Oscar Asche 1871-1936
Asche himself played in Chu during his third Australian tour in 1922.
Asche wrote two Oriental-themed novels and an autobiography, published in 1929.
Oscar Asche died in poverty on 23 March 1936.
In 1920 the Australian entrepreneur Hugh D. McIntosh spent so much producing Chu Chin Chow
at the Melbourne Tivoli that he was forced to retire from theatrical management.
Asche himself played in Chu during his third Australian tour in 1922. Also in his repertoire were Cairo, The Spanish Main, Julius Caesar, Galsworthy’s The Skin Game and Pinero’s Iris. This time Lily Brayton did not accompany him. Contractual squabbles with Williamson’s led to an extraordinary finale in Melbourne. According to Asche: ‘Before the final curtain had touched the stage, the orchestra started the National Anthem – but the auditorium was kept in pitch blackness. I was to be prevented making a speech. I went in front of the curtain, which the stage manager had orders not to take up. Two enemy stage-hands tried to prevent me but I did a bit of rough-house. I stamped heavily with my heel on one man’s instep and jogged my elbow into the other’s mouth, leaving him with the prospect of a heavy dentist’s bill. But I could not speak because the orchestra was playing tiddly bits for the audience to walk out to. On comes Doris Champion, who jumps over the footlights on to the top of the piano and thence to the floor, garrottes the conductor with one arm and with her free hand snatches the baton out of his hand. Then the band stops, the audience cheer, and I speak.’
Back in London, Asche’s fortunes faltered. His marriage failed, though Lily Brayton, who was always more astute with money, did help produce his final play, The Good Old Days of England, in 1928. It flopped.
Asche wrote two Oriental-themed novels and an autobiography, published in 1929. He directed Brayton’s last stage appearance in 1932, but his glory days were gone. Bankrupt, hopelessly obese, petulant, violent and unreliable, he picked up a few small parts in now forgotten films, but had no involvement in the spectacular 1934 film version of Chu Chin Chow.
Oscar Asche died in poverty on 23 March 1936. He had no children, but his nephew, the Honourable Keith John Austin Asche AC, has played a prominent role in Australian public life, notably as Chief Justice of the Northern Territory and its Administrator from 1993 to 1997. Oscar, on the other hand, is barely remembered, though for many years his name survived as rhyming slang for – ironically – ‘cash’.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Photograph taken by Harold Cazneaux courtesy of National Library of Australia, pic-an2383919-1
Oscar Asche: His Life by Himself, Hurst & Blackett, 1929
L.J. Blake: ‘Oscar Asche’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 7, Melbourne University Press
Victoria Chance: ‘Oscar Asche’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Chrissie Fletcher: A Theatrical Life – The Many Faces of Oscar Asche, Privately published, 2004
Brian Singleton: Oscar Asche, Orientalism and British Musical Comedy, Greenwood, 2004