Category Archives: Interviews

The Start of Something Big

Jonathan Daly

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.

Ken and Jonathan (Photo: Australian TV: The First 25 Years).
Ken and Jonathan (Photo: Australian TV: The First 25 Years).

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.

Lorrae Desmond, Jonathan Daly, and Rod Kinnear inspect the new GTV-9 pool (Photo: The Age, Television and Radio Supplement, February 2, 1961).
Lorrae Desmond, Jonathan Daly, and Rod Kinnear inspect the new GTV-9 pool (Photo: The Age, Television and Radio Supplement, February 2, 1961).

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!

Jonathan goes south of the border in In the Soup (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, May 17-23, 1961).
Jonathan goes south of the border in In the Soup (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, May 17-23, 1961).

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.

Advance notice card for Ken and Jonathan at the Rainbow Room in the Savoy Plaza. Guests are advised to "Book early with your host Albert Argenti" (Adam Gerace private collection).
Advance notice card for Ken and Jonathan at the Rainbow Room in the Savoy Plaza. Guests are advised to “Book early with your host Albert Argenti” (Adam Gerace private collection).

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.

Ken and Jonathan with Graham Kenndy in Brisbane (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, September 7-13, 1960).
Ken and Jonathan with Graham Kenndy in Brisbane (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, September 7-13, 1960).

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!

Delo and Daly on the cover of TV Week (September 7-13, 1960) near the end of their 1960 stay in Australia.
Delo and Daly on the cover of TV Week (September 7-13, 1960) near the end of their 1960 stay in Australia.

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.

Ken and Jonathan with Elaine McKenna (Photo: TV Week, South Australia edition, December 21, 1963).
Ken and Jonathan with Elaine McKenna (Photo: TV Week, South Australia edition, December 21, 1963).

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.

Elaine and Jonathan (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, October 5-11, 1960).
Elaine and Jonathan (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, October 5-11, 1960).

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.

While in Australia, Art Linkletter compered the 18-hour National Heart Foundation telethon on GTV-9 on May 28, 1961. Jonathan and Art worked together on the telethon. He subsequently appeared on The BP Super Show on June 3, and The VW Show on June 17 (Photo: The Age, TV and Radio Guide supplement, June 15, 1961).
While in Australia, Art Linkletter compered the 18-hour National Heart Foundation telethon on GTV-9 on May 28, 1961. Jonathan and Art worked together on the telethon. He subsequently appeared on The BP Super Show on June 3, and The VW Show on June 17 (Photo: The Age, TV and Radio Guide supplement, June 15, 1961).

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.

With Norm Spencer (Photo: TV Week, Victoria edition, May 15, 1963).
With Norm Spencer (Photo: TV Week, Victoria edition, May 15, 1963).

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.

Ken and Jonathan on the cover of TV Times (February 19, 1964).
Ken and Jonathan on the cover of TV Times (February 19, 1964).

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.

Three's a crowd? Ken, Vikki Hammond, and Jonathan on The Delo & Daly Show (Photo: Australian TV: The First 25 Years).
Three’s a crowd? Ken, Vikki Hammond, and Jonathan on The Delo & Daly Show (Photo: Australian TV: The First 25 Years).

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.

Bill Bain, Kitty Bluett, and Joe Hudson (Photo: The Australian Women's Weekly, November 13, 1963).
Bill Bain, Kitty Bluett, and Joe Hudson (Photo: The Australian Women’s Weekly, November 13, 1963).

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.

Addie Black (with Jackie Brown in the special In the Soup) was a regular on The Delo & Daly Show (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, May 17-23, 1961).
Addie Black (with Jackie Brown in the special In the Soup) was a regular on The Delo & Daly Show (Photo: TV Week, Adelaide edition, May 17-23, 1961).

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.

With Julie McKenna (Photo: The Age, TV and Radio Guide Supplement, April 23, 1964).
With Julie McKenna (Photo: The Age, TV and Radio Guide Supplement, April 23, 1964).

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.

Program cover for No Sex Please, We're British (Adam Gerace private collection).
Program cover for No Sex Please, We’re British (Adam Gerace private collection).

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.

This can't end well. Jonathan in a scene with Allan Kingsford Smith (Photo: No Sex Please, We're British program).
This can’t end well. Jonathan in a scene with Allan Kingsford Smith (Photo: No Sex Please, We’re British program).

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”.

Jonathan and Elizabeth Montgomery in the Bewitched episode "Samantha's Shopping Spree".
Jonathan and Elizabeth Montgomery in the Bewitched episode “Samantha’s Shopping Spree”.
Jonathan, Agnes Moorehead, and Steve Franken in the Bewitched episode "Samantha's Shopping Spree".
Jonathan, Agnes Moorehead, and Steve Franken in the Bewitched episode “Samantha’s Shopping Spree”.

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.

Jon today (Photo: Jonathan Daly private collection).
Jon today (Photo: Jonathan Daly private collection).

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.

Time and Tide

My Two Mothers by Patricia FlorioOne 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.

Amelia Prato, Patricia's mother, in 1925 (Patricia Florio private collection).
Amelia Prato, Patricia’s mother, in 1925 (Patricia Florio private collection).

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.

Patricia with daugher Kristin and granddaughter Amelia (Patricia Florio private collection).
Patricia with daugher Kristin and granddaughter Amelia (Patricia Florio private collection).

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.

 

My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes can be purchased at the publisher’s website or at Amazon.com. Patricia’s other book, Cucina Amelia, is also available on Amazon (link to her author’s page). Patricia’s website is here.

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.

Calm Life Mind

Gavin HarrisonGavin 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.

From Revhead to Hugo (Photo: TV Week).
From Revhead to Hugo (Photo: TV Week).

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.

Gavin and Kym (Photo: TV Week).
Gavin and Kym (Photo: TV Week).

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.

As Fred Barker in Public Enemies.
As Fred Barker 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.

Gavin as Kieron Taylor in Mission: Impossible.
Gavin as Kieron Taylor in Mission: Impossible.

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.

Gavin on the water (Photo: TV Week).
Gavin on the water (Photo: TV Week).

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.

"Father?" Kieron meets his potential pa.
“Father?” Kieron meets his potential pa.
The Mission: Impossible team.
The Mission: Impossible team.

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.

Gavin and Naomi Watts
Gavin and Naomi Watts

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.

With Rebekah Elmaloglou.
With Rebekah Elmaloglou.
With Belinda Jarrett.
With Belinda Jarrett.

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.

Up against the ropes.
Up against the ropes.

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.

With Fatso the wombat on the set of A Country Practice.
With Fatso the wombat on the set of A Country Practice.

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.

With Jon Concannon and Judith McGrath.
With Jon Concannon and Judith McGrath.

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.

Gavin has something on his mind (with Brian Wenzel).
Gavin has something on his mind (with Brian Wenzel).
And he loses it. "What is my line?"
And he loses it. “What is my line?”

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.

TV Week announcing Gavin's departure from A Country Practice.
TV Week announcing Gavin’s departure from A Country Practice.

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.

Gavin in a photo by Tim Bauer.
Gavin in a photo by Tim Bauer.

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.

Gavin on the porch with Patty Duke.
Gavin on the porch with Patty Duke.

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.

