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 my 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 here … until now.

This morning I came across some ‘stuff’. I remember buying it. It 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 production 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 in Bromley 13 March 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 (but only apparently) a widower. In spite of an existing Mrs Laura Miller (née Townsend), and a daughter Yvonne Joy (b 13 November 1916; d Eastbourne 1997), 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. He started out articled to a chartered accountant, 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 he, 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 in 1937 he 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

PS this scrapbook has now joined the rest of my stuff at Harvard. Knock three times, and ask for Andrea.

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.

Monday, September 18, 2017

"I knew that he looked at me"

I really don’t listen much, these days, to show recordings. Especially new recordings of my beloved older shows. Those, in particular, having no surprises to spring as to exciting discoveries, are inevitably unpleasant. Pretentious. Stuffy. And overcast or miscast…  I mean, an operatic contralto as Letty Lind in The Geisha? What a w*** …
So, I just don’t listen to them. 

For me, there isn’t a wholly satisfying recording, even, of the super-well-known works of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, which has been made in the last hundred years…

This week, however, I got caught by surprise. I was sitting quietly in my seaside bolthole, researching Pauline Markham, burlesque princess, and Charles Lyall of the Carl Rosa, when a CD arrived at my theoretically unknown hideaway address. A double CD even. It sat for a few days, but I had to unwrap it. Because it was Tom Jones. Not the Green Green Grass of Delilah. The real Tom, as in Henry Fielding and Edward German. And one of the very, very first shows I ever saw. Directed by my father circa 1953 in Wellington, NZ.

I still remember that eightish year-old feeling: ‘I knew that he looked, I knew that he looked, I knew that he looked at me’. I was in love.

I’d listened to the existing recordings of the show when writing my Musical Theatre on Record, and thrilled (as one must) to Frederick Harvey’s Tom. Then June Bronhill and Joan Sutherland. How could a new recording equal that?

Well, lay me down with a rolling pin. This one did.

This is, without any question, the best 21st century recording of a classic English musical cum light opera that I have heard. I sat, waiting (as I do) to find something to dislike and … it just didn’t happen. The whole two discs were nigh on perfectly in line with my conceptions as an historian and my very narrow preconceptions as a casting director.

Number one. Orchestra and chorus. How often is THAT number one? Delicious. Full-bodied but light, with a bright-and-sparkling feeling that G&S choruses inevitably fail to find. They gave the tone to the whole affair … ‘Don’t you find the weather charming…’

I knew I’d get snooty about the soloists. I always do. But … here comes Squire Western … woofy bass? No! Deliciously clear baritone! Like, like, like hugely. Then Tom. Rich-voiced Frederick Harvey? A sylphic Hayden Coffin? No! A zingy crystal clear high baritone … Wow! Like, like, like huuuu….gely. Well, Sophia will surely be a graunchy prima donna robusta. Groan. No!!!!!! A splendid voice of just the right weight, and even when the music tempts her to go wooooooo she manages (sometimes just!) to keep it bright, light and sprightly. This is, after all, Sophia Western and not Lady Macbeth! My teensy disappointment came with a mezzo soubrette. ‘I knew that he looked..’. But she certainly added shape to the ensembles and hey, maybe I was, 60 years on, still in love with Dad’s teenage Honour.

All I can say, in summary, is that this grumpy old hidebound critic and ex-caster says yayyy! And whoever cast this recording, and whoever produced it (eight years ago, I gather), are my soulmates. This is how it should be done. This company and these soloists should be immediately signed up by Britain’s Arts Council (if they have one) to record the whole 19th-early 20th century repertoire of English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish theatre music – G&S included. That is, if said Arts Council has any money left from sponsoring trendy American musicals at the National Theatre.

I’m off to bed. Feeling joyous. Thanks, folks, for giving me so much enjoyment …

More, more, more ….

Monday, September 11, 2017

Camera and I ...


