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In 1930s, cabaret artistes, musicians, sketch comedy actors from Europe and America were touring Asia. Bombay, Calcutta, Ceylon, Singapore etc were part of their eastern circuit. Cowan and Bailey, an American revue that entertained the Europeans and Americans in the British and Dutch colonies and treaty-ports with their act that included slapstick humor, song and liveried (read insensitive & racist) performances.

Shanghai clubs and dance halls too featured Cowan and Bailey. Not much information is available (from my understanding) on the eponymous duo but their variety show also included other actors  including Ted and Evelyn. One, Estelle Davis/Estelle Cowan was their ” charming mistress of ceremonies.”

John Cowan or is it Lynn (? unlikely name for a man) Cowan and Bill(?) Bailey also appeared in Singapore with The Coconut Grove Syncopators.  Cowan and Bailey  it seems  had piano and banjo numbers while very suave looking pair of Ted and Evelyn, “exponents of modern rhythm” who had solid credentials as they had performed with Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers in “Gay Divorcee” and “Top Hat” were the dancers.

Cowan and Bailey’s finale would include the star cast ensemble with some kind of showstopper parody. Obviously, the acts would be changed from time to time: On 16th June, 1936 Malaya Tribune reported that Cowan and Bailey appeared in Malaya/Singapore in their latest Dutch Comedy number totally different from their earlier presentations. In December 1939, there is a picture clipping showing Cowan and Bailey singing to Christmas dinner guests at Cathay Cafe in the British governed Singapore.

Cowan and Bailey also had their own cafe it appears in Singapore at Cathay Cinema (The Straits Times, May 1939).

Their popular numbers included impersonation of Eddie Cantor, an American performer, a penguin dance and a Zulu warrior dance. In the comedy act titled  “Black Magic” they would be dressed as “wild and woolly” Zulus, faces painted black and with enlarged feet. Ted & Evelyn would appear with them in this finale.

In 1941, Cowan and Bailey it appears had their own place called the Coconut Grove at Pasir Panjang where one could “dine and dance under the tropical moon and swaying palms.”

Joe Farren in Old Shanghai had the Cowan and Bailey show at his Paramount Ballroom.

Shanghai Sikhs were hired as security guards for some of these establishments, one lost his life in a shoot-out but details on the man are as skimpy as the outfits the cabaret, taxi-girls  and chorus line dancers wore.

 

 

Source: Singapore newspaper archives.

 

 

 

 

 

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