Those not so fabulous Barker Boys: Freddie (Gavin), Herman (Joseph Lindsey), Doc (James Marsden), Lloyd (Joseph Dain), and Ma Barker (Theresa Russell).
Those not so fabulous Barker Boys: Freddie (Gavin), Herman (Joseph Lindsey), Doc (James Marsden), Lloyd (Joseph Dain), and Ma Barker (Theresa Russell).

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.

With Theresa Russell.
With Theresa Russell.

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.

Gavin and Eric Roberts face off (with Theresa Russell and James Marsden).
Gavin and Eric Roberts face off (with Theresa Russell and James Marsden).

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.

With Mark Harmon.
With Mark Harmon.
With Dick Van Dyke.
With Dick Van Dyke.

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.

Gavin plays a "stringer" in Exposé.
Gavin plays a “stringer” in Exposé.
With Sandra Bernhard and Damian Chapa.
With Sandra Bernhard and Damian Chapa.

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.

Gavin Harrison window

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.

Gavin Section9

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.

Gavin's Section9 Productions works with Tesla.
Gavin’s Section9 Productions works with Tesla.

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.

Cover for Gavin's single "Calm Life Mind". The picture was taken during the Gillette shoot.
Cover for Gavin’s single “Calm Life Mind”. The picture was taken during the Gillette shoot.

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.

Gavin Harrison portrait

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.

Top photo by Jaason Simmons.

Drive On

MikeyWax9Mikey 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 Wax, released June 10, 2014 (click here to purchase).
Mikey Wax, released June 10, 2014 (click here to purchase).
And a Happy New Year (click here to purchase).
And a Happy New Year (click here to purchase).

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.

Performing at Fitzgerald's, Houston, TX on September 22 as part of the Parachute tour (Photo: Sarah Hoffman).
Performing at Fitzgerald’s, Houston, TX on September 22 as part of the Parachute tour (Photo: Sarah Hoffman).

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! 🙂

Mikey and Joe Striff (Photo: Cameron Rad).
Mikey and Joe Striff (Photo: Cameron Rad).

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!

Mikey-Wax-You-Lift-Me-Up-Live-City-Remix

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.

Top photo of Mikey by Justin Steele. Thanks to Jonathan Wax, Mikey’s manager, for teeing this discussion up.

…And Then I Wrote

Kellie FlanaganMaybe it’s happenstance, but there’s something just a little delightful about where Kellie Flanagan lives and the career that she has chosen. In her most well-known role, Kellie played the young daughter of the eponymous Carolyn Muir in the television series, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. Mrs. Muir (Hope Lange) moves with her two children, Candace “Candy” (Kellie) and Jonathan (Harlen Carraher), housekeeper Martha (Reta Shaw), and the family dog (Scruffy who played…well, Scruffy) to the seaside Gull Cottage. Her real estate agent (Charles Nelson Reilly) warns her against it, thinking of any excuse including its isolation (it is, of course, haunted). Mrs. Muir is, however, not fazed telling him, “That’s perfect, I’m a writer”. Today, Kellie is herself a writer and while not living in a seaside shack, she does live in the Sierra Nevada foothills with her husband and teenage daughter. No word on whether she’s encountered a ghost of the likes of Captain Gregg (Edward Mulhare), but she did encounter a “bobcat and her twin cubs emerged from their den to play tag” in her neighbourhood park. That neighbourhood park is Yosemite National Park.

Kellie once posted on her blog Willa Cather’s words: “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen”. In talking with Kellie, you find that she has many more stories to tell after 15; although by then she had started journaling her experiences. It was also by 15 that Kellie had lost both of her parents, and she had left show business a few years before. Kellie was “discovered” at three in Santa Monica and put into television commercials before a role in a classic episode of Star Trek called “Miri”. The episode dealt with a place where adults had been decimated by a disease they had started in a scientific attempt to prolong life; and one which the children would contract once they entered adolescence. Did I mention it causes you to go mad? It may be that entertainers are told to never work with children or animals, but you could understand if Kellie subscribed at that time to “Don’t trust anybody over 30”.

School Daze. Kellie, with Michael J. Pollard and John Megna, in Star Trek.
School Daze. Kellie, with Michael J. Pollard and John Megna, in Star Trek.
Miri (Kim Darby) plots with the children, as Kellie looks on.
Miri (Kim Darby) plots with the children, as Kellie looks on.

That being said, in one of her next roles, as Hal Holbrook’s daughter, Mary, in Wild in the Streets, Kellie faces off with a rock star named Max Frost (played by Christopher Jones) who sets out to make 30 the mandatory retirement age, and put anyone over 35 in rehabilitation camps, with his plan, “in groovy surroundings we’re gonna psych ‘em all out on LSD, babies”. Young Mary (Kellie was eight at the time, although she is likely playing younger) thinks that she may know a thing or two more than this 24-year old. Well, Max and his counterculture band (literally and figuratively) do have trouble focusing on the cause – they always seem to be coming down from something or, in the case of Diane Varsi’s character Sally LeRoy, tripping out while lying in the top of fountain.

Kellie as Mary Fergus in Wild in the Streets.
Kellie as Mary Fergus in Wild in the Streets.

Lucky for Kellie, there were some more benign senior forces at play when cast in The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. In the first season of the show, Candy didn’t see the Captain. But with a switch from NBC to ABC, she did. In one episode in the second season, Candy is the star as she falls for a boy (played by Mark Lester of Oliver!) from London, England. It’s not all smooth sailing, with the nine-year old Candy worried that compared to her rival Penelope Hassenhammer (try saying that one as many times as the cast; she was played by Debi Storm), “I haven’t any sex appeal” and asking her mother for a training bra, “I need all the help I can get, look at me”. It’s a shining moment for Kellie.

And they call it puppy love.
And they call it puppy love.

Lucky for Australia (other countries await), both Seasons One and Two of GaMM recently received a DVD release from Madman Entertainment, and Kellie can be seen again in this and the other episodes. Being an Australian myself, it’s only fitting I guess that Kellie and I have been in contact. And what better way for a writer to communicate than with writing, which is how we conducted this interview. In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger refers to those rare authors who, after reading their work, “you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it”. I think you’ll find in Kellie that type of person.

 

Adam: You didn’t come from a “show business family”. How did it all start for you?
Kellie: While it’s true that I didn’t come from a show business family, my mother Geraldine was very stylish, as I recall, and loved fashion. My two older sisters, Jill and Wendy, who are 17 and 16 years my senior, did some local modeling in their teenage years.

The story goes that Geraldine was working part time for a small department store called Henshey’s in Santa Monica. I was about three years old at the time and precocious for having been raised by a bunch of adults and teenagers. I also have two older brothers; my birth was an afterthought, when my parents were almost 50. They called me “how-come-you-come”.

My mom also went by the name Jerry. She could really sew, and made me little linen masterpieces for holidays like Easter and Christmas. Her trademark was a seemingly endless trail of button, because she adored the buttonhole setting on her sewing machine. Often I would wear outfits that included a crinoline skirt, a dress, a little coat, hat and patent leather shoes. My mom got a big kick out of dressing me up, I think.

Geraldine organized a fashion show at Henshey’s Department Store, the story continues, and put me on the runway at the end of the program. Someone in the audience with some Hollywood connection called an agent and described me as “like a little Shirley Temple without all the curls”.

The very next day, I was sent out on an audition and I got the part. It was a toothpaste commercial starring June Lockhart, and I played her little girl. I remember there was a pool, a very blue and inviting swimming pool. The sun was hot. By the end of that job, I had a new agent in Dorothy Day Otis, who handled children exclusively. The career took off from there, with my mom and Dorothy at the helm.

