Bert Bailey 1868-1953
Bailey and Duggan’s greatest success was undoubtedly On Our Selection, which they (possibly with Beaumont Smith) adapted from the beloved stories of Steele Rudd, the pseudonym of Arthur Hoey Davis.
In 1932 young director Ken G. Hall coaxed Bert Bailey and Fred Macdonald to reprise their portrayals of Dad and Dave in a film version of On Our Selection. Cinesound Productions’ first film, it was budgeted at a modest £6000.
Bailey and Duggan, or ‘Albert Edmunds’, wrote many more melodramas. The Man from Out Back; or, Stockwhip and Stirrup was an early attraction at the King’s Theatre in Russell Street, Melbourne, which William Anderson had built in 1908. Now the villains were cattle duffers rather than bushrangers, but the mix was much the same. There were horses, dogs and a galah, though the ‘stolen’ cattle were sacked because of their indelicate behaviour at rehearsals. Among the company was a genuine ‘new chum’ playing Dave Goulburn, ‘a sundowner’: Roy Redgrave, a footloose rake whose son, Michael, eventually far surpassed him in fame and fortune.
Another ‘Albert Edmunds’ effort, The Native Born, was built around a grisly murder and the discovery of gold near Mount Kosciusko. Bailey played an illusionist, Charlie Spinifex, so there were plenty of magic tricks as well as a convincing stage snow storm.
In 1911 Bailey and Duggan joined with their business manager Julius Grant to lease the King’s Theatre from William Anderson. It became the home of the Bert Bailey Dramatic Company, jointly run by Bailey, Grant, Duggan and Anderson. Duggan’s My Mate, in February 1911, featured Bailey as Dolf Darling, a somewhat sophisticated stockrider, and Duggan as his ‘mate’, a long-suffering selector. It was so formulaic that one reviewer said Duggan ‘has faced drought and flood and fire so often on the stage that it must be hard sometimes for him to remember that he is in fact not on the land.’
Bailey and Duggan’s greatest success was undoubtedly On Our Selection, which they (possibly with Beaumont Smith) adapted from the beloved stories of Steele Rudd, the pseudonym of Arthur Hoey Davis. On Our Selection premiered at the Palace Theatre in Sydney on 4 May 1912 with Bailey as Dad and Fred Macdonald as Dave. It was warm and funny and, to city audiences, so real that The Bulletin observed, ‘One sniffs the pastoral odour of the unseen cow that trespasses on Dad’s lucerne patch.’ In one form or another, On Our Selection has been around ever since. In 1920 Bailey took the play to the Lyric Theatre in London. There, Hal Porter, noted acerbically: ‘It corrected any image the English might have been forming of Australia as part-civilised.’ It was withdrawn after 31 performances.
Largely due to the success of On Our Selection, Bailey, Duggan and Grant became major entrepreneurs, continuing to churn out their trademark popular theatrical Australiana. Their firm was a foundation member of the Theatrical Proprietors’ and Managers’ Association.
They adapted Steele Rudd’s Duncan McClure and the Poor Parson in 1916. Gran’dad Rudd followed in 1918. In 1922, for E.J. and Dan Carroll, they produced The Sentimental Bloke, adapted for the stage from the poems of C.J. Dennis; Bailey played Ginger Mick. Its success was not repeated when they staged a season of Shakespeare in Sydney which was a commercial disaster. After the last performance, Bailey addressed the audience: ‘Although the plays have been pretty well done, we’ve lost money, but tomorrow night I’m going to put on Dad’s whiskers and get it all back.’ And he did.
In 1929, after he toured Barry Conners’ popular ‘Cinderella’ farce The Patsy to 110 country towns, Bailey decided that ‘talkies’ would destroy live theatre. He packed away his whiskers and retired. But not for long.
In 1932 young director Ken G. Hall coaxed Bert Bailey and Fred Macdonald to reprise their portrayals of Dad and Dave in a film version of On Our Selection. Cinesound Productions’ first film, it was budgeted at a modest £6000. It became an instant box office hit, raking in £46,000 within a few months. It did less well in Britain, where it was released as Down on the Farm.
Photograph courtesy of National Library of Australia. an22985237
J. Beresford Fowler: The Green-Eyed Monster, Arthur H. Stockwell, 1968
Eric Irvin: Australian Melodrama, Hale and Iremonger, 1981
Eric Irvin: Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, 1788-1914, Hale and Iremonger, 1985
Helen Musa: ‘Bert Bailey’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Andrew Pike: ‘Bert Bailey’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 7, Melbourne University Press
Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper: Australian Film, 1900-1977, Oxford University Press, 1980
Hal Porter: Stars of Australian Stage and Screen, Rigby, 1965
Margaret Williams: Australia on the Popular Stage, 1829-1929, Oxford, 1983