My shelves are testament to the fact that my father loved photography. My Nana too. Her sister had a photographic studio for a dozen years in Vienna (Hietzinger Hauptstrasse 34B) in the 1920s and 1930s in conjunction with a lady named Berta Schönikel. The family took some very lovely pictures, mostly of mountains (afterwards, they would quarrel about which mountain was which), family, and of their various European travels and, well, I haven’t had the heart to throw them out …

Great-grandmother Marie and Onkel Max in Silesia
The camera with which dad took his photos survives too. It’s a lozenge shaped case which opens to display bellows and a square wire viewfinder …

I didn’t follow the hobby. I looked at Dad’s photos, and oh heavens … slides (those grim fifth-time-round slide evenings!) and mostly left the box brownie I’d been given in the cupboard. The old Remington typewriter with its üs and äs (what were they for?) was much more my style…

I travelled several time around the world. Alison took photos, Barry and Rosie took photos, but I … well, I just got photographed. When we lived in France, Ian took the odd photo …

Pacific Night on the 'Northern Star'
I was in my fifties when I bought my first racehorse. Davey Crockett. And suddenly, I wanted a camera. Digitals had just become popular. So I Bought one. And started taking horse pictures like other people do babies and cats.

The Soldier Fritz at 10 weeks
Then little Minnie arrived in our life…

And so I became a confirmed old photographer and likely to remain so.

When, after Ian’s death, I returned solo to ship-travel and to Europe, my trusty camera went with me, and gave me hours of enjoyment. Nights aboard the Bank Line Ships swapping USB sticks of the day’s adventures with my fellow passengers. Now that you didn’t have to take a reel of film to the chemist, this was enormous fun …

Kurt in Tahiti
And then, just as I left Europe to return to New Zealand, my camera died. Distress! Where should I find another? When we changed planes at Singapore I wandered desultorily through the duty free (huh!) shop to see what the new trends in camera were. No, I told an anxious little assistant, I’m not buying. Just surveying the field. Half an hour later I walked away with a nice little Fuji apparatus and more (free) accessories than I could carry. Most of which are still in a drawer.

Fuji and I travelled the world together for five or six years. We photographed all the pictures of this blog and thousands more. We photographed more horses (and now we have the same queries as Dad did with the mountains) and the kitties and our vast family of peacocks.

I noticed Fuji’s age showing a bit. He didn’t zoom as he used to. He had to be shaken a bit to open his lens. And one day everything went magenta. Last week we visited Woody Head, NSW, one of the prettiest spots I’ve discovered in years, and Fuji went diligently to work … some lovely shots of .. oh a pelican flying across the sun! And the wonderful solider crabs carrying blue meringues on their backs…

Back at The Cove I plugged Fuji in, and … WHERE ARE MY SOLDIER CRABS? The pelican and the sunstar …? I guess Fuji’s days of direct-into-the-sun photos were gone. His little heart just gave out. I nearly wept.

Fuji's last foto. And he missed the pelican!
Paul diagnosed the cure as an instant remarriage, and the next day we headed for Yamba’s little photoshop. How on earth would I chose a new camera with out the aid of an Asiatic assistant? It was easy. Yamba is little. The shop is very little. It had two cameras, the cheap version and then the more expensive version with a 25x zoom.

Yesterday, Paul and I took Canon SX620HS (‘Canon’ for short) for a walk .. Main Beach, Pippi’s café, Pippi Beach … and gave him his first lessons. And here are the results … not bad for a first collaboration!

Renee teaches Paul how to drown on land
Gosh .. it's so unweighty. Hard to hold steady!
This ocean is COLD!
Dog, have you got centrally-heated testicles? 
How to train your dragon 
Mia's best 'Butter wouldn't..' expression
Noah's 'Not-Impressed Till the Chips Come' Expression

The Pacific isn't terrific?

See? No shark....
Kurt, ten years after Tahiti ...
Canon, young feller, I think we're going to get on just fine together...