Adam: The Trekkies won’t be happy with me (not that I have any reason to think that they read my blog, but I hope they do) if I don’t ask you for a couple of memories from the set of Star Trek. What struck me of that episode (“Miri”) was the intensity of the scene where Captain Kirk is pleading with the children. Was this your first television role?
Kellie: That was the first season of a show that wasn’t expected to be much of anything. The big excitement on the set, as far as I knew, was that Mr. Shatner was rather attractive and scandalously being divorced (I think he was Catholic, and we were Catholic, and I remember overhearing my mother complaining).

The episode was my first television show – prior to that I’d done print and television commercials, but never a series TV show. My agent, the fabulous Dorothy Day Otis, got me the job and the set was lots of fun because of all the kids and all the dust and disarray and wildness of the episode.

Kellie was credited as Blonde Girl, even with a little green.
Kellie was credited as Blonde Girl, even with a little green.
Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and the children await their fate.
Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and the children await their fate.

The Starship Enterprise lands on a planet that’s just like Earth except there are no adults, or what the remaining population of children call, “grups” (I still think of the word adult as grup in my head, today). When kids hit puberty, they get this horrible skin rotting condition, waaay beyond acne, then basically foam at the mouth, go mad and die.

So there’s the big scene where the kids are sort of revolting and Captain Kirk is talking with them, and I remember the director or someone put me on the table – physically lifted me up so I could be seen (wearing a green wig) and plopped me on the table, which felt quite special. There was lots of commotion between takes, and at one point Dorothy came up to me and whispered in my ear. She told me what to say when the scene started up, a very simple line any kid could remember. I was only about six or seven years old, and petite, so I looked younger. When the camera rolled and the scene started up, I hollered out what Dorothy had told me to, “Call the police!”

Kirk (William Shatner) appeals to the children's sensitivities.
Kirk (William Shatner) appeals to the children’s sensitivities.
It's not going so well (Kellie with Steven McEveety, Shatner, John Megna).
It’s not going so well (Kellie with Steven McEveety, Shatner, John Megna).

As I recall, it was a cut/print at the end of the scene – they wound up keeping the scene with the Dorothy-dialog in it, and that’s how I got my SAG card. Dorothy was the greatest.

Adam: There was some time between Star Trek and other television guest roles, but then you appeared in Family Affair and The Andy Griffith Show. Newspapers singled you out in the Andy Griffith episode, asking that viewers “Watch, too, for a blinding grin at the end by a blonde youngster named Kellie Flanagan, it’s worth the whole show” (The Bridgeport Telegram, March 18, 1968, p. 14). Was your routine and that of your family still “normal” or was there a momentum starting to build?
Kellie: The gap in my television work between Star Trek in 1966 and other shows later on was filled in with commercial television appearances and print work. My dad Cornelius (Neal) kept a very good scrap book and he had a hand-written list of all the commercials I worked on in film and print. If I recall correctly, there were over 100, many of them classic American companies that are still in business today.

My routine was still fairly normal throughout that time, or what was considered normal for me. I had a lot of little jobs and many auditions. I went to St. Monica’s Catholic School, was a Brownie with my mom as Troop Leader, and took dance lessons in Malibu from a French woman named Marjorie Jeanne. Sometimes I took riding lessons and diving lessons, I loved The Flintstones and Captain Kangaroo.

At St. Monica’s we wore plaid pleated skirts with suspenders, white pressed shirts, white socks and black and white saddle shoes. That was my school uniform. I also had an “interview uniform”, that was similar, so I could just change in the car as my mom drove from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills or where ever the interview was for that afternoon. Usually we were able to schedule afternoons rather than mornings so I didn’t miss much school.

I had friends from school and a best friend, named Stacy who did not go to school or church with us. Regarding interviews and working in the business, I remember that I always had the choice, up to a point. For instance, if my mom and I agreed that I would go on a particular interview, I had to go and couldn’t change my mind at the last minute.

After an interview, Jerry would ask me a series of questions, including “how did it feel?”, and we would talk about what would happen if I got the job. If I agreed to do the job, I had to carry through and again, couldn’t change my mind. I do not remember one instance where I had to do a job I did not want to do. To my recollection, I always had a say in things and was encouraged to use my instincts when it came to reading people (that is, the people who were interviewing me, usually casting or ad people or directors).

To summarize, I think at this point things were pretty normal for me, or as normal as they would be. The details of the business didn’t get in my way of having fun or being a kid at that time.

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir cast. Back row: Edward Mulhare, Hope Lange, Charles Nelson Reilly. Front row: Kellie, Harlen Carraher, Scruffy, Reta Shaw. (c) Twentieth Century Fox, provided by Madman Entertainment.
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir cast. Back row: Edward Mulhare, Hope Lange, Charles Nelson Reilly. Front row: Kellie, Harlen Carraher, Scruffy, Reta Shaw. (c) Twentieth Century Fox, provided by Madman Entertainment.

Adam: How would you describe the GaMM cast members: Hope Lange, Edward Mulhare, Reta Shaw, Charles Nelson Reilly, Harlen Carraher, and wire-haired fox terrier Scruffy? Do you still see Harlen, or did you keep in touch at some point?
Kellie: Hope Lange was beautiful and sophisticated, and always impeccably turned out. Her hair was perfectly coiffed, her skirts were pressed and her sweater sets matched with effortless grace. Well, of course! She was an actress and basically I only remember seeing her on set when we were working. At one time I believe she was getting a divorce. From that I recall a little whispering that we should behave and not bother her. I have never researched to see if that is true. [Adam’s note: This is, indeed, true. Hope and Alan Pakula separated in 1969, with the divorce finalized in 1971].

The Ghost and the Muirs.
The Ghost and the Muirs.
With Reta Shaw.
With Reta Shaw.

Edward Mulhare had to have his beard and mustache put on and removed every day, so he was in make-up a lot. In the first season, the character I played did not see the ghost. So we didn’t have scenes together, except when he was popping in and out, until the second year of the show. Reta Shaw was a lot like she was on the program, very hustle bustle and funny, lots of cracks and comments. Charles was wild and he and the other actors and the main producers, guest directors and guest stars, would have a great time at the every-Friday night wrap parties. Lots of food, cocktails, cigarettes and grownups talking, gossiping and laughing about the business and most of it was, quite literally, over our heads, as kids. It was a very happy set. Lots of fun, everyone was always very nice and accommodating to us, and there were no problems whatsoever that I recall.

Harlen, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Kellie.
Harlen, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Kellie.
Harlen, Kellie, Scruffy, and Algie the Seal as himself.
Harlen, Kellie, Scruffy, and Algie the Seal as himself.

Harlen and I did not keep in touch, that would have been something my mother would have done and so since she died in 1970 a lot of relationships fell by the wayside. I don’t know if Harlen continued in the business, though I have heard that as an adult, he’s an engineer for the City of Los Angeles. I’ve heard there’s a bar he likes to hang out at occasionally in Culver City or Hollywood or something, and always have heard he’s a “nice, regular guy”. It has never occurred to me to get in touch with him, and (as you now know) I am a terrible correspondent. In the last couple of years people have suggested that we get in touch so perhaps that will happen at some time.

