Can I still say Happy New Year in February? I’ve certainly found myself saying it to rather tanned people who have just returned from extended holidays. I only took one more week leave than usual, but I enjoyed this extra time off from work; especially since Bob and our friend, Mark, also had holidays. It was fun to have a friend from Brazil, Thiago, visit us. Visitors from overseas give you the chance to become unofficial ambassadors of your city or state. You may even visit for the first time attractions or parts of the city that hitherto were not on your radar. I find that I talk up random bridges (“Ooo, look a lovely bridge!”), gardens (“Ahh, a splendid garden!”), and even statues (“Look, it’s…well, actually I don’t know who the hell that is. But look, he’s near a lovely bridge”). There were also several Christmas newborns to meet, beaches to walk, and a helpful, if somewhat judgemental, Netflix offering me a long list of potential film and TV options based on previous viewing.
Bob and I tried a lot of the lunch bars and cafés that have sprung up all over the city, but are only open during the day. This endeavour got off to a shaky start when the two of us and our friend, Carlo, eagerly joined a line outside of one eatery. Our frustration at being told that it was hard to say how long the wait would be because “people eat food at different speeds” eventually gave way to bemusement when we noticed that people were sneaking past the confused waiting staff to sit at recently-vacated tables. Felled by this culinary war of attrition, fought with retro knives and forks, we retreated and ended up at a fast-food Mexican joint.
Even when keeping busy, the end of one year and beginning of another is often a time for self-reflection. Psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert A. Wicklund proposed in their 1972 book, A theory of objective self awareness (New York, Academic Press), that while attention can be directed inward or outward at any given time, we’re usually more outward focused because “the environment is normally a strong enough stimulus to draw attention to itself”. To put it another way, we’re the “subject” of our existence and everything and everyone else is an “object”. Please don’t take this explanation to mean that I’m objectifying you all; and frankly, on more than one occasion, I’ve made enough of a spectacle of myself to warrant your scrutiny. In psychology studies stemming from this theory, mirrors or recording people on film and then playing the tape back to them are often used to move a participant’s attention from the environment to himself or herself. I think a new year is just as effective a prompt for looking inward.
While I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions, I am not immune to the focused self-reflection that comes with this time of year. Or any time of the year, really. You want to talk about me in August? I’m your navel-gazing man. What is it about the impending start of a new year that drives self-reflection, and the want to end or begin chapters? I suppose we think in terms of beginning-middle-end with many things, and years are no different. We reflect on what we did, what we haven’t done, and what we’d like to do in the future. More than anything, though, I think that a new year is such an alluring prospect for many people because of the promise it offers of putting a line in the sand; of breaking away from self-imposed boundaries, or the boundaries that we allow others to put around us. No one likes being put in a box. And yet, we have mental containers for everything.
One of the first topics I teach when introducing social psychology to undergraduates is the concept of schemas. It was one of the first social psychology topics I probably learned from my own lecturers: Lyn Leaney, Brian Gerner, and others; as well as texts such as Social psychology (Pearson/Allyn & Bacon) by Robert A. Baron, Donn Byrne, and Nyla R. Branscombe. Schemas are structures that organize our knowledge and assumptions about something (e.g. situation, person, social role), and are used for interpreting and processing information. For example, when we visit a restaurant we expect to wait for a table, to be seated, to be given a menu and a few minutes to choose an order, and so on. We are also likely to have schemas that organize our knowledge and assumptions about doctors’ visits, sitting in a library, shopping, and so on (these are event schemas or scripts). These schemas not only help us to know what to expect, but also direct our behaviours in these situations. We have schemas for ourselves, other people we know, “types” of people (the prototypical waiter, doctor, and librarian), occupations, social roles, specific social groups…you name it, we are a virtual Howard’s Storage World.
Schemas make life easier. They tell us what to look for or how to size up a situation or another person. But they can cause problems for that very reason because they don’t give anyone much wiggle room. Our impressions of others, in particular, are likely to persevere. Boxes by their very nature can store a lot of baggage. It reminds me of the LGBT metaphor of the closet being for clothes, and not for people. I agree with that wholeheartedly, unless it’s an Ikea closet; in which case, it can be used for clothes storage and to cause major rifts in any solid relationship, as you scream, “Why have we only got six of those screws? Oh, we’ll never put this KVIKNE together!”
We started watching Sensitive Skin starring Kim Cattrall and Don McKellar on Netflix in late December. In fact, we couldn’t wait and squeezed in watching the final episode of the first season before heading to a New Year’s Eve party. This television show really spoke to my point. Kim plays Davina, a former model who works part-time at a gallery. Davina is trying to figure out who she is, and grappling with whether you can make big changes in your life. I loved what the series said about the drift of life leading you a certain way versus going out and trying to get what you want; or at least trying to figure that out. Davina’s dilemma is really how to be free of both the gaze of others and their reflected expectations, and to be honest with herself about whom she is and what she wants so that she can act on it. In one episode, Davina tells her neurotic writer husband Al something that she’ll come to realise relates to her as well: “You’ve got a perfectly good brain, but it’s blind. It’s full of nerves and doubts and fear … Just be the Al you want to be, and you’ll be him”.
Perhaps Davina doesn’t fully realise the parallels with her own situation, but she is right about Al. Psychology research tells us we often infer who we are and how we feel by what we do. But this intense soul searching to figure out who exactly we are can be difficult. Duval and Wicklund believe that self-directed attention can result in negative emotions if we find our behaviours and other parts of our self fall short of our own standards. When we experience negative pangs as a result of discrepancy, we may try to change our behaviours to fit with our standards. This may play out in the push to shed a few kilos, an unsatisfying job, or a relationship; give up smoking; travel; or perhaps – if there was a video camera at the New Year’s Eve party – not to ever fall into the punch bowl again. We may also come up with new standards, or avoid self-reflection all together. Psychologists would say that humans are rather averse to adverse emotions, and so it’s understandable why we may choose the final option.
I’ve found that at times of self-imposed or externally-driven self attention, my conception of who I want to be or who I see myself as is not exactly where I would like it. My tendency, like many other people, is to feel shame, and avoid that painful mirror. Or, I lure myself into that false sense that I have achieved a homeostasis in personality and evolved to an end-point where, I’m not that person anymore. But if I did make a New Year’s resolution in recent years, it was to be more honest with myself and try to figure out what I really wanted. On my navel gazing this year, I found that I was closer to where I wanted to be, and there didn’t have to be such an upheaval of self-concept. I think that is in big part due to this blog. Anytime I feel in a box, I find writing helps me to shake it off. Writing is a very satisfying creative outlet for me, as well as a way to figure out exactly what it is I’m thinking.
I would like to thank my 2015 interviewees: Gavin Harrison, Patricia Florio, and Jonathan Daly. They gave freely of their time and really did what I have written about. Self-reflection can be challenging, difficult, fun, and a whole range of other things. I appreciate the effort they put into it. I hope that it was as useful to them as it was to me. I would also like to thank Bobby Vee and his family for support of my writing about their family in my If I Needed You post; and those who participated in my Sunday, You’re Looking Neat in Your Tidy Attire Q&A: Rutanya Alda, Simone Buchanan, Gabrielle Carteris, Cazwell, Tim Ferguson, Tim Matheson, Breckin Meyer, Lucas Neff, Chris Noel, Tatum O’Neal, and Billy Warlock.
I’m working on a couple of new projects and look forward to sharing them with all of you when I can.
Sometimes I write all day or even over an entire weekend. I love being in that type of flow. However, I find that I can start to act just a little bit bizarre and need some actual human interaction. I found this to be the case a couple of weeks ago, and was pleased that Bob, our friends Julie and Carlo, and I choose to go to one of our favourite pubs known for its friendly atmosphere and extensive beer list. We listened to a lovely singer perform original pieces and covers. One of her originals was about an elderly man. After the song, she intimated that she may be killing him off in a sequel unless the audience had other ideas. Buoyed by courage (and probably our tab at the bar), a sense of duty compelled me to fish for a stay of execution for her fictional protagonist. At the end of the singer’s set, I excitedly went up to her and offered, “Perhaps…he could go to Europe!” She was very sweet, but I sensed that she was thinking, He’s has two Hefeweizen, and all of a sudden he thinks he’s Carole King.
In writing this, I decided to return to one of my favourite theorists: Gordon W. Allport. I considered his trait theory at length for one course I completed in my first year as an undergraduate. In his 1955 book, Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality (New Haven, Yale University Press), he wrote, “there is also much growth that takes place only with the aid of, and because of, a self image. This image helps us bring our view of the present into line with our view of the future”. I guess what I take away from all this New Year reflection is strive to be who you want to be. You just can’t be Carole King – that’s already taken.
If you ask Jonathan Daly to describe himself, he has a few choices. He is an actor, most often in comedy; a writer, of nightclub acts, television series, plays, and more recently, screenplays for films; a director; and a producer. He has often combined these roles at the same time and, at one time or another, done all of them in spades. Jonathan’s initial prominence and popularity was in front of an audience. On U.S. television, Jonathan is well-known for co-starring roles in the final season of Petticoat Junction (1969-70) as Orrin Pike, Bobbie Jo’s (Lori Saunders) suitor, and in 1970s series The Jimmy Stewart Show as Peter Howard (Jimmy’s character’s son), and then C.P.O. Sharkey, playing Lt. Whipple, the superior of none other than Don Rickles. He was a familiar face in guest parts on The Flying Nun, Bewitched, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and The Partridge Family. There were also films: among them, The Young Warriors with James Drury; Out of Sight which included a who’s who of rock and pop musicians; and Disney’s Rascal and Amy, which were Jonathan’s favourite films, and two of seven pictures he made at that “wonderful studio”.
There was a time before these series and films when Jonathan was known somewhere else, and by a whole nation no less who had only recently come to television. With a partner named Ken Delo, and an act that initially started as a “Martin and Lewis thing”, but became much more, Jonathan set out for Australia. It was early 1960 when producer Norman Spencer brought Delo and Daly to Melbourne. They had been working together for only a couple of years. In that time, as Jonathan explains, the focus was on building a relationship rather than the act. Viewers, and the press, likely did not know what to expect from the comedy team when they made their Australian television debut Saturday April 2 at 8pm on Melbourne’s GTV-9 on the nationally-aired The BP Super Show. Very quickly Australia took the duo into their hearts and homes. GTV-9 would be their home for several months, as an initial four-week stay (some papers said six) turned into six months. At GTV-9 Jonathan and Ken found supportive colleagues and good friends. It was there they appeared regularly on In Melbourne Tonight and The Graham Kennedy Show, the version of IMT for national consumption that also meant the duo became well-known interstate. The legend of the show’s host, Graham Kennedy, has grown over the ensuing decades, but Jonathan found in him a collegial colleague with whom he shared the stage many times. IMT’s roster included Bert Newton, Panda, Joff Ellen, and appearances by the very special Elaine McKenna, with whom Jonathan worked often, and shared considerable chemistry.
It was the time of the nightclub in Melbourne – and, indeed, much of the country – with Delo and Daly becoming a sensation wherever they went: the Savoy Plaza in Melbourne, Chequers in Sydney, and Lennons Broadbeach Hotel in the Gold Coast, amongst them. They did not, however, appear at the very famous nightclub The Embers, with Jonathan tasked with telling formidable club owner, Jimmy Noall, why his establishment was not suitable for comedy.
By the time the team left Australia, after filming two specials, their “acceptance by Australian TV audiences … set them apart as being by far the most successful of the U.S. TV comedy ‘imports’” (The Age, Radio and Television Supplement, October 6, 1960), with the pair later described as having “had the biggest success of any overseas act on Australian TV, and what was planned as a limited stay in 1960 turned into the longest for any imported variety act” (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, May 31, 1962). Colin Bednall, head of GTV-9, knew a good thing when he saw it, and he offered Jonathan the chance to write and produce. An appealing prospect, Jonathan and Australian wife Marlene Duff returned from the U.S. for Jonathan to work at GTV-9 for a year. In a nice tie-in to his very first appearance in Australia, he was assigned The BP Super Show. The BP Super Show was the network’s prestige program, “the channel’s show window” (The Age, Radio and Television Supplement, April 7, 1960). Indeed, in the month before Jonathan took over the reins, the star of the February episode was Ella Fitzgerald in a special filmed performance – at The Embers of all places!
Jonathan’s stint with The BP Super Show began with an episode starring Lorrae Desmond, Jerry Vale, French acrobats The Dandinis, Kamahl, and Tommy Hanlon Jr. Horrie Dargie compered and his quintet were featured on this show, which went to air February 11, 1961. On March 25, The VW Show began. This show, sponsored by Volkswagen, alternated with The BP Super Show, so that every two weeks viewers received either a BP or VW instalment. For this first production, Horrie Dargie compered a show featuring Alan Dean, Ray Hastings, Kathleen Gorham and Robert Pomie, Dorothy Baker, the Coral Deague Dancers, and the GTV-9 Orchestra conducted by the maestro, Arthur Young. The shows showcased new talent, overseas talent, Australian stars, vocalists, comedians, dancers and acrobats. Take a BP show from April 8, 1960 that featured The Allen Brothers act: Chris and that Boy from Oz, Peter. In many ways it was also a showcase for Jonathan’s many talents, as he would increasingly move across performing, writing, and producing.
It became a bit of a habit for Jonathan to be about to board a plane (once literally), or to actually board a plane back to the U.S., before being asked to do something else in Australia. After his time with the BP and VW shows was over, he moved on to HSV-7. It was there that he compered Daly at Night, a forerunner to night time talk shows on Australian TV and an introduction to “the authentic Tonight format” (Australian TV: The First 25 Years, ed. Peter Beilby, 1981). The show was a D.Y.T. production, with Horrie Dargie, Arthur Young, and John Tilbrook having set up their own production unit. Described as a “controversial discussion show” (The Australian Women’s Weekly, 13 November 1963), critics didn’t completely take to Jonathan behind the desk and his panel and team that included Vikki Hammond, Horrie Dargie, Arthur Young, Frank Thring, Kitty Bluett, and Lou Richards. The Wednesday-Friday series did, however, produce plenty of memorable moments and ran for a year; starting March 7, 1962 and ending on March 29, 1963.
In many ways, the team of Delo and Daly had cast a long shadow on Australian television. In the time that the team had largely been off of TV, which was some two or so years with the exception of a special at GTV-9 called In the Soup in 1961, momentum was building for a return. After the stage lights of Daly at Night dimmed, Jonathan returned to the U.S. When his plane back to Australia landed on May 5, 1963, Ken was with him. At the time of their arrival to a “welcoming committee” at the airport including Norm Spencer, now at HSV-7 as assistant manager production, Horrie Dargie, John Tilbrook, Kitty Bluett, Julian Jover, and Joe Latona, Jonathan declared, “It’s wonderful to be back!” (TV Times, Victoria edition, May 15, 1963). That’s high energy after a rather lengthy flight between continents!
The negotiations between D.Y.T. and HSV-7, the search for sponsors, and other details of the show “created more press speculation since it was mooted than any other” (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, June 6, 1963). TV Week reported that “Delo and Daly have planned their show with Cape Canaveral-type security” (South Australia edition, June 29, 1963).
The Delo & Daly Show launched on HSV-7 in Melbourne on September 3, 1963. It eventually had “a six State ‘web’” with New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia carrying the program (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, January 23, 1964). I imagine for viewers tuning in to the first episode that it was a thrill to again watch Ken and Jonathan, as they walked together on their set’s distinctive checkered floor toward the camera. It was a thrill for me when I watched a tape of the first program earlier this year.
The Delo & Delo show was variety in every sense of the word. Ken and Jonathan sang medleys, sometimes with their guest stars, and Ken also typically sang solo. The two engaged in fast-paced skits, involving take-offs of commercials and other popular forms. In between skits, The Delo & Daly Girls would try to keep straight faces as they set the scenes. In one skit in the first episode, an excited Jonathan is Ralph, a hiker about to start a monumental trek from the corner of Bourke and Exhibition streets in Melbourne across the entire continent. It’s just too bad that he’s not good at crossing a road, and it’s over before it begins. In another as part of the regular “Let’s Talk” segments, Superman (Jonathan) asks his interviewer (Ken) to call him “Soup”, and he talks of how at 21 when most of his peers got cars or boats, he got a cape; as well the problems of leaving his suits unattended in phone boxes.
In a skit from the second episode, Jonathan is an optimistic prison warden who doesn’t “like to use the word ‘escape’”; instead preferring to “just say they’re away” when his inmate count reveals some deficits.
Jonathan put a premium on quality. During a visit to Adelaide early in the show’s run, he was quoted in TV Week (South Australia edition, October 5, 1963) as stating, “To make a really good show you need writers and time … time to rehearse and money to pay the artists, technicians and musicians during rehearsal. Writers need time to prepare well ahead of each show, and while they are preparing they must be paid”. As Jonathan rightly points out all these years later, The Delo & Daly Show – and, in fact, all of the shows he was associated with – included wonderful performers, such as Kitty Bluett, Bill Bain, Joe Hudson (also a producer on Delo & Daly), Lewis Tegart, Addie Black, and Vikki Hammond, as well as The Joe Latona Dancers (Julie Dawtry, Chris George, Steve Buge), the song-and-dance quintet The Take Five (Annette Fisher, Pauline Whalley, David Ellis, Barrie Stewart, and Wally Ruffe), Jimmy Allan and the HSV-7 Orchestra, and many others. Behind the scenes were director Norm Spencer, writers Jonathan, Ken, and Hugh Stuckey, producer-choreographer Joe Latona, and art director George Havrillay – all masters committed to their craft. The Delo & Daly Show won the Logie Award for Best National Variety Show in 1964. When I mentioned to Jonathan that I had watched the 2015 Logie Awards on Channel 9 a couple of weeks before our chat, he told me that he thinks he still has the statue, and that “We were very honoured” to have received it.
Writing and fronting The Delo & Daly Show was a demanding task, and one which Jonathan devoted himself to fully. Eventually, Ken and Jonathan started a weekday afternoon show, called simply enough, Ken and Jonathan, which ran April 27 to July 24, 1964. Julie McKenna was their hostess.
All good things must come to an end, and on August 26, 1964 the final The Delo & Daly Show aired. Ken and Jonathan returned to the U.S. soon after. Of course, that was not the end of the story. Ken would go on to a long stint in the U.S. The Lawrence Welk Show. Jonathan would return to Australia many times, including in No Sex Please, We’re British. He then began other iterations of his career: his U.S. television and movie career, and playwriting. Jonathan has been married to Kacey for over 30 years, and he has three children: producer Jules Daly, actor Rad Daly, and Kathryn.
I spoke to Jonathan about his time in Australia. His time here was a highlight in many people’s professional lives. When Norm Spencer left HSV-7 in 1968, “he said the happiest and most satisfying period spent at HSV-7” was producing Daly at Night and The Delo and Daly Show (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, January 2, 1969). For Jonathan, it was a time that he remembers fondly, and it was a joy to listen to him light up when speaking of old friends and a country still close to his heart. I have a feeling that if he were to come back, this time we wouldn’t let him go.
Adam: What led to your coming to Australia in March, 1960? Jonathan: Our agent booked us there for four weeks for In Melbourne Tonight. It was funny because we didn’t really have enough material for that four weeks so we were kind of faking it. And then they held us over and they kept holding us over. I don’t know if you remember the act, but it was a lot of adlibbing anyway. That served us well because if we had had to have formal material we wouldn’t have been able to keep going on.
Adam: I found a TV Week article (Adelaide edition, December 14-20, 1960) where you described the schedule during your first six months in Australia. You said, “With an average of 16 performances a week, 10 in night clubs and six on television, we were always working … We arrived in Melbourne with enough good material for eight performances a week and ended up doing twice that number”. Jonathan: [Laughs] That’s right.
Adam: If I may backtrack a little bit, how did you meet Ken Delo? Jonathan: That’s a simple story. I was in charge of the Fifth Army Entertainment Division and it went from Chicago to Denver, Colorado. The idea was I had to produce shows because they were recruiting shows and we would travel, but I had to do a show at my home base every Saturday night if I wasn’t on the road. The problem was it was an Officers’ Club and it was the same audience every night, and so I didn’t have any material. I found a singer, Ken Delo, and I said, “Listen, you’re going to have to not only sing, but you’re going to have to do kind of a Martin and Lewis thing because you’re going to see the same audience every night”, and so our adlibbing started out of necessity there. Adam: That would’ve been in the late ‘50s? Jonathan: Yeah, probably 1958, yeah. Adam: Was that around the time when you also went on a USO tour to Alaska? Jonathan: You’ve done your work. We did a Bob Hope tour up there and froze. Everything we were doing was forming more of a relationship than an act and that’s what I think was actually the secret of our success – that the audience accepted the relationship.
Adam: In my research I came across pieces and listings in The Age newspaper announcing that Ken and your first television appearance in Australia would be on April 2, 1960 on The BP Super Show hosted by Horrie Dargie. The star attraction was Carolyn Maye of The Music Man, and also appearing with you were Fred Barber, a mimic and comedian; Jimmy Wheeler, a comedian; vocalists Baby Jane and Dorothy Baker; a French acrobatic dance team, Les Vincent-Cardinal; The Dargie Quintet; and, of course, the Channel 9 Orchestra and Ballet. Jonathan: You mean it was before In Melbourne Tonight? Adam: Yeah, supposedly that was the first one and then soon after you did IMT for the first time. Jonathan: Isn’t that funny, I don’t remember that at all.
Adam: In one short piece announcing The BP Super Show and IMT appearances, the two of you were described this way: “They are said to specialise in a brand of comedy which has won them a certain amount of popularity among teenage audiences in U.S.A.” (The Age, March 24, 1960). Was that the case? Had you performed for teenage audiences? Jonathan: No, they’re not even close. You know something, honestly we had not performed that much before we had come to Australia. The whole idea of Australia was simply to get us some more experience. We did that Alaskan USO tour but we hadn’t played that many places – it was very fresh. Adam: And the TV landscape here at the time would’ve allowed you to try out some of that, almost test the material? Jonathan: Yes.
Adam: As you said earlier when describing IMT, were those shows predominantly adlibbed? Jonathan: Yeah, we would come up with a premise and Ken was wonderful at going wherever I went; he was a masterful straight man.
Adam: Watching you and Ken, it really is the relationship that comes through. I don’t think you can fake that sort of thing. Jonathan: No, and it even worked in, there’s an interesting titbit. We were supposed to play Jimmy Noall’s nightclub in Toorak, which was called The Embers. That was part of the deal that we would do IMT and the nightclub. But when we went to see the club I said to the owner, who I didn’t know was a gangster, “I’m sorry but this place doesn’t work the way it’s set up for comedy; it’s not a good place for comedy, it’s a jazz place”. The Oscar Peterson Trio was playing there at that time, and the shape was perfect for jazz. The owner told me, “Oh no, we’ve had comedians play here”, and I said, “Well they must’ve died”. He agreed that they didn’t go very well, and I told him, “Well that’s because it’s not built for that”.
