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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER XXI - KNIGHT OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE


FROM 1918 until this year (I am writing in the early summer months of 1927) I have been consumed with a restlessness which has kept far in the background all thoughts of settling down to the quieter life I had been looking forward to before and during the war. The loss of John completely altered the course of his mother's life and mine. As I have told you we were glad to give up Glen Branter and Laudervale was now our only retreat, for we never established a really permanent home in London. But here again there were too many sad memories for us to feel happy for more than a few days at a time. Travel and work were the only things that could take our minds off our sorrow. So during these nine years we did a tremendous amount of globe-trotting.

A day or two after the Armistice in November, 1918, we found ourselves on the old Mauretania, the first liner to leave England for America after the declaration of peace. There were over five thousand United States troops on board with a mere handful of ordinary passengers. Lady Lauder and Mrs. Valiance, Tom's wife, were the only women making the trip—an almost unique experience in Atlantic travel. Talk about floating hotels! On that run the Mauretania was turned into a series of gigantic military mess-rooms: there were meals being served from early morning until late at night. When the ship got into New York, where she and her soldier passengers had an amazingly enthusiastic reception, the stewards and orderlies must have been fit to fall asleep on their feet. I calculated that something just under a hundred thousand meals must have been served on board during the five days' sail. The Mauretania was heavy with food when we left England; when we arrived in the Hudson she was sticking clear up out of the water!

It was most interesting to me to talk to the returning U. S. dough-boys. They were a grand lot of chaps and full of stories about the war, and their experience in it. Many of them who had been brigaded for service with British units early in the days of America's entry into the struggle entertained me for hours with their vivid and picturesque impressions. Some of them had actually met friends of mine at the front and others who had heard me sing in different parts of the States had gone and visited John's grave on the Albert Road. I formed several friendships on that memorable trip across the Atlantic which I hope to retain for the rest of my life. There is a subtle bond in those war-time friendships which makes a special appeal to all of us, don't you think?

I have no intention of wearying my readers by categorical descriptions of my wanderings throughout the world during the past eight or nine years, but I feel that I would be "scamping" several of the most interesting and eventful years of my life if I did not refer, however briefly, to some of the incidents which stand out prominently in my later career and to some of the extraordinary men and women it has been my good fortune (or otherwise!) to come across in different parts of the world. Another thing that occurs to me is that many people everywhere may be expecting me to say something about the material rewards that have come to a public entertainer like myself who has achieved some measure of international popularity. Well, I may feel inclined, before I have finished, to let you into my confidence—partially, at least!--on this highly delicate personal point, but all I will admit in the meantime is that the Income Tax authorities of the wide world seem to have done themselves very proudly out of Harry Lauder. Had these persistent and insistent fellows been non-existent it is just possible that I might have scraped enough to live on quietly long before this time of day!

We went over again to Australia from 'Frisco at the end of my 1918-19 American tour. My party arrived in Sydney on the first of March to experience a repetition of the boisterous welcome scenes which had marked my first visit in "4. Seated at lunch in the Hotel Australia on the day of our arrival a telegram was handed to Tom Valiance. He opened it. I was speaking to John Tait and Ted Carroll at the time and paid no attention. Tom got up from his chair, came round the table to where I was seated and held out his hand. "Congratulations, Sir Harry!" was all he said. Turn ing to his sister, my wife, he said "Nance, you're now Lady Lauder!" We were all tremendously excited and we eagerly read the cable again and again. It contained the brief statement that His Majesty the King had been graciously pleased to confer on me a Knighthood of the British Empire. Bye and bye Nance and Mrs. Valiance started to cry, so between tears and general congratulations all round we had a very happy luncheon party.

Later in the day cables began to roll in from home, from America and elsewhere—hundreds of them—all containing congratulations. In the first flush of my pleasure and enthusiasm I determined to reply to them all individually, also by cable, but when Tom (wise fellow!) submitted an estimate of the cost I abandoned the idea and just wrote letters of thanks. This job, I remember, occupied all my spare time for a fortnight.

