Posts Tagged ‘Oxford Music Hall (London)’

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Marion Winchester, the ‘Sugar Queen,’ American dancer, possessor of a casket of fabulous jewellery and sometime Italian countess

July 2, 2014

Marion Winchester (active 1899-1908), American speciality dancer
(photo: Bassano, London, probably late 1905/early 1906; postcard published by Davidson Brothers, London, circa 1906)

Marion Winchester, whose real name was Isabel Marion Brodie, was born at Monterey, California on 21 March 1882, the daughter of Charles A. Brodie. She is first mentioned professionally in her native United States in 1899, having been trained at the Alviene Stage Dancing and Vaudeville School of Acting, Grand Opera House, New York. Her first appearance in London took place in the Spring of 1903, when at The Oxford music hall she was billed as the ‘World’s Champion Cake Walker,’ City. Between then and 1905 she was in Paris, where she was described as ‘une fabuleuse danseuse américaine’ (Le Figaro, 9 December 1903), and where it was rumoured in 1905 that she had married the American millionaire Daniel G. Reid. Although Reid was married three times (twice to actresses), no such contract between him and Miss Winchester was effected and the nature of their relationship, if any, remains open to speculation. Her last known appearances were in the Paris production of Vera Violetta in 1908.

In her application to the American Embassy in Paris in 1921 for an emergency passport (no. 6532), to replace one that had been lost on a recent train journey from Italy to Paris, Isabel Marion Brodie stated that she was professionally known as Iolanda de Monte, and was then residing at 8 Rue de Bois de Boulogne, Paris, for the purpose of studying music. She was subsequently married to the Italian pianist and composer, Count Aldo Solito de Solis (1905-1973), who during 1924 gave a number of recitals in London, the first being at the Æolian Hall, Wigmore Street, on Thursday, 28 February 1924 (The Times, London, 23 February 1924, p. 8, advertisement; The Time, Saturday, 1 March 1924, p. 8), and appeared at five Prom Concerts at the Queen’s Hall, London, including the last night (18 October 1924), when, accompanied by the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra conducted by Henry Wood, he played Liszt’s ‘Totentanz.’ Solito de Solis returned briefly to London early in 1927 to give five recitals. He and his wife continued together until their divorce about 1940; he was then married on 17 August 1942 to the Hollywood actress, Gale Page (1913-1983).

Countess Isabel Marion Brodie Solito de Solis, aka Marion Winchester and Iolanda de Monte, was still living in 1946.

* * * * *

‘Vaudeville and Minstrel …
‘MARION WINCHESTER, premier danseuse recently with the Devil’s Auction Co., is playing the Hopkins’ circuit. She introduces an original speciality, consisting of a cake walk toe dance, in conjunction with ballad singing and serio comic vocalisms. She will play the Keith circuit.’
(The New York Clipper, New York, Saturday, 9 September 1899, p. 558c; The Devil’s Auction, an extravaganza with ballet similar to The Black Crook, was originally produced in New York in 1867 and subsequently revived in rejuvenated form many times)

‘Marion Winchester is making quite a bit success at the Alhambra, Paris. She is a lady who had the happy knack of sowing off the grandest costumes to the best possible advantage. On the same bill are the Harmony Four, Seymour and Dupre, and Johnson and Dean.’
(The New York Clipper, New York, Saturday, 16 July 1904, p. 469a)

‘Du temps où les bals de l’Opéra existaient encore, le secrétaire du théâtre vit venir à lui un solliciteur qui lui demanda un entrée, parce que, disait-it, son médecin lui avait fait de la distraction un précepte d’hygiène. Aujourd’hui, ce setrait à l’Olympia que les docteurs enverraient les neurasthéniques se guérir: où trouveraient-ils un plaisir plus salutaire que celui d’assister à une représentation de Country Girl et d’applaudir Mariette Sully et Alice Bonheur? La délicieuse Marion Winchester, après quelques jours de repos, reprend ce soir son rôle de lady Carrington: c’est une bonne nouvelle pour le monde élégant qui viendra applaudir l’étoile de la danse américaine.’
(Le Figaro, Paris, Tuesday, 29 November 1904, p. 1e)