When I spoke to Norm Spencer at GTV-9, he told me, “Well there’s a club I can show you at the Savoy Plaza, but they don’t have a floor show”. I said “Well, let me look at it”. We went there and I thought that it was a perfect nightclub for a comedy team because of the way it was constructed. So we opened there. They’d never had anybody entertain on the floor and we became very successful very quickly and you couldn’t get a table. It just worked out absolutely beautifully.
Adam: How big was the nightclub scene in Melbourne at the time? Jonathan: I guess it was big although from what I heard then, it was never as big as what happened with us – we kind of exploded. It was that wonderful mixture of they would see us on television and then able to come and see us live. I think we were as big as you could get then but I can’t remember the others. There was a place called Mario’s and there were some Italian singers from America who would go in there, and I think they did very well.
Adam: Did you ever perform at Chequers in Sydney? Jonathan: Oh my God, yes. We were the talk of the town in Sydney. They had a very funny owner named Denis Wong. How old are you? Adam: Thirty-three. Jonathan: How come you know all this stuff? Adam: I just love the time and so I enjoy doing the research into these places that I never experienced. Jonathan: Well, you would’ve loved Chequers because Chequers was a real nightclub and it had some huge names, big names.
Adam: I think you also went up to the Gold Coast in Queensland and did Lennons Broadbeach Hotel. Jonathan: We opened that, literally opened it. A man named Oliver Shaul who was the head of the hotel chain that also included the Savoy Plaza came to us and said, “We’re opening a hotel. We don’t know if there’ll be an audience because it’s brand new. I’ll give you anything you want so would you come up and open for us?”
Adam: Returning to talking about IMT, Hugh Stuckey described working with Graham Kennedy in this way: “Graham doesn’t need a writer in the same sense as others. He doesn’t need completed script, only ideas fed to him … His big problem is that he won’t let you mentally near him” (The Age, October 11, 1962). In your experience, was that an accurate assessment of Graham? Jonathan: Actually, I had a very strange, wonderful experience with him. I understood – and Huey and I have talked about this – Graham was distant, but one day we were in the hall and he asked, “How’s it going and have you found a flat?” We were talking and I said, “Listen, you should come over for dinner some night”. Everybody said, “He won’t be coming to your house, forget that, that isn’t going to happen”. Well he did; he came and it was a very unusual experience – I guess because people told me he never did that. Graham and I got along very well, and I think we had a personal mutual respect for how hard it is to do comedy. Adam: The other thing was he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders, television was relatively new over here and just exploding – I guess in the same way that you and Ken did as well. Jonathan: Yes, and instead of him being jealous of our success on his show he was enormously supportive.
Adam: When you first came over to Australia were you living with Ken? Jonathan: Ken and I had a flat. It was near Jimmy Noall’s nightclub so I guess that would’ve been in Toorak.
Adam: It seems that the audience took you both in fairly quickly. Did it feel like that, like everything was kind of, you came over here and it was like bang, bang, bang we’re on our way? Jonathan: Yeah, and you know something, for years, in fact to this day, I am stopped on the street. I live in Waikiki and Australians – the tourists are over here a lot – will stop me and say, “How are you?” To this day I discuss with them how amazing it was and I still don’t know why they took us into their homes and hearts so quickly. It was so fast, it was within two or three appearances, so there was something in us that they accepted quickly.
Adam: Was there any sort of animosity or jealousy from Australian performers when you guys came over to work here or was that not an issue? Jonathan: One of the nicest things that ever happened to me was on the very first night we were in GTV-9. Joff Ellen came up to me and he said, “If you ever need anything, from one comedian to another, I will be there for you, you come and bother me, ask me anything, I will be as helpful as I can be”. Joff Ellen was one of the nicest people I ever met. I thought they would resent us but it turned out to be, you know something, there must’ve been some quality in Ken and me that put the Aussies at ease, they didn’t feel threatened or they didn’t feel we were imposing or trying to be a big shot, never had anything but love.
Adam: That’s wonderful. Towards the end of your first stay in Australia, two specials were filmed. The first screened was produced by Rod Kinnear, and was said to have captured “two-thirds of the available audience in Melbourne” (The Age, October 6, 1960), so that one did incredibly well. Jonathan: Yes, that was a big hit. I remember that I was in a last-minute rehearsal for one of our specials when I was summoned to the office of the boss to meet someone. I was unhappy at being interrupted but thrilled when I found out who had come to GTV-9 specifically to meet me. It seems Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies was a huge President Kennedy fan. He thought I looked like Kennedy so he came to meet me as a fan. It knocked my socks off!
Adam: That’s a great story! Then there was A Party with Delo and Daly, with Norm Spencer producing. The plot of that one was Ken having a party and Elaine McKenna suggests that he hire you as the butler and drink-waiter. Jonathan: That’s it.
Adam: I read that in the special was your flea act, where you had a flea called Leroy. I don’t know if you remember that? Jonathan: [Laughs] Yes, I do. That was the dumbest single act in the history of nightclubs. It was just so stupid that the audience went along with it. Adam: That was from your nightclub act and you brought it on to the TV show? Jonathan: I started that at the Officers’ Club in the Army. In the act, I had a flea who did acrobatics. Of course, nobody could see anything, and eventually the flea in doing the triple disappeared and we lost my precious flea. The whole idea of it was that later in the act as we were walking around entertaining the people who were sitting by the floor I would go, “Hold it”, and I would go over to somebody as though I had just found my flea. But the punchline was that after putting my fingers in this poor man’s hair I would say, “Oh sorry, that’s the wrong flea – that’s not Leroy”, and so we would insult whoever the celebrity was who was ringside. We’d use that in our nightclub act and then I think we used it on A Party with Delo and Daly. Adam: I think it sounds quite funny. Jonathan: Well it was funny because the audience was in on it. I mean they knew we were being total twits so they loved the fact that we were being so stupid.
Adam: You worked with Elaine McKenna many times. What do you remember of Elaine? Jonathan: Elaine and I were very close. We connected well for the audience. They kind of felt we were dating. It was a working relationship, but we loved each other. I went back several times, as you probably know, to Australia over later years and was very saddened to hear that she had passed away. I am still in touch with her sister, Julie McKenna. Adam: Who you also worked with a few times as well. Jonathan: Yeah.
Adam: When you and Ken left GTV-9 in 1960, Rod Kinnear wrote in the notes for The Best of Delo and Daly record, “I have tremendous respect and admiration not only for their extraordinary talents, but also for their personality and character as people. They have become very great friends of everyone at GTV-9”. You came back solo soon after to Australia and GTV-9. What led to that? Jonathan: We were leaving after having been there for quite a while and Colin Bednall, the head of the network, came up to me and said, “Would you consider producing and writing shows?” I said, “Sure, absolutely,” and so we created another show called The Volkswagen Show which alternated with The BP Super Show.
Adam: That makes sense because I couldn’t find as much on The Volkswagen Show. I could find information on The BP Super Show, but not so much on that one. Jonathan: I think we did them every two weeks. Adam: Was that similar to The BP Super Show? Jonathan: It was the same show, but sponsored by Volkswagen. Adam: So it was essentially the same format just a different name? Jonathan: Oh yeah, I did exactly the same show.
Adam: Do you have any memories of favourite guests or episodes of The BP Super Show or The Volkswagen Show? Jonathan: Well, I can tell you a story. I used to use a lot of opera singers and ballet dancers – it was very classical. I had a booker who was from Europe and I would use his talent. At the end of my contract I came in to the head of the network and I said, “I need a little extra money”. I was walking down Collins Street and this little European booker came running up to me and he said, “Jonathan, Jonathan, I’ve got for you Andrés Segovia”. Well Andrés Segovia was the greatest guitar player in the history of humankind, he was brilliant. I said, “Are you kidding me?”, and he said, “No, because you’ve been so nice to me you can have him on your show”. So I needed a little extra money and I went to the network. They said to me, “No more Spanish dancers”. And guess what, I quit. That was the end of The BP Super Show and The Volkswagen Show. It’s also one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. I didn’t even bother to tell them that Andrés Segovia was not a Spanish dancer. I mean, it’s not their fault; Segovia was not popular in Australia so it was understandable that they hadn’t heard him.
Adam: Is this when you directed and starred in Come Blow Your Horn? Jonathan: Yes, again I was leaving and Garnett Carroll, the owner of the Princess Theatre, sent his son, John, to the airport. He told me, “There’s a play on Broadway by a new writer named Neil Simon and we have permission to do it. Would you direct it?” I couldn’t find anybody to be in the lead, so I did it. Adam: That’s impressive to hear, the up-and-coming writer Neil Simon.
Adam: After 12 months producing for GTV-9, as well as the play, you left, but then you came back for Daly at Night on HSV-7. You hosted, and had a panel with Vikki Hammond, Arthur Young, and Horrie Dargie. Jonathan: Horrie was my right-hand man, he sat next to me.
Adam: I’ve never seen Daly at Night, but I read it described as a “controversial discussion show” (The Australian Women’s Weekly, 13 November, 1963). Why do you think that was? Jonathan: [Laughs] Well, it was very simple; it was controversial because the audience was used to seeing me making faces and getting a pie in the face, and being a clown. In Melbourne Tonight was a variety show, it wasn’t a talk show. Daly at Night was the first talk show, and so the audience wasn’t sure what the heck was going on because there was a comedian sitting behind the desk, as Graham did; but it was some serious, some funny, and there weren’t any acts, it was just talking. At first they didn’t get it, but by the end of the year – and I could only stay for a year – they were loving it.
Adam: I guess that would’ve been even before The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or anything like that, so that sort of thing wasn’t really being done anywhere. Jonathan: No, Carson was already playing. Steven Allen started The Tonight Show, and then Jack Parr, and then it went on. Adam: Oh, of course. Jonathan: That’s what I was doing, I was doing The Tonight Show. No-one had ever done that in Australia.
Adam: I researched some of the guests. Did you have Henry Fonda on Daly and Night? Jonathan: Yeah, I sure did. It was funny because I had done a show in America called The George Gobel Show, and he and I did The George Gobel Show together. That was in 1954 or 1955, something like that. And then he came over and did Daly at Night with me. Years later I played Jimmy Stewart’s son on The Jimmy Stewart Show, and Hank Fonda was Jimmy Stewart’s best friend. So Hank came in on the set one day and he said, “You and I have to stop meeting like this”. When he was on Daly at Night he was absolutely fantastic and we spent the next few days together. He was a wonderful man. So eventually to work with his best friend, it all tied in very nicely.
Adam: I’d love to find that Daly at Night episode. I don’t know if they’re around but that would be something to see. Jonathan: Do you remember a man named Frank Thring? Adam: Absolutely, yes. Jonathan: Well, Frank was as openly gay as you could be in those days, and he would come on the show and he was hysterical. All of our humour – see that’s what the audience, they were a little thrown by it because we didn’t have acts, but we had funny conversations. If you could find Daly at Night, oh my gosh that would be great. I’m sure they burned it because they didn’t know what the heck we were doing. Adam: Frank seemed to be definitely one of a kind. Jonathan: He was fantastic, great guy.
Adam: When you were producing and then when you were on Daly at Night was there pressure or people wanting Delo and Daly to reunite? You did do a one-off special screened in May, 1961, In the Soup, and I know Ken came back to Australia for a solo stint on IMT in 1962. Jonathan: Well, we stayed in touch and we kept talking about doing it, and then when Daly at Night finished, then there was pressure, “Can you get a hold of Ken? We don’t want to lose you”. I was very lucky because every time I’d start to leave they’d say “What else do you want to do?”, so that was pressure to get Ken to do The Delo & Daly Show.
Adam: It seemed every time you were about to get on an Ansett plane they kept sending you back. Jonathan: That’s right! In fact Reg Ansett called me and he said, “Where are you going?” I told him, “I’m leaving” and he said, “No, no, no, no”. As you know I came back later and did No Sex Please, We’re British, and Ken and I also did Bert Newton’s show together, and so any excuse to come back. I love Australia.
Adam: Did you work with Bert Newton on IMT or was it later that you worked with him? Jonathan: We only worked with Bert in his role that he had with Graham, but then when he had his show they brought us back to do that. Adam: I did find a picture from 1984 of Bert with you and Ken for Tonight with Bert Newton. Jonathan: Oh yeah, that would be it. It was that wonderful director Peter Faiman; he directed Bert’s show and he contacted us. Adam: I saw Bert Newton last year on stage in Grease, and before that he was in Wicked playing the Wizard of Oz. Jonathan: He has had quite a theatrical career, hasn’t he? Adam: Yes. He had a morning show here in the ‘90s and 2000s Jonathan: Right. Adam: And then once that wrapped he’s been doing a lot of theatre. Jonathan: I’m glad to hear he’s still working.
Adam: Did Daly at Night finish because you needed to go back to the U.S.? Adam: Yes, and again the same thing happened. I think they started to figure out that it was a money ploy because I’d say, “No, I’ve got to go home” and that’s when they suggested, “How about if you get Ken and we team up the old team again?” I said, “I don’t know. If you want to do this it’s going to cost you a lot of money. We’ve got to hire a writer, we’ve got to get a bigger orchestra, we’ve got to have sets, and we’ve got to have guest stars”. Norm Spencer, he muscled the big shots at Channel 7 and they pulled it off.
Adam: The Delo & Daly Show took a while to get moving. From reading some of the articles of the time, it seems that there was a lot of negotiation going on before you actually shot the first couple of shows. Jonathan: Sure, absolutely, they were terrified. Have you seen the show? Adam: Yes I have. Jonathan: OK, I’ll give you an example of that. I wanted a big black and white checkered floor and no permanent sets. I wanted to do it in a very sparse way, but then once in a while use realistic sets. One of the negotiations was about the floor. You won’t believe this, but that black and white floor cost a fortune. We would constantly negotiate.
Adam: It was a fantastic floor. Is it true that up the front of the floor were really big pieces but as you went further and further back they were little ones, and it was to give the perspective of depth? Jonathan: Yes, it was a perspective.
Adam: It was a very modern set for the time. It was fantastic. Jonathan: People raved about the look of it. I knew what I wanted, but I knew it was going to cost them a fortune. I remember spending hours with Keith Cairns, who was the head of the network, saying, “Come on, come on, give me a little more money”. Adam: [Laughs]. Jonathan: [Laughs] But then it was a hit.
Adam: Did you ultimately feel that you got the time and money needed to make the show you wanted to make? Jonathan: Oh absolutely, absolutely. They were just amazing to us and that’s how I got Hugh Stuckey to come aboard, and Hugh is as good as you get.
Adam: Did you already know Hugh at that point? Jonathan: Yes, Hughie was writing for Graham when we were on IMT and so I knew him. I called him in to our offices at D.Y.T. and said, “Listen Hugh, we’re going to do this big variety show and I’m going to need all the help I can get”. Hughie and I just had a fantastic relationship. I could say something and he would go from there. He was a wonderful, wonderful writer. We’ve stayed very close, incidentally. Adam: That’s wonderful to hear that you still speak to him. He wrote for A Country Practice, which is one of my favourite programs. Jonathan: Have you ever interviewed Hugh Stuckey? Adam: No I haven’t, he would be a fascinating person to interview. Jonathan: Oh my God, he covers the whole gamut of Australian television between IMT and Neighbours, A Country Practice. You should talk to him; he’s a gem. Hugh’s a good friend, he even came to Hawaii once and we had a wonderful time together.
Adam: The show was filmed in Fitzroy at the old Regent Theatre, which became the HSV-7 studio. Jonathan: The Teletheatre, yeah. Adam: Was that a good place to film? Jonathan: Oh yes. When I first saw it they told me, “This is where we’d like to shoot it”. I thought, Oh my God, this is a dump. But they assured me, “No, no, we’re going to come in here and redo the whole thing”. They really did a great job.
Adam: I watched a few episodes at the State Library of South Australia. The guest star on the first program was Maggie Fitzgibbon, who was appearing in the musical Sail Away. Ken tells you to stop clowning around and introduce her, and so you start your introduction with “Maggie Fitzgibbon first joined the Communist Party back in 1946”. You then get cut off by Ken who says that she has nothing to do with the Communist Party. Jonathan: [Laughs] Adam: The comedy holds up just incredibly well; it’s a ball to watch those shows. There’s a skit in that show where Ken is interviewing Superman, who is played by you. I don’t know if you remember that one? Jonathan: No, no. Adam: You’re telling Ken that you have to claim your suits on income tax because every time there’s an emergency you’ve got to leave the suit in the phone booth, and so you’re losing all these suits. Jonathan: [Laughs] Adam: There was a skit in another episode where you were a prison warden and Ken’s interviewing you. During the conversation the lights kind of dim and you say, “Oh my gosh, Ralph,” and you realise that you forgot to stop the execution. Jonathan: [Laughs] I don’t remember these things but you have to understand that we did a lot of those shows and we would adlib a lot in the sketches, and then once we would finish that show we didn’t remember anything.
Adam: What was the weekly routine that you had while you were doing The Delo & Daly Show? Jonathan: I don’t remember the night we taped, but let’s say we taped on a Friday night. Adam: I think it might have been. Jonathan: We would have the weekend off and then we would meet at my flat with Joe Latona, who was the choreographer and producer, and Hugh, and we would come up with what we were going to do and then we’d give that to whoever the music people were. If we taped on Friday night we probably rehearsed on Thursday and then did the show on Friday.
Adam: Was the show essentially what you did most of your time, or were you involved with other things? Jonathan: I was writing 24/7. I remember going to mass, and on the way up to Communion I thought of something. I turned around and left the church! So it was a constant; a lot of work. It was a huge show to do every week.
Adam: Did you write with Ken? In a TV Week (Adelaide edition, September 7-13, 1960) you described a scene of one of you at the typewriter and the other pacing up and down. Was that the case for The Delo & Daly Show, or did you write more by yourself? Jonathan: I did most of the writing and Ken did all the music. I had a tin ear, I didn’t know what I was doing musically but he made me sing and he protected me because he knew my limitations. So he did all the music and I did most of the writing; what writing there was, it was more structured stuff that I’d come up with and then we’d go from there. Hugh wrote a lot of the stuff we did.
Adam: Can we talk a little bit about people you worked with on The Delo and Daly Show? You worked with Vikki Hammond on Daly at Night and then she came over to The Delo and Daly Show as well. Jonathan: She was wonderful. Adam: I know she went into acting but I haven’t seen anything of her in a while. Jonathan: Somebody told me that she kind of pulled out of the business, I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I did see her. When we went back in 1984 to do Bert Newton, Van Johnson was there and I knew him and we had lunch with Vikki, so that was in 1984 and I got the feeling then that she was not in the business any more but she came to lunch.
Adam: Another person who you worked with quite a bit, and who was on Delo & Daly was Kitty Bluett. Jonathan: Yes, Kitty was on The Delo & Daly Show. Adam: Did you enjoy working with her? Jonathan: Gosh yes, she was one of the funniest people and she had a wonderful husband. Kitty was just funny. You know there’s some people who are comedians but they’re not necessarily funny, she was just naturally funny.
Adam: You worked with her husband, Julian Jover, as well. Jonathan: Yes.
Adam: Then there was Bill Bain. Jonathan: Oh God, yes. [Laughs] See we had really funny people. Adam: He was quite a character as well, wasn’t he? Jonathan: Yeah, I’ve always felt that you’re only as funny as the people around you and it’s better to have them get laughs because it helps you, so we found Kitty Bluett, Bill Bain, there was a little old lady, I cannot remember her name and we would put her every once in a while, she was hysterical. We liked character actors.
Adam: There was Joe Hudson, who was in The Horrie Dargie Quintet. Jonathan: Oh gosh yes, we used him a lot. Adam: And Addie Black. Jonathan: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. This is fun to hear.
Adam: Sounds like it’s good memories. Jonathan: Wonderful memories because they were wonderful people.
Adam: And I think there was Lewis Tegart as well? Adam: Oh my God, you are amazing! Yeah, absolutely.
Adam: Like you said before, there was Norm Spencer who was the director, and then The Joe Latona Dancers. Jonathan: And The Take Five.
Adam: When you were on Australian TV, you worked with a lot of the same people over multiple programmes. Was that deliberate or was it just a random thing where everyone was working? Jonathan: This is a very strange thing to say but there weren’t that many jobs for that many good actors, so if you got on a roll, which I was lucky enough to do, then you kept running into the same good actors. All the directors knew each other, all the casting directors knew each other and I was very pleased to keep running into good friends. It’s actually a pretty small community because there really aren’t that many shows you know.
Adam: The person I forgot to mention was Jimmy Allan who was the conductor of the HSV-7 Orchestra, which was on Delo & Daly. Jonathan: Yes. You probably don’t know this but Jimmy Allan was a very funny person, he was a comedian. Adam: No I didn’t know that. Jonathan: Oh God, he was so funny.
Adam: Jimmy was married to Panda, wasn’t he? Jonathan: Yes and she was a delight. Adam: Did you work with Panda on IMT? Jonathan: Yes. Adam: I think she’s come back to live here. Jimmy and Panda lived in the U.S. for many years. Jonathan: They lived in Vegas. Adam: Did you see them over in Vegas? Jonathan: No I didn’t, but are you in Melbourne? Adam: I’m in Adelaide. Jonathan: If you ever can find Panda please pass on my love to her.
Adam: Did you have any favourite guests on The Delo & Daly Show? Jonathan: Yes. Dickie Valentine, he and I did a sketch, if you can find it it’s very funny. Dickie was a big star in England and I asked him, “Are you willing to do an almost totally adlibbed sketch? I know you’re a star, you’re a big shot – are you willing to risk it?” He said, “Let’s do it” and it turned out to be very funny. He was a wonderful guy. You know we had so many – Oscar Peterson was fantastic. Oh I’ll tell you who one of my favourites was, Jack Benny.
Adam: Was Jack Benny on the show or was he on something else that you did? Jonathan: He wasn’t on Delo & Daly? Adam: I’m not sure. I didn’t see his name in episode listings at the National Film and Sound Archive, but I did see his name on something else you and Ken did. You did the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal so I don’t know if that was a telethon with Jack Benny? Jonathan: Maybe that was it. Adam: He could’ve been Delo & Daly, but I didn’t see any reference to it. Jonathan: I bet we did the telethon with him and stole five minutes with him to put it on The Delo & Daly Show. I bet that’s what it was.
Adam: That might be it. What was he like to work with? Jonathan: It was funny because I knew this before I met him; he was the most famous comedian in show business in America for being the best audience, he laughs at everything a comedian does, he’s very supportive, wonderful, wonderful man. Adam: That sounds like a tremendous experience. Jonathan: Oh yeah, loved him.
