Carrie Moore Part 2

Carrie Moore, 25 years old and Geelong born was working successfully in London. She had caused a sensation with her appearance as a Sandow Girl in The Dairymaids. She was a graceful, black haired, bright-eyed young woman who had gained favourable attention from the English critics.

JC Williamson saw Carrie Moore whilst she was performing in London. He was impressed. He decided to engage her for the lead in the popular musical The Merry Widow which he was producing in Australia. So it was that Carrie could finally return home as a leading player.

Carrie returned to her native land in 1908. On May 16th she opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne as ‘Sonia’ in The Merry Widow.

The Merry Widow was considered a departure from the usual musical comedies of the time. It had excellent music by Franz Lehar and a clever plotline. Carrie played Sonia, a widow who inherited millions from her dead husband. Andrew Higginson played Prince Danilio, the man she loved. The two had to negotiate various obstacles before being united, the widow giving the millions to her new husband.

Her Majesty’s in Melbourne was packed with a well dressed and appreciative audience on the first night. The crowd frequently applauded throughout the performance and the theatre echoed with many ripples of laughter. Most of the applause was reserved for Carrie Moore, the local girl who captured the hearts of the audience with her stirring portrayal of Sonia.

The critics in Melbourne noticed that Carrie’s voice had deteriorated, however she used it, ‘with more mellow effect than hitherto.’ They stated that her acting had improved being ‘more subdued, finished and convincing’. They added that her dresses were ‘indescribably chaste and beautiful.’ The public was enthusiastic, the show ran for over fifty-seven performances and it was estimated that over 100,000 people saw it in Melbourne.

After this success the show was eagerly anticipated in Sydney. It finally arrived on Saturday 26th September 1908. Another well dressed, densely packed, audience crowded Her Majesty’s Theatre. The Referee stated that;

Carrie Moore cannot be said to have an ideal part…However since last here

she has improved in voice and figure.


The highlight of the show was the famous Lehar waltz with Andrew Higginson. The Referee described Carrie’s dancing as ‘dreamily alluring’. The production was as huge a success in Sydney as it was in Melbourne.

The reviews in both cities commented on Carrie’s voice. Whilst the Melbourne papers thought that it had suffered, the Sydney papers were less critical. The comments on her figure and ‘chaste’ costumes seemed to imply that Carrie’s London ‘reputation’ had preceded her. However, it was Carrie’s graceful movements on stage that once again captured the eyes. The waltz became a famous trademark of the musical and of Carrie Moore.

Carrie had achieved lasting fame in the role of Sonia. It became her signature role. It was long remembered amongst theatregoers in Australia.

Just after opening night of The Merry Widow in Sydney, Carrie shocked the theatrical community by getting married. The groom was Mr Percy Bigwood, a tall, young man with dark hair and a clean shaven, fresh complexion He was English and had been in Australia for a number of years. He and Carrie married quietly and secretly in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

The quiet wedding had a very noisy sequel. Less than a week after the nuptials, Mr Bigwood was sued by an aspiring English actress, Ivy Slavin, for breach of promise. Miss Slavin had rushed to Sydney upon hearing news of the wedding. She immediately engaged Mr J J Carroll, a well known Sydney lawyer.

Miss Slavin contended that Mr Bigwood had bought a car costing 420 guineas with her money. Mr Carroll immediately placed an embargo on the car. Miss Slavin further stated that;

I first met Mr Bigwood about five years ago in England. We came to Australia

In the same boat and then and subsequently saw a good deal of each other. We were

together in New Zealand and in Melbourne. When Mr Bigwood left Melbourne recently it

was with the understanding that I should see him again shortly…Then I received

a telegram announcing his marriage with Miss Moore, I came up to Sydney as soon as possible

The news came as a great surprise to me, knowing as I did that Mr Bigwood at several different

times promised to marry me.

Carrie remained calm throughout the crisis, saying

Oh you reporters they make you come here and ask questions

and you make us give answers

She then excused herself and her husband pleading a pressing dinner engagement.

