ALL MATERIAL ON THIS SITE IS MY COPYRIGHT. DO NOT COPY IT FOR ANY PURPOSE WHATSOEVER WITHOUT OBTAINING MY PERMISSION! Webster Booth (tenor - 1902-1984) and Anne Ziegler (soprano - 1910-2003) were best known in Britain as duettists on the Variety circuit from 1940 to 1955. During that time they rose rapidly to fame and were frequently heard and seen on radio, records, television, film and stage. Besides this Variety Act, Webster Booth was one of the foremost tenors of his generation and continued to sing in numerous oratorios throughout his career on the Variety circuit. Join The Golden Age of Webster Booth-Anne Ziegler and Friends on Facebook.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Webster at the piano.


A theatrical garden party had been organised for early October at the old Rand Show Grounds at Milner Park. Anne had asked whether Ruth, Lucille and I would like to help out at it. Naturally we all agreed. I wore a new dress and a large white hat decorated with a rose for the occasion. I met Lucille at the entrance to the Show Grounds and we soon found Ruth. We all looked quite glamorous and grownup. We walked round the various stalls spotting illustrious local theatrical personalities.
We stopped for a drink in the tea room and heard the New Zealand bass, Inia te Wiata, who had come out to sing in Show Boat for JODS, say to his companion, “I want to meet my old friend, Webster Booth. Has he arrived yet?”

Anne and Webster were late but when they arrived we heard them long before we saw them. Uncharacteristically they were having a blazing row. They stopped quarrelling abruptly when they noticed us, but I could sense the tension between them. Webster greeted us cheerfully enough but Anne was so upset that she ignored us completely.
“You three girls look quite gorgeous,” Webster remarked in a completely different tone of voice to the one he had been using a few minutes earlier. He put his arms around Ruth and me, which hardly served to lighten Anne's mood.

They were due to have strawberries and cream with fellow celebrities but Webster said, “We’ve got loads of time. We can have a good look around first.”
Anne said nothing. Suddenly she marched off, leaving Webster with no alternative but to catch up with her. Lucille wanted to follow them, but Ruth had other ideas.

Anne & Webster - guests of honour at Doris Boulton's production of The Merry Widow in Irené (near Pretoria) 1966.

“We'll leave them alone all afternoon. We don't need them to enjoy ourselves,” she said.

Now that I am years older I know that Anne did not intend to hurt us, but obviously had worries of her own. Lucille was going on holiday that day so she had to leave early. Ruth and I walked with her to the exit of the Show Grounds. We noticed Anne and Webster with the strawberry and cream brigade trying to put a good face on it. Webster waved and beckoned to us, but Ruth instructed us to wave cheerfully and continue briskly on our way.

Ruth had recently passed her driving test so she drove me home in her tiny bubble car. She stayed for tea with my parents, and we hatched a plot to say that we had met two old boyfriends in the dancing pavilion and had a great time twisting the afternoon away. We heard later that Anne and Webster went to Leslie Green's house for an impromptu party with Inia Te Wiata and his wife. We never did find out why they had been quarrelling so bitterly.

Anne and Webster were making a recording of Nursery School Sing-Along with the Nazareth House Children’s Choir, trained and conducted by Sylvia Sullivan. Mrs Sullivan told me that Webster always insisted that she should conduct everything as she was very good at keeping everyone in time. The children of Nazareth House had been allowed to listen to his Great Voices programme on Saturday evening. Webster had told her he was very proud of me. I was singing with the Sylvia Sullivan Choristers, and Webster and Anne lent us their own arrangement of Carl Böhm’s Still as the Night to copy for the choristers to sing.

That same week Webster phoned to ask whether I'd play for him again. Anne had a sore arm and was going to have traction every day that week.

On Thursday, I started playing for Webster again and he was as charming as always. Linda Walters, an attractive girl from Vereeniging, had her lesson and he told us an anecdote about an event which happened, “long before you two were ever thought about”.

On Friday, despite her week in traction, Anne was making the effort to attend the opening night of Show Boat. Webster had to go straight home that evening to fetch Anne for the theatre, so the last pupil of the day gave me a lift home.
Ruth had tickets for the forthcoming recital by the distinguished soprano Maria Stader and she asked the Booths to accompany her to the concert. On Saturday morning, Webster came into the studio feeling tired. He grumbled about having to go to the Maria Stader concert that evening with Ruth and Anne when he would have preferred to have had an early night.

