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Elizabeth and Collins

 
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denis rigg
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Joined: 06 Sep 2008
Posts: 2615

PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2021 4:40 am    Post subject: Elizabeth and Collins Reply with quote

Wow, I just discovered on Facebook a detailed look at the famous Elizabeth & Collins duet of the knife thrower act. The duet have done many performances, including appearing in the Avengers episode Conspiracy of Silence (1963).

Mark Alyas
29 November 2021

https://www.facebook.com/mark.alyas/posts/10216072960776404

*Elizabeth & Collins*
Elizabeth & Collins are pivotal names in what was arguably a “golden age” for knife throwing as a performing discipline in the middle of the 20th century. Their abilities were second to none and they introduced stunts that very few have dared to emulate. They became television stars at a time when television was developing from a novelty into a true mass medium and were thus important ambassadors for their art. And by making certain crucial choices they played a significant role in the stylistic evolution of knife acts more widely.
Since “impalement” artists first appeared on stage and in sideshows in the first half of the 19th century there was a tendency to present them as “Wild West” arts and it was usual for them to be billed under the name of the knife thrower. Today things are a bit different. Historical study suggests knife throwing did not originate with cowboys or Indians: there was simply a massive popular taste for anything “Wild West” and the entertainment industry met that demand without worrying too much about accuracy. But the myths and old fashioned practices created something of a deep rut and it took imaginative performers to lift the art out of it.
Elizabeth and Collins made a big statement from the start by giving the target girl first billing. It was a recognition that she was a big part of the appeal. It’s true a few other 20th century acts had included the name of female partners in their title and a few women, such as Barbara Braun and Montana Nell, achieved lasting recognition within their field, but the way Elizabeth was presented was different. In the publicity photos it’s Elizabeth who is the main subject – surrounded by knives and wearing costumes that had nothing to do with the old west but quite a lot to do with the styles of burlesque and cabaret.
Many years later Elizabeth’s newspaper obituary noted that she added “danger, humor and sex appeal” to the act. The couple’s daughter, named Elizabeth Agnes, explained: "She was very bubbly on stage; very sweet and very sexy. She wore elegant but revealing costumes, showed a little leg. It was her job to sell the act, be the pretty part of it”.
Other knife acts, such as The Denvers, also began to play the sex and danger angle around this time but none committed to it so fully and with quite such style and success as Elizabeth and Collins. There was no pretence of “Wild West” connections and any residual stylistic traits were soon dropped. Collins occasionally wore a wide brimmed hat but the rest of his costume was really not a cowboy outfit. In some ways the couple were early adopters of style trends that developed across the world of showbiz in the decades after the Second World War – women’s costumes generally would get more spangly and ever more revealing; leotards and bustiers would be staples for dancers and magicians’ assistants.
The couple’s roots were not in the old west of America but, like a number of other influential acts, in the heart of Europe. Both were Hungarian. Elizabeth was born Erszebet Bakk in the city of Nagykároly, near the Carpathian Mountains, in October 1924. Her parents were Lajos Bakk and Margit Fekete. Nagykároly was a predominantly Hungarian city that ended up in Romania when the old Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up following the First World War.
Collins was born Márton Rasics in Budapest, Hungary, in June 1914. He was the son of another Márton Rasics, who was a cobbler or shoe maker. A 1928 Budapest directory shows a cobblers’ shop of that name at Kobányai út 42, in the Pest area of the city.
Erszebet first met Márton in 1939 when she took her shoes to be repaired at his father's store. Márton had travelled Europe as a circus performer but returned home to Hungary when war broke out. He was contemplating how to continue his career and saw the pretty girl in the shop as a potential partner.
He talked her father into letting her join him and their professional relationship quickly became a personal one as well. They began perfecting a new act incorporating his ability as a tightrope walker. He would balance on a rope – technically a slack rope – and throw knives from there to land around Erszebet on a target board. Ultimately their signature stunt was a version of “The Wheel of Death” where she rode a rotating circular board. As far as is known only one other act has ever dared to replicate this challenging combination of “The Wheel” with rope balancing.
