Queenie Paul’s enterprise in touring show girls from the Celebrity Club extended beyond Australia in 1953. Plans for a six-month tour of Singapore and peninsular Malaya were announced in December 1952. The arrangements were made by Mr Mel Lawton, the manager of Sydney’s Prince Edward Theatre since the 1930s.
The Prince Edward was primarily a movie theatre, but Lawson also programmed variety acts. Queenie had performed there in May 1949 and January 1950, Dawn Lake in April 1951. Lawton also had interests in horse-racing. Working with the Royal Navy in Hong Kong just after the war, Lawton had met the Shaw Brothers – Run Me Shaw and Run Run Shaw – who operated movie studios, amusement parks and cinemas throughout Singapore, Malaya and Hong Kong. On his return to Sydney, Lawton became the Shaw Brothers’ racing representative, commissioned to buy horses for shipment to Singapore and racing in Australia. It was an arrangement that met with success.
The Shaw brothers made visits to Sydney in 1951 and 1952. Speculation on their business interests and intentions generated comment in parliament and press. Nor were horses the only live exports that Lawton shipped to Singapore. He sent his wife to holiday there in 1950, where she enjoyed the stylish hospitality of Mrs Run Me Shaw. Later that year, he sent a three-month-old female kitten, air-freighted as a gift for Run Run Shaw who ‘bred chinchilla cats as pets.’ It seems likely that Lawton’s connections also figured in arranging successive Singapore seasons for June Hamilton and Dawn Lake, who each sang at the Shaw Brothers’ Capitol Ballroom and Restaurant in October 1950.
Queenie Paul’s company of ‘Sun-kissed Cuties’ was Lawton’s most substantial consignment to Singapore. The assembled company was reported to comprise twenty-two artists and musicians. For Queenie, as producer, it was a family affair: her son-in-law, Lennie McDermott, was chief compere and singer; Celestine Connors (Mrs McDermott) was ballet mistress; and her son, Paul Connors, as singer and compere. They were joined by comedian Colin Baker, dancer Judd Lane, and seven show girls who, with Celestine, made up the eight ‘cuties’: Bettine Baker, Brenda Charles, Gloria Davies, Joy Jarvis, Lois Knight, Dolores Nolan and Shirley Swan.
The company arrived in Singapore on 12 January 1953. They opened as ‘The Sun-Kissed Cuties in Forever Glamour’ at the Shaw Brothers’ Capitol Theatre on 21 January, performing three shows a day, and changing the programme to Rhythm Rendezvous from 28 January, Trinidad Revels from 4 February, and Kung Hee Fatt Choy for twelve days over Chinese New Year from 11 February. The notices in the Straits Times were appreciative of form, but critical of performance: ‘the loveliest gaggle of glamour girls ever to high kick at this theatre but their dancing is far less attractive than their looks.’ ‘They’re a little awkward in their movements,’ observed one critic; ‘they will have to get their pretty legs a-tapping with the times if they wish to progress from here,’ advised another.
The Sun-Kissed Cuties may have spent March and early April touring peninsular Malaya, at Shaw Brothers theatres in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. They were back in Singapore with their ‘bright little show’ from 24 April, appearing at the Capitol Ballroom and Restaurant in the After Dark Revue, changing to Meet the People from 8 May, and Hits and Highlights from 22 May. Their last advertisement in Singapore appears on 13 June, and their departure is reported a month later on 14 July.
If the Singapore critics had found the Sun-kissed Cuties ‘nostalgic’ and old-fashioned, their next engagement in Australia would make a virtue of Queenie Paul’s ‘evergreen’ appeal. Harry Wren engaged Queenie to produce and perform in Thanks for the Memory, an ‘old-time’ vaudeville-revue, starring George Wallace, Jim Gerald, Morrie Barling, Beryl Meekin and Keith Peterson. The show opened in October 1953 at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, and subsequently toured cities in Australia and New Zealand for three years. Four of the Sun-kissed Cuties from the Singapore tour – Bettine Baker, Gloria Davies, Joy Jarvis and Dolores Nolan – joined the company, as did the young Judd Lane, who choreographed the production, perhaps bringing some modernity to the Sun-kissed Beauty Ballet’s steps.