He drove me home at lunchtime in his blue Hillman Minx convertible. It was a lovely warm day so he put the roof down. He said sombrely that it would be better if I could go to the concert in his place. But then he added, “It would break Ruth's heart if I didn't go.” Without being bigheaded he was perfectly aware of the power and influence he exerted over us lesser mortals.

Just as we were passing the Kensington Sanatorium he said, “It’s such a lovely day. Let's just keep on driving all the way to Durban”. Lovely impossible idea.

Instead of driving to Durban, he dutifully took me home, and he and Anne went to the concert with Ruth that night as planned. I heard all about the concert on Sunday when Ruth and I went to the SABC to a studio recital given by Shura Cherkassky, the world-renowned pianist. I remember his brilliant performance of the Mozart sonata in B flat, which was in my own repertoire, and Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Of the students at that time I particularly remember Colleen McMenamin singing Our Language of Love from Irma la Douce, the current hit show at the Brooke Theatre in De Villiers Street, and Innes Kennersley, singing old ballads like Nirvana, Tosti's Goodbye and the more rousing The Road to Mandalay.

Webster teased me when Innes sang Goodbye. “Do you want to borrow my handkerchief, darling? This is a very sad song.”

In November 1963, Anne and Webster celebrated their Silver Wedding anniversary with a big party. Anne arrived unexpectedly at our house with Hilda, to show me their new puppy, a sweet little Cairn terrier, whom they had just collected from the breeder in Highland Road. Anne named the puppy Silva in memory of the Silver Wedding. She was a dear little pup and lived to the ripe old (dog) age of fourteen.

Next day Webster phoned to tell me that Anne had developed ’flu, so he was coming in to the studio on his own that afternoon. I offered to play for him but he was all concern about my diploma paper work the following day. I persuaded him that I should enjoy playing and it wouldn’t affect my exam if I stopped studying for a few hours.

He arrived with a box of glacé fruits to wish me well for the exam. During my lesson that day, I sang Always by Kenneth Leslie-Smith from The Puritan Lullaby, the song he had made famous on radio in the original broadcast of The Puritan Lullaby in the nineteen-thirties.

Next day after the first exam I went up to the studio. I heard him say to pupils Frances and Henrietta as I unlocked the door, “I hope it’s Jeannie.”

He told me to sit down and went off to make me coffee after my ordeal, while I talked to the sisters who were singing duets together. After they left, he said that it had been a very heavy morning without me there to accompany for him.

I played for him on Monday, and during some free time we went through the baritone part of Fauré’s Requiem, which he was to sing the following night. I was sorry not be able to attend this performance, but at least I had a preview of his part of it.

“I think I’ll do, don’t you?” he said complacently.

On Thursday, Anne told me how well he had sung the Fauré, but then, even at his age, he always sang well.

By this time Ruth was on holiday, waiting for her matric results, so we often went out together, and sometimes she would come up to the studio for a harmony lesson from me, so that she would be up to standard when she started her course at Cape Town. She was planning to do a music degree, and vowed that if she could not make it as a serious singer she would come back to Johannesburg and take up pop singing. She whistled beautifully and did great imitations of Miriam Makeba’s Where Did It Go, That Sweet Young Love of Mine? and Eartha Kitt, complete with growl, singing Let’s Do It!
Two days before Christmas I went for my usual lesson. Webster came into the kitchen and handed me a little box. He made me promise to put it away at once and not open it until Christmas day. Needless to say curiosity got the better of me. I opened the box on the crowded bus on the way home. It contained a most beautiful pair of garnet earrings. I was thrilled and longed to wear them immediately, but they were for pierced ears, so of course I decided that I would have my ears pierced as soon as possible.

Ear piercing was not as common in those days as it is now. Despite objections from my parents, and even Ruth, I had my ears pierced in Dr Davis’ surgery at the top of the hill in Roberts Avenue. I had to wear sleepers for six weeks until my ears healed and I could at last wear the lovely gift. Sadly, I lost one of the droplets not long afterwards, so I wore the other droplet on a chain round my neck and the top stones as earrings.

The garnet droplet is still on its chain round my neck, and I wear the earrings on special occasions. Over forty years later I can still remember what it was like to be young and exuberant enough to dance down Eloff Street as though my feet had sprouted wings.
Jeannie C 2006