Not a lot is known about the early years of Erszebet and Márton’s performing lives, including the date they married and the exact time and circumstances of their adoption of the name Elizabeth and Collins. Like all performers dependent on international touring, things were difficult with war in progress. And the position of Hungary as an ally of Germany seems to have created problems for them. Official biographies just state they went to neutral Sweden to escape the conflict. Intriguingly the Arolsen Archives of the International Center on Nazi Persecution contain documents listing them among “foreigners and persecutees” in Munich, Germany, in November 1943. They certainly did end up in Stockholm, Sweden, where, on 22nd July 1945, they had a daughter named Elizabeth Agnes Collins, known generally as Agnes.
After the war the couple began working in circus and variety shows across Europe. In January 1948 they were performing at Cirque Medrano, an old-established permanent circus building in Paris. In 1949 they were the subject of a British Pathé newsreel feature. And it was in Britain that they made their new home, eventually settling at 21 Somerfield Road, in the Finsbury Park area of London.
Although they now went by the names Elizabeth and Martin Collins they were still legally Márton and Erszebet Rasics and their immigration status was unclear, which possibly caused problems when returning from overseas engagements. On 26th November 1952, Elizabeth, Martin and daughter Agnes arrived in Southampton from Durban, South Africa, on the ship Winchester Castle. They were described on the manifest as “Collins family travelling on British travel document” but then scrawled in red over their names was the word “aliens”. Their status was resolved in 1954 when they became naturalised British citizens.
In 1957 they made two trips to the United States, which may have had a key role in their future direction. On August 7th they boarded the RMS Caronia at Southampton to travel to New York. Later they took the same route on the RMS Queen Elizabeth arriving on 12th December. The trip starting on 7th August saw them perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on 18th August, the first of at least three appearances on that famous and influential TV programme.
For a while at least they remained based in the UK, combining tours on variety bills at major provincial venues with numerous television appearances. For example, in May 1958 they were at the Birmingham Hippodrome ; in June 1958 at the Liverpool Empire on a bill headed by Sarah Vaughan; and in September 1958 they were at the Empire Theatre, Leeds, on a bill headed by The Deep River Boys. Television appearances included the German show Schlag auf Schlag (1958) and British variety series Steppin' Out (1959), The Ken Dodd Show (1960), vintage-themed music hall show The Good Old Days (1961), the Charlie Chester on Laughter Service show (1961), and Starlight Rendezvous (1962).
Somewhere along the way Erszebet decided to retire from performing to look after home life and run a side business – a confectionery shop – to provide them a more stable income. There was then a transition where Agnes became the new “Elizabeth”.
It was Agnes who appeared as the target girl in a 1962 Pathé newsreel feature. It was also her who appeared with her father in a 1963 episode of the iconic British spy series The Avengers – they played a knife throwing act in a circus being investigated by stars Patrick McGee and Honour Blackman as John Steed and Cathy Gale. It’s likely it was Agnes who appeared as “Elizabeth” on The Ed Sullivan Show in June 1965 and it was definitely her who appeared on that show in March 1966 and on The Hollywood Palace show on 12th Nov 1966.
The family relocated fully to the United States in the early to mid 1960s. On 6th August 1967 Agnes appeared on the CBS TV show What’s My Line, where she was described as “originally from London, England, currently from, New York”. Records show addresses in Staten Island, New York, and in North Berger and Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Elizabeth and Collins had become more than just another speciality act who enjoyed 15 minutes of fame on TV: they were the “go to” act of their type for producers of big network shows. The father-daughter incarnation looked set to continue a highly successful career in the USA. But all that was ended by a tragedy on 27th March 1967.
Martin, Elizabeth and Agnes were in their Ford Country Squire station wagon en route to an engagement in Des Moines, Iowa, when a tyre blew out as they were driving on Interstate 80 just west of Ottowa, Illinois. Martin suffered fatal injuries in the resulting crash. The family later sued tyre manufacturer Uniroyal and won substantial damages. The case remains a landmark in law covering product warranties. But the win could obviously never be consolation for the family’s loss. The greatest thrower of his generation was gone and the act was no more.
Agnes later married Peter Kavanagh, an engineer who helped to create the AppleTV for Apple Computers. They lived together in California then in Vancouver and had two daughters. She became a naturalised US citizen in 1975
Elizabeth went to work as a manager at Zabar's, a famous food store in New York. Her natural charm and ability with languages – she spoke seven – made her a hit with customers. One of those was a man named Rocco Vetro, who she later married and with whom she enjoyed many happy years. Rocco died in 2001 and, with her health deteriorating, Elizabeth moved to live with Agnes and Peter Kavanagh. Elizabeth died on 12th October 2007. She reportedly remained a performer until the end, captivating the nurses at her hospice in her Hungarian accent. "Until the day she died, she was still charming people," recalled Agnes.



