Arthur Shirley of
Sydney Australia
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Arthur Shirley was born August 31, 1886 in Hobart, Tasmania, of an Irish father and Australian mother of English parentage. He was educated at a Roman Catholic private school in his native city. Arthur Shirley died in 1967.

On leaving school, he worked in the dispatch room of Tattersall's (Australia's famous sweepstake); then as junior clerk in  a solicitor's office. At sixteen, stagestruck, he joined a semi-professional troupe of entertainers which toured Tasmania in a two horse caravan.

In 1904 he sailed for Melbourne, hoping to break into theatre of a more stationary sort. Biding his time, he was door-to-door salesman for a wholesale grocery firm, meantime nourishing his large frame.  Film posters later billed him as the Big Australian on the Sixpenny meals to go, in 1904, in the restaurants which lined Bourke Street from Swanson Street to Spring Street.

A devout youth, he next became a novice in a Sydney seminary. The lure of the stage proved, however, stronger than that of the priesthood. In 1905 he left the seminar and returned to Melbourne and stage-door-haunting. 

His professional debut was made in 1905 as a three-line Lord-in-waiting, with Nellie Stewart in SWEET NELL OF OLD DRURY at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. He appeared in several other roles and spent two years touring the back blocks of Victoria and New South Wales as leading man and all-parts-player with the John Cosgrove Company and similar versatile groups. He then went back to working in the theatres.

In 1912, Arthur Shirley made his screen debut, with silvered hair, in the title role of Cozens Spencers sickly opus THE SHEPHERD OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS.

A couple of years later George Willoughby, enthroned manager, resentful that Arthur Shirley, mere actor, had not signed a contract to tour New Zealand in MR. WU, served an injunction on the firm restraining them from continuing to employ Shirley.

It is necessary to  recall then dared be independent. Shirley had dared, and now dared further. He sued Willoughby for crippling his J.C.W. engagement. This defiance of the gods drove the gods together. In court, E.J. Tait, manager sided with George Willoughby, manager. There was the clearest revelation that management's intended to keep actors suppliant. E.J. Tait denied that he had engaged Shirley. The Judge castigated Tail for "deliberate and malicious perjury". Arthur Shirley got five hundred pounds in damages, but his career as a stage actor in Australia was over.

In June 1914, Shirley sailed on the NIAGARA for America and Hollywood. He and his wife were living just off Broadway in an hotel behind the Astor Theatre when war broke out on August 4, 1914.

In the still primitive film industry heroines of the Mary Pickford type were fashionable and, to support them, tall heroes with mobile faces were cast. Shirley, over six feet tall, blue-eyed and handsome, filled the bill and played the hero in a series of two-reels for Kalem Pictures. Ultimately, he appeared for most of the companies, then powerful: Universal, Paramount, etc.

Perhaps Shirley's most famous part was that of John Vassar, the soldier politician hero of THE FALL OF A NATION, a 1917 Vitagraph production written by the Rev. Mr. Thomas Dixon, author of THE CLANSMEN from which D.W. Griffith made his masterpiece THE BIRTH OF A NATION. A special musical score for THE FALL OF A NATION was composed by Victor Herbert.



A dramatic photograph of Shirley as John Vassar was used as a patriotic poster in America during the Great War.

Side by side with movie-acting, Shirley ran a photography business at 6040 Hollywood Boulevard, and was a pioneer in the use of artificial lighting for portraiture, and three-dimensional rather that painted backgrounds. His portrait of Rudolph Valentino, then a dancing partner to Jean Acker in the Rose Room at the Alexandria Hotel, induced Rex Ingram to screen-test Valentino in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF APOCALYPSE for Metropolitan-Goldwyn-Mayer,   forerunner of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

After seven years of Hollywood experience and fame, Shirley returned to Sydney Australia in 1821.He was thirty-five,and anxious to invest his money, talents, and knowledge in film production. He formed a company, Arthur Shirley Productions, and began to direct THE THROWBACK in a studio at Rose Bay, Sydney. The company went into liquidation before the film was completed. An attempt by Earnest Higgins, the photographer, and Shirley, to finish the film-- with Higgins as the financier--failed. Higgins, religious to the point of Holy-Joe-ism, objected to the semi-nudes  of a mural that gifted scenic artists, the Clint Brothers, had painted for a cabaret scene. He was equally aghast at the screen antics of Minnie Hooper's dancing girls. Litigation began. Shirley and actress, Vera Remee, sued Higgins for salary. Higgins, in retort, kept the reels of film which have never been shown. Shirley's efforts to get the reels reduced him to bankruptcy.

