'Pony' Moore in 1911, whilst appearing with Sam Howe's Lovemakers. Source: New York Public Library.
By December 1911, ‘Poney and Davey,’ as they were now regularly billed, had joined a revue company, Sam Howe’s Lovemakers. Their act was now well-honed, described by the New York Clipper as ‘one of the best bills seen on a burlesque stage. Poney Moore is very clever in her portrayal of male characters and quick change, and D.J. Davey’s dancing takes his audience by storm.'
‘If there is a more lively soubrette in the business than Poney Moore, the writer has never seen her,’ said another review. “Possessed of a pair of clever dancing feet and a fine singing voice, Poney was one of the hits of the performance … Mr Davey gave a demonstration of his ability as a dancer, and believe us, he was some hit. This boy can surely throw his feet about. The act was a big success.” Winning a spot on the lucrative Pantages circuit ensured them solid work throughout 1912 and early 1913.
Pollards Juvenile Opera Company
'Little Fifi', in costume for 'The Geisha', addressed to Seattle critic J. William Sayre. Source: University of Washington.
Charles Pollard and Nellie Chester had worked hard to restore the propriety of the Pollard family name, and it may have been the idea of being unfairly implicated in the recent scandal that inspired them to make new attempts to revive the Pollard company on their own terms.
The first, a joint venture with the American National Opera Company, was short lived, and restricted only to the Pacific Northwest area where a number of former Pollard personnel had settled. A second revival proved more durable. Formally renamed the Pollard Juvenile Opera Company, management was soon transferred to Nellie Chester’s sons, Frank, Charles and Ernest Chester, who assumed the collective name of ‘Chester Pollard’.
Perhaps out of loyalty to ‘Aunty Chester’, Pony Moore put aside her own career and assumed the position of stage manager left vacant by the departure of Alf Goulding, with whom Pony had worked closely in earlier years. Goulding would subsequently become one of Hollywood's most prolific directors of early screen comedy, most famous for his work with Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy. While the role of Ballet Mistress tended to fall to a female, the notion of a female stage director was extremely out of the ordinary.
It is in this version of the company that we at last catch sight Yvonne Banvard - not six, as she later claimed, but a still-youthful eleven. A profile on the Pollards introduces her as ‘Tiny Fifi Moore - a daughter of the stage manager and named for her mother’s favourite role when the latter was singing with the company,’
Currently we have only this, a brief reference by Davey Jamieson, and circumstantial evidence to confirm Yvonne’s participation with the Pollards, along with a series of staged photographs showing ‘Fifi’ outfitted for major roles in recent Pollard hits such as The Toymaker and The Geisha. The question of whether they were roles she herself played cannot be confirmed; to date she has not been found amongst any cast list or review. These photographs reveal a small, gaunt figure very different from the voluptuous Banvard who became familiar to Australian theatregoers in later years. Whether she had spent her early childhood in the wings of various theatres, or at home with her grandfather, longing for the romance of life on the road, Yvonne had at last arrived.
In August 1913, a new act appeared in Edmonton, Canada: The Davey and Poney Moore Trio, later known as Poney, Davey and Fifi. Reviews describe Yvonne as ‘no other but the young miss who created such a sensation on the American stage several months ago,’ while the Tacoma Times calls her ‘dainty and vivacious, doing her work with the skill of a seasoned vaudeville actress, rather than a young child’. Clearly, Yvonne found herself entirely at home onstage, and when the prominent Seattle critic J. William Sayre sought an autograph, it was not that of Poney or Davey he obtained, but that of the young girl who signed herself ‘Little Fifi’.
Pony Moore's Jolly Tars
Fifi, Davey and Pony Moore. Source: Berkeley Daily Gazette (California), 14 June 1914.
That being said, there was no doubt as to the star of the show. For some time, it had been Pony and not Davey who received the bulk of critical attention, her dominance formalised with the creation of the Pony Moore Musical Comedy Company in mid 1914.
The company's first production was an expression of all that she had learned about stage direction, choreography, and entertainment. “That clever and energetic lady, Pony Moore, has gone to work and written her own musical extravaganza, and she calls it ‘The Jolly Tars’ wrote the Los Angeles Times, going on to describe the result as ‘a sort of delicious hash, pleasant and palatable.’ There were spectacular stage effects, including an on-stage shipwreck, while ‘a quartet of dancing girls in sea-weed costumes have an Annette Kellerman dance that is attractive,’ and ‘A dainty little maid, Fifi, [who] pirouettes on her toes.’
