The Sunday Herald FEATURES
MUSIC AND THEATRE
Bert Bailey Started In Melodrama And Made A Fortune From A Beard
BERT BAILEY, who
died on Monday, aged 81, made a fortune out of his beard. To millions who knew him as the "Dad" of "Dad and Dave" comedies he seemed to have been bom with it. Here are the stories by two writers who knew Bert Bailey well, stories of a beard, and a fortune, and other things.
By GAYNE DEXTER
HAD Bert had his way,
there never would have been a beard.
Clean-shaven, big-nosed, thin-cheeked, a man who
would have passed in any crowd, pushed into Cinesound Productions office high in the State Theatre Building 23
"I'm Bert Bailey," he an- nounced. "I've just fixed up a deal with Stuart F. Doyle to film 'On Our Selection' and you're going to direct it."
Ken G. Hall, then a young-
ster with part of one silent pic- ture to his directorial credit,
gulped. "On Our Selection," which had played in theatres, tents, and barns until even the Townsville goats had grown tired of eating the posters off the fences, was to be Austra- lia's first talking production!
To cover his horror, Hall could think of only one de- fence: "You'll have to grow a
Bailey came around the
table and thumped it.
"Now listen, boy. Every night for 30 years I've been
putting on make-up and a beard. If you think I'm go- ing to grow a real one for pic-
tures, and have all the kids calling me Ziff"-crash went
the table again-"I won't do it!"
Hall explained how the screen would show up a false beard; it had to be real.
"Not for me, it doesn't!" insisted Bert.
THERE was no comment
when he returned for script conferences the next week wearing a rogues-gallery
stubble, which grew into a
herbaceous border and at last
into the beard with a capital B-the insignia of irascible,
lovable, warm-hearted Dad.
Even then it wasn't safe from the shears. He suffered the hoots of small boys who
later were to follow him in admiring crowds.
Finally in roaring disgust he strode into Hall's office a week before shooting. "I've stood everything for you, Ken; but now I've got to cut it off. Coming down in the William
Street just now, what d'you think happened-a lady got up and offered me her seat!"
But the Beard stayed on. Its origin set a formula for a comedy situation that carried through every picture. Dad's best laughs came when Mum, Dave or omnipotent circum-
stances were forcing him to
some action against his will. He roared defiantly: "I won't do it!" Quick cut to next scene-and Dad was doing it.
Produced with locally made recording equipment, a silent camera miraculously adapted and a clothes-prop for a sound boom, "On Our Selection" had to stick close to the origi- nal play.
"None of us had any sound picture experience." Ken Hall says, "Nominally I was director, but Bert was the pro- ducer, simply photographing a play with a sure knowledge of where the laughs would come, no matter how hopeless the situations seemed to the studio crew. How right he was! Even under those crude condi- tions we felt his strength. In our later productions when I took over the real job of direction, his personality over- shadowed the cast. Fred MacDonald, equally famous as Dave, was the only actor who could hold his own."
THE success of "On Our
Selection" is a legend of the industry now. It cost £6,000 and earned £60,000.
Bailey supplied book, actors and sets; Cinesound provided technicians and studio facili- ties. Profits were split 50-50
between Cinesound and the firm of Bailey and Grant.
The second picture, "Gran- dad Rudd" (1934), cost £8,000, but earned a com- paratively poor £18,000. Bailey quickly understood what caused the drop. To give himself age, he had played Grandad with a clean- shaven top lip, though with the rest of his beard intact. The slight change took him out of
This and all subsequent pic- tures were financed by Cine
sound, who paid Bailey £150 a week while shooting, plus 25 per cent, of piofits to Bailey and Grant.
No written contract existed; there never was a dispute.
"Dad and Dave Come To Town," filmed in 1937 for £12,000, reached the Eng- lish market, playing the Odeon Circuit twice and earning £40,000. His last picture, "Dad Rudd, M.P.," cost £18,000, but in 1940 war fever left little demand for homely comedy, and earnings of £28,000 fell far below expectations.
Cinesound begged him to continue. He refused-too old, he claimed. Too old for any- one to want, was his favourite alibi. Yet three weeks before he died, American television producers, who had seen his films in a group of Austra- lian products, called Bailey the year's biggest T.V. possibility, and wrote demanding either more of his pictures or Bert himself. He received the news and grinned. "Ya know, Ken-these Yanks-they're full of boloney!"