Adam: Was there anyone that you were really sort of star-struck by, or was it just business as usual because you did this every week and didn’t have time to be star-struck? Jonathan: I’ll tell you, when I left Australia I moved into movies and television, so I’ve worked with almost every big name. I worked for two years with Don Rickles on C.P.O. Sharkey, and that’s when you have to stay sharp every minute of every day. I would’ve thought he was going to be intimidating but he was not. So of all the stars I’ve ever worked with, I’ve never had a bad experience. Adam: He wasn’t intimidating? Jonathan: Oh no, he was a pussycat. He was a very gentle, loving, almost timid soul; you’d never believe it’s the same person. I thought I was going to be intimidated by Jimmy Stewart but it turned out that he became like a father to me. I’ve never had anybody that spooked me.
Adam: When you were on Delo & Daly were there any mishaps? Jonathan: Yes every night, every night. Adam: [Laughs] Jonathan: We were so lucky that we were capable of adlibbing because we had a lot of things go wrong: doors that wouldn’t open, props that didn’t work. We taped the show but in essence it was live because we didn’t stop. The audience was there so we just ploughed ahead.
Adam: While you were doing The Delo & Daly Show, you and Ken did an afternoon show for a little while. Was that a split show, where you did half of it and Ken did the other half of it? Jonathan: That’s so funny because Julie McKenna asked me that and she said, “You know, I was on that show with you”, and I said “You were?” It’s so embarrassing but I can’t, I bet you’re right, I bet Ken did “Name That Tune” and I did “Who Do You Trust?” Adam: I think that’s exactly what it was. Definitely don’t feel bad about memories, I’m asking you to recall things that, I mean, you did a lot back then. Jonathan: Well, I’m amazed at how much I have remembered so far, yeah. Adam: I think that I have a clipping with a picture from The Delo & Daly Show, and underneath it mentions that you both announced Julie as a co-host or the hostess of the afternoon show. I will send that to you. Jonathan: Oh wonderful, send that to me please.
Adam: When did the playwriting come in? Jonathan: Well, the reason I stopped Delo & Daly was because I didn’t want to perform. I wanted to be behind the camera but the problem was when I got back to L.A., I became successful in television and movies. I didn’t like acting, and so what happened was as I was doing and becoming known in television and movies, I started to tinker with writing plays. Eventually I had my own theatre in Hollywood, and I would write plays and direct them. I made a lot of money because the plays started to go out on tour and I would put stars in them. That became my livelihood and, now, because my daughter is a producer of movies, I’m writing movies.
Adam: Wow that’s fantastic. When it came time to leave Australia was it a mutual decision? Did Ken want to go as well? Jonathan: He wanted to go, but he wanted to keep the act going and I did not. Adam: Was that a hard thing to tell him? Jonathan: Yes. I didn’t realise how hard it was. I thought he was okay with it but I don’t think he was too happy with me. I just didn’t want to perform anymore and then I ended up doing all of that. We were very lucky as a comedy team.
Adam: And you’re still in contact with him now? Jonathan: Oh yes, absolutely. Adam: I guess after experiencing something like that with someone, the two of you experiencing what occurred during that time. Jonathan: Yes, because it’s a gift and we were appreciative of it, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. He was my best man. Adam: That’s great. He was on The Lawrence Welk Show afterward. Jonathan: Right.
Adam: You came back to Australia a few years later for the play No Sex Please, We’re British. Jonathan: When you asked about mishaps on Delo & Daly, I can’t think of a specific thing, but I can tell you when I did No Sex Please I broke my arm. Adam: Was that a work-related injury? Jonathan: Oh yeah, yeah, I broke it several times. It was a very physical show. They flew me to London to meet Michael Crawford who was in No Sex Please in London, and he said to me, “You’d better be in good shape, you’re going to get killed in this”. And I did, I got my arm broken twice. When my arm was broken the first time, the St Kilda football team was in the audience. After the show they wanted to meet me so they came back with the coach to the dressing room and asked, “What happened?” I told them, “When that door came down, I broke my elbow.” I was told to come the next morning to the Football Club and the trainers would be put at my disposal, and they’d have me back on the stage that night. So every single morning I would go to the St Kilda Football Club and the trainers would work on my arm and they got me through the play.
Adam: Was it Harry M. Miller that brought you back for No Sex Please? Jonathan: It was Harry Miller. When I broke my arm the second time it was because the stage hands were on strike and they had substitute stage hands. They were supposed to put a mattress in place when I went diving through a window and the mattress wasn’t there. I broke my arm and I left the next day. I left Australia and Harry Miller was livid; he said he was going to kill me! But I didn’t have any more limbs I could break so I left. The author of No Sex Please, a man named Anthony Marriott who also directed the play, found out that I walked out on his play and cost him a lot of money. The funny part is a year later I was living in London and I ran into Anthony on Piccadilly. I thought he was going to hit me! Well, we became best friends and he and I wrote plays together.
Adam: I came across an article written when you were on C.P.O. Sharkey with Don Rickles. Your schedule for that show was from 10 in the morning to six at night, and then you would go to your theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and stay there until 11. You’d then get home after midnight and do some writing. The theatre group rehearsed plays for weeks and then performed them. Weekends were sort of family time and leisure, but you were still writing during that time. It seems like you’re someone who always had a very heavy load when it came to work. Jonathan: I’ll tell you a funny story, my daughter has produced some really big movies, and she’s very successful and she works 24/7. About a year ago, I said “I’m worried about you, you are back and forth, you’re always on an aeroplane, you’re working 24/7; I’m very concerned about your work schedule”. She looked at me and she said, “Daddy, shut up”, and I shut up, and she said, “You must never say one word to me about a schedule because when you were raising me you were working. You had to be in makeup at 6.30 in the morning, and you didn’t leave the theatre until 11.30 at night. Don’t you ever say a word to me about working too hard”. I said, “Okay, that’s it, never another word”.
Adam: I guess looking back at that, is that a regret? Jonathan: Well, it’s a regret in that it cost a marriage and it cost time with my kids, but to be honest with you I’ve come to terms with the fact that creative people are in fact slaves to their talent. It’s what you do, you know, it’s a way to make a living.
Adam: I think sometimes people have this idea about creative people that you just wait for the inspiration to happen, and that’s when you’ll write or that’s when you’ll act or sing. Jonathan: [Laughs] There’s no waiting for it to happen, it just happens. The most frightening thing in the world, and I’m sure you know this, is an empty page. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank piece of paper. Adam: Absolutely, I understand that one. The thing is if the inspiration’s not coming you need to get working anyway until it comes; and maybe it will and maybe it won’t. Jonathan: Yes.
Adam: Do you still write on yellow legal pads, or is it computer now? Jonathan: No, I still do it and then my wife puts it on Final Draft, a computer program.
Adam: Was one of your biggest plays A Good Look at Boney Kern? Jonathan: That probably lasted the longest. I think we got 15 years out of it. I’ve had other plays that came closer to Broadway, but they didn’t last as long.
Adam: Do you have a favourite? Jonathan: Yes I do, my favourite is called Mind If I Join You. It starred Dan O’Herlihy, who was an Oscar-nominated actor, an Irish actor. Greer Garson produced, and she almost got it to Broadway. I think that’s my favourite. Although I got very close to Don Knotts when I was doing Boney Kern, and then Gary Burghoff did it after. When you say your favourite, the experience with Don Knotts was we became very, very close friends and so that all becomes part of it. Adam: It’s not just the play itself, it’s what goes along with it. Jonathan: Not just the play itself, exactly.
Adam: I was going to focus mostly on the Australian work and the plays, but Bewitched fans are probably going to kill me if I don’t at least mention it. Do you remember working on Bewitched? Jonathan: Yes of course, I did several of them.
Adam: Was that a good one to be on? Jonathan: Oh yeah, because we became good friends, Aggie Moorhead and I, do you know the show? Adam: Yeah very well, very well. Jonathan: Okay, well Elizabeth would sit between Aggie Moorhead and me and try to keep peace because Aggie and I would argue about religion. Finally Elizabeth said, “I give up, I can’t follow either of you”, but we had a wonderful time on that show. I spent a lot of time there. I did two or three of them but I also was shooting other things near their soundstage so I stayed in touch.
Adam: Was Elizabeth Montgomery a good person to work with? Jonathan: Oh yeah, her father was a pro’s pro and so she was naturally very professional and very warm and had a great sense of humour.
Adam: I know people who like that show, and there’s a lot of them out there, will enjoy hearing that. And Agnes Moorhead, was she a fundamentalist, I can’t remember what denomination she was. Jonathan: Oh no, she just – her whole thing was if you don’t believe in God but then you find out that he existed you’re in trouble, so she said “I’m just going to go with the fact that he exists”.
Adam: What about The Ghost & Mrs. Muir where you played a newlywed with Yvonne Craig and go to the haunted house? I think I saw that on TV again so they keep on. Jonathan: Oh that was great, that was family. Adam: With Hope Lange. Jonathan: Yeah, she was a great girl. I had a lot of fun on that show because Charles Nelson Reilly was on and he was really funny. I got to know Eddie Mulhare who turned out be Dan O’Herlihy’s good friend, and Dan O’Herlihy ended up doing my play. I ended up going on Petticoat Junction as well. It’s wonderful the fact that they’re still going.
Adam: Returning back to Australian television. I guess for someone like me who wasn’t there, what was the TV climate in Australia like at the time? Looking at what was available, there was the international content and also a lot of the old movies, but it seemed to very much be a time of the variety show. Jonathan: Somebody told me that the last big variety show was our variety show, is that possible? Adam: After you guys left, IMT continued for a few years after that, but with the exception of probably Don Lane’s show, I can’t think of too many more. Jonathan: I think Hughie, Hugh Stuckey, said to me fairly recently that the variety show as we did it was kind of the last one. It was a budget thing, a show costs a lot of money. You know who I’ve been in touch with is Olivia Newton-John. I’ll tell you a story, a friend of mine said, “I want you to come over to my house. I want you to hear a little girl sing in my living room,” and I said, “Oh dear God, no, don’t do that to me”. He said “No, no, I just want you to give her a little encouragement”. So I went over and she sat on a stool and she sang for me. I said, “You’re very good, you know what you should do? There are things called coffee houses here in Melbourne and you should go to these coffee houses and you should sing. You will get some experience so you’ll get some confidence singing in front of people; and if you do that, I’ll come to the coffee house”. “Oh, would you do that, would you do that?” “Absolutely”. She became one of the biggest stars in the history of Australia. Adam: That’s fantastic, what a story. Jonathan: I just had an email from her about six months ago. In fact she thanked me on some television show years ago and she said, “There was an American comedian over here and he told me that I should…” I knew her sister, Rona, very well.
Adam: Another person from your time here, who still performs every now and then, is Toni Lamond. Jonathan: She came over to America and did pretty well. Adam: I don’t know if Denise Drysdale had started when you were here, that might’ve been a bit later on? Jonathan: No, I didn’t know her but I’ll tell you who I just talked to, Helen Reddy. She was at a hotel here in Hawaii and we had a little chat. I really miss and try to stay in touch. Obviously Helen is still around and Olivia is still around. Is Toni Lamond working again in Australia? Adam: From what I know, she does the occasional cabaret show. Jonathan: There’s nothing for them; there really isn’t a variety show now is there? Adam: No, there isn’t and that’s the problem because I think a lot of them still would like to work. Jonathan: Why is there no variety on television now? Adam: It just seemed to change, and I think after probably the ‘80s where you had Don and Bert. The landscape changed, and even now the biggest thing is not even drama series anymore, it’s really reality TV. Jonathan: Oh yes, isn’t that a crime? What do the young talented singers and comedians do, where do they go? Adam: There’s not really a lot for them to do, I mean live music is still fairly good and I guess that’s the closest that you’d have to the old sort of nightclub acts, but in terms of TV there’s not a lot. Jonathan: That’s so sad, wow. Adam: It’s a shame that it hasn’t kept up. It is a shame because so many would probably want to keep doing it and I think we’re poorer for having this kind of experience.
Adam: What are you working on at the moment? Jonathan: I’m currently writing screenplays for my daughter. So far only options, but we press on.
Adam: And finally, how do you look back on your time in Australia? Jonathan: I look back on Oz as some of the happiest days of my life. I made lifelong friendships and loved going to work every day.
Jonathan’s IMDb page is here. With thanks to Rad Daly, Jonathan’s son, for putting Jonathan and me in touch; and the staff of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, State Library of South Australia, and State Library Victoria. Top photo from No Sex Please, We’re British program.
I’ve loved Bobby Vee’s music for as long as I can remember. If I had written that opening sentence without the word “music”, and maybe referred to his dreamy hazel eyes, it could just as likely have appeared in an article from 16 or Teen Screen in 1961 when Bobby was firmly in teen idol territory. What started for me as an affinity with his early ‘60’s songs like “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “Rubber Ball”, both mainstays on Saturday Night Jukebox-type radio shows when I was a kid in the ‘80s-‘90s, grew over the years and he is probably my favourite male singer who started a career at that time. I emphasise started because while he may be best known for the almost 40 Billboard Hot 100 chart hits that he had from 1959-1970, he never really stopped recording and performing. Along the way, Bobby became a legend.
Another Bob was actually the impetus for my writing about Bobby Vee. Well, not technically a Bob. Bob Evans is the name singer-songwriter Kevin Mitchell uses for his solo work. But I’m sure Mr. Vee will forgive me. After all, he was born Robert Velline, just as Italian-Americans Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell weren’t born with those names; and Fabian and Dion did once have surnames! In Bobby Vee’s case his lineage is Scandinavian (Norwegian on dad’s side, Finnish on mom’s). I heard the song “Sitting in the Waiting Room” performed live at Kevin/Bob’s April 2013 Adelaide show, and again shortly after on the beautiful and lush album from which it came, Familiar Stranger. In “Sitting in the Waiting Room”, Kevin sets the scene of a doctor’s office where a man and woman, most probably a couple, are passing time waiting to be seen. He is watching TV and she is reading magazines that, while he doesn’t say it, I imagine being out-of-date and well worn. The female protagonist is likely picturing all the sick people who have read those magazines and just knows that she’s going to catch something. Maybe that’s just me. It is a scene we are all familiar with, one where those nursing colds, sporting injuries or just needing general check-ups sit quietly alongside those awaiting potentially life-changing news. The problem of this pair doesn’t seem to fit the first category, and it may or may not fit the second. They are scared and apprehensive; as he puts it, “And I don’t have the words to make it right”.
Eventually they are with the doctor, and while she talks, he is silent, all “helplessness and fear”. The couple eventually emerge from the office and exit back through the waiting room. He comes to realise it is not words she needs, but someone to be there in times like this when you have no choice but to “let the unknown forces take control”. We don’t know the outcome of their visit: “Walking out the waiting room/My eyes are white, the skies still blue/Now there’s other stuff to do”. Life goes on; even it has seemingly changed in an instant. Besides the big things to think about, there are still the little things.
I thought a lot about this song as I prepared to listen to an album by Bobby Vee, The Adobe Sessions, released in February 2014. Yes, it’s September 2015 and this is long overdue. I had heard about the album, but for some reason I had missed a post on Bobby’s blog from April 2012. In the letter from Bobby and his family, he began, “As my buddy Fabian says, getting old is not for the meek. I think he may be right. A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with the mild stages of Alzheimer’s disease”.
I don’t really know the Vellines, although we’ve had some interaction online and I’ve found them to always be friendly. I was even able to send Bobby a card. But it was the image Kevin Mitchell painted that came to mind when I read Mr. Vee’s letter to his friends and fans. Later Tommy Vee, Bobby’s son, said, “We were all in the room when they gave the diagnosis and it was a devastating thing to sit and hear that”. Bobby comes from a generation of musicians that are much more accessible to their fans, but it would have been understandable if the Vellines chose not to disclose the diagnosis. Son Jeff wrote in an article for the magazine Care ADvantage in spring 2014, “For 50+ years, Dad had bared his heart on a stage night after night: ‘Here I am; this is what you get’. He ultimately reminded us of this when he chose to go public with his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2012: ‘Look, here I am, this is still me… I am here!’” Jeff continued that his father “was resolved about going public—he knew what was best. It was an act of grace and courage”. And, in his father’s words, “You work with what you got”.
I have had very little direct experience of dementia. I think those of us who haven’t cannot really understand, although we can of course empathise at some very general level. Most important, though, we can listen to those who are experts by experience: the families of those with dementia and, perhaps more importantly, the people with dementia themselves. Since being diagnosed, Bobby himself said in his letter, “This past year has truly been life taking its own course without words that can describe the mystery and conflict that none of us can know. So without a song or a script I am stepping onto a stage that we all share: The mystery of life”.
When Bobby received his diagnosis, the family set out on a road trip from their home in Minnesota to Tucson where Bobby and his wife Karen had built a hacienda. It was father, mother, sons and daughter, as well as the grandchildren. As Bobby wrote, “Together we explored the depths of our reality… the depths of my reality. With very few words, no solutions and a lot of heart, we did what we do. We shared time. We shared laughter, tears, stories, meals and music. We shared thousands of miles of hi-way as familiar to us as the pillows on our beds. As if nothing had changed, as if everything had changed… simultaneously”. From the garage, Bobby described in the album liner notes, “mud adobe walls still radiating warmth from the days’ desert sun”, the Vellines did what they had always done: they made music. As Bobby wrote “We made music every day for a week… just for us. For the joy of making music. For the joy of being together. For all of the reasons I ever picked up a guitar or sang a tune in a Fargo, ND garage back in ’59. I have truly come full circle!”
Besides making new memories, I am sure that Bobby’s mind wandered to his more than five decades in music. He was a 15-year old in Fargo, North Dakota desperate to join his brother Bill and Bill’s pals, Jim Stillman and Bob Korum, during their jam sessions: “I played saxophone in the high school band … but I wanted to rock out.” Bill eventually relented and Bobby could tag along with his brother, “if I would promise to keep quiet”. I had a good laugh recently when I was looking through some old newspaper articles detailing Bobby’s early years in music. One paper recounted a version of this story, with the more colourful description that Bobby was allowed “to sit in during practice sessions with the proviso that he would ‘shut up’”. Underneath a beaming photo of Bobby is the caption, “Bobby Vee … He didn’t ‘Shut Up’ …” (Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 7, 1966). I’m glad he didn’t. Besides enthusiasm and $30 Harmony guitar, Bobby had an ace up his sleeve: he knew the lyrics to the songs the guys played.
In an often-told story, and one Bobby has been asked to recount many, many times, it was the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, and pilot Roger Peterson en route to Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo that led to Bobby’s debut. The young men on that flight weren’t much older than Bobby, Bill, Bob, and Dick Dunkirk (replacing Jim Stillman). There was a call for local talent to fill in at the Moorhead Armory show that the three musicians would never attend. As recounted at The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll website, “The boys [Bobby and the band] had three hours to come up with an act. They knew six songs maybe. After the quick rehearsal, on the way to the armory, they stopped at J.C. Penney’s and bought black peg pants with tight cuffs and sleeveless sweaters accented with angora ties”. It was at the event, Bobby recalled a few years later in the liner notes to his 1963 LP I Remember Buddy Holly, “We hadn’t even named the group up to that time, so we gave ourselves a name on the spot, calling ourselves ‘The Shadows’”. Until then, in Bobby’s words, “I was the lead singer … of Fargo’s first nameless garage band”. While the show that night started Bobby’s career, had he not performed that night, I can’t imagine that Bobby Vee wouldn’t have been ‘discovered’ elsewhere. No matter what, he would have become a star.
Shows around the traps, their first paying gig on a makeshift stage, which half-way through the show came apart, were a prelude to the worldwide travel Bobby would be doing within a couple of years. In the liner notes to The Essential and Collectable Bobby Vee (1998), Bobby begins his story with, “The date was June 1, 1959 and I was barely 16 when I recorded my first record, ‘Suzie Baby’, at the Kaybank Studio in Minneapolis, MN. By September it was #1 in the upper Midwest and I signed my first recording contract with Liberty Records”. Maury Dean, in his book Rock ‘n’ Roll Gold Rush, described “Suzie Baby” as “not just a good record – it is a great record”. When I listen to that record some 55 years after it was recorded, Bobby and his band absolutely kill me.
After “Suzie Baby”, a hit with B-side “Devil or Angel” in 1960, after a couple of misses, led to Bobby’s initial five-year contract with Liberty. God bless the B-sides! At Liberty, it was with company founder Si Waronker’s “love of music and steadfast desire to create quality product he placed 21 year old Snuff Garrett in charge of A&R production and with Snuff’s seemingly endless string of hit records Si’s dream became a reality. Liberty Records became one of the most successful record companies of the sixties and very happily, it became my musical home for over fifteen years” (The Essential and Collectable Bobby Vee liner notes). I am familiar with Si Waronker’s work through my friend, Donna Loren, who was married to Si’s son, Warner Bros. Records president Lenny Waronker. In fact, Donna and Lenny’s son Joey played drums on Bob Evans’ Familiar Stranger.
In his songs, Bobby often dealt with lost love, two timing girls, and even best pals who end up with his girl. In one song, Bobby gets “A Letter from Betty”. Sounds innocuous? He opens that letter: “She said, dear, Bobby/Just a line to say hello/We’ve been such good friends/You should be the first to know/I fell in love/My dreams have all come true/And, Bobby, he’s so much like you”. Like what?! The listener often wonders how someone so good can put up with all of this. When Bobby sings the first few lines to “Punish Her” and comes to “Punish her, kill her”, you’re likely to spit out your soda from the Malt shop. Until, of course, he finishes this advice to punish and kill her “with kindness”. That’s our Bobby!
While Bobby may seem a pushover in some of the songs – he even refers to himself as being like a “Rubber Ball” – I like to think he knows his worth. Through it all, Bobby can only wish these girls well and hope that if they only realise what fools they’ve been, they’ll return. “Run to Him”, a song in this vein by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller, reached #2 on the Billboard chart. I think the public kind of liked it when Bobby misbehaved just a little to give some back to the Suzies, Barbaras, Bettys, and Robins. On his #1 “Take Good Care of My Baby” by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Bobby’s lost the girl because he was untrue; but he hopes he’ll win her back. And on his #3 “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (Weisman-Wayne-Garrett), where he suspects his girl of being a “run-around lover” he mischievously eludes to the fact that two could play at that game. Of course, he wouldn’t, but you know…
Some of my other Bobby favourites are “More Than I Can Say” by Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison, “It Might as Well Rain Until September” again by Goffin and King (where Bobby has the girl, but she is away), and the later beautiful “No Obligations” by K. Walker. I say later, but Bobby would have only been around 26!
What to make of this good guy persona? It seems to have been pretty close to reality. In articles from the ‘60s, Bobby was described as “handsome, shy, young” (The Emmetsburg Democrat, July 13, 1961, p. 3) and “soft-spoken” (The Lima News, August 8, 1963, p. 17). In an article in the Clearfield Progress (July 28, 1964, p. 9), he is described in this way: “Now he is the hottest name on Liberty Records, has made millions of fans among teenagers and adults, appeared on all the top television shows and is weighing a half-dozen more motion picture offers. Through it all, Bobby Vee retains the same shy, soft-spoken qualities that made him a favorite among friends in Fargo, N. D., where he was born on April 30, 1943”. More recent profiles describe him as “self-deprecating” and “a great guy”.
Wait for another Bob. Bob Dylan wrote in his autobiography Chronicles (2004) how, as a young Elston Gunnn, he met Bobby: “His band was called The Shadows and I had hitchhiked out there and talked my way into joining his group as a piano player on some of his local gigs, one in the basement of a church. I played a few shows with him, but he really didn’t need a piano player and, besides, it was hard finding a piano that was in tune in the halls that he played”. Dylan felt that “Bobby Vee and me had a lot in common, even though our paths would take such different directions”. For Bob – er, Elston – Bobby had “a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell”. Dylan goes on to describe how at the time of “Take Good Care of My Baby” in 1961, he wanted to see Bobby again: “He was on the top of the heap now. It seemed like so much had happened to him in such a short time. Bobby came out to see me; was as down-to-earth as ever, was wearing a shiny silk suit and narrow tie, seemed genuinely glad to see me, didn’t even act surprised”.
Bob Dylan never forgot his “old friend and fellow performer”. At a 2013 show, Dylan introduced a song he was to perform with a tribute to Bobby. “I’ve been on the stage with most of those people” explained Dylan referencing the likes of Madonna and Mick Jagger, “But the most meaningful person I’ve ever been on the stage with, was a man who is here tonight, who used to sing a song called “Suzie Baby”. I want to say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So, we’re gonna try to do this song, like I’ve done it with him before once or twice”. And with that, Suzie had another shot of life.
In real life, Bobby may have been the teen idol, but perhaps the girls were indeed hard to find. Listen to the song “The Idol” by Bobby’s regular songwriters, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and you get the idea. In an article for a section of the Van Nuys News called “Teen Talk” (September 30, 1960, p. 8-B), it was written that “Bobby has been so active this past year that he has had little time to relax and enjoy things other teenagers of his age usually do”. This included making new friends or meeting girls. What did Bobby look for in a friend or girl? The article explained: “‘The first thing I look for in a friend,’ says Bobby, ‘is a kind of sincerity that you can’t fake’. As for girls, Bobby admits to a wholesome and typical 17-year-old enthusiasm but also reveals he likes his dates ‘quiet types, not gigglers or gabbers. I also prefer a girl with a sense of humor’”. In the liner notes for The Adobe Sessions describing “Love Must Have Passed Me By”, originally written by Bobby in the ’50s and first recorded just after “Suzie Baby” (but not released at the time), it is described how Bobby was asked by singer-songwriter Rosie Flores “How does a 15 year old write such lyrics?” He replied, “I just wanted a girlfriend so damn bad!” Those 15-year old-feelings held up well enough for Rosie to want to sing that song on her own 2012 album with Bobby providing harmonies (and the collaboration made its way onto Bobby’s Adobe Sessions as well).
However, the guy who wanted that girlfriend “so darn bad” (actually Bobby said “damn”, but the slightly more wholesome “darn” just seems to fit better when imagining a 15-year-old Bobby) would meet the love of his life soon enough, Karen Bergen. The two were engaged July 1, 1963, and married December 28th of that year. Together they raised four children: Jeff, Tommy, Robby, and Jenny. Karen reflected on their marriage in 2014: “I think we’ve both led our own lives and led life together … We supported each other in what we were doing. We both had careers, and we both enjoyed the other’s career. He participated in mine sometimes, and I participated in his. Raising the kids together and having common goals and common values. And we had a lot of fun”. In recent years, Karen had significant health problems, including undergoing a lung transplant. True to the Vellines, they were open with fans, and the children turned outward continuing works started by their parents to benefit the arts and music programs. In looking at photos posted on Bobby’s website and elsewhere of Karen with her children and grandchildren, I am reminded of the phrase writer Margaret Talbot told her readers was one of her mother’s. Like Margaret’s mother, you can tell that Karen’s family “made her heart sing”. Bobby and Karen Velline remained together until Karen’s passing on August 3, 2015.
What the Vellines have left for us, besides of course a lifetime of music that continues with the next generation and beyond, is as Bobby and family wrote in the liner notes of The Adobe Sessions “our little family scrapbook”. After recording in Tucson and realising they had enough material, this album was born. Bobby provides the vocals and, of course, acoustic guitar, and the Vellines and friends perform the tracks, many of them written by the family.
It is an album about new love, long-lasting love, memories. There are songs that have meant much to the Vee family. Some link with Bobby’s own past such as “I Like It Like That” by Smokey Robinson and Mary Taplin that Bobby first recorded in 1968. There is “In My Baby’s Eyes,” by – you guessed it – Goffin and King that Bobby released his original version of long, long ago (another B-side!).
Others Bobby has performed live for years, such as “Save the Last Dance for Me” or “The Man in Me” by Dylan. “The Man in Me” and two songs by Hank Williams that Bobby has known, loved, and performed for so long are fresh and different here. While the essential truths of these and other songs remain the same, in Bobby’s hands their meanings change and deepen with time. There are Velline family favourites, “I’m Just a Country Boy” by Fred Hellerman and Marshall Barer and “Walls” by Gordon Lightfoot, the latter of which was a family road trip favourite. There is Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker” with monks of Saint John’s Abbey Schola providing a Gregorian chant. As Bobby writes in the liner notes, “Unforgettable”. And with his vocals – you still kill me, Bobby.
It is probably a false dichotomy to separate songs on the album into those Bobby has performed/recorded before, and those that have been part of the Velline family’s life. After all, with the Vellines music has been a way of business and a way of life. Robby Vee and his mom, Karen, wrote one of my favourites on the album, “Father to a Son”. As they write and Bobby performs, “It’s who you love and how you love in all the special ways/That’s all you take with you and the rest fades away”.
In preparing to write this, I read album notes, watched old Scopitone films on YouTube (music videos of the ‘60s) that really are a trip, and looked at photos. Some of my favourites were of a young Bobby in Rome, the newlyweds, the family, and of course Bobby on stage over time. I thought about memory. Jeff Vee wrote in his Care Advantage article about the need to always make new memories, “The road ahead is indeed murky. We think about it, but it does not rule the day. Life is about right now—trite, perhaps, but true. And we are all better people for this. We have the scrapbooks to prove it!” Another writer, Kate Swaffer, came to mind. Kate Swaffer is a fantastic writer and scholar. I actually was one of her lecturers when I was a PhD student. She was diagnosed with younger onset dementia. She wrote, “When my mind is not bursting with memories, which it is more prone to these days, I try not to neglect it, or to ignore it, but to fill my being, my life, my belly, with laughter, love and tenderness, and friendships, and most of all with caring for others, so that it is possible to see I am not alone, and that there are others also experiencing their own grief and pain, and loss and sadness… none of us are really alone, even though we can feel that way some days”.
While Bobby Vee has retired, and we the public may see less of him, he is still here. Thank you, Bobby, and the family Vee. We love you more than we can say.
The Adobe Sessions is available at Amazon.com, CD Baby, iTunes, and your usual online or bricks-and-mortar stores. Likewise, Familiar Stranger by Bob Evans is available online or in-store, including through iTunes.
Can you believe we’re approaching August? This year a lot of friends have mentioned how they feel the days and weeks seem to be flying by. Last Saturday on our way into town for dinner, Bob and I saw three young men dressed in festive sweaters heading to what was probably a Christmas in July soiree. It was a very cold night, and I can only imagine that this trio felt very wise indeed in their warm garments as they crossed Pulteney Street. We both wondered out loud where exactly they had bought their Rudolph sweaters with bright red pom-pom noses. Then it started to rain and the traffic became the focus of my attention. Please tell me if this isn’t specific to my city, but I get the distinct impression that Adelaide drivers experience a type of Gremlins effect when it rains. Just like little Gizmo in the film who gets wet and spawns some ballistic creatures, the ability to drive or act in any rational way on the roads seems lost when even a few drops fall.
I emailed my mentor and friend, Professor Emeritus Rosalind Cartwright, at the end of 2012 about how the last couple of years had seemed to fly by. I must have given her the impression that I had been drifting along, rather than using my time and talents effectively. Writing back just a few hours later, Professor Cartwright advised me to “spend your young adulthood wisely so that in the following decades you will have something valuable to do that lasts”. And her reply ended with “I saw promise in you that needs to be a focus so that time does not continue to slip away”. I return to her email often. It really was the start of three years of more productive work in my day job, as well as the start of this blog.
Professor Cartwright’s words echo whenever I resist the urge to do what I love the most: write. Two other psychologists, Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner, discussed procrastination and time management among other topics in a series of seminars I attended last year. They’ve also written some pithy columns on these issues for Nature, including “Waiting for the Motivation Fairy” and “Turbocharge Your Writing Today”. Their take home point regarding time was that you are never going to have more time than you do now. Hugh also had some cool visual props, but I keep their trade secrets fresh for attendees. From these seminars, I learnt to be really honest with myself as to when I was procrastinating and avoiding writing, and when there wasn’t enough time for everything I wanted to do, which meant some things had to go to make way for others.
And so I write to you after not posting here since May. Being honest with myself, there has been maybe 5% procrastination and 95% of what feels like a faster-ticking clock than usual involved. Procrastination is peculiarly strong in writers. Anyone who writes for a living or a hobby (and I do both) will tell you that writing is the hardest part of writing. Odd given I’d be concerned if a teacher told me the hardest thing about teaching was teaching, or a doctor telling me it was, ah…doctoring. Wait, that’s forgery, right? Which a good doctor would never do, unless it’s one of those “based on a true story” TV-movie doctors who someone like Judith Light or Melissa Gilbert has to bring to justice.
Like those doctors, a lot of writers believe they’ll be discovered for the frauds that they imagine themselves to be. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes came up with a memorable title in their psychology research for this tendency: impostor phenomenon. I rarely see 200 lightbulbs of recognition go off so consistently than when I introduce this concept to psychology undergrads. My other consistent mental patterns are overgeneralizing and catastrophizing. If I can’t come up with a new idea, a coherent way to get my point across, or if I write a piece that I am not happy with, I start to think I’ll never write again, I’m a bad writer, and I’ll never write a piece as good as that last one. Although that last time was pure chance you impostor, you.
But I don’t only operate on a diet of procrastination, fear, and tapas alone. There are also more practical reasons for finding it hard to write. Since returning from Japan in late April, work has been incredibly busy and, more to the point, mentally taxing. Usually I write for the blog at night, but I haven’t had the energy after days of particularly complex and difficult research. It’s been all I can do to sit in front of the TV and watch MasterChef while thinking, Why can’t you cook like that 23 year old, you impostor… But I’ve had to realise sometimes it’s OK. I also made the decision to put on hold some initial ideas for articles as I work on three very large projects for the blog. The first is an interview conducted in late May, and is now in the writing-up stage. The second and third are two articles I am researching on actors who have passed away, but who left big impressions and much love for them behind. Although I do wish that I could increase the speed of my progress, I relish the research phase.
What do I do when I have ideas but not the time to write about them? I have notebooks all over my home office with the beginnings of articles. These may be a paragraph or two; sometimes even just an opening line. Some of these will be completed and others may fall away. But I find so long as I write them down, put the notebook to one side, and return to it every now and then, I will finish these initial ideas at some point. For those occasions when I don’t, I usually realise that’s OK, too.
There are lots of ideas in those notebooks. One of them is reflecting on the end of Mad Men in May, specifically critiques of the final episode. A lot of reviews centred on how much of a conclusion the final episode was to the series and its lead character Don Draper. Many of the shows I loved growing up didn’t have finale episodes. Often they had already been off the air for almost 10 or 20 years by then, and finales weren’t really the done thing when those shows were made. My favourite, Bewitched from 1964-72, certainly didn’t. Another favourite, M*A*S*H* (1972-83), did. It was even released on video. When I found it in Video Mania, I rented it, watched excitedly, and ran (not really, it was a distance from our house and I didn’t really run anywhere in those days) back to ask the 15 year old behind the counter if they had the last episode of Bewitched. He looked a little surprised, but to his credit he did type it (or something) into the computer. To this day I don’t really expect a show to have an end episode, although cancelling a show on a cliffhanger was done to maddening effect a few years back for my friend Paul with Kyle XY, and for me with the reboot of Dallas just last year.
I was happy with the way Mad Men did it. There was a good balance of the change required of central characters in a fictional narrative and the continuity of personality and behaviour in a person that is real life. Don would get up the next morning and his life would go on, whether he learnt to develop trusting relationships with his children, friends and co-workers, and a partner; and whether he returned to advertising. I think it was a good choice in the final season to have Don work at the real-life McCann Erickson, an agency that had existed in its merged form for 40 years when Don entered it, and which is now in 2015, 85 years old. We know that the agency would go on with or without him. When I left my first university job, I walked down the corridor, past the room where I had taught (and was, before that, a student) and almost expected the walls to come down. Metaphorically, at least – I’m sure the structure was sound. It’s like the episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes the voice of a cartoon dog named Poochie and advises the scriptwriters, “… whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking ‘Where’s Poochie?’” I had to realise that’s not the way the world works, and Don had to do the same. Mad Men stops telling the characters’ stories in 1970. I am sad that’s where I leave them. But, come what may, I wish them all well.
I was also pleased with a nod Mad Men gave to Bewitched in one of its final episodes. They have done this many times before. I’ve always felt that inspiration for Don Draper and co. was drawn from their adman predecessors in Bewitched. I guess since Mad Men is set in the ‘60s and briefly in the ‘70s, Darrin, Samantha, and Larry Tate from Bewitched are actually contemporaries of Don, Betty, and Roger. I’m sure it was no coincidence that that decision was made to film part of the Mad Men episode “Lost Horizon” at the Warner Bros. Ranch, formerly Columbia Ranch. On this lot is the neighbourhood known as “Blondie Street” that is home to the facades of a whole range of shows, including Bewitched. It is here that Don’s attempts to track down the mysterious waitress, Diana, end. He rocks up at the home of her husband, which was used 50 years ago as the home of Samantha and Darrin’s nosey neighbours, Mr and Mrs Kravitz! Well, The Partridge Family house if you prefer dreamy Keith Partridge. When Don leaves, Samantha and Darrin’s house can be seen across the street! I like to think Samantha was at home at the time, waiting for Darrin to come home from a hard day at his office on Madison Avenue.
I haven’t started a new show since Mad Men finished. However, I have been engrossed in Donna Tartt’s novel The Secret History, which has also given me some ideas for a piece. In fact, about how quickly time feels like it passes. Of course, I went away to Japan in April and I should really write about that. But I know if I try to write about all of these things while I am so busy, I will probably end up writing about none. Ah, my old friends anxiety and catastrophizing, we meet again.
I am actually sitting down to write this on July 24. Some 46 years ago the Apollo 11 mission ended with the safe return to Earth of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. The date was one I remembered from school, but I was reminded of it after watching a story on TV about the discovery of an earth-like planet, Kepler-452b. What a title. Guess “Earth” was already taken, but still.
I’ve just put on the record player an LP of The Walker Brothers before I go to get ready for my friend Adam’s birthday in the city. I usually prefer original albums to buying compilations or “greatest hits” on record, but this one was on sale. One of my favourite songs is “Stay with Me Baby”, and besides their version being included there are other great tracks. Right now “Make It Easy on Yourself”, the lead from their album Take It Easy with the Walker Brothers, is on. All right I see what you’re doing Scott, John, and Gary Walker. I’ll take it as easy as I can as I navigate the rain soaked roads, and likely more Gremlins.
Thanks to David Pierce for verifying that I did, indeed, see the Kravitz house on Mad Men. I was more focused on Samantha and Darrin’s.
One of my favourite opening lines in a novel is from The Go-Between (1953) by L. P. Hartley: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. In a later introduction to the book from August 1962, Hartley wrote about what shaped his story of an older man reflecting on his past. It was largely one summer in 1900 that left such “a mark on my memory” at only four-and-a-half years of age: “From then on, for many years, I always hoped that the long succession of hot days would be repeated, but unless my memory betrays me it never was, in England at any rate, until 1959”. He concluded that, “I didn’t want to go back to it but I wanted it to come back to me, and I still do”.
Patricia Florio would likely understand that sentiment. She has written a memoir, My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes. My Two Mothers tells the story of a girl raised by two women in Brooklyn in the 1940s and ‘50s: Patricia’s mother, Millie (actually Amelia), and Millie’s sister, Jennie. Patricia writes that “Mama got her ideal situation – and so did Aunt Jennie – a daughter for her childless sister, a daughter to dote on so Mama could fulfill her need to work “outside the house” content that her youngest daughter was safe and well attended to”.
The book originally came from Patricia’s MA thesis at Wilkes University. Theses and dissertations are often destined to languish in library basements. In this case, publisher Gina Meyers of Serendipity Media Group thought that Patricia’s work could make a book. In line with Gina’s interests in cooking, she felt that the book should also contain some of the recipes from Patricia’s growing up in an Italian-American house in Brooklyn.
The result is the addition of actual recipes to a memoir already filled with food: the J&M Grocery store that Jennie and Millie opened, with the tomato cans stacked in a pyramid; the “smell of fried meatballs [that] wafted out of the windows on Sunday mornings” in the largely Italian and Irish neighbourhood on and around Union Street; and family gatherings – be they for holidays, birthdays, or a death – that “began and ended around a kitchen table”. It is a wise move, for food holds such memories for people, particularly (in my experience) children of Italian immigrants.
In addition to the rich characterizations of the Prano sisters, other family members, and neighbours like singer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo and his group The Three Chuckles, Patricia says that there really is one other character in the book. That is Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn seems to be one of those places very much representative of a collective past, even for those who have never lived there. Perhaps it is the nature of a place that was inhabited so largely by people who all left different pasts and foreign lands to start a common future (in my brother’s genealogy research, even some of my own family). Children of these people, and their children’s children, may have left long ago but many seem to still carry Brooklyn with them. In Walt Whitman’s poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Whitman speaks to imagined future commuters (fifty, a hundred or many hundred years from him) on the ferry between Manhattan and Brooklyn:
It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not, I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence, Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt, Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd, Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d, Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried, Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.
When I visited Brooklyn a few years ago, I looked across that water and, in particular, up at the very tall apartment buildings. My mind wandered not to the future, but to the past, and all those who had lived, loved, fought, and broken bread there. Those who had felt as Whitman had.
In this interview with Patricia, I asked her to reflect on researching, writing about, and grappling with family history; nostalgia; the changing face of Brooklyn; where her writing has taken her; and, of course, good old Italian cooking.
Adam:My Two Mothers was your Master’s thesis. What led you to choose your topic of growing up in Brooklyn within a large extended family? Patricia: “Write about what you know”. This is a simple suggestion, one that most writing professors encourage their students to take seriously. So I did. Sometimes I thought of my family as Damon Runyon characters, like from Guys and Dolls, each one a distinct character from the other. Thinking that way put me in touch with my feelings, sights, smells, sounds and tastes for the old neighbourhood in Brooklyn and my family members. I sincerely thought Brooklyn could be a character in and of itself. It has so many definitions: home of the Brooklyn Dodgers; Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island; Coney Island beaches; the Cyclone, Thunderbolt, and the Parachute Jump; and the aromas of all of the above. How could I not write about such an eclectic past? Some of the best writers come from Brooklyn, and I certainly wanted to be remembered as one of the good ones.
Adam: Tell me a little about the house on Union Street. How long was the house in the family? Patricia: The house on Union Street was a gathering place for “la famiglia”; a fun place, not only where I lived with my parents on the third floor, but where everyone came to see grandma, the holidays were spent, tomatoes were grown in the backyard for the Sunday sauce, and where grandma had her basil bushes and fig trees. It was also where we connected to our neighbours: Philip, my best friend, and his family; and the Sconzos on the other side of us who had a contingency of family and friends bigger than ours. The house always evoked festivities. And to tell the truth, it still does.
The actual construction of the house was red brick facade, grey concrete steps, and beige/pink stone balusters. It looked like a mini fortress. There were windows in the front and back of the house. The front windows overlooked Union Street, a busy traffic street, and the windows at the back of the house overlooked backyards of neighbours and the steeple of St. Agnes Catholic Church on Sackett Street.
There were only two apartments in the early 1900s, where the entire Prano family lived in and slept. When I was born, there were three apartments: Grandma living in the basement apartment, Aunt Jennie and Uncle Frank on the second floor, and then up a steep staircase was our apartment. At one time, the apartment my Aunt Jennie and Uncle Frank lived in before I was born were the bedrooms for Grandma Petrina and Grandpa Giovanni’s children (my aunts and uncles, of which there were nine altogether that lived. Grandma miscarried a set of twins later in life). I lived with my sister and brother, who were older than me, and my father and mother, of course. Some of the hallway decor I still possess today: beautiful frames and pictures of early Americana, and one of the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
Adam: Your book wasn’t originally a food memoir. How did it become one? Patricia: Gina Meyers had the idea to insert recipes into My Two Mothers, creating the new edition that you’ve read. I first sent her a version of what I called Cucina Amelia, a celebration of food and family. It was a hardcover cookbook that I made for family and friends with a local printer, using standard 8 by 11 typing paper and old pictures of family members from my parents’ photo album. Gina loved it and utilized some of my grandmothers’ and mother’s recipes. She selected the recipes that are in the new edition of My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes. Eventually, Cucina Amelia became my next project for publication.
Adam: How were the family recipes passed down to you? How did you choose which recipes to include in the book? Patricia: Since the only time I spent with my part-time working mother was as she prepared our meals around four o’clock in the afternoons, I learned my cooking skills from watching her. The house on Union Street and all the family members celebrated the holidays as one entity every year for as long as I can remember. My mother and her sisters prepared all of those meals, and some of the stories of those holiday events are the head stories in Cucina Amelia. Again, watching and assisting in preparing the dishes, I picked up tips, influences, and the art of cooking for my own family after I was married.
Adam: What was good about choosing to write a family history? What was not so good? Patricia: When a person chooses to write about family history, it’s kind of scary. I remember that I pitched My Two Mothers as my thesis in this way: what if a woman who has a sister who cannot have children decided to give her unborn daughter to her baron sister, on loan that is, would you read that story? My classmates and professor wanted more. And I embellished, or got creative, about how to tell the story. The original thesis has more pages in it than the memoir that was published. There were some things that I didn’t feel I had the right to tell, even though most of the people had since passed. It’s the Italian guilt left attached to the psyche that did me in!
Choosing to tell this family story, even abbreviated, as it was, for me kept my mother and Aunt Jennie alive a bit longer. It’s a bittersweet story, one I enjoyed telling especially during the time the women went into the grocery business together, and when I had them to take care of in their old age. I feel as if I had such a rich childhood, even with its depressive days, that I wanted to share these two women, Millie and Jennie, with the world.
Adam: Italians (I know) are notoriously guarded with the family secrets. There’s the whole “don’t let the neighbours see” attitude. Was this an issue or barrier when you were writing the memoir; both in terms of other family members finding out and for your own creative process? Patricia: Yes, I’d have to say I was guarded, especially about their younger brother, whom I called Uncle Sly Fox in the book. His daughter, one of my favourite cousins, and I had always been friends up until the time she aided her father in taking Aunt Jennie away from my home and never bringing her back. I haven’t been too forgiving about that. My mother yearned for her sister; they should never have been separated. It’s still painful, even as I write these words. I allowed my creative process to go so far. I believe I didn’t cross the line. Yet, when I look at my bound thesis, there is a painful aspect of my mother dying that I didn’t put into in the book you read. She (Millie) died in 2004 at 95 years old. Jennie died in 2006 at 99 years old. I agonized over how painful it was for me to write. I just made a decision at the last minute that the book was going to the original publisher to leave that out and summarize the ending. But I can’t say it stunted my creative process. I’m sure it didn’t.
Adam: I’m interested in the allure of nostalgia, and how we may remember a time through rose-coloured glasses. How did you manage this natural human tendency while writing? Patricia: I am a nostalgic person, but I don’t live in the past. I just embrace it. I have a wonderful present life with my husband, children and grandchildren, and several good friends. I live in a beautiful section of the Jersey Shore with the Atlantic Ocean 50 steps from my front door. It has given me poetic license to dream and think and focus on my writing. But I loved Brooklyn and my family growing up there, both sides of my family, even though I’m more aligned to the Sicilian roots inside me. I love to listen to the aria “Nessun dorma”. Different arias give me the vision of what used to be, how Italians celebrated life. The culture born inside me I allow to flourish whenever I come in contact with people. I love people. I love company. And I have plenty of it during the summers living in a beach community. I embrace the old ways, yet I’m as modern a woman as my mother and Aunt Jennie were. Nostalgia fills me on certain days and I allow it to enter into me. I don’t chase its warmth away.
Adam: What was your family’s reaction to the memoir? What did your two mothers, Millie and Aunt Jennie think of it? Patricia: There are several reviews on Amazon, a few from my family members. My brother said, “You killed me”, when we first spoke after he had read my story. My writing caused his emotions to flow. Others thanked me for the memories. My brother’s daughter Christine said, “My father won’t tell you this, but he felt like he abandoned when you needed him most as a child”. Those years that separated me from my sister and brother were like a whole other generation; they are 14 years and 10 years older. My sister married when I was six years old. My brother went into the Air Force when I was eight. In essence, I was an only child.
My mother and Aunt Jennie had both passed when I wrote My Two Mothers. I think my mother would have been extremely happy knowing how much her life impacted mine. We weren’t really friends until my mother was about 80 years old. I have to admit I was closer to Aunt Jennie. I had taken Aunt Jennie’s infirmities and loss of two husbands, Frank Richmond and Nick Coniglio, as my job to handle. That’s why it was so hard for me when she went with her younger brother: the fact that she allowed them to lure her, to go and live with them and abandoned my mother. It took a lot of praying on my part and years for me to get over it.
Adam: Tell me about your participation in the Fellowship program at the Norman Mailer Center. How did this come about? Patricia: Norman Mailer was on the board of trustees of Wilkes University’s Creative Writing programs. He helped get the courses accredited with its founders Dr. Bonnie Culver and Dr. J. Michael Lennon. Dr. Lennon is Norman Mailer’s official biographer. Mr. Mailer had a stake in all of its students/writers. And we in turn had a stake and an opportunity to be mentored after graduating with our degrees by other faculty and professors from across the country. These scholarships and fellowships were set up by the Norman Mailer Society or the Norman Mailer Center, I forget which one, and anyone around the world could apply by sending 30 or 40 pages of a project that they are working on. I did this on two occasions. In 2012, I was a fellowship finalist and went to Provincetown to Mr. Mailer’s home for my memoir workshop. In 2014, I was granted a scholarship and went out west to Utah for my week’s workshop.
Adam: What are some of your other works? Patricia: On my website, patriciaflorio.com, I have some of my other works that I’m proud of. One called Theresa is about my sister-in-law Terry. Phyllis Scott published a lot of my short stories. I’m especially proud of how I entered into the writing world via newspaper travel pieces and commentaries being published by local and major newspapers. I covered the Scene Page for the Two River Times, a Red Bank weekly newspaper, for a couple of years. I’ve written for stripedpot.com, a travel e-zine and my work can be found in numerous anthologies and literary journals.
Adam: Brooklyn has undergone tremendous change since your grew up there. To you, what is the most noticeable change? Patricia: Ah, Brooklyn, to me it has never changed, although I know it has. The face of my grandmother’s house has been modernized. Obviously, that’s especially noticeable. But nowadays, the people in the neighbourhood where I grew up, now called Carroll Gardens, are rich or at least well-to-do! We were poor white Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans, struggling to better our lives. Now, I guess the neighbourhood is considered gentrified; people are tagged as nouveau riche.
Ebbets Field is no longer there, where the Brooklyn Dodgers were nicknamed the Brooklyn Bums. Brooklyn people loved the Dodgers when I was growing up. The “Boys of Summer” from 1955 when they beat the New York Yankees, will never be again. Brooklyn Heights is still upper class. I go there often to look out across the river and marvel at the skyline. My mother-in-law still lives in Brooklyn, downtown, as it was referred to in the good old days, so I still have plenty of opportunities to eat in restaurants that I had eaten in as a kid.
Adam: As you’ve gotten older, have your memories become less dependent on the physical house on Union Street, or do you still long to be in that place? Patricia: My memories are not dependant on the physical house on Union Street. That’s why we have memories. I can conjure them up anytime I want. I don’t long to be in that place anymore. I can be anywhere where my husband is. We were just married 43 wonderful years. My life and his are joined at the hip. Well, that’s what a lot of people say about us. We were in the same career for almost 30 years as court reporters. I still have occasion to transcribe his notes from the District Court at Newark, NJ, when things get hairy and he’s on a long trial.
Adam: Do you have any recommendations for people wanting to document family history? Patricia: I think documenting family history is a fun thing to do if you’re up for the job. I spent several months researching my family’s history from Palermo, Sicily to the United States, the ship they came on, etc. I even went on a trip to my father’s parents’ village in Avellino, Naples. I think I found the right spot where my Prato grandparents came from. I’ve learned a lot of interesting things going to Italy and reading other authors’ books about Italy: recipes, culture, their holiday traditions, and so forth. I’m none the worse for all the reading.
A few interesting facts: my parents Amelia Prano and Rocco Prato, almost the same last name, were both born on August 16, five years apart. My mother’s name Amelia is similar to my father’s mother’s name Amalia, whom my sister Molly is named for. Both of my parents had nine brothers and sisters.
Adam: What are you working on at the moment? Patricia: At the present time, I’m working on what I’ve entitled Confessions of a Court Reporter. It’s a book that starts out about a young girl who tells a very potent lie to her father when she is 10 years old. It also weaves in some of the cases I’ve worked on as a court reporter and/or transcriptionist. I’m not giving away any more of the story. The first half of the book is now revised and is being edited, while I continue to work on the second half. This is definitely a labour of love that I’ve been toiling over for the past two years and have workshopped at the Mailer Colonies. It even contains some poetry.
Excerpts from The Go-Between are from the 2002 edition published by The New York Review of Books (New York, NY). Excerpt from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is from Leaves of Grass, available through Project Gutenberg.
There have been some changes around these parts. I am still trying to figure out where exactly these parts are. In late February, we were notified that our landlord was selling the house and the lease would not be renewed. This was not welcome news. We had a long-planned trip to Japan scheduled for early April, and I had a lengthy work promotion application due the day we were to leave. It also became apparent that I couldn’t buy us an additional couple of months with subtle hints or out-and-out flattery. Flower shops don’t sell “Please Don’t Evict Me” bouquets or potted pink quill bromeliads. Logistically, we would have to move out of one house and find and move into another before leaving for Japan. That and I wanted to learn some functional Japanese words and phrases for the trip. Friends assured me the most important would be sumimasen – sorry or excuse me. I’m still not sure if that was general advice, or advice specifically tailored to me.
It was not only all the tasks before us that overwhelmed me. I was bereft. I loved that house. Work getting the property ready for sale started around us. There is dissonance in caring so much for something that doesn’t belong to you. At the same time, as one friend pointed out, landlords may not always realise you’ve made their house into your home. This is the great landlord-tenant divide. It’s hard to have workmen coming into your home, praising the doorknobs that, over night, are no longer yours.
After about a week of silent (or not so silent) grief on the couch, I sprang into action. We looked at new places, slowly packed non-essential books and records, and ticked off an every-growing list of things to do. We found a place, and the application process was extremely efficient. Now it was time to pack in earnest and move on.
It’s funny how when it’s time to leave a place, you develop affection for things that were hitherto disliked. There is a gargantuan gum tree on the property. It’s the kind of tree that engenders admiration from most visitors. That’s unless your visitor is Italian. Whoever amended Julius Caesar’s much-referenced phrase to the Roman Senate from “I came; I saw; I conquered” to “We came; we saw; we concreted”, describing the perspective of European migrants in Australia (and perhaps elsewhere) was only half-joking. At its worst, a bin could be filled in five minutes with all the leaves and twigs the tree had dropped. Musician and poet Chad Sugg wrote, “Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year”. Maybe so, but I often pictured the tree being replaced by a replica of Laocoön and His Sons, a statue unearthed in Rome and considered by Dr. Nigel Spivey “one antique sculpture [that] furnishes us with the prototypical icon of human agony”. What seeing that depth of human emotion through the kitchen window every morning would do for a house’s feng shui, or my general disposition, I had no idea; but I made no secret I detested that tree. If you are interested, the tree is the backdrop to my picture on the About Adam page. Remember, I said I hated it; not that I can’t spot a good photo opportunity. But I did find myself making peace with the tree, even taking a series of photos when the sunlight shining through it was most splendid, and the honeyeaters and lorikeets on its branches plentiful. You tend to cling to the old and ill-remembered when faced with change.
Moving into a new place is all about new things: learning where the closest supermarkets and takeaway eateries are, memorising the litany of street names, and finding a new way to travel to work. Then there’s the actual house. Playing Tetris with furniture largely bought for one home was not the most difficult. It is actually adjusting to the little things, such as where and how bright the indoor lights are, the water pressure of the shower, and even where to fold out the clothes horses when the weather isn’t right to use the outdoor clothes line. Necessity is the mother of invention; but it all felt a little weird.
Once we had moved in, we still had the old house for a couple of weeks. A friend remarked to me one day how quickly a home becomes a house. The furniture was gone; pictures on the walls were taken down. On the last day, everything had been ticked off the lists and the final inspection complete. I took the last packing box in my hands and walked out the back door. I thanked the house. I think we used it well. The one thing I would have changed was using the house more with friends. It was a great entertaining house. Two days later, we jetted off to Japan.
It may seem odd to write largely about moving house when the most exciting thing to have happened recently would be the trip to Japan. This will, of course, come later. We only returned home last week. I’m still processing all I saw of those beautiful people and their country. This is more of an explanation of why there hasn’t been a post here in a while. While I didn’t post during the move, I was still deep in research for some interviews. One involved looking through old 1960s Australian newspapers, which had not yet been digitised, at the State Library. I hadn’t used a microfiche reader since high school. The readers are much updated, with the ability to save a newspaper page as a JPEG or PDF. It was a lot of fun, so much so that I found myself saving articles not only relevant to my subject. Pages I copied included one with photographs by Cecil Beaton of the Royal Family and infant Prince Andrew; another detailing an 18-year old dress maker’s apprentice spitting at Marlene Dietrich at the Park Lane hotel in Dusseldorf; and still another with reviews of three new books about Japan. Closer to home, there was an advertisement for Shelley Berman’s show at the Palais Theatre in St. Kilda, Melbourne. Another story covered a worrying trend, for some, of poodles being treated at beauty parlors. Mrs. A. Davies, poodle shop proprietor, felt that, “People are pampering poodles and making fashion fools out of them”. I didn’t realise treating poodles to “roses, pink toe nails, bows and jewelled collars” was a relatively new trend. One or more poodles had already “been shaved, tinted and shampooed” at a beauty parlor (The Age, September 5, 1963, p. 3).
It’s time to settle into the new house. More posts are on their way. It’s also time to catch up on TV we missed while in Japan. I was late to the party in starting Mad Men, a fact many friends found outrageous given my love of the ‘60s. We started watching shortly after moving into the old house. One night after watching three back-to-back episodes of Season 1, I went onto eBay and bought a vintage wooden lamp. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a lampshade, and finding a lampshade with the spider fitter has proven a bit difficult. Consequently, the lamp sat on a sideboard for most of our time there. Mad Men finishes its run soon. Strangely, paying the old house’s last electricity bill a couple of days ago made that chapter final. Now that the show is coming to an end, maybe it’s time to get the lamp rewired and dressed.
Gavin Harrison has always worn many hats. Of course, one of them was acting. On Australian television he played cyclist Hugo Strzelecki on the Seven Network’s revered drama series A Country Practice. Before that, he had several stints on Home and Away as Morris “Revhead” Gibson, one of the soap’s first bad boys. At the moment, Gavin’s main role is as a producer with his own advertising production company, Section9 Productions. The Los Angeles-based company engages in global print campaigns for everything from Kia to BMW to Tesla in the automotive industry, to Absolut Vodka, American Airlines, and Philips. It’s no surprise to find that it is a “full-service” company, meaning Gavin and his crew are involved right from pre-production, to shooting, and then to post-production. That includes scouting locations, casting, co-ordinating production, lighting, and working alongside photographers. After all, Gavin has worked in all these areas at one time or another, and has done so since he was 15. He’s clearly happiest when he is doing multiple things.
Gavin was accepted into film school as a teenager. From starting out as a second-assistant director, he ended up at Priest Productions. It’s perhaps difficult – given how woven into the music industry the video clip has become over the last 30 years – to imagine how pioneering on a worldwide stage its Australian owner, Steven Priest, was in the ‘80s as a producer and director of videos, live music specials, and commercials. The work of him and his team included videos for Elton John, KISS, The Angels, Cold Chiesel, INXS, Mi-Sex, Duran Duran, Noiseworks, John Farnham, and Little River Band. This was Gavin’s apprenticeship in production. Acting came into the picture around the same time, when Gavin got his first role (a different character to Hugo) out of high school on A Country Practice.
There were early roles in Australian productions. In You’ve Probably Saved His Life, Gavin played a schoolboy swimmer named Tom whose father dies unexpectedly. In one scene, Tom and his sister (played by Sarah Lambert, who is the creator of the Australian Nine Network’s current hit series Love Child) try to cheer up their grieving mother, Pam (Judy Morris), by cooking her dinner. It’s a spectacular disaster, but a poignant scene in this short film produced as an education tool for St John Ambulance Australia. If you were in an Australian school at the time, you probably saw it one day in class; along with the “where do babies come from?” video. Another part was a guest role as Kieron Taylor, who may or may not be the long-lost son of a dangerous dictator played by Gerard Kennedy, in the 1980’s version of the television series Mission: Impossible. This was a U.S. production filmed on the Gold Coast in Queensland, and again starred Peter Graves.
From there, it was on to Home and Away in 1988. Revhead may have been somewhat misunderstood by the folk of seaside town Summer Bay, but there’s no denying he was a dirty guy. The panel beater (for non-Australian folk reading here, someone who repairs damaged motor vehicles) made enemies of good boys Steven Matheson (Adam Willits), Adam Cameron (Mat Stevenson) and Blake Dean (Les Hill), and was often found hassling (a very Home and Away word) the likes of Roo Stewart (Justine Clarke), Emma Jackson (Dannii Minogue) and Viv Newton (Mouche Phillips). Gavin played nice guys in between his appearances on Home and Away. He was Renato Santinelli on the short-lived Family and Friends on the Nine Network in 1990, and had a guest appearance as a boxer on the acclaimed ABC drama GP. This was one of his favourite roles, and one with significant training involved to get Gavin to have the look and feel of a boxer. When Revhead was finally put away for good in 1991 (he must have been paroled by now), Gavin took on a full-time role on A Country Practice.
Gavin played Hugo Strzelecki on A Country Practice from 1992 to shortly before the series ended in 1993. In his first episode, which aired in Australia on January 27, Hugo’s dreams of the Tour de France are sidelined after a car accident, leading him to stay in rural Wandin Valley. The accident was at the hands of the person who eventually becomes his best pal, Darcy Hudson, who was played by Kym Wilson. Admittedly, most of the people who got anywhere near Darcy’s driving didn’t fare much better. Once she even ran down someone who was just borrowing Hugo’s bike. It all seems a little sinister. Nonetheless, Gavin and Kym were a great pair on-screen as the new kids in town, as were Gavin and Judith McGrath, who played Darcy’s mother Bernice; Maureen Edwards as the hospital’s director of nursing, Matron Rosemary Prior; and Joyce Jacobs, the town gossip, Esme Watson. Hugo even engaged in a croissant bake-off with Esme. He was a brave boy to go up against someone who had been baking since before he’d taken the training wheels off of his cycle.
A Country Practice was one of the premier dramas on Australian television at the time, and mixed light and dramatic moments with dexterity. Some of the heavy for Hugo included significant injuries and illness; conflict with his father (something that seemed to be prevalent for many of Gavin’s characters); and a moral ambivalence that was involved in some of Hugo’s decisions, such as when he had the chance to inflict a damaging “sucker punch” on a boxing opponent. In the two-part “Little Boy Blue”, which was very much ahead of its time in dealing with gay issues on television, Hugo and training friend Brett Cooper (Simon Stokes) are beaten up in a homophobic attack. It remains one of Gavin’s favourite storylines.
Eventually it was not Darcy or the Tour de France that kept Hugo in or out of the Valley, respectively, but a romance with Christina Agapitos, a young woman with leukemia. She was played by Gavin’s real-life friend and former Home and Away co-star Rebekah Elmaloglou. For those episodes, there was significant consultation between A Country Practice staff and CanTeen, the Australian support service and charity for young people living with cancer. At the time, Gavin also had significant involvement with another support service for seriously-ill children, the Starlight Foundation. His involvement with Starlight was driven initially by the loss of a childhood friend to cancer.
After Gavin left A Country Practice, he headed to L.A., where he hit the ground running in a string of programs. There was the British-American mini-series Signs and Wonders involving a mother trying to wrestle her daughter from a cult with the help of a de-programmer played James Earl Jones; Amazing Grace on NBC starring Patty Duke, in which he played a runaway named Link, and where Gavin felt he experienced one of his best moments on screen; and bad-guy roles on CBS’ Chicago Hope and Diagnosis Murder. You’re pretty bad when you have Mark Harmon, and especially Dick Van Dyke, in your path of destruction. In film, he co-starred as real-life Fred “Freddie” Barker, the youngest of Kate “Ma” Barker’s (Theresa Russell) boys, in Public Enemies.
After a role in 1998’s Exposé, Gavin realised that he wasn’t going in the direction that he wanted. After some downtime, which in many ways was some of his first since he was 15, he started working again as a camera assistant. Among those he worked with were Helmut Newton and his wife, June Browne, known for her photography by the name Alice Springs. While Gavin had always intended to work in front of and behind the camera in the U.S., part of his decision was that his current career would be disconnected from his acting work. In his words, he “buried” his old life as an actor. He built a new career in photography. One night, after an accident, he found that he couldn’t work in that role anymore. It was then, at this potential crisis point, that the seeds were sown for what would become Section9 Productions.
Gavin and I spoke recently, and in great detail, about his early life, roles on the iconic television series that he was a part of, and his life for the past 20 years in Los Angeles. I think you’ll be particularly interested in Gavin’s perspective on how all the components of his life – what he has done as an actor, producer, photographer, and filmmaker – have recently come together for him. We also spoke about his relatively new foray into making music under the artist name mtrack. Oh, and he told me to come join him next time I’m in L.A. for (depending on the season) snowboarding or water skiing. Gavin assures me that “it doesn’t matter what level you’re at”. He might just eat his snow hat.
Adam: How did you start in the business? Was it an interest in production or acting that initially led you down this road? Gavin: Basically I used to love photography and music when I was younger at school. I was a day boy at Newington College. I played violin from third grade through and so I played violin in the Chamber Orchestra. I really enjoyed it for the most part and then you got exposed to a bit of theatre at school, which was great. In Year 10, I really wanted to get into film. My parents basically said if you can get into a college you can leave, but they were not about to have me leave Newington in Year 10. My mum’s an artist too – she’s an amazing painter and does ceramics, she’s a really fantastic, grounded woman – and she was really supportive. My dad was too, but he’s a bit more pragmatic; he’s an engineer so he’s a little bit more nuts and bolts while my mum is a bit free-flowing.
My mum helped me look into KvB College. You had to be 18 or be in an industry where you could submit some work. I went to the AV studio and asked Mr. Swain, who was also really supportive and a great teacher, to let me use the gear at lunch time and after school. I was making music videos. I was shooting them, editing and I was in them, because who wants to give up their lunch time or after school? I was the nemesis in it so I’d wear different clothes and then I’d chase myself around in the same music video. That’s how I started to produce something to see if I could leave school and pursue something that I loved.
KvB College really liked what I had done and they gave me an aptitude test because I was 15. Based on the aptitude test and the work, they actually made an exception and I went straight into that film school. I hadn’t even turned 16 yet.
Adam: You were probably a bit of anomaly going in fresh without having done a lot? Gavin: I think even just given my age. I had so much energy at the time – I kind of still do – and was so into it. If anybody needed anything done, I was doing it. I was a cameraman if they wanted to work late. I was only 16 so I didn’t really have a social life, and I didn’t have a girlfriend. Of course you’re running around at that age and doing your thing, but I was in there late night working, editing, and just doing a mammoth amount of work because I loved it. It was very easy for me to put the time in.
Adam: Is that how you started working with Steven Priest or am I getting ahead there? Gavin: No, that’s correct. I was working with a first assistant director as a second assistant on sets of TV commercials and some music videos. I met a director, John Jobson, through this first AD. He started to do some work at Priest Productions, some music videos, and then he brought me in there as his assistant working with him in the back office. I got to know those guys there, and when John Jobson went back to L.A. they asked me to stay on. I became a part of the production team coming out of college when I was around 17.
Acting had kind of started a little bit before that as well. I got my first role on A Country Practice when I was 15 or 16, just when I was leaving Newington College. I played my first character. I was really more focused on being behind the camera rather than in front of the camera. I felt that if I couldn’t be stable in front of the camera all the time, I might as well learn behind the camera. My parents felt that was a good decision for me to want to understand the complete medium of film and television, wherever I might be working.
Adam: Did it kind of feel very bang, bang, bang, like it kind of all happened at once? Gavin: Yeah, I think so. How it really started was I would pick up my sister from dancing in the city. She was at a ballet school that merged with a talent school. My parents felt safer if I take my little sister home so when I finished playing rugby I would go in and wait for her. I was waiting in the lobby all the time, and a talent agent asked me if I wanted to take any classes or get involved in any part of what the school was about. I landed a role in what I think was an international Coca-Cola commercial, skateboarding or doing something like that.
Adam: Just completely kind of random. Gavin: Yeah it was random. I mean I was into photography and film and music, but I didn’t think that it would start before leaving school. I started going on some auditions and then I landed my first role in A Country Practice. I think I did A Country Practice twice before I became a regular.
Adam: I think that I remember them. You were a musician or something like that? Gavin: I was a musician, yeah, and I played guitar and had a crazy drunken dad. I think I played really quickly a jockey or something as well. It all started happening pretty quickly and I was learning as I was going.
Adam: Did you know Steven Priest well? Gavin: Yeah, I worked there for a while. It was kind of toward the end of the company’s time, like Russell Mulcahy and those guys had come out of that house. I worked with them for 14, 16 hours a day and you get to know them pretty well. I even saw Steven just before he passed away. He had a pretty colourful life throughout the excessive superstardom era of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Adam: What are some of the videos that are you worked on which are memorable to you? Gavin: I think working on some Noiseworks videos when they were just coming up and some really great shots out in the desert, Cronulla in the sand dunes with these massive lunar crane arms and seeing large production happening. Then working with Jimmy Barnes was a lot of fun. Anywhere where you’re on a set and the camaraderie is there and people are being creative and there’s loud music.
Johnny Diesel was super cool. He was like the Australian version of Johnny Depp. I thought he carried himself really well and was very professional and really together. He had a stand-alone unique kind of energy about him that I thought was really interesting.
Adam: I like that description because when you come across people like that, it’s there, it’s all in the way they carry themselves. Gavin: It’s innate, it’s not put on, and they don’t dress up. It’s just innate in their nature and their energy and it’s kind of nice to be around that.
Adam: Were you ever star-struck by anyone who you were working with? Gavin: I don’t think so because I’d been on the set as an actor before and I’d been around all the guys in A Country Practice and GP. For us as kids in Australia there were three or four television stations so they were really famous people besides your movie stars. They were local, home grown, really fantastic accomplished actors. But I think it was mitigated in me because I had been in front of a camera with them. I was pretty comfortable around these kinds of people who were in the public eye.
Adam: I think that describes it really well. It was a very different time over here in terms of TV. People on A Country Practice and shows like GP were really at the front and centre. Gavin: Yeah, unless you went to theatre, but as the general population at home GP, A Country Practice, and Home and Away were the people who were amazing and you could be star-struck by it. Then there were the musicians. We covered a Hall and Oates concert and we did Julio Iglesias. It was always interesting to see the big international productions. We worked on the opening of the Melbourne Tennis Centre and I accidentally ran into Martina Navratilova. I was running getting all these banners set up and it was busy. She stepped out of one of the dressing rooms and I pulled up really quickly, and she was right there; I almost really slammed into her. She was in my eye line and I was like, Wow, that’s Martina Navratilova. I was pretty in awe of who she was at the time.
Adam: Were you into sport? Gavin: At school yeah, I liked rugby and I liked running, swimming, and water skiing. I tried to watch some sport – you know how you’d watch cricket with your parents while they were having a cool drink in the afternoon on a weekend – but, in general, I played more of it than I watched.
Adam: I remember a photo shoot in TV Week where you were water skiing with Dieter Brummer and Tristan Bancks from Home and Away. You were on A Country Practice at that point. Did you start water skiing young? Gavin: We grew up in southern Sydney in Oatley. My parents bought a house on a valley on the river there so that’s where water skiing comes in. A good friend of mine’s parents would go up to the river – they had a little house – and they kind of taught me when I was 10 or 11. I would just ski every weekend. One of my closest friends and I would just grab some friends and we’d ski all day long. Dodging jelly fish and having a good time, basically. Later on, I bought a boat and some friends and I would go to the Hawkesbury River on the weekend. I just love being on the river and skiing. I find it very meditative. I still do it here when I can get the chance. Summer I’ll go water skiing and then winter my wife and I go snowboarding as much as we can.
Adam: Returning to Steven Priest and working at Priest Productions. When he died was that the first loss that you’d experienced? Gavin: No, I had a really good friend of mine pass away when he was 21 and I was 16, 17 and that’s why I got involved with the Starlight Foundation. One of my mum’s closest friends growing up, her son got cancer and then he fought that fight and then he lost that fight. I saw him before he died and went to the funeral. I found that really hard to wrap my head around at the time. You know you have those knee-jerk reactions of, “Why him? Why this? Why that?” In the end there’s really no reason why, but I grew up pretty quickly at that point seeing my friend die from cancer.
At the height of A Country Practice, I did a lot of work with Starlight Foundation going to the children’s cancer ward and spending spare time there. It kept me grounded rather than running around being on TV, so to speak. Even when I moved to the States, I took some people who were having their wishes granted to Disneyland. One of the guys who I met, Steven Walter, passed away. I became really friendly with him and his mum. I’m still really good friends with his mum. She’s legendary in how she’s kept her son’s legacy alive, and how much money they’ve raised for the Steven Walter Children’s Cancer Foundation. They do the Snowy Ride, a motorcycle event. He was a motorcycle fanatic, an amazing rider. That was another young death, he was 19. It’s very grounding and gives you perspective.
Adam: I guess with time you get to understand these things more and, like you said, there’s no reason to it; it just is. But at a young age it’s an experience that changes you. Gavin: It does, it challenges you, and you just have to be more accepting. I mean you obviously feel the emotional side of it, and sometimes there are no answers to some of the questions and you have to make peace with that. Then you also can’t use that as an excuse to be down, because I don’t think that’s a great way to move forward. You can’t bury the emotion, but you just can’t use it as an excuse to be down.
Adam: I found with some losses that experienced later on, in particular two suicides, I didn’t realise how hard they hit me. When you’re older, you kind of keep going, get ready in the morning, and go to work. And you do it until you stop and realise, Hey, I’m not really functioning here. Gavin: Yes, especially if you’ve got that and suicide. I’ve had a few friends who I went to school with commit suicide. Sometimes it takes a while because I think as an adult your safety mechanisms come into play and they only let you feel enough not to basically go off a cliff yourself. So I think it’s the slow, unravelling of being able to deal with emotions, like you said. It slowly starts hitting you as these things come on. It could be a year later and you’re sitting down in the morning just crying your eyes out and you realise it’s all of these things.
Adam: Can we talk – oh I sound like Joan Rivers – that’s what she used to say. Gavin: She’s gone too. Adam: I loved her. I met her in a hotel lobby once. Let’s talk about some of your early acting work. Do you remember You’ve Probably Saved His Life, which was a public educational video from St John Ambulance, but one that was structured as a dramatic story? You played Judy Morris’ son and your father dies because no one knows how to perform CPR. Gavin: Oh yes, Judy Morris, I totally forgot about this. What year was that? Adam: 1987. Gavin: So I would’ve been 16. That was probably around the first A Country Practice. I can’t remember now what the premise of the story was, but what I did know at the time was that was a pretty amazing opportunity to be working with Judy Morris.
Adam: The other one I wanted to talk about was Mission: Impossible. You were Gerard Kennedy’s potential son in that. Gavin: Yes, his holographic potential son.That was around the same time I think. It was really interesting to watch again because it was one of the first things I had ever done. You’re going off whatever instincts you might have at the time. It was really a great experience. I had to learn how to scuba dive and swim without a mask, and be trained in all these pools up on the Gold Coast. Terry Markwell was really great. Peter Graves was also very nice, and so was Thaao Penghlis. They were all very welcoming, and to be a new member of the Mission: Impossible team in that episode at my age was pretty amazing. Then there were the helicopters and people chasing you down with guns. It was kind of this fantasy land that I got to run around in, and one that you’d watch on television as a kid.
Adam: When you look at it now does it take you back? Gavin: It really takes me back and you look at it as a different person completely. It’s amazing how, if you get caught on video or film at a really young age and you look back at it, it really gives you a good perspective on who you were at the time.
When I was watching it, I was actually quite separated from it. I was enjoying it thinking it was kind of, not funny, but endearing to see this really young guy – who happens to be me – stumbling my way through and trying to find my feet as an actor. I was going for it and doing the best I could, and trying to wrap my head around being really young on this international show. I kind of felt proud of myself for going after it at the time without a ton of experience.
Adam: How did you start working on Home and Away? Gavin: I think I auditioned for it. I can’t quite remember. I believe that Revhead was the first and only role I did on that show. They kept bringing me back all the time. Naomi Watts played my sister in a few episodes in a wheelchair.
Adam: What do you remember of her? Gavin: She was a sweetheart. I thought she was really sweet and grounded. I saw her outside of the show a couple of times with different friends and she always was grounded and very nice; and she was really easy to work with. With all her success, I think she still comes off that way. Naomi’s also a little bit private, which I like. She just lets the work speak for itself.
Adam: Were there other people on the show that you particularly liked working with? Gavin: Rebekah Elmaloglou was a good friend of my sister’s. They did ballet together, so Rebekah and I had a long relationship just as friends from my sister. And then Ray Meagher was nice. I’m switching here, but when you said who did I like working with, Judith McGrath on A Country Practice was a person who I thought was amazing, too. She was great.
On Home and Away everyone was pretty nice. Belinda Jarrett was nice. I think when you’re playing these characters and you have to be in different situations or have a love interest, and you’re pretty young, that can always be a little bit difficult. We had to kind of work at those things on set because she was quite young and she had to have this relationship with my character – and I’m nothing like Revhead – in front of cameras. I think that was a little bit challenging just because of people’s ages at the time, but she was a nice person absolutely.
Adam: Not that Revhead was a teen idol as such, but did those sorts of labels sit well with you? Gavin: I think at the time I didn’t mind whatever they wanted to call me so I could continue to do what I was doing. That is completely a part of the business and a part of the publicity. Jane Nagel, who did publicity at Home and Away and A Country Practice, gave me a good business perspective on it, especially on A Country Practice. Since I had also been involved in both sides of the industry, I learnt really young that there’s the person, the professional, and the product, and that these three aspects of my life should be viewed as such when I was doing certain things.
Adam: Was being associated with playing a character like Revhead difficult? Gavin: At the beginning. I didn’t really like the name at all, and as a kid I’d copped a few hits from guys like him. Then once I realised that I could fit the character and it was a challenge, then I found a lot of fun in it. I could tap into this kind of rough “Westie” ocker-type guy, but you could actually style it in a way that was a little cooler out in amongst a beach town. I resisted it at first and once I realised it was a challenge it became a lot of fun actually.
You know what’s funny right now is that my nieces and nephews are playing reruns of Home and Away, so Revhead is back on the screens. I think my eldest recognises me but the other two say, “Is that really Uncle Gavin?” Then they search me out on YouTube and they think it’s really funny that their uncle is running around with this heavy Aussie accent looking the way I do, playing Revhead the spanner man on television in Australia.
Adam: They’re probably not used to Uncle Gavin saying, “Rack off!” Gavin: No exactly! It’s so funny, all those colloquial terms that we used to throw out there – all the “mates” and the “rack offs”, and all that kind of stuff.
Adam: How did you get you get Renato on Family and Friends? Was it through your association with people working on that show who had been involved in Home and Away? Gavin: It was a Channel 7 show and I’m trying to think whether they offered it to me or I auditioned. I can’t really remember. I don’t think I really knew anybody going into it. Adam:Home and Away producers John Holmes and Alan Bateman were on there. Gavin: Well that’s probably why. I think if I had been working on that show with them they probably had me audition from Revhead to Renato, the Italian-Australian kid in lots of scenes in speedos. He was a swimmer. I really enjoyed that show. Jonathan Hardy was great. Rachael Beck and I became friends. I thought she was an amazing artist also and, to this day, I think she’s a really consummate professional. But I enjoyed the show and I think it came from A Country Practice early on and Home and Away that maybe the producers thought it would be a good fit and I auditioned for it.
Adam: One show that you said at the time was a really good professional experience was on GP, when you played a boxer. You trained with Bernie Hall for that? From what I’ve read, he was quite a character. Gavin: He was a character. I remember going up there to the gym and asking him about it, and he’s straight out of that leathery old – like the trainer from Rocky. He was just in the gym his whole life and he felt like the gym, smelt like the gym, looked like the gym. There was an authenticity to him, and I think training with him really prepared me mentally to understand what it was like to be a boxer to the certain degree that you could.
I trained incredibly hard for that role and it was really important for the dynamic of the character. I think that the guy who I fought against in GP was a national champion. He was a very accomplished guy and he had to lose to my character, which he graciously did. I was in good shape at the time but I realised that you don’t have to look like The Rock to pack a punch. I got hit a few times in training with the guy, and he was so powerful and so fast. I didn’t know what it was to be fit until I trained as a boxer. My whole life I’d been pretty athletic, but to train as a boxer it was a whole other level.
Adam: Let’s speak about to A Country Practice. How did you get that role? Gavin: That was an audition process as well. That’s the most vivid audition I remember because there were two or three guys sitting outside and we all kept coming in and doing the scene with Kym Wilson. We obviously knew it was for a recurring role or to become a new cast member so I knew it was a big deal. But I really enjoyed the process. It was one of those times where I told myself to just let it go, enjoy yourself, and be in the moment. I really loved the show. I had done it a few times before and I felt pretty comfortable. I also knew Kym Wilson briefly from the talent school or something like that so she wasn’t so foreign to me. Of course, I hoped that I would get this part, but I didn’t really have this crazy energy of “I’ve got to get this – this is going to change my life”. At the time, I was directing some music videos and working on other different sets when I auditioned so it wasn’t the thing that was going to make or break my life at the time. It was amazing when it did happen.
Adam: How old were you when you started on A Country Practice? Gavin: I was 21. Adam: And Kym Wilson’s great, I love watching her. Gavin: I think she’s working in fashion and is over here in the States. I’ve kind of gone back and forth talking through people and friends that say “Hi” to her. We had a great time working on the show. We had great chemistry and she was always fun to be around.
Adam: At the time that you and Kym came on to the show it was a period of change for the series, in particular with a number of cast changes. Was it a difficult time or was that not really in play? Gavin: No, it wasn’t really in play. I think for the people who were still in the show it was probably exciting to have some changes since it had been on for so long. Maybe the ratings also weren’t where the network wanted them to be so they said they were going to bring a younger storyline in and introduce some other characters to add some new flavor or energy to the show. It felt good. It kind of felt like you were a part of something that had been around a long time, but you were also responsible for helping it to continue. For me, it was exciting to be there and you really wanted to do an amazing job and maintain the integrity of the show.
I thought A Country Practice was one of the most respected programmes that you could appear on at the time. Everyone wanted to support each other so it made it fantastic to work within the cast. It had social depth and it had humour, which I really liked. When your storylines would come around and they were about heavy issues, you felt that you had a responsibility to do it well and to tell the story. There were so many levels to the show that it helped me mature and really taught me a lot as a person, just from working on it and reading the scripts.
Adam: How did you approach Hugo? Gavin: With Hugo, for me, it was an open canvas to bring parts of my life to this guy who was riding through town getting ready to go to Tour de France and had all the promise in the world. Then he just got sideswiped and ended up in Wandin Valley Hospital, and the challenge was to accept what had happened to him. As I said earlier, I think you need to go deep and feel disappointed and ask questions like, “Why me?” Then it’s how you deal with those set of circumstances that define you. The beginning of the character in the series was a defining moment: his dream just got shattered and everything changed in that moment. It was really him redefining himself because he had put everything and every bit of energy into this one goal of going to the Tour de France.
I found a journey of Hugo trying to figure out how to build new dreams, and how to deal with who he was in this new place. He also had the ability to be anybody in this new place. I was really trying to be open to and interpret the writing and what they saw for the character. Because there wasn’t really a great idea of who the character was, except that this is where he’s going and this is what happened. From there, I was kind of open to build on it.
Adam: I liked the subtlety in the character. Hugo comes across as a very happy-go-lucky guy, but there are those levels of change and transformation going on. Gavin: Yeah, and I think he was happy to be in the town, and he hadn’t really had a home. Hugo’s always been on the run to get somewhere. Then his dad came and they fought and it’s basically like, “Hey, I’ve finally found some happiness somewhere, and you’re coming in here and reminding me of why I wanted to ride my bike to get away from my life”. When things hit him hard, like his Lyme disease, he got a bit aggressive. I think that was because he just started to like what was happening, and then it was changing again.
Adam: Hugo’s experience is like when you find yourself moving along and then all of sudden something stops you. It may be getting ill briefly or something like that, but there’s a reason for it. Your body or something else is saying to you, “If you don’t stop I’m going to stop you, because you’ve got something to learn here”. Gavin: Yeah it’s the Universe putting the brakes on for you and it’s hitting that Universal wall. At some point you’re going to hit it: emotionally, personally, self-created, out of the blue, an accident. I think sometimes it’s a really good thing. Sometimes in life when those things happen, they’re good.
Adam: You mentioned Judith McGrath before. Was there anyone else that you really enjoyed working with? Gavin: I would say everyone. I’m not just saying that, but everyone was great. Some people you know better because you’re in more scenes with them. I made good friends with Jamie Croft. He’s a great young talented actor who was on the show. Shane Porteous just commanded so much respect; he was almost like the Buddha cruising around because he was the consummate professional and so he commanded a lot of respect.
I worked with Syd Heylen and Gordon Piper in the scenes in the pub. Since they’d been on the show for so long, it seemed like Syd, Gordon, and Joyce Jacobs were always having an incredibly good time. You just loved them and thought for each of them, What a life. Michelle Pettigrove was a sweetheart. Georgie Parker was there when I started, and she was really nice too. They were so welcoming. It was incredible. I hate to say it, but when you get a bunch of actors together who really care about what they’re doing they seem to really take you in. I found when I was younger that they took you in and wanted you to succeed.
I got to do a bunch of scenes with Joyce Jacobs. She’d come in to the bar and I’d always have some interaction with her. I thought that was always really great for my character because she was such a classic, funny woman. I really enjoyed those moments that I got to spend with her. Brian Wenzel, he was tough and down the line, no messing around, super pro, get it done. And Maureen Edwards was really sweet. She couldn’t be nicer actually; a classic wonderful woman. I think we were really lucky with the crew and the cast that were on the show.
Adam: What were your favourite storylines? Gavin: The episode when they had the cyclist and he was gay and we got beat up. That really rang true to me because I used to get hassled on the trains. I had a school uniform on and we would get roughed up and beat up and spat on, and called a bunch of names as well. When that character came in, I lived in Sydney and was a big part of the gay community. The most comfortable and safest I felt when I was on television was in Darlinghurst. I would go out to the clubs and dance. I loved it because I felt safe and accepted. There would never be some guy who wanted to flatten me because I was on television. Being a part of that community at the time was really healthy and it was very protective. And I love to dance my ass off all night long.
I remember thinking that it was important to do it right. I thought it was a pretty amazing thing to do at the time. Also those blurred lines with the two characters. Hugo was a bit naïve, but to be meeting this guy and go on the journey with him was great; especially because the community at the time was like my incredibly safe family. That’s why I remember that as one of the most important ones.
Adam: Even before A Country Practice you had the intention to head to the U.S. at some point. How did American come to be part of the plan? Gavin: I have such fond memories of A Country Practice.I could’ve stayed and kept doing all of that, but it was in my nature to keep testing it out and there were no other TV stations at the time. The producers weren’t upset. They were really supportive about doing it. At that time you’re just young and running as fast as you can, to experience as much as you can. That’s why I really loved the show and was thankful to the producers on the show. They had a lot of class and integrity.
Adam: That’s great to hear. I guess they’d had a lot of younger people on the show before and saw the need for them to go and spread their wings and develop and keep moving. Gavin: Absolutely. They were great. I think it was based on me just wanting to see what’s out there. It’s not that I didn’t want to be in Australia or be on Australian work. I had been working with production companies and talking with international people. When I was on Mission: Impossible, some actors and people who were coaching me then all said that whenever I came to the States to look them up. The door was open to me that, if I went there, I knew somebody. That made it easier to talk to my parents and tell them that I really wanted to go and check it out. I had no real idea what it would be. I knew some people there, and I thought it was best at the time to go and test myself on a global stage. It was really more the exciting pursuit of adventure.
Adam: Did you get an agent straight away when you were there? Gavin: I spent a few years going back and forth so I had a manager and then I had an agent. I had all this stuff set up and then I set up all my legalities while I was on A Country Practice so that when I got off the plane I was legal and ready to go.
Adam: Was Signs and Wonders the first project you did once you were there? Gavin: I think the first thing I did was a voice-over for Disney, Toto Lost in New York. I did a Kahlúa commercial voice as well, and then the first thing I booked was Signs and Wonders. It was a BBC miniseries with a bunch of amazing people in that as well. That particular experience doing a two-hander with James Earl Jones when we were in scenes together was a little bit mind-blowing for me. I remember sitting down with him in between scenes and he was very relaxed and quite talkative and a really nice man. Then he opens his mouth and you’re like, It’s Darth Vader and Mufasa from The Lion King; and it’s all of them in one. I’m talking to all of these people in one go. Then he says my character’s name and you’re thinking, Oh man, this is Darth Vader talking here right now. His voice is so amazing.
Adam: Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons where James Earl Jones’ characters – Darth Vader, Mufasa, and even his CNN voice-over – talk to Lisa one-by-one? Gavin: It was like that. There’s a scene where he walked down the stairs to talk to me and I’m just standing there looking at him. I was quite amazed that he was walking down the stairs to talk to me, or my character. That was one of those out-of-body experiences that I did have when I first arrived because he’s pretty huge as far as his career goes and just him as a man and his talent. I obviously snapped back in and had a conversation with him in the scene.
Adam: There were some heavy hitters in Signs and Wonders. Gavin: Yes, Jodhi May, Prunella Scales, Donald Pleasence, David Warren, and Colin Farrell was in some of it. I did most of my work with Jodhi May and just a few scenes with James Earl Jones, but that was just amazing unto itself.
Adam: Were your parts filmed only in L.A.? Gavin: Yes, I think it was shown in the UK and it was shown here. We just did the L.A. part of it.
Adam: I think that was Donald Pleasence’s final role. Gavin: I think it was one of his last screen appearances. I think he died soon after that or at the very end of that. And Jodhi May was in The Last of the Mohicans. I really love that movie and the soundtrack to that movie. I thought that film was another great cinematic masterpiece in how it was shot. So to work with her was also fantastic.
Adam: Was Amazing Grace next? Gavin: I think I came off of Signs and Wonders and then I was cast in Amazing Grace. It started off really well when I first arrived here.
Adam:Amazing Grace had a struggle from the beginning. It was supposed to premiere in the fall and it didn’t. Then when it did premiere it was up against Dr. Quinn, Medicine Women, which you imagine may have a pretty similar audience. It seemed to also have that problem striking a balance between being a religious or a spiritual show and appealing to a non-religious audience. Did you enjoy that one? Gavin: I enjoyed the character and working with Patty Duke immensely. That was shot up in her home town. I don’t think she wanted to move and there were a lot of challenges with the weather being up there. I think they struggled to find a balance, as you said. It was a police show then they had spirituality, and ex-addiction coming back. I don’t know whether she also wanted to continue on with the show. It was quite grueling shooting it in Idaho during the winter. It was really cold. I loved it, but I think it was quite grueling doing it. I moved there to be in the show.
