Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Lucky Number Seventeen ...

17 October 2017. A somewhat memorable week and, especially, a day for me. Why?

Seventeen has longtime been ‘my number’. I lived at no 17 Knowles Street, when a youthling, and did my first adult writing there … funny, I looked at some of my teenage stuff the other day: my style hasn’t changed in half a century … so I started backing no 17 at the races with surprising success. Well, today is 17. 17-10-17. Sounds rather like my vital statistics, an eon ago…

The day dawned, and we set out on an organic vegie run, stopped off at the asparagus farm for the primeurs of the season, popped into the picture frame shop with an earthquake-broken frame … sigh, two beautiful Balinese pictures c1970, what memories! Then we headed home.

I mean, no one sends paper letters any more. But you still look in the letter box when you pass. ‘Kurt, there is a box for you at the garage’.


It will be my book. The book I wasn’t going to write. The book I started on, just for fun rather than publication, all those years ago in the long days and nights when Ian was living his last months … eleven years ago. And then I just kept going. Off and on. As I voyaged round the world. Until I had a stroke …
These days I can’t do a lot of other things, my right arm is shickered. I wobble. If I fall, I can’t get up. But my brain is fine (well ‘–ish’) and two finger typing seems to work … so most days I write. And write. And research. And write.

And by chance, last year, I was shaken from my retirement from the world of publishing.

A little more than a year ago, my really good 2001 biography of Lydia Thompson of ‘British Blondes’ fame suddenly reappeared on the bookshop lists. Paperbacked. So, I got in touch with the publisher to ask for a copy for myself. It actually still hasn’t come, but it doesn’t really matter, because one thing led to another and I found myself, instead, with a contract to publish some of the choicer slices of my last ten year’s writings. The short biographies (between three and thirty pages) of one hundred variegated Victorian Vocalists.

It has taken a year in the assembling, correcting, illustrating, editing and printing and on 10th of this month it was officially published in Oxfordshire, England. And today, just one week later a box of copies arrived at Sefton, New Zealand …

My seventeenth (depending how you count!) child. And a very handsome one. Perhaps, at the age of 71 (17 backwards!)  I shouldn’t stop breeding after all..

OK, who is going to update my Wikipedia article?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Merry and Bright .. a chorus girl's scrapbook

 Years ago… thirty or even forty … when I first developed an interest in theatrical history, I haunted the ephemera shops and fairs which flourished in London in those times, and, for a handful of pre-devalued pounds, picked up armloads of music, libretti, programmes, posters, playbills and … well … stuff.

Most of what I gathered and collated, after fulfilling its first function as source material for my British Musical Theatre and Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre, found its way with the rest of the British Musical Theatre Collection, to the great collection of theatricalia at Harvard University; but some of it – for various reasons -- didn’t. And that ‘some’ -- all sorts of bits and pieces -- has just been sitting there … until now.

This morning I came across some ‘stuff’. I remember buying it. I was ‘a lot’. A chorus girl’s scrapbook, with all sorts of bits and pieces bundled in. I grabbed it because it was interleaved with photographs. Real, first-class photos of Daly’s and Gaiety Theatre musicals of the 1930s, some nowhere else reproduced. Well, they have been now, because they have been largely featured in my books, and have since headed with all the other goodies to Harvard. But there are still the bits and pieces…

The chorus girl was a soubrette-dancer known as ‘Eileen Merry’, born, it seems, in 1907, as Phyllis Eileen Wilks. This 1920 pupils’ concert programme includes Phyllis Wilks in a Russian dance.

I guess, therefore, that she wasn’t the ‘Eileen Merry’ at the Hull Tivoli in 1919 playing alongside one comical Charles Chaplin. Maybe the one in Scotland, in concert party and panto in 1922? But the scrapbook starts at Easter 1927 when Eileen is singing ‘I can’t get over a boy like you’ and ‘My cutie’s due’ with ‘Murray Ashford’s Entertainers’ at Sandown Pier, Isle of Wight, and holiday spots beyond, as well as on 2LO radio, between Mrs Cranswick’s talk on fruit bottling and Yid Nesbitt and his brother Harry with comedy and ukelele.

In 1929, she moved into the theatre, joining the chorus of Good News on tour, before advancing to the West End in the new Darling, I Love You at the Gaiety, then the Oscar Asche production of El Dorado at Daly’s, Blue Roses, The Millionaire Kid, revivals of Miss Hook of Holland, The Duchess of Danzig and San Toy, Laddie Cliff's Rhyme and Rhythm at the Winter Garden, and the new musicals Jill Darling, Seeing Stars and Swing Along … sorry, no pictures. For those you have to look in my books or go to Harvard. 

In 1937, Eileen quit the West End chorus line and went back to her origins. As a solo act in the seaside concert party. And there she met comedian [Harold] Cedric Miller. Apparently a widower. They were married later that year.
Cedric had been in the business for 25 years. He was the son of a Putney jewellery wholesaler, born in 1892, and had been educated at Westminster School. But Cedric wanted the stage, and my bundle has a contract from Robert Courtneidge hiring him, age 21, to play the bit part of Mr Pringle in the touring production of his Shaftesbury Theatre success, The Pearl Girl.

 But her, too, did not or could not stick with the stage, and he went  seaside with Muriel George’s Bunch of Keys party, with Ernest Crampton’s Clowns and Curios, with Bert Aza’s revusical Crazy Town, and touring with Archie Pitt’s company of the Fields Family, star Gracie, as a supporting comic in By Request.

