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Thursday, 16 April 2015

'STRIKE ME LUCKY!' Remembering Roy Rene




ROY RENE as 'MO', c. 1946



Mo had no sense of humour.
  He had a sense of fun and a superb sense of comedy that put him on top of the comedy pile in Australia for nearly fifty years, and on stage he was one of the funniest men in the world.  He could get a laugh by a leer, a raised eyebrow or a sideways glance, and he could do practically anything he liked with an audience.  He could make them laugh and he could make them cry.  He loved to make them cry, because that exploited his gift for pathos, of which he was so proud.  Referring to rival comics, he'd say, 'The other mugs can't do that, can they, pal?  They haven't got my lovely pathos.'
  But his sense of humour was practically non-existent.

FRED PARSONS
A Man Called Mo (1973)




He had haunted brown eyes, a large beaked nose, thick rubbery lips and always wore a painted-on black beard.  His stage attire was that of the traditional British music hall or American vaudeville comedian –– a checkered suit, clunky oversized boots, a battered hat and even a flouncy woman's dress if the sketch he was appearing in required him to wear one.  But it was his voice that was his most characteristic feature and, many agreed, his greatest asset as a performer.  'It was high-pitched,' according to his friend, long-time scriptwriter and biographer Fred Parsons, 'with a lisp that would develop into a liquid splutter.  It was a voice that would make the most banal line sound funny.'

It was also a voice that nearly every Australian man, woman and child instantly recognized and unreservedly adored between July 1916, when the new comedy team known as 'Stiffy and Mo' made their stage debut at Sydney's Princess Theatre, and 22 November 1954 when its owner –– Roy Rene, better known as 'Mo McCackie' or just plain 'Mo' –– finally succumbed to heart disease at home in his bed in the Sydney suburb of Kensington.  For nearly forty years Rene (pronounced 'Reen' to rhyme with 'keen') had been the nation's favourite clown, an iconic figure in Australian showbusiness whose decidedly working class language and pugnacious demeanour made him the darling of those he affectionately, if not always respectfully, referred to as 'his mob.' 

ROY RENE, 1915
The great irony of Rene's success was that he was the son of a Jewish immigrant ('a New Australian' as they would patronizingly be known in the post-World War Two era), a Dutch-born cigar maker named Hyam van der Sluys whose most fervent wish was that the fourth of his seven children would one day take over the family business.  But young Harry, born in Adelaide on 15 February 1891 and legally known as 'Harry Sluice' for the rest of his life, had other ideas.  At the age of ten, without bothering to inform either of his parents that he was doing it, he entered a local singing contest and won it.  (Offered the choice of ten shillings or a duck as his prize, the boy chose the duck, later selling it for twelve shillings and earning himself a two shilling profit.)  He turned professional shortly afterwards, performing a duet with the female star of the pantomime Sinbad the Sailor at Adelaide's Theatre Royal under the name 'Boy Roy, the Singing Soprano.'  This led to further engagements in charity concerts and, by the time he was thirteen, to another professional singing job, this time wearing blackface make-up in the then-popular minstrel style, at the Adelaide Tivoli.  His father's decision to move the family east to Melbourne shortly afterwards did nothing to dampen the boy's enthusiasm for the stage.  After working for a few weeks as an apprentice jockey –– fostering an interest in horse racing he'd retain all his life courtesy of his brothers, both of whom went on to become successful bookmakers –– he was once again treading the boards, singing at the Bijou Theatre for Rickards Circuit manager Frank M Clark for the tidy sum (in 1904) of ₤3 per week.

It was Mother Nature, in the unpredictable form of puberty, which transformed Harry Sluice from featured boy vocalist into a fledgling knockabout comic.  At sixteen his voice broke, ending overnight the promising if not exactly glittering career of 'The Singing Soprano.'  Having had ample opportunity to study the work of the many internationally famous and less well-known local comedians who passed through The Bijou and other Melbourne theatres each week he decided that he too could 'do that' and set about reinventing himself as a comic.  

