Gladys Moncrieff OBE 1892-1976

Gladys Moncrieff

Gladys Moncrieff

There was little theatrical glamour in Bundaberg, the central Queensland sugar town where Gladys Lillian Moncrieff was born on 13 April 1892.

Gladys sang in her school’s Gilbert and Sullivan productions and with the local choral society in Handel’s Messiah.

In 1921, she first played Teresa in The Maid of the Mountains. Its resounding success established her as a major star.

 

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‘Glad is a dear, so charming, and has a natural manner, which is what has made her so beloved,’ wrote one of her many leading men, Australian tenor Max Oldaker. ‘She is so natural. I’ve never met a star so unlike a star. To me she is perfectly charming. Her flowers on the first night practically filled the stage, and her reception at her first entrance was stupendous and held up the show. The applause rose and fell and rose again, interspersed with cheers and whistling. Somehow she brings back the glamour of the theatre.’

There was little theatrical glamour in Bundaberg, the central Queensland sugar town where Gladys Lillian Moncrieff was born on 13 April 1892. Her parents were musical: her mother was a soprano who’d had a short professional career as Ada Lambell; her father played and repaired organs and presented silent movies in local halls. Glad was six the first time she sang at one of his shows. Soon after, Dan Barry came to town with East Lynne, and little Gladys became Little Willie – her first professional role.

The family moved to Townsville. Gladys sang in her school’s Gilbert and Sullivan productions and with the local choral society in Handel’s Messiah. With funds raised at a benefit concert, she went to Sydney to further her vocal studies. She appeared in suburban vaudeville for J.C. Bain and in 1911 auditioned for Hugh J. Ward, managing director of J.C. Williamson’s. With Melba’s approval, she was given a three-year contract. After tuition from Ward’s wife, Grace Miller, Moncrieff joined Williamson’s chorus. She progressed steadily. She had featured roles in a 1916 tour of South Africa. Two years later, in New Zealand, she was given the lead in Katinka. Other musicals followed until, in 1921, she first played Teresa in The Maid of the Mountains. Its resounding success established her as a major star. She also had a hit with A Southern Maid, which came from the same writing team. As in London, it was directed by Oscar Asche. A live transmission of the performance of 10 January 1924 launched Sydney’s second radio station, 2FC.

In 1924 Moncrieff married a dancer, Tom Moore. J.C. Williamson’s paid for their honeymoon in London, where Moncrieff made her first recordings. Back in Australia Williamson’s starred her in The Lady of the Rose, The Street Singer and revivals of The Merry Widow and – inevitably – The Maid of the Mountains. With her husband as her manager she decided to try her luck overseas. Foolishly she accepted the first show she was offered, a shoddy new musical called Riki Tiki. It ran only two weeks in the West End. In early 1927 she scored the lead in Franz Lehár’s latest operetta, The Blue Mazurka, at Daly’s, but what started as a successful run ended after six months when the show’s producer committed suicide.

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Biographical references

Ian Bevan: The Story of the Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
Peter Burgis: ‘Gladys Moncrieff’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 10, Melbourne University Press
Alwyn Capern and John West: ‘Gladys Moncrieff’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Adrian Magee: Gladys Moncrieff – Australia’s Queen of Song, Reed Library, 1997
Gladys Moncrieff: My Life of Song, Rigby, 1971
Charles Osborne: Max Oldaker – Last of the Matinee Idols, Michael O’Mara Books, 1988