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Everyone’s favourite Beast turns 70 (1995)

December 7, 2012

90's Flashback

Stage comedy was always Stuart Wagstaff’s first love.

Stuart Wagstaff turns 70 at gala celebration

Flashback to Variety Today 1995

HE HAS been a `Beast’ and cavorted with his fair share of `Fair Ladies’ but to his loyal fans and dedicated followers Stuart Wagstaff will always be a `true gentleman of the stage’.

On February 13 about 200 former leading ladies, fellow actors and friends gathered at Sydney’s exquisite Marriott Hotel to help Stuart celebrate his 70th birthday. The who’s who of Australian showbusiness were there including Rowena Wallace, Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch, Gwen Plumb, Carole Raye, Hazel Phillips, Kamahl, to name but a few.

Stuart, renowned as a man with a big heart, said proceeds of the celebrity luncheon would aid the Actor’s Benevolent Fund. It is hard to believe this renowned actor, who first arrived on Australian soil in 1958 for a year’s contract with J.C. Williamsons, has reached such a milestone in his life.

His hair may have gone grey but his energy, enthusiasm and commitment for the industry in which he contributed so much remains vibrant and effective. He is also an inspiration to many aspiring actors to whom he freely offers not only encouragement but also valuable advice, gleaned from his lifetime on the stage.

Stuart appeared in a movie with Barbra Streisand.

Stuart has worked with some of the world’s finest performers including Barbra Streisand, Lloyd Bridges, Susan Sarandon, Frankie Howerd, Dick Emery, Shirley Jones, and David Cassidy. But, it is here in Australia where Stuart has made the greatest contribution and etched his way into the hearts of millions through stage, television and personal appearances.

When J.C. Williamson brought him to Australia from his home town of Great Durnford, near Stonehence, England, in 1958 for a stage play `Not in the Book’, Stuart then 33 was only going to stay a year. His plans changed dramatically when – after the first year – he was offered the lead role in what would remain his all-time favourite stage production `My Fair Lady’. “The production ran for four-and-a-half years and then people just kept offering me work – so I stayed,” said Stuart.

Tall and handsome with a distinctly upper-crust British accent, Stuart soon found himself in another successful stage musical `Sound of Music’ and, for a brief moment after its season ended, though he may return to England. “I went back to England but it was winter and cold, and there were so many good actors out of work. I turned around and went back to Australia – and I am glad I did.”

Stuart Wagstaff with Robert Wagner.

Television beckoned Stuart on his return and with his talent and natural appeal, he was soon one of the most `seen’ faces on Australian television. Another contract which took his profile to new heights was his starring role as the Benson and Hedges man in 116 commercials. His regular weekly tonight show on Channel 7 also had a big following – Stuart Wagstaff and become a household name throughout the country.

TV panel show `Beauty and the Beast’ saw Stuart surrounded by women, with each giving advice to problems or relationship issues sent in by viewers. Stuart was the mediator and his powers to keep decorum on the set were put to the test. So popular was the show, Stuart found himself touring to regional centres around the country and hoesting local television panels as well. The show’s success led to Twentieth Century Fox buying the program – and Stuart with it.

As a result Stuart moved to Los Angeles and, while Beauty and the Beast did not meet the studio’s expectations, its host kept up a hectic schedule with appearances and roles in movies and television series between 1972 and 1975. Among them was a movie with Barbara Streisand and a guest appearance on the Patridge Family where he worked alongside Shirley Jones and teen heart-throb David Cassidy.

Stuart was pleased to return to Australia in 1975 where he joined other familiar faces such as Graham Kennedy, Ugly Dave Gray, Don Lane, Johnny Pace, Carole Raye, Col Joye and a host of other great names of showbusiness on shows such as Blankety Blanks.

A professional through and through, Stuart has since starred in many roles on the stage – his first love – including the Rocky Horror Picture Show in which he worked with Russell Crowe, Simon Westaway and Steven Bastoni all of whom regard Stuart as their `Dutch uncle’ for advice and guidance to their careers. “If young actors ask me, I am only too happy to give them some advice. In fact, it is a most exciting thing to see young talent coming up and be able to give them a boot along,” said Stuart. They can benefit as much as they want from older people’s advice – it really is up to them and if they want to listen – but there must be something said for existing in the industry for so many years.”

Stuart dresses up with Ray Burgess, Barry Crocker and Normie Rowe.

Stuart has worked with some acting greats including Frank Thring, Tony Bonner, Jack Thompson and the list goes on. He appeared in the Australian film, The Journalist. As a lover of fine music, the London Times crossword (and finishing it yet!) Stuart makes no bones about the type of music he enjoys most. “Pop music stopped for me when Glen Miller died”.

He made one exception – `Yesterday’ by the Beatles – and said his lucky song is `I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face (from My Fair Lady). “Hearing that song for the first time seems like only yesterday to me,” he said.

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