In 1910 he came to the attention of Melbourne impresario James Brennan, who liked his act enough to book him for his National Amphitheatre in Sydney as 'Roy Rene,' his newly-chosen stage name.  (Rene was the name of a famous French clown whose act he'd seen and admired as a boy.)  He had no trouble finding steady work with the National and other variety circuits –– this was the pre-television, pre-radio, pre-cinema era, when every neighbourhood in every Australian city was home to at least one theatre providing live entertainment to the masses twice a day with prices starting at sixpence –– and was soon performing regularly in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide throughout 1911 and 1912, diversifying by occasionally accepting minor roles in 'straight' theatrical plays.  In 1912 he came to the attention of Benjamin and John Fuller, owners of the Fuller Circuit of theatres, due to his popular (and allegedly unplanned) impersonation of famed American 'Hebrew' comedian Julian Rose.  The Fullers liked him enough to send him 'across the pond' to New Zealand, where he worked in its four major cities for most of that year.  After returning to Australia he finally succeeded in meeting influential booker Harry Clay, for whom he worked in various parts of the country, both urban and rural, until the end of 1914 when the Fullers re-hired him for a touring company being formed by brother and sister 'musical comedians' Albert and Maud Bletsoe. 

Back in Sydney after appearing with the Bletsoe troupe in Brisbane, and working again at the Fuller-owned National Theatre on Castlereagh Street, Rene suddenly found himself in the employ of a new manager named Nat Phillips –– a writer, director, singer, acrobat and fellow clown who had been summoned east from Adelaide by the Fullers to take over the Bletsoe 'revusical' (a combination of revue and musical) after Albert and Maud departed in order to pursue 'new opportunities.'  Phillips immediately formed a new troupe composed almost entirely of performers who were already under contract to the Fuller brothers, retaining only two from the now-disbanded Bletsoe troupe.  

One of these retained performers was the twenty-five year old Roy Rene.  It was Philips –– ten years his senior and, unlike him, a performer who had found success both in Britain and on the Continent –– who decided that he and Roy should team up to form a double act.  Dissatisfied with the name 'Phillips and Rene,' they were still struggling to find a better alternative when the doorman of the Sydney Tivoli suggested that they might like to give the names 'Stiffy and Mo' a try.  They performed together as these characters in what was billed as 'Nat Phillips' Tabloid Musical Comedy Company,' a name that soon changed to 'Nat Phillips' Stiffy and Mo Revue Company' and then simply to 'Stiffy and Mo.'    

Theatre poster, 1921
Phillips and Rene were a sensation and their success as a team was instantaneous.  As historian Clay Djubal noted in his 2006 PhD dissertation:  'Much of the popularity accorded Stiffy and Mo was due not only to the comic situations they found themselves embroiled in but also because audiences recognized in them the traits of an Australian character type that both typified and celebrated the nationalistic ideals being infused into the wartime Australian identity –– namely mateship, loyalty, egalitarianism, larrikin attitudes (including practical jokes on mates) and an outright refusal to bow to authority figures.  As the first truly urban Australian characters to be developed on the variety stage Stiffy and Mo not only captured the Australian popular culture's imagination but also played a significant role in boosting the popularity of the new Australian revusical genre which had begun to emerge around 1914/1915.  Much of the duo's success, too, can be put down to the rapport which allowed them to work off each other in both written and improvised scenes.'  The outbreak of World War One also played a crucial role in consolidating the team's popularity, with Australians looking more and more to homegrown talent to fill the gap created by the enforced absence of imported British and American artists.

But the partnership, successful though it was, was not without its tensions.  Phillips was more or less the brains behind the operation, writing its sketches and developing, in the character of Stiffy, what was the first recognizably Australian comic figure to appear on an Australian stage.  (He wore a South Sydney football jersey as part of his costume, an addition which no doubt endeared him to his urban working class audience, many of whom lived in this socially-deprived area and supported the mighty Rabbitohs.)  Unusually for the time, he and Rene did not work as 'straight man' and 'comic,' but as equals, provoking and sharing the laughter jointly between them.  Although they remained partners until 1928 –– with a two year hiatus between 1925-1927 caused by what was alleged to be a misunderstanding about money which saw Rene resume his solo career and even accept a 'legit' part as a factory foreman in the play Give and Take, a role he by all accounts excelled in –– it was his performance as the obviously Jewish and linguistically-challenged Mo which began to attract the lion's share of attention from audiences and critics.  His final split with Phillips, when it came in 1928, was less the result of personal acrimony than their shared belief that the partnership had begun to grow stale and the time had come to go their separate ways.  Although plans were later made for the pair to reunite for one last tour, these were abruptly curtailed by Phillips' death in June 1932.

Click HERE to listen to The Sailors, the one and only gramophone recording made by STIFFY AND MO in 1927.  (This clip is part of the online collection of THE NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVE.)


Rene found himself leading his own company by the middle of 1928, appearing in a show called Mo's Merry Monarch's at the same Fuller Circuit theatre on Castlereagh Street in which Stiffy and Mo had first captured the hearts of Sydney audiences more than a decade earlier.  One of the featured vocalists in the show was a 'sloe-eyed, dainty brunette' named Sadie Gale who, like him, had been performing professionally since childhood.  Their paths had originally crossed in 1913, but it wasn't until Ms Gale was hired to join the touring company of the 1927 Stiffy and Mo 'comeback' tour that Rene found himself falling head over heels in love with her.  The problem, according to Fred Parsons, was that 'she couldn't stand a bar of him How he managed to change her mind has never been clearly explained, except that he enlisted the support of her mother –– 'Mumma' to him.'  

SADIE GALE and ROY RENE, 1929
Naturally, Rene wanted to marry his darling Sadie, but there was a hitch –– he already had a wife, an actress named Dot Davis whom he'd impulsively married in March 1917 and had been working with in the Stiffy and Mo revue ever since.  Once a well-publicized divorce had been obtained from Ms Davis, he was free to make Sadie the second Mrs Harry Sluice, which he did on 3 July 1929 in a ceremony held in her flat at 11pm, immediately after the curtain had fallen on that day's final show.  Theirs was to be a happy marriage which, in a few years, would produce a son named Sam and a daughter named Mylo.  Sadie also became her husband's preferred if infrequent performing partner, appearing with him in many of the 'vulgar' sketches for which he was now becoming increasingly famous all around the country.  Their happiness threatened to be short-lived, however, when Rene became seriously ill with peritonitis while he and Sadie were touring in northern Queensland, forcing him to undergo an emergency operation in Melbourne three months after they opened there in a new 'straight' play titled Clowns in Clover.  While the operation saved his life, it also kept him off the stage for six months and left him with a badly scarred stomach that forced him, from then on, to wear a specially-designed medical corset.  'He was inordinately proud of this scarified stomach,' Parsons remembered, 'and would show it to anyone interested at the drop of a corset.'

But dropping corsets was not the primary topic of discussion for anyone in Australia or, indeed, in the rest of the world in 1930.  Along with every other Australian business, the entertainment business found itself severely affected by the Depression, with audience numbers diminishing to the point where it was impossible for Rene's comeback show –– a revue called Pot Luck which again opened in Melbourne in June –– to earn enough for its producers to make a profit on it or come close to recouping their original investment.  Financial necessity saw Rene and Sadie undertake a tour of Hoyts' suburban picture theatres (a big comedown for two such seasoned stage performers, with 'movies' definitely being seen as the inferior and, as most of them believed at the time, transitory form of entertainment) and a brief tour of New Zealand in order to keep themselves gainfully employed.  By 1931 they were back in Sydney, opening in a new show at that city's New Haymarket Theatre which aimed to attract audiences by keeping ticket prices low and changing its program daily instead of weekly.  