The scandal caused a sensation in Sydney. The newspapers wrote major articles with headlines such as "Theatrical Cause Celebre" and "Sensational Suit". Crowds flocked to see The Merry Widow hoping to see the infamous Mr Bigwood.

By October 14th, the suit had been settled. Miss Slavin was engaged to perform in a Sydney theatre and had a short run in The Belle of Mayfair. Carrie continued her successful performances in The Merry Widow.

Carrie played Sonia until November. She then returned to England. She had been engaged by Robert Courtneidge to play the principal boy in Cinderella. In February 1909 she was playing this role successfully at the Adelphi in London.

She was contemplating retirement. However she was lured back to the stage by an offer to perform in The Persian Princess. The production featured a strong cast, but was a failure. This lead to Carrie making an extraordinary decision. She decided to forgo musical comedy in favour of vaudeville. Carrie later discussed the reasons behind this decision.

There are less opportunities perhaps from an artistic standpoint, but there are

appreciable advantages of less work and more money. No financial risks,

no rehearsals, no three hour performances: Why vaudeville is an artists

paradise after years of close study and hard practice for musical comedy

and comic opera.

Carrie began making appearances in English music halls as a variety performer. In 1910 she appeared at the Tivoli in London. She sang three new songs especially written for her by Messrs Arthur Wimperts, Hermann Finck and Chas Norton.

In late 1911 or early 1912, Benjamin Fuller, an Australasian vaudeville proprietor opened negotiations with Carrie about appearing in Australia. The two came to an agreement where Carrie would receive 100 pounds a week to appear on the Fuller circuit. Fuller thought that it was a bargain price.

Early in 1912, Carrie’s sister, Eva, appeared in The Merry Widow as Sonia. Eva opened the new Theatre Royal in Hobart in the role. The Williamson company produced this show and the casting may have been a message to Carrie, or perhaps an attempt to capitalise on her name.

Later that year, Carrie returned to Australia. By July, she was appearing in vaudeville in Melbourne. She sang two songs, ‘The Last Waltz’ and ‘A Woman’s eyes’. In addition she performed a telephone sketch, called ‘All Alone’.

After a break in Brisbane, Carrie took her vaudeville act to Sydney. She opened at the National Amphitheatre (The Nash) in Sydney in August 1912.

The Referee described her first night in Sydney in great detail.

There was a roar from the audience-a friendly sort of roar-when the name of the clever

Australian was shown on the ‘signcards’ of the proscenium. With the stage set as a drawing

room, Miss Moore came on in a dainty evening dress frock. She looked remarkably well

as she acknowledged the cordial welcome. Opening with ‘Dear Old Bow Bells’ and singing more

artistically than when she was a comic opera favorite, the new ‘music hall star’ was helped

in her conquest of the audience by the clearness of her ennunciation. In the refrain or chorus the half voice was used

with charm and  effectiveness. This refinement of style (with a spice of abandon)  was carried into the vivacious

telephone song  "I’m All Alone". Cleverness in another direction was then shown in a recitation with pianoforte

 accompaniment, "A Woman’s eyes" Responding to the clamorous recall,

Miss Moore gave an imitation of Gertie Millar, the idol of the London Gaiety patrons.

Carrie had probably met Gertie Millar, and this lent credibility to her imitation.

The Referee compared Carrie’s singing and general deportment favourably with her former accomplishments in these areas.

During her stage career in Australia, Carrie Moore was lacking in refinement

and repose. Her work was of the slap dash order and her singing was a times

wild and uncontrolled. Now she is a stylish artist and her voice is kept well

in hand.

Carrie’s refinement or lack thereof was a major concern of many of her reviewers.

The Referee’s favourable review of Carrie was different to the view of Theatre Magazine in Sydney. Theatre Magazine seemed to embody the anti vaudeville snobbery of some of the theatrical establishment.

