A useful resource I wasn't aware of until today is The Stage Archive, with searchable digitised images of the long running theatrical advertiser, The Stage Directory. Unfortunately it's not free to use, and the search engine isn't necessarily accurate in picking up names, however there is a wealth of material including some references to Rex Ryan, better known as the cult 1930s thriller writer, R.R. Ryan. Using the Stage Archive it is possible to trace the activities of Ryan and his wife, Anne, who used the stage name Pauline Duke.
The first reference I could track was an advertisement dated 29 October 1925: "Wanted to let, unproduced farce, small cast, simple scenery. One big scream. Suit St. Char. Com. - Ryan, 78, Clarendon Rd, C.-on-M., Manchester."
Next is an advertisement from 5 November 1925, which confirms their address in Manchester:
The next reference is dated 8 July 1926 and refers to a play of Mary Roberts Rinehart's, The Bat, put on by Stephen C. Venner's Venner Repertory Co. at the Rotherham Repertory. According to the reviewer "The audience liked, too, the acting of Mr Rex Ryan as Dr Wells." On 2 December 1926 at the same venue, the Venner Repertory Co opened with "If Winter Comes" and Rex Ryan was one of the principals.
The following year, Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke started their own company, the Imperial Players. They were advertising for small-part actors and a stage carpenter in July 1927. (Interestingly, in October 1930, The Stage describes the court case of a stage carpenter named William Lawrence Thompson. Amongst his other offences is the following: "For a short time in 1928 Thompson was employed as a stage carpenter by a Miss Pauline Duke, of Kidderminster. In August, 1928, he was given instructions by Miss Duke to take care of scenery, and was handed sums of money to pay for haulage and the company's railway fares to Rugby. He adsconded with both amounts, and also stole gramophone records valued at 7 pounds, the property of Miss Duke.")
On 8 December 1927 the Imperial Players presented "Lady Windermere's Fan" at the Royal at Castleford (which was managed by Ryan's former colleague at Venner's Repertory Co, Rex R. Stewart), with Rex Ryan playing Lord Windermere. The review says that "The Mad Doctor" will be presented tonight." One week later the Imperial Players presented "Ashes of Virtue" at the Royal. The reviewer notes that "Rex Ryan gave an excellent characterisation of the Jew," and goes on to say that "Pauline Duke was charming as Peace Meredith." The review goes on to say that "The Black Triangle" will be presented during the week. On 22 December, also at the Royal, the Imperial Players put on "The Mystery of Mrs Drew," with Pauline Duke in the title role.
Early in 1928 the Imperial Players are at the Royal in Worthing, near Brighton, where Ryan seems to have been manager. He advertises for players in April, with rehearsals on 24 April. The address for prospective players is Manager, 28 Grafton Rd, Worthing.
On 12 July 1928 the Imperial Players presented "The Volga Boatman" at the Royal and Empire in Peterborough, with Rex Ryan as the Boatman and Pauline Duke as Princess Paula. On 19 July they played at the Alexandra in Pontefract, with Ryan giving "an excellent representation of Carol, the boatman," and Pauline Duke playing Princess Paula "with dignity." On 9 August they were at the Kidderminster Opera House and on 30 August at the Royal at Bilston.
On 4 October 1928 they are advertising for players again, this time the contact is DUKE, 3 Willow Cottages, West St, Brighton. This was the address of Zoe Elsworthy (ie Mrs Adderley Howard), the mother of Pauline Duke (ie Anne Ryan), who passed away at that address on 18 March 1936.
However, on 2 May 1929 the follow advertisement appeared: "Wanted to sell. All the successes of the recently disbanded Imperial Players. 'The Volga Boatman.' Refer Barnsley, Worthing, Percy B. Broadhead, Bognor, Peterborough, Lincoln, Doncaster, Rugby, Lidderminster, W.H. Glaze, Scunthorpe, S.C. Venner etc etc. An entire repertoire of real money-makers for a song: 'The Black Triangle,' 'A Cry in the Night,' 'The Demon,' 'Ashes of Virtue,' 'Mystery of Two-Gun Jules,' 'The Trap,' 'The Capital Change." Anyone interested is asked to write to the AUTHOR, 96 Victoria St., Fleetwood, Lancashire.
On 8 August 1929, Rex Ryan's own play, "The Mandarin Wong Koo" (licensed as "Yellow Vengeance") was presented at the Palace in Trent Bridge and reviewed in The Stage:
The review goes on to say that "Mr Atholl-Douglas gave a fine impersonation of the Mandarin Wong Koo, observing throughout an impressive restraint. Mr J. Templar Ellis supplied a contrast with a telling embodiment of the frenzied Pearson, whose distraught state was graphically portrayed. Miss Maureen O'Mara sounded the emotional note with skill and judgment as Miriam, and Mr Noel Mackintosh supplied acceptable comic relief to the tension by his good-humoured rendering of the role of Dr James. Mr R. Clifford Holmes convincingly indicated the subtlety of Yen Ling with whom Miss Lesley Deane as Grace Lewis played her scene admirably. Miss Lily Adeson was a capital San Ming Lee, and Mr Harold Baker did well as the porter. The piece is crude, but its sensational theme and exciting situations invest it with appeal as an attraction for popular audiences. It had an unmistakably hearty reception."
On 31 October 1929 Rex Ryan is advertising the play, spruiking its obvious virtues:
Again, the contact address is Zoe Elsworthy's. He must have had some success because The Burnley Times of 24 June 1931 advertises The Mandarin Wong Koo "by Rex Ryan", which is being staged at the Victoria Theatre by the Julian and Ward Players.
In 1930 Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke were in Ireland. On 12 June the Empire Players present "Heart of a Thief" at the Empire in Belfast with Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke acting in it. On 17 July the Empire Stock Company presents "Ignorance" at the same venue. According to the reviewer, "Rex Ryan as the Rev. Frank Hastings is natural in all he does," and "Pauline Duke is a restrained and finished Mary Martin." In 19 June the pair were performing in "Under Two Flags," the popular Harry Collingwood novel; on 31 July, "Beggers on Horseback," on 14 August, "A Sinner in Paradise," and on 4 September, "When the Man is Away."
By 13 November 1930 they are in Liverpool advertising for once again for work: "Pauline Duke and Rex Ryan. Dis. Leads. General Manmgt. 165, Islington, Liverpool."
From this point I haven't found Rex Ryan mentioned in The Stage, though there may well be references I've missed. Presumably Rex and Anne settled in Brighton and Rex started writing novels.
It's also worth noting a reference on 20 September 1928 to a play called "Stone the Woman!" The reviewer calls it "a strong, outspoken play based on the novel, "Tyranny of Virtue" by Noel Despard. A good house on Monday greeted the play with enthusiasm." Rex Ryan is known to have written "Tyranny of Virtue" under the name Noel Despard.
The British Newspaper Archive has a couple of references to "Stone the Woman!" - the Derby Daily Telegraph of 11 August 1926 says "Mr Alfred Denville has secured the rights to "Stone the Woman!" by Noel Despard from Mr Leonard Harrison who produced and toured the piece. Mr Harrison, I believe is part author of the play in addition." It is worth noting that Harrison ran a repertory company with Stephen C. Venner from 1924 to January 1925 - as we have seen, in 1926 Rex Ryan was one of the principals in Venner's repertory company.
There is also an advertisement for the play, showing at the Grand Theatre, Plymouth, in The Western Morning and Mercury dated 14 April 1927, "by Noel Despard, author of the daring novel The Tyranny of Virtue."
James Stephens (1880-1950)
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