Agnes in The Avengers.



Martin in The Avengers.




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denis rigg
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2021 4:50 am    Post subject: Re: Elizabeth and Collins Reply with quote

Peter A. Kavanagh, of Vancouver, WA, passed away on Tuesday, September 1, 2009.

https://obits.columbian.com/us/obituaries/columbian/name/peter-kavanagh-obituary?pid=133124003

1/6/1941~9/1/2009

He is survived by his devoted wife of 41 years, Elizabeth Kavanagh; and 2 daughters, Kaihtlin Kavanagh of San Carlos, CA and Maihgan Kavanagh, M.D., of San Jose, CA. Beloved by his sister, Kathleen Kavanagh Gould, and brother-in-law Herbert Gould, M.D. Remembered with love by his nieces and nephew, Dierdhre, Siobhan, Gawain, and Morganna Gould of White Plains, NY, and closest of friends, Phillip and Janet Talarico of Belfair, WA.

Peter was a proud alumnus of the Laguardia High School of Music and Art, Voice major, Class of 1958, and Manhattan School of Music. He was a veteran of the Armed Services. He created AppleTV for Apple Computer and retired after serving as the computer guru for the Local 39 stationary engineers.
He was greatly loved and appreciated, and will be missed by many.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kaihtlin Kavanagh
https://www.facebook.com/kaihtlin.kavanagh
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mousemeat
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2021 8:05 am    Post subject: Re: Elizabeth and Collins Reply with quote

denis rigg wrote:
Peter A. Kavanagh, of Vancouver, WA, passed away on Tuesday, September 1, 2009.

https://obits.columbian.com/us/obituaries/columbian/name/peter-kavanagh-obituary?pid=133124003

1/6/1941~9/1/2009

He is survived by his devoted wife of 41 years, Elizabeth Kavanagh; and 2 daughters, Kaihtlin Kavanagh of San Carlos, CA and Maihgan Kavanagh, M.D., of San Jose, CA. Beloved by his sister, Kathleen Kavanagh Gould, and brother-in-law Herbert Gould, M.D. Remembered with love by his nieces and nephew, Dierdhre, Siobhan, Gawain, and Morganna Gould of White Plains, NY, and closest of friends, Phillip and Janet Talarico of Belfair, WA.






Peter was a proud alumnus of the Laguardia High School of Music and Art, Voice major, Class of 1958, and Manhattan School of Music. He was a veteran of the Armed Services. He created AppleTV for Apple Computer and retired after serving as the computer guru for the Local 39 stationary engineers.
He was greatly loved and appreciated, and will be missed by many.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kaihtlin Kavanagh
https://www.facebook.com/kaihtlin.kavanagh



Thanks for this thread, lots of info to digest...about some talented performers
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denis rigg
A Touch of Brimstone