The gamble worked, with the show's manager Mike Connors soon taking over the nearby Sydney Opera House (not the iconic one on the harbour built in the 1970s, but the original one on George Street built in the nineteenth century) and renaming it the Sydney Tivoli.  Rene performed here and then returned to Melbourne to appear in yet another revue called Brighter Days at his old stamping ground The Bijou.  'To those who could afford to see it,' Fred Parsons recalled, 'it offered two-and-a-half hours of comedy, music and pretty girls.  It –– and similar shows –– played their part in making the unemployed forget how miserable they were.  On the stage, they saw a seedy character called Mo who was obviously as broke as they were.  They saw him apply for a job, and then lose it because he back-chatted the boss.  They saw him order drinks that he had no hope of paying for, and they laughed when he suffered the consequencesAnd in those times a good laugh could help you forget that you had no job to go to the next morning.'

It was the 1930s that saw Rene come into his own as both a comedian and as a national treasure, perfecting a unique, very broad style of irreverent working-class humour which mischievously thumbed its nose at everything that was polite, authoritarian and 'posh' and seemed tailor-made for those enduring the worst effects of the Depression.  (The wowsers deemed Rene's act to be 'vulgar' and even 'dirty' on occasion, earning him an undeserved reputation as a purveyor of smut that proved virtually impossible to shake off in later years as fact increasingly gave way to hearsay and unsubstantiated rumour.)  Unlike many of his contemporaries, Rene worked steadily throughout the Depression, appearing in one show after another as either its principal comedian or as an ever-popular 'featured act.'  In 1934 he also starred in Strike Me Lucky! –– the title was one of his most popular catchphrases –– his first and only film directed by pioneering Australian director Ken G Hall.  He was persuaded to grow a real beard for his Cinesound debut but the film, while entertaining and occasionally threatening to become even more than that, failed to capture the essence of what made him such a gifted and memorable vaudevillian (although it did provide him with a few Chaplinesque scenes in which he was given free rein to display what he called his 'lovely pathos').  Film was not his medium.  His comedy was fed by the reaction of his 'mob' and without them much of what made him so funny and so beloved by his audience was lost.



Australian film poster, 1934

Click HERE to watch three short clips from Strike Me Lucky, the 1934 film starring ROY RENE and directed by pioneering Australian filmmaker KEN G HALL.  (These clips are part of the online collection of AUSTRALIAN SCREEN, which is operated by THE NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVE.)


By 1936 he was back at the Tivoli, working for the great Wallace Parnell, a recent English import (and brother of Val Parnell, world-famous manager of the London Palladium) who would, over the next eight years, prove to be its most successful manager.  Joining the Tivoli company was a major turning point in Rene's career and also the making of it in many ways.  The Tivoli Circuit was the most prestigious variety circuit in Australia at that time, featuring both the best local performers and many of the top music hall and vaudeville acts imported directly (and exclusively) from Britain and the USA.  It was a style of show –– fast-paced, sketch-based, filled with pretty ballet girls and well-orchestrated musical interludes –– that suited both his temperament and his indecorous style of comedy, although he hit a snag in the fact that Parnell's boss, an ex-comedian named Frank Neil, bore him a longstanding grudge.  (This may have been inspired by jealousy, as Neil's own career as a comedian had not been successful.)  Neil refused to re-sign Rene when his contact expired in 1939 and Parnell, as the manager rather than the booker of the show, was powerless to stop him from letting his top star slip through his fingers.  The good news, at least for Rene, was that he had plenty of other offers waiting for him and was immediately re-signed by Parnell following Neil's death in a car accident on New Year's Eve.  Rene remained at the Tivoli until 1945, helping to fill the almost insatiable demand for entertainment created by the outbreak of World War Two and the arrival of thousands of American GIs on Australian shores.  

The end of World War Two also saw the end of what is now considered to be the Golden Age of Australian variety.  With the Pacific now free of Japanese ships and foreign talent once again available and easy to import, the Tivoli's new manager David N Martin reinstated its pre-1939 policy of hiring big-name acts from overseas to star in its shows.  This meant that there was less incentive to hire the local acts which had kept audiences laughing and happy throughout the war years.  (Nor did it help matters that there was no one there to champion their cause following the resignation of Wallace Parnell in 1944.)  Unbelievably, one of the first casualties of Martin's anti-Australian hiring policy was Roy Rene, whose Tivoli contract was not renewed when it expired at the end of 1945.  