Adam: What was Patty Duke like to work with? I enjoy her as an actor but also her mental health advocacy is very much an interest of mine. Gavin: I thought she was very stable and very strong. She really cared about the welfare of the younger actors who were her son and her daughter on the show. Of course you have to because there’s SAG and there’s welfare and all of that. But she took it to another level I think because she was a child star herself. She was a producer on the show, as well, and so she really rallied around the show. I think it was a lot of work for her but she believed in it. I found her to be very warm.
One of the best moments I’ve ever had as an actor or doing a scene with somebody was a scene with her on the porch. In that show I finally felt what it really, really meant to be in the moment with somebody. Still to this day, I think that was the best experience that I’ve ever had. I had done a lot of work beforehand, but something was different in that one scene on the porch.
Adam: That’s such a good progression as well. Gavin: Yes, to realise it and to not really know that it was happening. When it happened it was so calm and connected, and then when it was over and I watched it back later, I really believed it. That’s something you want to achieve.
Adam: I thought that Fred Barker in Public Enemies was the most interesting of the Barker brothers portrayed in the film. He changes and it’s a change you believe. You can see his development from being a rather innocent kid to becoming this sort of cold-blooded killer. It also made me realise how much I’d missed seeing you on TV or in movies. Gavin: It was an incredibly interesting fun adventure to be working with Eric Roberts and Theresa Russell and the other guys who were in the film. I felt very honoured just to be a part of it. It’s a run around, shoot ‘em up kind of movie, but you’re working with people who are really accomplished. In scenes you’re putting yourself in your craft with really great people who you have a deep respect for. In a way, it brings some kind of comfort that you feel you’re growing and moving in the right direction. So there’s some validation by working with these guys.
Theresa Russell was a beautiful, professional person. Similar to working with Patty Duke, there were those scenes where you feel that you’re no longer outside yourself looking in. You actually become present and the moment becomes real. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it just passes you by like you experienced it without any objective self point-of-view. You could get that with her. It was the same with Eric Roberts. His timing and watching him was like going to class so I felt very fortunate.
The character itself had a really fantastic arc, from basically being mummy’s boy to becoming the most ruthless of all the brothers. As an actor you could find these markers where you could shift and change and evolve the character. It was really great to do a period piece as well. I hadn’t done that before. The extent of using weapons was interesting. It’s intense because you know it’s dangerous, but you have a really good time doing it.
Adam: When you talk about being in that moment with Theresa Russell you can really see that. The mother-son relationship that Ma and Fred Barker have is a very complex relationship, but it’s sort of a natural fit in a very weird way. Gavin: Back in those times, if they were on the run, they were never exposed to any women or even just other people. Her having that kind of intimate, weird relationship with her son, or sons, was all they really had so blurring those lines at the time seemed like it was natural. It’s almost an extreme version of home schooling with weapons. They see none of the outside world and the only female around him at the time was her. The other brothers were older and they were off doing their thing, but he had just come into that age where he was looking outside his mom. He never really got there.
Adam: There’s that great scene where Eric Roberts’ character is coming to his end and Fred is the one responsible for that. Gavin: It’s straight jealousy. I put a gun to his head and basically it’s a man-to-man stand-off. It’s not only “You’re hitting on my mom”, but in his mind it’s his woman. It was this blurred line about who she was. When it came to being able to kill the guy, it was quite satisfying for the character. It erased the competition.
Adam: Was Chicago Hope filmed in Las Vegas? Gavin: Yes, it was filmed in Las Vegas. It was quite brief, a little street scene with Mark Harmon. But it was fun being from Australia in Vegas, and I had a great time being on set shooting with Mark Harmon. That was another one of those unique characters you kind of get in their world a little bit and you find out what’s happening at that level, which was making money and no fear of committing some violent act if you have to. Adam: Nothing to lose. Gavin: Exactly, yeah.
Adam: Let’s talk about Diagnosis Murder and your character Aaron Ving. That was a big part. Gavin: That was a big part and I loved the character. He was very single-minded, ultra-violent, and believed in everything that he was doing. Aaron was almost this pre-programmed person, whether he was brought up that way or whether he found his belief somehow, but something snapped in him and then he became so single-minded about what he had to achieve. It was such a focused energy that he couldn’t have any objective perspective. I found the intensity of that character really enjoyable to play.
Adam: He was completely committed to the cause. I thought it was quite a sophisticated script. It almost drew on that 1960’s kind of idea of revolution and militants. Gavin: I thought so too, and they were kind of addressing those things. It’s not a family show, but similar to A Country Practice it’s got comedy and humour, and then it has its deep stuff. This was before all the things that are happening in the world now. I think the approach taken made it come together.
I remember going into that audition and L.A. traffic was brutal. I think it was a producer session where they make their decision. I just came in there and, with the energy of dealing with the traffic, I couldn’t overthink it. I just had to get in there and unload. Before I knew it, the audition was finished and I walked out of there and thought, What really just happened? It was another one of those moments where I didn’t really know what just happened, but it felt really good. Then they called and offered the part to me.
Adam: You can do all the preparation for something, but sometimes it’s just being in that moment. Gavin: Yeah you can’t overthink it, but that’s the challenge sometimes.
Adam: Your characters have a penchant for trying to kill off loved characters. Revhead in Home and Away was kind of responsible for killing off Guy Pearce’s character. Then there was Mark Harmon in Chicago Hope and Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder. Gavin: Yes, I think Revhead was responsible for his death. It was same with Dick Van Dyke. I was playing this militia-type domestic terrorist guy, and all I’m thinking about is, I’ve got a gun to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s head right here. I grew up watching his movies and all of a sudden I’m on top of him with a 9mm hand gun and then taking fire. I don’t know what it is. I’m really laid-back and I like to get along with people, but for whatever reason those roles seemed to work pretty well for me at the time.
Adam: I watched Exposé last night. Gavin: How was it? Adam: I enjoyed it. I think your character was set apart because everyone is completely out there and he just kept it all together. He was a photographer as well so that’s quite close to you. I thought it was interesting what they were trying to do with dealing with the idea of adoption and foster care systems within this thriller. Gavin: I thought the idea was good. It was a first-time director and I don’t know how well it came together for what it was doing; but I liked the idea of the character. I got time to go out with the “stringers”, the guys that get the calls on the police scanners and drive straight to the event or the incident. Sometimes they arrive there before the police officers. This is kind of before TMZ, before everyone’s running around with cell phones and capturing reality incidents, horror shootings, car wrecks. Because my character was a stringer, I got to go out and run around with some of these guys around L.A. in their vans. It got pretty intense because a scan comes across and there’s a shooting they’re rolling straight over to the location. It certainly gave me the feeling of being in amongst the brutality of a city and when you’re on the front line, so to speak, of looking at the aggression and the violence it really opened my eyes to what these guys deal with every day. The character was also me coming back from Amazing Grace, and being able to be a little bit more laid-back in my own skin instead of being the guy that wants to go around and shoot everybody.
Adam: Was that the last thing that you did? Gavin: I think that it was the last thing that I did, and then I made the decision to stop acting.
Adam: Tell me about what was going on. Gavin: I wasn’t really comfortable not having control of where I was going in my life. I’ve always done multiple things, being a freelance filmmaker or working in music or being first assistant like what I was doing in Australia. In America, I was so busy auditioning. That’s the part of acting where you can have 10 good actors, but only the person who is completely right in the director’s mind is going to get booked. Then there’s that factor of the Universe coming and slapping you in the head a little bit. There were a lot of people who I met and thought were a certain way, but weren’t really who I thought they were. I felt a bit disillusioned with everything that was around me, and what I had built in L.A. felt very uncertain.
I moved down to Huntington Beach, out of L.A., to a really good friend’s. It was to take a breather and a break from the energy that I’d used to get from Australia to the States. I had also been working since I was 15. From a really young age up to 28, my life had been a whirlwind. I think my mind and body were telling me that I needed to stop and look at what I really wanted to do.
Adam: What did you do next? Gavin: I took about year off. I really just did some odd jobs, played music, wrote and did a lot of drawing. It was slowing my life down for the first time since I was 15 years old.
I got back into the production side of things. I just wanted to do something that, when I showed up, was based on my technique and my abilities, and not just on whether you are right or wrong for the part. I really wanted to own what I was doing and so I decided to get back into being behind the camera.
I started working again as a camera assistant in print. I had spent so much time being photographed in Australia and had a really good understanding of it. I didn’t tell anybody that I was ever an actor. I had this random disconnect from acting where I buried my entire past of being an actor in this country or anywhere else. I wanted the people I was working with to see or judge me for my abilities as a camera assistant or a lighting designer, DP at the time. So I went on this journey. I don’t know how healthy it was, but the only way I could do it was to absolutely bury everything that existed to me as an actor.
Adam: It may seem like an intense decision, but at the same time it was based on everything that was leading up to it. Gavin: I think so. I think sometimes it seems intense, but it gets to the point where it can be the only decision. You just have to see in front of you and let go and trust the process somehow, and have some solid people around you to do that.
I started camera assisting for some celebrity photographers. As well as dealing with all the cameras and the film, I was pretty much the DJ at the photo shoots in the studio because I love music. Over time, I became really good at being a first assistant, doing a lot of lighting for different people: whether we were doing British Vogue and you’re working with people such as Pamela Anderson; or you’re working with Helmut Newton and shooting Mickey Rourke. I was handling all the technical side of it, a lot of the lighting for photographers, and running film before it went digital. I spent a lot of years doing that.
One night I was in a taxi coming home from an L.L.Bean shoot in L.A. The cab driver fell asleep at the wheel and careered off the freeway. The car hit the curb and some signs that broke and smashed. It was quite violent smashing a bunch of things on the side of the freeway, but we didn’t hit something dead ahead. I thought that I was okay. I went back to my place, and in the middle of the night I tried to move and I couldn’t move my head or my neck.
I was taken to hospital. I had a bulging disc in C6, C7 and all this nerve damage in my arms. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t pick anything up. It was really bad. I had to do two or three months of rehab. Part of the job was setting lights and moving cameras so all of a sudden I’m no longer employable.
A producer who I’d worked with as a first assistant called me about a Toyota job or something. I told him that I’d been in an accident, but that I can pick up the trash and I can make some really great tea and coffee; I just need to work. So from being at the level that I was as a camera assistant to basically being really humble and sort of saying, “I need to pay my bills. Can you at least give me the opportunity to pick up the trash and serve tea and coffee and sort out craft service? I would be indebted”. They knew me so they were able to help me out, which was nice. From that point I started back in production as a PA and then going from there to location scouting and location co-ordinating for other companies.
Adam: How did Section9 begin? Gavin: This accident took me out, but then it started to make me use my mind and skills that I’d learned over the years to tailor into what would become Section9. I saved up enough money to insure myself, which is a big part of owning a production company. I insured myself and went out on my own with Section9 as an advertising production company in print. As soon as that happened, people in the industry heard that I was doing this on my own, and we got incredibly busy. It was satisfying because I could do things creatively, and work with all the layouts and great photographers. I understand lighting, casting, so in a way all those things that I had done set me up to be a very calm, deliberate producer. It started to shape itself as what a gift this was that I could create something I never thought I would – out of necessity. It’s something that I’ve really loved to do over the last 10 years.
Adam: You do a lot of work involving high-performance and luxury cars. Is that your core business? Gavin: Yes, it’s my core business. Section9 core business is advertising nationally and globally, and it’s completely encompassing when you’re in production. We did a job that was a 54-day shoot schedule and I was on the job for around 90 days. People look at photography and say, “Oh wow you got a photo”, and think that it’s done in a day, but the kind of production that I specialise in is like doing mini-motion pictures. It might be a 12, 15 day shoot and you’re prepping for three weeks, and wrapping for another two or three weeks. Generally I take on these larger, technical, complicated jobs where you’re shutting down roads or closing down bridges and landing helicopters. You’ve got people flying in from all over the world and it’s a very big logistics creative production. We also do a lot of technical stuff where they shoot standing cars, and then add CGI vehicles in later.
I mix those sorts of projects in with some of the simpler logistical productions. With Philips electronics, we cruised around downtown with a small crew. I really enjoy that as much as I enjoy closing down parts of the freeway and shutting bridges and things like that.
Adam: The Philips ones were very creative. Gavin: They were really good and the talent was great. We did a lot street casting.
Adam: I guess location, particularly for the vehicle advertising, is really important to what you do as well. Gavin: It’s paramount. It’s really about finding amazing locations to put the product in to represent the demographic and reflect the feel of the vehicles. You want to come back and present locations to a creative director and a client where they say, “This is amazing. Our car will look incredible here in this light”. I find the preparation and the scouting of the location really exciting and very interesting.
Adam: Did you work with Helmut Newton for Gillette? Gavin: He died just before we shot Gillette. I worked for him up until he died when I came out here for two months at a time. I had assisted a guy for Vogue when I was a camera assistant, and then I had the car accident. I kind of just recovered and was getting physically back and he said “Helmut Newton is looking for a new assistant in L.A., and I really want to recommend you to him”. I asked, “Is he gear heavy”. I was thinking that if he’s going to do massive lights, I won’t be able to help. He told me, “No, he’s not gear heavy at all. He’s got a couple of cameras and small amounts of lighting, and I think you’d really connect with him”. So I was called by his rep and his agent and then they set up a phone call with Helmut and I had to be available.
He called me and he said “So you’re the Australian, right?” I said, “Yeah”. He told me, “I’m married to one”. I said, “Lucky for you”. He laughed, he was just laughing, because his wife’s Australian. We kind of hit it off, and he asked me to come to the Chateau Marmont and sit down and look at his equipment. He took me out into the hallway and made sure that I understood technically everything that was happening with the negatives, film, making sure nothing was thin; making sure that everything was how he wanted it and how he expected it. From there I started working with him shooting Ben Kingsley and all sorts of different people from there.
Working with Helmut Newton was amazing because he showed me that you don’t have to be an asshole to be a world-class artist. You can actually be really focused and have all of this success, and have an incredibly long career, and still be a really consummate and nice professional individual. Another thing that I took from working from him was that he said, if you don’t have a point of view or a vision from which you see the world, all you are is a technician. Being a technician is not bad, but what made him who he is was his strong vision and point of view from which he saw everything. His perspective on the world was his and it’s very distinct. When you see a Helmut Newton picture, you know it.
I became really friendly with him and his wife. I spoke to Helmut the day before he died. We were about to do a big Gillette campaign and everything was ready. I got a call from the producer saying that he passed away. We met at a café and the producer was talking to myself and June, his wife, who’s a really accomplished photographer in her own right. She’s Alice Springs. June says, “I’m going to shoot it, and Gavin you’re going to light it”.
I went back to the studio the next day. I remember standing there looking up and wondering what I should do. In that moment I realised that he wasn’t around and I needed to do what needed to be done. I would take the Polaroids back to the Chateau every night and June gave me direction and input on what was happening. We created a really amazing bond through the time from him passing away to her and I going through this whole job together. I think it helped everyone get through it that she really took the lead. She’s an amazing woman for doing that.
Adam: When did you start making music? Gavin: I spent years not doing anything because I had a bunch of excuses of why I wasn’t at the level that I needed to be to start: I don’t know how to use Logic, I don’t know how to record anything, and I’m so busy doing production. One day I finished this massive campaign and I was pretty exhausted but it felt really good to be at home. My wife was sitting on the couch talking to her brother and I was thinking, How happy am I right now. Then I realised I have an iPad and I can program the music. I didn’t know how to record on it so I plugged the Bose speaker in, put my iPhone next to it, downloaded a recorder, and hit record. My mind just went don’t be so precious and find a way to record this. I recorded it on my iPhone off a Bose speaker playing it live off the program in my iPad. That’s the first kind of starting point of me doing music.
I don’t set out to make a song or sit down and compose or write a song. I’ll be at home after a job and my computer’s there, and I just have a certain energy or someone will be talking to me about something. I’ll sit down at the computer and I’ll write and compose it in that moment and then tweak it later. I was having a big conversation with someone and they had a friend who had just died. We were talking about life and funerals, and going through life. He left and I just sat down and made the song “Calm Life Mind”. When I sent it to him it allowed him to cry and that he could let go and feel good energy about his friend. That’s what I love about making music.
Adam: “Gentle Gloves” has a very ambient chill-out type thing, and “Nava” almost has a Thom Yorke style to it. Gavin: People mention some stuff like that. Those two songs and “How Happy Am I” get the most kind of feedback from listeners. “Gentle Gloves” came from my friend being really hard on himself about something that didn’t work out and I just said, “Hey, it’s okay to be hard on yourself, but when you’re kind of knocking yourself down you should at least put on some gentle gloves”. I understand the need to be hard on yourself for maybe a wrong decision, but if you’re going to do it just be gentle about it.
Adam: Music seems to happen for you organically, when the need or thought arises. Gavin: I think so. For “Okay Ole”, Ole is a really good friend of my wife’s and he’s this unsung super positive amazing guy, always calm, always in the background, and really reliable. Everything’s always okay with Ole, everything is cool. There’s this really incredible strength in his calmness and his consistency. I was walking around a store with my wife, and when I got home I started that song.
Adam: I guess your house is not necessarily everyone around the piano, but it’s a musical house. Gavin: Yes, there are three guitars out there. If someone comes over and wants to pick up a guitar and play, they can do that for sure.
Adam: Just one more to talk about, “Low Rolling Cinema” is pretty different from some of the other songs. Gavin: That’s me just checking into beats and fields that I like, and blending certain styles and sounds that I haven’t necessarily heard so much in my life. It’s a part of me discovering new music that I haven’t really heard myself. I remember hanging out in the lounge room listening to Triple J super late night as a kid with the boom box, and then falling asleep with a transistor radio under my pillow and waking up with a screaming ear ache. Then when I had a double tape deck, I could actually start making mix tapes of what I’d spent weeks taping off of Triple J. I was 11 when I used to do that.
Adam: I hope kids still make mixed tapes. I mean they probably make mixed playlists now. Gavin: Yeah, I think it’s all mixed playlists now. I used to love the art of the albums. All the art I try and produce myself for all the singles and whatever music I’m putting out. I use that as a creative outlet now so music gives me music and it also gives me photography. All of the images on the mtrack Instagram are my photography.
Adam: What is your life like today? You’ve been travelling? Gavin: Yes, I was gone for a little while ago for about three weeks to France, Germany, and Monte Carlo. I was looking into some new technology we’re working on for mobile apps. In Monte Carlo, I spent some time with Helmut’s wife. We also just got back from Sydney. I hadn’t been back in a while. I used to always go home every 18 months or so to see mum and dad, and see my brother and sister and their kids. Since I’ve bought a house, they’re all, “Let’s go to L.A.”. I’ve kind of been the Hotel Harrison in L.A. for my family so it’s been really great.
I did an audition on tape just recently for fun for myself for a project in Australia and it felt really good. I love my life today, but the fact that it is opening up and it’s reflecting my life up until this day is making it a little more interesting. It’s giving me a wider perspective to have a little more fun, and do a few more things that I used to love to do again.
Adam: Acting is something you’re open to again? Gavin: Absolutely. I’m starting to look at doing more acting in the future. I miss the process and connection. Recently I just decided to let go of all these ideas of who you create yourself to be – whether it’s an actor, a producer, a writer, or whatever. You actually are who you are, and all of those elements of your life really link up. It’s very simple to say but when they’ve taken you in extreme directions, and when you have had to make some really big changes to refocus your life and see yourself in a different light, that’s when you compartmentalise parts of your life. Part of opening that up was when you actually reached out to me. I started looking back at some press and things from the past and put them on IMDb. It was very much a reconnecting thing for me to do, which was to look back at all that stuff and say, “You know what, I did it and I actually really enjoyed doing all of it”. That’s why it’s really great that you reached out to me because it was a part of me reconnecting with this whole chapter of running around doing stuff with guns and everything else. So you’re a part of that because if I was to say yes to you, I had to say yes to my life.
You can visit Section9 Production’s website to see and read more about Gavin’s work, and the company’s Tumblr page provides images and a behind-the-scenes perspective on some of the shoots.
Gavin’s music is available from iTunes, SoundCloud, and Spotify. He also has a Tumblr. I highly recommend looking at the art and images there as you listen to the music. You’ll stay on the site for a long time, and have a great time doing so. Music videos for his singles will be among Gavin’s next projects.
Gavin’s photography is available on Instagram. His IMDb page is here.
Saturdays have never really done it for me. I’m probably in the minority, but I prefer Sundays. Part of the reason for my mild aversion to Saturdays is because, until relatively recently, I didn’t really have them. While I was studying at university, I worked 9-5 every Saturday for almost nine years. First there was a job at a department store, then one at a supermarket, and finally, while I was a PhD student, Saturdays more often than not were spent at my office desk writing lectures and catching up on research. Or washing the coffee cups that I’d used in the office during the week. Caffeine consumption surely increases the closer a PhD student gets to thesis submission. PhD students tend to be “close to thesis submission” for about three years. This meant that I had few free Saturdays, as well as regularly chapped hands from the no-frills dish soap kindly provided by the University.
I will digress for a moment to tell you about the department store job. This is not really anything to do with Sunday, but I recently did some research on my old stomping ground. The position was over Christmas, and some of us (i.e. me) might still have our trees up, so it’s at least relevant to the season. I also can’t rule out not working at all on Sundays. Although I have no such recollection, I wouldn’t imagine that even 15 years ago the opportunity wasn’t seized by retailers.
The department store gig at David Jones was a mere few months, but rather memorable for two rocking horses named Nimble and Nipper. You see, I didn’t work in, say, men’s shoes or haberdashery (because, well, it wasn’t 1975). I worked in the Magic Cave. This is where Santa takes up residency in Adelaide every year. I don’t care about those vicious rumors that he’s also been spotted in a couple of the other department stores around town, the Surf Lifesaving Club, or even enjoying pintxos and sangria down Gouger Street with someone who is definitely not Mrs. Claus. The true home of Santa Claus in Adelaide has always been the Magic Cave. If you’re wondering why Santa chooses to stay here over the holiday season, Adelaide was just named by The New York Times as 1 of 52 places to visit in 2015, and is the only Australian city to be on the list. Evidently the trip a few friends and I (a sextet in the purest sense of the term consisting of Carlo, Luke, Mark, Paul, Simon, and moi…that’s Paul and Simon, not Paul Simon) took to New York in 2011 wasn’t enough to sour them on our city, even if it did the people. What can I say? I’m sorry we misconstrued the true meaning of the Meatpacking District.
