This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979
Albert Edward (Bert) Bailey (1868-1953), actor and theatrical manager, was born on 11 June 1868 at Auckland, New Zealand, second son of Christopher Bailey, farmer, and his wife Harriette Adelaide, née Colgan. By 1871 he was in Sydney with his mother; she remarried in 1879 and about 1886 founded what became a large drapery store. Educated at the Cleveland Street Public School, Bert then worked as a telegram-boy and at a skating-rink, before entering vaudeville as a tambourine player and singer. In 1889 he joined a touring theatrical company led by Edmund Duggan and played leading roles in numerous melodramas, pantomimes and even grand opera throughout Australia. In 1900 he joined William Anderson's company in Sydney as a comedian. On 11 February 1902 at the Anglican Church of St Matthias, Paddington, he married an actress in the company, Ivy Isobel Gorrick.
With Duggan, Bailey wrote an Australian outback melodrama, The Squatter's Daughter, first produced by Anderson in 1907. It was highly successful commercially and became a regular stage favourite. In 1910 Bailey supervised the production of a film version with himself playing a comic 'new chum' and Duggan the bushranger Ben Hall. Their partnership continued for many years and, sometimes using the combined pseudonym 'Albert Edmunds', they wrote many plays including The Man from Outback (1909) and The Native Born. In 1912 they presented their most popular success, On Our Selection, based loosely on the stories of 'Steele Rudd'. Bailey starred as Dad Rudd, the irascible and stubborn old farmer, with the Shakespearian actor Fred MacDonald as his slow-witted son Dave; both actors remained closely identified with the roles for the rest of their lives. On Our Selection was performed repeatedly on the Australian stage until the early 1930s. In 1920 Bailey took the play to London but it failed after one month, although the critics praised his performance.
In 1912 Bailey had formed a long-lasting business association with Julius Grant and leased Anderson's King's Theatre, Melbourne. As Bailey & Grant they became one of the strongest theatrical entrepreneurial teams in Australia and produced many Australian plays. In 1921 he scored a success in Jefferson Wins Through at the King's Theatre, and next year for E. J. and Dan Carroll, produced The Sentimental Bloke, adapted for the stage from C. J. Dennis's poem; he later took the part of Ginger Mick. A commercially disastrous season of Shakespeare followed in Sydney.
In 1932 Bailey emerged from one of his several retirements to co-direct with K. G. Hall and star in a film version of On Our Selection for the new Cinesound studio in Sydney. The film was a record box-office hit and three 'spin-offs' followed, all starring Bailey and MacDonald as Dad and Dave: Grandad Rudd (1935), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938) and Dad Rudd, M.P. (1940). Bailey finally retired in 1940. In his leisure he enjoyed boating and bowls and was a member of the Savage Club, Melbourne, and Tattersall's and Rose Bay Bowling clubs, Sydney. Predeceased by his wife in 1932 and survived by his only daughter, he died on 30 March 1953 at his home at Darlinghurst, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate, valued for probate at £32,527, included shares in McCathie's Pty Ltd.
Physically robust, a teetotaller and a vigorous raconteur, Bert Bailey had a commanding presence on and off the stage. Dedicated to the encouragement of Australian theatre, he was always scrupulously honest and trustworthy. Critics often attacked his plays as crude farce or sentimental melodrama but, especially in his role as Dad Rudd, he enjoyed constant mass endorsement for his work.
A. F. Pike, 'Bailey, Albert Edward (Bert) (1868–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bailey-albert-edward-bert-5093/text8503, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 9 March 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979