Category Archives: Film

Big Tich and Little Tich

tichborne-galop
‘The Tichborne Galop’ by M. C. Barter, published by John Blockley, London (ca 1870)

This cover from our sheet music collection bears a portrait of the Claimant to the Tichborne title and fortune. The story about the sensational reappearance of the long-lost Roger Tichborne captivated all of England’s Victorian public. The tale is still shrouded in mystery, at least as to how people are craving to be fooled, again and again…

The aristocratic Roger Tichborne grew up in Paris and spoke English with a pronounced French accent. As a young man he was travelling in South-America when he learned that his father had succeeded to a baronetcy. Roger would be next in line to inherit the tile. Shortly after receiving this news in 1854, Roger sailed to Jamaica but never arrived. Four days after his departure from Rio de Janeiro, the wreckage of his ship was found without a sign of its passengers: Roger Tichborne was lost at sea.

Roger’s mother clung to the rumour that some of the passengers on the wrecked ship had been picked up by a passing vessel on its way to Australia. In 1862, when her husband died, she desperately searched for news from her son. Her advertisement in Australian newspapers described Roger as being rather tall with light brown hair, blue eyes and a delicate constitution. It also mentioned that Roger was the heir to the extensive estate of the deceased Sir James Tichborne. Lo and behold, in 1865 an Australian announced that he had lived under the pseudonym of Thomas Castro, and now claimed that he in fact was Roger Tichborne. He started corresponding with his English ‘mother’.

rogertichborne
Portrait of the real heir to the baronetcy Roger Tichborne (ca 1854).

Roger Tichborne’s last picture taken in South America showed a thin, somewhat effeminate man. So Thomas Castro wrote to his wannabe mother that he had gained some weight. When he set sail – the voyage paid by Mrs Tichborne of course – he weighed 100 kg and by his arrival in England he had put on another 30 kg.

The Tichborne Claimant gaining weight.

He then did an odd thing. First of all he went to Wapping in East London where he inquired after the family of his Australian friend, Arthur Orton. After he learned that the Orton family had left the area he met Mrs Tichborne in Paris. Although by that time his weight had reached 150 kg, the excitable mother immediately clasped him to her breast, as if she instinctively had recognised her son. Roger’s Parisian tutor was more percipient: he declared the Claimant an impostor and disclosed his ploy as a fraud. Nonetheless, the gullible Lady Tichborne settled him a yearly income and accompanied him to England.

The rest of the family was very sceptical and objected to the Claimant because of the following reasons:
– his letters were illiterate whereas Roger was well educated;
– he didn’t speak nor understand French;
– he had a Cockney accent;
– he didn’t recognise his family;
– he didn’t have Roger’s tattoos;
– his picture was recognised in Australia as that of Arthur Orton, a bankrupt butcher.

When his ‘mother’ died in 1868 the prodigal son was deprived of his money. In 1871 he claimed his heritage in a tribunal. But he lost his case (not his weight though because by then he tipped the scales at just over 200 kg) and was accused of perjury. A criminal trial followed in 1873 upon which the Claimant’s fraudulent world fell apart: the jury found him guilty and he was exposed as Arthur Orton. He was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

staffordshire-arthur-orton
Victorians could add to their clutter with a Staffordshire figurine of the Tichborne Claimant. The bird and shotgun indicate his claim, as a country gentleman, to the title and land of Roger Tichborne.

The two trials were a huge sensation giving rise to extensive media coverage. Bizarrely the Tichborne Claimant became a working-class hero, a defier of the establishment. His supporters, the Tichbornites, saw him as a victim of the aristocratic elite in cahoots with the government, the legal profession and the queen herself. A poor, humble man like the Claimant was denied the right to belong to the la-di-da upper class. His cause became a large popular movement and a Tichbornite candidate even won a seat in Parliament.

