Born: Established: 1 Jan 1891 Darlington, Inner Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, ; Died: Ceased: 2 Mar 1971 Melbourne, Victoria,
1. JIM GERALD'S COMIC STYLE:
Regarded as one of the four leading Australian comics of the great vaudeville and revue era, along with Roy Rene, Nat Phillips, and George Wallace, it has been said that Jim Gerald differed from his competitors in that he was much more of an internationalist, preferring not to be too parochial in his settings and stories. While there may be some element of truth in this claim, it was more than likely a result of Gerald having spent his formative years overseas. His perception of what constituted Australianness would therefore have been shaped differently than those who had lived here all their lives (or who, like Nat Phillips, had left the country for extended periods later in their life). This criticism that Gerald's shows were insufficiently Australian appears to have been levelled at the comedian by academics and historians writing in the latter half of the twentieth century. There is certainly no evidence available in reviews or historical insights from the period that this was an issue of concern for Gerald's popular culture audience base. Indeed, there is no indication that either the audiences or critics considered his revusicals as being of an 'imported' kind. Although a number of his revues were set in overseas locations (he also found a niche specialising in the spoofing of foreign names), this was by no means uncommon during the revusical era. Nat Phillips and George Wallace also set several of their works in overseas locations.
What set Gerald apart from most other comedians, aside from George Wallace, and helped establish him as one of Australia's great comedians and pantomime dames, was his remarkable gift for physical comedy. At the other end of the extreme, however, was his comedic delivery, essentially in the droll style. His performances, therefore, created a sense of paradox, the heightened physicality of his acrobatics and devil-may-care stagecraft juxtaposed with his quaint, laid-back characterisations. As a performer, he appears to have also refrained from delving into vulgarity, a factor that won him much approval as a wholesome comedian.
2. HISTORICAL NOTES AND CORRECTIONS (Jim Gerald):
2.1. Jim Gerald's entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Volume 14, 1996, p.263) and the Companion to Theatre in Australia (p.243) record that he was born on 2 January. His military records, including Gerald's self-written application forms, indicate, however, that the date was 1 January (ctd. National Archives of Australia, Series - B883; No - NX70922).
2.2. A number of secondary sources have incorrectly claimed that Gerald was the nephew of Dan and Tom Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald
Brother's Circus) and their younger brother John D. 'Jack' Fitzgerald (1862-1922), a prominent Sydney barrister, social reformer and Labor parliamentarian. In her 1996 entry on Jim Gerald for the Australian Dictionary of Biography,
Martha Rutledge writes, for example, that he was a 'nephew of J. D.
Fitzgerald,' and that he 'haunted his uncle's circus.' In this respect
she is possibly referencing and expanding on Charles Norman's comment in
When Vaudeville Was King (1983). On page 224 Norman writes: 'Jim Gerald came from a circus family. Some of his uncles were the top names of the day.'
Robert Colomb, retired Reader in Information Systems, School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (The University of Queensland), has discovered through extensive historical and genealogical research that the two Fitzgerald families were unrelated. In correspondence with AustLit in April 2013 he draws attention to Stephen Fitzgerald having been born in Clifton, Gloucester (England) in 1820. According to Bede Nairn's biography of John 'Jack' Fitzgerald (Australian Dictionary of Biography) he and his brothers Dan and Tom were the sons of schoolteacher John Daniel Fitzgerald and his wife Mary Ann, née Cullen, both from Limerick, Ireland. The elder brothers Dan and Tom were born in New Zealand in the late 1850s, while 'Jack' was born in Shell Harbour, New South Wales in 1862.
Writing more than a decade after Gerald's death, Charles Norman has possibly assumed a familial connection with the Fitzgerald Brothers because the comedian's childhood background was in the circus. However, while Gerald toured the world as a child acrobat/clown it was not with the Fitzgerald Brothers but with a circus run by strongman Oscar Pagel.
2.4. For further details pertaining to acrobatic displays in the sandhills behind Centennial Park (Sydney), see Alf 'Redhead' Wilson's article, 'In the Sandhill Days', published in Australian Variety 17 January 1917, n. pag.
