John Gavin (director)

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John F. Gavin, born as John Francis Henry Gavin (1875 – 6 January 1938) was an Australian film director, who was one of the early filmmakers of the 1910s. He is best known for making films about bushrangers such as Captain Thunderbolt, Captain Moonlite, Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner. He was known by the nickname "Jack" and worked in collaboration with his wife Agnes, who wrote many of his films, most of which have not survived. One book said of him, "although Gavin was prolific his later surviving work shows that his entrepreneurial talent outweighed any he might have had as director."[1]

Biography[edit]

Gavin was born in Sydney and later claimed he worked for the circus aged ten.[2] He moved to the country and worked as cattle drover, being involved in a record cattle drive from Camooweal in Queensland to Adelaide. "A man of fine physique and imposing presence"[3] he served for a time in the Sydney Lancers as the captain of a squadron. He was interested in acting and received an offer to join the touring company of Bland Holt. He stayed with them for a number of seasons, then travelled to the USA where he worked with Barnum and Bailey's Circus, and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.[3] He married Agnes in 1898.[4]

Gavin returned to Australia and organised his own Wild West Show which was successful at the Melbourne Cyclorama, although he experienced a number of legal troubles.[5][6] Gavin eventually had a company of 150 before moving into filmmaking. In 1908 he started managing theatres which he did for the next few years.[7][8]

Filmmaking Debut[edit]

His debut feature was about Thunderbolt, produced by H. A. Forsyth, and its success launched his career.[9] As one writer later put it:

With the aid of a gallant, if small, company of triers, including Mrs. Gavin as scenario writer and leading lady, and himself as leading juvenile, he turned out several films dealing with the convict and bushranging eras. There were no such things as studios then, and all scenes, exteriors and interiors, had to be shot in the open with Old Sol supplying the light. The results were considered quite satisfactory, and the pictures made money.[10]

He followed this up with Moonlite and by February 1911 it was written that "more film has been used over Jack Gavin than over any other Australian biograph actor."[11] He was described as "the beauteous bushranger".[12]

A newspaper profile attributed the success of Gavin's bushranging films to two main factors: the quality of horsemanship in them, and the fact they were normally shot on the real locations where the events occurred.[3]

Another writer stated in 1911 that "The pictures already turned out by Mr. Gavin demonstrates that in bio graphic art Australian producers are in no way behind their European and American brothers. Clearness in detail and execution, with the cleverly-constructed stories by Agnes Gavin enable Mr. Gavin to offer attractive films."[13]

A newspaper wrote a ballad about Gavin:

He played as Ben Hall, Moonlight too.

He's also played with Holt. And on the screen he's to be seen. Dressed up as Thunderbolt. Whilst acting he has cried,'Bail up'. And put the tops to rout; In fact, he knows more bail up Than some chaps are bailed out. He poses as a cut-throat fierce, With pistols and a frown; But looks a harmless sort of cuss

When strutting round the town.[14]

Gavin's films were also often accompanied by popular lecturer Charles Woods.[10]

His first two movies were made for H.A. Forsyth at Southern Cross Motion Pictures but he and Forsyth had a falling out and Gavin went his separate way, publicly announcing the fact in January 1911.[15][16]

In July 1911 he set up his own company, the Gavin Photo Play Company, based out of Waverley.[17]

He was involved in the formation of the Australian Photo-Play Company but then established his own production company in October 1911.[18][19] When bushranging films were banned in 1912 he turned to dramatising other true characters, such as Edith Cavell and Charles Fryatt.

In 1912 Gavin was arrested for owing money to a business associate though he was later released.[20]

In January 1917 he took out a lease on a studio at North Sydney and announced plans for make four feature films over a year, starting with The Murder of Captain Fryatt.[21] He also started up a film school[22] and spoke of offers from America.[23]

Gavin was also credited as directing the first Australian advertising short film, a koala using a cough syrup.[24]

Move to the US[edit]

Making movies in Australia was becoming increasingly difficult for him so Gavin moved to Hollywood, where he lived for eight years in all, appearing in what he claimed was over 300 films[25] and becoming a friend of Lon Chaney[26] Rudolph Valentino and Stan Laurel.[27]

He reportedly also worked with Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard.[24]

Gavin says he helped popularise the drinking of tea in Hollywood.[27]

Return to Australia[edit]

He returned to Australia in February 1922 to make several outback films,[28] including a serial based on Ned Kelly, and set up a company in Brisbane,[29][30] but faced censorship problems and could not raise the capital. He went back to Hollywood in May 1923, then returned to Australia in 1925.

He gave evidence at the 1928 Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia arguing in favour of a quota for Australian films.[31]

Personality[edit]

He was described as "a big man with a generous and naive personality... more enthusiasm and stubborn persistence than talent."[32] Towards the end of his life he lived in a flat in Neutral bay and suffered from rheumatism.[27]

He died in 1938 survived by Agnes and their daughters.[33] A child had predeceased him in 1917.[34]

Filmography[edit]

Unmade Films[edit]

  • The Lubra's Revenge – announced to follow Drover's Sweetheart in 1911[17]
  • The White Hope – announced November 1911[36] – a boxing story where Gavin would play a character who fights an aboriginal[37] (according to a contemporary article in the film "the Australian aboriginal will be shown in quite a new light, and though we are not at liberty to disclose the plot just yet, we can safely say that it will outrival the well known Red Indian dramas.")[37]
  • story of Russian life in World War I[38]
  • The Birth of Australia (1916) – a look at the history of Australia from the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay onwards[39] – Gavin blamed the delay of this on war taxes and expressed interest in making the film in California[40]
  • The Song That Reached My Heart (1916) starring Vera Amee[41]
  • The Black Snake – a 15-part serial set in the Australian bush (1917)[42]
  • film starring Arthur Shirley with location shooting in Hawaii[43]
  • signed Nellie Stewart to a five-picture contract[44]
  • The Kelly Gang (announced 1922)[45]

