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Minnie Everett and her Musical Comedy Company

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Minnie Everett, Producer and Ballet Mistress. Courtesy Kingston Collection.

Minnie Everett was well known in the musical world from her twenty years work with J C Williamson Ltd in a variety of roles, including ballet mistress and producer, so when she advertised in the Mordialloc City News that she was taking pupils, many Mentone young girls and boys presented for the beginning of classes on 6 March 1943 in the Mentone City Hall. The training was in dramatic art, radio and stage, dancing and deportment.[1] Three years later Everett was again advertising in the local newspaper but this time for ‘members of the younger set; young men and women interested in taking part in public performances of well known and popular shows’. Her invitation to them was to join her in forming the Minnie Everett Musical Comedy Company. [2]

Minnie Rebecca Everett was born to English parents, Elizabeth Ann (nee Hardy) and George Everett, a bricklayer, at Beaufort in Victoria on 28 June 1874. She was the twelfth child but five of her siblings did not survive. Moving to Melbourne with her family she attended ballet lessons with Emilia Pasta and at thirteen years of age began appearing in casual engagements at the Alexandra Theatre, Opera House and Theatre Royal. [3] At eighteen Minnie was working in a group of eight with the Royal Comic Opera Company, known as the ‘royal ballerinas’. Subsequently she became a solo dancer.

In 1895 she married William Rice a viola player in the J C Williamson orchestra and together they had a child, Florence Gladys Beatrice Rice. Following her retirement of twelve months she took on the role of ballet mistress with JCW. She then became responsible for the choreography of large choruses, for the annual pantomimes which included Aladdin and Little Red Riding Hood. In 1906 she became a producer for the first time working on many Gilbert and Sullivan productions from 1910 until 1940 when she was sixty six years of age.

Earlier in March 1924 Minnie Everett was called as a witness in a court case. When asked by a lawyer how long she had been teaching stage dancing she smiled and replied, ‘I am a lady sir, and like other ladies, I have an objection to indicating my age but I have been connected with stage dancing since I was 12 years old.’ [4] By 1928 she was advertising her dancing school in The Argus [5] At that time she had just returned from visiting New York, London and Paris, resuming her classes at Morris House at 120 Exhibition Street. The advertisement said she had returned with the latest ideas in dancing. Her classes were for chorus ladies, chorus gentlemen, ballet ladies and children, with special classes for tapping. There were private lessons available by appointment. In November 1936 she was conducting her school at Kurrajong House in Collins Street before moving to Newspaper House two years later. There she gave instruction in dancing, deportment, dramatic art and stage technique for amateurs and professionals. Classes were also available for radio broadcasting and acting. [6]

By 1943 Minnie was advertising classes at Mentone for children. She was now 67 years of age and living at 5 Charman Road, Mentone. This Mentone activity was in association with Stephanie Guy who like Minnie, had a long connection with J C Williamson Ltd as a pianist. Three years later Minnie was again reported in the Moorabbin News announcing her intention to form the Minnie Everett Musical Comedy Company. She invited young women and men, particularly young ex-servicemen, to write to her applying for membership. There was a nominal weekly charge to cover expenses. From the membership Minnie Everett expected to produce shows of metropolitan standard setting a new ‘high’ in stage shows in the suburbs. She believed there was a lot of talent among young men and women, living in the suburbs, who would not get a chance to train in stage work unless through an organisation such as she proposed.

Interviews and auditions were held in St Augustine’s Hall in February 1946 and rehearsals commenced. By September it was expected that the Minnie Everett Musical Comedy Co would present its first show, Dorothy at the Mentone City Hall. This tuneful, humorous and colourful comic opera had been produced over the years by J C Williamson. The Moorabbin News hailed the Mentone production as a further step forward in local entertainment, acknowledging that a show of such high standard had never been staged in the district. While the players were amateurs, the staging and costuming were of a professional standard. [7] The newspaper report said ‘a special feature of Dorothy was a specially trained ballet of eight young girls.’ Readers were told, ‘Dorothy was strong on the dancing side, and as it was a period show, this meant spectacle, grace and pleasure to the audience.’ [8]

The second production of the Musical Comedy Company was Sally in 1947. This occurred at a time when public transport workers were on strike, people were out of work and the performance took place on a stage that was restricted in size and not very adaptable. These factors were given as reasons why the ‘House Full’ sign was not displayed. Nevertheless attendances on the two nights that Sally was performed were marked as excellent. Certainly, it was thought ‘Sally’ could be repeated in a few month’s time when ‘life returns to normal’.

