Vaudeville friends

the home movies of Frank 'Tex' Glanville
 Tara Marynowsky

Frank ‘Tex’ Glanville had a group of very interesting and talented friends, and he made sure their unique skills and tricks were immortalised on film.

A collection of 8mm home movies made by Glanville, an Australian vaudeville performer, was donated to the NFSA by his daughter Marion Glanville Hearst in May 2011. Glanville’s vaudeville career spanned from c1928-1965 – he was a renowned rope spinner though he also performed slack wire walking, juggling and hypnotism. In examining his collection of well-crafted and thoughtfully edited home movies (most complete with homemade inter-titles), I found that he was also dedicated to capturing a range of unique variety acts and his vaudeville friends on celluloid film.

Unfortunately some of the footage – including Glanville’s own performances – had deteriorated too badly to be salvageable, but what the NFSA was able to revive is an interesting visual history of variety performers whose work previously did not widely exist in the form of moving image. Glanville’s films are now part of the home movie collection and were recently digitised using a MWA Flash Scan machine in order to preserve them for future generations.

After viewing the films many times I became intrigued by the various performers Glanville filmed, and have recently curated a collection of six segments from his collection for the NFSA Films YouTube channel. The selection includes (click for more information about each title):

Glanville mostly shot his subjects outdoors in public parks and used his cinematography and editing skills to capture the master showmanship of each performer. He often used in-camera tricks such as slow-motion shutter speeds to highlight the twists and turns of an acrobat or to slow down the quick actions within a juggling act. In the segment featuring The Mighty Apollo, Glanville uses slow motion to reveal the feats of strength exhibited – and depths of pain tolerated – when stone blocks are crushed on The Mighty Apollo’s arm with a sledge hammer. These in-camera devices assist with the spectacle; the viewer is able to become entranced by the entertainer’s endurance and skills just as one would if they were part of an audience at the theatre, circus, carnival or rodeo.

It is rare to come across such a significant collection on an amateur film format (8mm) that is so skilfully shot and edited and that is also dedicated to a specialised subject matter. Glanville’s home movie collection represents a last wave of vaudeville entertainers who enjoyed performing live at shows. Their careers mostly existed before television became the dominant form of entertainment in Australian households. It is especially extraordinary that Glanville documented this now bygone era of Australian entertainment at a time of transition.

Watch the selection of six films, in full: