Derham Groves

Los Angeles, Boston, and Hartford, Posted on the Run


Anna May Wong’s ashes and also her sister Mary’s ashes were buried with their mother, Lee Toy Wong, at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

It’s a Small World, Disneyland, Anaheim.

Toon Town in Disneyland, Anaheim.

More Disneyland, Anaheim.

Clifton’s Cafeteria has closed for renovation. Thank goodness it hasn’t closed for good!

Gene Autrey statue (top) and costume at the Autrey Museum, Los Angeles.

Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles. I had a great seat behind the orchestra for only $24!

Walt Disney’s workshop, now in Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Model of Walt Disney’s workshop at Disneyland, Anaheim.

Train at Disneyland based on Walt Disney’s own model train.

Max Payne billboard, Los Angeles.

Bruce Goff’s typically brilliant and quirky Pavilion for Japanese Art (1988) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I’m sure that the “temple roofed” cabinets don’t resemble erect penises by accident!

Barbie’s Dream House (1962) made of cardboard by Mattel on display at the LACMA.

“Metropolis II” (2011) by Chris Burden at the LACMA.

Is this Mother Goose’s grave?

Another “shocker” by John Andrews — the Harvard Graduate School of Design (1972).

Architectural design work at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Frank Gehry’s Stata Center (2004) at MIT, which later sued the architect because the building leaked.

The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (2006) designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. A cantilever and a half!

The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (2004) by Rafael Viñoly. A porte-cochere and a half!

The Old State House, Hartford.

Centre Church, Hartford.

William Gillette Castle, East Haddam

Tyke and Teddie Niver.


Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes

The cover of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes designed by Huey Groves

The book is published by the Culicidae Press and is available via or

A review of the book by Zoe Nikakis in Voice in The Age, 10 October 2011


Ames, IA: Culicidae Press, pp. 103,
ISBN: 978-1-257-71315-8, Paperback, AUD $39.95

Reviewed by Andrew Chrystall, Massey University, New Zealand.

Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes interfaces a chronological biography (cum-histography) of the Chinese-American film star, Anna May Wong’s 107-day visit to Australia in 1939 with the documentation of 52 design-as-biography projects by students at the University of Melbourne. The effect(s) is uncanny. Groves demonstrates a different approach to writing biography that is as challenging to the historian as his approach to design-as-biography is to the designer and architect and his mode of pedagogy to the teacher. While operating just outside the realm of the readily classifiable, due in large measure to the work’s hybridity and Groves’ multidisciplinary transgressions, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes makes a contribution not only to our understanding of the popular and material cultural history of pre-World War II Australia. Arguably, Groves can also be read here as having created something of an anti-manifesto for dialogic, sustainable design that is of immediate relevance.

At the level of surfaces, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes appears simple and unpretentious, if not parochial and banal. However, when read in light of the interplay between the two sections—biography and the documentation of design-as-biography projects —it becomes apparent that the materials have been organised to give the work a circuit-like quality. Surface simplicity gives way to a subtle complexity. Groves’ biography nurses the reader into an encounter with the design-as-biography projects and the projects draw the reader back to rediscover the biography of Wong—text begets image(s) and the image(s) beget a re-energized and re-configured text.

The first section of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes documents the movements of the now little-known Wong to, around and from Australia just prior to World War II. Groves briefly establishes his personal appreciation of the enigmatic, Lady Gaga-esque Wong in the first person. But he quickly abandons a point of view and his writing takes on some of the characteristics of American novelist, Thomas Pynchon. Like Pynchon, Groves has the meticulous eye of the sleuth or the roving tactile-eye of the virtual camera for detail. Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes if full of detailed lists: passenger lists, guest lists, menus, and filmography. Around the movements of Wong Groves builds an inventory of Australian material and popular culture just prior to the war. His camera eye, panning and zooming incessantly, is quick to focus on concrete, individual particulars of the material culture of the day: time, date, places, street names and numbers, transactions, costs, makes, models, colours, patterns and textures. In addition to offering insight into Australian architecture, entertainment, fashion, food and politics, Groves provides a lens through which to view of racism in Australia and the racial politics of film production, homophobia, the rising cult of celebrity, (beautiful-) freak aesthetics, and the milieu of Australia’s social aristocracy. In short, Groves’ inspection captures everything that is going on—by means of a close inspection of the most common, everyday and banal—not merely what some people think should be going on. In this respect Groves’ operation is something of a prose equivalent for what his fellow Australian artist Reg Mombassa achieves in paint. And it is for this reason that the long-dead Marshall McLuhan might have said that Groves succeeds where F. R. Leavis failed. “The trouble with Leavis,” noted McLuhan (1987), was that his “passion for important work forbids him to look for the sun in the egg-tarnished spoons of the daily table […] [this] cuts him off from the relevant pabulum” (166).

In the second section, Groves, with the help of photography by Lee McRae, documents and offers a brief reflection on 52 pairs of shoes designed by his students enrolled in the Popular Architecture and Design paper. Groves set his students the task of designing a pair of (lucky?) shoes for Wong by altering an old pair of shoes purchased from an opportunity shop. Groves’ reflections here, however, do not interfere with documentation of the shoes on display. Rather his mode, tradition or sensible orientation towards art and art history appears to have some affinity with the humanism of Burkhardt, carried on in the 20th century by figures such as Wölfflin, Giedion and Moholy-Nagy. While Groves might disown the connection to these figures it is worth mentioning here as it may open up a way of reading Groves and help illuminate why he has sought to showcase the work of these young Australian designers.

The crux of the matter is that Groves does not turn away from objects or art nor does he use either as a platform to illustrate or argue a set of ideas (in the mode, say, of the social-engineer who sets design the task of changing people). Rather, for Groves, it is art that matters and he extracts himself to make a space for “objects” and the “art” to speak for themselves on their own terms. Subsequently, and this may be another reason why Groves eludes convenient categorisation, if he has anything to say beyond showcasing a motivational and fun pedagogical activity it is said at the level of demonstration. Design, as Groves presents it, can be a deeply dialogic activity with and in service of unique human individuals (with a history and somewhat messy relationship to material artefacts that can be, simultaneously, practical, emotional, irrational, calculated, and ever-changing). His mode of demonstration that eschews linear, logical and hypothesis-drive rational argument is entirely consistent with his goal(s). If we allow, then, Groves to demonstrate what design is, can and should be we find design (inclusive of architecture) can be a form of biography. It emerges from story—rich and concrete encounters between peoples, places and material culture. Design maximizes diversity and, therefore, minimizes competition (which is predicated on a large degree of sameness). Design is also transmutative and realised in and through a dialogue with pre-existing materials that are as historically conditioned as the client. Subsequently, design, neither has to result in the creation of more stuff, which is what Andrew Milner argues needs to be avoided for the realisation of a sustainable future, nor has to set itself the task of promoting a bloodless, or perhaps glamour-less, austerity ill befitting an art deco diva.

Works cited
McLuhan, Marshall. (1987), ‘Letter to Walter Ong and Clement J. McNaspy, December 23, 1944.’ in M. Molinaro, C. McLuhan, & W. Toye (eds.), The Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Toronto, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press,

My acting debut!

Sherlock Holmes – A Post-modern live radio play
The iconic detective as you’ve never seen … or heard him before—reincarnated in the weird world of ‘foley’ sound effects, visual and vocal gymnastics. Sherlock Holmes confronts his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, in a tale of suspense, terror and bizarre Victorian morality—complete with French maids, cockney safe-crackers, Hackney cabs and … a gas chamber! With advice (in person) from the University of Melbourne’s own Sherlock Holmes expert, Dr Derham Groves, don’t miss this one-off event!

22 August 2pm
Union Theatre, ground floor, Union House
Tickets: $10/$5 SU Members at the door
Part of Mudfest 2011

Josiah Lulham as Holmes and Jemma Wiseman as Alice

Matthew Ducza as Bassick, David Harris as Watson, Michael Fee as Moriarty, Andrew Wong as Craigin, and Josiah Lulham as Holmes

Josiah Lulham as Holmes, Clancy Moore as Larrabee and Anrew Wong as Craigin

Some old ham

Australia’s First and Second ‘Sherlock Holmes’ — Harry Plimmer and Cuyler Hastings

New Zealand actor Harry Plimmer played Holmes in Perth and Adelaide in J.C. Williamson’s 1902 production of Sherlock Holmes.

