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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crosby, Joseph Alexander (Marshall) (1882–1954)

by Gill E. Vale

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Marshall Crosby

Marshall Crosby

Crosby family collection

Joseph Alexander (Marshall) Crosby (1882-1954), actor, was born on 18 February 1882 at Caltowie, South Australia, twelfth of thirteen children of Walter Thomas Crosby, a labourer and schoolteacher from Scotland, and his native-born wife Ann, née Cameron. At age 10 Alex moved with the family to Port Pirie where he finished his schooling, then worked as a clerk in the local post office and rose to telegraphist. He married Teresa King on 25 April 1907 in St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne.

Although he had sung at school and won at an eisteddfod, Crosby had no thoughts of a theatrical career until he auditioned as a baritone and joined Leslie Harris's company as 'Marshall' Crosby. He appeared at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide, in August 1907 before touring with Henry Clay and Harry Rickards in vaudeville. While performing at the Tivoli, Sydney, for H. D. McIntosh, Crosby sang a patriotic song, Australia's Bonny Boys in Navy Blue, on 4 August 1914; next day Australia was at war.

Having starred in musicals in the early 1920s for J. C. Williamson Ltd, from 1925 Crosby toured in revues and in the burlesque operetta, His Royal Highness, with George Wallace; their collaboration was to continue, intermittently, for nearly twenty years until vaudeville faded out. In their heyday the Wallace revues took over local cinemas in the Sydney area for one or two nights at a time. In 1932 Crosby appeared with Wallace in His Royal Highness for F. W. Thring's Efftee Film Productions. Between that year and 1949 Crosby had character parts in over fifteen films, among them Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Smithy (1946) and Eureka Stockade (1949). He also broadened his skills, taking roles in straight plays such as Queer Cargo (1935) and Three Men on a Horse (1936).

Politically, Crosby supported trade unions and the Labor Party. He was vice-president (from 1942) and president (1945-48) of the Actors' and Announcers' Equity Association of Australia when it was controlled by members of the Communist Party of Australia. In spite of his more moderate views, he worked with the radicals to improve conditions for performers and to protect the jobs of Australian artists.

In the 1940s Crosby took leading roles in radio serials which included 'Digger Hale's Daughters' (1944), 'Officer Crosby' and 'Hagen's Circus' (1949) for commercial networks. He also featured in plays for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and was Josh Roberts in Gwen Meredith's long-running serial, 'Blue Hills'. His two hobbies were cooking and fund-raising for St Margaret's Hospital with his racing friends Billy Cook, Lachie Melville and George Moore. Survived by his wife, daughter and four sons, Crosby died on 1 January 1954 at Port Macquarie and was buried in Botany cemetery, Sydney. Marshall Crosby's role was written out of 'Blue Hills', but was later revived by his son Don, who also inherited his father's commitment to Actors' Equity.

Select Bibliography

  • ABC Weekly, 27 Aug 1949
  • Critic (Adelaide), 14, 28 Aug 1907, 5 Jan 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Aug 1914, 3 July, 27 Oct 1945, 23 Feb 1948, 2 Jan 1954
  • Actors' Equity of Australia, minutes (Australian National University Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Gill E. Vale, 'Crosby, Joseph Alexander (Marshall) (1882–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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