Impromptu `showbiz’ reunion
On With the Show
By SHIRLEY BROUN
ENTERTAINERS rarely get a chance to be at the one place at the same time … especially if it is to enjoy what many of us take for granted, a simple meal with friends and family. These wonderful human beings are usually entertaining people as they dine or, alternatively, they are busy rehearsing to go on stage.
Recently, a group of artists who originally hailed from around Australia, found themselves all on the Gold Coast and jumped at the opportunity for a lunch to remember at the Southport Yacht Club.
They remembered it not only because it was so rare to get together but also the talented luncheon guests had been friends for more than 40 years and shared a lifetime of memories.
The arrival of effervescent NSW-based performer Toni Stevens on the Gold Coast for some performance dates sparked the reunion and a subsequent call to me to join them.
I arrived expecting to see just my dear friend Toni but instead, I was surprised and delighted to see two tables of happy and smiling faces I first met when I was a young journalist in my teens in Sydney. The look of surprise on my face must have been a `corker’.
Valuable contribution to showbiz
Each and every one of the performers had made a valuable contribution to the world of showbiz and many, although now in their 60s and 70s, were still performing and entertaining the masses. It’s like riding a bike, I guess … you just never forget.
So many memories flooded back to me as I gazed into their welcoming, smiling faces and impromptu exclamations of `my god it’s Shirley’, obviously a sure sign we hadn’t seen each other in a very long time.
There was one face among the star-studded cast I had seen recently and that was The Four Kinsmen’s George Harvey (now of the duo Pearson & Harvey) who had a series of shows lined up with some of the luncheon guests and wouldn’t have missed the `reunion’ for quids. And that goes double for me.
I remember most of the artists from my early days reporting on Australian showbiz. They were all established professional artists busily working the club and live entertainment venues, based in Sydney but touring Australia and in particular the East Coast. Of course, many travelled overseas as well.
Birth of ALVA
Toni Stevens, comedian, vocalist and all round entertainer, has contributed a great deal not just as a performer but to help those in need. In 1978 Toni (and Harriet Littlesmith) initiated the idea of establishing a ladies association within the variety industry and, together with a dedicated team of fellow female performers, started the Australian Ladies Variety Association (ALVA) in 1979. Over the past 35 years, and many fundraisers later, hundreds of variety and theatrical people have been helped physically and financially by ALVA. Dame Vera Lyn is its patron.
Also at the lunch were Robyn Alexander and Elizabeth Garnett who were a part of ALVA’s founding team plus entertainment industry stalwarts Geraldine Fitzgerald, Coral Roy, Margaret Flanagan, Lynn Rogers, Marlene Newman (wife of the late Bill Newman), Peter Mathieson, bass player Valentine Jones, Geoff Montgomery (Ex Catering Manager Sydney Opera House) and wife Lena Bernhardt (former booking manager for Dirty Dicks and Argyle Tavern Sydney) plus the ever-endearing Bill Alexander (Robyn’s husband).
Smiley bill a show stopper
I’ve never seen Bill without a smile on his face (today was no different) and many regular club goers, especially in Sydney during the heyday of live entertainment in the clubs and venues, will remember this jolly soul with the big smile that lit up a room. At every performance he would stand on his head (usually on top of a piano) and sing one of the big numbers of the time in a booming big voice that had the crowd standing and yelling for more.
I remember booking Bill for the annual Country Women’s Association Annual conference in Wagga one year and he had the conference delegates (all women) up on their feet for several standing ovations. We had a very young Lee Kernaghan on the same bill.
Come time to leave the Southport Yacht Club and there were hugs and kisses all around. Let’s hope it’s not as long between drinks next time … thank you so much for the very special memories!