Arthur Shirley

Arthur Shirley (31 August 1886 – 24 November 1967) was an Australian actor, writer, producer, and director of theatre and film. He was one of the first Australians to enjoy success as a film actor in Hollywood.

Arthur Shirley
Arthur Shirley by Albert Witzel.jpg
c. 1916
Born
Henry Raymond Shirley

(1886-08-31)31 August 1886
Died24 November 1967(1967-11-24) (aged 81)
NationalityAustralian

BiographyEdit

Early lifeEdit

Born Henry Raymond Shirley in Hobart to civil servant Henry Shirley and Sarah Ann, née Morton, he was baptised Arthur and attended Catholic schools. He then worked for Tattersall's Lottery and as a junior solicitor's clerk, when at age sixteen he decided to join a semi-professional troupe of entertainers which toured Tasmania in a two horse caravan.[1]

In 1904 Shirley moved to Melbourne. For a time he worked as door-to-door salesman for a wholesale grocery firm, then he became a novice in a Sydney seminary, but left it in 1905 to try and break into theatre. His first role was a three-line part in Sweet Nell of Old Drury (1905), starring Nellie Stewart at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne.[2] He spent the next two years touring Victoria and New South Wales with the John Cosgrove Company, after which he worked for other theatre entrepreneurs, including William Anderson, George Marlow, Beaumont Smith and George Willoughby.[1] In 1909 he announced he was going to star in a play especially written for him, an early indication of Shirley's later flair for self-promotion.[3]

Shirley owed money to a Miss Tindall, a debt which saw him be declared bankrupt at his own petition in December 1913.[4] He struggled with financial difficulties before winning the leads in two films, The Silence of Dean Maitland and The Shepherd of the Southern Cross, both opening in 1914; the first was a success.

On 22 December 1913 Shirley married New Zealand singer Ellen Newcomb Hall at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney; they would separate in 1920 and divorce in 1940.[5][6]

Willoughby lawsuitEdit

In Christmas 1913 Shirley was working for George Willoughby, who issued a notice to his company that their engagements would terminate at a certain date. Willougby offered Shirley another contract at £4 10 a week but Shirley insisted on £6. Shirley then contacted J. C. Williamson Ltd and said he obtained a position there. A day or two later, Williamsons withdrew their offer to Shirley on the basis that Willoughby had told them he was still under contact to the latter. According to Shirley, Willoughby told him that if he didn't work for the producer, he would make sure Shirley was blacklisted in the industry. Shirley responded by suing Willoughby for £1,000 in damages.[7]

Willoughby argued that Shirley had no contract with Williamsons and was supported by E.J. Tait, managing director of Williamsons. The judge ruled that Tait had been guilty of perjury and the jury awarded Shirley £500 in damages.[8] Willoughby appealed the decision, asking for it to be set aside, and the Judge suggested the parties come to a settlement, which was done.[9]

The money he earned from the lawsuit enabled Shirley to pay off his debts and he appears to have had his bankruptcy discharged.[10][11] However, Shirley felt his career as a stage actor in Australia had been greatly hurt by taking on two of its most powerful producers and he decided to try his luck overseas.[1]

US careerEdit

In June 1914 Shirley and his wife moved to the United States, where he was signed by Kalem Company in their New York studios. He then went to work in their Glendale studio where he played a detective hero.[12]

He later signed to Universal Studios. He won roles in One Man's Evil (1915), Bawb O' Blue Ridge (1916),[13] The Fall of a Nation (1916)[14] and Branding Broadway (1918) alongside William S. Hart.[6] Of these movies, The Fall of a Nation is the best known, being a sequel to The Birth of a Nation (1914), but Shirley also acted opposite such stars as Lon Chaney, Sr. and Mae Murray.[15]

Shirley also ran a photography business on Hollywood Boulevard, where he was a pioneer in the use of artificial lighting for portraiture, and three-dimensional rather that painted backgrounds.[1] He claimed it was a photograph he took of Rudolph Valentino dancing which helped that actor be cast in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and thus become a star.[16]

Return homeEdit

Shirley returned to Sydney in April 1920 to found his own company, setting up at Rose Bay with the slogan "Moving Pictures Made in Australia for the World".[17] Although one movie, The Throwback, did begin production, he did not complete it and Shirley was declared bankrupt again in 1925 after a court action by his cinematographer, Ernest Higgins.[18]

He managed to recover, playing Steve Gunn in a stage adaptation of The Sentimental Bloke in 1923 and setting up Pyramid Pictures to produce a film based on The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1925). This was a large hit and remains his greatest achievement. He also wrote, produced, directed and starred in The Sealed Room in 1926 which was less successful.[6][19]

Final yearsEdit

Shirley relocated to London in 1927, and tried to exhibit his two directorial efforts to UK audiences, but was not allowed until he paid the requisite duty. He did not have the funds so this did not eventuate.[20]

