The Screen, 1919.
A rather generic comedy actress prior to leaving Universal Pictures, it was not until Thomas Ince cast her in a new kind of role in The Toast of Death (1915) that Louise Glaum was re-launched as a serious challenger to Theda Bara’s title as Hollywood’s greatest vamp. Her first major role in the new persona, The Wolf Woman (1915), was lauded by critics as the greatest 'vampire woman’ film yet. Unlike Theda Bara, she managed to somewhat avoid typecasting via a number of what might be called 'good bad girl’ roles in films with William S. Hart. Like Bessie Barriscale, she too attempted to enter independent production towards the end of the decade, pushing her vamp image to new heights in such confections as The Leopard Woman, Love Madness and Sex as late as 1920, frequently appearing in unbelievably brief and fantastical costumes of her own design. By the early 1920s, the vamp craze was all but played out, and she made only a few more films before returning to the vaudeville stage on which she had begun her career.