Canadian actor and William Gillette protégé Cuyler Hastings played Holmes in the other Australian state capitals in 1902.  The following photograph shows Hastings as Holmes (right), Redge Carey as Billy (centre) and J.B. Atholwood as Moriarty

Sherlock Holmes

In 1897 Conan Doyle wrote a play called Sherlock Holmes, which he sent to Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the flamboyant actor-manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Tree liked the play but wanted the part of the Great Detective re-written to feature more of his own idiosyncrasies rather than those of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle was understandably reluctant to do this, and eventually lost interest in the idea of putting Holmes on the stage. His literary agent, however, sent the play to Charles Frohman, the American impresario, who in turn sent it to William Gillette, the American actor and playwright. Gillette received permission from Conan Doyle to rewrite the play, which he also called Sherlock Holmes. Speaking of the play during his Australian tour in 1920-21, Conan Doyle said, “When the play was being written—I didn’t write it, and it is a very fine play—[Gillette] cabled to me: ‘May I marry Holmes? I cabled back: ‘You can marry him or murder him or do anything you like with him!’”

Sherlock Holmes had its world premiere at the Star Theatre in Buffalo, New York, on 23 October 1899. This is also the date of Holmes’s resurrection, for it had been six years since the publication of “The Final Problem” in which a shocked reading public learned that Holmes had died as a result of his battle with Professor Moriarty. Certainly Holmes’s absence in print for six years contributed to the success of the play. According to a publicity postcard, by 25 June 1904 Sherlock Holmes had been performed 4,457 times, including 401 Australian performances.

Harry Plimmer

To bring Sherlock Holmes to Australia in 1902, impresario J. C. Williamson had to pay “the biggest price ever previously paid for any dramatic or musical play in this country.” Williamson hoped that Gillette would tour Australia and play the part of Holmes, but his “big success in London . . . prevented him from coming to Australia . . . as was in the first place practically arranged.” The play opened at the Theatre Royal in Perth, Western Australia, on 26 July 1902. The principal players were Harry Plimmer (Sherlock Holmes), Lumsden Hare (Dr Watson), J. B. Atholwood (Professor Moriarty), May Chevalier (Alice Faulkner), Edmund Gwenn (Sidney Prince), Hamilton Stewart (James Larrabee) and Mabel Lane (Madge Larrabee). The production was highly praised in The West Australian:

“A BRILLIANT ARTISTIC TRIUMPH was achieved on Saturday night, when Mr. J. C. WILLIAMSON’S NEW ENGLISH DRAMATIC CO. presented the sensational London success, ‘SHERLOCK HOLMES’ and, as was anticipated, West Australia adds to the LONG LIST OF SUCCESSES which this great drama has won throughout England and America. The CROWDED and DELIGHTED AUDIENCE showed their appreciation by continuous and concentrated interest and frequent bursts of applause, terminating in a scene of the WILDEST ENTHUSIASM on the final tableau of the FINEST PRODUCTION EVER WITNESSED, which will ever make memorable this INITIAL PRODUCTION in AUSTRALIA.”

Cuyler Hastings

On 30 August 1902 Sherlock Holmes opened at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide, South Australia, with the same cast as in Perth. In Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, and Brisbane, however, a young Canadian actor named Cuyler Hastings replaced Plimmer as Holmes. Two years earlier, Hastings had played the part of Holmes in a production of Gillette’s play which had toured the southern, central, and northern states of America. Hastings also played the part of Holmes in two Melbourne revivals of Sherlock Holmes — one in September 1903 and the other (which was also his Australian farewell season) in June 1904. On 20 June 1904 the drama critic for the Melbourne Age remarked, “Mr. Cuyler Hastings will always be remembered best in Australia for this part.” Sherlock Holmes opened in Melbourne at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 13 September 1902. The following is the review from the Melbourne Age of 15 September:

“The United States have lent or given to the Australian stage some of its most popular ornaments, including Edwin Booth and Laura Keene, Mary Prevost, McKean Buchanan, Joseph Jefferson, Edwin Adams, Genevieve Ward, Mr. J.C. Williamson and Mrs. Brown Potter, with many others of lesser note. And they have sent us, in the person of Mr. Cuyler Hastings,  an actor who has succeeded by entirely legitimate methods in achieving a great and equally legitimate success. His first appearance at this theatre on Saturday evening (as) … Sherlock Holmes, stamped him as an artist of exceptional ability, who brings a well trained intellect to bear upon the analysis and exposition of a character of abnormal sagacity and penetration. The piece itself is necessarily a sensational one; the pivot upon which it hinges being the efforts of a gang, or rather a powerful combination, of scoundrels, professional and otherwise, to obtain possession of certain documents of extreme value for purposes of blackmail; and the splendid ingenuity and resolute determination with which the detective foils the desperate devices of the conspirators to gain their own ends and to destroy him. It is a conflict between brains and inflexibility of purpose on the one hand, and craft, violence and numerical strength on the other; one man pitted against an organised force, with abundant resources at its command, and patiently countermining and ultimately defeating his opponents. … Sherlock Holmes … seizes upon the attention of the spectators of the performance from the first scene, and never relaxes its hold upon them until the curtain falls on the fourth and final act. Nor were the intervals between each sufficiently long on Saturday evening to allow of that attention being distracted or diverted. … Intensity of feeling combined with quietude and self-restraint in its expression are the prominent characteristics of Mr. Hasting’s acting in the part of Sherlock Holmes. He has rarely occasion to raise his voice above a monotone, and he is most impressive when his delivery is most subdued. … Mr. Hastings … (interprets) a character who derives all its strength from the complete victory which the intellect has obtained over the emotions. … The will is supreme, and the passions are its bond servants; and if, as is now and then the case, a flash of anger breaks forth from the detective, it is as brief as it is sudden, and only serves to heighten by contrast the unruffled serenity of his habitual demeanour, and the deliberate calmness of tone and icy coldness of speech which have become, by practice and of deliberate purpose, a second nature with him. As presented … by the actor, he becomes a highly interesting subject of psychological analysis, and you recognise with pleasure the care, intelligence and insight which its representative must have bestowed upon it in order to embody it with such consistent verisimilitude. Perhaps the most effective scene in the drama is that in which Holmes and Professor Moriarty, the directive head of a great criminal organisation, meet in the house of the former; and the colloquy which then arises between a would-be assassin and his intended victim was listened to and watched with the deepest interest and anxiety by a crowded theatre. When the curtain fell, Mr. Hastings was called three times before it to receive the enthusiastic plaudits of the audience; and the same compliment was awarded to him at the close of the third act. … The cast of Sherlock Holmes is a generally effective one. Miss May Chevalier, as Alice Faulkner, sustains the character with grace and feeling, and carries with her, in her physical sufferings and mental anguish the sympathies of the spectators, against which Miss Mabel Lane is called upon to struggle throughout as the accomplice of her husband, a stage villain of a somewhat conventional type, energetically and effectively played by Mr. Hamilton Stewart, while the character of Dr. Watson found a gentlemanly and appropriately undemonstrative representative in Mr. Lumsden Hare. With a little toning down, so as to free it from a tendency to exaggeration, the part of Professor Moriarty, which is filled by Mr. Atholwood, would have been still more acceptable than it was. As a character actor, Mr. Edmund Gwenn, who played Sidney Prince, the expert burglar, has proved to be a great gain to the Australian stage. … Mr. Gwenn possesses … the faculty of humour, and this relieves the generally serious character of a drama like Sherlock Holmes. Nor must we omit a word of praise to Master Carey for his bright and pleasant rendering of the part of Billy; nor to Mr. Scardon, for his amusingly dignified Parsons. The play has been handsomely mounted, and the emphatic fervour with which it was received upon the first night offers the promise of a long run, while it is pretty sure to become a topic of general conversation.”