 He returned to the stage to play Stanley Lupino’s role in So This is Love on tour, but was soon back in touring variety. In 1934 he played for a while in Revuedeville at London’s Windmill Theatre, in 1936 he is on the radio with the Gwen Lewis Entertainers (featuring a magician!?). And 1937 he is married.
Thereafter, Cedric and Eileen worked largely together, and in concert parties – The Seamews, The Hey Presto! Follies, in Flotsam’s Follies with Hilliam, at Ramsgate, Skegness and all the old familiar places – and in pantomime, and as the concert party of old faded away they moved into summer season at Butlin’s in Filey …

During the war, they joined the NAAFI ..

 Cedric died 26 October 1963 at their home at 3 Putney Hill. Eileen lived on another fifteen years and died, at the same address, 20 December 1978.  And I guess it was not long after that that the young Kurt Gänzl went to a junk fair …

Sam Collins' Music Hall, Islington Green

Sunday, September 24, 2017


From grandfather to grandson ...

'Pepi' otherwise Josef Gánsl born Vienna 1881 pictured in 1927. I always thought this sketch was done by my father, his son, but I see that it is signed what looks like H Kleiss .. Kleist ..

His grandson, Kurt Gänzl (yes, I know, he changed, father changed it, then I changed it theoretically BACK) pictured here attracted the pen and ink of caricaturist Allister Hardiman while somewhere in his nebulous sixties ...

My hair lasted longer than that of the grandfather whom I never met ... the grandfather whose premature death caused my father's emigration to New Zealand ...

Me voilà ...

Lipót Pollák's postcard ...


It’s that time again. Inspired by the heroic heave-out of Rebecca Caine, and the pristine cleanliness, and lack of Stuff, in my new Yamba home, I decided on a(nother) Great Clean Out at Gerolstein.

Friend Greg came yesterday with his truck and a gallery of cartons, to take away hundreds of books and records to the Rotary Book Fair, and then I started on my a shelves of paper. Vast amounts of paper – largely research photocopies from the pre-Internet days -- to do with my old books, paper saved (why?) from Ian’s life and work which I didn’t send to the NSW State Library, and then paper from the boxes inherited from my Austrian forefathers … Documents, photographs, old letters, my poet brother’s pre-fame juvenilia and 1960s letters, my own plays, produced and unproduced (we all have those, yes?) …
Will all this Stuff mean anything to anyone once we are gone?

All this to preface to what will probably be a series of bloglets on What I Found and What Is It?

This was amongst my father’s papers. Along with some of his Tirolean photographs, a sketch of his father, some childish woodcuts, a pen-and-ink drawing of the Matterhorn (Schweizer Seite) by one Josef Probst… all personal items. But this? Why this?

So I started looking. Where is Kahlenbergerdorf? Who was Herr Pollák? Well, Kahlenbergerdorf used to be a village north of Vienna, until it was swallowed by the metropolis and became Vienna Bezirk XIX. The 19th arrondissement. And not far away from the Stojetz family’s longtime stamping ground of Floridsdorf.

The town seems to have been a picturesque spot which attracted the odd artist. Including Schubert. It is also readily recognisable in pictures of all kinds by the curious green spire of its Parish Church of St George.

 Kahlenbergerdorf. A place near to home where one could wander in the Vienna Woods and the mountains. Just the kind of place Dad would have enjoyed as a boy. But why this little picture?

L V Pollák. An Hungarian Jew, clearly. Well, there was a Max Pollák, artist, engraving in the area in the early 20th century. But this looks older. And it is undeniably L. I suspect the V of being one of those honorific ‘von’s that Hungarians love to drop pseudo-aristocratically into the German versions of their names. So this looks like being Leopold Pollák (b Lodenitz, Bohemia 8 November 1806; d Rome October 1880). Painter and engraver. He seems to have done a tour of Austria and Germany and toured out ‘postcard’ engravings of picturesque places. Souveniry ‘snaps’ for the pre-photo age? He did a series, I see, of Beethoven’s homes … ‘A present from Stratford-on-Avon’?

So, my picture is clearly of no value. I wonder why Dad kept it close. A happy memory, perhaps? Well, I shall keep it too. I don’t know why…

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Easter in the Tirol. 1936.

Some things don't change. Mountains for one.

I'm on another big cleanout. Family boxes that have rarely been opened in 50 or 60 years ... who will want these things when John and I are gone? So I'm slimming. But also finding some lovely things. Such as this set of photographs, labelled 'Easter 1936'. My father and his Austrian girlfriend, Edith, clearly took a holiday in the Tirol. A last holiday before Father left Austria forever ...
I wonder why he didn't marry Edith. But he didn't ... they remained good friends until his death and my parents visited her in Melbourne ... yes, she fled too, so I guess she also was Jewish ... but, luckily for us, Fritz Eduard Gänzl married the young Agnes Ada Welsh ...  Voila us.              

Anyway, Easter 1936 must have been the end of youth for Fritz and Edith ... and, by the photos they took, it must have been a grand Easter.

I have been to Salzburg very briefly. I had an unforgettable moment at the Naturfreundhaus (of which I now discover my great grandfather may have had a hand in the establishment), but of the Tirol I know little. Looking at Father and Edith's photos, I'm sorry I never went there ...

But enough chat. The pictures speak for themselves.

Thurnerkamp and Möseler from the Schwarzenstein



 Pieterskirche, Salzburg

Please, eighty years on, in spite of Multinationals and The Sound of Music, these things are still unspoiled.