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Maggie Moore & J C Williamson
Submitted by Joann Betschart

Maggie Moore was born Margaret Virginia Sullivan in 1851 at the family residence on the corner of Sullivan Alley and Mission Street, "south of the slot" in San Francisco. The 1852 California Census lists a Sullivan family in San Francisco which includes a Mary, aged eight (this age matches up with the age of the Mary Riehm in the 1880 Census in Virginia City) and a Margaret who is a year old, along with two sisters in between (Delia, age 6, and Ellen, age 4.) There were three children who came after her -- two girls, Katie and Francisco, and the only boy, James.

An unidentified newspaper clipping dated Dec. 5, 1925 on file in the California State Library says she attended Rincon Hill Primary school in the city up to the age of eight. She left school in order to go on the stage at the Olympic Theatre in San Francisco, earning $50 a week. She took the stage name Maggie Moore -- two of her sisters were on the stage (her younger brother Jimmy became a jig dancer too) and one of them had married a man named Moore. What is missing is which sisters were performing and why, and when she took this name -- when she was eight, her oldest sister, Mary, would have been 16; the next eldest, Delia, would have been 13. I suppose Mary could have been married before she married my great-great grandfather.

Unlike her sisters, Maggie continued acting, and eventually joined in the California Theatre Company. In 1868 and 1869 Alfred Doten, future editor of the "Gold Hill Daily News," records her performances in Virginia City as follows:
Oct. 28. 1869 Went to Opera House... went down back of scenes & had big chat with Maggie Moore - good house
Nov. 17, 1869 Evening at Theater - Maggie Moore's benefit - big house - biggest of the season - good entertainment - after show was over I was in the green room with all the actors and actresses & we had several bottles of wine together - Maggie paid for it - $700 house - could afford it ...
Nov. 18, 1869 Carson theater opened at 8 - I went - crowded - I went back of scenes & had chat with Maggie Moore and others
Feb. 22, 1870 Bob & I went to Alhambra ... Maggie Moore also playing there - Big house
Feb. 1-March 3, 1871 [Summary of journal entries by Doten's editor: Sees Kitty Blanchard and M'Kee Rankin and a good company, including Maggie Moore, play "Nannie, or the Dutch Orphans," a burlesque of "Field of Cloth of Gold," "A Regular Fix," "Rip Van Winkle," "Our Gal," "Who Killed Cock Robin," "Little Mother," "Antony & Cleopatra," "Caste," "Nan the Good for Nothing," "Pauvrette, or Under the Snow," "Nicholas Nickleby" and "Oliver Twist."]
March 5: Went to theater at 10 - plays were "Barton or the Pride of the Market" and "The Debutante," with ballads by Maggie Moore...

Her career really took off when she married J.C. Williamson, a comedian who had joined the cast of the California Theatre in place of John Raymond, an extremely popular and respected actor. J.C. Williamson was ambitious -- Hal Porter, in his book "Stars of Australian Stage and Screen," writes that Williamson "was not a tall man, and was driven by the need to have that sense of increased inches given by power and money." He had held virtually every job possible in the theatre, from actor to scene painter, from carpenter to playwright. With the very popular Maggie at his side, he saw the means to fulfill his ambitions. He'd already bought a play called "Struck Oil" from an old 49er, which he rewrote to showcase Maggie's talents. "With the shrewdness of one who had learnt by hard experiences what tickles the cheaper fancies of the public," Porter said, "he interpolated in 'Struck Oil,' already an openly sentimental piece, numerous 'warmly human' opportunities for Maggie Moore to... sing in dialect, dance, and mimic famous actresses."

They formed their own theatrical company, and with "Struck Oil," booked an engagement in Salt Lake City, of all places, where it ran for many months. The father of the Australian theatre, George Coppin, heard about this and invited the Williamsons to bring the play to Australia. Others said a play such as playing pokies Aus and in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect would never fly in Australia. They couldn't have been more wrong.

1874: J.C. Williamson and his wife Maggie Moore tour Australia in the play Struck Oil (opened at Melbourne Theatre Royal 1 August 1874). (WWT) This play ran for 43 straight nights in Melbourne and drew 93,000 spectators. The population of Melbourne at the time was 110,000. (jcwilliamson.com) "...Also in the company's repertoire were Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which Maggie Moore played Topsy, and J.C. Williamson played Uncle Tom, and The Old Curiosity Shoppe in which Maggie Moore doubled the parts of Little Nell and the Marchioness."(SASS)

"Maggie Moore and her husband, J.C. Williamson, began an era in the Australian theatre; in fact, they were an era. ... In 1873, before their first arrival, Melbourne kept only one theatre steadily and seriously employed besides the Opera House, although Melbourne was regarded as a good school for actors, its audiences critical and its critics caustic."(AT) "Struck Oil" was popular elsewhere also.

