Mae Busch's Parents


The life and times of Frederick William Busch and Elizabeth Maria Lay

The parents of Mae Busch


             In tracing the movements of Frederick and Elizabeth I have been fortunate that they have unique parentage, Frederick with a German father, and Irish mother and Elizabeth with an American father, and a Canadian mother. This enabled me to trace then on the 1900 US Census living in New York as William and Dora Busch. Other name changes during their careers have been supported by newspaper articles and confirmation from birth and death certificates.

Australia 1867 - 1896

Elizabeth Maria Lay was born in Rutherglen, Victoria on 14th December 1866, the youngest of five children to Charles Henry Lay and Henrietta Breakenridge, and the only one of their children to be born in Australia. The other four being born in Canada, where Charles worked for the Toronto & Niagara Telegraph Company. At the time of Elizabeth’s birth he was the Telegraph & Post Master at Rutherglen.

In addition to his official role he staged a series of highly successful amusements to raise funds for local hospitals. The shows were of a vaudeville nature and his singing and acting performances of such a high level it is obvious that he bought these skills with him when he arrived in Australia. He was so successful that for a period in 1877 he went on the stage full time. There is no doubt that his activities influenced his daughter, Elizabeth.

By 1883 both of Elizabeth’s parents had died and it is not known where she lived at that time, however on 22nd May 1883 an advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald for a “Grand Concert” to be held at Tivoli Gardens, Waverley – one of the artists listed to perform was Dora De Vere. Future events will show that this was the stage name for Elizabeth Lay.

In 1887 she joined the Silk Stockings Company of Frank M. Clark and over the next 10 years she became a major star of vaudeville/burlesque in Australia. She toured India, New Zealand (twice) and most major cities and towns. In 1887 the Silk Stockings Company went on tour and one of the members of the touring orchestra was a musician by the name of Frederick William Busch.

Frederick was born in Collingwood, Victoria in 1867 to Henry Andrew Busch, a German immigrant and Annie May Conway an Irish immigrant. The 1909 Australian Electoral Role indicates that his father, Henry was a musician. Based on newspaper articles it appears Frederick was unusually gifted with musical instruments, doing violin solos and on one occasion playing the trumpet solo with the Melbourne Philharmonic Society’s production of The Messiah. There is no evidence to suggest he had any association with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as he had left the country by 1896 and the MSO was only founded in 1906.

The tour included a season in Brisbane and between performances Elizabeth and Frederick were married on 6th February 1888. In August 1888 they joined a new company known as Hudson’s Surprise Party and Elizabeth became known as Dora Busch. In July 1889 their first child, Dorothy, was born only to die 4 months later. From July 1889 and December Dora only did a few operatic roles to mixed reviews. During this period Frederick toured with Charles Santley, an English Baritone.

In December 1890 they were reunited with Frank M. Clark and toured Australia until mid 1894 apart from a 5 month break when Annie May Busch was born, on 18th June 1891, at 57 Page St. South Melbourne, Victoria (now Albert Park). A tour of India with Hudson’s Surprise Party took place 1894 – 1895. In January 1896 they joined up with the Cogill Bros. for a tour of New Zealand. The following newspaper article supports the name changes:

“Dora Busch (around Maoriland in 1893 with Cogill Bros.), in India with Hudson’s Surprise Party now calls herself Devere. Dora, when a member of Frank M. Clark’s Silk Stockings Variety Company was known as Dora De Vere.”OTARGO WITNESS 24th January 1895 Page 37

By the time of their arrival in New Zealand Dora was the lead female and Frederick had established his own act, the Paragon Trio also known as Lelliott, Busch & Lelliott – “The Monarchs of Instrumental Melody”. Following the final show on 4th August 1896 the family moved to the USA, together with Harry and Arthur Lelliott, brothers from Deniliquin NSW.

They departed Auckland 8th August 1896 on board S.S. “Richmond” which was bound for Rarotonga and Tahiti. It is possible that they stopped in Tahiti for a short time before continuing on to San Francisco – so Mae’s story of living in Tahiti has a very small element of truth.

USA – December 1896 - ?

             They arrived in San Francisco at the end of 1896 and The Lelliott, Busch & Lelliott act made its American debut at the Orpheum San Francisco, in February 1897. Dora Busch was part of the Grand Opera Quartet making her American debut on 14th February 1897. Both being employed by the Orpheum Theatre. In May 1897 Dora was playing various roles in comic opera at the Clunie Opera House. As there are no further newspaper articles in San Francisco it is thought that the family moved to New York during 1897. A newspaper article has Lelliott Busch & Lelliott at the Drexel Theatre in Chicago on 13th November 1897. Upon arrival their daughter Annie May, was placed in the Convent of Saint Elizabeth school in New Jersey while they went about their careers. An article in The New York Dramatic Mirror on 30th April 1898 notes Dora Busch is to support A. Z. Chipman in a Spring Summer tour. This will be the last occasion when she appears as Dora Busch. In January 1899 the Bill at the Grand Opera House in London, Ontario features Dora De Vere and the Lelliott Busch & Lelliott act.

