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Possum Paddock (Charles Villiers, Kate Howarde, 1921) prod. Kate Howarde, from her play, dp Lacey Percival, 6500 ft.; John Cosgrove, James Martin, Leslie Adrien, Jack Kirby
John Cosgrove, left, Leslie Adrien, right
Possum Paddock began as a stage production, written and produced by Kate Howarde, one of Australia's few female theatrical entrepreneurs. A backblocks farce closely related to Dad and Dave, it shared the genre's commercial success when it opened at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, on 6 September 1919. Late in 1920, Kate Howarde hired the actor Charles Villiers to assist her in preparing a film adaptation. Many of the stage cast were retained for the film. Since the play had opened, John Cosgrove had played the central character, Andrew McQuade, a burly and bearded man of the land who has fought his way through years of drought and hardship and now faces ruin because of a bank loan he cannot repay. Reluctantly he decides to sell a fifty-acre field known as 'Possum Paddock'. One of his daughters, Nancy, is being courted by a young gentleman, Hugh Bracken, who sells his car to pay off the old man's debts, just in time to prevent the sale of the land to a greedy neighbour, Dan Martin. McQuade later learns what Martin had known all along, that a railway line is to go through the paddock and that the land is worth a fortune.
The film opened on 29 January 1921 at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney, after the New South Wales censors demanded a cut in a sub-plot about an unmarried mother, specifically a scene in which she imagines herself desperately throwing her baby into the river. Although the Lyric was not the best of Sydney's theatres, commercial results seem to have been strong and the film was frequently revived, especially in rural areas. The Sun, 30 January 1921, found it 'likable', its only major fault being excessive length; otherwise the bush atmosphere, from 'the 'possums to the bad roads [is] well maintained'.
Kate Howarde (her full name was Kate Howarde Black) made no other films after Possum Paddock but the play, like the film, remained in demand throughout the 1920s, in both Australia and New Zealand. As an entrepreneur, she had begun to manage her own touring theatrical company while still in her teens, working first in country towns, and later throughout Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. She was also a prolific author of plays, songs and vaudeville acts, but her most popular achievement by far was Possum Paddock. She died on 18 February 1939 at the age of 70. Her daughter, Leslie Adrien (sometimes billed as Lesley Adrienne), often acted in her plays, and took the central female part in the film.
Garry Gillard | New: 15 November, 2012 | Now: 27 November, 2019