He also announced he intended to form Australian National Films, Ltd., with a capital of £600,000, to act as film producers, and as distributors of British films throughout Australia and New Zealand.[21] A company of that name was incorporated the following year[22] but Shirley instead attempted to start a film industry in Rhodesia, starting with a project called Sons of Rhodesia.[23] This did not work out and in September 1930 he moved to Hollywood, where he was arrested in February 1932 for overstaying his visa;[24] however he later obtained permission to stay.[25][26]

He married Frances Clayton in 1934, apparently believing his first wife to be dead, but returned alone to Sydney later in August that year.[27] When he came off the boat, Shirley was interviewed by police, who wanted to know if he had been deported. He later sued the two offices involved for £5,000 for assault and wrongful arrest but lost the case.[28]

In 1938 Shirley announced he was going to produce a film in Tasmania called Wings of Love but this did not eventuate.[29][30]

He adopted a son in 1940, and contested the 1943 federal election as an independent candidate for East Sydney. He ran on a platform of the abolition of the entertainment tax and safeguarding of personal liberties, among other things.[31] His campaign manager was arrested during the campaign.[32] Shirley lost the election.

Shirley devoted his retirement to archaeology and ancient Egypt. He died at Rose Bay in 1967 and was buried at Waverley Cemetery.[6]

CreditsEdit

TheatreEdit

FilmsEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d Graham Shirley, 'Arthur Shirley of Sydney Australia', Shirley Family Association accessed 24 March 2012
  2. ^ "NOTES OF THE DAY". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 19 January 1927. p. 6. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "MUSIC AND DRAMA". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 31 August 1909. p. 7. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "PICTURE PRODUCER". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 2 July 1925. p. 6. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Advertising". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 29 December 1913. p. 2. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b c d Dooley, Marilyn (2002). "Shirley, Arthur (1886–1967)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 22 July 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ "N0. 2 JURY COURT". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 24 June 1914. p. 9. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ "ACTOR SUCCEEDS". Warrnambool Standard. Vic.: National Library of Australia. 26 June 1914. p. 3 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "SUPREME COURT". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 12 August 1914. p. 5. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ "IN BANKRUPTCY". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 27 October 1914. p. 4. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ "ACTOR RELATES STORY IN BANKRUPTCY COURT". The Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia. 25 August 1925. p. 4. Retrieved 23 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/motionpicturenew131unse_0648
  13. ^ "LENARD'S PICTURES". The Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia. 28 October 1917. p. 2. Retrieved 4 February 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "THE PICTURES". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 14 September 1916. p. 5. Retrieved 4 February 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ Everyones, Everyones Ltd, 1920, retrieved 4 June 2018 CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ "Claim Against Detectives Fails". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 18 September 1935. p. 28. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ "Advertising". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 10 July 1920. p. 15. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ "PICTURE PRODUCER". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 2 July 1925. p. 6. Retrieved 23 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ "FILMING TASMANIA". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 19 January 1927. p. 5. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. ^ "ENGLISH CUSTOMS DUTY". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 9 August 1927. p. 9. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  21. ^ "OUR LONDON LETTER". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld.: National Library of Australia. 24 May 1927. p. 4. Retrieved 23 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  22. ^ "COMPANY NEWS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 28 January 1928. p. 19. Retrieved 23 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  23. ^ "FILMS OF RHODESIAN LIFE". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 17 July 1928. p. 6. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  24. ^ "ACTOR ESCAPES ALIEN OUSTING: Arthur Shirley Will Not Be Deported Exceptional Circumstances Cited by Government Jailed Australian Must Leave by March 15" Los Angeles Times 12 Feb 1932: A5.
  25. ^ "Veteran Actor Gets Permission to Remain Here" Los Angeles Times 16 Mar 1932: A10.
  26. ^ "MR. ARTHUR SHIRLEY". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 14 August 1934. p. 6. Retrieved 23 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  27. ^ "MR. ARTHUR SHIRLEY". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 14 August 1934. p. 6. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  28. ^ "CAUSES IN NO. 4 COURT". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 17 September 1935. p. 6. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  29. ^ "TASMANIAN FILM". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 1 August 1938. p. 7. Retrieved 23 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  30. ^ "FILM PRODUCTION IN TASMANIA". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 22 October 1938. p. 15. Retrieved 23 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  31. ^ "OUR ROVING REPORTER DECIDES". The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 7 August 1943. p. 5. Retrieved 29 June 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  32. ^ "CANDIDATE COMPLAINS OF "POLITICAL VENOM"". Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954). Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia. 25 July 1943. p. 10. Retrieved 29 June 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  33. ^ ""THE MONK AND THE WOMAN."". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 23 December 1912. p. 3. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  34. ^ "Advertising". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 27 September 1913. p. 2. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  35. ^ ""THE NIGHT SIDE OF LONDON."". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 9 October 1913. p. 10. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  36. ^ "Advertising". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 31 October 1913. p. 15. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  37. ^ ""THE MONK AND THE WOMAN."". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 24 November 1913. p. 4. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  38. ^ "Advertising". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 15 December 1913. p. 2. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  39. ^ ""THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE."". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 26 December 1922. p. 3. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  40. ^ - with Nellie Stewart "RADIUM NEEDLES FUND". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 14 April 1926. p. 15. Retrieved 24 March 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit