Emperor Hokipokitipitoptop

“Richard Warner made a very convincing and at times amusing Emperor Hokipokitipitoptop.”

The Daily Colonist, March 14 1936
Dick Warner performs as Emperor Hokipokitipitoptop in a 1936 Victoria schools production of “Princess Ju-Ju”

This snapshot shows my grandpa Dick Warner in a Chinese or Japanese costume. I recalled he’d been in The Mikado back in the 1930s so I searched digitized Victoria newspapers (The Daily Colonist and Victoria Daily Times) for some mentions of “Richard Warner”. Turns out I was not far off in The Mikado idea. Amongst references to Dick at birthday parties and Boy Scout meetings (yes, this made for “news” in the old days!) I came across his name as a star of Princess Ju-Ju or The Golden Amulet, a Japanese Operetta in three acts, performed by Victoria schools in March 1936. Dick played the “peppery potentate” Emperor Hokipokitipitoptop.

Princess Ju-Ju or The Golden Amulet, written in 1902 by Clementine Ward, appears to be a knock-off of The Mikado designed for amateur theatre groups. A Guide to Musical Theatre (accessed April 13 2021) gives a synopsis: “Festivities are being held in honour of the coming of age of the Emperor’s daughter Princess Ju-Ju.” The Emperor expects a noble prince (who it was foretold by a wise woman at her birth would appear to claim her as his bride) Due to a misunderstanding, the Emperor imprisons the prince, who is rescued just in time from beheading by the Lord High Executioner.” Act One includes an action song by the Emperor and Chorus – I am the mighty Hokipokitipitoptop.

By Act Three, the prisoners are about to be executed by the Lord High Executioner “when the Princess suddenly appears on the scene, accompanied by the Spirits of the Night, and describes in song how, by the aid of their magical spells, she has discovered the proof of the prisoners’ innocence. She produces the Golden Amulet, on seeing which, the Emperor relents and bestows his blessing and her hand on the Prince, and all unite in singing a joyful finale, ‘Ring the merry bridal bells.'”

The operetta, “Princess Ju-Ju”…. has multiple appeal for any audience, music, dancing, colour and youth.

Operetta Has Wide Appeal, The Daily Colonist March 4 1936

The Daily Colonist, March 1 1936 reported the operetta “will give the public an opportunity of seeing what progress has been made since the school board reinstituted musical training in the schools. The production will also disclose the development of dramatic ability in addition to giving the children an opportunity to exhibit their talents as dancers. A cast of 200 children is being used for the operetta, which has twenty principals, eighty singers and 100 dancers.”

Princess Ju-Ju was directed by Horace S. Hurn, who was an active director of Victoria amateur theatre productions. Hurn was principal of Victoria West School. This was Dick Warner’s school, which meant he’d had several years of exposure to a school which supported the performing arts). Musical director was Frank Tupman, a well-known music teacher and choir leader. The Daily Colonist, March 4 1936 commented: “this fact indicates that the musical end of the play will be efficient and pleasing.”

The operetta was adapted to include dancing, and The Daily Colonist noted: “it is certain that the several dances, arranged and taught by Miss Nancy Ferguson, will be a marked feature of the entertainment.” Nancy Ferguson was a U.B.C. graduate, school physical training instructor and Scottish and country dance teacher.

Miss Olive Heritage, school principal, directed a group of teachers to supply costumes for 200 performers. The Daily Colonist, March 7 1936: “The Japanese theme of the operetta, ‘Princess Ju-Ju’ allows energetic and skillful workers ample scope in the matter of a decorative motif. In this regard, one will find very little to criticize in the color scheme for costumes planned by Miss Olive Heritage who has been most careful both as to color and suitability. The stage scene has been planned to blend with the colors of the costumes, and the general ensemble will be most pleasing.”

A glorious spectacle of Resplendent Colour and Exquisite Music

The Daily Colonist March 14 1936

Princess Ju Ju was performed at the Empire Theatre on the evenings of Friday March 13 1936 and Saturday March 14 1936. There was also a Saturday afternoon matinee for school children.The Daily Colonist was impressed by the production: “The artistically conceived lighting effects, the beauty of the settings, the exquisite costuming, the delightful children’s’ voices, the graceful dancers, and the well-balanced High School orchestra made a composite picture that placed this production far ahead of anything that has been seen on the stage in this city for a long time.” (The Daily Colonist March 14 1936)

Here is The Daily Colonist’s assessment of the leads: “Netta Hunter, as Princess Ju-Ju, had grace and charm, and sang her solos well. Richard Warner made a very convincing and at times amusing Emperor Hokipokitipitoptop. Of the three princes disguised as minstrels, John Banister as Prince Fu Shu, provided the real musical gems of the evening. He possesses a beautiful treble voice, and has a real sense of stage presence.”

