The Houston Sisters

Young women being very funny . . . and celebrated for being so!

Just a couple of fun-loving variety stars  – seen here enjoying the sea breezes at Brighton.

EVOLUTION

Two girls from Glasgow become a top act in variety theatre: the nation’s number one entertainment in the 1920s.

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We’re awfully serious here. Guess you could call us acting hopefuls or just acting daft . . .

 

The Houston Sisters are a combination of comedy act, sister act, kiddy act, ‘man’ and woman team and singing act.

That’s right. We did it all. You can add to that – circus, pantomime, trained monkeys . . .

 

 

a little dispute . . . 

“Please will you take me to the house party, Billie?”

“No Renée. You have to stay here alone

 

Ah! Ou Va La Jeune Indoue . . .

And Bill’s doing his redskin act!

 

“I don’t think there were any happier girls in the theatre than us.”

Renée Houston, 1973

They were always telling us to pull our socks up.

Somehow we muddled through.

 

Introducing Miss Shirley Houston

That’s Betty, our kid sister.

Chip off the old block you could say.

 

“I was only happy when I had my people with me.”

Renée Houston, 1973

 

 

 

Horace Sheldon – a fine conductor and a lovely man.

Worked with the Houstons often – most of the time in fear of them – so Billie tells me.

 

 

 

Calls are endless. Frequently they top the bill.

By Royal Command . . .

 

Princes and Kings count among their fans.

As an act, they enjoy huge success between 1925 and 1936.

We were bloody terrified. Still, we made good.

 

Many are the public appearances.

And advertising . . . the everyday kind . . .

 

 

 

And Billie and Renée went to the stores . . .

. . . . not your everyday customers . . .

 

She’s not the easiest person to please when it comes to shopping.

Darlin’, I can safely say i’ll knock ’em dead!

Knock ’em dead! You’ll be locked up, more like!

 

I guess you could call us petite!

On stage the Sisters wear children’s shoes Size 13.

Off stage Renée wears the highest heels for all occasions and prefers the court style (Size 1).

 

Oh boy, we come to the salon and we get the vapours!

Yesterday Bill’s hair was like thermogene and today all her pains are gone!

 

 

 

 

At the haberdashery . . .

. . . . difficult decisions . . .

I like this one. It’s a sunshine shade of yellow.

It does one good to look at it on a day like this …

 

Colours to suit your temperament? Those born under the sign of Leo avoid pastel colours, favouring reds and golds

My colour?

Right now, it’s the colour of the rain falling down outside.

. . . . more difficult decisions . . .

. . .No No No –  none of these are ‘me’.

Not your typical Taurus:

Green is Billie’s favourite colour.

Her house is carried out in green.

Her car is green.

And she wears pyjama suits in this colour.

Creature of habit she is.

 

 

 

 

 

Well-received in high society . . . 

A subject of devotion.

 

 

. . . with new goods and chattels  . . . transported

I seldom wear jewellery but pearls, of course, are always in good taste for practically every occasion.

 

Stage gowns? I can tell you mine NEVER last. 

 

They spend money . . .

Luxury? Yes I like the good things in life. 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, popular as ever,

 

especially with the Glasgow keelies 

 

 

 

The Houston Sisters are a Scottish act . . 

They follow in the footsteps of Sir Harry Lauder, Wully Fyffe and other great vaudevillians from north of the border.

Nowadays, they might be a faint echo in comedy history  . . .

. . . but they brought a lot of joy.

The humour of Renée and Billie originates somewhere in a psychic landscape that encompasses the cheek and innocence of the street kid . . .  the adventures of Braveheart . . . the songs of Burns . . .  the allure of Scottish castles . . . the Firth of Clyde . . . the Pawky Scot . . . .

Renée and Billie would have a thing or two to say about the straight banana.

In their day it wasn’t banned. It guaranteed a £1000 prize!

And Billie Houston was in a class of her own!

 

 

 

Aye, she was. And the beautiful one too – our Bill.

 

 

Their personalities suit the radio age.

The Houston Sisters have characters complex and unexpected.

Careers develop . . .

Forays into the legitimate theatre, into television . . .

It’s a long wonder trek – fascinating even now, so many years later, for those who still dream of success against the odds, the bright lights of the West End, the glamorous world of films.

Show me the bright lights I said.

And by came an Angel who had a bright key

 

 

Show business –  where you start out YOUNG:

  . . . and stay YOUNG:

 


–  Oh Billie and there’s me thinking the lights are going to change.

–  No Renée, you wait here and don’t go crossing the road.

–  Why can’t I cross the road, Billie?

–  Because I’m taking these deliveries to Mr Green at number 42.

–  Can’t I come too, Billie?

–  No you can’t Renée Houston.

–  But look at that lovely field and children playing and having their tea.

–  Let’s go for a little walk there first, Billie?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Bowie (Scottish Tenor) 1926:

                          “Ladies and Gentlemen.”

“I’m happy to introduce tonight two personalities whom you all know and admire.

I’ve known the Houston Sisters since they were bairns.”

Old lady in the audience:                                                     

Don’t be silly, man!”

“Can ye no’ see they’re still bairns..”

 

 

 

Billie:  “We were just kiddies and people could not take us seriously.”

Renée:  “Aye and we were told that if we went to London we should be back again in Scotland in a week or two.”

Interview, 1926

 

Billie:  “Lots of people used to send us toys.”

Interview, October, 1932

 

 

 

Try putting Renée and Billie back in the toy box.

They’ll be back out before you know it!

 

Harmless shape-shifting

It’s Mae West of the Music Halls one day . . .

 

. . . followed by the Little Girl . . .

 

. . . Mayfair Lady the next . . .

 

 

 

EARLY INFLUENCES

 

 

From America – Irene Franklin

From America – Frances White

 

 

 

playbills

 

 

 

 

 

For an interesting page about the Houstons – courtesy of Glasgow University’s Scottish Theatre Archive: click here

 

Otherwise you’re stuck with thermogene and germolene.

 

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