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Principals and chorus of Minnie Everett Musical Comedy Company’s ‘Sally’ produced at the City Hall, Mentone, 1947. Courtesy Kingston Collection.

A theatre critic noted many of the participants who were contributors to Sally’s success. Harry Luscombe was responsible for scenery, Stan Lang for lighting, and Stephanie Guy and Doris Berwick for music. He judged, ‘Nanette McDonald as very accomplished in the star role…. Donald Smibert, was a manly lover and his singing was excellent. He filled his part in the show adequately…. Comedian John Edwards, as the waiter, was excellent. He played his part with enthusiasm, in fact, the reviewer said it was obvious that he was enjoying himself. His diction is perfect, he sings in the true ‘comic’ tempo, and his dancing is good. It was a pleasure to be entertained by John after watching so many headlined comedians who ‘speak into their beard’ … Brian Luscombe, a talented young man if ever there was one, gave a brilliant portrayal of the hustling Frank…. Donald Cameron has loosened up, and moved around the stage with ease and confidence…. Veteran Harry Luscombe more than held his own with the youngsters. Cast in a character role he was really tip top. … Mary Luscombe had about the only role in the show which called for dignity. She answered the call very effectively…. Harry Cullen, looking debonair had an unusual role for him, that of the fatherly father. He did all that was expected of a stage father…. Frank Hahn had nothing to do except to look like a cabaret violinist. He did that very decoratively. …Bill Libbis stole the show in a memorable comedy cameo whilst he was on the stage’… ‘Ruth Beruldsen had a small part, which she acted with remarkable grace when you realise that Ruth is rather a tall lass, and she had to mount a narrow ladder up to the ‘poop deck’, and still retaining grace, look as though she was enjoying herself balancing on a piece of three ply ten feet above the rest of the players. Ruth did all that without a blemish, and still retained grace and beauty.

‘The gentlemen of the chorus deserve special mention. Quite often ‘Gentlemen of the Chorus’ are a pain in the neck, particularly to other males, but these chaps are the real goods. Smart, definitely male, and accomplished, Minnie Everett’s ‘gentlemen’ have got everything. They would grace the boards at any city show. They should be named – Messrs Ferguson (2), Hicks, Nally, Carey, Robinson, Perris, Ruddell, Lang, Stanley. The girls of chorus and ballet were also pleasing to the eye.. They looked well, danced with joy, and sang in tune and distinctly, which is something for a musical comedy. These lasses were: (Foundlings) – Misses Marjorie Farrow, Betty Laird, Prudence Cauldwell, Joan Woinarski, Gwen Edwards: (Ensemble) – Miss Aldridge, Abbott, Laird, Prudence Caudwell, Joan Fleiner, Graham, Gallagher, Long, Mc Bride, Powles, Penny, Nally, Smythe, Shearer.”
[9]

After the success and stress of the Sally production the cast decided on some relaxation and agreed to picnic amongst the snow at Donna Buang. On arrival they found little snow and what was there was slushy with water cascading down the road in a successive series of miniature waterfalls that filled shoes and soaked socks. But they were happy. According to a report in the local newspaper the journey home found the weary hikers huddled beneath warm coats with occasional snores being heard from dozing participants. But the day was considered a success and one the participants thought should be repeated. [10] There were other trips and picnics

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Members of Minnie Everett’s Musical Comedy Company at Mount Donna Buang. Courtesy David Carey, Kingston Collection.

Later in the year rehearsals commenced on a second musical comedy for 1947. This time Florodora was selected. Its production first took place in Australia early in the 20th century with Miss Everett being responsible for ballet arrangements and ensembles. [11] So she knew the show well. The cast and chorus for the Mentone production consisted of many of the same individuals who were trained by Minnie and who performed in the earlier productions, featured again in newspaper reports.

