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The Fuller Influence:

                  By Bernie Halperin
            Benjamin and John Fuller already
          controlled a vaudeville circuit in New
          Zealand when they crossed the Tasman
          to expand their theatre interests. In
          Melbourne their first acquisition was
          Brennan’s Amphitheatre at the top of
          Bourke Street. Their Melbourne jewel
          was the Princess, acquired in 1915. The
          Fuller influence in vaudeville, musical
          comedy, drama and films meant
          competition for Williamsons, the Tivoli
          circuit, Hoyts and Union Theatres.
          From the National to the Palace
            Opened as Brennan’s National
          Amphitheatre on Saturday 6 April
          1912, by Monday it had become
          Fuller’s National. The theatre was one
          of the plainest in Melbourne, with a                                    In 1931 the Princess returned to
          small straight balcony and white walls                               films under Fuller management. The
          said to be devoid of decoration.                                     most successful was MGM’s Trader
            For six months in 1915 Hoyts                                       Horn (seven weeks).
          leased the National while St Georges                                 The Bijou and Gaiety/Roxy,
          Hall was rebuilt to become Hoyts                                     Bourke Street
                                               The usual fare at the Princess was
          DeLuxe. Hoyts offered free buses from                                   A popular destination for
                                            plays and musicals. From 1910 and into
          Swanston Street to the top of Bourke                                 theatergoers from the 1890s, the Bijou
                                            the twenties there was the occasional
          Street. The theatre later shared Union                               was part of the Palace hotel complex
                                            out-booking for a film. When sound
          Theatre films concurrently with the                                  that included the Gaiety theatre. Under
                                            arrived in 1929 Union Theatres signed
          Majestic in Flinders Street for about                                the Fuller management the Bijou was
                                            a four-year lease, intending to use the
          six months. A similar arrangement                                    promoted as The Home of Clean
                                            Princess as a prestige house for first run
          followed with Barret’s Snowden                                       Vaudeville. In 1932 Fuller’s introduced
                                            talkies. Things started well with
          theatre (later renamed the Garrick) on                               a first release film policy using
                                            Coquette (four weeks) then the Marx
          a site now covered by the Performing                                 Celebrity Films. This lasted three
                                            Bros. in The Coconuts (11 weeks), but
          Arts Centre.                                                         months before the theatre reverted to
                                            Union ran into the twin problems of
            In 1915 Fullers brought in their                                   occasional live theatre including
                                            access to first run films and the decline
          favourite architect Henry White to                                   pantomimes. After a two-week season
                                            in attendances caused by the
          redesign the interior. White provided                                of the pantomime Mickey the Mouse in
                                            Depression. Union Theatres broke their
          the shape and horse-shoe balconies that                              January 1934, the theatre closed forever.
                                            lease on the Princess after only seven
          mostly survive today. The theatre re-
                                            films. (For a first-hand account of   The Gaiety, a 1,400-seat vaudeville
          opened as the Palace for plays and
                                            bringing sound films to the Princess  house, located on the first floor of the
                                            see CinemaRecord 30).              Palace Hotel, began showing films
            In 1929 Fuller’s Palace was                                        about 1910 in opposition to Hoyts at
          equipped for sound and became a first                                St. Georges Hall. The programs were
          release film house with some long run                                the same as those at the Melba (Bourke
          and weekly run films. Most successful                                Street), Spencers/Wests in South
          was MGM’s Hollywood Hotel (eight                                     Melbourne and the Lyric in Prahran.
          weeks). Then came a series of weekly
                                                                                  The Gaiety specialised in twice-
          runs of Radio Pictures. The
                                                                               weekly changes. Its success was with
          arrangement was basically a swap of
                                                                               serials (up to 22 weeks) running with
          product with Fuller’s Roxy in Sydney.
                                                                               two to four reels per session. Wests,at
          Columbia and Warner Bros films also
                                                                               the corner of City Road and Sturt Street
          screened there until 1932.
                                                                               later became Hoyts Lyceum and when
          The Princess - Spring Street.                                        the site was sold to build the YMCA,
            For the Fullers, Henry White put the                               Hoyts leased the Gaiety. As Hoyts
          finishing touches to what is one of the                              Gaiety the theatre screened some first
          best-loved theatres in Melbourne.                                    releases, but basically operated with
          White’s re-working of the interior in                                weekly cross-overs from Hoyts De
          1921 was the version restored and                                    Luxe across the road. After opening the
          enhanced by the Marriner family.                                     Regent in 1929 Hoyts had no further
                                                                               use for the Gaiety.
          10  2004 CINEMARECORD
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