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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Oscar Asche, c. 1905

London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company

gelatin silver photograph on cabinet card (support: 16.5 cm x 11.0 cm)

Thomas Stange Heiss Oscar Asche (1871–1936), actor, director and producer, was one of Australia’s most successful theatre exports. The son of a Norwegian-born publican, Asche was born in a Geelong hotel and later became enamoured of the theatre via the actors who frequented his father’s subsequent enterprises in Melbourne and Sydney. On leaving school at age 16, he started an apprenticeship to an architect, travelled, and then decided to study acting, leaving Australia for Europe in 1890. While in Norway, he met Henrik Ibsen, who encouraged him to work in his own language and ‘correct’ his Australian accent. Asche made his London debut in 1893 and then joined Sir Francis Benson’s Shakespearean touring company, performing in an estimated 200 roles for the company over the next eight years. In June 1899, he married English actress Lily Brayton, who’d joined Benson’s company in 1896. In his two years with Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree, during 1902–1903, he played Benedick to Ellen Terry’s Beatrice in Much ado about nothing. In 1904 he and Brayton formed their own company, with Asche as actor-director subsequently achieving notice for his productions of The taming of the shrew and As you like it, among others. Asche made a triumphant 18 month-long return tour of Australia in 1909–1910, touring again in 1912–1913 with his production of Kismet. The production for which he is best known, Chu Chin Chow – ‘a fabulous Arabian Nights extravaganza’ – premiered in London in August 1916 and ran for the next five years, reportedly netting Asche, its writer-director and star, some £200,000 in royalties. He was in Australia again from June 1922 under contract to JC Williamson, but the arrangement was terminated less than two years later, Asche returning to England having attracted considerable enmity. Thereafter, his fortunes faltered. Contending with a failed marriage, gambling debts, obesity, flops, and bankruptcy, in later years Asche tried his hand at writing novels and produced an autobiography while also appearing in several small roles in now largely forgotten films. He died, virtually penniless, in March 1936.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2015

Accession number: 2015.29

Currently not on display

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.