FRED PARSONS and ROY RENE, c. 1942
Thankfully, Rene had already tested the waters in what, as the decade wore on, became its most important and popular entertainment medium –– radio.  He recorded sixty short comedy spots for an independent producer during the war years which, while not particularly funny by his lofty standards, had been popular enough to prompt the Australian Broadcasting Commission to commission two thirteen episode serials starring the Mo character.  Like his previous radio work, both The Misadventures of Mo and Sherlock Mo were written by his regular stage writer Fred Parsons, who was under no illusions as to their quality or their ability to capture the true essence of Rene's comedic genius.  Rene, unfazed by this, went back to performing his two shows a day at the Tivoli, putting the radio experience out of his mind until 1946 when his flirtation with the increasingly popular medium suddenly assumed a new significance.  Without a regular Tivoli contract to sustain him, he was faced with the choice of either going out on tour again –– something he hadn't been obliged to do since the late 1920s –– or accepting an offer from radio producer Ron Beck to join the cast of two radio variety programs titled, respectively, Colgate Cavalcade and Calling The Stars

In March 1946 the Sydney newspaper The Telegraph reported that audiences would not be able to see Mo on stage 'for at least a year.  He has signed a contract,' the story revealed, 'to appear exclusively for the Colgate-Palmolive Radio Unit.'  With material once again written for him exclusively by Parsons, it did not take Rene long to find his feet as a radio performer –– a transition aided by the fact that, unlike his previous radio work, both Colgate Cavalcade and Calling The Stars were broadcast 'live' in front of a studio audience.  The enthusiastic response to his appearances on these programs gave Parsons the idea to write a regular weekly ten minute sketch for him that he decided to call McCackie Mansion.   

Debuting on Tuesday 8 July 1947, McCackie Mansion soon became the most popular segment of Calling The Stars and, within a few months, the most popular comedy program, bar none, on Australian radio –– a short, sometimes surreal excursion to 'Number Thirteen Coffin Street' where Mo lived with his cheeky son Young Harry (Harry Griffiths) and was regularly visited by his greedy brother-in-law 'Orrible 'Erbie (Jack Burgess), his annoying neighbour Lasho (Don Lashwood) and a pseudo-refined, frail-voiced 'gent' known as Spencer the Garbageman (Harry Avondale).  There were no female characters in the cast and the humour was outrageously camp for its time, with Mo finding what many thought to be his perfect comic foil in the delicate, oh-so-refined Spencer (whose surname was eventually revealed to be Smellie).  The show proved so popular that it allowed Rene to make a brief return to the stage in 1949, headlining in a new revue titled McCackie Mo-ments at the King's Theatre in Melbourne.  But it was McCackie Mansion that made 'Mo McCackie' a household name to millions of Australians and introduced Rene to a new generation of fans, many of whom had not been born when he'd been packing them in at the Tivoli twice a day.  McCackie Mansion ran every Tuesday night until 1951 –– when Colgate-Palmolive stopped sponsoring variety programs to begin sponsoring the game shows most housewives now seemed to prefer –– and introduced many distinctive expressions to the Australian vocabulary, including the still widely-used 'Pull your head in!' and 'Cop this!'.  Other favourites included the perennial 'Strike me lucky!', 'You dirty, filthy beast!' and 'Fair suck of the saveloy!'.  But there was a social message lurking beneath the flamboyant surface of Rene's comedy, best captured in this statement made by poet (and his soon-to-be ghostwriter) Max Harris:  'There he would be, leering, spitting, expostulating, and celebrating every ugly vulgarity to be found in a society rich only in inhibitions, self-delusions and respectable hypocrisies.  You can laugh at the grotesque in front of you, he seemed to be saying, laugh at the sub-human stage Jew, but he is you.  And I’m going to prove it.  And he did.  He and his audience laughed at the worst in themselves.'




