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The Lauder Family

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  • The Lauder Family

    I thought there might be some interest in the Lauder family, which produced Sir Harry, who starred in 7 films, notably the 1927 feature Huntingtower, made by Welsh-Pearson and Stoll Studios, mainly filmed at Bamburgh Castle and in Glasgow.
    The ancestral family was part of Scottish aristocracy, and was closely connected with Scottish royalty. They lived in a castle on Bass Rock until they sold the island in 1706. Sir Robert Lauder was a close confidant of James 1st of Scotland and George Lauder was a Privy Councillor and tutor to the young Prince Henry.
    Harry Lauder was born in Portobello, Edinburgh in 1870, but the family moved to Arbroath after the death of his father. Harry worked as a coalminer for some 10 years, and as any Welshman will tell you, one of the eccentricities of coalmining is the incessant singing, and it soon became clear that Lauder's voice had an exceptional clarity and tonality about it.
    Harry soon began singing in the miners' clubs and entertainment venues, and first received payment for his efforts at Larkhall, around 1891 and turned professional in 1894. One of the particular aspects of Harry Lauder's talent was the ability to write all his own songs - and of course later, for others, including musical numbers for films.
    He headed south to London, appearing in the Charing Cross Music Hall and the London Pavilion. His voice was well appreciated but the harsh London audiences baulked at his heavy Scottish dialect, and he went back to Scotland in 1905. He became a star of Edinburgh's Theatre Royal and became firmly established as a leading British entertainer.
    It wasn't long before the lure of America overcame him, and he made his first short visit in 1907.
    In the following year he was requested to give a private performance to the royal family at Sandringham, a rare accolade. And in 1912 he was the top billing at the first ever Royal Command Performance in the presence of King George 5th.
    On his next tour of the USA he earned $1,000 a performance, a staggering sum at that time, when the average weekly wage was just a few dollars; but that was only the start.
    As Harry Lauder's songs made it on to record players, the cash poured in without him moving a muscle, all in addition to the huge sums he could command in the music halls and variety shows.
    By 1911 he was named the world's highest-paid entertainer, and in the same year notched up another milestone, the first recording artist to sell a million copies.
    Not surprisingly. Harry's brother Alec began to take an interest in show business, writing poetry and scripts, but to very little avail. However his friend John Clyde was studying at Edinburgh University (Watson) alongside another aspiring entertainer called James Finlayson. He was the heir to a small engineering company, but his beady eyes were fixed on the limelights of stage and screen. Through his brother Harry, Alec secured James various parts on the Theatre Royal stage, where he became a success.
    Scottish playwright Graham Moffat (not that one, only one "T") wrote a play called Bunty Pulls The Strings, in which Finlayson played a leading role, and it was such a hit that it transferred to New York's Broadway And when Finlayson decided to go over - together with his brother Robert - Alec Lauder decided to go with them as a writer.
    Alec's career was much less promising than his illustrious brother's however, and the only production of any note that he was involved in was a comedy sketch The Concealed Bed, starring Finlayson, but about which little is known. There are reports of other non-starter projects from Finlayson and Alec Lauder, and though Finlayson was spotted by Mack Sennetr and became an indispensable comedy star in the Laurel and Hardy movies, Alec faded into the background.
    Meanwhile, Harry Lauder continued to draw insatiable audiences and embarked on world tours. He was in Australia when World War One broke out in 1914 and saw his duty as being back at home.
    At the age of 44 he was too old to serve, but made enormous contributions towards recruitment and fund-raising for the British armed forces, and founded the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund, to support injured Scottish servicemen. As soon as the war was at full thunder, Harry Lauder was entertaining British troops at home and near the front lines.
    His only son John, a graduate of Cambridge University, enlisted readily in response to the campaign, and his death in action in Pozieres in 1916, must have been a bitter blow to his father.
    Harry was knighted for his services to the nation in 1919, but the loss of his son and his wife a few years later, dampened his spirits and he made plans for his retirement in Lauder Ha' (Hall) at Strathaven. A frequent visitor there was Stan Laurel, with whom Lauder had struck up a strong friendship.
    In 1927 he was given the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh, just one of many honours he received during and beyond his lifetime. In particular his birthplace, the Edinburgh suburb of Portobello, named a new by-pass after him and laid a memorial garden in perpetuity, in his name.
    Sir Harry Lauder died in Lauder Ha' in 1950, and his funeral was attended by no less a dignitary than Winston Churchill. The house passed to his niece, but was sold on her death in 1966.
    He wrote several books in addition to his autobiography Roamin' In The Gloamin', some based on his enormously popular songs.
    These are too well-known to chronicle, but they were ground-breaking on the British music scene in several ways - mainly that they were not American. Their jaunty rhythms and happy melodies countered many of the defiant and often gloomy wartime songs, and his visual performance in traditional Scottish garb, either fascinated or alienated audiences, depending on whether they believed a man should wear a "skirt" or not, and whether the gnarled walking stick could actually take any weight.
    The Harry Lauder Collection of memorabilia and souvenirs of his life - amassed by Scottish entertainer Jimmy Logan - is now part of the University of Glasgow museum and archives.
    The feature film Huntingtower was based on a John Buchan story and went on general release in 1928. He also made cameo and singing appearances in several films.There is also said to be an unreleased Harry Lauder film All For the Sake of Mary, dated 1920.
    Last edited by Judge Foozle; 2nd January 2018, 09:17 PM. Reason: typo corrected

  • #2
    and first received payment for his efforts at Larkhill, around 1891
    That should be "Larkhall"

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