‘LONDON WEEK BY WEEK (By Emily Soldene.)
‘LONDON. December 16, 1904… .
‘We’ve got a ”Sugar Queen” – Miss Marion Winchester. Of course, she’s an American; equally, of course, she’s an actress – a toe dancer, recently with the Country Girl in Paris; also, of course, she’s at the Savoy. One day in Paris she met in the corridor of the Hotel Lebaudy, ”Emperor of the Sahara.” Marion was sucking a piece of candy. ”Give up sugar-stick,” said he, ” and buy sugar stock.” ”I just froze on,” said Marion. She took the tip, and £20,000 on the deal. She’s loaded up with trunks – sables, new dresses of Paquin diamonds – and is soon going on at the Gaiety.’
(The Evening News, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Saturday, 21 January 1905, p. 7e)

‘OUR LONDON LETTER.
‘Dec. 16 [1905] …
‘Tonight Marion Winchester, well known in the theatres of two continents as a dander, will be seen in the cast of The Spring Chicken, at the Gaiety Theatre.’ (The New York Clipper, New York, Saturday, 30 December 1905, p. 1146b)

‘MULTI-MILLIONAIRE REID MARRIED A STAGE DANCER
‘Beautiful Marion Winchester Becomes Mistress of $20,000,000 Fortune.
‘NEW YORK, March 1. [1905] – Marion Winchester, the beautiful American dancer, has become mistress of a $20,000,000 fortune by her marriage to Daniel G. Reid of Indiana, organizer of the tinplate trust and director of more than a dozen of the largest corporations in the country. The announcement of the marriage, which took place in Paris recently, reached New York to-day from London, where the couple are now living.
‘This is the second wife Reid has taken from behind the footlights.
‘Miss Winchester was a popular member of the New York Theater company, under the management of the Sire Bros.’
(The San Francisco Call, San Francisco, Thursday, 2 March 1905, p. 5f)

‘THE ”SUGAR QUEEN” AND PROTECTION.
‘Miss Marion Winchester, the ”Sugar Queen” who is appearing in the Spring Chicken at the Gaiety Theatre [London], although an American, is an ardent Free Trader, her experience of Protection, in her native land, being the reverse of pleasant. On March 30 last year [sic; it was actually 20 March1905], the young actress returned to New York [from Southampton] on the St. Louis, and in answer to the usual inquiry of the customs office, stated that she had nothing to declare. On an examination of her luggage however, the official remarked that she had far too many jewels to pass, and she was asked to accompany him to the chief office.
‘The jewels were carefully weighed and tested, and Miss Winchester was staggered with the demand for £12,000, the amount of the duty due. In vain the beautiful dancer protested, tears and anger proved equally unavailing, and finally she declared her intention of departing by the next steamer, rather than pay money or deposit her jewels. On this understanding, after being detained either hours, she was allowed to retain possession of her treasures; but during the two days she remained detectives were continually shadowing her. Before the steamer sailed the jewels were carefully checked, to see that none had been disposed of.
‘Miss Winchester has purchased a house at 35A. South-street, Park-lane [Mayfair (where the actress Eleanor Souray lived in about 1908], with the intention of making her home in London, and emphatically states that the next time she visits her native land her jewels will remain in her London bank.’ (The Northern Argus, Clare, South Australia, Friday, 4 May 1906, p. 3)

Palace Theatre, London, week beginning Monday, 4 May 1908
Marion Winchester ‘fresh from her Continental successes.’
(The Sunday Times, London, Sunday, 3 May 1908, p. 15f)

‘Paris, Nov. 10 [1908].
Vera Violetta, Redelsperger’s spectacular operetta, which had a big run in Vienna, was produced by Victor de Cottens and H.B. Marinelli at the Olympia on the 6th [or 7th November 1908]. Mr. Baron, of the Varietes Theatre, has been engaged for a part that suits him admirably, though this popular actor is getting old and is now rarely seen. Marion Winchester, from the Gaiety, London, plays with much charm and especially pleases by her graceful dancing. M. Fereal, a popular baritone, Girier, the rotund comic, Mlle. Maud d’Orby, the 16 ”Olympia Girls” (Tiller’s), Mathilde Gomez, Mlle. Relly and the Delevines contribute to the success of this piece.’
(Edward G. Kendrew, ‘Paris Notes,’ Variety, New York, Saturday, 21 November 1908, p. 11a)