Theatre[edit]

  • Professor Fenton's Circus and Buck Jumping Show (1907)[46]
  • Deadwood Dick by Capt Jack Gavin's Wild West Dramatic Company (1907)[47]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, Currency Press, 1989, p39
  2. ^ "FAMOUS AUSTRALIAN RETURNS.". Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record. Renmark, SA. 23 December 1927. p. 10. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  3. ^ a b c "A Well-known Biograph Actor.". The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People. Sydney. 4 February 1911. p. 3. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  4. ^ "Family Notices.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 September 1899. p. 1. Retrieved 13 November 2014 – via National Library of Australia. 
  5. ^ "A SHOWMAN CHARGED.". The Argus. Melbourne. 2 March 1906. p. 7. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  6. ^ "AN EMPLOYER SUED.". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 31 May 1907. p. 9. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ "Only an Acquaintance.". The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People. Sydney. 29 August 1908. p. 9. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  8. ^ "New Bijou Theatre and Picture Palace,.". The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People. Sydney. 5 September 1908. p. 9. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  9. ^ "AN AUSTRALIAN PRODUCER.". The Arrow. Sydney. 12 August 1916. p. 3. Retrieved 13 September 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  10. ^ a b "To Pana's Page On Passing and Past Shows.". The Referee. Sydney. 1 July 1931. p. 24. Retrieved 13 September 2014 – via National Library of Australia. 
  11. ^ "THE ST[?].". The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People. Sydney. 18 February 1911. p. 3. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  12. ^ "How They Advertise Plays.". The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People. Sydney. 6 May 1911. p. 2. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  13. ^ "GENERAL GOSSIP.". The Referee. Sydney. 15 November 1911. p. 16. Retrieved 13 November 2014 – via National Library of Australia. 
  14. ^ "THEATRICAL TIT-BITS.". Sydney Sportsman. Surry Hills, NSW. 8 February 1911. p. 3. Retrieved 15 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  15. ^ "Advertising.". The Referee. Sydney. 4 January 1911. p. 16. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  16. ^ "Advertising.". The Referee. Sydney. 4 January 1911. p. 16. Retrieved 31 March 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  17. ^ a b "Advertising.". The Referee. Sydney. 19 July 1911. p. 16. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  18. ^ "Advertising.". The Referee. Sydney. 4 October 1911. p. 16. Retrieved 15 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  19. ^ "AN AUSTRALIAN PRODUCER.". The Arrow. Sydney. 12 August 1916. p. 3. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  20. ^ "PICTURE SHOW PRANKS.". The Truth. Sydney. 25 August 1912. p. 11. Retrieved 24 June 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  21. ^ "TRADE NOTES.". The Mirror of Australia. Sydney. 6 January 1917. p. 12. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  22. ^ "The Miniature Picture Campaign.". The Freeman's Journal. Sydney. 15 November 1917. p. 15. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  23. ^ "TRADE NOTES.". The Mirror of Australia. Sydney. 7 April 1917. p. 14. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  24. ^ a b "AUSTRALIANA.". The World's News. Sydney. 1 January 1949. p. 21. Retrieved 15 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  25. ^ "THE FILM TRADE.". Maitland Weekly Mercury. NSW. 22 October 1927. p. 16. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  26. ^ 'THE LATE LON CHANEY AUSTRALIAN PAYS TRIBUTE TO DEPARTED M-G-M STAR', Northern Standard (Darwin), Friday 14 November 1930 p 1
  27. ^ a b c ""Modern Talkies Lacking In Action and Punch".". The Mail. Adelaide. 18 September 1937. p. 8. Retrieved 15 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  28. ^ "From Tram Guard to Film Actor.". The Evening News. Sydney. 21 April 1922. p. 6. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  29. ^ "PERSONAL.". The Brisbane Courier. 11 November 1922. p. 23. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  30. ^ "Advertising.". The Brisbane Courier. 21 November 1922. p. 16. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  31. ^ "QUOTA URGED.". The Brisbane Courier. 18 October 1927. p. 6. Retrieved 25 February 2012 – via National Library of Australia. 
  32. ^ Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 11.
  33. ^ "Family Notices.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 January 1938. p. 10. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  34. ^ "Family Notices.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 12 September 1917. p. 8. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  35. ^ "LLOYD COMEDY AT THREE CITY THEATRES.". The Sunday Times. Sydney. 1 May 1927. p. 24. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  36. ^ "Advertising.". The Referee. Sydney. 29 November 1911. p. 16. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  37. ^ a b "A Great Australian.". The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People. Sydney. 4 November 1911. p. 3. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  38. ^ "Australian Notes", Moving Picture World Date: Apr-Jun 1917 accessed 23 June 2015
  39. ^ "MOTION PICTURE COLUMN.". Cowra Free Press. NSW. 21 October 1916. p. 6. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  40. ^ http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/moviwor31chal_0275
  41. ^ "Australian Notes" Motion Picture News
  42. ^ [1]
  43. ^ [2]
  44. ^ [3]
  45. ^ "FOOTLIGHT FLASHES.". The Mirror. Perth. 7 October 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  46. ^ "Advertising.". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 2 February 1907. p. 2. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 
  47. ^ "CAPTURED BY A SHARK.". Goulburn Evening Penny Post. NSW. 24 December 1907. p. 4. Retrieved 3 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia. 

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