I made my first public appearance as a Knight of the British Empire at Sydney on the night of Easter Saturday, 1919. The newspapers, of course, had had the information as soon as I had and they printed the news, together with long appreciations of myself, under suitably big headlines. The result was that I got a magnificent reception from a crowded audience when I stepped from the wings. The people rose and cheered me again and again. As I stood there waiting for the tumult to die down my thoughts were of a very mixed character. To tell the truth I was nearer bursting into tears than swelling with pride at the distinguished honour my King has seen fit to confer on me. A man's mind works very quickly on such occasions. During the minute or two I stood on the stage at Sydney that evening before starting to sing "I Love a Lassie," my whole life passed in flashing snap-shots before my mental vision. My poverty-stricken early days, the hard, sweating toil in the mines of Lanarkshire, the struggles and the strivings and the ambitions to make good on the concert platform, the gradual crescendo of success as a theatre celebrity, my world tours and the laughter and cheers of a million of people in two hemispheres, the fortune which I had honestly built up by my own unaided efforts—and now this great and unexpected honour as the culminating point in a colourful career! All these pictures, all these thoughts, came rapidly but clearly as I stood under the spotlights at Sydney that night. And I would willingly, aye, with great joy, have bartered the lot for one smile from John, one shake of his hand, to hear him say, "Dad, old man !" once more.

Altogether I have made four tours in Australia, including one in Tasmania, and three in New Zealand. For both of these magnificent island countries in the southern seas I have an immense admiration and a great love. Although comparatively close to each other—a matter of twelve hundred miles means nothing in the huge spaces of the South Pacific—they are entirely different in geographical characteristics and in the types of their peoples. New Zealand, as I think I have already said, is practically another Scotland and, seeing that this is so, it made an instantaneous appeal to my affections from the very outset. Its MacDonalds and Macintoshes and MacLeans, with their Caledonian Societies and Burns Clubs and Gaelic Associations transform many of its towns and villages into purely Scottish "territory"; there are, I am assured, thousands of Gaelic speakers in New Zealand who have never seen, and never will see, the land they venerate second only to their own. Scottish weekly and daily papers are delivered in New Zealand in their tens of thousands. I know one old man in Auckland who has had an Aberdeen daily paper posted to him every day for thirty years. Immediately he gets his copy he scores out the dates from the tops of the pages and writes in the day of the week on which it arrives. Thus is Scottish sentiment and the news of Scotland kept alive and warm ten or twelve thousand miles from "home!" What Scot can help developing an extraordinary affection for such a country and such a people?

I would like to sit down some day and start writing a book about Australia. I might start—but I would never finish. The subject would be beyond me entirely. If a hundred new books were to be written about Australia in the next ten years their authors would only be able to touch the fringe of the romance of this amazing island continent almost as large as the United States of America but still with a population less than that of Greater London! Every time I return to Australia I am filled with genuine enthusiasm for its fine, healthy, hospitable people, its delightful climate, its magnificent harbours and cities, its present prosperity and its unbounded possibilities for the future. I feel convinced that Australia, within a reasonable period of time, is destined to be one of the very greatest countries in the world. It is still suffering from "growing pains" and has problems, difficult and dangerous, yet to solve but it holds out opportunities and a welcoming hand, to men and women who are willing to work, such as cannot be found in any other part of the globe, not even excepting the United States. If today, I were a young man eager to push my fortunes in a new country I think I would certainly go to Australia.

Many, many happy months have I spent out there and many more do I hope to spend. There is hardly a town of any size at all in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, or Western Australia that I have not visited and played in; I have crossed the continent from Brisbane to Perth by rail more than once—an experience which long-distance travellers in America ought to undergo if they want to know what a week in a train can really be like. I have lived in sheep stations a hundred miles from a village, fished for strange fish in streams and rivers never before whipped by rod and line, wandered through vineyards and orange-groves heavily laden with fruit which only California can match, watched the pearl-fishers at Thursday Island, gone down the gold-mines at Mount Morgan and Calgoorlie, and have been photo- graphed alongside Aboriginal Chiefs in the Great Desert. Yes, I think my knowledge of Australia is fairly first-hand and when I say that of all the countries I know she has the most glorious future I hope my readers will not imagine I am giving my friends "down under" the usual traveller's boost. We in Britain do not appreciate Australia as we ought to; there should be stronger commercial ties between the Commonwealth and the Old Mother Land. That these may be developed and expanded for the benefit of both is my sincere hope.

