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Mo’s Memoirs

READERSVOICE.COM aims to give a few interesting reading tips. It features samples from forgotten or out-of-print books.

The following sample from Mo’s Memoirs (1945) by comedian Roy Rene gives a description of an evening of vaudeville in the very early 1900s. Roy Rene (1891-1954) was born Henry van der Sluys. From 1908, he appeared in Melbourne vaudeville as Boy Roy. Then from 1910 in Sydney, he took the stage name Roy Rene. His most famous character was the bawdy Mo McCackie or simply Mo. Hence the title, Mo’s Memoirs.

Roy Rene writes: Vaudeville in those days [very early 1900s] was a very different proposition from the theatre of to-day [1945]. When I was first working, even revues were unknown. To begin with, the curtain didn’t go up on a ballet of beautiful girls dancing across the stage. The ballet and chorus were one, and we called them seat-warmers, they used to sit around the back of the stage, and though all of them could sing, they didn’t all dance.The curtain goes up and there is the whole company on stage with the chorus seat-warming. Then two corner men on each side and the interlocutor right in the middle. The corner men would strike up on the bones and kettle drums and go into their minstrel act, and then the interlocutor with a real flourish would say at the beginning of the opening chorus, “Ladies and gentlemen, be seated,” then he’d call out, “Ladies and gentlemen, Boy Roy, the comic singer”, and I’d come off the corner while the other performers gave me a hand and helped build me up, and I’d do my act and go back on the corner. Then he’d call out, “Miss So-and-so”. She might be a famous singer or a comic act, but she’d get up and come forward and do her turn and go back to her seat when it was over.

Of course, when the curtain first rose we wouldn’t all be sitting looking half alive. Everyone would be doing their business and the jugglers juggling, and so on. All those acts would go on until the 9 o’clock interval, and after the interval you’d do the farce or after-piece.

-For an example of a vaudeville farce starring Roy Rene, read on. He used to ad lib a lot in his performances, too, to keep things fresh…