The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

Lupino Lane Tells the story of The Royal Family of Greasepaint

Lupino Lane - The Royal Family of GreasepaintTHE Royal Family of Greasepaint, designated as such by King Edward VII. of which I have the honour to be a member, is the oldest theatrical family in the world.

The first recorded appearance of a Luppino in England was in 1642 at St. Bartholomew's Fair, London - "Signor Georgius Luppino, Motion Master, and his life-like puppets - admission one penny!"

Georgius came to England in 1636 as a political refugee. A member of a noble family of Bologna, he had appeared as an amateur with his puppets in many of the castles and palaces of Italy. Having expressed opinions contrary to those of the powers that be, Georgius was compelled to flee the country. He and his young child landed at Plymouth penniless (his wife had died on the voyage), his only possession being his puppets. For eight years, hungry and homeless, he toured England giving performances whereever chance presented itself. At long last he reached the goal of every touring player, St. Bartholomew's Fair. The door to fame and fortune for the Luppinos was opened.

 A FOH card depicting Vesta Tilley - Courtesy Tony Craig.When Cromwell closed all theatres, the Luppinos' puppet show was the only type of entertainment allowed, provided none but religious "plays" were performed-and by this opportunity the Luppinos prospered. They employed out of work actors to speak the puppets' lines, and when the Monarchy was restored, they were firmly established in the entertainment world. No longer travelling vagabonds, they were granted licences to play in the service of King Charles II at Drury Lane Theatre.

Left - An FOH card depicting Vesta Tilley - Courtesy Tony Craig.

In the eighteenth century, John Rich built a theatre in Lincoln's Inn fields, and introduced a new kind of entertainment - Pantomime - a wordless play expressed in mime and dance. The Luppinos were considered the finest acrobatic dancers, and one of them appeared as Clown in the Harlequinade, starting an association which lasted over 200 years.

A hundred years later, when the famous clown Joe Grimaldi appeared at Sadler's Wells, he was accompanied by his step-daughter, Miss Lupino - note the spelling had by now been slightly modified.

Time and the Lupinos marched on, until one night at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham, a benefit was given to the late Vesta Tilley (Shown Above). As a surprise item it had been arranged for sons of members of the cast to walk round the stage following her in her song "The Piccadilly Johnny with the Little Glass Eye." Something happened to upset all of the children, except one, who was too young to pay attention to the fracas. Bang on cue, he walked on to follow Miss Tilley. This, at the age of three, was my first stage appearance.

Lupino Lane in Cinderella at the King's Theatre Hammersmith 1952 - Click for King's Theatre pageI have always had successes with "walks." I used to have a song called "Different Walks" in which I gave impressions of people crossing the road. Later came "The Lambeth Walk." This swept the world. I even have a record of it in Chinese. And now we have the Charlie Chaplin walk. You'll see me in this in the Pantomime. (Rrefers to Lupino in Cinderella at the King's Theatre Hammersmith 1952 - shown right - M.L.) Charles and I are old friends. During my stay in Hollywood, we had many a chat and reminisced about old times,, particularly those pantomimes produced by my great aunt, Mrs. Sarah Lane, at the famous Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, where she made a large fortune. Sarah Lane made me her heir, and at her request "Lane" was tacked on to my family name "Lupino." Her will was made out to be signed next day. but she died during the night, and all I got from an estate worth a quarter of a million, was the name "Lane", and the nickname "Nip," her term of endearment, by which I am still known to my intimates.

Our family hold the record for hurtling through stage traps. My record of 8ft. 5ins. has never been beaten. I have a photograph of this, and who do you think was the photographer? None other than Bertram Montague (an ardent amateur photographer), snapped during the last performance of "Babes in the Wood" at the Victoria Palace, February, 1943, which pantomime we ran jointly. My record of 83 traps in six minutes made at the London Hippodrome likewise has never been beaten.

During the course of my career, on the stage and in pictures, in Hollywood, New York, Paris and London, I have broken nearly every bone in my body. I have broken my back three times, fractured my neck, and as far as ankle, ribs. collar bones and arms - well - that almost became a hobby. Still, here I am, and hope long to remain,

Yours very sincerely,
Lupino Lane.

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