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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 316

updated
Saturday 4 october 2003

The League of Notions
New Oxford Theatre, London, 17 January 1921

The Dolly Sisters

The Dolly Sisters (Jennie and Rosie) in their 'Hunting Dance'
at the New Oxford Theatre, London, 1921, in The League of Notions.

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1921)

The League of Notions, 'an inconsequential process of music, dance, and dramatic interlude,' by John Murray Anderson and Augustus Barratt, with music by Augustus Barratt, was produced by Charles B. Cochran at the New Oxford Theatre, London, on 17 January 1921. The show's stars were the Hungarian-American dancers, the Dolly Sisters, Jennie (1892- 1941) and Rosie (1892-1970), the 'protégés' of Gordon Selfridge, the London-based American department store magnate, who lent them Lansdowne House. Other members of the cast included Bert Coote, A.W. Baskcomb, George Hassell, Clifford Morgan, Earl Leslie, Scott Leighton, George Rasely, the Trix Sisters (Josephine and Helen), Dorothy Warren, Rita Lee, Grace Cristie, Phyllis Harding, Phyllis Sellick and Greta Fayne. The success of the piece ensured a run of 359 performances.

The Dolly Sisters

The Dolly Sisters as they appeared in
The League of Notions, at the New Oxford Theatre, London, 1921.

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1921)

'Mr. Charles B. Cochran has a sound knowledge of the public, or the outline of such a scheme as is comprised in League of Notions would have frightened him, or, at all events, would have left him "stone cold." A thing of threads and patches! And yet a wonderful whole! It is just what it is described: "An Inconsequential Process of Music, Dance, and Dramatic Interlude." Its tenor is best portrayed in the dialogue of the prologue.
'A fog is enveloping the streets, and wandering back from their work are some pantomime players, who encounter a theatre manager. This conversation then takes place:

'Manager [Scott Leighton]: "Confound the fog. I've gone astray.
Good people, can you kindly say
How I can find my way
To Oxford Street?
A London Manager am I,
And I would have you know
If you will lead me through this fog, my gallant Pierrot,
I'll dress you up in modern things, and put you in my show."

'Pierrot [George Rasely]: "We'll gladly set you right, good sir, but we would have you know
That we have very little use for any modern show.
We still haunt all the theatres where we one time held sway;
We find you've not advanced a bit, and we can truly say
There's nothing new."

'Manager: "What would you do if you desired to really set the pace of modern shows?"

'Pierrot: "There is someone who can help you, who has something up his sleeve,
A Tailor, who is living in the land of Make-Believe.
He's been sewing shows together since the days of Mother Eve."

'So they go on their way to the Tailor's Show shop, and the Manager is introduced by Columbine [Rita Lee].

'Columbine: "It is at last a Manager who's really up-to-date,
He wants a show that's smartly-cut, and of a pattern new.
And we brought him to your shop to see what you could do."

'Tailor [A.W. Baskcomb]: "I've tragedies and tales of other days.
I've comedies and even bedroom plays,
But this crazy patchwork quilt on which I sew,
Might easily suggest a modern show.
For if you take a patch from her and there,
Some modern tunes, some old plaintive air,
A pretty face, a dance, a merry jest,
They have for all mankind some interest.
All kinds of bait will often make great catches,
So why not give variety in patches?"

'And it is this we have. Variety in patches. Our illustrations depict the kind of patches, and from them the reader will gain and idea of League of Notions. It is replete with movement and contrast, abounding in song [including 'The Dollies and their Collies' from the Dolly Sisters; and 'A Young Man's Fancy,' 'Just Snap Your Fingers at Care' 'That Reminiscent Melody' from the Trix Sisters], touched with drama, and revelling in quaint display all of which makes for an evening's pleasant entertainment.'
(B.W. Findon, The Play Pictorial, 'League of Notions' issue, no.230, vol.XXXVIII, London, 1921, p.76)

* * * * * * * *

'Now let me just show how the turns used to go
On the Music 'Alls of long, long ago.

A.W. Baskcomb and George Hassell

'On the 'Alls' in the 1880s - a song from The League of Notions

A.W. Baskcomb as the lion comique (left), and Geroge Hassell as the principal boy

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1921)

'It is the "boys of the old brigade" who will be tickled most by the episode "On the 'Alls," in League of Notions. The young gentleman and lady who are so conversant with picture shows have no knowledge of the 'alls which gladdened, more or less, the hearts of their fathers. The "star comique" was then at his zenith. His typical representative was George Leybourne [1842-1884], and one of his most typical songs, "Champagne Charlie is my name," and among the women was Jenny Hill [1851-1896], "The Vital Spark," as she designated herself. But to quote an anonymous writer:

'"Perhaps the most deplorable feature in the entertainments was the lady performer. Those terrible young (or middle-aged) persons who were announced as the 'Sisters So-and-So,' and were inevitable on every stage, always succeeded in putting a portion of the audience into a bad temper. Their short coloured skirts, their fixed smirk, the mechanical steps of their dance, their metallic voices - these things have left an impression not pleasant to recall. They couldn't sing; they couldn't dance; and their 'make-up' proved that they couldn't even paint."

