Lew James (b. London, 29/03/1884 – d. Melbourne, 23/10/1946) was a music hall entertainer, comedian and actor.
Lazarus (Laurie) Cohen was born in London of parents who arrived in England from Eastern Europe in the late 1850s. He was the youngest of 15 children and the family lived in the borough of Stepney. He eventually shortened his name to Lou (Lew) and married Reina, the youngest daughter of Flora Solomon, a music hall entertainer who had immigrated to South Africa and opened a theatrical boarding house in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Reina and Laurie formed a comedy dance duo as Reina Selma and Lew James, first performing in England and then following Reina’s mother to South Africa. They worked in vaudeville at venues like the Orpheum Theatre and the Standard Theatre, while Lew also performed as a stand-up comic. In 1911, Reina gave birth to her first son, Maurice, and on 8 May 1913 she and Lou became the parents of Solomon Joel Cohen, the future Sidney James, in Newcastle, Natal.
Early in 1917 Lew James appeared on the stage at the Empire Palace of Varieties before his departure for Australia and was offered a farewell benefit concert at the Carlton Hotel on 7 February of that year. It was announced that J. Langley Levy would be in the chair, Dick Cruikshanks would be the stage manager and the MC's would include M.A. Wetherell and Norman H. Lee. Between 1917 and 1920 he and Reina performed on the Fuller circuit throughout Australia and New Zealand, with The Star in Canterbury describing them as “song and patter artists of great ability”. Back in South Africa Lew appeared in plays such as Potash and Perlmutter (1916 & 1920), In the Soup, The High Cost of Loving and Business Before Pleasure (all 1920) and also acted in the film The Madcap of the Veld (Joseph Albrecht/1920). There is a record of him having attended a meeting at the Carlton Hotel early in 1921 in order to organise an actors' union (others present were Allen Doone, Cecil Kellaway, Dick Cruikshanks and Vivien Talleur). In July 1922, he and Reina were divorced and he returned to Australia by himself to continue his career there. In 1930 the Lew James International Radio Players could still be heard on the wireless. He died of heart failure in Williamstown Hospital, near Melbourne, in October 1946. In 1913 the Rand Daily Mail referred to him as “a Hebrew comedian of the highest order, his jokes being all clean and original". (FO)
(Note: He should not be confused with his contemporary and near-namesake Lou James who also visited South Africa.)
Rand Daily Mail, 5 August 1913
Stage & Cinema, 3 February 1917
Stage & Cinema, 23 July 1917
S.A. Pictorial, 11 December 1920
Goodwin, Cliff - Sid James: a biography
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