From the hotel in Australia he moved to less glamorous Cathedral Street. Woolloomooloo, where he took a room in a theatrical boarding-house was run by character actress, Cora Warner. She was to give a fine performance as Mother Guttersnipe in Shirley's next film, THE MYSTERY OF A HANSOM CAB.  Despite the  vicissitudes of THE THROWBACK company, THE MYSTERY OF THE HANSOM CAB was substantially backed by a new company, Pyramid Pictures, and had its premiere at the Crystal Palace Theatre in Sydney in 1925. Shirley wrote the scenario, directed the film and played two parts. The film took five months to photograph. Many of the scenes were in Melbourne on the steps of Parliament House, in the Fitzroy Gardens, and also St. Kilda Road. The film was Australia's first ten-reeler, and the first to use double exposure. It cost 2500 pounds to make,and made a profit of 15,000 pounds. He continued in the business and made a name for himself.

Arthur Shirley became involved as the main stock-in-trade, with Australian National Feature Films, (from Australia to the World was their slogan), the directors of which tried to whip us public support "to develop the Motion Picture Industry in Australia". Their efforts also failed,and with them Shirley's interesting films.

Now living in Sydney, Arthur Shirley had few regrets for his defeat by the forces of stage and movie cornering-his fate has been the fate of many talented Australians who had hoped and laboured to make good films in Australia His main interests are archaeology, and ancient Egypt.

Info sent by: Graham Shirley of Australia



Another Biography of Arthur Shirley
SHIRLEY, ARTHUR (1886-1967), actor and film producer, was born on 31 August 1886 in Hobart and registered as Henry Raymond, eighth of thirteen children of Henry Shirley, civil servant, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Morton. He was baptized Arthur, educated at a Catholic school, and employed with George Adams's Tattersall's lottery and then as a junior solicitor's clerk. Stage-struck, he went to Melbourne, haunted managements and in 1905 secured a three-line part in Sweet Nell of Old Drury with Nellie Stewart. He toured with William Anderson's company, appeared in 'Bland' Holt's melodramas in 1907 and played with Lilian Meyers at the Theatre Royal, Hobart, where he was variously billed as 'H.', 'R.', or 'A.' Shirley. After touring the backblocks (1909-10), he worked in 1911-13 with the companies of George Marlow, Beaumont Smith and George Willoughby. At St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, on 22 December 1913 he married Ellen Newcomb Hall, a singer from New Zealand; they had a son before separating in 1920 and eventually being divorced in 1940.

Unable to pay a debt of almost £23, Shirley had been declared bankrupt in December 1913. Next year he was involved in litigation with Willoughby. He won romantic leads in two silent feature films, as Dr Henry Everard in The Silence of Dean Maitland (directed by Raymond Longford) and in the title role in Cosens Spencer's The Shepherd of the Southern Cross. Both films opened on 13 June 1914. The former was a success, the latter a failure. Leaving in June with his wife for the United States of America, Shirley was contracted to Hollywood's Kalem and Universal companies. He was 'over six feet [183 cm] tall, blue-eyed and handsome', with 'matinée-idol looks'. His films included a melodramatic, two-reel western, One Man's Evil (1915), Bawb O' Blue Ridge (1916), The Fall of a Nation (1916)—in which he played a soldier—and Branding Broadway (1918) with William S. Hart.

Shirley settled in Sydney in April 1920 with grandiose plans for his own company, including an American production team and 'full equipment such as lights, cameras, printing machine and laboratory outfit'. He styled himself 'the Big Australian' and set up a film studio in a property at Rose Bay. Under the slogan 'Moving Pictures Made in Australia for the World', he began to produce an ill-fated feature, 'The Throwback', which was beset by financial problems. Following court action against his cinematographer Ernest Higgins, Shirley was unable to pay costs and was declared bankrupt in 1925. He attributed his insolvency to Higgins's 'hatred, spleen and malice'. The film was never completed.

Returning to the stage as Steve Gunn in The Sentimental Bloke (January 1923), Shirley gained financial backing from Pyramid Pictures Pty Ltd, a Melbourne syndicate, for another foray into film-making. His best-remembered and best-regarded cinematic effort was a remake of a popular stage melodrama, based on the detective novel by Fergus Hume, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (Melbourne, 1886). Playing the chief suspect Brian Fitzgerald, Shirley also directed, produced and wrote the screenplay. The commercial success of the film, released in 1925, enabled him to write, produce and direct another feature, The Sealed Room (1926), in which he again took the lead.