'The writer is certainly bitter, but, on the whole, he is not far wrong. I can recall the saucy Sisters Leamer [Kate and Nellie Leamar], the merry Sisters Preston [Jessie and Georgina], and the bonny Sisters Bilton [Belle (afterwards Lady Dunlo) and Flo], and there were crowds of other "sisters" who took possession of the minor 'alls, as alike as two peas in their inanity and vulgarity.
'The Oxford [music hall] was the first of the big 'alls in the West End. It owed its being to the late Mr. Charles Morton [1819-1904], who ended a long and honourable career as business manager of the Palace in Shaftesbury Avenue. He had successfully inaugurated the music hall type of entertainment at the Canterbury, and his eye had often rested on a picturesque old inn and posting-house in Oxford Street, called "The Boar and Castle." It had a quaint and rambling galleried inn yard, which afforded the necessary space for the erection of the hall, and Morton spent £35,000 on the building. The creature comforts attached to the old inn were maintained, and it was proudly advertised that the Oxford was "Not only the place for music and amusement; but a place to lunch, dine, and sup till one o'clock in the morning."
'It was opened on March 19th, 1861, and the artists included Charles Santley and Mlle. Parepa, who subsequently became Madame Parepa-Rosa. Charles Santley is still with us, and so is Miss Kate Santley, who, as a young girl in her 'teens, took the town by storm with her singing of a servant's song: "The Bell goes a-ringing for Sarah."
'It was at the Oxford that Morton introduced the famous dance, the "Can-Can," with a troupe headed by Imre Kiralfy and his brother Bolossy [with their sister Aniola]. The "turn" was immensely popular… It was [at the Cantebury] that [Louie Crouch appeared, the sister of ] one [Emma Elizabeth] Crouch, a daughter of the composer of "Kathleen Mavourneen," [who] developed into the notorious "Coral Pearl."
'It was at the Oxford that Charles Morton introduced the Saturday matinee, but he was speedily warned by the powers-that-were-to-be-obeyed that his licence did not permit of his opening his hall before six o'clock in the evening. It was not long before a sad fate overtook the Oxford, as, on the night of February 10th, 1868, it caught fire, and the only thing that remained beside the charred walls was the splendidly-made "tongued floor," and this same floor successfully resisted the fires that destroyed the second Oxford a few years later.
'The present Oxford has been remodelled - practically rebuilt - by Mr. Charles Cochran, who is responsible for the same change in the London Pavilion. The Pav. and the Oxford were the two representative music halls of the old days, the former was the more favoured of the gilded youth of the [eighteen] 'seventies and 'eighties. The Tivoli was quite a late addition, and its closing in February, 1914, was the death knell of the two older establishments.
'The songs with two meanings or no meaning at all ceased to attract. Men began to take their wives to the halls, where smoking was allowed, and woman's influence soon made possible the Coliseum and Palladium, which are the modern equivalent of the 'alls that are travestied in League of Notions. The travesty certainly makes for the enjoyment of those who "saw life" half a century ago, and to whom the majestic and rubicund chairman was a person of mystery and high degree, until they were introduced and measured their pockets against the cubic dimension of his throat. To-day we have a cleaner taste in our amusements, and I, for one, would not change League of Notions for the best of the "Lion-Comiques" and Serio-Comic ladies of the late Victorian era.'
([B.W. Findon], The Play Pictorial, 'League of Notions' issue, no.230, vol.XXXVIII, London, 1921, p.73)

* * * * * * * *

'We've just put up the latest dancing novelty.
'A couple of living statuettes are we.'

The Dolly Sisters

Jennie and Rosie Dolly as 'The Statue Clog Dancers,'
a burlesque of an 1880s song and dance in The League of Notions
(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1921)

* * * * * * * *

The Trix Sisters (Helen and Josephine(

Helen and Josephine Trix
(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1921)

The Trix Sisters

Helen Trix, born on 21 August 1892 at Newmanstown, Pennsylvania, was known to New York vaudeville audiences long before the First World War. She was subsequently joined by her younger sister Josephine, and together they made their London debut in C.B. Cochran's successful revue The League of Notions.

Helen and Josephine Trix played leading parts in the revues A to Z (Princes of Wales's Theatre, London, 11 October 1921), with Jack Buchanan and Gertrude Lawrence, and Tricks (Apollo Theatre, London, 22 December 1925), with Bert Coote, Paul England and Frederick Lord. Their other appearances included radio work for the BBC in the 1920s, and in the Royal Command Variety Performance at the London Hippodrome on 12 December 1922.

For details of Helen and Josephine Trix's recording careers, which Helen began in New York as early as 1906, see Brian Rust with Allen G. Debus, The Complete Entertainment Discography, Arlington House, New Rochelle, 1973, pp.638 to 640.

* * * * * * * *


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