Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fredricksen, Carl Theodore (Charles) (1873–1966)

by Keith R. Groom

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Carl Theodore (Charles) Fredricksen (1873-1966), showman and cinema commissionaire, was born on 28 November 1873 at Majorca, Victoria, sixth child of Carl Fredrickson (d.1906), a musician from Russia, and his English-born wife Mary Louisa, née Smythe (d.1923). Educated at Fitzroy State School, he began work as a child, beating a drum outside the Lyceum Theatre, Lonsdale Street. Two days later he was dismissed, following complaints from the Melbourne Hospital across the road. At age 11 he had a song-and-dance act at the Bijou Theatre, then travelled Australia with a circus before returning to sing in a grand opera chorus at the Bijou. Assisted by his younger brother Ernest, he transformed the William Tell legend into a vaudeville act. He set three rifles at the points of a triangle; using a fourth rifle and taking sight with a mirror, he fired over his shoulder, hitting the trigger of the first fixed rifle which discharged the others in sequence, the last of which shattered a ball balanced on his head. This feat he performed in many Melbourne theatres. About 1901 he achieved fame with his Bourke Street ghost-house of illusions and horrors.

In 1908, two years after Carl Hertz introduced moving pictures to the Opera House (later the Tivoli), Hoyts' first picture-house opened, directly opposite in St George's Hall, Bourke Street. Fredricksen, the 'Sultan of Spruikers', was engaged. His distinctive voice projected through the noise of a busy street and his repertoire of alliterative incantations soon captured audiences for the 'flicks': 'a surprising series of skits, screaming sallies and silly situations; satisfactory, startling, swiftly speeding scenes, surprisingly stupendous, side-splitting scenarios, sparkling snappy stunts, sensational, superb, spectacular, sympathetic, soul-stirring screen stories'. Hoyts' Deluxe Theatre replaced the single-storeyed St George's Hall in 1914. 'The Man Outside Hoyts' watched as former patrons marched past on their way to the Great War. Australian born and of part-Danish descent, he anglicized 'Carl' to 'Charles' and also changed the spelling of his surname to Fredricksen as anti-German feeling mounted. He concealed his age, 'always my best publicity stunt', and postponed retirement in 1939 as another generation marched past to World War II. This time he saw faces he had first known as babes in arms at matinees. The theatre was remodelled as Hoyts Esquire in 1948. Charles remained.

The octogenarian singer, showman and sharp-shooter, having treated Melbourne to forty-eight years of spreken from one Bourke Street pitch, retired in September 1956. With his pencil moustache, his smart blue uniform adorned by lavish gold trimmings, his gloves, cane and an endless flow of patter, the strutting figure had filled many roles in popular sayings, but the actual man remained an enigma. The proprietors of novelty shops in the city knew him as a maker of papier-mâché theatre masks; a handful knew him as a maker of ventriloquists' dolls. At St Peter's Anglican Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne, on 30 August 1910 he had married Letitia Ferris Hutchins (d.1954), a dressmaker. In later years he 'lived a butterfly life', travelling home and back between sessions to keep her company. Two months after her death, he married Agnes Jane West on 12 May 1954 at St Luke's Anglican Church, North Fitzroy. He was persuaded to make several comebacks, the last outside the Tivoli in 1965. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 7 August 1966 at his North Fitzroy home and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. He had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 2 Jan 1952
  • Argus (Melbourne), 20 Nov 1954, 14 Sept 1966
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 Sept 1956, 31 Dec 1965
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 18 Mar 1960, 8 Aug 1966
  • private information.

Citation details

Keith R. Groom, 'Fredricksen, Carl Theodore (Charles) (1873–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fredricksen-carl-theodore-charles-10248/text18121, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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