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Comedy Without its Mask., Issue 8024, 28 September 1889
Comedy Without its Mask.
Not so long ago an actor was regarded as a rogue and a vagabond, and even at the present time the popular idea of a professional entertainer In private life is not of an eievated character. His life is supposed to be one constant whirl of excitement and dissipation, drinking, late hours, and debauchery. On the other hand, novelists loving to paint pictures with broad effects have delighted to depict the laughter - moving comedian as a morose, disappointed, selfish, surly individual, with a settled sorrow and an un workable liver. The popular idea of the novelist’s creation serves but to illustrate the falsehood of extremes, and those who, like the writer of these lines, have been brought into intimate contact with comedians, have found them simpiv men with no inordinate love for the life that kills ; men of shrewd business habits and prudent investments; men surrounded by home ties, joying in the possession of household gods, and grieving like men under domestic afflictions. Partly on business and partly on pleasure, the writer found himself, one day this week, in a quiet, unpretentious, but comfortable villa at St. Hilda. Everything bespoke comfort, the furniture was rich and somewhat aesthetic in style, and all the surroundings were those of some domesticated gentleman, who, being well-to-do, had made a home that should be luxuriously neat without ostentations display. Here dwelt Mr Harry Rickards, the comedian and vocalist, the impersonator of the loudvoiced cockney, the (lashing masher, and the thousand and one varied types of
character that have set the world laughing for goodness knows how many years past. On this particular occasion, when the visitor called, Mr Rickards was not at home, and it is whilst waiting his arrival that a mental observation is taken of the little evidences of elegant ease which are.scattered about. : Presently a cab drives up, and a staidlooking gentleman jumps ouP Three children—two girls; arid a boy—follow, and the quartet troop into the house. These are Harry Richards’s little ones, and the staidlooking, solid gentleman around whom the tiny trio clings is none other than Harry Rickards himself Rickards the Great, Rickards the Holiday Costermonger, Rickards the celebrated Vocal Comedian, the Blighted Gardener, the Masher King, etc., etc., etc. It is somewhat of a surprise to the visitor to hear the children asking Pa to do this, or requiring Pa’s permission to have certain toys to play with, just as if “The ureat Rickards” were an ordinary parent, bossed by his children in the most everyday fashion. It does not seem to strike “ The Great ” one for a moment that he is supposed to play the Roman father, and he is moulded like wax in tho bands of these little artificers. Their requests are granted, and they are bidden to run away and play, but not to make too much noise, lest they disturb mamma. Here is the first sign of sorrow seen behind the laughing mask. Mrs Rickards, though now slowly recovering, has been laid up with rheumatic fever for three months, and during that time her husband has been appearing to “ crowded and delighted audiences.” He has been funny —so grimly funny—whilst the public have roared with mirth and applauded lim to the echo. He has been looking out over the footlights at Broken Hill and seeing —not the smiling countenances of amused pleasure seekers—but the pale face of the sick wife, whose life is trembling in the balance— Ah, little they think, who delight in the strains, Tb»t the heart ot the minstrel is breaking. The business of the visitor is of no interest to the reader, but it is the peep at the inner life of the comedian that will agreeably surprise those who judge the comedian only as they see him with his painted face, false hair, and bizarre costume. Mr Rickards is pleasantly chatty and agreeable, and, though full of anecdote of experiences, he tells bis tale with a quiet modesty that has in it no trace of tho “rorty pal ” or the “ lardy-dardy swell.” He has quite a coL lection of handsome and valuable presents which have at various times been given to himself and his wife, and these he shows with boyish pleasure and pardonable pride. He sees you glance at a large framed portrait over the door.
“ Do you think there is any likeness?” he asks, and, without waiting for an answer, he tells you: “That’s my dad. The dear old chap thinks an awful lot of me.” The “Great One” says this in a laughing, apologetic way, as if he felt some excuse should be made for the old gentleman’s unaccountable partiality. A noteworthy feature aboht Harry Rickards is that he does not “talk shop” unless you drive him to it. A stranger, after an hour’s conversation, would never credit that he was a man who lived on, and by, the stage. He willingly rattles on about everything else. He is an enthusiastic lover of Australia, for he has done well in it. His wife is Australian-born, so too is one of his children.
“No more England for me,” he says ; “ I mean to stick to Australia. I may go occasionally to the Old Country to engage talent, but this is my country for the future. It isn’t only because it’s a land of gold ; but it’s a land of health and freedom. My youngsters were always ailing in England, and my baby died there. Here the children are as lively as crickets, and, with the exception of the present illness, Mrs Rickards has had good health too. But it’s the freedom of the life here that makes it to pleasant. In England a professional cannot get out of the groove. He must travel the pace; and it’s a pace that kills. Here a man upon the stage can lead the life he chooses. He can go the pace here and kill himself just as quickly as in England, but he is not forced into the whirl as in England. Nobody knows or nobody cares, for instance, what I am off the stage. There is a sort of contract between the public and a performer that he shall do his ' show ’ to the best of his ability, and if he does that the Australian public is satisfied, and lets him lead his own life in his own way—the rackety suicide of dissipation, or the jog-trot, easy enjoyment of quiet respectability.” There is a fascination about the homely morality coming from a representative of “Champagne Charlies” that is as pleasing as it is unexpected. There is a charm in hearing of his little investments in Broken Hill shares, and hia calculations as to how much he expects to make out of the Now Zealand tour upon which he is just starting. It is pleasant, too, to hear him speak of the members of his company as ladies and gentlemen whose private friendship he seems to value highly. When the mask of comedy is removed you find behind it the kindly philosophic face of a philanthropist, and when you leave him, after an interval all too short, you feel grateful towards Harry Rickards, not for the langhter he has given you in public, but for having unconsciously shown you that the “poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage ” may in private life be a worthy citizen of simple tastes, an affectionate husband and father, and a kindly gentleman.— ‘ Telegraph.’ ___________
Comedy Without its Mask., Issue 8024, 28 September 1889
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