It has been my happy fortune to meet many of the most eminent sons of Australia during my tours. I have lively recollections of numerous talks with Mr. Hughes and Mr. Bruce during their terms as Prime Minister. The statesmen of the world have nothing on these alert, brilliant men both of whom have visited Britain and impressed their personalities and intellects on the rulers and the people of the old country. For the present Premier, Mr. Bruce, I have a particularly high esteem. He is a great man in every sense of the word and Australia is proud of him. He and I had a round of golf at Melbourne a year or two ago. He gave me an unholy whacking but I was off my game that day. I am burning for my revenge, Mr. Prime Minister, and the next time we meet I'll take a third and even go the length of playing you for a golf-ball—the newest one I have in my bag!

Andrew Fisher is another splendid Australian patriot with whose friendship I have been honoured for several years now. So long as the island-continent continues to breed men of the stamp of Hughes and Bruce and Fisher, to say nothing of many fine-spirited and able State leaders and politicians, so long will there be a real and a ringing significance in the national motto—"Advance Australia !"

I wish I had room in these present memoirs to say all I would like to say about my adventures and experiences in different parts of Australia. But they are too long already and I feel I must guard myself against doing on the printed page what I have never (I hope) done on the stage—and that is bore my audience. Yet I feel strongly that any reference to Australia, short or long, which did not include some words about the Tait Brothers, and about Old John Brown of Newcastle, New South Wales, would be incomplete indeed.

The Tait brothers—there are five of them, Charles, John, Nevin, Edward and Frank—form an almost unique family combination. I have never met quite their equal anywhere in the world; certainly I have encountered no such wonder- ful brothers south of the line. They are natives of Victoria and were born in a small country town but their parents removed to Melbourne when the "loons" were very young. Charles, the eldest, joined the firm of Allan and Co., music publishers and concert agents and promoters. He managed to get employment for his brothers at these concerts in the capacity of check-takers, ushers, and general utility boys and, all of them being more than threatened with intelligence, they picked up an inkling of the business which was to stand them in good stead in after years. Their first big hit as impresarios was to bring Dame Clara Butt to Australia and, after her, the famous Besses o' the Barn Brass Band, winners of many Crystal Palace competitions taken part in by the best of the British bands—and don't forget that we have the finest brass bands in the world!

I was one of their next "successes" and while all my foreign tours have been controlled by my friend Ted Carroll I ought to explain that Mr. Carroll and the Taits have always worked hand-in-hand so far as my business in Australia and New Zealand is concerned. For all of the brothers I have a high regard but I am rather a difficult chap to control when I am working so it was early arranged between us that Ted would come in and take full charge of me. This happened thirteen years ago and the amicableness of the arrangement has been demonstrated by its results. You see, I can occasion ally go off the deep end with one man but not with five. And if that one man has a grievance against me he is much more likely to make me see reason than five men would! At all events the Taits and I are on the most friendly terms. They have now business interests in all parts of Australia, having linked up some years ago with the famous firm of J. C. Williamson, Limited, and my own impression of these remarkable brothers is that they must by this time all have enough to get bread and cheese for the rest of their lives. The only one I ever had any trouble with was Charlie! We had gone into the waiting-room at Albury, where the trains of two different states meet and can't go any further because of the different gauges, and were ordering a slight refreshment when Charlie came up and offered to pay. "No, no," said I with my usual generous impulse. "We'll toss for it. Heads I win; tails you lose!" "Right," said Mr. Tait. Naturally he lost—and paid up like a man. But in the next train his mind started to ruminate on the terms of the toss. So he came to me in a very truculent spirit and cordial relationships were only restored by my agreeing to pay for the dinner at the next stopping place. Nevin Tait works exclusively in London and he it is now who books the vaudeville and operatic stars who go out to the Antipodes, there to have a splendid holiday and, in most cases, to pick up substantial rewards in real money.

