Hugh D. McIntosh

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Hugh Donald "Huge Deal" McIntosh (10 September 1876 – 2 February 1942) was an Australian show-business entrepreneur born to parents of Scottish and Irish origin[1] and modest means in Sydney's Surry Hills, then a ramshackle suburb with a reputation for crime and vice among the largely Irish immigrant population. His policeman father Hugh Fraser McIntosh died when he was four.[2]

According to an obituary, he was educated at Marist Brothers College, St Marys Sydney.[3] but in an interview for Triad (a show-business periodical) in 1925, he gave a more colorful account, claiming to have run away to Adelaide as a silversmith's assistant at the age of seven, to have worked for BHP at Broken Hill at nine, then a variety of occupations culminating in working for a surgeon at twelve. Certainly by seventeen he was a chorus boy in a Maggie Moore pantomime Sinbad the Sailor in Melbourne.[4]

Sports promotion[edit]

In 1897, while working as a barman in Sydney, McIntosh began selling pies at sporting venues, and by the age of twenty-six was the owner of a catering company, then in an audacious leap that was to become a trademark, embarked on sports promotion. First it was cycle racing, notably seven-day events,[5] while he was secretary of the League of New South Wales Wheelmen.

Then came boxing. Hoping to capitalise of the presence of the US "Great White Fleet" in August 1908, he hurriedly built a huge open-air stadium at Rushcutters Bay to stage a boxing match between local champion Bill "Boshter" Squires and World champion Tommy Burns. On Boxing Day 1908 he staged a world championship heavyweight title fight between Burns and Jack Johnson. He made a huge profit from seat sales and a film of the bout, which he took to Britain and America. He sold his stadium business to his referee, the famous sportsman Reginald "Snowy" Baker who, with John Wren, went on to develop a chain of stadiums. Author Peter FitzSimons [6] asserts that McIntosh attempted to sign a US management deal with the Australian boxer, Les Darcy but, when Darcy declined, McIntosh threatened, in retribution, to prevent any fights Darcy might attempt in the USA. FitzSimons suggests that when Darcy made his controversial trip to the USA, McIntosh made good his threat and successfully enlisted the assistance of several state governors to ban the Darcy fights.

From 1914 to 1917 he sponsored the trophy "Hugh D MacIntosh Shield" for the New South Wales Rugby League premiership.[7]


In 1911 he headed a consortium that acquired the Harry Rickards Tivoli theatre chain, but was careful to retain Rickards' style (and company name: Harry Rickards Tivoli Theatres Ltd.[8]), but adding an Adelaide Tivoli, then building a Brisbane Tivoli in 1915, designed by Henry White. To compete with the Fuller Brothers and J. C. Williamson he imported international stars such as Gene Greene, Lew Fields, Ada Reeve,[9] W. C. Fields (then billed as "the world's greatest silent comedian")[10] and George Gee and expanded the Tivoli repertoire to include musical comedy with the vaudeville, pantomime, Lee White - Clay Smith revues and melodramas such as "The Lilac Domino".[3] In 1920 he produced Australia's first musical comedy F.F.F., written by Mildura-based dried fruit millionaire (and Tivoli shareholder) Jack De Garis with music by Reginald Stoneham.[11][12] It failed to attract critical or popular support and may have been a factor in De Garis' eventual suicide.[2] A transport strike caused him to lose money on an expensive production of Chu Chin Chow and he was forced to sell the lease to Harry Musgrove, though retaining his newspaper interests. The Musgrove venture failed, leaving the way open for J C Williamson ("The Firm") to take over running the chain.[4]

In 1927 he took a revival of the 1909 Edward Locke play "The Climax" to London, apparently a good production, starring Dorothy Brunton, but in an inadequate theatre, and it closed after three weeks.[13]


In May 1916 he acquired the Sunday Times newspaper, which became the major advertising medium for his theatres. With his purchase of the Sydney Sunday Times, McIntosh acquired the sporting weeklies The Arrow and The Referee. In 1915 he started advertising his own theatrical weekly The Green Room Magazine, nicknamed "The Tivoli Bible",[14] employing Zora Cross as drama critic.[2] He sold his Sunday Times interests in 1929.