Scruffy was named Scruffy in real life, and when I once asked my mom how much money I made she told me, “Scruffy makes more!” In my life at that time, we did not have a dog. I had a cat, a rat, miscellaneous reptiles, but no dog. At least once handlers put dog food on my cheek for Scruffy to lick off, a trick of training that I was not pleased with at all. Honestly, and I know people don’t want to hear it; I was not a big fan of Scruffy! Somehow I must have already known to avoid working with kids and animals.

Adam: Newspaper publicity pieces at the time had stories from the GaMM set at 20th Century-Fox on Pico Blvd., including you and Harlen being taught to ice-skate by Hope Lange and schooled in the Queen’s English by Edward Mulhare; as well as the two of you playing a particularly long game of tic-tac-toe when you weren’t teaching Scruffy to play ball. You’ve also written of being schooled on set with Harlen. Was it a happy set to be on?
Kellie: I don’t remember anything about ice-skating, and it sounds as though that may have been a photo opp. If it was anything genuine I think I would have remembered it, but I can’t deny it either. We were schooled in learning how to say “blast!” and “shipshape and Bristol fashion”, and a few other phrases but that’s all I remember. The tic-tac-toe game you refer to was definitely from a publicity shoot, as I have the Polaroid and stills. As I remember it, tic-tac-toe was just something to do while we were photographed, and that was one of those times when the dog food was put on my face. This all sounds like publicity, I don’t really remember anything specific.

Being schooled on set was great, and only took three hours a day, which I think is plenty for school. We had a bus – I think it was a school bus – parked right outside the main doors to the soundstage and that’s where we went to school with our teacher, Mrs. Bone. That was a very fun name for a teacher to have, and played in perfectly with the whole haunted house theme of the show. She had a funny way of sneezing, where she’d do a big wind up – ah, ah, AH… – and then a little tiny “choo”.

Kellie and Harlen in 1968. (Photographer: Ivan Nagy. Adam Gerace private collection).
Kellie and Harlen in 1968. (Photographer: Ivan Nagy. Adam Gerace private collection).

When we had days where we weren’t needed a lot, we were released to go across Pico Blvd. to Ranch Park, where they even had a swimming pool. Often our schooling would involve studying in my individual dressing room, which was a little hot aluminum box next to the school bus. It may have been a small trailer, with a bed, makeup table and lights, restroom, and little dinette area.

No air conditioning, and it sweltered so badly that once a snake given to me by another kid who worked on the lot (Darby Hinton, he was in Daniel Boone) was forgotten over a long weekend. We should have taken the pet home to cool Santa Monica, but instead we left it in the dressing room at Fox and came back after the break to a dead snake.

Adam: Early in the run of GaMM, you were Burl Ives’ co-star in the Thanksgiving TV-special, All Things Bright and Beautiful. What are your memories of that?
Kellie: Appearing in All Things Bright and Beautiful with Burl Ives and other stars including jazz great Lionel Hampton, was an absolute high point for me and my family. The show was directed by the same person who did Wild in the Streets – not sure which came first though I think it was Wild in the Streets before All Things Bright And Beautiful – both directed by Barry Shear.

Mr. Ives, as I called him, was a completely genuine person and when he spoke it was very special. The fact that he could play guitar and sing made him a huge hit with a kid like me. This show was shot on location, I don’t know where, but I think we were picked up in a car every day to get there, a sort of limo called a “stretch”.

The night the show was set to air, which I believe was on Thanksgiving in 1968, our family was gathered to watch it on TV together. The phone rang and it was Mr. Ives inviting us to come to the hotel where he was staying and watch it with him. He was in a suite at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. My mom, dad, me, my sister Wendy and her son Erik, we all traipsed over into Hollywood and got to the suite in time to watch the show. I have a Polaroid from that night with Erik, who was five, me and Mr. Ives all on our bellies posing with a snow white polar bear rug and the head of the polar bear like one of us in the photo.

Burl Ives, Kellie, and her nephew Erik (Kellie Flanagan private collection).
Burl Ives, Kellie, and her nephew Erik (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

I do not have a copy of this show, though I sure wish I did. What I do have is an audio recording and it’s just priceless to hear my little voice and the man we all know as the wayfaring stranger. I think that’s one of the things he was called! Just a great guy.

Adam: Your favorite GaMM episode, “Puppy Love”, comes from the second season. Candy falls for the dreamy Mark Helmore, played by Mark Lester. He was a hot commodity after Oliver! and Run Wild, Run Free. What was it like to play front and centre, and did you share Candy’s crush (not Candy Crush, mind you) on Mark?
Kellie: The GaMM episode “Puppy Love” was indeed my favorite of all episodes, I am not too shy to say it. One of the reasons that show was so much fun is that so many kids were cast to play Candy’s gang of friends, plus Penelope and Mark.

The scenes in “Puppy Love” are pretty funny to watch, and they were really fun to shoot. I completely preferred that the entire episode focused on my character, because I was a ham and considered myself underutilized on a regular basis – so it was great to have lots of lines to memorize and to be in just about every scene of the episode.

It’s also funny to watch, because you can really see what was becoming or would become or perhaps already had become my actual personality. It’s all just very… Kellie. Since I was raised before video cameras were everywhere, my childhood was documented in a way that not many kids my age would have been familiar with. So when I watch scenes from “Puppy Love”, like the dancing and singing, and Candy mooning over Mark, and the fighting and hurt feelings and I-don’t-care-attitude in the end, that’s all very much like me and for that reason is special to watch. I also think I was a pretty good little actress from what I can tell.

With Mark Lester (Kellie Flanagan private collection).
With Mark Lester (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

Mark Lester was nothing compared to having my own friend from real life on the show that week. Johnny Garacochea lived across the street and up three houses from where we lived on 18th Street in Santa Monica. His dad owned a Basque bakery, and his mother was young and pretty, very classic homemaker-type. My mom talked his mom into letting Johnny do some acting, and then I guess my mom talked the producers into letting Johnny be on the show – he was a nice kid and great looking kid from a very nice family – so that was more fun for me even than having a star like Mark Lester. I was not interested in boys at that age, so it wasn’t a factor really, though Mark Lester was and from what I can see still is, as Candy would say, adorable.

With Michael Barbera, Christopher Shea and Johnny Garacochea (credited as John Garrison).
With Michael Barbera, Christopher Shea and Johnny Garacochea (credited as John Garrison).

Adam: One more quote from a newspaper article that discussed your love of wildlife (you had two pet alligators?!): “One moment, Kellie will be playing with the multitude of dolls who “accompany” her to the studio each morning. The next minute, she may be conducting a serious conversation with an adult three or four times her age on a current national event” (The Abilene Reporter-News, September 28, 1969, p. 12-E). This paints a picture of an articulate young lady. Do you relate to it? Do you think that that was something you brought to the set, or a byproduct of working so young?
Kellie: The description you cite about me as a child having typical childhood pets and also perfectly adult conversations, is quite true and very much speaks to uniqueness in my upbringing. First, let’s address the alligators. My mom was an experienced mom with four kids before me, including two boys. We had all kinds of lizards, snakes, turtles and other animals including rats, mice, and cats. There was an instance of two alligators in the bathtub once, and I do recall seeing that, but I think it was a one-time thing and a self-limiting problem. In other words, my mom kyboshed it and out they went.

I did have a couple of Caimans, and we’d rig the Slip ‘N Slide over the backyard play slide and let the little critters off at the top until they slid into a bucket of water at the bottom. I don’t know if you could get them anymore and that’s probably exercising very poor judgment to drop a reptile down a waterslide, so I do not recommend or advocate that in any way 😉

Jerry and Neal’s youngest child (my brother Terry) was 14 when I was born. By the time I started acting really regularly, my brothers and sisters were out of the house. I was raised with adults and spoken to as an adult more or less from the time I was very little. My brothers and sisters made a great game of teaching me to say “bullshit” to anything a nun asked me. That caused confusion amongst the sisters at St. Monica’s, and was hilarious to my own brothers and sisters, to see a little kid thrown a crabby curse word out for any question asked.

My father had a tremendous sensibility for words, and was always working on word puzzles, jingles, poems and rhymes. He taught me big words from a little age, like “pusillanimous”. I tested well in school and on IQ charts, and I remember being pretty fearless. I believe that I brought a lot to the table in that regard when it came to acting. Also, I was petite and they like that in the business, because you are an older child who can play younger, which makes her easier to direct. She will have better memory and ability, and still look like a really little kid.

Then, once I began working that reinforced itself. As I was exposed to more of the creative adult world, that influenced me to the point where by the time I was 11 years old, I knew everything. At least I thought I did.

Adam: Child actors are surrounded by big names and, particularly in the case of GaMM, some veteran performers. Were you in awe of any particular person/people you got to work with, or has that come with time?
Kellie: The most impressed I remember being (besides Dom DeLuise who was just a riot) was when Harry Nilsson the songwriter was on the show. My sister had his records, or maybe we got them later, but I knew he was a rising star and as I recall he was very young and kind of awkward but extremely kind and generous with the music he played for us that week. I still adore his music and can sort of work my way through one of his songs on guitar, the charming “Puppy Song”, I think it’s called.

With Dom DeLuise as Elroy Applegate in "Today I Am a Ghost".
With Dom DeLuise as Elroy Applegate in “Today I Am a Ghost”.

Looking back, I am astonished and impressed by the caliber of the people with which I had the honor to share a sound stage, if only briefly. We spent a lot of time, as kids on the show, going to school and then going to bed, so except for a few episodes – and Jonathan’s interaction with the ghost – we weren’t in the show as much as kids on today’s shows (like Modern Family) or even other shows like The Courtship of Eddie’s Father or Family Affair, that really centered around the children.

Adam: American International Pictures went hippie (to paraphrase Salli Sachse, one of their long-term contractees from the Beach Party movies) with Wild in the Streets. You had a small but pivotal role as a bit of an antagonist to Christopher Jones. What do you remember of him?
Kellie: I get a huge kick out of Wild in the Streets and always have. Some of the scenes were really fun to shoot, like the political rally. Others were dramatic, like the scene where Hal Holbrook rips the posters off the walls in a drunken rage.

With Hal Holbrook.
With Hal Holbrook.
Millie Perkins puts an end to the Fergus children (Kellie, Michael Margotta, and Don Wyndham) listening to the new Max Frost.
Millie Perkins puts an end to the Fergus children (Kellie, Michael Margotta, and Don Wyndham) listening to the new Max Frost.

I spent an afternoon with Richard Pryor while filming that movie – we were on location near my house (which makes me wonder if my mom told the director about Douglas Park) – and we had a scene together that involved crawdads. Richard and I played with the crawdads, as I recall, and when the day was over, got to dump the bucket of crayfish into the water in the pond at Douglas Park near 25th in Santa Monica.

Shelley Winters was a big force back then – we were not supposed to be on stage when she was on – because of her salty language choices, we were told, but also because I had no scene with her in the movie. I loved her in The Poseidon Adventure.

The music in the movie was really fun, too, as were the costumes. When the movie premiered in Hollywood it was a big deal, as I remember. Something tells me that Martin Luther King’s widow Coretta Scott King appeared at the premiere – but I don’t know why she would be, it was just months after her husband’s death. So that makes no sense but I have that memory of not seeing her but being told she was there.

That movie has gotten Rotten Apple Awards among others. It was listed in the comedy and drama section of video stores at one time. I have no memory of working with Christopher Jones, really, but I do remember the sets in that movie, including the end set. Also those were my boots I wore at the end, they were always taking my shoes for things and just spray-painting them whatever colors the wardrobe department needed.

Once, when I was a teenager, that movie was playing at the local dive theater near my place in Venice, and I got a bunch of my friends in to see it for free, but when the lights came on only dedicated few remained. I love counter culture and the photos of me in the storm trooper outfit with the peace sign are some of my favorites. I really got to act in that movie, the tears were real.

Mary Fergus after her father's drunken rage.
Mary Fergus after her father’s drunken rage.
Kellie, Christopher Jones, and Salli Sachse.
Kellie, Christopher Jones, and Salli Sachse.

Adam: I conducted some research into PTSD a few years back. Something you wrote on your blog resonated with my thoughts:

“A new apocalypse is upon us: a generation of men and women are cut down or condemned to live without limbs, intestines, brain matter, sometimes even without souls. PTSD and TBI tear our young vets apart even after they’ve survived the roadside bombs. Soldiers return from tour these days as hometown heroes, and kill themselves with desperate resolve — overseas and stateside suicides are reported now in numbers unheard of in any war, ever before”.

You described Vietnam as “the war of my childhood”. I read that during GaMM you participated in events for the U.S. Marine Corps, including a ‘Toyathon’ (organized by Los Angeles children’s television personality Sally Baker, a.k.a. Hobo Kelly) and even collecting coffee cans for Marine wives and mothers to pack with homemade cookies. While many children of your age grew up with Vietnam, did you find yourself exposed to more of it as a result of working?
Kellie: I have a vague recollection of cans and fundraisers but I think the real reason I remember the war is because my family was involved. My oldest brother Shaun went to Vietnam very early on in the sixties, “before anything was happening”, he says now, though he was a paratrooper and Green Beret so that’s a little hard to imagine. He was away from home one Christmas and we kept the tree up until he returned later that year. He is 20 years older than me and was married and out of the house by the time I remember much.

Santa Monica was a pretty small town in those days, and I recall that we’d listen to the nightly news on the radio, and they’d read names of the war dead town by town. We had to wait all the way until they got to the “s” for Santa Monica. I don’t know how often this happened, or what station, but I remember being with my parents in the kitchen listening to the radio, very tense until we heard the names and didn’t know any of the dead.

I grew up in an Irish-German household where talk of politics was not verboten and both of my sisters were very active politically on a local level over the years. My sister Jill lived in the south for a while when the Civil Rights marches were going on.

The reason the suicides resonate with me is because I was involved in production on a series called the Civil War Journal for A&E, over 60 episodes and many that I wrote myself. It was a doc style series in the ‘90s hosted by Danny Glover. That gave me a little taste of war and so I caught wind of the suicides early and was really frustrated to note that our government wasn’t counting a lot of them as suicides and I could see right away the numbers were extremely alarming.

Adam: Your mother, Geraldine, passed away in 1970. How did life change after that?
Kellie: My life had already changed drastically when my mom Geraldine died in 1970, because she’d been sick for a long time before that, but when she did die just a few days before my 11th birthday, there was no going back to the way things had been.

When Jerry was diagnosed with cancer, there were exploratory surgeries and other surgeries to try and arrest the thing – she had a colostomy bag from the colon cancer and on the second year of GaMM she joked that she didn’t have to leave the soundstage to go to the bathroom. So I guess she had a pretty good attitude at least in front of me.