‘Daniel Gray Reid, the multimillionaire financier, who has been served with summons in an action for divorce brought by his third wife, Margaret Carrier, refused to discuss the affair yesterday. At his apartment on the eleventh floor of 907 Fifth avenue Mr. Reid’s butler said Mr Reid had nothing to say about the divorce… . ‘She married Reid in the fall of 1906, when she was 23 and he 54. she was a chorus girl and played in ”A Chinese Honeymoon” and later ”The Runaways.” ‘Mr. Reid’s first wife was Clarisse Agnew, an actress, who was playing at the old Hoyt Theatre. Following her death Mr. Reid met Marion Winchester in 1905, a dancer, on one of his trips to Paris and after a short courtship married her.
‘Three months after her death, in 1906, he married Margaret Carrier.’ (The Sun, New York, New York, Sunday, 2 March 1919, p. 8d)

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Lil Hawthorne as she appeared in 1898 and 1899 singing ‘Take it Home and Give it to the Baby’

February 3, 2014

Lil Hawthorne (1877-1926), American-born British music hall star and pantomime principal boy, as she appeared in 1898 and 1899 singing ‘Take it Home and Give it to the Baby,’ a song by William Furst with words by C.M.S. McLellan which was sung by Pauline Hall of the Pauline Hall Opera Company in the comic opera, The Honeymooners, which was first produced in the United States in 1893.
(photo: unknown, UK, probably 1898)

The Oxford music hall, London, week beginning Monday, 12 July 1898
‘A highly popular favourite at the Oxford is Miss Lil Hawthorne, a beautiful American girl, one of the Three Sisters Hawthorne, who made such a hit in ”The Willow Pattern Plate” last year. ”Lil,” while singing her first song, creates a diversion by distributing a number of dolls among the audience. In her second item, ”Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” she is assisted in the chorus by a young standing in the circle, and is vociferously encored and recalled after an emphatic success.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 16 July 1898, p. 16a)

The Alhambra, Leicester Square, London, week beginning Monday, 22 August 1899
‘Since our last notice of the variety entertainment at the Alhambra, the company has been reinforced by the enlistment of Miss Lil Hawthorne, who, attired as a doll-seller, songs ”Take it home and give it to the baby,” flinging some of her poupéesto the eager and delighted audience, who warmly applaud her. She Has a handsome appearance and a good voice, and sings with expressive earnestness.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 26 August 1899, p. 18a)

The Granville music hall, Waltham Green, London, week beginning Monday, 30 October 1899
‘Miss Lil Hawthorne (formerly of the Three Sisters Hawthorne) is very popular with the Waltham-green folk, and her capital voice and charming appearance are largely responsible for her undoubted success. She gets at the hearts of the women-folk in her first song, ”Take it home and give it to the baby,” by a distribution of toy dolls, but takes admiration by storm in her second item, ”I’ll be your sweetheart,” the chorus of which is chanted from the balcony by a sweet-voiced youth.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 4 November 1899, p. 19b)

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Sybil Arundale at the Oxford music hall, London, 1893

November 4, 2013

Sybil Arundale (1879-1965), English actress, as she appeared as a child on the music hall stage with her sister, Grace, billed as the Sisters Arundale.
(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, probably 1893)

The Oxford music hall, London, week beginning Monday, 30 October 1893
‘Mr C.R. Brighten seems very fortunate in his débutantes. Only the other week Miss Cissy Loftus took the London lovers of variety by storm; and now we have to chronicle the sudden leap into the good graces of the public made by the Sisters Arundale. The youngest [sic] of them – Sybil – already shows wonderful agility and grace as a dancer and remarkable aplomb as an actress. We have, in fact, not seen so gifted a child since Ida Heath first astonished audiences in her series of transformation dances. Sybil is a pretty little fairy of about ten summers, with a refinement of manner that argues much care in her bringing up. She looks like one of the children that Millais loves to paint. She has a wealthy of brown curly hair, and when she runs on to the stage her naturalness and charm take all hearts captive. But while speaking of Sybil we should not forget the elder sister Grace, now in the pride of her girlhood, whose sweet and well-cultivated voice is of great value in the duets ”Etiquette” and ”The Golden Mean,” both items reaching a higher artistic standard that is usually the case. Little Sybil, we are told, is a pupil of Signor Ceccehetti, of the Empire [Leicester Square], and the value of his training is shown in a Hungarian dance executed by her as a solo. The audiences at the Oxford give the heartiest possible encouragement to the sisters, and their enthusiasm is certainly justified.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 4 November 1893, p. 16a)

