8th April – REVUE DE LA FOLIE PURE
On the stage – for FUVE days – REVUE DE LA FOLIE PURE – Tom Arnold, long the king of the touring West End show, had formed an arrangement with M.M. Derval and Le Marchant of Paris’s Folies Bergére Theatre to bring over a complete Folies Bergére revue. It was entitled “De La Folie Pure” and was billed as being a French show in its entirety. However, this was not quite true as it had an English adaptation by Noel Scott and Charles Austin and songs by Vivian Ellis and Desmond Carter. Even the scenery was ‘adapted’ by H Coverdale.
The show opened at the Empire on Tuesday 8th April 1930 giving the company the whole of Monday to carry out final rehearsals. It was heading for a run at The Victoria Palace who changed their weekly policy of variety and touring revue to present an open-ended production opening in mid-April. To make the piece acceptable to the mass English audience it required the spectacle of the French revue mixed with English humour. The outcome was a truly spectacular show built around a thin story-line without any pretence to present any smart English style revue topicality.
Charles Austin, the popular comedian of Old Friend Parker renown, starred and his stage wife was Nancy Blackwood, their child Percy was played by the droll petite Ivor Vinton. The story line was simple; Parker had won £1,000 in a newspaper football competition and was in Paris. Their adventures in the gay French city were the old revue standby which gave opportunities to make fun of travel, both ‘Allons a Paris’, crossing the Channel and a very French Le Chat Gris bar. The family had just five of the twenty five scenes; the rest had no links other than their general locale in France.
“De La Folie Pure” opened with ‘Bienvenue Aux Folies Bergére’ set outside the famous theatre. It introduced the origins of the show and displayed one of the main attractions of the production – the girls. First came the famous Folies Mannequins, eight dressed in far more than they would have been seen in France, their role was to be simply ravishing. Then arrived thirty two Lawrence Tiller Girls, made up of two of the Tiller continental troupes: the Berlin Palast and the Paris Casino Girls. Lawrence’s troupes, like his father’s, were the mainstay of the best Continental and British shows as well as the famed Ziegfeld Follies in New York. They were a highly drilled synchronised chorus line. The Tiller Girls split into their original troupes for all but the first act closing and the second act opening. The latter was described as ‘a symphony in colour’ and the combined troupe performed their highly disciplined routine making way for the Mannequins floating in with their fur-adorned costumes draped in flowers accompanied by Walter Williams singing of ‘Une fleur dans la fourrure’. The finale to the first act was a set of four tableaux glorifying the Heraldry of France. The Fleur de Lys in the Court of King Louis XIV ballet sequence was made up by the total contingent of girls. The other tableau represented the Tricolour with the taking of the Bastille, the Imperial Eagle and the battle of Austerlitz with Napoleon being crowned Emperor which led to the Apotheosis of Empire for a colourful Napoleonic tribute – tactfully the story of Napoleon was left at that point. The Tiller Girls once in their separate groups were seen as Hornpipe dancing Pirates, Blue Hussars and as New York Tap Dancers.
The lead dancer was Marika Rőkk, who was also a capable singer. The show’s leading singer was Josephine Trix. She had a solo spot in the first half and sang the naughty ‘What else should a nice girl do’, she had two other appearances, both with Walter Williams. The first was in an elaborate Venetian sequence as the Lady of the Gondola with Williams as the Summer Romeo singing ‘I’m on my way to heaven’, the second was the simpler ‘As long as the windows face your way’.
A speciality act was Elsie and Paulsen, ice skaters who performed in ‘Le Palais de Glace’ on a small ice skating area, an effect not seen on the Empire or in any London stage before. For the rest, the speciality was in the quality of the stage settings, as put by The Times, ‘it seeks its effect rather in the matter than in the material’. Typical of this was the setting for the scena ‘La Belle et La Bete’ with Glenn Ellyn as the beauty disporting herself beneath the amorous glances of a huge and eye-rolling mask that was a cross between an ape and a lion. It was a typical Folies scene being far more sensual than usually seen on the London stage – however, Miss Ellyn was decently dressed.
