Fullers Vaudeville: ‘the night’s entertainment goes with a swing’

Recently I bought a few historic photographs of Wellington at an op shop (they were reproductions from the Turnbull Library collection). In one of them – looking east along Courtenay Place with the De Luxe Theatre (now the Embassy) in the centre – I noticed a large sign on a building for “Fullers Vaudeville”. I know the De Luxe opened in 1924 and was a little surprised that vaudeville was still popular at this date. I tend to associate it with the nineteenth century.

This photograph is also online – here it is, with a detail of the vaudeville sign below.

Fullers courtenay place pic.jpg

Courtenay Place, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-051232-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23060215

Fullers vaudeville detail of building.PNG

So I did some online research to find out something of Fullers Vaudeville. They were in fact very popular and had theatres in New Zealand and Australia. There are Te Ara (NZ Biographies online) biographies of John Fuller (1850 – 1923)  and his son (Sir) Benjamin Fuller (1875–1952)[1].

John Fuller was born in London, England, on 26 June 1850. By his late twenties he was singing and “became a great favourite in London, being strongly built with a commanding appearance, dashing good looks, fair hair, a moustache, and a tenor voice which was described as being ‘of remarkably sweet and sympathetic quality’”[2]

In 1889 he toured Australia with the London Pavilion Company and remained there. In 1893 he accepted an engagement to tour New Zealand as tenor soloist with the Albu Sisters and decided to remain in Auckland when the tour ended. His children, once old enough, joined him in performing. They were successful and in 1896 formed the Myriorama Company. “The programme featured coloured ‘magic lantern’ pictures projected onto a large screen, accompanied by a spoken commentary and appropriate songs and instrumental items performed by Fuller and his family, assisted by occasional guest artists.

“From the end of 1898 the Myriorama was slowly replaced by a waxworks show. The main musical entertainment was given only after the audience had had ample opportunity to examine the especially imported Australian waxwork figures of famous and infamous international personages assembled in the foyer. Under the name of John Fuller and Sons Melbourne Waxworks and Vaudeville Company, the touring show became so popular that four were opened simultaneously in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin…

“As well as regularly changing the waxwork impersonations, Fuller engaged artists outside the family to augment and eventually take over the vaudeville entertainment. At this time he handed the day-to-day organisation over to his son Benjamin. … Anticipating changes in public taste, over the next two years the waxworks part of the show was phased out and the live entertainment component expanded into John Fuller and Sons Vaudeville Circuit. Further rapid growth saw the extension of the vaudeville circuit to Australia. Eventually the headquarters was moved to Sydney, where the company was to become one of the leaders of Australasian public entertainment until well into the 1930s.”[3]

It was the ‘talkies’ (movies with sound) that saw the end of vaudeville shows. Fullers’ theatres in New Zealand eventually sold out to Kerridge Odeon. (The waxworks were found in the basement of the King’s Theatre in Dunedin and sold at auction in 1914.[4])

In Wellington Fullers appears to have first occupied the Theatre Royal, but by sometime in 1913 was located in His Majesty’s Theatre in Courtenay Place.

And what kind of entertainment did Fullers Vaudeville show? As well as singing and dancing there was a range of other acts. In January 1916 for example there was an ‘impressionist’, ‘an extraordinary slack wire act’, and ‘America’s versatile tramp musician’. The prices for the evening show were 2 shillings, 1s 6d, and 1s.[5]

In March 1924, ‘Durno is one of the cleverest trick cyclists seen in Wellington and his acrobatic feats are remarkable… Harry North (the concertina swaggie), Remona (the wonder woman), the Baltos (daring equilibrists), Hats McKay (musical cowboy) and the Gordon Lottie trio (wire walkers and acrobats) help make an enjoyable programme.”[6]

In May 1916, the principal “turns” in the programme at Fullers Vaudeville Company included Bailey’s Posing Dogs, Miss Myra Gale and Little Sadie (sketch and dance specialists), Tiny Tot and Marjorie (contortionists) and Carlton Max (ventriloquist).[7]

This was the type of advertisement you could expect to see[8].

Fullers advert

And you could expect the evening’s entertainment to go with a swing![9]

Fullers advert with a swing

 

Where exactly was His Majesty’s Theatre? It is still there, only it goes by the name of St James Theatre now and is the main venue in Wellington for opera and ballet performances.

Fullers Vaudeville 1913 programme.PNG

His Majesty’s Theatre, where everybody goes. Vaudeville de Luxe. [Programme cover, 1913]. Ref: Eph-A-VARIETY-1913-01-cover. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22488032

The St James (or His Majesty’s Theatre) was built in 1912.  It was designed by Henry E White, “a distinguished theatre designer whose buildings are well-known landmarks in Australia and America… His Majesty’s Theatre, was at the time the largest theatre in Australasia”.[10]

 

Left: View east along Courtenay Place, Wellington. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972: Ref: 1/2-045675-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22532160

Footnotes

[1] ‘FULLER, Sir Benjamin John’, from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 23-Apr-09 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/1966/fuller-sir-benjamin-john

[2] Peter Downes. ‘Fuller, John’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 25-Sep-2013 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/2f29/fuller-john

[3] Peter Downes, Fuller, John http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/2f29/fuller-john

[4] Evening Post, 3 October 1914, Page 11

[5] Dominion, 15 January 1916, Page 7

[6] Evening Post, 12 March 1924, Page 3

[7] Evening Post, Volume XCI, Issue 113, 13 May 1916, Page 3

[8] Dominion, 13 September 1915, Page 7

[9] Evening Post, 14 July 1922, Page 3

[10] Heritage New Zealand Listing for St James Theatre (a Category 1 building): http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/3639

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2 thoughts on “Fullers Vaudeville: ‘the night’s entertainment goes with a swing’

  1. In Britain, the vaudeville tradition continued into the twentieth century with ‘variety shows’ such as ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’, televised between 1955 and 1969. Musical acts, comedians, dancers and acrobats were compered by luminaries such as Bruce Forsyth and Jim Dale before a live audience.

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  2. I am Johnny Fuller’s granddaughter and am researching the family history. I have written a chapter on the Fullers of Shoreditch regarding the Fuller generations in England. I have placed it on my website. I am currently writing a novel on my great grandfather John Fuller Snr and my grandfather Johnny Fuller. Johnny was in partnership with Sir Ben Fuller. I wanted to thank you for this great article and photos, most interesting. I am visiting Wellington very soon as part of my research and will make a point of seeing the St James Theatre. My grandfather build the St James Theatre in Elizabeth St, Sydney right next to David Jones, sadly it was pulled down in the mid 1970’s. I have already visited Christchurch and Dunedin where there are still a few theatres remaining.

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