Twenty-three years of motion picture fame made Bert Bailey the most self deprecating star the industry
"Dad" A Riot From First Night
By CLAUDE McKAY
IN his youth Bert Bailey
was never happy away from the footlights.
Had he so desired he could have peacefully enjoyed pros- perity as a retailer, for his mother was Mrs. McCathie, founder of the vast store in Pitt Street which bears her name to-day.
She never could make out why her son chose the pre- carious life of the theatre and did her utmost to rescue him from vagabondage.
When Bert first consorted with down-at-heel Thespians on Poverty Point-the kerb alongside the corner pub of the Criterion Theatre-they were a motley assortment. Most of them were "resting," a professional euphemism for being out of work.
Edmund Duggan who took Bert under his wing was an actor of the Vincent Crummles school. He was truly a superb actor off the stage. When engaging "artists," as they always were to him, it was like bestowing the acco- lade. The moot and burning question of salary he dis- missed with, "Laddie, leave it
Those were the terms Bert Bailey came to know. "The ghost never walked," he would relate. "But we did often."
"Have you ever noticed," he would add, "how actors take a short step every few yards. That's where the sleepers on the railway line are close together."
William Anderson, who broke into theatrical manage
ment from billsticking, mar- ried Edmund Duggan's sister, Eugene.
From Edmund's seasoned troupers he recruited a com- pany to support her in melo-
drama. Edmund was stage
manager and "doubled" in character parts. Bert Bailey was pressed into service as
Whenever he appeared, which was when their im- pending fate was unbearable to dwell on, there was a roar of applause. For comedy was so constructed in the Melville dramas of the day that the comedian was unconsciously on the track of the wrongdoer and finally, to his own amaze- ment, unmasked him.
They played consistently to packed houses and Bert Bailey in broad comedy roles was their abiding joy.
Edmund Duggan saw to it that he underlined every sit- uation that could get a laugh.
Against the blood-soaked trail of the villain and the misery he wrought for every- one in the cast with a tinge of virtue, Bert was a welcome
came from the Adelphi, London, and were cut to stan- dard pattern.
It struck Edmund and Bert that there was indigenous material from which four acts could be concocted.
They got to work together and prepared a play. "The Squatter's Daughter," they
Beyond the Australian set- ting, it was Melville trans- ported. But it captivated the Anderson public for months.
Bert and Edmund drew author's royalties and took the first-night curtain call for
The attraction of writing parts for themselves to display to the full their histrionic talents was not lost on either.
However, their conflicting ideas about this put an end to collaboration. Edmund wanted a blank verse drama glorify- ing Australia. Bert left him to it, and the opus which Anderson staged was a flop.
Bert, meanwhile, got hold of a script which Steele Rudd had been hawking round the theatres. I read it when it came to J. C Williamsons'. It would have played under an hour and had neither begin- ning nor end.
Beaumont Smith, then Anderson's publicity manager, persuaded Steele Rudd to let him see what he could do with his book, "On Oui Selection," and over a period of months ran out a scenario. Then he gave it best, not, however, before Bert Bailey became interested in it.
Bert worked on the skeleton plot for fully a year, peopling the farce with characters of his own comic invention.
ABOUT this time Cyril
Maude had appeared in Australia as "Grumpy," a sure-fire starring role in which he made a big fortune.
Bert Bailey determined that "Dad" would do the same for him and all the time he could give he spent in contriving situations that Dad would dominate.
"I can play the old blighter as long as I live," he said to me after the first-night triumph.
Bert by then had parted from Anderson and with Jules Grant, Anderson's treasurer for many years, formed a partnership in management.
Year in, year our, up and down Australia and around New Zealand Bert as Dad Rudd toured.
He decided that London was waiting for him. The success of "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch," a collec- tion of oddities caricaturing American village life, helped him to his conclusion.
But London was a misfire. Nonetheless, Bert himself was lionised by the acting profes-
Leaders in the theatre feted him at a memorable banquet, when his speech was the hit of the night. When the old brandy was passed round and Bert was asked would he care for one, he said, "Not for me, but if the building won't collapse when I say it, I would like a cup of tea."
Bert was a lifelong tee- totaller.