Of dear old John Brown I would like to write a great deal. He is my first-night mascot all over Australia. Formerly there were two of them, Brown and John Norton, the journalist genius and magnate who founded the Truth chain of newspapers throughout the Commonwealth and whose proud boast, up till the time he died, was that he had attended every night of Harry Lauder's first tour, involving journeys of many thousands of miles. Only John Brown is left now and although he is getting on in years I hope he will live long enough to accompany me on my final farewell tour of his wonderful country. I am very fond of John. I know there are many people in Australia who are not so fond of him! For one thing he owns all the best race-horses and during his lifetime he has won more than his just proportion of the principal races. For another thing he is not—how shall I put it?—exactly the most popular employer in the country on account of a dour, stubborn, silent way he has of dealing with strikes and labour effervescences generally. John would rather shut up his coal mines in Newcastle, N.S.W., for a twelvemonth than submit to conditions laid down by any labour leader, or "soviet" committee, and he has what some folks might think a nasty habit of "saying his say" in language forcible and to the point. Again, John does not speak much about what he is going to do, either in business, on the turf, or in the poultry show-ring. He just does it. For instance, a year or two ago he astounded the poultry specialists of Australia by sweeping the boards at the Sydney Easter Show. Such noble birds had never before been seen anywhere "down under." They left all the other competitors in a side street; reduced them wholesale to the "also-ran" division! Where the devil did they come from? How on earth did the old man manage to breed such an overpowering collection of prize-winning certainties? They were the sensation of the Easter Show. John Brown had "done it on them again." Meantime Master Brown smiled his enigmatical smile and said nothing. He didn't feel at all called upon to tell either his friends or his enemies that he had imported every proud cock, every hen and chicken, from the pens of Lord Dewar in England, the mightiest poultry genius in the world today!

They tell me that John is the richest man in Australia. He may be. But all I know is that beneath his apparently hard exterior is a warm and kindly heart. He adored his aged mother to whom I often used to sing the "auld Scots sangs" when I went to visit them at their country estate outside Newcastle. She and her husband hailed from Lanark shire. Last year I met old John—or young John, if you like it better—in London and he was just back from a visit to the scenes of his parents' childhood. There cannot, I always say, be much fundamentally wrong with a man who honours the memory of his father and his mother. John Brown does this—and I pay no attention at all to what some jaundiced folks say about him!

I have always made the return journey to Britain from Australia by way of the United States. To me it seems the natural route "back to the bens and the glens of home." For one thing I never get tired of the trip across the Pacific, with its calls at lovely Samoa or equally lovely Honolulu, and for another I have always known that Will Morris would be waiting at San Francisco or Vancouver with a full west-to- east tour booked up for me. In other words I have consistently "worked my passage" on all my tours with the exception of the time spent on ship-board! And even on the long days and weeks at sea I have utilized the time to com pose new songs and perfect the ground-plans of others! Two years ago, sailing from India to the Straits Settlements there was a man on board our ship who was always speaking about "my friend MacKay" and what the two of them would do when they met. Result—one of my best recent numbers "When I Meet MacKay." All my sailor songs, including "There is Somebody Waiting for Me" and a new "Pirate" song which I am just rounding off have been inspired on board ship. So you see I am never really idle. Constitutionally I seem to be incapable of idleness or laziness of any description. Ever since the war I have felt that I must be "up and at it!" all the time.

And America has given me all the hard work that I have been able to take on during the past few years! Believe me, I must have been a very strong man indeed to have fulfilled all the professional responsibilities taken on for me by Mr. Morris since 1918! During the years that have intervened since then I have seldom been out of the States for more than a few months at a time. He has even taken me down to Mexico. And my last tour was easily the most strenuous of all. For goodness knows how many weeks I did little else than play one-night shows. It was a raging, tearing, tireless campaign throughout most of the States of the Union. How I did not succumb under the physical pressure I do not know but this I do know—I will never again take on such a task for Will Morris or any other man, no matter how tempting the "rake-off" may be! No, sirs, never no more!

