When Joe Taylor opened the Celebrity Club on Sydney’s York Street in 1948, he appointed Queenie Paul to produce the entertainment. She was a veteran of the variety stage, a chorus girl turned choreographer and producer, then in her mid-50s. He was a Sydney businessman, nicknamed ‘The Boss,’ with gambling interests in horse racing, football and boxing, who ‘helped usher in the golden days of Sydney night clubs, just after the war.’ Building on the Celebrity’s success, Taylor opened the Carlisle Club for gambling in 1953, and Joe’s Corinthian Room for late night suppers later in the 1950s. Alongside other night club proprietors in mid twentieth-century Sydney – Sammy Lee, Reg Boom, Perce Galea, Abe Saffron, Denis Wong – Taylor operated his clubs at a lucrative intersection show business, gaming and sports, illicit gambling and unlicensed trade in liquor.
Taylor was ‘among the club and entertainment impresarios who brought the initial waves of American artists to Australia.’ His first imports, on contracts paying £400 a week, were the English-American child-actor Freddie Bartholemew then in his mid-20s, and the Jewish-American boxer-turned-actor Maxie Rosenbloom, popularly known as ‘Slapsie Maxie.’ Acts mixing comedy and sport were apparently favoured by Taylor. In December 1950, the League footballer Bruce Hopkins was photographed performing comedy at the Celebrity in a female wig and strapless cocktail dress. Taylor offered the boxer Tommy Burns a spot, ‘to croon into a microphone Sinatra-style, surrounded by swooning show girls, and engage in a mock boxing match with a baggy-pants comedian.’ He also spotted Norm Erskine, then a trainee boxer and football player with the Paddington Cubs, singing a few songs after a match, and offered him a job singing at the club.
To the Celebrity’s mix of comedy and sport, Queenie Paul brought feminine glamour and ‘class.’ She had formed a business partnership with her husband, the American vaudevillian Mike Connors, producing and performing in variety entertainment for the Tivoli theatres in Sydney and Melbourne, which they revived in the early 1930s, and for entrepreneur Harry Wren at the Cremorne theatre in Brisbane, and on regional tours after the war. Connors died after a three-month illness on 16 January 1949, so it is uncertain if his American connections were instrumental in attracting Bartholemew and Rosenbloom to perform at the Celebrity in Sydney.
Queenie Paul’s key responsibility at the Celebrity Club was to produce the floor show. She held auditions for the Lovelies, eight show girls to perform the Celebrity’s first show on 4 January 1949. The Lovelies presented a 45-minute performance, twice nightly at 7pm and 11pm, and they were contracted to rehearse a new programme every four weeks. Queenie Paul is also credited with ‘discovering’ Dawn Lake, who was then contracted to sing at the Celebrity for £22 a week.
When a Pix photographer visited the Celebrity Club in September 1950, four girls from Queenie’s original line-up were still in the floor show, including Ilma Adey and Brenda Charles. Ilma Adey’s pathway into working as a show girl at the Celebrity is recounted in Pix. A day job in a factory office ‘allowed her time off to chase one-night-stand engagements, modelling jobs and continue her studies.’ She sang with several dance bands, and first worked for Queenie Paul in a two-week season of revue at the Capitol Theatre.
Pix claims that Ilma Adey’s parents were ‘dubious’ of her ambitions, but other evidence is suggestive of their support. As a child she danced in Swan Lake with the Australian Ballet School and sang in the Railway Institute Eisteddfod in Sydney; as a teenager she trained in modelling at the June Dally Watkins School of Deportment. By January 1949, she was performing nightly at the Celebrity and had registered with the Actors’ Equity Theatrical Agency as a soubrette. Her big break came in 1953. She was cast alongside Chips Rafferty and Bud Tingwell in the adventure feature film, King of the Coral Sea. Before the film’s release, Ilma accepted a three-month singing engagement at the Seaview Hotel in Singapore.
Brenda Charles was also a child contestant, tap-dancing at the annual Railway Institute Eisteddfod. In 1948 she appeared as a chorus girl in the J.C. Williamson production of White Horse Inn performing with June Croker, a former Tivoli dancer and show girl at the Celebrity. In June 1952, Brenda was still performing nightly at the Celebrity: ‘dressed in shorts and dancing to the most modern of modern music’. Then she would rush over to the Tivoli with another Lovely, Bettina Nelson, where they ‘dressed in crinolines for the old-world atmosphere of the opera, Masked Ball.’ Juxtaposing two photographs of the girls in contrasting costumes and asking the reader to consider, ‘Which way do you prefer them?,’ the story eroticises the night club’s modernity: from Italian opera to bepob jazz, from crinolines to chorus shorts, from European aristocracy to new world celebrity.
Queenie’s role as the producer of entertainment at the Celebrity Club drew, in particular, on her experience as a dance instructor to show girls. She was ballet mistress at the Sydney Tivoli in 1945, when a fire broke out in the backstage dressing room; three show girls were injured, but ‘Queenie Paul persuaded the ballet and chorus to go on the stage afterwards as though nothing had happened.’ In 1947 Queenie led a ‘ballet of sunkissed lovelies’ in Harry Wren’s variety show, Hi-Ho Everybody, on a regional tour of Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia. From June to August 1950, she produced a series of variety shows at Sydney’s Tatler Theatre: Gems of Variety, Meet the People, Long Legs and Laughter, Ju-Bee-Lee-Vit and Red Bright and New featured ‘the Pin-up Girls and Lovelies,’ probably much the same troupe of show girls performing at the Celebrity. These Tatler shows were presented by Martin Goode, a figure on the night club scene and likely associate of Joe Taylor.
