Showing posts with label Anita Martell in Australia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anita Martell in Australia. Show all posts

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Anita Martell in Australia


Irish born juggler Anita Martell spent most of World War 2 performing in Australia on the Tivoli circuit.

Anita was born in 1916 in Dublin Ireland, her real name was Nita Janette Davidson, though she appears to have used the name Janette. Her father, John Davidson, stage name Martell, was a professional juggler and her mother, Mona Anderson, known as Mona O Leary, was a singer.

The family moved to England when Anita was a child and by the time she was 14 she was performing on stage as a singer and dancer. One day her father saw her playing with tennis balls in the backyard and he decided to train her in his own profession- as a juggler.

John trained her 8 hours a day and she hated it. It took a long time for her to gain confidence in her abilities. The noise of her training became so annoying to the neighbours that the Davidson family had to hire a hall  to avoid their complaints.

At her first juggling audition she dropped regularly, however she was hired and made her professional juggling debut at age 17 with the Windmill theatre in Brixton.

Her career progressed rapidly, and in 1936 and 1937 she appeared in two films, Cabaret and Windmill Revels.

In 1939 she met future husband, singer and performer Len Young. Len’s real name was Louis Yenish he was Jewish and born in England. But the youthful romance did not last and the pair split amicably.

Until the next year when Anita heard Len dedicate a song on the radio to AM. Anita phoned Len and the two reconciled. In 1940 the pair married and shortly afterwards travelled to Australia for a working honeymoon.

London, of course was suffering from German air raids, so the trip to Australia was not only a voyage for work but a bid for safety. Len had been exempted from service, so was free to join his wife.

They arrived in late 1940 and started working immediately. They were contracted to the Tivoli circuit which was suffering from a lack of performers due to war exigencies. Anita’s versatility as a juggler, a singer and a dancer, meant that she was a valuable addition to the Tivoli’s dwindling roster.

In 1940 Anita appeared at the Majestic Theatre in Adelaide in the revue Vogues of Variety as a juggler. She wore long black silk tights, ‘the briefest’ of cloth black shorts, a tailored white waistcoat and black jacket, which complemented her slight 160cm frame, hazel eyes and brown hair.

She juggled tennis balls whilst keeping up a humorous patter and she also juggled hats. She was fast and dexterous, and claimed to be the only feminine juggler in the country. The revue travelled to Sydney and Brisbane where the reviewer said that there ‘was a freshness and vitality to her work which makes it outstanding.’ Her good looks and skimpy outfit were part of her attraction, and most reviews concentrated on these aspects of her performance. Whilst juggling she kept up a humorous patter. One joke revolved around her father, ‘ My father taught me how to do this trick, he can’t do it himself.’

She followed her appearance in Vogues of Variety with Black Velvet, a major revue which travelled all around the country. She was very popular in Brisbane where she gave several interviews to the newspapers including one where she admitted that juggling was exhausting and that she ended every show feeling like a ‘wet rag’. Despite this she still had the energy to take an active interest in fashion and designed most of her own costumes. She also trained at least 2 hours a day.

During 1940 and well into 1941 Anita played almost constantly in various revues around the country. One significant show was the all ladies show, ‘Ladies First’, which was apparently the first all female vaudeville show ever produced ( according to the Australian newspaper) .  One review said it may have ‘lacked the robustness provided by a proportion of masculine turns’ but  ‘there are still sufficient headliners to make a good show’ and it was ‘tuneful and colourful’.

Anita’s husband Len was in many of the shows with Anita and performed vocal impressions and humorous patter. However, Len’s work permit was limited and he was soon battling immigration authorities to stay in the country.

In late 1941 Len’s working permit expired. Anita had no desire to return to England, but Len, who had been exempted from military service, was being forced to leave Australia.

Len had failed the notorious Australian dictation test. The dictation test, a flimsy cover to preserve Australia’s racist “White Australia Policy’ meant that any prospective visitor to Australia could be asked to take a dictation test in any language. If they failed the test they were not allowed to enter or remain in the country.

British born Len had been asked to take a dictation test in Romanian, and had, of course, failed. It is probable that his Jewish heritage played a part in the farcical situation.

Len appealed his proposed deportation and was allowed to remain in Australia for three months but he had to pay a large bond and report to Immigration authorities regularly.

That Christmas, Anita displayed her versatility again by appearing in the annual pantomime Cinderella as ‘Dandini’. In January 1942 Anita appeared in ‘Laughter Express’ and was described as a ‘dapper streamlined young lady’ who promoted the ‘bare leg mode’. The newspapers heartily approved.

Anita and Len disappeared from the Tivoli circuit around April 1942 and Anita returned to prominence in October the next year. They probably temporarily left Australia to sort out Len’s work permit problems. His three month extension expired in April.

From October 1943 to the beginning of 1944 Anita appeared regularly in Tivoli vaudeville revues. She juggled, she sang, she danced, and she supported names like Ethel Formby, sister of George, and Roy Rene- Australia’s superstar comedian.

War time shortages were beginning to hit stage props by 1944 and Anita was having difficulty getting silk to line her hats. This was considered a minor inconvenience in the latter stages of the conflict.

In February 1944 Anita left Australia and travelled to California. She travelled under two names, Janette Yenish and Anita Martell. She gave her last permanent residence as ‘Tivoli Theatres Australia.’ She had been in the country for most of the last 4 years.

In 1946 Anita performed in a USO show in Guam, but she returned to the mainland US regularly. She travelled to France and back to the US and in 1951 married Californian humourist Roger Taylor Price. Anita and Price worked on the TV show ‘How to’ for CBS  together. The marriage lasted a year, and mentions of Anita are rare from that date.

She is said to have died in the United States in 2000.