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Bluett, Augustus Frederick (Gus) (1902–1936)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

This is a shared entry with Frederick George Bluett

Augustus Frederick Bluett (1902-1936), by The Rose Stereograph Co.

Augustus Frederick Bluett (1902-1936), by The Rose Stereograph Co.

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22934819

Frederick George Bluett (1876-1942), vaudevillian, and Augustus Frederick Bluett (1902-1936), comedian, were father and son. Fred was born on 20 January 1876 at Marylebone, London, son of Frederick William Goodwin, letter carrier, and his wife Elizabeth Sarah, née Dell. His grandfather and father—the latter as William 'Bluett'—were on the stage, and Fred reputedly made his début at the age of 3. In 1892 he was sent to Melbourne to learn the boot trade with a brother-in-law. Interested in boxing and amateur theatricals, he appeared as a vocalist at smoke concerts before returning to Britain. Stranded at Dunedin, New Zealand, when Ada Juneen's company folded in 1899, he sang comic songs at smoke concerts and amused (Sir) Benjamin Fuller who gave him an eighteen-month contract in 1900.

On 20 April 1901 Bluett appeared for the Fullers at the Empire Theatre, Sydney. By the following April he had joined Harry Rickards's New Tivoli Vaudeville Company, and he was to work the Tivoli circuit for ten years. As he strutted the stage with 'red nose, baggy pants and huge flapping boots', clowning and singing comic songs in an exaggerated Cockney accent, Bluett 'could literally roll an audience in the aisles'. He had an 'extraordinary talent for wisecracks not in the script'. Backstage, he enraged (understandably) his fellow thespians with practical jokes—such as inserting pins in sticks of grease paint or nailing stage shoes to the floor. Weighing sixteen stone (101 kg), he was 'virtually immune from physical attack' and ignored verbal abuse.

Bluett had married Catherine McKechnie, a dressmaker, on 1 April 1901 at her father's house at Dunedin, New Zealand; thenceforth Kate was always with him, either at home or at the theatre as his dresser. Their only son Gus was born on 23 April 1902 at Prahran, Melbourne; he always travelled with his parents, had very little regular schooling and learned his stagecraft from his father.

At the Tivoli, Sydney, in May 1910 Fred presented 'a joyous burlesque of the Boy Scout inanity', with himself as scoutmaster and a line of scouts ranging from Gus to a 16-year-old, which 'tickled the city almost into convulsions'. About 1912 the Bluetts, including their daughter Belle (b.1909), went to South Africa for six months, then to Britain, where Fred worked in music halls. In London, he appeared in a revue with Fred Kitchen, in which Gus got his first speaking part, as a pageboy. The youngster studied black-and-white art in London and regarded his younger sister Kitty, born during a Zeppelin raid in 1916, as his special responsibility.

By March 1917 the family was back in Australia and Fred was playing at the Tivoli, Melbourne. He spent eighteen months (c.1920-21) in Brisbane and bowed to popular demand to revive the Boy Scouts burlesque. In December 1922 he was the Dame in the pantomime Cinderella at the Theatre Royal, Sydney; Gus was Buttons. Throughout the 1920s Fred continued to play in vaudeville and created his famous role as a pirate. He performed in the pantomime Aladdin with Roy Rene in 1926.

Gus had begun to get small parts in J. C. Williamson Ltd's productions such as Hello, Everybody from 1918. Following his success with Ada Reeve in the pantomime Aladdin (1924), Williamsons engaged him for a straight part, the title role in Kempy. The same year he played Adrian van Piffel in The Cousin from Nowhere and Gabrielle in Wildflower. He quipped that the Firm gave him the 'love-sick parts . . . I live and love in vain'.

More versatile than his father, Gus captivated Australian audiences in musical comedy roles such as Reggie in The Five O'Clock Girl (1929). He 'had only to put his face round the corner and blink across the footlights, and the house was in a roar'. In 1930 he played a season of revivals with Gladys Moncrieff, including The Maid of the Mountains. He supported Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard in 1932-33 in Our Miss Gibbs and other musicals. Their 1934 season ended with Blue Mountain Melody, in which Bluett played 'Dynamite Danny Duffy, the role specially written for him' by James Bancks. A 'man of infinite wit and charm', Gus lived exuberantly and refused to follow his doctors' advice to slow down. He did not marry. Early in March 1936 he finished the Melbourne run of Yes, Madam? and returned to the family home, established by Fred and Kate at Double Bay, Sydney. Gus died of haemorrhaging gastric ulcers on 14 March in Sydney Hospital and was cremated without religious rites.

In 1934 Fred had taken up radio work, using his fruity voice to good effect in comedy, drama, musicals and children's productions. He made a comfortable living. According to Claude McKay, he had 'unction, an elastic face and great comic gusto' and looked 'well-nourished and dapper, with just that sartorial jauntiness' one associated with a vaudeville artist. Bluett chaired the Australian Broadcasting Commission's series 'Music Hall Memories' in 1938. On 3 December 1942 he left the A.B.C. studios after playing Albert, the Cockney air-raid warden, in 'Searchlights over London' for the fortieth time, and died of coronary vascular disease in his sleep at his home; he was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His wife and daughters survived him. Belle had married the variety star Jimmy Jewell. Kitty became a popular radio actress and in 1948 went to England where she achieved stardom.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulletin, 5 May 1910, 19 May 1910, p 8
  • Theatre, Society and Home, 1 Jan 1925, p 26
  • Table Talk, 23 Dec 1926, p 12
  • Wireless Weekly, 5 Aug 1938, p vi
  • ABC Weekly, 19 Dec 1942, p 26
  • Parade (Melbourne), Apr 1960, p 14
  • Otago Witness (Dunedin, New Zealand), 5 Sept 1900, p 55, 27 Mar 1901, p 55, 8 May 1901, p 57
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Apr 1901, p 14, 22 Apr 1901, p 3, 12 Apr 1902, p 10, 22 Dec 1919, p 12, 6 Oct 1934, p 10, 16 Mar 1936, p 11, 17 Mar 1936, p 12, 5 Dec 1942, p 11
  • Star (Melbourne), 21 Mar 1936
  • Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), 21 June 1941, p 12
  • Herald (Melbourne), 1 Sept 1955, p 11
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 12 Nov 1973, p 30.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Bluett, Augustus Frederick (Gus) (1902–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bluett-augustus-frederick-gus-13262/text23113, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Augustus Frederick Bluett (1902-1936), by The Rose Stereograph Co.

Augustus Frederick Bluett (1902-1936), by The Rose Stereograph Co.

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22934819