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‘My Fancy,’ the ‘Queen of Sand Dancers,’ as she appeared in her quick-change scena, ‘Winter, Spring and Summer,’ 1908

August 13, 2013

My Fancy‘ (1878-1933), American variety artist, billed as the ‘Queen of Sand Dancers,’ as she appeared in her quick-change scena, ‘Winter, Spring and Summer,’ during her tour of UK music halls, 1908
(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, probably 1908)

‘A Leading Lady Dancer.
‘There are many clever dancers on the variety stage, but very few experts. My Fancy figures amongst the latter; in fact, she stands alone in her particular line of business. She does not sing, or attempt to sing; she simply dances, and one would expert to find her in a state of collapse after her hard work, but she leaves the stage with a smiling face and alert step. My Fancy is the picture of good health, and we in Birmingham are looking forward to seeing her in her quick-change turn entitled “Winter, Spring, and Summer,” which she recently introduced to London audiences. In this dancing scene she appears to great advantage. The first scene depicts the Glacé Mountains, Switzerland, and while My Fancy dances with ice skates on marble snowflakes are falling all around her. There is a veritable bed of roses at the back of the stage when “Spring” is presented, and when My Fancy steps forward holding a fancy paper star in her outstretched hands the scene is really brilliant. The dancer impresses her audience, and thunderous applause follows. Then we have “Summer,” a scene at the seaside, and My Fancy going through one of her famous dances on the stands. Such a show as this is assured a warm appreciation in the provinces during the summer months. – Vide the Birmingham Weekly Mirror, April 11, 1908.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 18 April 1908, p. 21e)

The Oxford music hall, London
‘That finished and versatile dancer My Fancy is presenting with such success her novel scena ”Winter, Spring, and Summer.” In the Winter scene she executes a skilful skate dance; Spring discloses her as a dainty maiden who trips lightly, fashioning the while an elaborate pattern from a large sheet of paper, and the concluding scene, Summer, represents the sea-shore, the dancer, who presents a charming (The Era, London, Saturday, 18 July 1908, p. 16a)

‘My Fancy’, otherwise Mae Rose Bawn (née Baker), wife of the English music hall comedian and manager Harry Bawn (1872-1928), was born in St Louis, United States of America, on 23 May 1878. She began her dancing career as a child and was soon teamed with another girl to appear as the Macumber Sisters. She subsequently performed as a trapeze artist, acrobat and illusionist. Her first appearance in England was as a solo turn under her own name at the London Pavilion on 17 December 1894. She later transferred to the Oxford music hall, London, where she first assumed the name of ‘My Fancy’ on 25 March 1895. Afterwards, billed as ‘The Queen of Sand Dancers,’ she appeared at principal variety theatres worldwide, including the opening of Hammerstein’s Olympia, New York, in 1896. During 1897/98 and 1912/13 she visited Australia, in between fulfilling many other engagements in England, America, Egypt, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India and South Africa. ‘My Fancy’ also appeared at the Folies Bergères, Paris.

‘A HIGH STANDARD OF MERIT
‘The art of step-dancing has reached perfection in the person of “My Fancy,” the famous danseuse, who is delighting audiences at the Hippodrome [Sheerness] this week. If you can imagine a succession of speedy and difficult movements executed in breathtaking haste, but yet well ordered and in perfect time and rhythm, then you have an idea of the art of which “My Fancy” is so able an exponent. Her dancing is unlike that which is at the present taking London by storm. She executes no dream waltzes, no gliding, fantastic movements; there are no wave-like ripples of the arms, no poetic motions. The key-words of “My Fancy’s” dancing are rhythm and vigour. With her body perfectly rigid and her arms practically motionless, she trips out fleet and airy measures, and great applause is hers. For here we have the art of step-dancing pure and simple, without any tendency to the over-worked, flogged-to-death leg-mania. “My Fancy’s” performance is something more refined. After all, is not expert fleetness of foot a poetic attainment; is not the never faltering rhythm danced out by toe and heel something which deserves a position amongst the high arts? But as a sand danseuse “My Fancy” is still more expert. With a medley of minute movements, with a never-flagging vigour, she taps out the rhythms of the measure, and is, of course, recalled by the fascinated audience.’
(The Sheerness Guardian and East Kent Advertiser, Sheerness, Saturday, 7 November 1908)

‘My Fancy’ died in Ramsgate on 24 February 1933.