Oct. 18 1878 Evening took wife to Opera House - we saw Mr and Mrs JC Williamson in 'Struck Oil' - Bully play - crowded house - concluded with their sketch of 'The Chinese Question' - We enjoyed it very much. (Doten) (Late in life, Maggie told a story about a performance with JC (probably in "The Chinese Question") in which he went onstage having forgotten to put on his pants. The audience was laughing hysterically at him, and he took it to mean he was that funny. She made several attempts to tell him in stage Chinese (ling-how-chong-lookee-pants-off) before he finally noticed. I wonder how true this is. Part of the article is missing and I can't tell what led up to this incident. She may have just made up the story for a laugh.)

Oct. 20, 1878 "After supper rode to VA and went to the Opera House to see last performance given by Mr. and Mrs. JC Williamson & Company - Variety entertainment - 'Clouds and Sunshine,' olio, and 'Fool of the Family' - very good house - waited & had chat with Maggie Moore, also with her husband, Mr Williamson (Doten)

Oct. 21, 1878 "Austin went to Carson tonight to report a Republican meeting, sent a big lump of bonanza ore, about 5 lb., by him to Maggie Moore - sent a note with it as follows: To Mr and Mrs JC Williamson, a piece of $2,000 ore, taken out of the heart of the great Consolidated Virginia and California bonanza - 1650 level - Comstock lode, by Your friend, Alf Doten."

1879: J.C. Williamson and Maggie Moore begin second tour of Australia. (WWT) Among the pieces in their repertoire this time were HMS Pinafore, with Williamson as Sir Joseph Porter and Maggie as Buttercup; Pirates of Penzance and Patience. In order to perform HMS Pinafore, however, they had to first fight in the Australian courts against a company which was performing a pirated version of the play. The ruling in their favor "established the validity of the English Copyright in Australia, a cause for which authors are his debtors."(AT)

1881: J.C. Williamson becomes lessee of Coppin's Theatre Royal Melbourne. (WWT)

1882: J.C. Williamson, Arthur Garner and George Musgrove form a partnership ("The Triumvirate") controlling the Theatre Royal and Princess Theatre in Melbourne and the Sydney Theatre Royal and Adelaide Theatre Royal. (WWT)

April 15, 1889 "Wrote letter from Sam Pidge, (her bro-in-law) to Mrs JC Williamson formerly Maggie Moore ... made item for tomorrows Enterprise regarding it. [The article recalls "festive little Maggie Moore, whom most of us Comstockers remember in the prosperous past of Virginia theatricals... one of the finest and most popular of comedians." A letter from her to Sam Pidge, quoted in the clipping, says: "I am going to pay 'Frisco' a visit; then, 'God willing and the roads dry,' I am going to see dear old Virginia. I have never forgotten it and the happy times we have had there.'"]" (Doten)

May 4, 1890 "Received by mail today from Maggie Moore Williamson SF accompanying three fine cabinet photographs of herself."(Doten)

1893: J.C. Williamson buys out Arthur Garner and assumes full control of "the firm." (WWT)

March 15, 1897 "...Maggie Moore on board [train] - met and kissed her - she is from Europe now, from a visit there to Paris etc - and going back to Australia very soon - Went up to Va [Virginia City] with her brother-in-law Matt Riehm, but will return in the morning..." (Doten) The "Companion to the Australian Theatre" says that J.C. and Maggie divorced on May 28, 1899. He married Mary Weir in August of that year. Maggie married Harry Roberts, another actor, in 1902; their marriage lasted until his death in 1923.

Maggie made eleven journeys between Australia and the States between 1880 and 1925. When Maggie left Australia to return home for the last time in 1925, she was given a tribute at which the governor-general of Australia presided, and at which she netted $19,000. At the end of her journey, "She was received by [San Francisco] city officials with elaborate ceremonies," including, apparently, a ball. After she came back to SF, the unID'ed clip quoted her saying, "After the South of Market ball, one of the papers spoke of me as 'a gray-haired old lady.' [I think this was an article in the Examiner of 11/28/25, the author of which also seemed to think it was terribly sad that Maggie was speaking into a microphone and over the radio.] Can you tell me why they do that? I hope I'm not silly about my age. But my voice is strong, I can get around without help and my hair isn't gray."

She had also been performing in Sydney up till the time of her departure, including a scene of the play "Struck Oil" at her farewell banquet in Melbourne. Two photographs both purporting to be of her in 1925 look radically different -- in one she does rather look rather old, but in another she looks pert and saucy, with dark, bobbed hair. A third photo in "Australian Theatre" does seem to back up the "gray-haired" description, though she doesn't look very old otherwise.

But The Bee's article says that her heart had been failing for some time and that she had in fact come home to die, though she hid it from everyone. Another story, however, which was published in the book "The Australian Theatre," goes that Maggie was hit by a cable car. None of the local news accounts of her death indicate this, so I for one am inclined to disbelieve it. At the time of her death, only one sister, Francisco (Mrs. J.F.O. Comstock), was still living. Maggie had no children. She was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma "the city of the dead" south of San Francisco, in Section T, Row 22, Area 13, Grave 4, and is listed as Maggie M. Roberts. A monument was planned to her as a "pilgrimage site" for her Australian fans, but I don't know if it went up or what it looks like.

Joann has more information on this family at http://www.c-zone.net/merlaan/

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Last modified: May 20, 2006