14th April – HOLD EVERYTHING
On the stage -for six days – HOLD EVERYTHING – played the Empire for the week of April 14th, 1930 as it set out on a National Tour.The Broadway premiere of this show in October 1928 was the second in what turned out to be a series of four musical comedies by DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, all based on modern sports and fads (The others were “Good News”, “Follow Through” and “Flying High”). “Follow Through” (golf) played the Empire the previous September. “Hold Everything” was the story of Sonny Jim Brooks, who is a welterweight boxing challenger in love with his girl, Sue, who is ‘The cream in his coffee’. He becomes temporarily distracted by the wealthy Norine Lloyd, who persuades him he should develop technical skills rather than rely on brute force. But when Jim learns that the champion has insulted Sue, his killer instincts are aroused and he successfully wins the championship and defends the honour of his beloved. The New York production ran for 413 performances, but it only managed 173 at the Palace Theatre in London where it opened on 12th June, 1929. Just one month into the London run the two leads were replaced. When the tour set out in 1930, there was a complete change of cast for the tour Cora Goffin, who played the Empire in “Virginia” the previous year and Billy Coryll took over the lead roles.
21st April – VIRTUE FOR SALE
On the stage – for six days – VIRTUE FOR SALE – Fay Compton made her first appearance at the Empire on April 21st 1930 in a new play “Virtue For Sale”. She was a 35 year old English actress from a notable lineage of actors; her father was actor/manager Edward Compton; her mother Virginia Bateman was a distinguished member of the profession, as were her elder sister, the actress Viola Compton, and her uncles and aunts. Her grandfather was the 19th century theatrical luminary Henry Compton. Author Compton Mackenzie was her elder brother. Active in the classics as well as contemporary material, Compton had the distinction of playing Ophelia opposite two of the most celebrated Hamlets, John Barrymore and John Gielgud . Her co-star was Hartley Power an American born British actor who had made his stage debut on Broadway in 1922 and this was considered his most powerful role to date. The play was considered to be extremely modern in its theme and treatment. It tells the story of a young society girl who offers herself in sacrifice to save her family’s good name. It opened in Southampton ahead of a season in London.
28th April – WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE
On the stage – for six days – WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE – Few theatre performers from the past are remembered now, yet many were big stars in their day with legions of fans. One such star was Peggy O’Neil, an actress who was once so popular that she inspired a hit song (aptly named ‘Peggy O’Neil’). Yet she has slid into near oblivion. Her family emigrated to America when she was a child, settling in Buffalo, New York. She began performing when still little and in 1910 made her professional stage debut in Chicago as a dancer in ‘The Sweetest Girl in Paris’. Her big break came when she got the lead in J. Hartley Manners’ comedy ‘Peg O’ My Heart’ that ran in Chicago for 26 weeks. In 1920 she travelled to London where she had her greatest success playing the title role in the comedy ‘Paddy The Next Best Thing’, it ran for more than 850 performances at the Savoy Theatre, and O’Neil became the darling of London. One reviewer said of O’Neil’s performance, “She has something of Ellen Terry’s power of communicating her smiles and tears to the audience. I suspect that every young woman in the audience feels, in her heart, that she has been a Paddy.” Yet she had her detractors. On October 20, 1920, the papers reported that O’Neil had been sent a box of poisoned chocolates. She ate one and was ill for days. Her little dog was not so lucky. He died that evening after eating one of the candies. Tests later found that the chocolates contained arsenic and strychnine. No suspects were arrested.
Her only appearance at the Empire came much later; in the week of 28th April 1930 in the play “When Dreams Come True”. The play was billed as ‘a romance of today and of yesterday’ and is about the adventures of a charming French girl Jeannine – a role ideally suited to Peggy – and the lighter side of her life during the war. Although not billed as a musical the play did feature some of the songs sung by the troops during the great war. Whilst in Southampton Peggy O’Neil gave the first live television broadcast interview from the Ideal Home Exhibition, which was being held in Southampton.
5th May – MAKING A MAN
On the stage – for six days – MAKING A MAN – 44 year old, British comedian, actor and film star Nelson Keys brought his new revue to Southampton when “Making A Man” opened at the Empire. He was widely known as “Bunch” referring to his ever expanding bunch of characters. Sometimes his name is spelt “Keyes”.
