1955. A ten-year-old girl lies on her stomach, crossed legs in the air, engrossed in her fourteen-year-old sister’s Movie Stars scrapbook; each glossy page cut and pasted from the Australian Women’s Weekly. She examines and consumes, almost as if she enters the very souls of those seductive images of beauty, glamour and desire: Audrey Hepburn, princess in a tiara; Esther Williams, bathing beauty; Marilyn Monroe in a startling white dress and panties; a girlish, glistening Vivian Leigh; a cool Katharine Hepburn displaying a cigarette.
Yes, that pre-pubescent country girl was me, absorbed in the mystery and fantasy of Hollywood and America.
Two decades earlier my mother was beguiled by similar stars at Kandos Picture Theatre. In her time, the picture show in Angus Memorial Hall was the entertainment hub of Kandos. Large flashy posters on the front wall demanded attention but if you wanted to know more, then read the Mudgee Guardian. On 15 July 1933 Kandos Talkies would treat you to a double-bill, Beauty and the Boss, a “radiant romance, spicy and snappy – She had ‘IT’ but she hid it”; and “a sparkling satire Once in a Lifetime which reveals what goes on in the private offices of Hollywood film studios”! But that wasn’t all. A completely different double-bill was offered the following Wednesday – “Air Mail hums with adventure and tragedy, while frivolity and murder go hand in hand in a thrilling drama A Night in Montmartre”. The Saturday matinee offered young ones a good dose of comedies and cowboy thrillers.
Marie Trounson also remembers the excitement of a night at the Kandos pictures. “Everyone enjoyed the pictures. There were always crowds and long queues. We got drinks and lollies from Ted Crossley’s next door, though it was sometimes difficult to get served.” And of course jaffas rolled down the floor in spooky movies.
Two months before the Angus Memorial Hall opened in November 1917, the Mudgee Guardian assured readers their “rising industrial town” would have a picture theatre in the new hall. And why not. The whole country was building picture theatres. Australians were enthralled by film. There was a time when Australia even outdid America in the movie stakes. A year after the world’s first screening in Paris by the Lumiere brothers in 1895, Australia began screening short films. Between 1897 and 1910 Melbourne was home to one of the world’s first film studios, the Limelight Department operated by the Salvation Army. In 1906 we produced the world’s first feature film, “The Story of the Kelly Gang”, an eighty minute silent film. Over the next two decades we made 150 feature films and were one of the first countries to fully adopt sound. However there is no doubt that by the 1930s Hollywood had captured the market.
Jack and Mary Hayes captured the entertainment market in Kandos for fourteen years between 1924 and 1938. With six proprietors in the first seven years, Kandos Picture Show had had a shaky start, due to a number of problems: lack of skill with new technology, faulty electricals and an imperfect hall. In 1923 there was an attempt to extend the hall and when that failed, a serious proposal to build a new picture theatre on the corner of Jaques Street and Angus Avenue opposite the Church of England. It seems the picture theatre syndicate from Sydney didn’t get back to us.
The Hayes were innovative and they embraced Hollywood with vigour, even naming their home “Hollywood”. The first thing Jack Hayes did was renovate the hall and purchase a pianola, thus replacing musicians for the silent movies. When he introduced talkies in 1932, that “enterprising movie man” made further changes, felting the walls for better sound, buying the best sound equipment available and advertising their player piano with 250 rolls – £80, a bargain. Hayes often reminded patrons he was showing the same movies as city theatres and they could reserve their favourite seat by ringing Kandos 19.
According to my mother, the Hayes’ girls, Irene, Edna and Zena, with their glamour and flair, were the image of Hollywood. In 1935 Zena opened a beauty and hairdressing parlour in the hall, where she offered Eugene Electric Permanent Waves and Shirley Temple Permanent Curls “for your little girl”.
Everyone has their story about Kandos Picture Theatre. I like the one about the black ban in the 1950s because ticket prices were too high – five shillings – when other theatres (Sydney included) charged between three and four shillings. I can’t tell you the outcome of that ban but I did read a scathing letter in the Mudgee Guardian by “A Former Theatre Goer”.
Today we are more cynical about Hollywood, more disillusioned by America and less interested in the movie theatre. But our enchantment with film grows, rather than diminishes. Lost in the screen, daily life forgotten, we look for ourselves, and often discover the extraordinary.
Picture Show Proprietors at Kandos (as far as I know)
E H Freeman 1918
Mr, L. Gascoigne ?-1921
Mr Burke 1921
J. W. McGarrity 1921
Percy Crane 1922-1923
Cliff Carney 1923
Jack Hayes 1925-1938
Billy Meeske 1938-1941
Fred and son Kevin Yardley 1941-
Frank and Les Wolfe
You might know more about the featured images.
The Angus Memorial Hall in the 1930s
This image was taken near the picture theatre. The young woman on the car I believe is Zena Hayes (Source Unknown)