After his release from prison the Claimant, who had already revelled in public attention during his trials, toured with circuses and appeared in music halls. A real music-hall artist, Harry Relph, who was 1,37 m tall, adopted the stage name Little Tich in contrast to the bulky appearance of the Claimant. Little Tich became a successful British comedian, specialising in energetic dances, comedy numbers and songs.

little-tich
‘Big Boot Dance’ by Joseph Fredericks, published by L. Wilson & C° in London.

The comedian’s talent  sparklingly comes to life with his popular routine act in ‘Little Tich et ses Big Boots’, short film made by the Frenchman Clément-Maurice for the 1900 World Fair in Paris. Don’t try this at home.

In Love with Nanook: Eskimomania

Amoureuse de Nanouck (Oogie-Oogie Wa-Wa)’ by Archie Gottler. French Lyrics by Léo Lelièvre & Henri Varna. Published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by Dorothy Dulin.

The Parisian flapper dressed in her fashionable fur-trimmed winter coat is obviously infatuated with Nanook, an Inuk hunter. We can imagine that she travelled so far up North to meet the subject of her fancy, after having seen him in a Paris cinema. Nanook of the North, a docudrama filmed by Robert Flaherty in 1922 was a world-wide sensation that prompted an ‘Eskimo craze’ in the Western world.

From 1910 Flaherty had made a few explorations to the North. At one moment he started shooting film of the Inuit life. In 1916 he had collected enough footage for a movie, but he lost almost all of it by dropping a cigarette onto the highly inflammable film. Flaherty returned to the North and this time concentrated on one Inuit family. His cinéma-vérité tour de force is considered a masterpiece even if most of it was staged. Nanook wasn’t the real name of the protagonist and his children were not his real children, nor were his wives his real wives. During the filming these ‘wives’ even became Flaherty’s mistresses. And with one of them he had a child that he later abandoned.

Promotional poster for the 1922 docudrama Nanook of the North. Wikimedia Commons.

Since it would have been impossible to film inside the dark interior of an igloo, a special set was built consisting of half an igloo. The film was meant to give impressions from the far north of the Polar Regions. In reality Flahertys shots conveniently came from the north-eastern part of Hudson Bay. But at that time there were no rules for filming a documentary.

Nanook of the North was a kind of advertising film distributed by Pathé. It was financed by the Parisian fur traders Revillon Frères. They were the largest fur company in France with branches in London, New York and Montréal, and 125 fur trading posts. Nanook of the North was filmed near one of their trading posts at Inukjuak, Quebec.

Oogie Oogie Wa Wa‘ by Archie Gottler, Grant Clarke & Edgar Leslie, published by Mack Stark & Rubey Cowan (New York 1922). Cover illustration by Rosenbaum.

After the release of the film, Margaret Young introduced the humorous song Oogie Oogie Wa Wa in vaudeville, a song with the usual double entendre. Quickly the song became one of the popular tunes of the day and was translated in French as Amoureuse de Nanouck. It was one of Al Jolson’s greatest hits. At one point it was banned from being played at local music pavilions until it had been analysed by the Morals Committee.

Girls like simple things,
Beads and ten cent rings,
They kiss you for a chocolate drop,
Imagine if a fellow had a candy shop…

Around the same time, Salabert published the song South Sea Moon. I don’t know what got into Roger de Valerio when he illustrated the cover for this song with a couple of Inuit resembling Nanook and one of his ‘wives’. One normally associates the South Sea with tropical Islands and blue lagoons.

South Sea Moon‘ by Louis A. Hirsh, Gene Buck & Dave Stamper, published by Salabert (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Maybe he confused it with the Southern Ocean? But then again, in his drawing de Valerio combined penguins (living in the Antarctic region) with the happy-looking Inuit couple (living in the Arctic).

Still from the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’.

In the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’ a man from the Book Correction Division is crossing out with a marker all the penguins in drawings where they are pictured together with polar bears. The film is written from the Inuit perspective on the oddities of Qallunaat, the Inuit word for white people.
Quite Humoreskimo!

Humoreskimo‘ by Alfred Bryan, Pete Wendling & Henri Berchman. Published by Sam Fox (1928, Paris), unknown illustrator.

I have to end this post with one of my favourite songs from the seventies: Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow by Frank Zappa, about a man who dreams that he was an Eskimo named Nanook.

And my momma cried:
Boo-a-hoo hoo-ooo
And my momma cried:
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Don’t be a naughty Eskimo-wo-oh
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop-bop Ta-da-da)

An’ she said
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop . . . )
With a tear in her eye:
Watch out where the huskies go
An’ don’t you eat that yellow snow

Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows (Leonard Cohen)

valerio-regenboog
Where’s that rainbow‘ by Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart, published by Salabert (Paris, 1928). Illustration attributed to Roger de Valerio.

The song Where’s that Rainbow was originally written in 1928. Much later it was sung in the film Words and Music, a fictionalized story about the songwriting duo Rodgers and Lorenz. In this clip of the 1948 film, it is not the song but the rainbow-coloured petticoats that steal my attention!

Chasing rainbows in our collection, I found these two similarly inventive illustrations. The right one is by Würth for There’s a Rainbow round my Shoulder (1928). He may have been inspired by André de TaKacs‘ drawing of 1918 for the song I Found the End of the Rainbow.

regenbogen
Left: ‘I Found the End of the Rainbow‘ by Mears, Tierney & Mc Carthy, published by McCarthy & Fisher inc. (New York, 1918) and illustrated by André De TaKacs. Right: ‘There’s a Rainbow round my Shoulder‘ by Jolso, Rose & Dreyer, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Würth.

Another imaginative cover places the woman in a less glamorous role, although she seems content to knit her own fantasy.1

Celanese', by Howard Flynn and John P. Harrington
Celanese’, by Howard Flynn and John P. Harrington (The St. Giles Publishing Company, London, 1923). Illustration J. W.

All these rainbow images are but a preamble to share with you a gem of a short film by Len Lye.
In 1936 Lye, born in New Zealand, made an experimental film in England promoting a Post Office Savings Bank. It was called Rainbow Dance and ended with the words: “The Post Office Savings Bank puts a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you. No deposit too small for the Post Office Savings Bank.” The film is an experiment with colour and rhythm. In it Lye uses abstract backgrounds, collage effects, live footage and direct-to-film animation effects. The psychedelic film starts with purple rain avant la lettre. Then we see a city dweller morphing into coloured asterisks, a musician, a hiker and a tennis player. When the tennis player makes a leap, he leaves behind a trace of colourful silhouettes like a futuristic painting.

Be patient please, we’ ll show the film at the end. But first this.

Copyright Doncaster Museum Service
Left: Rupert Doone, woodcut by Edward Wadsworth (1921). Right: Rupert Doone, by Nina Hamnett, Copyright Doncaster Museum.

The silhouetted dancer in Lye’s Rainbow Dance is Rupert Doone, a one-time lover of Jean Cocteau. While Doone whirled his moves before a white screen, a gramophone played Tony’s Wife, a wonderful rumba by Burton Lane. Lane would later compose the score for the musical Finian’s Rainbow: a story about an Irishman who has stolen a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

finians-rainbow
When I’m not near the girl I love‘ from Finian’s rainbow by Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg, published by Chapell & C° (London, 1946) and illustrated by Don Freeman.

I’ll let you decide what to think of Francis Ford Coppola’s attempt to turn the musical into a film. In the clip Tommy Steele plays an obnoxious leprechaun and Barbara Hancock a dancing nymph. It was filmed in 1968, but even then must have looked outdated.

And now the long-promised Rainbow Dance, the phantasmagorical 1936 film by Len Lye. Feast your eyes !


  1. Actually the lady is knitting with celanese, a combination of ‘cellulose acetate’ and ‘ease of care’, referring to the easy wear of acetate fabrics, as promoted by the chemical company Celanese.