# 28959


Signed photograph of Australian star of the musical stage, Madge Elliott. Melbourne, June 1924.

$440.00 AUD

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Gelatin silver print photograph, 190 x 145 mm, signed in ink by the sitter ‘Madge Elliott’ at lower right, and ‘Ruskin / Melb.’ by the photographer at lower left; on the original board mount, 350 x 240 mm, imprinted at lower margin: ‘SOUVENIR… Madge Elliott’s Farewell Performance in “Whirled into Happiness”, His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne / Presented by J. C. Williamson’; verso with original owner’s name, ‘Mrs. I. Scarlett’, in pen; the print is in superb condition (a couple of tiny and insignificant rust marks at lower right edge), as is the mount.

A wonderful head-and-torso portrait of singer and dancer Madge Elliott (1896-1955), bearing her full signature. Dressed in costume for her final performance in Australia before leaving for London in June 1924, she wears a fur coat (chinchilla?) and pearls and a spectacular jewel-encrusted headdress.

This significant portrait of “Our Madge” does not appear to be held in any Australian public collection.

The following biographical sketch of Madge is by Mel Flyte, Assistant Curator, Sydney Living Museums:

‘Leah Madeleine Elliott, affectionately called “our Madge” by her fans, had been born in London in 1896. Her family emigrated to Australia when Madge was a baby, and she spent her childhood in Toowoomba, southern Queensland. When she was in her early teens, the family moved again, settling in Sydney’s east, where the talented Madge began dance classes. She launched her stage career at the age of 15 and went on to star in the light musical comedies popular in the 1920s, typically featuring male and female stars who could sing, dance and perform physical comedy. Madge was paired with the tall, debonair and handsome Cyril Ritchard, and the duo would become one of Australia’s most successful and beloved stage partnerships.

Australia’s parochial cultural scene struggled to compete with the lure of the theatrical epicentres abroad, and the pair briefly separated when Madge headed to London while Cyril tried his luck in New York. But by 1925 they were reunited, taking the lead roles in Lady Luck in London’s West End, and so began a period of international success. In 1932, they made the decision to return to Australia and re-establish their careers here. Madge’s fear of not being welcomed back proved unfounded: on arrival in Sydney she was greeted by cheering crowds. She recounted, “My heart glowed with the warmth of that reception, leaving no doubt in my mind that I was home again”.

In 1935, after more than 15 years of professional partnership and much speculation about the nature of their relationship, Madge and Cyril announced their engagement by means of a large sapphire ring – blue being Madge’s favourite colour.

The date was set for 16 September 1935, conveniently timed to fall between theatrical tours of Australia and New Zealand. Despite protesting that they wanted a simple affair, the pair chose to hold the service at St Mary’s Cathedral. Hundreds of guests were invited, and a three-tier ticketing system was implemented to deal with the overwhelming interest: 40 guests for the Archbishop’s sacristy (for relatives to witness the ceremony), 250 for the reserved section of the cathedral (for friends), and a further 2000 general tickets for the remaining space in the cathedral. On the day, guests were unable to contain their excitement, even jumping up on the pews to get a view of Madge as she walked down the aisle, and a priest had to shout, “Kindly remember that you are in the house of God”.

Outside the church, thousands of people listened to the service as it was broadcast through speakers. Some had arrived hours earlier to secure the best spot. Barriers had to be hastily erected and more than 50 police officers called in to help control the crowds, which had stopped traffic. When the bride and groom emerged from the service, the waiting audience erupted in applause.

During the reception at the newly refurbished Elizabeth Bay House, 300 guests – including the who’s who of the theatrical world – were entertained in style. Oriental rugs, tapestries, damask wallpaper, gilt mirrors and cedar furniture gave the house a glamorous old‑world charm. The library had been converted into a ballroom, and Madge descended the cantilevered staircase to the song “Smoke gets in your eyes” (despite the incongruous lyrics “my love has flown away … I am without my love”).

As she descended, Madge displayed her Peter Russell–designed gown to great effect – a dress described as being the finest ever worn in Australia…’