Born: Established: 15 Feb 1891 ; Died: Ceased: 22 Nov 1954
HISTORICAL NOTES AND CORRECTIONS:
1. In his chapters "Boy Roy" and "A Hebrew Comedian" (Mo's Memoirs pp.45-48) Rene indicates that until the time he was with Bain in Sydney he'd never done a Jewish act at all: "I'd never thought of being a Hebrew comic," he writes. "It just simply had never occurred to me. After Clay, I was working with Jim Bain at the Princess Theatre, the Sydney one, when the cast kidded me into doing some imitations of Jordan and Harvey, and the famous Julian Rose.... I was working as a cornerman, still black-face, but I had learnt one of their numbers, 'Yiddle on your Fiddle, Play Some Ragtime,' and did it. Then I did an imitation of Julian Rose in his act 'Levinsky at the Wedding.' It was supposed to be an imitation of Rose, but I was no more like him than a fly in the air, though somehow with a black-face the act was a riot. What started out as a joke in the first place turned out to be the most important thing that ever happened to me in my career. That piece of black-face fooling led to my eventually developing into a real comic.
Rene's recall here is problematic because he infers that it was this act, under the management of Bain, that caught the attention of the Fullers and led to him being booked to play Wellington's Theatre Royal. A discrepancy arises because it has now been established that he was in New Zealand between at March and November 1912, the year before he first started with Harry Clay. The issue is further clouded because Rene insists that he began with Clay following the closure of The Whip (which ran between 17 December 1910 and 2 March 1911). However, research into his movements from early 1911 indicates that he must have ended his engagement with The Whip before it closed in order to appear in Brisbane under Ted Holland's management on 28 January. By 12 April he was at Hobart's Theatre Royal once again under the management of James Brennan. He also appears to have been working for Brennan for most of the year, with his later engagements being the Gaiety Theatre, Melbourne (15 May -), National Amphitheatre, Sydney (29 July- 15 September), the New Theatre Royal, Brisbane (18 September -) and a return season at the National Amphitheatre (from 20 November onwards). No record of him being with Clay's during the interim periods has yet been located. The aforementioned engagements also indicate that Rene could not possibly have been in Sydney "for months" attempting to see Harry Clay, as he records in his autobiography (p. 42), at any stage during the year.
Interestingly, while Rene also recalls having been in New Zealand for some 18 months (p.47), the evidence (as indicated above) shows that he could not have been in the country any longer than 10 months. In this respect it can be established that he was at the Princess Theatre with J. C. Bain as late as 17 February 1912 and back in Sydney by 7 November the same year, appearing at the national Amphitheatre under James Brennan's management.
2. A number of historians and commentators have claimed that Rene's tendency towards telling 'blue' or offensive jokes was a key factor in the Stiffy and Mo partnership splitting in 1925 and again in 1928. [See, for example, the Companion to Theatre in Australia (p.561), John West's Theatre in Australia (p.125), and Kathy Leahy's 'Roy Rene "Mo." (p.95)]. Regarding the 1925 incident, for example, Phillips is said to have been forced into firing Rene in Adelaide after he uttered a piece of vulgarity relating to one of the city's nude statues (a topic that was decreed taboo by Sir Benjamin Fuller). Evidence from a variety of sources indicates, however, that this issue has been exaggerated.
According to Billy Moloney in Memoirs of an Abominable Showman, Rene's humour has been remembered as being much worse than ever presented: 'I was able to see a lot of Mo [and] while there was a certain amount of double entendre, there never was a tithe of the smut that unreliable memories and distorted hearsay have attributed... actually one needed a dirty mind to know what was going on.' As Moloney recalls Mo saying once, 'Thometimeth my gath have a double meaning. I object to a thow vere ther ith no get-out. I leave it to the audienth to take thingth dirty if they vant to.' Moloney further notes that 'Mo's expressive leer was no sure sign of lechery,' and indeed the problem wasn't due so much due to Rene but with the audience, which could easily find dirt where none was intended. 'For all his reputation,' writes Moloney, 'Roy Rene was most critical of other comedians' "blueness"' (pp.23-24). A comprehensive analysis of reviews published throughout Rene's and Phillips's time on stage together also supports Moloney's claim, with mention of Rene's blue humour being found in only a couple of isolated instances, and then only towards the end of their 1927-1928 reunion period (see Djubal, 'What Oh Tonight, chapter 6).
An examination of the reviews published in the major metropolitan newspapers between 1916 and 1928 also indicates that the issue of risqué or offensive humour was raised only in a few instances, and then mostly during the final twelve to eighteen months of their partnership. Furthermore, whenever the 'doubtful nature of the humour' is raised, neither comedian is singled out, suggesting that Nat Phillips was equally to blame in pushing the boundaries of acceptable humour. An item from the Bulletin's 'Sundry Shows' page in 1927 explains one reason for the occasional lowering of the comedy tone: 'On Saturday Stiffy and Mo kept the crowded audience at Fullers' Theatre in a roar of hilarity with matter which had few objectionable features; the stuff that calls for managerial interference appears to creep in on some of the week nights, in an endeavour to play up to a section of the audience that least deserves consideration. The pair are good enough comedians to do without stuff of this sort; and the management should insist that they shall do without it' (7 April 1927, p.52).
