Gerry Gee ‘Wood’ but Ron not ready to retire
On With the Show’s Flashback
to Variety Today 1993
By SHIRLEY BROUN
RON Blaskett has been making people smile throughout Australia for an amazing 57 years and , at 71 years of age, there is no sign of him retiring from his first love – entertainment.
“I’m not saying I wouldn’t retire if the opportunity arose but nothing can quite replace the buzz of making an audience laugh. It’s great!” said Ron while enjoying a few days off at his Phillip Island retreat.
One of Australia’s most admired ventriloquists, Ron has been a part of many historic show business moments.
One in particular was the launch of television in 1956 – a major event which also marked the birth of Ron’s long time `offsider’, Gerry Gee, who was specially carved by the same American wood carver who created famous ventriloquist and father of Candice Bergin, Edgar Bergin’s dolls. “Gerry was named after GTV (9) and was their mascot from day one,” said Ron.
This was the beginning of a long association with Channel 9 for Ron and his menagerie of dolls who soon weaved their way into the hearts of thousands of Australians. There was Gerry, Rags the Dog, Hetty the Hen, Tiny, Sandra Simpkins (operated by his wife Merle), and Ron’s personal favourite Adolphus Twerk – the slow talking country boy.
The characters were featured in Ron and Geoff Corke’s top rating children’s show `Corkey King and the Kids and gester Gerry Gee’. “Geoff was the highest rating children’s show host at the time – just brilliant.”
Of course, Ron was also much sought after for television shows such as In Melbourne Tonight, In Sydney Tonight (with Keith Walsh), the Tarax Show and Young Talent Time.
Ron has been a part of the changing faces of entertainment in Australia, beginning in the heyday of vaudeville, through the second World War when performers travelled to the battle fields to entertain troops, the big days of radio and the birth of television.
The Tivoli years
“I was a vaudevillian and the highlight of my career to this day was working at the Tivoli,” said Ron. “It was difficult in those days for local acts to get in – with overseas acts preferred at the Tivoli – but when I was asked to appear in a production of `Clambake’ with the likes of the late Colin Croft, Joe Latona, Rex Wacka Dawe, George Wallace Jnr, Billy Kerr (then a good-looking young comedian who went on to England after that – his famous catch cry was `I’ve only got 3 minutes’), Tex Glanville and Smiling Billy Blinkhorn – I was ecstatic. And, what is more, audiences paid only about five bob (shillings) for the best seats in the house.”
In those days, Ron recalled, comedians were only allowed to utter the word `bloody’ once throughout their performance. “Back then, comedy based on `sex’ was also taboo, but those days of the `old maid’ approach to comedy are well and truly gone. It’s now considered a part of life and is an acceptable part of humour,” said Ron. He added that the costs of running show like the Tivoli would be too expensive today.
First Australian Toupador Unit
After winning Australia’s Amateur Hour, hosted by Terry Dear (a national radio program) Ron enlisted for four years in the Army during the war but considered himself extremely fortunate to have been selected into the First Australian Troupador Unit. “We all trained and rehearsed at Pagewood Film Studios in Sydney and were then sent into the war zones to entertain the troops. I met Smokey Dawson there and was best man at his wedding. Our troupe went to Morotai and Borneo and were away six months.”
The Troupador Unit also supported Gracie Fields in two major concerts in Sydney and toured in a show called `Yarra Roos’, produced by Helen Reddy’s father, Max Reddy.
Another famous Australian, Michael Pate, also entertained the troops and has written a book `An Entertaining War’ which mentions Ron and a host of fellow countrymen who took part.
The Gerry Gee story in print
Ron too has just completed a booked called `The Gerry Gee Story, which he says covers everything from a boy looking for an audience on Taronga Railway Station at the age of about 14 to the Toronto Expo in 1975.
The book relives Ron’s colourful career, taking its readers on a historic journey of show business in Australia as seen through the eyes of this warm-hearted professional.
Ron admits he may have put a few words into Gerry Gee’s mouth (in the book) but as quick-witted as these pair are, it is certain to be entertaining.
A little secret
And, Ron let us in on a little secret – Gerry Gee will only talk if he is positioned on the ventriloquist’s right hand.
Ron, who describes himself as the `straight man’, said: “It seems my brain just can’t carry on a conversation with Gerry if he’s on my left hand. It’s not a problem with the likes of Adolphus, only Gerry.”
Ventriloquism, he says, is an art interpreted differently by each performer. “Some guys do clever things with their voice and the doll is adjunct to their talents, others develop a comedian as a figure. Me … I developed a comedy character acceptable to people. I can make people laugh without offending anyone and therefore, can appeal to all age groups. It has worked well for me.”
Throughout his career, Ron has had the support and assistance of one very special lady … his wife of 48 years, Merle. “Merle used to work my doll Sandra Simpkins when we did the Theatre Royal in Brisbane and on television spots. She has always been by my side, and we are still as much in love today as we were on the first day we met,” said Ron.
Ron and Merle have two sons, aged 46 and 33, and the youngest has followed in his father’s footsteps as a ventriloquist. He also operates what is believed to be Australia’s first mobile optical service.
In the meantime, Dad is kept busy on the corporate circuit writing and performing material specifically for their special events. “I can be a little more selective today,” he said.
Ron said if he could live life over again he might do one thing differently: “I made a mistake by allowing myself to become classified as a children’s show personality for 20 years. I had to wait to get rid of the image before working for adults.”
But, all said and done, I’ve had a wonderful life, a great career and I still love every moment I spend performing, he said.