In February 1954, at the Palladium Theatre in Sydney, Gloria Davies, Joy Jarvis and Dolores Nolan were still performing with the show. Joy Jarvis returned to the Palladium in October 1954 for Burlesque – The Gypsy Rose Lee Show that Queenie Paul produced for Harry Wren around the American stripper. Norm Erskine, the singer from the Celebrity Club, sang in that show. Other members of the Sun-kissed Cuties may have appeared in Thanks for the Memory as it continued to tour, and as it was later reformed into The Good Old Days for more touring through 1957.
Although programmes from these later productions do not credit the show girls by name, a programme from The Good Old Days at Sydney’s Theatre Royal records that Brenda Charles who had been in the floor show at the Celebrity when Pix visited in 1950 and had toured with the Sun-kissed Cuties to Singapore in 1953. She had since graduated to leading the chorus as the soubrette. She continued in this role when the last nostalgic revue that Queenie Paul produced for Harry Wren opened at Sydney’s Empire Theatre in January 1959.
Photographs from Many Happy Returns depict Brenda Charles as the leading show girl, dressed in a sequinned, fringed and feathered one-piece, with satin sleeves and feather headdress, posing centre stage amidst the Glamour Birds and Gay Dogs of the chorus for the opening sequence of the show. In other photographs, she poses for ‘Montmartre Vanities’ in a satin strapless gown, long gloves and a tulle bonnet, as the chorus dance a can-can on the streets of Paris; and she joins the Glamour Birds for ‘Pink Gloves and Parasols,’ a striptease act in which their summer frocks, gloves, hats and parasols are discarded and they reappear dressed only in bikinis, dancing in one photograph, and posing topless in another.
In 1960, Brenda Charles was back in Sydney’s night clubs, singing as a regular at Andre’s with other entertainers who had toured with the revues.
- 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.
- Advertisements for Prince Edward, Sunday Herald, 1 May 1949, p. 22; Sunday Herald, 29 April 1951, p. 4.
- ‘Singapore millionaire owners celebrate Great World’s win,’ The Sunday Herald, 8 May 1949, p. 17; ‘Singapore millionaire to buy more horses,’ The Sunday Herald, 29 May 1949, p. 18.
- ‘Links with East bring money and food,’ Sunday Herald, 25 November 1951, p. 9.
- ‘One amah per child for six children,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April 1950, p. 9.
- ‘This three-month-old female chinchilla kitten,’ Townsville Daily Bulletin, 16 November 1950, p. 5.
- ‘Aust show for Malaya,’ Courier Mail, 10 December 1952, p. 8.
- ‘Eight “sun-kissed cuties” coming to Singapore,’ Straits Times, 7 January 1953 p. 7; ‘Sun-kissed cuties arrive – in a drizzle, Straits Times, 13 January 1953, p. 1.
- ‘Queenie Paul presents the Sun-Kissed Cuties,’ advertisements, Straits Times, 20 January 1953, p. 8; 21 January 1953, p. 8; 28 January 1953, p. 9; 4 February 1953, p. 9; 11 February 1953, p. 4; 24 February 1953, p. 8.
- John Behague, ‘Mr Christian misses a lovely opportunity,’ Straits Times, 25 January 1953, p. 13.
- Brian Crozier, ‘Screen Guide,’ Straits Times, 23 January 1953, p. 9; John Behague, ‘Mr Christian misses a lovely opportunity,’ Straits Times, 25 January 1953, p. 13.
- ‘Queenie Paul’s Sun-Kissed Cuties,’ Capitol Restaurant, advertisement, Singapore Free Press, 13 June 1953, p. 15; ‘The eight Sun-kissed Cuties from Australia, who have been dancing in Singapore and the Federation for eight [sic] months, left Singapore yesterday for home in the Gordon,’ Straits Times, 15 July 1953, p. 8.
- H. Williamson and Company (Sydney, NSW) Many Happy Returns, the Presentation Album of Gladys Moncrieff’s Farewell Tour, 1959-1961, 1959. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/37019590.