It is significant that reviews single out Yvonne’s dancing, as well as making specific reference to pointe work. After the sensational 1910 tour of Anna Pavlova and the Ballets Russe, schools sprang up all over America, offering to instruct pupils ‘using the imperial Russian Ballet methods that have produced the world’s greatest artists’. Many teachers touted personal connections to the great Pavlova, some tenuous but many genuine. Veronine Vestoff, for example, was one of the latter category, regularly advertising her services in film and stage magazines. Her students included Lina Basquette, the theatre actress turned film star who would herself later claim personal connections with Pavlova. It is clear that Yvonne received Russian-style ballet instruction at a relatively high level, but whether this came from an actual colleague of Pavlova’s, or simply one of the many acts advertised under the title of ‘Ballets Russe’ in vaudeville is not clear, but can by no means be discounted.
Yvonne’s dancing aside, the renamed ‘Twelve Jolly Tars’ - the number would vary over time - was another starring vehicle for its writer, director and lead performer, ‘a jolly good-looking woman, with an English accent, a smile that is dazzling and gobs of personality … when she isn’t on the stage, everybody is wishing she’d come back.’ Where Davey might have been expected to play the lead male role, it was instead taken by a young Canadian actor, Morgan Davis, whose work was so effective that one reviewer suggested he and Pony should consider striking out on their own. Though Davey did remain a member of the cast, his named dropped further and further down the billing. Many reviews failed to mention him at all.
The couple’s growing alienation was now becoming evident. While his wife seems not to have objected to having her nickname transformed to ‘Poney’ to make a more sonorous match with ‘Davey’, Davey cannot have been pleased to alter his own credit to ‘Davey Moore’, even if it was to lend propriety to publicity’s claim that Fifi was the couple’s natural daughter. Tethering his load to the ambitious Pony had arrested a successful solo career, to which he had returned for the first time in years by the time the Pony Moore company had moved to its next production, ‘A Night In A Cabaret’.
Davey subsequently spent a short period appearing as 'George Primrose Jr', the actual rather than spiritual son of the famous minstrel who had given him his professional start. At some point during this time, he met Portland, Oregon-born vaudeville trick diver Maud Gray. The two would marry soon after his divorce from Pony was finalised.
A Mack Sennett Bathing Girl?
Australia's (actual) Mack Sennett bathing beauty Bess McIntosh, aka Cherie Richardson. Source: The Sun, 1 January 1922.
Fatherless once more, Yvonne remained busily engaged with her mother’s company for much of 1915 and 1916 - far too busily to have found time for a ‘three-year apprenticeship in motion pictures’ that was later claimed in publicity, much less a stint as a ‘Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty’. Though much repeated, this is one of the least credible of Yvonne’s claims.
While the piecemeal documentation of Yvonne’s movements allows us to entertain the possibility of a few days’ work as a film extra, evidence for anything further remains unpromising. It would seem odd that an allegiance with the famous director was not featured prominently in promotions for her only feature film, the Australian-made comedy Strike Me Lucky (1934), and even odder that it was never mentioned during her initial vaudeville tour of Australia, when the popularity of the Bathing Beauties was at its height.
Only a year after Yvonne’s Australian debut for their circuit, the Fullers vaudeville company introduced ‘The Richardson Brothers and Cherie,’ starring self-proclaimed ‘original Mack Sennett girl’ Bess ‘Cherie’ McIntosh. McIntosh was heavily promoted with a Bondi Beach photo shoot in an expensive bathing suit presented to her by the Grace Bros department store. The idea that the Fullers would not have made similar promotions on Yvonne’s part strains credibility. No Sennett expert consulted has been able to connect Yvonne to Sennett’s films in any fashion.
It is true that a number of Pollard’s Lilliputians found success in motion pictures, including Daphne Pollard, Harry ‘Snub’ Pollard, Billy Bevan, Teddy McNamara and director Alf Goulding - but this is a false lead. Almost all were from much earlier Pollards seasons than the one in which Yvonne participated, or worked in the film industry at a different time. Only Billy Bevan was both a contemporary of Yvonne’s in the company and a future film star, though not with Sennett but with rival comedy producer Hal Roach. Perhaps most tellingly of all, the details of Yvonne’s presumptive film career changed to suit the circumstances. No record of Yvonne’s claim regarding the Mack Sennett Bathing Girls can be found prior to the 1950s. In early adulthood, while she attempted to establish her credentials as a tragedienne, it was not the rough and tumble Sennett but D.W. Griffith, producer of high-minded screen epics, with whom she claimed a professional association.