In 1929 J. C. Williamson Tivoli Theatres Ltd was losing money and ceased rental payments to Harry Rickards Tivoli Theatres. Interest in the "talkies" was waning[15] and McIntosh returned to producing revues for the (Melbourne) Tivoli and Princess, and the (Sydney) Haymarket and St James in a desperate attempt to generate an income. "The Follies of 1930" (with a cast that included Roy "Mo" Rene), "Pot Luck", then "Happy Days" (with a young Robert Helpmann - billed as "Bobby Helpman, burlesque dancer")[16] and "Sparkles",[17] while trying to keep at bay creditors such as heiress Mrs Ben Shashoua (née Joan Norton, daughter of John Norton)[18] as the value of his assets shrank with the advance of the Great Depression. Hopelessly insolvent, Harry Rickards' Tivoli Theatres Ltd folded the following year.[19] Mrs Shashoua's solicitor later admitted to helping engineer McIntosh's bankruptcy.[20]

In December 1930, Sydney "Truth", a weekly newspaper founded by John Norton, published an article on the life and loves of McIntosh, calling him an "erstwhile pieman" who had "drained the life-blood" from the Sunday Times. McIntosh successfully sued for libel but was awarded damages of just one farthing. In the course of proceedings it was revealed that he had transferred £66,703 from the account of Sunday Times Ltd, of which he was managing director, to Harry Rickards Tivoli Ltd of which he was governing director[21] in an attempt to keep the Tivoli chain solvent.


McIntosh championed NSW Labor Premier (also "bosom friend" and business partner[22]) William Holman in his newspapers.[23] He contributed generously to the party (he was characterised by Jack Lang as "Holman's political fixer") and in 1911 was promised a seat in the New South Wales Legislative Council.[1] This he was finally granted in 1917, but though using the honorific "MLC" in all his advertisements, he took little part in debates. In May 1932 McIntosh was forced, as a bankrupt, to relinquish his seat.

Other ventures[edit]

  • He acted as agent for Teesdale Smith in tendering for major government contracts [24]
  • For a time he dabbled in movie projection; one film he promoted was the Italian classic Cabiria.[2]
  • He managed a guest house "Bon Accord", adjacent to Norman Lindsay's home at Springwood in the Blue Mountains after the death of its owner, jeweller businessman Stuart Dawson.[2]
  • In 1935 he opened the "Black and White Milk Bar" in Fleet Street, London. It proved highly profitable, but when he expanded it into a chain, the enterprise foundered.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 1897 McIntosh married art teacher Marion Backhouse She was to remain at his side to the end, through financial crises and numerous infidelities, notably with actress Vera Pearce, whose nephew Harold Holt, was to become Prime Minister of Australia. He was life governor of many NSW hospitals and charitable institutions; he was a founder of the Australia Day Committee and the Sydney Millions Club and at one stage president of the RSSILA and a fellow of the Royal Empire Society.[3]

His wife also led an active social life. She travelled several times to the United States with Mrs Holman,[24][25] was prominent in patriotic organisations[26] the Vaucluse branch of the Red Cross Society,[27] in hospital fundraisers,[28][29][30][31] sporting circles, notably as longtime president of the New South Wales Ladies' Amateur Swimming Association and its 1932 Olympics Committee.[32] She was also prominent in the English-Speaking Union[33]

His last years were spent in England, where he died in a London hospital and was cremated.

He could inspire great loyalty among his acquaintances. Nellie Stewart, in her memoirs, wrote "When I hear people talk slightingly of this big man I cannot bear it, for he was the most generous of men, and he was at all times far more likely to suffer from brigandage than to resort to it. He was of little less than medium height, broad in the shoulders, cheery in the eye, hiding under a rattling loquacity the fact that he was shy as a girl, a man all aglow with enthusiasm like a happy boy. He was electric. He had the oddest happy knack of getting out of all his people the best that was in them."[2]

References in popular culture[edit]

His 1903 import of the black champion cyclist Major Taylor for the Sydney Thousand competition was depicted in the 1992 TV mini-series Tracks of Glory, from the book by Dr Jim Fitzpatrick. Richard Roxburgh played McIntosh.[34]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cunneen, Chris "Hugh Donald McIntosh" Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 10, Melbourne University Press
  • Hetherington, John Australians – Nine Profiles F.W. Cheshire, 1960
  • Stewart, Nellie My Life's Story John Sands Ltd, 1923
  • Van Straten, Frank Huge Deal – The Fortunes and Follies of Hugh D. McIntosh Lothian Books, 2004


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c d e f
  3. ^ a b c obituary The Argus 4 February 1942
  4. ^ a b West, John Theatre in Australia Cassell Australia ISBN 0-7269-9266-6
  5. ^
  6. ^ FitzSimons, Peter The Ballad of Les Darcy HarperCollins Australia ISBN 978 0 7322 8636 1
  7. ^
  8. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 8 October 1930
  9. ^ The Advertiser 17 November 1913
  10. ^ The Advertiser 1 July 1914
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 12 November 1927
  14. ^ Hobart Mercury 19 March 1920
  15. ^ The Argus 19 August 1930
  16. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 4 October 1930
  17. ^ The Argus 11 October 1930
  18. ^ The Argus 7 November 1930
  19. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 17 February 1931
  20. ^ The Argus 20 March 1931
  21. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 12 September 1931
  22. ^ Canberra Times 12 February 1932
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b The Argus 13 February 1920
  25. ^
  26. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 21 July 1915
  27. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 13 April 1915
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 11 September 1924
  33. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 11 October 1924
  34. ^

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