In March 1951 Queenie took her troupe of ‘Celebrity Glamour Girls’ on a regional tour of New South Wales, performing at Broken Hill’s Palais de Dance, the Singleton Showground and, probably, other towns along the way. From September 1951 she performed in variety at Brisbane’s Theatre Royal. In February 1952, she appeared on the same bill as Hollywood star, Diana Barrymore, brought to Sydney by Joe Taylor for a season at the Celebrity. In October 1952 Queenie took credit for designing the ballet girls’ costumes at the Theatre Royal and choreographing routines.
- A version of this account appears in Bollen, J. (2013) ‘Show girls and choreographers in Australian entertainment: the transition to night clubs, 1946-1967’, Australasian Drama Studies, 63 (October), 52-68.
- ‘Taylor, Joseph Patrick (1908–1976)’ Australian Dictionary of Biography, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-joseph-patrick-11830
- David Hickie, The Prince and the Premier, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde, 1985, p. 150.
- Freddie Bartholemew and Maxie Rosenbloom – ‘Star coming. £400 for Song Act,’ The Courier-Mail, 17 November 1948, p. 3. ‘Slapsie Maxie on £400 a week,’ The Courier-Mail, 1 January 1949, p. 3.
- Bruce Hopkins – ‘Sydney and Hollywood get together,’ Pix, 23 December 1950, p. 9.
- Tommy Burns – ‘Golden years of Burns – Boxing,’ Daily Telegraph, 19 February 2011, p. 120.
- Norm Erskine – Susan Borham, ‘The golden ear of Sydney’s night clubs,’ The Sun-Herald, 6 January 1991, p. 24; James Oram, ‘Big man around town,’ The Sun-Herald, 10 September 1995, p. 20.
- Frank van Straten, ‘Queenie Paul OAM 1893-192: Thanks for the memory,’ Live Performance Australia, 2007, http://www.liveperformance.com.au/halloffame/queeniepaul1.html
- Dawn Lake – Doug Anderson, ‘One out of the box, radio, stage: Dawn Lake, entertainer, 1927-2006,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2006, p. 38.
- Ilma Adey – ‘Night Club Dancer,’ Pix, 30 September 1950, p. 8; ‘Australian Ballet. Interesting performance at Albert Hall,’ Canberra Times, 4 May 1939, p. 5; ‘Eisteddfod Results,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 1941, p. 16; ‘Actors’ Equity Theatrical Agency – Representing Professional Entertainers,’ advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 January 1949, p. 14.
- King of the Coral Sea, directed by Lee Robinson, was filmed on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. It opened in cinemas in August 1954: ‘Film unit moving north,’ Cairns Post, 11 July 1953, p. 5; ‘Ilma and a £20,000 ‘Triangle’,’ Courier Mail, 15 July 1953, p. 3; ‘Will seek pretty Perth girls to train as new fashion models,’ Sunday Times, 20 June 1954, p. 17; see also Ilma Adey, interviewed by Donald Crombie, c. 1995, NFSA Title 507849.
- Ilma Adey in Singapore – ‘Actors’ success in Singapore,’ Courier-Mail, 1 May 1954, p. 7; ‘Chicken Inn Seaview Hotel presents Ilma Adey,’ advertisement, Straits Times, 30 April 1954, p. 9; ‘Ilma the singer you can see,’ The Singapore Free Press, 5 May 1954, p. 3.
- Brenda Charles – ‘Eisteddfod. Railway Institute,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 1938, p. 13; ‘Record entry. Rail Institute Esiteddfod,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1941, p. 8; ‘Eisteddfod Progress. Dancing and Revues,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 27 November 1941, p. 14.; ‘Quick changes,’ The Mail, 11 September 1948, p. 6; ‘Be-bop and old lace,’ The Argus, 3 June 1952, p. 7.
- June Croker was badly burnt in March 1951, when her costume caught fire as she passed by a food warmer at the Celebrity Club: ‘Girl weeps before jury,’ The Advocate, 1 December 1953, p. 5. Pix had profiled Croker as a Tivoli dancer in ‘Ballet Girl, 18 November 1950, pp. 6-8.
- Queenie Paul at the Tivoli – ‘Three Tivoli actresses badly burnt: Blazing dresses cause theatre panic,’ newspaper article reproduced in van Straten, Tivoli, p. 170; see also ‘Backstage fire cases panic: three show girls critically burnt,’ Army News, 5 September 1945, p.2; Dancer’s condition very serious,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 1945, p. 4; ‘Tivoli fire victims: serious condition,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September 1945, p. 4; ‘Fellow artists carry on,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 1945, p. 4.
- Queenie Paul at Prince Edward Theatre in Sydney – Advertisements for Prince Edward, Sunday Herald, 1 May 1949, 22; Sunday Herald, 29 April 1951, 4. Martin Goode was later named in connection with the murders of Sydney boxers, Danny Simmons and Bobby Lee in May 1951: ‘“Entitled to shoot,” says Hayes,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 29 August 1951, p. 5; ‘Brought to inquest from gaol,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February 1953, p. 5.
- Queenie Paul on Australian tours – ‘Diana Barrymore loses voice, job,’ The Argus, 13 October 1951, p. 5; ‘Bright ballet,’ Courier Mail, 6 October 1952, p. 7.