Cyril Ritchard 1898-1977 and Madge Elliott 1898-1955

Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliot

Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott

Back in London they appeared together and separately in plays, musicals, pantomimes and revues

In 1946 J.C. Williamson’s brought Cyril and Madge back to Australia to star in Tonight at 8.30, Noel Coward’s short play anthology.

The following year Cyril co-starred with Katharine Hepburn in Shaw’s The Millionairess in London and New York. From then on he divided his time between the two capitals, especially after Madge’s death on 8 August 1955.

Cyril died on 18 December 1977 and was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Ridgefield, Connecticut. He was 79 years old.

 

Back in London they appeared together and separately in plays, musicals, pantomimes and revues. It was in the revue Up and Doing, in 1940, that Cyril introduced ‘The Oldest Chorus Boy in London,’ an endearing, show-stopping self parody: ‘I’m Cyril, the scourge of the stage – gosh I’m old.’ He and Madge had big hits with Gay Rosalinda, a reworking of Die Fledermaus, and with a revival of The Merry Widow which they toured for the troops.

After the war they starred in Noel Coward’s revue Sigh No More. In a reference to the famous American husband-and-wife acting team, Coward nick-named them ‘the singing Lunts’ – though, according to Ian Bevan, during the frequently bumpy rehearsal period, Coward ‘was heard to change the first consonant of the surname to telling effect.’ In 1942 Cyril scored in his first non-singing role: Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest with John Gielgud and Edith Evans.

In 1946 J.C. Williamson’s brought Cyril and Madge back to Australia to star in Tonight at 8.30, Noel Coward’s short play anthology. They made another trip in 1951, appearing in Sir Ben Fuller’s last production, Coward’s Private Lives. The following year Cyril co-starred with Katharine Hepburn in Shaw’s The Millionairess in London and New York. From then on he divided his time between the two capitals, especially after Madge’s death on 8 August 1955. Happily she lived to see him win a Tony Award for his delightfully playful portrayal of Captain Hook in the musical version of Peter Pan, and direct his first opera, The Barber of Seville, for the Met.

In New York Cyril championed the work of the young Australian playwright Sumner Locke Elliott. He directed Elliott’s play Buy Me Blue Ribbons, included some of his satirical material in the revue John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, and starred in Elliott’s television musical The King and Mrs Candle.

In 1958 Ritchard directed the play The Pleasure of His Company on Broadway, starring in it opposite Cornelia Otis Skinner. Its enormous success was repeated when they brought it to Australia for J.C. Williamson’s in 1960.

The last 20 years of Ritchard’s life were his most productive. He directed many operas, appeared on television in plays, musicals and specials, starred on Broadway in hit plays and musicals including The Happiest Girl in the World (1961), The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1965) and Sugar (1973), and co-starred with Tommy Steele in the film Half a Sixpence (1967). In 1977 he provided the voice of Elrond in an animated version of The Hobbit. In November that year he suffered a heart attack while appearing as the narrator in the touring company of Side By Side By Sondheim. He died on 18 December 1977 and was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Ridgefield, Connecticut. He was 79 years old.

Today, Madge and Cyril’s magic partnership has faded into history, but Cyril’s artistry survives, thanks to his many recordings and his film appearances. A large collection of his personal memorabilia has been acquired by the National Library in Canberra.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Ian Bevan: Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
Alwyn Capern: ‘Madge Elliott’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Judy Harris: Cyril Ritchard: http://users.bestweb.net/
~foosie/cyril.htm John Rickard: ‘Leah Madeleine Elliott and Cyril Joseph Ritchard’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14. Melbourne University Press, 1996
John Thomson: ‘Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott: A Glamorous Couple’, in National Library of Australia News, May 2006
Who’s Who in the Theatre, various editions, Pitman
John West: ‘Cyril Ritchard’, in Companion to Theatre in AustraliaCurrency Press, 1995