The Lord High Executioner scenes must have been hilarious, as “Peter Henderson made an excellent executioner who morbidly relished his task, while William Booth disclosed an early stage experience by stealing the show on the executioner. Master Booth was cast as assistant, and his approach to the part was so wholehearted that he won unstinting praise, particularly with some of his ad lib lines and acts.” (We can imagine that the director may have been tearing his hair out at Booth’s performance!)

The reviewer concluded: “Since there were 200 in the entire cast, space prevents the publication of their names but the hope is expressed that in the success of the entire production they will realize that they all played an important role.”

Finally, this was no amateurish school production with flubbed lines and missed cues: “Two things of striking importance which the entire cast grasped were perfect enunciation and confidence in their lines. If there was any prompting it could not be heard and the show moved forward in a rapid but smooth pace, so that the performance was over exactly on time.” (It would seem that the reviewer had endured many previous school performances and was pleasantly surprised!)

What did the audience think? “The welkin rang with the unrestrained applause of an enthusiastic audience that was reluctant to leave the theatre before the curtain had risen three times on the finale…..’Colourful,’ ‘Extraordinarily well done,’ ‘A creditable performance,’ ‘A thrilling spectacle,’ were some of the superlatives used by members of the audience as they wended their way from the theatre.” (The Daily Colonist, March 14 1936) Audience member Mr. C.J. Bailey wrote to The Daily Colonist: “One could hardly realize that the play was staged by school children. The whole production was a remarkable production from beginning to end.”

Though there was an enthusiastic response, audience numbers were low. The Daily Colonist reviewer admitted: “Despite past successes of school productions, the theatre was not filled for last night’s performance though it is understood that this afternoon’s presentation and this evening’s are almost sold out.” C.J. Bailey expanded on the issue: “The public should have shown their appreciation for the efforts put forward by the director and his very able assistants by seeing that the house was completely filled at each of the performances.” (The Daily Colonist March 21 1936)

This was too bad since the purpose of the show was to raise money for school children. Proceeds from the operetta would be added to the Children’s Charity Fund, which was used in a variety of ways to give assistance to indigent pupils in the school population.

Mr. C.J. Bailey continued: “I can only hope that plays of such a high standard will be put on in our city more frequently and at the same time be better patronized as such efforts deserve to be. If the Victoria public do not support their own local talent, they have only themselves to blame if there is a lack of good, wholesome amusement in this city. The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow, and it is a disgrace that the parents do not take more interest in their children and give encouragement by attending various functions put on by younger generations.”

That said, Dick’s family no doubt took an interest and gave encouragement. On his Mom’s side, Dick came from a family tradition of performing arts — comic songs, ukulele and mandolin concerts and “amateur theatricals”.

Dorothy and Ivy Lawrie in theatrical costume. Photo by Chris W Hollyer, City of Victoria Archives, Image M09874

Dick’s Mom Dorothy Lawrie performed in several Victoria West Amateur Dramatic Society productions. Her roles included: Angelina Spruggins in Ici on Parle Francais (1909) and Rosa Columbier, an acrobat, in The Arabian Nights (1915). Dick’s Auntie Ivy performed as Roxy, who is always full of mischief, in The Country Minister (1911) and Valiska Bijou, pretty enough to excuse a flirtation, in Her Gloves (1912) with Western Star Amateur Dramatic Society. In the same society, Dick’s Grandpa Edwin Lawrie was property manager and his Grandma Emma Lawrie was secretary.

Dick’s Uncle Chris Hollyer (who lived with the family at Suffolk Street in Vic West) was a popular comic actor, with roles starting with Uncle Obediah Dawson in 1901’s Captain Racket (“His acting was good and drew rounds of laughter and applause”) and British swell, the eye-glassed Lord Algernon Ponsonby in 1902’s The Man from Maine, ranging to a performance at age 65 in Johnny Canuck in Mexico (1932), “a peculiarly comico-sinister portrayal of a Mexico infested with toreadors, beautiful dancers, stiletto wielding gringos.”

“Richard Warner held a part well suited to his abilities and he pleased the audience by his acting.”

C.J. Bailey, letter to the editor of The Daily Colonist, March 21 1936

Dick Warner acted in at least two other school productions. On Friday evening, April 23 1937 he was part of an “exceptionally entertaining concert” at Victoria West School. “Carried out with minimum of waits between numbers, the varied items on the programme, splendidly staged with colorful costumes and suitable lighting effects, were much enjoyed by all. The new school curtains were in use and their value and attractiveness were subject of much comment during the evening.” Dick performed in a sketch with Mrs. J. “Ma” Kennedy, Joe Hillier, Paul Stromkins, John Banister and Gordie White, supported by a chorus, dancers and a mouth-organ band! He played another regal character as “King Charles” in this English Civil War themed production at Victoria West School. (I’ve not been able to find any specific mentions of the production in newspaper reviews, but it looks to be the mid 1930s.)

Dick Warner as “King Charles” in a Victoria West School production, 1930s
The Victoria West School cast of the English Civil War play

On the other side of the family, there was another “royal” amateur theatrical connection as Katie Hacking performed in Tofino vaudeville as “The King of the Cannibal Isles.”

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