George Lauri part 2
In the early 1900s, comedian George Lauri was one of the most popular performers on the Australian stage. George was a reliable and respected member of the Australian theatrical profession. In all of his nine years in Australia, he had never missed a booking.
After his death, the referee newspaper published part of an interview with George. In it, he discussed the profession of comedian.
I hate it. I’d rather be a blacksmith than the stage funny man, for my life of jokes
and other people’s laughter , my sham merriment when I don’t feel like it. The tone
of hilarity and joyousness all around me produced by myself, with people screeching themselves
hoarse and twisting themselves like caterpillars, with me the suffering victim and the cause of it.
Ugh! it’s horrible- I would much rather have been brought up to a trade, or put onto a farm
or anywhere than go through the nightly agony of being funny when I don’t feel like it a bit.
Of course I don’t want to growl, for the game pays me very well, but the innermost truth of the case is
….the truth, I repeat is that stage joke-making is the reverse of whistling. When a man whistles he is as a rule the
only person who enjoys it; when a man stage-jokes successfully he is, generally speaking
the only who does not enjoy it. In my case I positively suffer and have done so for years.
Like many comedians there was a dark side to George’s character. Perhaps it was the side that created the ‘ pathos’ of Jack Point. George later stated that it was his favourite part.
He worked continuously with the Royal Comic Opera Company in the early 1900s. In 1905 he appeared in The Orchid at Her Majesty’s in Sydney. It was a gorgeously staged musical extravaganza that played to standing room only audiences. It ran for over six weeks and was replaced by The Cingalee. At Christmas 1905, George starred in The Girl from Keys.
The next year he performed in Veronique a comic opera with music by Audre Messager. The show starred Florence Young, Margaret Thomas, WS Percy and Haigh Jackson. It was not reviewed favourably by critics but was well patronised by audiences. It featured gorgeous sets designed to recreate rural France.
In the middle of 1906 George began to complain of overwork. This was an unusual complaint from a man who was continually performing in one show after another and had been doing so for over ten years. Despite his complaints, when it was suggested that he take a holiday, George refused. He continued his hectic schedule with the Royal Comic Opera Company.
1907 was a crucial year for George. His friends began to notice ‘a profound abstraction and melancholy.’ He would shake it off but it continually returned. Many saw this as the beginning of ‘softening of the brain.’ Despite the concern of his family and friends, George continued working. In January he played in ‘A Country Girl’ and fulfilled a season of engagements at the Opera House in Sydney.
It was later that year, whilst performing in New Zealand that JC Williamson became concerned about George’s health. Williamson was visiting the Royal Comic Opera Company. He became alarmed at Goerge’s condition and ordered him to take some time off.
Yet by July, George was back on stage. He appeared in Sydney in a piece called Spring Chicken. That month Theatre Magazine featured a large picture of George. It also included a small and unusual paragraph about him.
Ever since the day he first trod upon the Australian stage in the Merry Monarch
he has occupied a big space in the heart of the play going public. Australia
without Lauri would be like Hamlet minus the Dane. Sufficient is it to say that
whatever he plays, he plays well.
This notice may have been prompted by George’s recent illness. It was a statement of support for the comedian. Perhaps his concerned employer, JC Williamson, had some influence over the piece. It was a timely tribute to the man who had garnered the respect and admiration of Sydney’s theatrical community.
In November 1907 George appeared in Melbourne in The Girls of Gottenburg. It was to be his final performance in that city. In January, the musical was played in Sydney. The Referee newspaper praised his performance.
Mr Lauri of course has put into operation his process of ‘improvement’ and his part
has swelled considerably by the addition of little witticisms given in the popular comedians
own inimitable way. Mr Lauri knows what his audiences want and supplies any
deficiency in that line.
The show co starred Fanny Dango, WS Percy and Reginald Roberts. In February 1908 the same cast performed in ‘The Dairymaids’. George played an ‘amusing’ sailor man. The Referee described his performance as ‘subdued’ and contrasted it with his usual effervescent characterisations.
It was apparent by this time that George was in need of some prolonged rest. His performance in The Dairymaids may have been an indication that he was once again suffering from depression. Unfortunately he was finding it increasingly difficult to hide his condition.
On April 23rd 1908 the theatrical establishment of Sydney came out in force to honour George Lauri in a benefit. The show was held at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. All of the performers, the orchestra, the stage and auditorium staff worked for free. This was an indication of their high regard for George. The theatre was packed for the performance and hundreds of people were turned away at the doors. It was obvious that the general public shared the feelings of the theatrical community.
Theatre Magazine took the opportunity to review George’s career in Australia.
During his long and honourable career on the Australian stage he has played
over 60 parts, all of which, being leading roles demanded strenuous and incessant work
When one thinks of the list of parts he has sustained, the mind marvels at the variety
and extent of his impersonations.
It added in a humorous vein.
If he ever met his Waterloo on the Australian stage it was when he played
Mickey O Dowd in ‘My Lady Molly’. Even his most devoted admirer
could not forgive Lauri’s atrocious Irish accent. But one blank in dozens of prizes
George appeared at the benefit as Lurcher in the second act of Dorothy. At the end of the benefit he was visibly overwhelmed. He managed a few words of thanks, but was too emotional to make a longer speech. Later when interviewed by Theatre Magazine he was more forthcoming.
The people of Australia are very critical; and they take a man essentially on his merits.
That they take me so well is the highest compliment they could pay me.
…I would like to pay a compliment to the Australian audiences. Not only are they genuine
in their appreciation of a person who gives them satisfactory work, and also generous in their marks
of approval, but they are also loyal to their favourites in a personal way. Look at my benefit.
Why I will never forget it as long as I live.
After the benefit many people believed that George would not appear again on an Australian stage.
George and Marietta planned to take a six month holiday. Their son, George Junior, was in his early 20s and was engaged as a mining engineer in Kalgoorlie. Presumably using some of the money raised from the benefit, Marietta and George travelled. They visited Colombo and New York.
At Christmas 1908 they returned to Sydney. They stayed at a small private hotel called La Corniche at Bayview, on the Northern Beaches. La Corniche overlooked the sea and the couple stayed there for several weeks. George was under the care of a doctor and Marietta was a devoted nurse. In January 1909, George seemed to be more cheerful and Marietta was probably hopeful that this indicated a return to good health.
On the morning of January 5th 1909, George was sitting on the verandah overlooking the sea, whilst Marietta was inside the house. Around 11.45 am Marietta heard a cry from outside, running out she saw George with his throat cut, a bloody razor on the ground beside him. George mumbled,
" I have done it. I am tired of life.’
A doctor was hastily summoned, but it was fruitless. George had severed his jugular vein. Fifteen minutes later, forty eight year old George Lauri was gone.
Obituaries ran in the major papers of Sydney and Melbourne. The Sydney Morning Herald said
A heavy cloud was cast over the theatrical community when the sad news was spread
abroad yesterday that Mr George Lauri, one of the most accomplished artists the comic
opera stage has known had committed suicide.
The paper lamented the passing of a much loved man.
Everyone who knew George Lauri personally will mourn over it,
whilst the public loses a fine artist frequently forward in the cause of charity.
The Argus in Melbourne described him as ‘one of the most popular comedians who has ever appeared in Australia' The tone of the obituaries hinted that his death was not unexpected.
George was buried at South Head cemetery in a Church of England Ceremony. His wife appeared on stage irregularly thereafter. In 1937 Mariette Lauri died in Randwick, Sydney.
George Lauri graced the Australian stage for over sixteen years. He was a much beloved figure on stage and off. He was a skillful performer, a generous man and one who inspired devotion in others. There was no treatment for depression at the time of George’s death. His disease was diagnosed by an ignorant medical profession as ‘softening of the brain.’ The fact that he battled the illness and created laughter and goodwill in so many people was a tribute to the will, generosity and courage of the man.
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