She got sicker and sicker, though, so I went to live with my sister Jill who was living with Davis Factor, Jr. at the time. He was the very kind and wealthy grandson of Max Factor of makeup fame. Davis was in the process of getting divorced when they met and moved in together. So it seemed at that time that Jill was in the most stable relationship but also Jill had always stayed close to me and taken care of me. I was very comfortable with her and with Davis, who had three children of his own.

At first, we lived in Marina del Rey, in an apartment with rented furniture, every piece of it, which was fun. Davis had two boats, a yacht and a speedboat. We’d take the speedboat to dinner at different restaurants in the Marina.

I learned to water-ski, eat clams and abalone, started going to a public school for 6th grade when we moved to the Peninsula where each street carries a nautical name: Anchorage, Buccaneer, Catamaran, Driftwood, Eastwind, Fleet, etc.

We lived on Fleet in a big black house with yellow trim and a turquoise door. We had a pet fox that we bought at a pet shop in Century City. When that fox ran away, we got another. My bedroom was downstairs in the two story house, and I was allowed to pick out everything for the remodel down there. It was two bedrooms with a master bath area in between, open style, with a fabulous claw-foot tub and loads of beautiful handmade Mexican tile, and an enclosed latrine. We had kittens, and lots of little trips and things were going about as well as you could expect.

The morning after my mom died, I knew she was gone because I told myself, I’d know. I didn’t want anyone to have to tell me, I thought that would be the saddest thing. I saw her one last time when some nuns smuggled me into the elevator and up to Intensive Care between their long habits. She was very sick and I remember a tear sliding slowly down her wrinkled cheek, it was heartbreaking.

Geraldine Flanagan (Kellie Flanagan private collection).
Geraldine Flanagan (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

So, what changed? Everything changed. My dad was an alcoholic so once Jerry died, Neal went off the rails. There had been no insurance, I think, and so finances were tapped, including any money to speak of, because in catastrophic situations – and this was an utter catastrophe to lose my mom – a child actor’s money can be used, and I had already been head of household financially for many years.

My dad sold our house in a very desirable area of Santa Monica, sold all our things I guess, except for a few pieces. He moved to Inglewood – not desirable. I still saw him – when we all lived at home he was a great daddy to me and I loved him tremendously – but as his disease progressed it became more clear that he was not fit to handle a child my age. He left me in the car once while he was in a bar and I got mad and started honking the horn and he got mad and then one of my brothers or sisters came to get me and they all got mad. Once he drove drunk with me in the car down a very windy road and it was terrifying. He flashed his gun at the grocery store for no good reason. So pretty soon, I didn’t see dad anymore. He died on the hospital when I was 15 from liver disease due to alcoholism. The last time I remember seeing him was at my 9th grade graduation.

Adam: After leaving show business, you attended high school and UCLA. You’ve written of that time that you still have your “private journals from Venice High School in the late-1970s, where Mrs. Schneider impressed the value of a strong essay, and Mr. Batcho tortured students with seemingly endless notes in crisp red pen”. I have fond memories of my teachers and how they shaped what I wanted to do. Can you tell me a little about how you got into writing?
Kellie: By the time I was 15 I kept a journal – a very torrid, dramatic and crazed journal just as you’d expect a teenage girl to keep. So by my teenage years, writing was already an important part of what I identified as me. When I was in 11th grade I entered a random contest to write an essay about trees with a chance to win a one-week stay with a forest family in Fort Bragg, California. The essay contest was sponsored by Georgia-Pacific, a big logging and paper concern.

By this time, I was living with my sister Wendy, her son Erik (five years younger than me) and Wendy’s new husband, Bill. Wendy was the English Department Chair and teacher at Venice High, and her husband Bill was known as “Coach” because he coached football and other sports. Probably it was Wendy who found out about this essay and encouraged me to give it a shot.

Kellie in 1973, Marina del Rey (Kellie Flanagan private collection).
Kellie in 1973, Marina del Rey (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

I have no recollection whatsoever what I wrote, maybe something about my love of nature, but it did the trick, because I won the essay contest and pretty soon was on a flight up north to Fort Bragg, where I was set to move in with this logging family – the dad was one of the bosses in the forest – and stay for a week to learn more about trees and logging and basically a big publicity stunt for Georgia-Pacific.

It would have been great, except, a tragedy had occurred. The logging family’s older daughter’s fiancé had been killed in a logging accident just a week or so before. This I found out on the flight to Fort Bragg. To my shock, when I arrived, they put me in her room and put her with her little sister to sleep. I could not believe this, and thought she needed her own space, but they wouldn’t hear of it. I couldn’t even believe they were having me there, it was so fresh.

The trip itself and the overall experience were wonderful, and I saw many sides of the forest that week. But I learned something really powerful about myself that had nothing to do with trees. One night, the grieving girl came into her room where I was getting ready for bed. She was very young, not much older than me, but I was the one with the wisdom on this particular subject of utter despair. We began to talk. She cried and told me about her dead fiancé and we talked for a couple of hours, and in that time I began to see that some of the painful experiences I’d had – losing both parents – had given me a gift of compassion and understanding that would be a wellspring I’d draw on forever. I mean, it didn’t all come out so succinctly in my head like that, but I realized I had helped her through a tough night – one of many, I’m sure – and in doing so, had healed myself a little. So that was pretty big for a kid.

At the end of that trip, I got to basically hitchhike home via little airports. I had a school dance to get to – spring formal – and the regular connecting flights weren’t working right to get me back home on time. The people in Fort Bragg set me up with the pilot of a little plane who flew me as far south as he could, then radioed ahead to see who else was going further south that way. None of this could happen today! After a few flights I got home, in time for the dance.

Well, that’s a long way to go to talk about writing – but I guess it’s the storytelling and the understanding that goes along with it that I am drawn to. I dropped out of UCLA by the way. If there wasn’t a parking space I flipped my car around and went back home to the beach. I didn’t even have enough sense to properly drop the classes, just didn’t go. So I got my education doing TV documentaries – I have a specialty in Civil War and post-Civil War westward expansion and art of those same periods. During my television career, coming up through the ranks as a production secretary and production-assistant all the way to producer and director – I was always saying, “I can write that, do you want me to write that?” So I just whittled away at it and eventually got to do a lot of writing for television and then freelance writing and now I’m writing you!

I have always been a bad correspondent, though, and am notoriously forgetful with letters.

Adam: When you’re not writing yourself, who/what do you like to read?
Kellie: I read a lot of memoirs because I have been dabbling in memoir for years. My favorite is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. For fiction, one of my favorites is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I also like Things Fall Apart, The Good Earth, and I have a lot of reference books I love, many for writing. We also read Outside Magazine and I pay attention to lots of sources online. I watch a lot of TV!

Adam: A few years ago you relocated with your family to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You wrote of that time:

“Most of my identity went missing as we moved. Even after 18,000 pounds of belongings trucked its successful way from Culver City, lugged over the Grapevine and climbed into these foothills, I still struggled to find where I belonged”.

How did you find your place?
Kellie: We left Los Angeles for the Sierra Nevada Foothills eight years ago. One of my favorite movies is Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. If you don’t laugh too hard, I’ll tell you that this move from the city to the mountains is a little like my Africa – or how Africa was for Meryl’s character the writer Karen von Blixen who went by the pen name Isak Dinesen. OK I know it’s not that dramatic but that’s what goes on in my head. We had always intended to leave the city; we thought when our daughter went into middle school. Instead, my best friend had a nearly-deadly stroke that left her in the ICU at UCLA all summer in 2006. She recovered pretty well, amazing recovery, Lazarus-like. It made us realize we wanted to get while the getting was good, so we migrated to almost five acres about half an hour outside the entrance to Yosemite National Park, in the beautiful and currently drought afflicted foothills. We stayed as close to Los Angeles as we could afford to and still be in the mountains.