McCackie Mansion
ROY RENE (Mo); HARRY GRIFFITHS (Young Harry)
DON LASHWOOD (Lasho); JACK BURGESS ('Orrible 'Erbie)
HARRY AVONDALE (Spencer the Garbageman)
Radio Program –– Performed & recorded live c. 1948
   


Rene was too beloved an entertainer to remain absent from the nation's airwaves for long.  Although a proposed series for the ABC, provisionally titled McCackie Manor, failed to get the green light he was back on-air by March 1952, performing every Saturday night in The New Atlantic Show alongside actress Patricia Shay and compére Pat Hodgins.  Unfortunately, his failing health soon forced him to quit the show and, following a May 1953 heart-attack which left him re-confined to the bed he'd been so eager to leave just twelve months earlier, retire from showbusiness altogether.  He performed one last time on radio, returning to the Macquarie Auditorium in Sydney from which so many episodes of McCackie Mansion had been broadcast, to make a final cameo appearance on his old programIronically, he appeared not as Mo but as himself, giving a brief speech in honour of a newly-established charitable foundation known as the Elizabethan Theatre Trust.  It was 'one for the mugs' and failed to earn him a single laugh –– a fact which struck Fred Parsons, who also attended the broadcast, as being more than a little sad.  'I knew that Alan Clive [an impressionist] signed off by saying "All the voices you heard tonight were supplied by meall except the dog."  Roy was at the side, waiting,' Parsons remembered in 1973.  'As Alan said, "All except the dog," Roy shuffled on stage and said, "That was me."  The audience yelled, and I'm glad that they did, because it was the very last laugh that Roy ever got.'

Nimrod Theatre poster by MARTIN SHARP, 1978
The passing of Roy Rene on 22 November 1954 closed the book on what had arguably been the most innovative era of Australian comedy until its university/television-inspired resurgence in the early 1980s.  Unfortunately, Rene is largely a forgotten figure these days despite the fact that the nation's most prestigious (if least publicized) live performance award was named 'the Mo Award' in his honour in 1976.  Remarkably little of his film and radio work survives and what little does survive remains commercially unavailable –– a situation sadly indicative of Australia's reluctance to preserve, celebrate or even acknowledge the contribution made to our cultural heritage by men like him and his fellow 'star' comedians (and closest rivals) George Wallace and Jim Gerald.  Few people below the age of seventy realize who these performers were or how crucial their work was to the formation of what is now considered to be 'the Australian sense of humour.'  Rene's influence, while far from being a visible or pervasive one, can still be detected in the irreverent comedy of performers as different from him (and from each other) as Barry Humphries, Graham Kennedy, Paul Hogan, Wendy Harmer and Paul Fenech.  But perhaps the finest tribute of all came from actor Garry McDonald –– best known for his hilarious Norman Gunston character and for his work in the prize-winning 1980s sitcom Mother and Son –– who impersonated him (with fellow actor John Gaden playing the role of Stiffy) in a brilliant theatre piece titled Mo which premiered at Sydney's Nimrod Theatre in 1978A bronze statue of Rene was recently unveiled in Adelaide, the city of his birth, but it's another irony that it was perhaps the one city in the country where his popularity never reached the heights it did in the nation's eastern capitals.