Only in America could any man come through such a six-months' hustle without a complete bodily and mental collapse. There is, as I have stated earlier in this story, a something in the very air of the country which sustains one and permits of long-continued exertions which would be impossible under any other than electrical conditions. Besides one is daily being brought into contact with old friends or new ones presenting fresh and fascinating types of character. And here it occurs to me that it might not be out of place to make a few very brief references to some of the better known men and women I have met in the course of my American travels. I have already given you my personal impressions of the various Presidents during the past twenty years—all extraordinary men. But the United States is full of extraordinary men.

At one time or another I have met most of the leading industrial magnates from the late Andrew Carnegie down to the redoubtable Henry Ford. Mr. Carnegie I met first in my dressing-room at Blaney's Theatre and afterwards I visited him by invitation at his house in Fifth Avenue, the most sumptuous home I have ever been inside in my life. "Andrew" and I had many long talks about his old home town of Dumfermline and his Scottish castle of Scibo. He was particularly anxious that I should visit the Homestead Works at Pittsburgh and gave me letters of introduction to, among others of his colleagues and managers, Mr. Charlie Schwab. At a later date I was able to visit and inspect the enormous and terrifying plant at the famous steel town of Pennsylvania. Mr. Carnegie always appealed to me as a simple and kindly man, but preternaturally shrewd in industrial and financial affairs. His name will live as long as the higher education of young Scotsmen lasts in the universities of my native land. Already, by his benefactions to these institutions, he has enabled thousands of our boys to equip themselves for the battle of life with the best education the world affords.

Mr. Henry Ford came down one evening to the Shubert Theatre in Detroit when I was performing there. He came "behind" subsequently and assured me that I had made him laugh more heartily than he had done for many years. I replied that we were equal in this respect for I had laughed more over Ford car stories than at any other joke which had ever been invented. This pleased him immensely. He came to our hotel next day and drove my wife and I out to his works in the first Ford sedan produced from the famous Detroit plant. My wife admired the little car so much that Mr. Ford said he would send her one to Dunoon. He did so but forgot to send a chassis with the sedan so I had to purchase one in Manchester on our return to England! Let me say at once that it was a grand little bus and we ran,, it all over Argyllshire for several years. I have also met Mr. Edsell Ford. He is a real "chip of the old block" a worthy son of a worthy father. I shall always be proud of having shaken hands with Henry Ford who, in my opinion, is well entitled to be included among any list of America's really great and illustrious men. Two other men associated with the motor industry in the States with whom I was on friendly terms were the Dodge brothers—both wonderful fellows with hearts as big as their bodies.

I have referred to Mr. "Charlie" Schwab in connection with his old chief Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Schwab I met on more than one occasion and formed the opinion of him that he was a strong, dominating, but honest and fearless personality; the sort of man to depend on in any emergency and who would carry through any scheme or ideal he had set his heart upon once he had made up his mind that it was the right and wise thing to do. I have been brought into personal contact with the Swifts, the Armours, and with the great warehouse kings like Marshall Field and the late John Wanamaker. I was one of the few stage celebrities that Mr. Wanamaker came to hear in Philadelphia. He was always exceedingly kind to me and my wife and we were accorded the great privilege of visiting him in his private rooms at the famous stores which bear his name. He *as loved by everybody who knew him and by none more so than his thousands of employees. If I had to describe John Wanamaker in a few words I should say he was a thoroughly good Christian man.

Naturally I have met all the great fighting men of the States from old John L. Sullivan down to the present champion, Gene Tunney. Gene and I have the same theatrical manager, Will Morris, and only a few weeks ago, in Chicago, Gene, Will, Tom, and I dined together and swapped stories. This was before the second meeting with Dempsey had been arranged but Gene was supremely confident of retaining his crown no matter when or where the return battle took place. Tunney is a magnificent specimen of manhood with a mentality considerably above and beyond the majority of professional pugilists I have met. I tried him out by asking if he had ever heard of a man, named Robert Burns. Secretly I would have laid ten bucks to one that he would correct me and say "Of course you mean Tommy Burns!" But I was wrong. At once Gene came back at me with

"Had we never loved so kindly
Had we never loved so blindly,
Never met and never parted
We had ne'er been broken-hearted!"

