In 1935 a film called The Magic Shoes was made at the new Pagewood Studios in Sydney. A film for children, it starred a young Peter Finch in his first ever role and Helen Hughes, daughter of the former PM, William Morris Hughes. Mysteriously, it was never released and the film was lost. Peter Finch of course went on to a stellar international career, while Helen Hughes died tragically at a young age in mysterious circumstances in London.
In 2006 the new Centre for Scholarly and Archival Research at the NFSA welcomed its first intern, Ellie Bennett, and set her a task of going through a suitcase of memorabilia donated by the late cameraman, Mel Nichols. A mostly documentary filmmaker from the 1920s through to the 1950s, Mel had worked on the occasional feature film, including The Magic Shoes.
Out of the suitcase has come a major surprise. A roll of nitrate negatives has turned out to be 33 beautifully photographed production and publicity stills for The Magic Shoes. There are images of Peter Finch, the director Claude Flemming and remarkable pictures of Helen Hughes. Up to now photos of Helen Hughes have been very rare, as was discovered by the ABC TV show REWIND when it investigated her death last year.
Senior Curator of Documents and Artefacts Graham Shirley, who recorded an oral history with Mel Nichols, says it is an amazing find. "For film scholars and historians, The Magic Shoes has always been surrounded with mystery, and so has Helen Hughes. To find these photos, which have never been published, is stunning."