Walter John 'Jack' Buchanan (1891–1957) was the major British musical stage and screen star of his day. He appeared in a series of musical comedies many of which were later made into films. He first went into management in 1922 producing and starring in 'Battling Butler'. In the mid 1920s, he also starred in New York productions of Charlot revues.
In 1926 Buchanan teamed up with Elsie Randolph in 'Sunny'. She was a comedienne and their stage partnership was rooted in romantic comedy, but to their public they were a romantic couple (both on and off stage). For the next ten years they starred together in a string of successes, including 'That’s a Good Girl' (in which Elsie played a female detective), 'Stand Up and Sing' and 'Mr Whittington' (an updated version of the Dick Whittington legend). In 1933 Buchanan built the Leicester Square theatre where the Odeon cinema now stands.
Buchanan remained popular on stage and film throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. In 1951 he had the unenviable task of taking over the lead in 'King’s Rhapsody' after Ivor Novello died and in 1953 he made
his best film, 'The Band Wagon', with Fred Astaire.
This photograph shows Elsie Randolph, one of the brightest British musical comedy stars of the 1920s and 1930s. What is obvious, is that she is no traditional glamour girl, but a quirky, zany and natural comedienne. She became a perfect foil to the great Jack Buchanan, her quirky humour set against his casual elegance. However, in 1923 when she appeared in Buchanan’s Battling Butler he was not impressed and tried to persuade her not to be in the show. Five years later, she was his leading lady in That’s a Good Girl and they became the most popular team in British musicals. In their first hit together, That’s a Good Girl in 1928, she played Wilhelmina the Swiss post girl wearing horn rimmed glasses and constantly sniffing. Elsie could sing and dance and her great comic timing made her a huge success in revue and pantomime as well as in musical comedy and in later years she became a straight actress in plays like The Lost Generation and Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime.
Although Elsie Randolph often played zany, quirky and sometimes unattractive heroines, she could, as this photograph shows, also be a traditional glamorous star. Her stage partnership with Jack Buchanan lasted over 20 years. She was the comic foil to Jack’s casual elegance, able to handle comic parts, as well as sing, dance and look attractive when required. In Stand Up and Sing their dancing duets were particularly praised, almost like a romantic version of Fred and Adele Astaire’s brother and sister dances, perfectly matched in style, with Elsie’s fast bright and vivacious style balanced by Jack’s slower rhythm. To the public they were an unbreakable partnership and when Jack appeared in The Flying Trapeze without her, he heard calls of ‘Why have you got rid of Elsie?’ as he left the theatre. The public wanted to see them united in private life, but Elsie always maintained that he was more like a father to her and that she could go to him for advice about anything.
An interview with Buddy Bradley from a Jack Buchanan scrapbook
This 1936 newspaper cutting comes from Jack Buchanan's scrapbooks which record his career. Buchanan was one of Buddy Bradley's pupils. Great dance teachers are rarer than great performers but are often unknown outside the dance world. British dance's debt to teacher and choreographer Buddy Bradley is huge. He brought American attack and professionalism to English dance in 1930s musicals. The list of stars who worked with him, either training or working out their routines, is breathtaking. In England, besides Buchanan, they included Jessie Matthews, Anna Neagle, Jack Hulbert, and Elsie Randolph and in America, Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell. This rare article gives an insight into his teaching and an idea of the respect in which he was held within the profession.