—and I had to hand it to him for the smart literary boy with a knowledge of real poetry.

"John L." I first saw in Boston many years ago but he was then an old man and had been in retirement from the ring for a very long time. He attended several of my performances and always came round to the dressing-room for a chat. I suppose that John L. has turned in his grave several times on hearing of the colossal sums recently earned by the masters of the ring in America. It was at Boston, I remember, that I was the central figure in a very awkward incident over which I have often laughed since but which was no laughing matter for me at the time. I had gone with several friends to the Boston Athletic Club to see the late Jim Driscoll fight a lad named Grover Hayes. As I did not want to attract undue publicity I put on an old cap and turned up my coat collar before going into the club. The fight was so fascinating and lasted so long that I forgot all about the time. Suddenly looking at my watch I discovered to my horror that it was ten minutes after the hour of my performance at the theatre. So I made a break-neck dash out of the club and got on the stage almost half an hour late. Fortunately—as I imagined at the time—the manager had gone on and apologized for my absence on the plea that I had been engaged in a charity performance in a distant part of the city. But next morning the papers came out with a full report of the manager's remarks and, in another column, a story of how keenly interested Harry Lauder had been in the Driscoll-Hayes fight! I tell you I had to suffer many leg-pulls about my interest in charity performances in Boston!

Jim Corbett I often met in different cities all over the States. The last time I saw Jim I had to congratulate him on the success of his reminiscences in the columns of the great periodical in which my own recollections have also appeared. "The Roar of the Crowd" certainly held my breathless attention for many weeks. I regard the story as a ring classic of the first water. Jim Corbett has always been in a class by himself both as a fighter and as a personality. Both Jim Jeffries and Jack Dempsey I have met in Los Angeles frequently, while dear old Bob Fitzsimmons first came into my ken by stepping on to a New York stage in my early days and handing me a decorated horse-shoe which he had forged himself and bearing a card on which were the words "From One Champ to Another!" In the dressing-room afterwards Bob gave an exhibition of the hit which floored Jim Corbett in their famous fight and he was so realistic that Tom pulled me away from the old fire-eater in dread that he would forget himself and imagine that I was his opponent of ten years before.

When playing Los Angeles I have had the pleasure of seeing most of the world's cinema stars. My greatest friend in Hollywood is Charlie Chaplin. Every time I go there he and I foregather and many a crack and palaver we have about the old days when he was a comedian, like myself, on the British stage. Well do I remember Charlie (although I didn't know his name then) and his grotesque antics in Fred Karno's funny sketches. Often, when a Karno production was on the same bill as myself, would I go round to the front of the house and chuckle with merriment at the drolleries of the little black-haired fellow with the red nose and the wobbly body movements. Charlie comes to the theatre to see me and I go "on the lot" to see him. We have been photo- graphed a score of times together. One picture in particular which always makes my friends laugh when I let them see it is entitled Charlie Lauder and Harry Chaplin. In it we have changed costumes and the result is a really comical picture.

Among many other personal friends I have at Hollywood are Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Will Hart, Fred Niblo, Reginald Denny, John Gilbert, and Joe Schenck. Of the movie queens I know specially well, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Edna Purviance, Mary Miles Minter, Bessie Love, and the Talmadge girls are the chief and I must give them all credit for being exceedingly nice to a poor legitimate actor and singer like myself who has to work hard for a mere pittance of the enormous salaries they earn as silver screen favourites. I vastly enjoy my occasional visits to Los Angeles and film-land. Its inmates are most lovable people, warm-hearted, gay and careless of everything save their work which they take very seriously indeed. I have spent many charming days and interesting evenings among the hierarchy of the cinema world in sunny Los Angeles. Some day I would like very much to go out there and make a picture myself.

 


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