12 Australian Sherlock Holmes Ads (1924-1954)

The Argus, Thursday 15 May 1924, page 5The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1954), Saturday 11 June 1938,The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1954), Monday 3 February 1941,LEGEND (Top to Bottom)

Sydney Morning Herald 4 December 1948

Sydney Morning Herald 31 January 1940

Sydney Morning Herald 5 October 1942

Argus 15 May 1924

Argus 11 July 1938

Argus 3 February 1941

Sun-Herald 31 January 1954

Sun-Herald 20 March 1954

Sun-Herald 4 April 1954

Sun-Herald 2 May 1954

Argus 24 May 1944

Courier-Mail 25 November 1933

Victims and Villains

Following is the front cover for my next book, Victims and Villains: Barbie and Ken Meet Sherlock Holmes, and the text for the back cover. It will be published by Ramble House ( later this year.

BARBIE’S DEAD, at last!

On March 9, 2009, the infamous Barbie doll turned 50. As for her companions, the curiously asexual Ken and the forgettable Skipper (what kind of name is that for one’s baby sister, anyway?), nobody seems inclined to bake cakes with candles for either one of them. Barbie’s the star, at least for feminists and professors with time on their hands who have argued ad infinitum that this doll is turning our daughters into prepubescent sex maniacs, enthralled by her perky and anatomically impossible physique. But less hysterical researchers have recently noticed that little girls don’t seem at all inclined to emulate Barbie. They do, instead, hack off her oh-so-perfect hair, melt her dainty fingers over purloined cigarette lighters, and generally use her and her cohorts as subjects for grisly acts of mayhem. Kill them! And make ‘em suffer.

The innocence of childish impulses toward the dastardly is, of course, the real charm of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Hanging. Stabbing. Poisoning. Death by snake. One poor fellow even “blanched.” To read the most famous of Holmes adventures through at a sitting only increases one’s admiration for the ingenuity of the author who finds such varied and engaging ways of tumbling his victims into the hereafter. How much more gruesome pleasure is thus afforded by the sight of Barbie and company done to death over and over again in living color and three dimensions. It’s almost as delightful as spending an afternoon mutilating Barbie—or the truly dreadful Ken—with lighters and scissors! Sex? A passing fancy. Violence? Ah, that’s the ticket!

Karal Ann Marling
Professor Emerita, American Studies and Art History
University of Minnesota


Barbie and Ken Meet Sherlock Holmes

Recently a group of third-year architecture students at the University of Melbourne had to read a Sherlock Holmes story and then portray the victim in that story by altering the appearance of a Barbie or Ken doll. (I got this idea from the ‘Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’, 18 dollhouse-sized dioramas of grisly crime scenes that were built by the International Harvester heiress Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee during the 1940s.) They produced a horrifying collection of dolls that had been bludgeoned, garroted, hanged, mauled, poisoned, scared, shot, stabbed and strangled. (The three featured dolls were constructed by Chen Gong, Nicholas Antoniou and Morsaleena Moytree Paruque.)

Dr. Watson Holmes Jackamara

Mudrooroo’s Aboriginal detective Dr. Watson Holmes Jackamara is one of the most interesting characters in Australian detective fiction. He is certainly a lot edgier than Arthur Upfield’s Aboriginal detective Napoleon Bonaparte, although Jackamara owes much to Bonaparte. Jackamara is the subject of an artist’s book that I’ve been working on for far too long now, which I must finish in 2008 (my first New Year’s resolution!). In Mudrooroo’s Christmas story ‘The Healer’ (1991) Jackamara dresses up as Santa Claus (very appropriate for Christmas Day!). Following are four of the seven little linocuts for the artist’s book Dr. Watson Holmes Jackamara (L-R: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Jackamara’s namesakes; Napoleon Bonaparte, Jackamara’s predecessor; Jakamara as Father Christmas; and the unnamed crooked Queensland businessman/politician in The Kwinkin by Mudrooroo):