2.5. It has also been claimed that Gerald did not write his own scripts (Companion to Theatre in Australia, p.243), which is clearly erroneous. Numerous references to Gerald being the author of his shows can be found through primary sources such as newspapers and industry magazines. Notable, for example, are Gerald's routinely mentioned wartime experiences having been the source of inspiration for 1914-1918 ; Or, For the Duration and 'The New Recruit'. Other sources indicating Gerald's authorship of particular works include a review of Step This Way, published in the Theatre Magazine in 1926, which reads, 'When Jim rests from acting, singing and dancing on the boards he presumably spends his leisure in writing scripts, which in turn gave him ample work as a producer. When he sleeps one can only guess... Step This Way is a capital specimen of the Gerald type of revue' (June 1926, p.13). As early as 1923, Gerald was also creating original pantomimes for the Fullers. The first was Little Red Riding Hood, which the Sydney Morning Herald records was 'written and produced by Mr Jim Gerald' (24 December 1923, p.6). See also Gerald's advertised bills in Fuller News (ca. 1922), which similarly indicate that he was the author of his shows.
2.6. Jim Gerald and Essie Jennings were married on 21 July 1913 at St Peter's Anglican Church, Wellington, New Zealand.
2.7. M. A. Keup records in the 13 October 1927 issue of Just It that Gerald made a number of changes to The Honeymoon Girl following its Melbourne season, 'so as to make it quite fresh to Sydney audiences' (p.28). A search through Melbourne newspapers for 1927 has not located any details of a production there, however, even during the company's 1926-1927 season at the Princess Theatre. It is possible, therefore, that Keup mistakenly referred to Melbourne when they meant Brisbane, where the musical comedy was staged between 6 and 19 August. The company's Sydney engagement began on 8 October, only four weeks after departing Brisbane.
2.7. Jim Gerald's known siblings were Lancelot Sherlock Fitzgerald (aka Lance Vane), well-known as an actor/variety artist and stage manager with Gerald's revusical company; Clifton Stephen Australia Fitzgerald (aka Cliff Stevens), a vaudeville comedian; Morris Fitzgerald (no information available); and Richard McGuinness Fitzgerald (see below). Family research undertaken by Rita Thorne indicates that Lance Vane married wardrobe mistress/costume designer Bertha Hillyard in Sydney in 1928. Hillyard's daughter Phyllis du Barry (born Gertrude Phyllis Hillyard) was a stage and screen actress who worked alongside Vane in Jim Gerald's revusical company during 1927-1928 (and later appeared in the George Ward Revue Co). She moved to the USA with her mother in 1932, however, and went on to appear in more than forty Hollywood films. Lance Vane travelled to Los Angeles in 1932, but returned some time later. He died on 21 October 1942 in Sydney. Clifton Fitzgerald married Ellen A. Lucre in Newcastle in 1916 and died in Sydney in 1946.
2.8. An article on Jim Gerald published in the February 1919 issue of the Theatre reports, 'A brother (Max Clifton was his stage name) was killed early in the war' (p.28). Thorne has confirmed that it was Richard McGuiness Fitzgerald who was killed on 4 August 1916 and that his name is remembered on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. It is likely, then, that he was otherwise known as Max Clifton, the actor who for many years was associated with William Anderson's Dramatic Company and who played opposite such well-known actors as Roy Redgrave, Bert Bailey, Edmund Duggan, and J. B. Atholwood.
3. HISTORICAL NOTES AND CORRECTIONS (Essie Jennings):
3.1. Born Esther Patience Futcher in Ballarat, Victoria, in 1884, Essie Jennings was the oldest child of Thomas William Futcher and Susan Patience Porritt. She had at least two siblings, Horace Gordon (1887, also born in Ballarat) and Thomas Frederick (1888, born in Richmond).
3.2. As an illustrated singer during her early career in vaudeville, Essie Jennings would have performed sentimental or patriotic songs in front of background scenery or mood visuals. Prior to the widespread use of film in Australia, these effects were created by heating calcium oxide (lime) to white heat in an oxy-ether lantern, which in turn created enough light to allow slide pictures to be projected onto a screen.
3.3. Charles Dana Gibson's iconic illustrations of beautiful and independent American woman were first published in the 1890s. By 1900, his 'Gibson Girls' were seen as the representative ideal of contemporary womanhood in many Western nations, as well as America.