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Gus Elen, ‘E Dunno Where ‘E Are

July 14, 2013

Gus Elen (1862-1940), coster comedian and British music hall star
(colour lithograph song sheet cover, published by Howard & Co, London, 1893)

”’E don’t know where E are,”
‘enormous success.
”’E don’t know where E are,”
”’E don’t know where he are,”
‘by Harry Wright and Fred Eplett.
‘A second ”Never introduce your Donah to a Pal.”
‘Read what the Umpire, Sunday, April 9th [1893], says:-
‘I won’t go so far as to say that the fortune of Mr Gus Elen was made by that popular ditty, ”Never introduce your Donah to a Pal,” but it certainly brought him suddenly to the front, and I can readily understand his desire to obtain another song which should rival in popularity that most entertaining coster wail, set, as it is, to one of the very best and freshest melodies of its day. That much desired song Mr Elen seems to have obtained in a lay in which he describes with disgust how a coster friend came into a little money, and at once put on airs, wore a collar and tie, took in daily his ”Sportsman” and his ”Telegrapht,” where formerly he had been contented with the ”Star,” which plainly showed ”E dunno where E are.” The song hasn’t an objectionable line in it, and, like the earlier ditty, it is wedded to a charming melody. ‘MR. GUS ELEN, ‘the Famous London Comedian, ‘concludes To-night a most genuine success at the Palace, Manchester, Topping the Bill Second Week.
‘Monday, PADDINGTON, LIVERPOOL next,
‘Manchester Courier, April 4th 1893,
”’And Mr Gus Elen, a clever, humorous artiste of the English music hall type, is gain in the arena of former triumphs.”
‘Manchester Spy, April 8th, 1893.
”’Mr Gus Elen has a new song ”E don’t know where E are,” which catches on in grand style.”
‘P.S. – Have you read the ”Openshaw Romance” in the Spy of April 1st issue (two columns), get it, it’s funny?
”’Never Introduce your Donah to a Pal.”
‘Booked at Pavilion, Tivoli, Oxford [music halls], for Three Years.
‘Sole and Exclusive Agents, Hugh J. Didcott and Co.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 15 April 1893, p. 27c, advertisement)

The Oxford music hall, London, October 1893
‘Mr Gus Elen seems very fortunate in his choice of songs, ”Never intoduce your donah to a pal” was whistled by every street boy; and now ”’E dunno where ‘e are” threatens to become one of the carols of Cockaigne. So great, indeed, is the popularity of the singer that in every postal district in London the peculiarities of Jack Jones, who, since he has ”tumbled into a bit of brass, ‘as the cheek and imperdence to call ‘is muver ‘is ma,” are heartily laughed at.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 4 November 1893, p. 16a)

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G.H. Chirgwin in Australia, 1896

July 13, 2013

G.H. Chirgwin (1854-1922), English music hall entertainer, singer and musician, famously billed as ‘The White-Eyed Kaffir’
(photo: unknown, probably UK, late 1890s; Ogden’s ‘Guinea Gold’ cigarette card, circa 1900)