Stage Door thought it unfair to compare the company’s efforts with professional productions but acknowledged the girls and boys of the company were improving with each public appearance. [12] The chorus girls in apple green evening gowns with tight bodices and flowing skirts looked, he thought, most attractive while the boys in toppers and spats looked ‘just the thing’ as they sang ‘Tell Me Pretty Maiden’. Donald Smibert gave the best performance of his career, John Edwards singing and dancing were up to the best in musical comedy. Nancy Rusmussen with her beautiful soprano voice showed she had dramatic ability as well, while Eve Godly with her deep speaking voice, stage poise and rich singing voice made an outstanding contribution.

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Girls and Boys of the company in evening gowns and top hats for the production of Florodora. Back from left: J Fergusson, A Carey, R Fergusson, R Goodliffe, P Diamond. Girls: Betty Flyner, Esther Smythe, Claire Alison, H Powles and Norma Graham. Courtesy David Carey, Kingston Collection.

Rehearsals commenced in February 1948 in St Augustine’s Hall, Mentone for the next production. On this occasion the practice focused on Spread it Aboard a revue of popular hits from the best musical comedies of the past, many of which were gems that were rarely performed in the late 40s including, Ain’t We Got Fun, The English Rose, A Bachelor Gay, Loo-Loo, Nobody Could Love You More, and On the Beach at Narragansett. Lola Lingard, Donald Smibert, Graham Fitzgibbon, Frank Hahn, Alan Carey, Donald Cameron, John Edwards, Ron Ferguson, Nance Rasmussen and Joan Woinarski were again part of the team moulded together by Minnie Everett to present a first class entertainment. [13]

Before the end of 1948 Minnie Everett announced that her company was about to embark on rehearsals of a new musical comedy and invited people to participate. Our Miss Gibbs was staged on 30 November and 1 December 1949. The Standard News critic marked it as a good show apart from ‘a few obvious weaknesses’ while praising Miss Everett’s ability to stage such a show on the tiny City Hall stage.

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Members of the Cast in action on the stage of the Mentone City Hall. Courtesy Alan Carey, Kingston Collection.

The following year Belle of New York was performed at the Mentone City Hall. Two performances were given in November with the first night’s earnings being donated by Minnie Everett to the Community Hospital Appeal. E J Trait who received the money on behalf of the Mentone Auxiliary thanked Minnie for her generosity and the contribution of all the company to the evening’s entertainment.

Well into her seventies Minnie Everett with her associate Stephanie Guy set about the production of Merry Widow with her Musical Comedy Company in 1951. The production was staged on three nights in November. It was less than five years later, aged 81 years that Minnie died at the Alfred Hospital. The newspaper article announcing her death was headed ‘She Died for a Smoke’. [14] The report said that while she was lighting a cigarette the match broke and the burning head fell onto her woollen dressing gown setting it on fire. Stephanie Guy was giving a singing lesson in the next room when she heard a thud. Rushing into the room she found Minnie lying on the floor in a blazing dressing grown. After the flames were smothered with a blanket Minnie was rushed to the Alfred Hospital where she lingered in pain for sixteen days before her death on 4 June 1956. [15] The coroner found that her death was accidental.

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Cast members of the Musical Comedy Company on stage at the Mentone City Hall after a performance. Minnie Everett with bouquet of flowers. Courtesy Alan Carey, Kingston Collection.

Author

Graham J Whitehead

Footnotes

  1. Mordialloc City News, 12 February 1943.
  2. Mordialloc City News, 1 February 1946.
  3. Maslen Joan, Everett, Minnie Rebecca (1874-1956), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14,Melbourne University Press 1996.
  4. The Argus, 19 March 1924.
  5. The Argus, 8 March 1928.
  6. The Argus, 14 November 1936.
  7. Moorabbin News, 12 July 1946.
  8. Moorabbin News, 26 July 1946.
  9. Mordialloc City News, April 1947.
  10. Mordialloc News, 10 July 1947.
  11. Moorabbin News, 3 October 1947.
  12. Mordialloc City News, 30 October 1947.
  13. Mordialloc City News 27 May, 1948.
  14. The Argus, 23 August 1956.
  15. The Argus, 23 August 1956.

Category: People
Reference Number: 578
Date Created: 17/06/2013
Date Revised:

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