To a certain degree I’ve found my place. I don’t know that I’ll live here forever. I feel really blessed to have found work that I love most days – something I can do that’s in my field and to be able to work from home, all that is a big joy and a big surprise. Our daughter is delightful and is super busy in her junior year of high school now. She wants to be a forensic scientist not an actor so that was worth the move! My husband Dave and I have been married for almost 19 years, he is a landscape architect and has a great job in the city. I have a dog I adore, and a flock of chickens, and beauty surrounds me. There’s also a hell of a lot of fires, lately, but that’s part of the adventure – and something I never dreamed I’d be writing about, in terms of being a reporter, certainly. So I love the turns my life has taken, and consider myself very fortunate to have made it this far.

At Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park (Photographer: Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images. Kellie Flanagan private collection).
At Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park (Photographer: Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images. Kellie Flanagan private collection).

Adam: What’s next?
Kellie: I have been a stay-home Mom for almost 17 years and have had a bunch of part time jobs, mostly in the areas of entertainment, but not all. For a brief few weeks, I was a waitress in a tea shop my sister-in-law owned here in the mountains. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but only lasted three weeks. That’s twice I haven’t made it as a waitress, so that means I wouldn’t be a very good actress, right?

Inside my head I am constantly writing. For a long time before this, I was a writer who didn’t write. I have a half-finished memoir about the time from around 1966-1976 so it covers the television years and also, what I think are more interesting, transitional years of teen angst and coming of age.

A little more than two years ago, I started working for Sierra News Online, and it has been an amazing experience. I had no clue about journalism, had never tried it or studied it.

Since I began working for SNO I’ve probably written many hundreds if not a thousand little stories. Some are very tiny and others hold some weight. Mostly I enjoy writing the human interest pieces and people respond very well to those. So we are trying to structure things so I can do more of that. The website is a very interesting place to be, it has grown exponentially since I began and it’s fascinating in terms of the business end of things.

It’s my goal to publish at least one book, though I have a few in me, and I am working ever-modestly toward that goal. Send help!

 

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir can be purchased through Madman Entertainment’s website, as well as online and in-store at several DVD outlets. Kellie is on Facebook and I’m sure she would love it for you to drop past there. She also has her blog where she writes about life, past and present, as well as posting photos of her passions (such as repurposed furniture), and her menagerie of cats and dogs and chickens and things (I’ve been inspired in my phrasing of that from The Muppets Take Manhattan, I’m sure of it). Besides stories of her own life, Kellie writes on the blog and Facebook page of her experiences of telling the stories of others. As she mentioned in the interview, Kellie worked on the series Civil War Journal. It was there that she produced or scripted programs on Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, the unsung heroes of that battle, the Battle of Fredericksburg, the “boy generals” of the Civil War, the prison camps, and many other subjects. Her work in production, producing, writing and directing has also involved documentary treatments of Mata Hari and John Wilkes Booth, and even country music stars. Oh yes, she did tell his heart, his achy breaky… Perhaps what I like most about Kellie’s Internet presence is her insights on being a writer, sometimes sharing the insights of others. I love this quote of Mignon McLaughlin that Kellie posted: “There’s only one person who needs a glass of water oftener than a small child tucked in for the night, and that’s a writer sitting down to write”. Now where’s my Evian (who am I kidding, it’s tap). You can also find Kellie at Sierra News Online.

Top photo of Kellie by Roxy Kobashi.

The World at Large

Adz HunterThe first day of a new job can be hard for anyone. Employee ID photo, stationery orders, and finding just the right parking space. Now imagine being hired as a hit man and you’re about to carry out your first job. Two men sitting in a car late at night; the one in the driver’s seat fidgets nervously as the other sips from an oversized takeaway cup. Sensing the gravitas of what’s about to happen and the driver’s mounting dread, the man in the passenger seat throws the cup into the back seat and says to his pal, “Do you want a cuddle?” As the driver breaks down in his friend’s arms, he lets it all out. “I’ve never even held a gun before. I use to be a vegetarian”. The other reassuringly nods, “I know, I know – you still can be”.

Adz Hunter wrote the new short film 2 Birds and a Wrench, and co-stars with his friend and frequent collaborator, Roger Woods. Adz (I’m glad he goes by “Adz” now – Adam & Adam just wouldn’t work well in an interview scenario) is perhaps best known in Australia for playing twins Cameron (the good one) and Robert (the not so good one) Robinson on TV series Neighbours from 2006-07. He then headed over to the UK where projects included the offbeat stage play The Pork Crunch, which he wrote, as well at A Wedding Most Strange where one man faces the prospect of having too many potential suitors. While based in L.A., he developed a web series, Fresh Off the Plane about expats sharing an apartment. His character Caleb, a novelist, can’t read you anything he’s written, though; he hasn’t “got that far yet”.

Adz also travels a lot and writes about it. Recent adventures he’s put to paper (or Internet – what’s that, the Cloud?) included a night in Koh Kong on the Thailand/Cambodia border. It rained for most of the time he was there, but it doesn’t bother the locals, “If this was London there would be fights at the bus stop, babies would be crying and you would probably get a walking stick in the ribs at some point”. I remember the feeling when I was in Singapore and they’d be the afternoon downpour. Okay, I wasn’t roughing it around Asia like Adz, but I did have to get to Uniqlo before it closed. He’s equally at home taking a weekend away in the West Midlands of England, trying the brews at the All Nations Inn, “The Dabley Ale made me weak. At the knees. Then in the head after I had two”. Listening to Adz gives me wanderlust. I think it’ll do the same for you.

 

Adam: How did you get into acting?
Adz: I wanted to perform quite early from probably 10 or 11 years old when I was attending primary school and was interested as to why movie actors were so convincing when they didn’t even have qualifications in real life to be a doctor or a lawyer etc. It stemmed from a love of storytelling that I got from reading comic books as a kid (I’m still a big Batman fan), and wanting to truly be someone else.

Adam: I really liked one of your early short films that was made in Queensland; the sweet-natured Brace Yourself. It makes you realise that anyone can get past having to get braces as a young adult so long as they have an accordion, a fedora (or similar) and some choice dance moves.
Adz: Brace Yourself was my first paid gig out of acting school. The braces were made from a mould exactly as if I was fitted to have them. I was lucky enough to never have braces growing up but now know what a mouth full of metal is like. I remember in the kissing scene they became a little problematic; which to the credit of the writer it was what they were looking for. We shot half of it at an apartment block on the Gold Coast and the rest in a Salsa club on Caxton St in Brisbane. Our accommodation was an expensive hotel so I was under the impression that this was the high life of an actor, and much more of it was to come! If only I knew…

Adam: I had a lot of friends who moved to Melbourne or Sydney after high school or (as you did to Melbourne at 21) university. Friends of mine found those cities to be a bit more welcoming than others since so many people who settle there are from somewhere else. Did you find that?
Adz: I think if you spend 21 years in the same city or state, then a move somewhere new is a normal progression. Brisbane was a cool place to grow up, but I grew out of it quite quickly. You want to find your feet as an adult. I did most of my ‘growing up’ in Melbourne and I’ll always look back fondly on those years. Besides, Melbourne’s cooler climate and thriving arts scene at the time was really inviting for me.

