Josephine Mary Melville, the future J C Williamson star, was born in Sydney on 28th August 1903. She was one of two daughters of George Hugh Melville and Gwendoline Estelle (Ellen) Thomas. George, a journalist, was born in Scotland whilst his wife was born in Sydney. The pair married in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1892.
Like other Williamson stars, Josie began training for the stage as a child. Her stage debut was at four years old when she played a pantomime imp. Josie appeared in several such roles as she grew up and always attracted the audience’s attention.
Josie was later described as a protégée of dance mistress Minnie Everett. It’s probable that she trained with this demanding teacher as a youngster. Minnie had a dance studio in Sydney from where she would pick the most promising dancers for stage performances. Josie’s personal charm and talent ensured that she was one of these.
In 1919, sixteen year old Josie Melville appeared in the annual Williamson pantomime, ‘Goody Two Shoes’ She was a featured dancer in the ballet. The pantomime starred Maggie Dickenson as Harlequin and Sydney Yates as Pierrot. Thus Josie had the opportunity to see two of Australia’s premier dancers perform.
The pantomime took place in the midst of the flu epidemic. Josie who lived in Bondi most of her life, would have been surrounded by masked and grim adults walking the streets of Sydney, It would have been a traumatic experience for a young girl.
Josie continued as part of Williamson ballets until 1923. She toured Australia and New Zealand as a teenager, and often performed as a featured dancer. In 1923 she gained her biggest role, that of Sally in the eponymous musical.
Josie was 19 years old, a petite young girl with reddish brown curls. She had charm and youth, big brown eyes and delicate features that added to her appeal. As Sally, Josie had found the perfect vehicle for her talent. She was a dancer and the role had originally been designed for a ballerina, Marilyn Miller.
Josie was a huge critical and popular success in the role. The Sydney Mail criticised her singing ability but added ‘ (She) possesses qualities of attraction far superior to those of imported stars."
Josie’s youth and the fact that she was Australian coincided with a new social wave that embraced youthful enthusiasm and nationalism. It was the era of trim figures, long straight dresses, which showed a hint of calf and the sculptured hair dos of the shingle, bingle and bob. Society was infused with optimism after the horror of World War One. Josie represented the best aspects of an age that longed for brightness and cheer after years of war and gloom.
She was in every way a young woman of her time. During the run of Sally she begged management to cut her curls into a bob. They refused. Audiences loved her curls, so the curls had to stay. Josie may have been mollified by the elaborate costumes she wore during the show. Many of these reflected contemporary fashions, and photos show Josie in a long straight pinafore that clearly revealed the lower portion of her legs. In another scene she was elaborately dressed in ‘ a wide skirt of silver, bordered and flounced with white fur, over high boots and trousers of white, cross gartered in colours."
Like many of her contemporaries, Josie loved movies. The fact that they directly competed with her own profession did not seem to worry her. She confessed to one interviewer that she liked ‘ Doug Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford’ and that ‘ I like dramas best, good strong, thrilling dramas, with pistols, and railway trains and rushing motor cars and the hero in tremendous difficulties. I could sit and watch them all day.’
Indeed Josie was a girl who liked to hurry. She ran from appointment to appointment and was often late despite her rush. Throughout the fame of Sally she remained a critical and public favourite, an indication that she did not allow fame to change her personality. The fact that her sister, Jean was in the cast may have contributed to her level headed attitude.
She also stayed true to her mentor. During the run in Sydney it was noted that Josie visited her teacher Minnie Everett whilst the latter was sick in hospital. Josie’s kindness and enthusiasm caused reviewers to repeatedly mention that ‘Josie, though a very successful actress, is still a little girl.’
Sally ran for over a year and toured the country. After this success Williamson cast her in a succession of musicals. These included Good Morning Dearie in 1924 and Kid Boots in 1925. She also appeared in the pantomime ‘Babes in the Wood in that year. Josie also found time to perform in benefits. For example in 1924 she appeared in a benefit for legendary actress Maggie Moore. Although Josie remained popular with audiences, she did not repeat the success of Sally. Her singing voice remained slight, although her dancing was first class.
After these experiences, Josie travelled to London to try her luck on the English stage. She appeared in a Williamson supported revue and also appeared in the pantomime, Cinderella. Josie remained in England for four years.