Joined: 06 Sep 2008
Posts: 2615

PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2021 8:25 am    Post subject: Re: Elizabeth and Collins Reply with quote

mousemeat wrote:
denis rigg wrote:
Peter A. Kavanagh, of Vancouver, WA, passed away on Tuesday, September 1, 2009.

https://obits.columbian.com/us/obituaries/columbian/name/peter-kavanagh-obituary?pid=133124003

1/6/1941~9/1/2009

He is survived by his devoted wife of 41 years, Elizabeth Kavanagh; and 2 daughters, Kaihtlin Kavanagh of San Carlos, CA and Maihgan Kavanagh, M.D., of San Jose, CA. Beloved by his sister, Kathleen Kavanagh Gould, and brother-in-law Herbert Gould, M.D. Remembered with love by his nieces and nephew, Dierdhre, Siobhan, Gawain, and Morganna Gould of White Plains, NY, and closest of friends, Phillip and Janet Talarico of Belfair, WA.






Peter was a proud alumnus of the Laguardia High School of Music and Art, Voice major, Class of 1958, and Manhattan School of Music. He was a veteran of the Armed Services. He created AppleTV for Apple Computer and retired after serving as the computer guru for the Local 39 stationary engineers.
He was greatly loved and appreciated, and will be missed by many.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kaihtlin Kavanagh
https://www.facebook.com/kaihtlin.kavanagh



Thanks for this thread, lots of info to digest...about some talented performers


The most interesting thing is that it was an amazing coincidence. I was just working on the Avengers episode Conspiracy of Silence for the topic of departed people participating in the series and got a little stuck on Elizabeth and Collins. In the end I went to Facebook and suddenly found this fresh publication there dated by November 29 of this year. If I got to the Collins before that date, then apparently I would not be able to calculate specific biographical information about Agnes and there would be no news about. Yes, the main thanks go to Mark Alyas from Facebook for material.
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Frankymole
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 27, 2021 8:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What a fascinating family history.
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mousemeat
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Location: Elvis Central, U.S.A.

PostPosted: Mon Dec 27, 2021 2:25 pm    Post subject: Re: Elizabeth and Collins Reply with quote

denis rigg wrote:
mousemeat wrote:
denis rigg wrote:
Peter A. Kavanagh, of Vancouver, WA, passed away on Tuesday, September 1, 2009.

https://obits.columbian.com/us/obituaries/columbian/name/peter-kavanagh-obituary?pid=133124003

1/6/1941~9/1/2009

He is survived by his devoted wife of 41 years, Elizabeth Kavanagh; and 2 daughters, Kaihtlin Kavanagh of San Carlos, CA and Maihgan Kavanagh, M.D., of San Jose, CA. Beloved by his sister, Kathleen Kavanagh Gould, and brother-in-law Herbert Gould, M.D. Remembered with love by his nieces and nephew, Dierdhre, Siobhan, Gawain, and Morganna Gould of White Plains, NY, and closest of friends, Phillip and Janet Talarico of Belfair, WA.










Peter was a proud alumnus of the Laguardia High School of Music and Art, Voice major, Class of 1958, and Manhattan School of Music. He was a veteran of the Armed Services. He created AppleTV for Apple Computer and retired after serving as the computer guru for the Local 39 stationary engineers.
He was greatly loved and appreciated, and will be missed by many.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kaihtlin Kavanagh
https://www.facebook.com/kaihtlin.kavanagh



Thanks for this thread, lots of info to digest...about some talented performers


The most interesting thing is that it was an amazing coincidence. I was just working on the Avengers episode Conspiracy of Silence for the topic of departed people participating in the series and got a little stuck on Elizabeth
and Collins. In the end I went to Facebook and suddenly found this fresh publication there dated by November 29 of this year. If I got to the Collins before that date, then apparently I would not be able to calculate specific biographical information about Agnes and there would be no news about. Yes, the main thanks go to Mark Alyas from Facebook for material.



it's amazing all the sources, you can draw from...as you are tracking 'em down..sorta mind boggling...
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