The Performing Arts Historical Society Townsville (PAHST) has been extremely fortunate to receive a donation of a Mantilla worn by Gladys Moncrieff in her role as “Rio Rita” in Sydney in 1928.
Gladys Moncrieff was a musical comedy star of the Australian theatre in the 1920s and 1930s.
The mantilla was given to us by Merle Barlow who is first cousin to Daphne Lowe who was given the mantilla by Gladys Moncrieff. Ms Lowe was in the cast of “Rio Rita” with Ms Moncrieff who was the original Rio Rita, and in fact Daphne Lowe understudied her for the role. Daphne Lowe went on to play the title role at the Theatre Royal in Sydney during the show’s revival.
Gladys Moncrieff, Our Glad
‘Glad is a dear, so charming, and has a natural manner, which is what has made her so beloved,’ wrote one of her many leading men, Australian tenor Max Oldaker. ‘She is so natural. I’ve never met a star so unlike a star. …..Somehow she brings back the glamour of the theatre.’
There was little theatrical glamour in Bundaberg, the central Queensland sugar town where Gladys Lillian Moncrieff was born on 13 April 1892. Her parents were musical: her mother was a soprano who’d had a short professional career as Ada Lambell; her father played and repaired organs and presented silent movies in local halls. Glad was six the first time she sang at one of his shows. Soon after, Dan Barry came to town with East Lynne, and little Gladys became Little Willie – her first professional role.
The family moved to Townsville. Gladys sang in her school’s Gilbert and Sullivan productions and with the local choral society in Handel’s Messiah.
It was West End State School which Gladys attended.
At the 1906 eisteddfod held in Charters Towers Miss Gladys Moncrieff, who afterwards became so well known in the operatic world, got her first taste of victory as a vocalist, when she divided the first prize for the soprano solo, “Oh, For The Wings Of A Dove”.
With funds raised at a benefit concert, she went to Sydney to further her vocal studies.”
She appeared in suburban vaudeville for J.C. Bain and in 1911 auditioned for Hugh J. Ward, managing director of J. C. Williams. With Melba’s approval, she was given a three-year contract. After tuition from Ward’s wife, Grace Miller, Moncrieff joined Williamson’s chorus. She progressed steadily. She had featured roles in a 1916 tour of South Africa. Two years later, in New Zealand, she was given the lead in Katinka. Other musicals followed until, in 1921, she first played Teresa in The Maid of the Mountains. Its resounding success established her as a major star. She also had a hit with A Southern Maid, which came from the same writing team. As in London, it was directed by Oscar Asche.’
In 1924 Moncrieff married a dancer, Tom Moore. J.C. Williamson paid for their honeymoon in London, where Moncrieff made her first recordings. Back in Australia, Gladys played the lead role in “Rio Rita” at St. James’ Theatre, Sydney, in 1928.