12th May – THE LADY OF THE CAMELIAS
On the stage – fror six days – THE LADY OF THE CAMELIAS – A major star of the day was a 28 year old Tallulah Bankhead who had been born in Alabama, in the USA of Ulster stock. She came to the Empire in 1930, where she opened on the 12th May in “The Lady Of The Camelias”. Her career began when she was a 15 year old starlet in silent movies but quickly found herself more at home on the stage and began to carve herself a growing career on Broadway. In 1923 she made her debut on the London stage at Wyndham’s Theatre. She appeared in over a dozen plays in London over the next eight years, most famously The Dancers. Her fame as an actress was ensured in 1924 when she played Amy in Sidney Howard’s They Knew What They Wanted. The show won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize. During her eight years on the British stage, Bankhead earned a reputation for making the most out of inferior material.
For example, in her autobiography, Bankhead described the opening night of a play called Conchita: “In the second act … I came on carrying a monkey … On opening night, the monkey went berserk … (he) snatched my black wig from my head, leaped from my arms and scampered down to the footlights. There he paused, peered out at the audience, then waved my wig over his head … The audience had been giggling at the absurd plot even before this simian had at me. Now it became hysterical. What did Tallulah do in this crisis? I turned a cartwheel! The audience roared … After the monkey business I was afraid they might boo me. Instead I received an ovation.”
Bankhead returned to the United States in 1931, and although Bankhead was not very interested in making films, the opportunity to make $50,000 per film was too good to pass up. Her 1932 movie Devil and the Deep is notable for the presence of three major co-stars, with Bankhead receiving top billing over Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, and Cary Grant; it is the only film with Cooper and Grant as the film’s leading men. She later said, “Dahling, the main reason I accepted [the part] was to fuck that divine Gary Cooper!”.
“The Lady Of The Camelias” was a play based on La Dame aux Camélias (literally The Lady with the Camellias, commonly known in English as Camille) a novel by Alexandre Dumas, first published in 1848, and subsequently adapted by Dumas for the stage. La Dame aux Camélias premiered at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris, France on February 2, 1852. The play was an instant success, and Giuseppe Verdi immediately set about putting the story to music. His work became the 1853 opera La Traviata, with the female protagonist, Marguerite Gautier, renamed Violetta Valéry. In the English-speaking world, La Dame aux Camélias became known as Camille and 16 versions had been performed at Broadway theatres alone. The title character is Marguerite Gautier, who is based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of author Dumas, and it became one of the most coveted amongst actresses and included performances by Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, Margaret Anglin, Gabrielle Réjane, Lillian Gish, Dolores del Río, and now Tallulah Bankhead. This classic romance, reached Southampton after a respectable run at London’s Garrick Theatre, and Tallulah’s gallery girls loved it. The critics were lukewarm, however, and it was not one of her best reviewed plays. Tallulah’s Comments: “I was very fetching in hoopskirts and crinoline, but James Agate wrote in the Times that my Marguerite was so chaste as to be downright painful.”
19th May – MILESTONES
On the stage – for six days – MILESTONES – A revival of a play written by Arnold Bennett and Edward Knoblauch is the saga of an upper class English family, starting in the 1860s and ending in 1912, demonstrating the industrial and social changes in English society. Bennett turned his hand as both playwright and producer. The play met with varying degrees of success and Milestones, written with Edward Knoblauch (later Knoblock) and first performed in 1912, was one of the more profitable. It enjoyed an initial 609-night run at the London’s Royalty and this revival had a West End run at the Criterion and a subsequent Broadway production,
26th May – BLUE BLOODS OF VARIETY
On the stage – for six days – BLUE BLOODS OF VARIETY – more Variety with Nervo & Knox supported by The USA Four. Jimmy Nervo and Teddy Knox started their stage careers as an acrobatic dancing team. Among their many routines, a slow motion wrestling act was developed into a humorous show stopper. They were part of the original Crazy Gang that would be established for the Palladium in 1931.
2nd June – REVUE
On the stage – for six days – REVUE – GEORGE ROBEY – In 1930 George Robey returned from Canada where he had toured with Bits and Pieces, and he embarked on another series of variety dates. This vist to Southampton was one of them and he performed to packed audiences during the week. The supporting company comprised Edward Victor, Betty and Buddy, The Desardos, Somers and Fell, Toms and McSweeney, Henry Hearty, Bobby Wright and Marion.