”’THE WHITE-EYED KAFFIR.”
‘A CHAT WITH “CHIRGWIN”
‘And this was the White-eyed Musical Kaffir!
We must confess that our first impression of the famous Chirgwin were distinctly disappointing, and that they by no means came up to his pictured presentment, as made familiar in the highly-coloured bills to which he refers easily as his “printing.” We had imagined to our selves a long-drawn-out ebony figure, relieved only by a diamond-shaped patch over his right eye and topped off by an Ally Sloper hat of the most pronounced type. Such a personality we felt would be a distinct adornment to the rich decoration of the Moorish lounge at Menzies’ [i.e. at the Menzies Hotel, Melbourne]. Instead, we are introduced to a ruddy-faced gentleman well on the right side of middle age, and loosely attired in a tourist suit that smacks of the rolling ocean. The Kaffir’s manner far from being bloodthirsty is distinctly amiable and presently, when seated in his cosy sitting-room under the guardianship of his guide philosopher and friend, Mr. Harry Rickards, he proves himself an admirable conversationalist.
”’I must have been on stage for many years? I believe you. It is nearly 33 years since I first took to the boards, and I shall be just 42 years of age in December. The fact is that my first public appearance was at 5 years of age when my brothers and I appeared as the Chirgwin Family, and formed a Juvenile Christy Minstrel troupe. I used to play the bones and the violin at first, and gradually increased my mastery of other instruments till now it pretty well covers the whole range of strings, as well as the bagpipes and the musette. When I grew older we separated, and I appeared for a time with a younger brother, but for the last eighteen years I have been on my own’.”
”’And how did you come to be known as ‘the White-eyed Kaffir?”
”’Oh, that was a pure accident. I had gone up to perform at an open-air fete at Gloucester. A storm got up in the middle of the performance, and a lot of dust was blown into my right eye. The pain was so great that I naturally set to work rubbing my eye and when I faced the audience again there was a shriek of laughter. I had rubbed a patch of the black off round my eye, and the effect was so peculiar that I stuck to it ever since. Though, of course, it was some time before I adopted the diamond shaped patch as a distinctive mark.”
”’And you always appear in the same make up”
”’Always, even when I do my Scottish act, but, of course, I change the clothes and properties. You see my entertainment is unique of its kind. I am the only artist in England who goes in for this line of business, and it is a style which allows of the black face always being worn. You see have no prepared patter, and I don’t adhere to any specified programme. My idea is to come on the stage and have a good time. When I get an audience that I like I go off at score, giving them a melange of songs, dances and instrumental music, and reeling off the dialogue just is it comes into my head. I have never appeared but with a black face, except in my pantomime engagements.”
”’To show how I vary my entertainment, no one in England has ever been able to mimic me. Many of the best mimics have tried to do so. Perhaps one of them will say, ‘Look here, Chirgwin, old man, I’m going to sing that song of yours exactly as you sing it.’ Well, that man will come to the halls where I’m singing night after night, and when he thinks he has got me off pat I’ll wing it in an entirely different way, so that when he comes on afterwards to mimic me it isn’t a bit like, and he gets properly slipped up.
”’I’ll give you another illustration. On the same night I have appeared at four different halls ranging from the Tivoli and the Oxford [in central London] to Harwood’s varieties at Hoxton, which perhaps caters to the roughest class of people in London. Then I have gone straight from there to sing at a command concert in the state-room of the Lyceum Theatre before the Prince of Wales, and with an audience including such critics as Sir Henry Irving and Mr Beerbohm Tree.”
”’You have never crossed the line before, I believe.”
”’No, I’ve been all over the Continent, Spain, France, Germany and Italy, but this is my first experience out of Europe. If it’s all as pleasant as it was on board the Ophir I feel that I am going to have a real good time.”
”’And is your stay likely to be long?”
”’My engagement with my old friend Mr. Rickards is for six months though that depends on how I suit him.”
‘Mr. Rickards from the depths of a mighty arm chair, breaks in to say ”You’ll suit me all right, old boy” and then subsides again while the “White-eyed Kaffir” takes up the thread of his discourse.
”’I’m due back in London again next August, and after filling my engagements there I go to America. The only thing I am sorry about is that I can’t open at the Opera-house [in Melbourne] on Saturday night. What with the long rest of six weeks and the sea air both my instruments and myself have got a little out of order. Working as hard as I can, things will hardly be right before Monday. An artist must be constantly playing and singing to keep up to concert pitch. Why, every fiddler in the orchestra feels the difference in his fingers on Monday after Sunday’s rest. I want to do myself justice, so I shall wait till Monday evening to make my first bow to an Australian audience.”
Mr Chirgwin is accompanied by Mrs Chirgwin, a daughter well up in her teens, and what he terms ”a young Kaffir” just rising six months.’
(The Argus, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 28 November 1896, p. 13d)

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July 13, 2013

G.H. Chirgwin (1854-1922), English music hall entertainer, singer and musician, famously billed as ‘The White-Eyed Kaffir’
(photo: unknown, probably UK, late 1890s; Ogden’s ‘Guinea Gold’ cigarette card, circa 1900)