These rather engaging, if somewhat wooden, equine have been draw cards at the Magic Cave since the early part of the 20th Century. Nimble has been there since 1914, and Nipper followed a little later in 1926. The Magic Cave was originally housed in the John Martin’s department store in Rundle Mall. On 18 November, 1933, the first Christmas Pageant made its way down the main streets of Adelaide, and Nimble and Nipper “with their attendant jockeys” were on hand (“Father Christmas Arrives Tomorrow”, The News, November 17, 1933, p. 8). Even then, the “well beloved Nimble … was hailed with delight by the crowds of children” and “when Nipper, the smaller pony, followed, their joy was complete” (The Adelaide Chronicle, November 30, 1933, p. 60). If you say neigh to horses, there was also a seven-foot high Christmas pudding. To provide some perspective on how long Nimble and Nipper have been part of Adelaide’s collective affection, on the same page of the News article it was reported that “Clark Gable’s Distinction” was that he “Did Not Fall in Love with Greta Garbo” while filming a movie called Susan Lenox. Readers were told that a half-page picture of Mr. Gable “printed on art paper, suitable for framing” would be in the paper the following day.
Here’s the Christmas Pageant from 1980 (Nipper and then Nimble appear 45 minutes in and close to the arrival of Santa Claus/Father Christmas).
I worked at David Jones in late 2000, shortly after the opening of its sparkly new building. The store had inherited the Magic Cave from John Martin’s when that much-missed store closed after 132 years of trading. I was tasked with being a “rocker”, which is exactly what it sounds like. You essentially grab the ear of the horse that you are tasked with rocking (in the most humane way possible) and use your same-side leg to move the rocking base while a child rides it. Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never bothered to find out whether the horses who I worked with were the originals. While I would like to say that I was too busy at the time, the only things I really remember from that year off the top of my head are dancing to the song “Who the Hell Are You” by Madison Avenue, and putting a picture of Sydney Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe in a PowerPoint presentation for an assignment.
Having long since given up hope that Madison Avenue would stage a comeback, I decided to email the good people who run the Pageant. It turns out that the current Nipper and Nimble are likely from the time when John Martin’s expanded from its flagship to also have a number of suburban stores (which I think was in the 1960s). The original Nimble still exists ensconced safely away, but the very first Nipper is said to have been a straw horse. Eventually a wooden Nipper was made. While I wasn’t working with the originals (and frankly one of them sounds like a fire risk), it’s kind of neat to think they’d be there since the 1960s, a turbulent or, dare I say, rocky time (all right, I’ll stop now).
But returning to Sundays. I think the reason that I like them is that Saturdays are filled with too many expectations. Now I know I’m once again writing about Saturday when I should be focusing on Sunday. It’s unfair to Sunday, much like relentless comparisons between Jan Brady and her more glamorous sister Marcia. But it’s here that perhaps the difference lies. People expect Saturday to be perfect. While Jan’s middle-child syndrome meant that she could fly under the radar, quietly achieving and doing well in school, there was so much more expectation on Marcia. When Marcia was less than perfect, even through no real fault of her own, she was considered a failure. The famous case in point is the episode “The Subject Was Noses”, also known as the time Marcia got hit with the football. All it took was a ball to the face and hunky Doug Simpson put the kibosh on their impending date. Marcia was then stuck with nerdy Charlie. I don’t care what brave face she put on under all the bandages – it wasn’t Charlie she wanted in that tic-tac-toe lineup during the show’s opening credits.
Sunday (AKA the Real Jan Brady) doesn’t have such expectation attached to it. It is largely still considered (at least implicitly) a day of rest and, if you are a person of faith, worship and quiet reflection after church. Of course, Sunday trading has become the norm in a lot of Western countries including Australia. But even then it’s far from unanimous. In Germany, you’re constricted by something called the Ladenschlussgesetz. Some states in America still don’t allow car sales to go ahead on a Sunday under “blue laws” that attempt to maintain Sundays for worship. Even those driven by more secular interests may find that not a lot is open. As a result of this tradition, Sunday has largely been a day where it is expected that you will do very little.
I’m a person who has a very hard time relaxing. So for me, a day when there is no expectation is just wonderful. No one can really mess up a day of rest. Okay, those who are religious might worry that they’re not being pious enough. But if you’re worrying about that, chances are you actually have nothing to worry about.
Sundays seem perfect for walks in the museum, reading that book which just wouldn’t feel right on a Saturday, or doing very little at all and still feeling that you’ve accomplished something. In high school, I used Sundays to write the essays that I liked doing the most (or despised the least): Ancient History and Italian. In between, I’d watch reruns on cable TV of The Invaders starring Roy Thinnes as David Vincent. It was a later series from Quinn Martin, the producer of The Fugitive. In his first series, the villain was known to be “the one-armed man”. In The Invaders, the aliens threatening Earth were only distinguishable by a pinky finger that jutted out weirdly. And that they liked to annihilate anyone who got in their way.
As I mentioned, it is hard to stuff up a day of doing nothing. But sometimes one likes to be contrary. It has only been relatively recently that I’ve found the joy in Sunday. It was really a forced few weekends on the couch after some particularly busy work weeks that I started to realise how great this could be. Gradually, the couch moved to reading outside on the deck, to cleaning out a cupboard, to writing blog posts like these.
I think the opportunities posed by a Sunday are obscured by early experience. I haven’t always loved Sundays. Sundays were largely dreary and meandered at home when you were a child. There was nothing to do. The television shows you – or at least I – loved were largely on during the week (for enquiring minds, mine were A Country Practice, MacGyver, Family Ties, and a short-lived show about policewomen called Skirts), and toys that were exciting on, say a Wednesday, were a bore. It’s kind of like in that episode of The Twilight Zone where the ventriloquist dummy comes to life, but only Cliff Robertson can hear him. In that case, Cliff Robertson was tormented – rather than excited – by that dummy coming to life. None of my toys really tormented me. Maybe my knock-off of the Teddy Ruxpin reminded me that I didn’t have a real Teddy Ruxpin. But this was the ‘80s – children weren’t such brand whores then.
Almost all stores except delicatessens were closed. I remember getting a carton of milk from the deli every Sunday. My memories must be from after we disentangled ourselves from the milk man. Not that it was an acrimonious separation, but it did go on for a while. Gradually, we ordered less and less stock from him. When we cancelled our order of chocolate milk, I think we all knew that it was over but didn’t want to admit it. We find it hard in my family to let go sometimes.
Sundays were also when you’d be dragged along to visit extended family. Lack of open stores meant the choices for a token gift for your hosts were largely restricted to the deli and a Cadbury block of chocolate or, more often, a pack of Savoiardi. Either was carried in a brown-paper bag to give it that “I went to the deli on the way and it was a choice of this or 500 grams of Borlotti beans” kind of look. For those of you who have never had the pleasure (or never invited me over on a Sunday), Savoiardi are large sponge-finger biscuits covered in sugar. They are good for dipping into a hot drink, but you can’t hesitate in biting off the soaked part of the biscuit for even a moment. There’s a window of about three seconds before it will fall off and land in your cup of tea. You will spend the rest of your drinking time trying to fish it out.
I actually had the chance to ask a few people the question: What is your idea of a perfect Sunday? Emmy-winning actor Billy Warlock (Days of Our Lives, Baywatch) and Oscar-winner Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon, Rescue Me, She’s Funny That Way) agreed with each other. I don’t think that they colluded, although Tatum was an on-screen grifter and Billy’s A. J. Quartermaine in General Hospital was always rather shifty. They both said that Sundays are for “doing whatever you want”. Billy described it as “A get out of jail free card if you will”. Tatum said that for her, “I do all the girly stuff like hair and face masques”. Strangely, my face masque day is actually Thursday, after a couple of drinks and the potential for misadventure.
Tim Ferguson probably will need a little down time on weekends after reteaming with his comedy troupe (“troupe” makes it sound like he was born in a suitcase), the Doug Anthony All Stars, as well as penning his recent memoir, Carry a Big Stick. Tim’s perfect Sunday involves, “A Sci-Fi movie at Hoyts Extreme Screen (it’s HUGE!), then partying hard till the movie comes true”. Rapper Cazwell, whose recent songs include “No Selfie Control” and “Dance Like You Got Good Credit” (so this is why he doesn’t call) has a similar idea of a perfect Sunday, but prefers his entertainment at home. You’re likely to find Cazwell spending the day with Lumpy Space Princesses, “watching Adventure Time on the couch”.
Bed does figure prominently in another couple of people’s Sundays. Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest, The Deer Hunter, Old Dogs & New Tricks)said her perfect Sunday involved “sleeping in until noon”. I can’t always manage to sleep until noon, but I guess if you’ve had to stay in The Amityville Horror house (as she did in the second film in the series), you can sleep anytime and anywhere. Chris Noel (Elvis Presley’s Girl Happy, Soldier in the Rain) also mentioned bed. Chris is the sweetheart of Vietnam vets for her tours and radio show A Date with Chris during the War, and for her advocacy which followed. She’s also been writing. A date with Chris on a Sunday is a much more sedate and charming affair: “Either a road trip, which I love, or a day in my comfy bed with Deva (my Maltese), Bentley (my Yorkshire), and Hollywood (a cat). We would have delicious food, and listen to beautiful music while I read a book”.
Simone Buchanan (Hey Dad..!, Neighbours, and the upcoming short Monsters) and Breckin Meyer (Road Trip, Robot Chicken, Franklin & Bash) have both recently played lawyers so perhaps they are particularly aware of work-life balance. Of course, one was a rather shonky (I think that’s a uniquely Australian phrase, but I’m sure people will get it) lawyer, and the other lawyer spent a good deal of his time trying to best Rob Lowe. Simone said, “It would have to be a sleep-in followed by a leisurely brunch with my husband and two boys. Preferably with a water view”. For Breckin, it’s “golf or basketball, and then hanging with my youngins”.
A few people have more active Sundays ahead. Gabrielle Carteris (Beverly Hills 90210,and the upcoming Send Me: An Original Web Series) said that hers would involve, “Sunshine, yoga, breakfast with my husband, hike and a big barbeque with friends and family”. This would be followed with a “hot tub and wine. That’s perfect!” Then there’s Tim Matheson (National Lampoon’s Animal House, The West Wing), who is currently busy with the TV series Hart of Dixie, but who will find time for the “Hollywood Farmers’ Market, a bike ride, binge watch some great TV, cook some personal specialties, and then sex with my girlfriend!”.
Maybe I’m doing exactly what I set out not to do: put too much expectation on Sunday. Perhaps Lucas Neff (Raising Hope,and soon in Glitch) has got it in one. He said that what makes a perfect Sunday are “the same things that make for a perfect Monday: fresh water, world peace, and fast Internet”.
Finally, of course times are certainly changing. For example, a survey published last year found that 65% of participants reported that they were actually busier on a Sunday than during the week. Tasks included seeing family (might explain why Savoiardi biscuits are still popular), grocery shopping, and ironing. Come to think of it, I do remember Mum being tasked with doing all the weekly ironing on a Sunday and the sound of the steam rising from the hot part of the iron. The survey also found that people experience “Sunday blues” knowing that they have to go to work the next day. When I first thought of writing this, my friend Mark – over pintxos and sangria funnily enough – mentioned that sinking feeling, which comes on at about three in the afternoon. I don’t really get that. I tend to have a general sinking feeling most of the time. Maybe Sunday then isn’t much better than other days – and maybe it hasn’t ever been – but for me it still has some edge. Perhaps we need to be more like Lucas Neff (I never thought I’d say that) and make every day a Sunday. Just don’t forget to go to work or wear pants.
The holidays can be a stressful time. I’m usually pretty on top of Christmas shopping, but this year I wasn’t – and it seemed a lot of people weren’t either – really in the festive spirit. We were also away in Sydney mid-December and some Christmas shopping was done more or less at the last minute.
Book shops at Christmastime are a useful starting point. I was in one of the large chain stores a few days before Christmas and watched intently as two police officers walked sternly toward a timid assistant. Fearing the worst, I was relieved to hear the taller officer raise his gruff voice to ask, “Do you have Hairy Maclary?” I had actually forgotten about the adventures of this little black terrier. As a child I had the first book, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, but had no idea that Lynley Dodd has continued the series to the present day from the first adventure in 1983.
I was speaking with my friend Mikaila a few months back about the series we loved as children. She was looking into books in preparation for the birth of her first child. Mikaila found that another favourite, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda Armitage, had continued into breakfast the next morning, a picnic, and even Christmas. With this in mind, I was curious to check out the children’s section in the book store and made my way to those aisles. A little way down one of them a young girl of no more than eight or nine explained to her friend the plot of a novel, “Her parents are divorced and her mother goes out a lot looking for men”. The solitary life of the Lighthouse Keeper hadn’t prepared me for that kind of story.
For my Christmas shopping I was also happy to make my way to Adelaide’s Pop-up Bookshop in Rundle Mall, where I found a mammoth book of Audobon’s paintings. Once I’d purchased it, I was curious to see how mammoth it actually was and did the usual trick you might try with a suitcase: you weigh yourself on a scale and then add the suitcase (in this case, the book) to the scale. This book clocked in at just over 4kgs (almost 9lbs). I also found a gift for myself (because what does Christmas shopping do other than let you know how well all the department stores have got your demographic cornered) of A History of Greece by J.B. Bury and Russell Meiggs.
As the year draws to a close, I want to sincerely thank all the people who have participated in interviews that have made their way on to my site in its first year (you can click on their name to revisit the articles): Kellie Flanagan, Adz Hunter, Kevin Mitchell, Mark Smith, Wendy Strehlow, Charles Tranberg, and Mikey Wax. The same goes for the talented individuals who participated in my All We Need is an Island posts (click here and here): Jesse Bradford, Mark Deklin, Fabian, Yvette Freeman, Dick Gautier, Eric Hutchinson, Sheila Kelley, Ben Lawson, Rick Lenz, Matt Long, Donna Loren, Chad Lowe, Matthew Jordan, Josephine Mitchell, Erin Murphy, Dylan Neal, Don Rickles, Holland Taylor, Mikey Wax, Shane Withington, Lana Wood, and Francine York. All of you have a place at my table if and when you’re in my neigbourhood.
I would also like to sincerely thank you for reading. My site stats for 2014 report that I’d need several NYC subway trains to transport all of my visitors (that’s a nice metric). I’d happily ride with you, and our travelers would come from 83 countries. I so look forward to sharing more with you in 2015. I haven’t read T.S. Eliot in a long time, but I came across his words when looking for something about New Year:
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
Mikey Wax has had a busy year. His third album, Mikey Wax,was released in June, and its lead single, “You Lift Me Up”, has been doing just that. The album is his first after signing with Toucan Cove/Universal Music, and was produced by Scott and Ed Cash. Having producers from Nashville is rather fitting, given the New York-born Mikey went to university there (for those who are wondering, he graduated with a teaching degree). That Nashville-New York hybrid should tell you something about the diversity of sounds you’ll hear on his album. He might be best classified as pop/rock with his acoustic guitar and piano, but as stated on his website there are parts electronic, country, funk, and folk. I wouldn’t usually reference the artist website to sum up work, but when I read his biography on there after listening to the album and taking notes, those were the words I came up with too. I also got blues. I wonder if Mr. Wax gives out gold stars.
Signing with a label is certainly a new chapter for Mikey, but in many cases a continuation of what he’s been doing since his first shows in New York in 2008. That is, writing (something started at eight years of age), performing, touring, and continuing to stretch himself. In addition to his three full-length albums, he has four EPs, including one very topical one, “And a Happy New Year”, the title track of which will be heard next week on ABC Family’s Switched at Birth.
Mikey would be a familiar face to his followers (and hopefully, after reading this, there will be more) on social media, video sharing, and digital music platforms, and these are integral components to getting his music out there. On Spotify, the Live City dance remix of his anthem “You Lift Me Up” from Mikey Wax has been streamed over 4.5 million times. That is worthy of a Dr. Evil-style moving of your little finger to your mouth. I can’t do that right now, I have a drink in my hand. Of course, someone who wrote a rather funky song called “Bottle of Jack” would hopefully understand that. The album itself has hit the iTunes Top 100 Pop chart, somewhere Mikey has been consistently since his first album Change Again in 2008. That album included the song “In Case I Go Again”, which did the rounds on Ghost Whisperer, Pretty Little Liars, and a little something called the 2012 Summer Olympics. I remember the joy I felt when one of my articles was (I think it still is, I haven’t checked in the last few hours) the most viewed of all articles in the journal where it was published. That may be only 10 people reading it though; it’s hard to know with all the complicated metrics. I won’t get into it here…
In any event, his 2011 album Constant Motion got iTunes and Billboard attention and included “Counting on You” that also got a lot of attention. It was included in the contestant elimination part of the series So You Think You Can Dance. While the song has lovely associations for me (do give it a listen), I kind of wonder if it is part of some Pavlovian nightmare for those who were eliminated on the show and had to hear it. Every time they hear it now, they might just be bracing for rejection.
Perhaps a digital native like Mikey finds these new frontiers easy to navigate. I checked, supposedly “natives” are people born post 1985…so he scrapes in and I miss out by a couple of years. I’m an “immigrant”, supposedly. But it’s more than that. He is willing to connect with his fans in these ways and does so regularly and earnestly. This includes over 250 concerts that he has performed for fans in their homes.
On his YouTube channel, Mikey also documented his recent tours with Brendan James, and Parachute and Matt Wertz (he also just finished touring with Michelle Chamuel). These were not, however, just excerpts of live performances, but the getting to and from gigs (sometimes driving for hours), shopping for air mattresses, laundry day, or hijacking a hotel piano. Think about how you are after a long road trip with good friends. I have what I think is a fake memory (on my quick review of the movie there doesn’t seem to be such a scene) of Bette Midler’s rocker character in The Rose starting a food fight in a diner with her entourage during a tour. So when first watching these videos, I was expected that sort of thing or even a couple of trashed hotel rooms. However, Mikey and his posse just seem too polite to do anything other than clean up after themselves at the various places they visit. There is, however, copious chicken, guac, and brown rice at Chipotle Mexican Grill, where Mikey tells us it’s “All about that rice, ‘bout that rice”. I’m starting to realize where he may have got his inspiration for his recent mashup of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”.
Mikey has been a pal of this site (click here to read an article from earlier in the year) and we recently chatted about his year and what’s next.
Adam: Tell me about your recent shows with Michelle Chamuel of The Voice. Have I got you after some sufficient rest? Mikey: Ha – Yes! The shows were a blast. Michelle is so cool and being on the road with her and her crew was a lot of fun. Thanks so much to all the fans that came out to see us!
Adam: You’ve spent a fair amount of time on the road since the release of Mikey Wax in June. What’s the best thing about being on the road? Mikey: It’s definitely a very freeing experience, and it’s a thrill performing for fans every night. It’s a great chance to continue building my audience and getting to meet awesome people.
Adam: What’s not so good? Mikey: You eventually miss your bed and your friends and family, and sometimes getting a good meal can be a challenge.
Adam: Your YouTube followers would be familiar with the #WaxOnTour video diaries, covering your back-to-back tours in September with Brendan James and then Parachute. Travel pals were Joe Striff, guitarist, and Sammy, band mom/tour manager. Oh, and a GoPro. Are there any stories from the tours that didn’t make it through the editing process? Mikey: Ha – I’m sure there are a few. But they don’t make the video for a reason!
Adam: Has going from being an independent artist to signing with Toucan Cove, which is a part of Universal Music (but with very independent roots), been a smooth transition for you? Mikey: Yes, very smooth. In general not much on my end has changed. My job is still to tour as much as I can, write music and stay close with my fans. I love what I do and I’m so thankful for all the people who support me.
Adam: How did Scott and Ed Cash, producers of Mikey Wax, come into your life? Mikey: I was a fan of a few albums they did, including those with my touring buddy Matt Wertz. I had sent them the stems of one of my songs to see how they would produce it and it came out incredible. I was so blown away, that I knew they had to produce the entire record. Fortunately, they loved my other songs and were on board.
Adam: It’s hard to choose favourites from your new album, but I particularly like the almost blues or country “Baby Don’t You Let Me Down”, the very lush “Take Me Home” and the rolling ballad “The Calm”. I’m going to ask you to pick a favorite child from your album and tell me why it’s special to you. Mikey: That means so much! Thank you. I know artists say how difficult it is to choose, but it really is! I go through phases – At first I thought “Take Me Home” was my favorite, then “The Calm”, but I think a consistent favorite and fun one from the album to play is “Bottle of Jack”.
Adam: New York, and in particular the promise of that city, features prominently in a few of your songs, including “Alive in New York City” and “Last Great Song”. Being a native of Long Island, what still excites you about the city? Mikey: The city is still so inspiring to me. Whenever I feel like I need an escape or some clarity, a walk in the city always opens my eyes and helps me see things clearly.
Adam: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to describe one of the musicians who you recently appeared with, Teddy Geiger, in a sentence. As an aside, I have one of his paintings in my house (no, that doesn’t mean that Teddy Geiger is missing one of his paintings). Mikey: Hah! I didn’t know he did paintings; that’s so cool. Teddy was a really awesome and chill guy. We only got to hang out backstage for 10 minutes or so, but I hope to be able to do more shows with him soon!
Adam: The remix of “You Lift Me Up” recently hit 4.5 million streams on Spotify. Plus a lot of people temporarily without Wi-Fi would have enjoyed you with their dinner and a (miniature) bottle of Jack as Artist of the Month on American Airlines in October. Is it hard to get your head around numbers like that? Mikey: That number is pretty insane! Yes, it’s extremely hard, so I try not to check back too often to see how it’s doing. I feel like the less I know the better ha. I’m so thrilled that people are relating to it and including it on their playlists. The American Airlines interview/performance was incredible to do. I get tweets every once in a while from fans who are listening to it from thousands of feet up in the sky.
Adam: A month ago you covered Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” in a mashup with Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”. How did this mashup and the incredibly inventive music video take shape? Mikey: I was in the studio with my bandmates doing live performances to a few of my songs, and I was trying to do a six-second vine. Those two songs were being played so often on the radio that I thought it would be funny to mash them up. The melodies worked so well with each other that I ended up being able to do it for the entire song, not just six seconds.
Adam: When will your song “And a Happy New Year” be heard on ABC Family’s Switched at Birth, and what are your plans for Christmas and 2015? Mikey: It’s being featured on the show next Monday, December 8 at 9/8c. I’m really excited for it and I know my fans are too. On December 21st, I’m playing a free online show available worldwide to help celebrate the holidays (Stageit.com/MikeyWax). For Christmas I’ll be spending time with family and friends in New York and Michigan so I’m getting ready for lots of snow!
Adam: Thank you, Sir! Mikey: Thanks for the awesome questions!
Mikey’s has many homes online, including his official website, YouTube, and Spotify. If you’re feeling social, visit Mikey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine. To purchase his albums and singles (through iTunes, Amazon, or signed from Mikey himself) click here.
In 2015, Mikey’s song “Drive On” will be heard in the film The Road Within starring Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel, and Zoe Kravitz.