HOLLYWOOD COMES TO SKIPTON
The year is 1918. In the tiny country town of Skipton in the Western District of Victoria, Australia, the townsfolk are all aflutter becaue the wealthiest gentleman farmer in the district, Scobie McKinnon, is returning home from an extended trip overseas to his property, Mooramong, with a bride.
So who was the girl who had finally turned the head of the quiet and handsome Scobie, the Western District’s most eligible bachelor? Surely no ordinary gal.
Well, they never expected she’d be ordinary. But never in a million years suspected she would be quite so extraordinary.
Scobie had fallen in love with and married one of Hollywood’s most well-known silent movie stars. She was a veritable siren of the 1920s silent-movie genre. And she was coming to live in that tiny country town. From Hollywood.
Hollywood. From Hollywood to Skipton. It could scarce be believed.
Claire Adams appeared in over 40 silent movies in many of which she starred alongside some of the genre’s leading men. And now she lived in Skipton. However, far from what you might expect Claire did not pine for her former glamorous life but rather threw herself into her new life and love and with her inimitable style, grace and sense of fun, brought a touch of Hollywood to the Australian bush.
Her first order of business was to transform the main residence on Scobie’s property into an exquisite, hacienda-style haven. She also arranged for the building of what was, at the time, the largest privately owned pool in the Southern hemisphere. A 1920′s art deco-style delight, Scobie and Claire’s pool glittered and shone like an oasis in the hot Australian bush and they hosted countless parties beside it.
As often as they entertained Hollywood stars and associated movie bigwigs who made the long voyage from the US to see how Claire had transformed this pocket of sun-parched Australian land into her own personal jazz folly, they also hosted locals. Some elderly people in Skipton still recall the dizzying glamour of not just the glittering pool and parties but also Claire’s magnetic presence. She simply oozed Hollywood style.
But this never prevented her throwing her heart and soul into every aspect of Mooramong, which she adored. She beautified it, helped to protect it literally with her own hands when a shocking bushfire threatened one terrible summer and cared tenderly for all the animals on it.
As well as the farm dogs, Claire adopted countless stray dogs, often having them shipped down from the city by train from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital of which she was a patron and vice-president. She could never ever stand to see an animal in distress or left behind. So it’s no surprise that despite all the handsome leading men she appeared beside on film she is said always to have maintained that Rin Tin Tin was her favourite!
Scobie was, at heart, a farmer and despite having enough money to never need work a day in his life, he immersed himself passionately in every aspect of the management of his property. Like all sheep farmers he readily accepted that the expendability of individual animals was a sometimes brutal necessity. Claire, however, was committed to each individual ovine soul.
Video footage shows her kneeling next to a prostrate sheep which she has covered with a blanket and water bottles and which she is petting maternally. Goodness knows what ailed it but you can just imagine what the hardened farm hands on the property, not to mention Scobie himself, made of that. And yet they indulged her. With pleasure. Because who could resist such a charming woman, doing such caring work? No one.
In a move that somewhat scandalised the staid Skipton community of the time, gossips had a field day discussing rumours of a green leather cocktail bar that took up an entire room in the lovebirds home. The rumours were true and Claire and Scobie introduced the phenomenon of the “cocktail hour’ to the probably willing but necessarily outwardly scandalised, hard-working rural community.
You would be forgiven for thinking that a love like this – a love between two people whose worlds could not be further apart – might be destined for failure but it was, in fact, the very opposite. Gregarious, beautiful Claire (who was, her birth certificate attests, at least a decade older than her husband) and handsome, reserved Scobie enjoyed a love story that few do. They adored each other all their lives.
At their request their ashes were buried together under a headstone tucked back from the manicured lawn that surrounds the pool that was the scene of so much fun during their lives.
The reason we know so much about Claire and Scobie is because Claire used part of her substantial personal fortune (inherited when her former husband, a Hollywood movie director many years older than she, died) to purchase video cameras and film – a thing almost entirely unheard of for a private person back then.
Claire, thankfully for us, never lost her love of film nor her theatrical bent and she documented countless hours of her own and Scobie’s life in film. These reels sat undiscovered in metal tins for decades until a cameraman and film buff shooting something in the Mooramong homestead came across them and, curious, began to investigate. Above and beyond all the good times and glamour, the reels revealed their singular love story.
Thanks to the generous philanthropic bequests they left on their deaths, the spirit of Claire and Scobie still pervades every corner of Mooramong. Claire’s perfumes still sit on her dressing table. Their gramophone stands, needle poised, ready to play the next jazz record.
At Claire’s direction Mooramong was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia to be maintained as a flora and fauna park. Other generous bequests were made to animal welfare. Nor was the local community forgotten. As well bequests to friends and family, Scobie and Claire left an annual bequest of $20,000 to the tiny Skipton Primary School. Many Australian primary schools feature a picture of The Queen in a prominent position. Skipton Primary has a large photo of Claire and Scobie and to this day every child at the school can tell you their story.
Watch this trailer of the documentary movie: Mooramong –
Private Hollywood (found on IMBD.com) and released by Caneva Media Productions in 2009. It was Caneva Media Productions
that collated the reels of film that were discovered and this documentary brings Claire and Scobie as well as Mooramong and its surrounds back to life in the most wonderful way. It’s utterly gorgeous. Sigh.
- many thanks to the author of the above article (Twirling Betty) for granting us permission to use it. Twirling Betty is a fantastic creative website with great gift ideas for everyone.
Mooramong is open to the public for inspections.
Please click on the National Trust of Australia's website for further details.
The Penalty(1929). Is a crime film, directed by Wallace Worsley, and written by Philip Lonergan and Charles Kenyon, based on the novel by Gouverneur Morris. Cast: Lon Chaney, Charles Clary, Doris Pawn,
Jim Mason, and Claire Adams.
The film is about gangster Blizzard, whose legs were accidently amputated at a young age. Driven insane by his situation, Blizzard becomes a crime lord. He tracks down the doctor who performed his operation, and plots a twisted revenge.. he kidnaps the doctor's daughter's fiance and graft his legs onto what is left on Blizzard's legs. Claire Adams plays the role of an undercover detective.
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