“’THE WHITE-EYED KAFFIR.”
‘A CHAT WITH “CHIRGWIN”
‘And this was the White-eyed Musical Kaffir!
We must confess that our first impression of the famous Chirgwin were distinctly disappointing, and that they by no means came up to his pictured presentment, as made familiar in the highly-coloured bills to which he refers easily as his “printing.” We had imagined to our selves a long-drawn-out ebony figure, relieved only by a diamond-shaped patch over his right eye and topped off by an Ally Sloper hat of the most pronounced type. Such a personality we felt would be a distinct adornment to the rich decoration of the Moorish lounge at Menzies’ [i.e. at the Menzies Hotel, Melbourne]. Instead, we are introduced to a ruddy-faced gentleman well on the right side of middle age, and loosely attired in a tourist suit that smacks of the rolling ocean. The Kaffir’s manner far from being bloodthirsty is distinctly amiable and presently, when seated in his cosy sitting-room under the guardianship of his guide philosopher and friend, Mr. Harry Rickards, he proves himself an admirable conversationalist.
“’I must have been on stage for many years? I believe you. It is nearly 33 years since I first took to the boards, and I shall be just 42 years of age in December. The fact is that my first public appearance was at 5 years of age when my brothers and I appeared as the Chirgwin Family, and formed a Juvenile Christy Minstrel troupe. I used to play the bones and the violin at first, and gradually increased my mastery of other instruments till now it pretty well covers the whole range of strings, as well as the bagpipes and the musette. When I grew older we separated, and I appeared for a time with a younger brother, but for the last eighteen years I have been on my own’.”
“’And how did you come to be known as ‘the White-eyed Kaffir?”
“’Oh, that was a pure accident. I had gone up to perform at an open-air fete at Gloucester. A storm got up in the middle of the performance, and a lot of dust was blown into my right eye. The pain was so great that I naturally set to work rubbing my eye and when I faced the audience again there was a shriek of laughter. I had rubbed a patch of the black off round my eye, and the effect was so peculiar that I stuck to it ever since. Though, of course, it was some time before I adopted the diamond shaped patch as a distinctive mark.”
“’And you always appear in the same make up”
“’Always, even when I do my Scottish act, but, of course, I change the clothes and properties. You see my entertainment is unique of its kind. I am the only artist in England who goes in for this line of business, and it is a style which allows of the black face always being worn. You see have no prepared patter, and I don’t adhere to any specified programme. My idea is to come on the stage and have a good time. When I get an audience that I like I go off at score, giving them a melange of songs, dances and instrumental music, and reeling off the dialogue just is it comes into my head. I have never appeared but with a black face, except in my pantomime engagements.”
“’To show how I vary my entertainment, no one in England has ever been able to mimic me. Many of the best mimics have tried to do so. Perhaps one of them will say, ‘Look here, Chirgwin, old man, I’m going to sing that song of yours exactly as you sing it.’ Well, that man will come to the halls where I’m singing night after night, and when he thinks he has got me off pat I’ll wing it in an entirely different way, so that when he comes on afterwards to mimic me it isn’t a bit like, and he gets properly slipped up.
”’I’ll give you another illustration. On the same night I have appeared at four different halls ranging from the Tivoli and the Oxford [in central London] to Harwood’s varieties at Hoxton, which perhaps caters to the roughest class of people in London. Then I have gone straight from there to sing at a command concert in the state-room of the Lyceum Theatre before the Prince of Wales, and with an audience including such critics as Sir Henry Irving and Mr Beerbohm Tree.“
”’You have never crossed the line before, I believe.“
”’No, I’ve been all over the Continent, Spain, France, Germany and Italy, but this is my first experience out of Europe. If it’s all as pleasant as it was on board the Ophir I feel that I am going to have a real good time.“
”’And is your stay likely to be long?“
”’My engagement with my old friend Mr. Rickards is for six months though that depends on how I suit him.“
‘Mr. Rickards from the depths of a mighty arm chair, breaks in to say ’’You’ll suit me all right, old boy” and then subsides again while the “White-eyed Kaffir” takes up the thread of his discourse.
“’I’m due back in London again next August, and after filling my engagements there I go to America. The only thing I am sorry about is that I can’t open at the Opera-house [in Melbourne] on Saturday night. What with the long rest of six weeks and the sea air both my instruments and myself have got a little out of order. Working as hard as I can, things will hardly be right before Monday. An artist must be constantly playing and singing to keep up to concert pitch. Why, every fiddler in the orchestra feels the difference in his fingers on Monday after Sunday’s rest. I want to do myself justice, so I shall wait till Monday evening to make my first bow to an Australian audience.”
Mr Chirgwin is accompanied by Mrs Chirgwin, a daughter well up in her teens, and what he terms “a young Kaffir” just rising six months.’
(The Argus, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 28 November 1896, p. 13d)