In 1927-30 Shirley was based in London. Failing to gain releases for his films in Britain, he tried in 1928 to establish a new production company in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). From 1930 he spent four years at Hollywood. Conveniently believing that his wife was dead (although he had been sued for maintenance in London in 1929), he married Frances Clayton at Hollywood in 1934; her previous marriage had been annulled. He returned alone to Sydney that year. His plans to make more films came to nothing. In 1940 he adopted a son, who supported him. Three years later, standing as an Independent, Shirley unsuccessfully contested East Sydney, Eddie Ward's seat in the House of Representatives.

By 1965 Shirley's main interest lay in archaeology and ancient Egypt. Survived by his adopted son, he died on 24 November 1967 at his Rose Bay home and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Family Lineage

Mr. Richard Shirley of Kilkenny House, Hobart Tasmania

The Mercury (Hobart) 16 April 1898. Deaths: "On April 14, at his residence, " Kilkenny House," Macquarie - street, Richard Shirley, aged 81 years. The Funeral will leave his late residence on Sunday Afternoon, 2.30. Rest in peace."

married Honoria Corr; She died 15 April 1912 at Hobart Tasmania

The Mercury (Hobart) DEATHS. SHIRLEY.- "On April 15, 1912, at her son-in-law's residence, No. 53 Anglesea-street, S. H. Honoria, relict of the late Richard Shirley, in the 85th year of her age. R.I.P. Funeral will leave the above address for Cornelian Bay Cemetery, at 2.30 Tomorrow"


1.i Henry Shirley born about 1849; civil servant; supposedly "an Irish father"

married Sarah Ann Morton

17 May 1873 The Mercury (Hobart) "On Wednesday 23rd April at St Mary's Cathedral by the Reev D.F.X. Beechinor, Henry, the second son of Mr Richard Shirley, Kilkenny House, to Sarah Ann, only daughter of Mr William Morton of Liverpool Street."


2.i Richard Henry Shirley b. 18 JAN 1874 Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

2.ii Mary Frances Shirley b. 20 DEC 1875 Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

2.iii Kathleen Theresa Shirley b about 1877

2.iv William Morton Shirley born about 1879

2.v Bernard Shirley born about 1882 Agatha Shirley born about 1882, died an infant in 1882

2.vii Gerald Ignatius Shirley born about 1884

2.viii Henry Raymond Shirley born on 31 August 1886 in Hobart - christened as Arthur Shirley; He died 24 Nov 1967 at Rose Bay. Buried Waverly Cem. (see biographies above)

2.ix Julien Vincent Shirley born about 1888

2.x Cyril Corr Shirley born about 1890

2.xi Mary Mildren Shirley born about 1892

2.xii Cecelia Mary Shirley born about 1894

2.xiii Nora Madeline Shirley born about 1898

1.ii Emma Shirley

The Mercury (Hobart) 30 Nov 1883. "On November 21, at St. Joseph's Church by the Rev Dean Woods, William Moore, eldest, son of Samuel Moore, Waterworks, to Emma Shirley, eldest daughter of Richard Shirley, Macqnarie street, Hobart. Both of this city"

1.iii Thomas Shirley

The Mercury (Hobart) 25 Feb 1873 "At St. Mary's Cathedral, on the 20th February, by the Rev. D. F. X. Beechinor, Thomas, third son of Mr. Richard Shirley of Macquarie-street, to Eliza, youngest daughter ot Mr. Thomas Weare, Liverpool Street"

1.iv Anna Shirley

The Mercury (Hobart) 22 March 1899. Marriages. SHIRLEY - SHIRLEY.- "On February 13. at St. Joseph's Church (Nuptial Mass), by the Rev. T. Kelsh, Harry, third son of the late James Shirley, Garnaman, Kilkenny, Ireland, to Anna, youngest daughter of the late Richard Shirley, Hobart."

1.v James Shirley

The Mercury (Hobart) 20 Mar 1886. Marriages SHIRLEY-SHIRLEY.--"On Wednesday, March 3, at St. Joseph's R.O. Church, Hobart, by the Rev. M. W. Gilloran, James, fourth son of R. Shirley, Kilkenny House, Hobart, to Jennie, third daughter of James Shirley, Esq., Garnaman House, County Kikenny, Ireland."


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