Tag Archives: 1945

Blithe Spirit

Ghosts or Double Exposures ?

Nothing similar in the family albums but  in this family theatre program are some ghosts of a different kind on the stage of the Comedy  Theatre in Melbourne in 1945.  The  Blithe Spiritghost  in question is the spirit of a man’s first wife who turns up after a seance.  She can be seen  (and heard)  by the husband but not by the second wife or anyone else.

And of course the play is Blithe Spirit by the witty and cheeky Noel Coward.  Wikipedia reminds  us that ” the play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book.

The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance.    Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles’s marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.”

But there are many more twist and turns before the end.

Perhaps they should have staged the show a block away in The Princess Theatre which has its own resident ghost, that of a baritone playing in Faust who died just off stage in 1888.

In May 1945 Australia was still at war with Japan and the Military Hospital in the suburb of Heidelberg was very busy. The hospital had a theatre and with a replica Blithe Spirit set constructed the whole cast was able to pile Blithe Spirit - backinto a bus and go to Heidelberg to put on the show one afternoon.

With patients, bed cases  and staff there was no standing room left, with some patients needing to sit in the orchestra pit.  A most appreciative audience.

Meanwhile just across the road from the Comedy Theatre was His Majesty’s Theatre which that same year staged  The Desert Song with Max Oldaker  and his interpretation of The Red Shadow which I wrote about in a previous post

Also in 1945 a film was made of Blithe Spirit with Rex Harrison as the male lead and the wonderful Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati who conducts the seance.

Australian TV viewers might see a slight overlapping of the theme with the recent ABC production of “Glitch”  where the fortunate/unfortunate husband has both his living and his dead wife in his life at the same time.

Whereas Noel Coward was strictly for the laughs, Glitch is a serious look at the “what if” situation.  It has been described as an Australian Gothic and much of the shooting was done on summer evenings in my old home towm, the old gold town of Castlemaine in Central Victoria.

Further connections to ghosts and double exposures can be found in this week’ Sepia Saturday post.

 

 

 

 

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The Red Shadow – in Melbourne

When young I didn’t have to contribute much to the household chores except for doing the dusting on a Saturday morning. On my mother’s dressing table was an old-fashioned cream celluloid photo frame displaying a photo of my father,     I discovered that there was a postcard photo of someone else slipped in behind my father.

Lance Fairfax as The Red Shadow in The Desert song, Melbourne, 1928

Lance Fairfax as The Red Shadow in The Desert song, Melbourne, 1928

I would put this photo of Lance Fairfax to the front and at some later stage someone would restore my  father to the front position without anything being said., week after week, after week.

In the photo Lance Fairfax (1899-1974) is pictured in his role as the Red Shadow in The Desert Song which had  opened in Melbourne in September 1928 for a 28 week run. Lance, who was born in New Zealand, had been a distinguished soldier in World War 1 and a sportsman, then pursued a career as a baritone both in Australia and overseas.

The Desert Song is an operetta by Sigmund  Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein.  At the time. the Arabs in North Africa were romanticized as they rebelled against French Colonial rule. Think of Beau Geste or Lawrence of Arabia.  In 1925 there was an uprising by a group of Moroccan fighters called the Riffs and this inspired the storyline for The Desert Song. Then in best Scarlet Pimpernel fashion we have the  quiet, uninteresting character who though known to us but not by the cast keeps transforming into the handsome and dashing hero who wins the beautiful maiden.

Of interest on the back of the postcard is Broadcasting Co of Australia Pty Ltd.  This the independent national public broadcaster founded in 1929 and which took over several other funded radio stations to form a single  whole.  There were many live broadcasts and Lance was a part of that.  The front of the postcard mentions 3LO and 3AR the two Melbourne stations.

Lance rode his horse on stage in the production of The Desert Song so it was interesting to see this newspaper report in 1931.

Lance Fairfax’s Steed. MELBOURNE, March 29. 1931

A horse used by Lance Fairfax in the operetta, The Desert Song, last night figured In an amazing accident In Carlton. The horse, which was attached to a cab. bolted half a mile. and then slipped in a gutter. The cab overturned on top of an Italian woman. Sablna Benporath. aged 30 and her three children, one of whom 13 months old was critically Injured. The others suffered minor injuries

The Desert Song was staged at his Majesty’s in Melbourne again in 1945 with Max Oldaker in the lead role.  This was my introduction to the Desert Song.

The outside and inside of the four-fold paper theatre programme in Melbourne in 1945

The show had  premiered on Broadway in 1926 and was made into an early sound film in 1929 which was very faithful to the original stage show,  Here is John Boles singing The Riff Song in the movie.

 

Isn’t that just gorgeous  !

Lance Fairfax played  the role of the Red Shadow in Melbourne in 1928 but I can’t find video of him in that role,  but here is  a very brief view of him singing Toreador in a movie of Carmen.

The 1929 movie of The Desert Song  has an interesting history. By the 1940s, the original 1929 film had become illegal to view or exhibit in the United States due to its Pre-Code content which included sexual innuendo, lewd suggestive humor and open discussion of themes such as homosexuality.   Well,Well !  I would dearly love to see a copy of that first movie just to see what I’ve been missing out on.

Dennis Morgan starred in the 1943  movie version which had the Red Shadow fighting the Nazis and now being call El Khobar instead of the Red Shadow.  And in 1953 there was a  “cleaned-up” version starring Gordon McRae and Kathryn Grayson , here singing The Desert Song.

 

In 1955 there was a live performance on TV  with Nelson Eddy of movies fame, in the lead role, the only time he performed a live role, here singing One Alone.

 

Barry Humphries once asked the second Melbourne Red Shadow, Max Oldaker,   how he managed to smile so sincerely at the curtain call on a thin Wednesday matinee. Humphries recorded: ‘He said, “Dear Barry, it’s an old trick Noel taught me, and it never fails.” He demonstrated, standing in the middle of the dressing room in his Turkish towelling gown, eyes sparkling, teeth bared in a dazzling smile. “Sillycunts,” beamed Max through clenched teeth, bowing to the imaginary stalls. “Sillycunts,” again, to the circle, the gods and the royal box. “It looks far more genuine than ‘cheese’, dear boy,” said Max, “and you’ve just got to hope that no one in the stalls can lip read.” I couldn’t help thinking of all my mother’s friends at those Melbourne matinees, their palms moist, hearts palpitating as Max Oldaker, the Last of the Matinee Idols, flashed them all his valedictory smile.’

What would we do without a little bit of nostalgia in our lives.

Sepia Saturday