The magazine acknowledged that Carrie was a major drawcard for Fullers, but it doubted that she could hold an audience. Writing about an August 20th performance it stated that her reception was ‘ordinary’, and that ‘after her third number the audience appeared to have had quite enough.’ It sardonically added that

Miss Moore eagerly returned to the sparingly given applause and

‘obliged’ with a fourth number.

The review concluded by strongly suggesting that Carrie return to the work in which she excelled, ‘grace of movement, and pretty light acting.’

From 1912 to the end of World War 1, Carrie continued to perform in vaudeville or variety. She also made some eye catching performances in pantomime. Often the principal boy in pantomime was selected on the basis of physical attributes. The role gave a lady the chance to wear trousers or britches showing the outline of shapely legs. Carrie Moore was one of the most popular principal boys at this time.

One her most notable performances was in Aladdin, at the Adelphi in Sydney in 1914.

As principal boy she was beautifully dressed. One costume was all purple with violet trunks. The trunks were cut off above the knee to reveal Carrie’s stockinged legs. Theatre Magazine said that ‘Her’s are easily the best pair of legs in the show."

Aladdin was a great success. It was the first Christmas pantomime in Sydney for eight years. 60,000 people attended the show over the Christmas season. Critics praised Carrie for her role as principal boy. The pantomime included Grace Palotta as Koko, wearing one leg of her ‘knickers’ shorter than the other. It also included a ballet of beautiful girls. It was designed to titillate the senses and was a lavish production.

The next year Carrie returned to the National Amphitheatre in Sydney as a vaudeville performer. She was warmly received and wrote her own sketches.

In 1916, Carrie made another appearance as principal boy in pantomime. She appeared in the George Marlow production of Dick Whittington. This was staged at the Adelphi in Sydney. Presumably her famous legs were a major attraction of the show.

Carrie’s flirtation with pantomime and vaudeville was interrupted in 1917 when she appeared for her old employer the JC Williamson company. She appeared in the musical Mr Manhatten staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. Carrie played Lolotte. Publicity for the show in Theatre Magazine showed her dressed as a Sandow Girl from The Dairymaids production of 1907.

After World War One references to Carrie are rare. This may have been due to her second marriage which took place in 1918 at Randwick in Sydney. She married John Wyatt. In 1923, she suffered a personal tragedy when her sister, Ivy, died suddenly. In 1924 Theatre Magazine included Carrie in a feature on "Old Stage Celebrities’ The feature included stars such as Eugenie Duggan, Florence Young, George Lauri and Sarah Bernhardt. In the accompanying article, the magazine stated that Carrie had taken ‘early retirement from the stage.’

Carrie’s place in Australian theatre history was acknowledged in 1933. In that year, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney was closed. On the last night, Arthur Stigant introduced a pageant of past players. George Rignold, Sarah Bernhardt and Nellie Stewart were represented in tableaux. Carrie Moore joined the pageant as herself playing the Merry Widow. Carrie was being honoured as one of the premier performers of the Australian stage.

Her Majesty’s closed in June 1933. In August that year, Carrie returned to the stage. She appeared in Music in the Air a musical staged by her old employer, J C Williamson, at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. Carrie played Frau Direktor Kirschner. It was a supporting role. In a strange coincidence, at the same time, Ivy Scott, the young girl who had sung a duet with Carrie in Djin Djin in 1895, was playing the same role in New York.

By 1940 Carrie was appearing in the choruses of JC Williamson productions in Melbourne. During the Gilbert and Sullivan revival of that year she was listed as a chorus girl in The Gondoliers. It was a stark contrast to her earlier stardom.

On September 5th 1956, Carrie Moore died at her sister Lily’s house at Woollahra in Sydney. Lily stated that

Carrie called me at 5am and asked me to hold her hand…

she died peacefully 10 minutes later.

She was in her 74th year. On September 8th the following notice was placed in the Sydney Morning Herald.

My tribute to a great artiste and lovely lady, Carrie Moore

Husky, dusky, vivid true

Steel true and blade straight

Inserted by one of her many old admirers Joseph Patrick Maguire

It was a touching farewell to one of Australia’s most successful and memorable performers.


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