By 1930 she had returned to Australia. Her reappearance on a Sydney stage was in a Williamson production of ‘Follow Through". The show was a comedy that concerned the game of golf. It was a game at which Josie did not excel. A later article described her golf specialty as ‘making the sand fly.’ Elsie Prince and Gus Bluett, one of Australia’s greatest comedians, co starred with Josie in the show. The Sydney Mail described ‘Follow Through’. as ‘a little overdone in places, and a little risqué in others’. Sydney audiences welcomed Josie’s return. According to the paper it ‘was greeted most flatteringly by a host of enthusiastic admirers and she deserved the reception, for she has lost none of her charm or personality.’ The comedy was not a hit, but Josie was fortunate to be working. The depression and the popularity of the ‘talkies’ and radio had made the theatrical profession a precarious one.
In 1933, Josie appeared in pantomime. She played Cinderella for Frank Neill in New Zealand. Whilst in Auckland she was described as ‘an appealing little figure for the part, tiny, with big brown eyes and quaintly perked brows. She looks seventeen and is not twenty-five.’
She was close to thirty at the time, but her charm and slight figure gave her a youthful air. An article written for the Auckland Observer at the time mentioned her passion for gossamer stockings and her shy demeanour. It suggested that she was an ideal choice for Cinderella.
When she was not touring, Josie lived in Bondi near Sydney. She enjoyed swimming in the ocean and said that the exercise maintained her slim figure.
The next year, Josie fulfilled the dreams of Cinderella and married her Prince Charming. John C Glover an Adelaide architect was the lucky man. Glover, born in 1902 was the son of Adelaide’s first Lord Mayor. He had an interest in theatre and whilst a student had participated in many concerts. In later years he became a prominent supporter of the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. It was probably this interest which brought he and Josie together.
The wedding took place on April 24th 1934 at St Johns Church Adelaide. The church was decorated in pink and white and strewn with dahlias and carnations. Two Union Jack flags, in honour of ANZAC Day were prominent amongst the ribbons and flowers. Few of the bride’s friends or family were present. Her father had passed away and her mother was ill in Sydney. Perhaps this was the reason for the understated nature of the ceremony.
Josie, dressed in a ‘ beautifully cut frock of malmaison pink tree bark crepe, the bodice arranged in fichu fashion crossing at the back’, was given away by a childhood friend, Mr C W Lauhman. The groom was attended by his brother in law and his parents were present to witness the ceremony. After the short service, the bride and groom returned to the Glover family home, St Andrews, in North Adelaide. During the small reception, the groom arranged for the bride to receive a phone call from her mother, a generous and gracious gesture. The couple then departed for a ‘motoring holiday.’
In 1936 Josie gave birth to her only child. It was a son
named Charles Melville Glover. Josie had settled as a wife and mother and seemed
satisfied in the role.
In 1940 John Glover enlisted in the AIF and named his wife, Josephine, as his next of kin in his enlistment papers. Like other women in Australia, Josie had to live through the fear of losing a loved one on the other side of the world. Glover served as a Captain in the Middle East and returned safely to Australia after the war was over.
Sometime afterwards, the couple separated. In 1953, John Glover filed for divorce, charging his wife with desertion. Josie defended the charge but later dropped her defence. On March 24 1954 the marriage between John Glover and Josie Melville was dissolved.
Josie moved back to Sydney’s eastern suburbs where she could swim at her beloved Bondi. She lived there for the remainder of her life. On September 17th 1963 she died at the war memorial hospital in Vaucluse Sydney.
Her death was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald the next day. The article included a brief comment from a Williamson representative who said that ’everyone who had been connected with Miss Melville in the theatre was extremely sorry to hear of her death.’ Josie was buried in the Church of England section of Waverley cemetery. It was a private ceremony.
Josie Melville lived through the influenza epidemic of 1919, the days of the flappers, and the gloom of depression and war. She reached great heights as a musical comedy actress but could not shake off the aura of Sally. However, in that role, she spoke to a whole generation of hope and joy. It is as Sally in the alley that Josie Melville will be most fondly remembered.
This article is a companion piece to the article Sally
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