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WANDA RADFORD, ACTRESS: WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS CHILD PRODIGY?

This hand-painted postcard shows a young girl, Wanda Radford in a theatrical pose. The card is of German origin, marked ‘Gerlach’ and ‘GG/ CO/ Ser. 277/3 (Figure 1).

 

The reverse is addressed to Misss E. Harmer, C/o Morgan’s Cave, Port Pirie (South Australia). The pink ONE PENNY South Australian stamp is cancelled with the squared circle of GLEN OSMOND/ 2/ DE 1( )/ 0 ( )/ S.A. The manuscript message is of no interest, but is dated 18/11/06 (Figure 2).

 

Repeated search on the internet has come up with only two pieces of information, the first being of the greatest interest:

"You have interested me enormously. I am sure if you
work hard you will have a very brilliant career.” This is
what Madame [Nellie] Melba wrote to the little ten-year-
old Australian actress Miss Wanda Radford. Two years
ago - when she was only eight - she played for three
months at the principal theatre in Vienna, and in Berlin
they christened her the Wonder-child. She recently made
her first public appearance in London at the Steinway
Hall, and Londoners were no less astounded than
Berliners at her precocious talents. Without the aid
of “make-up” she impersonated the principal characters in
“Oliver Twist” - Fagin, Nancy, and Bill Sikes [sic]; and
followed with Portia, Henry V, and Shylock. Not only by
her attitudes, but by her marvelous changes of face
where these characters (were) made absolutely lifelike.’
(The Royal Magazine, London, August 1907, p. 292).
 

The above was accompanied by a photo, described as follows: photo unknown, probably London, 1907 (Figure 3).

 

 

The second find was of limited additional information found in the Sydney Morning Herald dated 2002/05/01 written by Heidi Middleton, of Sass & Bide:

"I am reading a book at the moment about great Australian women, which has definitely inspired my (clothing) collection from an emotional aspect.. From a visual aspect, Wanda Radford's wardrobe has been a huge inspiration. She was a world-famous Australian child star at the turn of the 19th-century and all her outfits were handmade by Parisian couturiers, with lace, tartan, tattoos, stripes and silk.”

Can anyone help with more information on Wanda? The National Library of Australia has no information on her, but I have found another postcard of her, used in 1906 (Figure 4).

 

 

Addendum (August 2009):  The original paper was written in June 2008 at a time I had not used the National Library of Australia newspaper Beta program.  Using this program there was a plethora of information, including this small advertisement in The Advertiser (Adelaide) on 24 October 1903, when she was only six years old (Figure 5).

This may well have been the start of Wanda's acting career!  To accentuate Wanda's precosity as an actress, fast forward to 18 March, 1907 when the same newspaper recorded the following (Figure 6):

The actual date that Wanda left for Europe with her mother to go to Gemany was early in 1906.  Wanda was born in Adelaide in 1897, and this was printed in the same newspaper taken from the Continental Times dated April 7, 1906, and is presented as Figure 7:

The remainder of the information is too voluminous in its length and praise concerning her successes in Germany and In England, and I will select a few comments:  Influential patrons of art in Berlin established a fund to send Wanda to England so that she would receive a thorough education and be properly trained for a dramatic career.  The fund covered a period of 5 years, and during that time "she shall not appear at any music-hall, nor be connected with any variety entertainment.  This wise provision is rigidly insisted upon, and if the child is allowed to break it, her German friends will promptly cut off the supply of funds."  She was allowed Charity appearances, and appearances of a semi-private nature!

After many thousands of words praising this child prodigy, I have found no more later information, so What Happened to this Child Prodigy?

Addendum (May 2011):  Wayne Hancock emailed me as follows: "I collected some information on Wanda whilst researching for a biography of Florence Austral, my interest stemming from a postcard of her that belonged to my grandmother.  Born in Adelaide in 1896, after her stage success in Berlin and England, Wanda suffered a nervous breakdown in 1912,  At the time she was studying at the Paris Conservatoire. There followed a lengthy recuperation period at Cannes and Margate (England).  As a result of her illness she abandoned her hopes for a career in motion pictures (Pathe Freres reportedly wanted (her) for a production of Manon at Nice).  By the early 1920s she had turned to book illustration and costume design.  There was also a report of her plans to tour in a play in Australia sometime in Australia in the 1920s -- I'm not sure that this eventuated.  She subsequently completely disappeared from view". 

This interesting report stimulated me to look for information on Wanda after a lapse of some 3 years at the archived Trove digitised Australian newspapers,and at first I concentrated on the latest dated entries.  The latest entry was found in the Advertiser (Adelaide) 26 May 1952, page 14 where Wanda Radford of Sydney was mentioned in the death notice of her sister, Mrs. Marion Amelia Robinson, aged 31.

In the same newspaper, dated 20 August 1946, page 8 in a para headlined 'Out Among The People' by 'Vox' who searched for Wanda, and had a received a note from Mr.R. Radford, living at 25 Balham Avenue, Kingswood, S.A. saying "that Wanda is his daughter, and she is living in Sydney."  He gave some information about himself, "I was manager of Tattersalls George Adams Hotel in Sydney for 15 years, also manager of the Grand Hotel in Mildura...he had returned some years ago to South Australia having been born in Angaston", South Australia.

In The Brisbane Courier 16 September 1926, page 10 reads 'Interest in the Artists' Ball held annually in Sydney never wanes... and... there is a feature of "The Home" for September, will delight subscribers to the popular journal.  Wanda Radford is responsible for an attractive cover design, showing some of the fantastic costumes". This confirms the above email's statement how Wanda's career had changed.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 April 1926 reported on the Race Week Ball to raise money for Furlough House, was attended by Wanda Radford, and these were the latest recorded dates I could find for Wanda Radford.  I intend to follow-up on my search at a later date.  

 

 

 
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