             At the time of the US 1900 Census they are living at 311 East 19th St. New York as William and Dora Busch.

             The last appearance of Lelliott Busch & Elliott is in February 1900. For the next couple of years Dora and William perform as a duet before starting the Busch Devere Trio at the end of 1902.

             An article in The NY Dramatic Mirror 27th December 1902, advertises the first appearance of The Busch Devere Trio at The Park, Worcester, Mass. The trio consists of William, Dora and their daughter, now known as Mae Busch.; she would have been eleven at the time. During 1908 Dora and Mae perform in “The Fixer” by Guy Fletch Bragdon to good reviews and in 1911 they feature in Tom Reeves “Big Show Burlesque”

             The family are to perform together until March 1912 when under dramatic circumstances Mae takes over the female lead in “Over the River”

Lillian Loraine -  

Actress, Who Announced Her Marriage, Misses Two Performances of "Over the River." When the time arrived for yesterday's matinee performance of "Over the River," at the Globe Theatre, Miss Lillian Lorraine, who has one of the leading parts, had not appeared and Miss Mae Busch played her role. Miss Lorraine did not appear in the evening either and Miss Busch again played her role. As told in- the HERALD yesterday. Miss Lorraine, Tuesday night, announced that she had been married to Mr. Frederick Gresheimer, of Chicago, in Jersey City, on Monday last. No record of the marriage could be found, however, and the Registrar said they had applied for a license, but did not obtain one because they didn't have a witness as required. Efforts to communicate with the actress last night at her apartments in the Nevada were unsuccessful. At the Globe no statement was forthcoming as to whether Miss Lorraine has left the company, of which Mr. Eddie Foy is the star. New York Herald  28/3/1912

     There does not appear to be any further billings for Dora, however William pops up in 1914 – 1915 as the manager of the “Billy Busch Banner Band” and in 1916 as the manager of “The Million Dollar Dolls”

     "BILLY BUSCH, leader with the Million Dollar Dolls, is also qualifying us a "straight," doing quite a bit of talking from the pit. Mrs. (Dora) Busch is traveling with Billy. MAY Busch, who has been posing for the past nine months for the Keystone pictures, three months ago signed a two year contract at a steady increase of salary every quarter. She is now at the Los Angeles, Cal., studios.  New York Clipper  2/10/1916

 The Final Act

      Dora (Elizabeth) Busch died Providence, Rhode Island, USA 23rd Dec 1916. has husband William, born 1867 Mother May LAY father John LAY. The Christian name for her parents are wrong but everything else is correct. This is supported by a newspaper article on 15/7/1911 referring to her home in Providence R.I.

MRS. BILLY BUSCH, known professionally as Dora De Vere. of the Busch De Vere Trio, died Dec. 23 at Providence, R. L Mrs. Busch. who was forty-nine years old, was born In Australia. 
In her younger days she was a prima donna contralto. Her first American appearance was made at the old Orpheum In San Francisco nineteen years ago when Manager Walters was In charge.
New York Clipper 17th Jan 1917


 In loving Remembrance of


Who passed away Dec. 23, 1916.

Inserted by her loving Husband and Daughter,


NY Clipper 19/12/1917

          On the 1920 US Census living in Detroit is listed Billy Busch, born Australia, German father and Irish mother, occupation musician. Also listed is a Bessie Busch, born USA age 29 married, occupation actress.

     We know without any doubt that William was living with his daughter Mae Busch in Los Angeles at the time of the 1930 Census. (1930 Census return). This is also supported by a newspaper article

An Australian visitor to HoIIywood was Frederick Busch, of Melbourne, who crossed the Pacific for the express purpose of watching his famous daughter, Mae Busch, at work. Father and daughter had not met for a number of years, and it was quite a coincidence that the last picture Mr. Busch saw before meeting Mae was the Metro production of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," in which Mae plays one of the featured roles. He said that it is possible that Mae may go back to Melbourne with him on a visit.”  - Sunday Times (Perth) 17th May 1925

Did William actually return to Australia between the 1920 Census and 1925. The article does not actual say when he crossed the Pacific and the use of “Frederick” is odd???? However there is no entry for William on the 1940 US Census and I cannot find any record of his death either in the USA or Australia.


David Noakes - -   February 2013