It's tempting to speculate what might have happened to Rene had he taken the advice of many of those he worked with and tried his luck on the US vaudeville circuit or in the British music halls.  He certainly had his fans in these countries, with American comic legend Jack Benny and the notable English actress Dame Sybil Thorndike both declaring, after seeing his act at the Tivoli in the 1940s, that he was among the very greatest stage comedians they had ever seen anywhere.  Benny went so far as to state that, in his opinion, Roy Rene belonged in the same class as Chaplin –– the only one of his fellow clowns, incidentally, that the famously egotistical Rene was ever heard to praise.  According to Fred Parsons, he was never eager to try his luck overseas.  When one of his sisters, who lived in the US and reminded him how much a successful comedian could earn over there, pressed him to take the plunge and book himself a ticket to Los Angeles Rene allegedly shook his head and said, 'Turn it up, love.  Look what happened to Les Darcy and Phar Lap.  They might make it a treble.'  He died, of course, two years before television reached Australia, but it's not hard to agree with Parsons' statement that 'television wasn't made for Roy, nor he for itIn a way I'm glad he didn't live to try it.  He knew very few failures, and the majority of these were in his days as a battler.  He was fortunate that he went when still a big name, still an idolLuckily for Roy, no one ever referred to him as a has-been.  I don't think he could have stood that.'   The unfortunate thing is that he's now in danger of becoming exactly that –– someone remembered, if his name is mentioned at all, as a minor relic of a bygone era rather than as the major, incredibly gifted performer who stretched the boundaries of Australian comedy even as he helped to create and define it.



As stated, very little of the work of ROY RENE has been preserved and what little of it has been preserved remains, for now at least, commercially unavailable.  THE NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVE is currently the only available source for his work, excepting the seven minute YouTube clip of McCackie Mansion featured above.

William Heinemann Australia Pty Ltd, 1973
The life of ROY RENE has been documented twice.  Mo's Memoirs –– an allegedly self-penned illustrated autobiography 'edited' by poets MAX HARRIS and ELISABETH LAMBERT –– was published by the Melbourne firm of Reed & Harris in 1945.  (Most historians now believe that LAMBERT and HARRIS, who earned a different sort of notoriety as the principal victim of the infamous 'Ern Malley' hoax which shook Australian literature to its core in that same year, ghostwrote the book for him.)  This memoir remained the sole source of biographical information about RENE until the publication of FRED PARSONS' A Man Called Mo by William Heinemann Australia Pty Ltd in 1973.  While neither book can be considered 'definitively reliable' in terms of the information it provides or its historical accuracy, each offers an entertaining glimpse into what is a long-vanished, never-to-be-repeated era of Australian showbusiness and, for that reason alone, remains a valuable cultural document in its own right.  Secondhand copies of both books can be found on the Amazon-owned ABE Books website by clicking HERE and HERE.

The best source of information about the early career of ROY RENE, including a well-researched examination of his 'Stiffy and Mo' partnership with NAT PHILLIPS, can be found at THE AUSTRALIAN VARIETY THEATRE ARCHIVE, which can be visited by clicking HERE.  Another useful source of corroborating (if sometimes conflicting) biographical information is the ROY RENE page at the AustLit website, which can be visited by clicking HERE.

The 'MO' Award, 2010
The MO AWARDS continue to be presented each May in recognition of outstanding achievement in Australian live performance.  There are currently twenty-four categories, including a 'Mo Comedy Act of the Year,' and winners are presented with a statuette modelled after the ceremony's namesake.  Those interested in learning more about the MO AWARDS can do so by clicking HERE.  

FRED PARSONS went on to have a highly successful career in television throughout the 1960s and 1970s, writing many episodes of the popular crime dramas Homicide and Division 4 in addition to serving as principal gag writer for Australian comedy legend GRAHAM KENNEDY during that comedian's long tenure as host of the controversial (and sometimes scandalous) late night variety show In Melbourne Tonight.  (KENNEDY repaid him by contributing a short but heartfelt foreword to A Man Called Mo.)  Every year the AUSTRALIAN WRITERS' GUILD presents a special prize known as THE FRED PARSONS AWARD to an Australian screen or television writer deemed to have made an 'Outstanding Contribution to Australian Comedy.'  The recipient of the 2014 Award was ANDREW DENTON.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can provide additional information about the life and career of ROY RENE (and especially from anyone with copies of McCackie Mansion and Strike Me Lucky they may be willing to share with me).  I would also be grateful to hear from anyone with information to provide about the life and career of GEORGE WALLACE and the other forgotten stars of Australian variety and pre-1950s cinema.  Please see my FAQ page above to find out how to contact me.




'Don't be such an nwarp.'

'An nwarp?  What's that?'

'That's a prawn spelled backwards!'



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