9th June – JACK HYLTON AND HIS BAND
Live – for six days – JACK HYLTON & HIS BAND – Jack Hylton was an English pianist, composer, band leader and impresario. He rose to prominence during the British dance band era, being referred as the “British King of Jazz” and “The Ambassador of British Dance Music” by the musical press, not only because of his popularity which extended throughout the world, but also for his use of unusually large ensembles for the time and his polished arrangements.
An ensemble consisting at times of more than 20 musicians, the Hylton orchestra quickly stood out from the rest. Unlike many other bandleaders who took up residences at nightclubs and ballrooms, Hylton often embarked on lengthy tours of England, which ultimately moulded the concept most Britons had of jazz. As late as 1926, he thought of jazz as “a bunch of noises” popular at the end of the First World War, “when everything was topsy-turvy”. Hylton first appeared on radio through station 2LO in 1924, and cut HMV’s first electric record the following year.
The second half of the 1920s marked Hylton’s highest point of prominence. After recovering from a near-fatal car accident – which took place on 20 January 1927, on the way to the HMV studios at Hayes, Middlesex – he made the first in a string of “continental tours” that lasted until 1930. The orchestra’s line-up also included some of the most skilled musicians of the time. “Regular” players included saxophonists Billy Ternent (who was also the band’s main arranger and co-leader), Edward Owen (E.O.) “Poggy” Pogson and Noel “Chappie” d’Amato, trumpeter/cornetist Jack Jackson, trombonist Lew Davis, violinists Hugo Rignold and Harry Berly, pianist/arranger Peter Yorke, and (from 1928) singer Sam Browne. According to the Daily Herald of 7 June 1930 between four and five million records sold in 1929 (out of 50 million sold overall) were made by Hylton. This June 1930 cocnert was his second at the Empire.
16th June – DEAR LOVE
On the stage – for six days – DEAR LOVE – Another Palace London show arrived at the Empire, Dear Love tells the story of Susanne who, on her marriage will inherit a huge fortune if she follows the strange conditions to the bequest: a time limit, and her husband must hold a title. With time running out, Maurice, her father, is desperate, and hits on Pierre, a Bohemian artist-Count who agrees to marry Suzanne “in name only” in return for £1,000. (She will inherit a million!) He is not allowed to see the bride before the ceremony itself, and must agree to depart immediately. At one point he mistakes Susanne’s sister, Marie, for his bride to be, and, at the wedding itself, where his bride is veiled, he is ashamed of his decision, and throws the money on the floor. Susanne herself, is so impressed and smitten, that she pursues him, pretending to be her own sister, and finally persuading him to elope before revealing the truth that they are already legally married. Interweaved through the plot are lavish modern dances, a ballet scene, an accordion speciality act, a comic drunk scene and a leading Covent Garden tenor as Pierre, this was all-round entertainment, well received and much praised. This musical was written by Dion Titheradge, Lauri Wylie & Herbert Clayton and the music was composed by Haydn Wood, Joseph A. Tunbridge & Jack Waller. The Empire production starred Darrell Richards and Jack Williams.
23rd June – TUNE IN
On the stage – for six days – TUNE IN – Tune In began a week’s run at the Empire, the revue featured Gaston & Andree with Len Jackson and was built around the concept of what a TV show might someday be like. Gaston & Andree were international dance sensations and their form of acrobatic dance had audiences enthralled around the world. Len Jackson played the role of host of this fictional account of what a television show might look like in the future.
30th June – THE HOUSTON SISTERS
On the stage – for six days – THE HOUSTON SISTERS – were two Scottish siblings, Renée and Katherina they were comedy actresses and revue artistes who appeared in music hall and variety shows. In 1926, the sisters made a short musical film, the script of which Renée had written. It was produced by Lee De Forest, whose process, Phonofilm, enabled a soundtrack to be played alongside the film (a year before The Jazz Singer). In this Variety show The Houston Sisters were a combination of comedy act, sister act, kiddy act, ‘man’ and woman team and singing act and this show marked one of the first public demonstrations of television and was used as the springboard for the official launch of the medium at the London Coliseum the following month.