When Flappers Fluttered Through the Flames’

First published

Could one ask for your forbearance? By now it must be all too obvious that I have an insufferable passion for old movie houses. The gush you are about to receive was caused by the advent of ‘Cleopatra.’

You must understand that Melbourne was nearly the last city in the world to get ‘Cleopatra.’ We looked in craven envy when Sydney got ‘Cleopatra’ way back on December 5. Rumours seeped through to us how you had the largest hand-painted ‘Cleopatra’ poster outside Times Square in New York - a magnificent 78 feet by 26 feet. The publicity people here told us that it was all done in small squares, which raised fearful problems. When they completed it they found there was a line straight down Miss Taylor's bosom, with the result that they had to do several hundred square feet of bosom again. Now her bosom has been adjusted and tested to keep out the weather for two years.

Unfortunately, we did not get a poster of similar generous proportions, but we had an opening of the world's first Cleopatra Theatre. This opening was attended by the Governor, Sir Rohan Delacombe, and Lady Delacombe, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Cr and Mrs Curtis. Many of us had hoped, seeing that this was the world's last grand opening, we might have had the presence of Mr Richard Burton and Miss Taylor, but we were consoled by the fact that they refused also to attend the world's first grand opening.

The lady ushers were almost dressed for the part. As you may remember, in ‘Cleopatra’ no neckline went unplunged; but the girls wore a version of the costume that Liz Taylor wore during the movie . . . A somewhat Methodist Ladies' College version. I won't bore you with a review of the film, but some of the comments from the audience were memorable: ‘I think Hoyts should have issued us all with a survival kit.’ . . . ‘Frankly, the only creature I felt sorry for was the asp.’ … and ... ‘Yes, I had to come, old man, I never miss a Roddy McDowell movie.’

But you should have seen the Cleopatra Theatre. Hoyts had just spent ₤100,000. It was dripping with gold from end to end. The carpet was burgundy and gold and the walls were covered with gold curtain, over 1700 yards of the stuff. Yes, a mile of gold curtain.

It was somewhat similar to being in a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. But you know how sometimes you lie in bed in a country hotel bedroom and study the fascinating designs on the ceiling, stamped in metal? The ceiling here was exactly the same. Heavens above, this was the old Lyceum Theatre.

Now the Lyceum originally opened as the Paramount back in 1915. In those days, to the devil with Collins Street, Bourke Street was the real entertainment area, and hard by was the Theatre Royal, the Gaiety, the Bijou; the city and 13 live theatres. But the Paramount was the picture theatre and, my word, on Saturday night you had to pay 2s. 6d. a ticket – big money in World War 1.

Later I sneaked out through the Todd-AO Buddhist curtains through a side door into the lane, and I was back with the Paramount of 1916 when Frank Thring Snr and Sir George Tallis owned all. I passed the old stables, a sign at least 60 years old, which read ‘The Bookmakers' Association of Victoria,’ and up some condemned stairs, Lo, there I found the old office and a heap of ancient posters.'

There was Gloria Swanson in ‘The Prodigal Daughters.’ The poster fell rather below the erotic appeal of Sydney's Liz poster, but Gloria's neckline was reasonably plunged and her skirt shamelessly above the knee. The copy read: ‘A party is in progress. Present are unshackled females with butterfly souls, debutantes in daring costumes, charming chorus girls, foolish flappers fluttering through flames and attended by aged cavaliers and sleek parlor snobs. See the modern jazz girl at her dizziest pace.’

Mary Pickford, ‘Everybody's Sweetheart,’ was peeling from one wall, Doris Kenyon in ‘The Last Moment’ was fading on another. They were described as ‘Paramount Super Productions.’

Then I turned back to the first day, Boxing Day, 1915, when the Paramount opened at a cost of ₤12,000 with a seating capacity of 1500 and a new innovation to Melbourne, a lounge. Mary Pickford starred in ‘Rags,’ a charming story according to the ‘Argus,’ where Miss Pickford rose from poverty to affluence and made the mistake of marrying a thief, a sottish drunkard.

The next big show was Theda Bara in ‘Carmen,’ and it was fascinating to look at the ads. In early 1916 there were no fancy blocks. There was a whole column in the ‘Argus’ headed ‘The Temple of Motion Picture Art.’ The name of Theda Bara, ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in the World,’ was repeated about 400 times down the column in 12 point black caps.

‘Carmen’ received excellent reviews and ‘Table Talk’ reported: ‘Theda Bara is a superb, sensuous, coquettish woman, who is dangerously alluring and absolutely reckless as to how she works her will.’

And frankly, after reading this, she made Elizabeth Taylor seem almost pallid. However, ‘Cleopatra,’ the latest show at the Temple of Motion Picture Art, is destined to run at least two years. However, one wonders whether they have adopted a new policy here, this idea of naming the theatre after the present show. After all, it was the Paramount in 1915, the Lyceum in 1933, the New Lyceum in 1937, and now Cleopatra.

I understand arrangements are being made for a new colossal film to be made on the entire Bible. Could this be a new name for the Cleopatra in, say, 1967?

took -out a certificate that they use for certifying dangerous patients.” It-laid down fearful methods for control to ensure that the patient was'in no circumstances to leave the hospital. This nun managed to persuade the Mother Superior to sign it and John Livingston still has that certificate at home. Indeed he is so proud of it he has had it framed. S o o ‘ _ The Livingston brothers, of course, are best known as blue water yachtsmen. They have been sailing since 1925 and no-one seems to remember exactly how many times they have won line honours in

~ the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. In April 1949 they left Melbourne in

  • their fifty-six foot ketch Kurrewa to compete in the Los Angeles- Honolulu yacht race. At the time it seemed a strange thing for two

~ men .to do who could afford to ride in Rolls Royces rather than in a somewhat elderly ketch, and many of the newspaper men at the wharf wondered whether they would ever return. John Livingston handled the departure in somewhat majectic style, he strode up and down the deck playing his bagpipes. o |

  • The trip was to be made in the classic manner of the old sailing ships. They had to sail 1,500 miles due east from New Zealand, then. head north all the way to the Aleutian Islands and then across to the U.S. Coming home, they said, was easy. The had the trade winds and it was down hill all the way. They competed in the big U.S. yacht race and came sixteenth, which was good going against the armada of large and expensive American yachts. S . When they returned to Port Phillip on 13 November 1950, 150 yachts sailed out to meet them and six miles down the Bay they ~ were greeted by the Lord Mayor, the chairman of the Harbour Trust and the Commodore of the Sandringham Yacht Club. )

  • Yet perhaps the most remarkable thing the Livingstons have done was to present a twelve metre class yacht, worth at least £60,000 to Britain to compete against Sovereign for the right to challenge for’

~ the America’s Cup. At first many people could not understand.

~ They thought Australia was trying to slip in through the back door

  • to steal the right to challenge from Britain. They could not believe that anyone would be generous enough to hand over a yacht like that, and demand no part whatever in the control or sailing of it.

To understand this you need to know something of the back- ground of the Livingstons. They are members of twenty-one clubs, including the Royal Yacht Squadron and the New York Yacht

First published in the Bulletin Magazine, 1964

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Elizabeth TaylorFrank Thring SnrMelbourneSir George TallisSir Leo CurtisSir Rohan Delacombe

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