Interestingly, during the 1924/1925 period, no reference to 'blue' or morally contentious humour can be found in any reviews published in either the Sydney Morning Herald or the Argus. It is only the Age that appears at this time to have questioned the comedians' delivery, and then only on a couple of occasions during the company's four-month season at the Bijou. In one review, for example, the paper's theatre critic writes, 'Their work is as fresh as ever but there is still a tendency to create a doubtful type of humour' (23 February 1925, p.11).
The following list comprises bibliographic details of published and unpublished photographs, caricatures, and drawings of Roy Rene (and as Mo), Dorothy (Dot) Davis and Sadie Gale. See also Nat Phillips's Stiffy and Mo Revue Company record in AustLit.
Australian National Journal: December 1941, p.60 [Mo as Elizabeth of England]
Australian Variety: 25 October 1916, n. pag. [Mo - caricature] ; 17 January 1917, n. pag.
Brisbane, Katherine, ed. Entertaining Australia, p.214 [Mo].
Bulletin: 29 October 1925, p.34 [Rene and Harry Green caricature]
Carroll, Brian. Australian Stage Album, p.83 [Mo].
Crocker, Patti. Radio Days (1989), p.56 [Rene].
Everyone's: 21 January 1925, p.33 [Gale]
Fuller News: December/January 1921/1922, pp.7, 24 [Davis in Cinderella ; Rene] ; 21 January 1922, pp.4, 16 [Mo - caricature ; Davis] ; 11 March 1922, p.1 [Rene] ; 22 April 1922, front cover [Rene caricature by Brodie Mack] ; 24 June 1922, p.2 [Rene].
Greats, The: p.261.
Green Room: November 1922, p.8 [Gale].
Harris, Max. 'The Secret Life of Mo', Bulletin 15 July 1980, p.40 [Mo - caricature].
Just It: 18 November 1926, front cover [Sadie Gale] ; 8 September 1927, p.28 [Sadie Gale].
Kent, Jacqueline. Out of the Bakelite Box, pp.10, 15, 17, 19 [Colgate-Palmolive Radio Unit Co ; Cast of McCackie Mansion ; Cast of McCackie Mansion ; Rene and Hal Lashwood]
Let's Look at Radio: pp.40, 46 [Cast of Calling the Stars - Rene, Hal Lashwood, Jack Burgess, Harry Avondale, Harry Griffith ; Mo]
Mendelsohn, Oscar. 'Salute to Mo', Overland 69 (1978): pp.51-54. [Mo - caricature by Noel Counihas].
National Archives of Australia: Series No - A1861, 6443 [Mo].
National Library of Australia: See Music Collection ('Rachel Cohen', by Nat Phillips), Pictures Collection (Kerry Norton Photographs) and Ephemera Collection. See also National Library of Australia News, September 2006, pp.7-10.
Nat Phillips Collection: Fryer Library, University of Qld. UQFL9; Box 11 - Folder 1.
New Theatre Australia: March/April (1988), n. pag. [Rene pre-Stiffy and Mo].
Parsons, Fred. A Man Called Mo, v. pags.
Rene, Roy. Mo's Memoirs, v. pags.
Screen News: 29 September 1934, n. pag. [two scenes from Strike Me Lucky].
Tait, Viola. Dames, Principal Boys... and All That, p.228.
Theatre Magazine: April 1915, n. pag. [Rene with Albert Bletsoe Co].
Thompson, John. Five to Remember, p.1. [Mo - caricature].
Van Straten, Frank. Tivoli, v. pags.
Other related photographs include:
Albert Sluice: Australian Variety 4 Oct. 1916, n. pag. [reproduced 25 March 1920, p.6].
The following recordings are available commercially and/or through various Australian libraries. See also the Stiffy and Mo agent record in AustLit.
Compilations (compact disks):
Australian Memories: Recordings from 1926-1943. Crystal Stream Audio, CD, IDCD10, 1998. ('Mr McCackie').
Christmas with Mrs 'Obbs, Dad and Dave and Friends. National Film and Sound Archive, CD 9710558, 1997 [Series: Australia's Radio Favourites from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.] ('McCackie Mansion 1947 Christmas Edition').
Our Century. Columbia, CD, 492991.6, 1999 (radio excerpts).
Stars of the Australian Stage and Radio: Volume 1. Larrikin, CD, LRH 429. [Series: Warren Faye Presents Yesterday's Australia] ('McCackie Madhouse' - with Sadie Gale and Harry Griffiths')
This is Mo. Festival, FL30767, 196- (Incl. 'Underneath the Arches,' 'Mo Writes to Hollywood,' 'The Rose of No-Man's Land,' 'The Difference,' 'The Barmaid and the Butcher,' 'Dreaming,' 'Two Very Ordinary People,' 'Mo's Cow,' 'My Night Out,' 'Mo's Anniversary Party', and 'Tribute to Mo').