Adam: Twins or similar-looking relatives have a long history on television, particularly where one of them has more nefarious motives than the other! How did you approach playing Rob and Cam Robinson in Neighbours, and avoid making them caricatured dichotomies of each other?
Adz: On a soap it’s quite difficult to create two different personas when you have limited time and fairly simple storylines. The Neighbours guys are the pros at fast turnaround TV, because it takes some skill to produce television that quick! Despite creating two invariably different characters, at the end of the day they are still twins. Cameron was killed off fairly quickly, so I didn’t get a lot of time for any proper in-depth character motivations. Most of the screen time went to Robert who I played as sinister and as unsavoury as possible. Like a really bad wine you expected to be fantastic, Robert leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths.

Cam tries to prove he's innocent.
Cam tries to prove he’s innocent in Neighbours.

Adam: Did having a role in one of their most popular imported series help you get other work when you moved to the UK in 2009?
Adz: In a way it did, but by the time I had made the move to the UK it was over-ripe. I had been off air for three years and although I still got recognised, work didn’t come knocking. I had to go to it.

Adam: Tell me about writing The Pork Crunch. When did you start doing this? Was writing something that you always thought you would do?
Adz: I had been writing in my own time years before The Pork Crunch was finished.  I started it as a scene for a showcase night for agents with an actor I’d barely met named Roger Woods. He kindly accepted to perform a script that involved a drugs heist and clubbing a toddler to death on stage. Most found it disturbing, but we thought it was hilarious. Dark, un-pc jokes an old flatmate and I used to ping around the living room and a passion for drum and bass music filled in the rest. Like most writers I was too scared to show anyone my work for fear of being critiqued. Thankfully The Pork Crunch was a project that came quite naturally as I couldn’t write it quick enough and it had a rehearsed reading in 2010 before being staged at the Pleasance Theatre in 2011.

Adam: When I wrote my first journal articles, I was terrified of putting them out into the world for scrutiny. Did you feel this with The Pork Crunch as the production started to take shape?
Adz: Of course. It made no difference how it was received; it was the fact that every word on that page is yours. I even had trouble learning my own lines because it was a very new way of working. Once the show was up, I was ready for anything and I knew any scrutiny was a blessing. Luckily for us, we were well received thanks to Simon Greiff’s ship steering and Roger Woods’ balls. If it wasn’t for those two (or three) we wouldn’t have had a show.

Adam: While in the UK you appeared in a wonderfully-inventive advertisement for Ford Fiesta. Where did you travel to film this?
Adz: That advertisement was a global campaign for Ford, and more of a luxurious couple of months shooting on location in Iceland, Spain, South Africa and Italy than anything. It was weird. Lots of fast-paced montages, like a video clip, and no talking required. It’s the penultimate commercial actors dream. You are paid very handsomely to turn up to set every day, get dressed and drive a car through mountains and rainforests. Then you get to go out to dinner every night. Unfortunately those gigs only come along once in a lifetime. So I’ve done mine. Tick!

Adam: One of the projects I wanted you to tell me a little about was the very unusual (in the good sense of that word) film, A Wedding Most Strange.
Adz: AWMS came from a meeting set up by my British agent with director Trevor Garlick while I was having meetings with agents in Los Angeles. Trevor said he had a script he wanted me to look at, the role of a gay guy who’d been in love with his best friend for many years who returns as a guest at his wedding. At first I declined to do it. I didn’t really get into the script, and there was a chance I’d be parodying any lead character’s gay best friend in every movie ever made. What changed my mind was that if I did something like this now, enjoy it, and continue to diversify the roles I play, I’d be happy. AWMS ended up being a hell load of fun to shoot (despite the freezing Devon weather) and I still have good friends from that shoot today.

Adam: Some of what you write could be described as awkward-based humour, like Fresh Off the Plane, a web series inspired by your experiences of moving to Los Angeles. You also co-starred as Caleb, an aspiring novelist who describes his genre as “technically romance”. What was shooting this like?
Adz: Shooting Fresh was interesting, though I wrote a screenplay that was used as a content base for actors to play with, a majority of what you see as an end product was improvised. A web series is a medium for the YouTube generation to get instant feedback and views in a short period of time. I mixed my observations of cultural differences I would see daily, and the hugely popular genre of awkward humour and decided I could write a series of short episodes that audiences could tune into every week.

Adam: You got some small parts on some big projects while living in L.A.: a Shakespearean actor in Liz & Dick, the dark comedy Wolfpack of Reseda, and a role in ABC- TV’s Mistresses. What was it like living and working in L.A.?
Adz: I get this question a lot, and my answer never changes. L.A. is a tough, tough city to live in. Even for those actors doing well, it’s taken them all many years to get anywhere. I could count on one hand how many actors I know personally who have landed in L.A., walked off the tarmac and straight onto a set. The rest you’ll find in a cue at Sunset Gower Studios at 5pm on a Thursday taking a cheque for $50 for being a part of the audience for The Price Is Right. I was fortunate to get those roles and others out of sheer luck and personal belief – not talent. If you are talented it helps. If you know A LOT of people and have relentless energy/determination 7 days a week for 52 weeks a year, the gods may be good to you.

Adam: Ultimately, you decided to “take a momentary step back from the tinsel and the lights because after a while I was beginning to think I had bi-polar”. You now split your time between the UK and L.A. When I was visiting L.A., I got the impression that living and working there could also breed a bit of paranoia.
Adz: Paranoia is a light term. It was like everything and everyone was on show. Constantly. It’s exhausting. I got back to England and all I did was dig up the garden for two weeks. I found the underbelly of America quite quickly. I like to see genuine and honest people. Los Angeles hit its peak in the 1960s due to a plethora of studios and movies making a lot of money and has been the world’s English movie making capital ever since. But every dog has its day, and I think Los Angeles is going through a huge period of change now. There is a lot less being made there than what there used to be as it’s too expensive. Some would say it’s an overhyped and sensationalised atmosphere that has a reputation for ruining careers. Not making them. So I plan to go back some day. Ha!

Adam: You also write articles and a blog. In one of your blog posts you discussed three things that you think a young actor (18-30) must do: travel, fall in love, and break up with a person you fall deeply in love with. I’ll ask you about the travel. Besides living in several places, when did you start to travel?
Adz: I guess acting and the biz is always where the heart is for me, so I’ll tie anything into that that is of equal passion – which is travel. Travel teaches you a lot about yourself. What you are like in a high pressured situation out of your comfort zone for example. I’m a sucker for punishment and I’ll always have to be taught something three times before I’ll learn. But I have a thirst for what is new and different, so my curiosity is fed by travelling to incredible and untouched places. I never get enough of what the world has to offer. I didn’t even leave Australia for the first until I was 25. I was a late bloomer compared to my friends but once it started, the bug got a hold of me.

Adam: Travel writer (and actor) Andrew McCarthy said travel for him was not vacation or for work, but to “go off into the world and you make yourself vulnerable into the world”. Andrew found that when he did this “the world meets you”. What does travel mean to you?
Adz: Andrew’s right. Travel is true freedom. Travel should be exciting, dangerous and euphoric at the same time. We are lucky we live in a world where most people can’t get to every corner of it before they die. There is always something new to explore and someone new to meet. I just got back from my first time in the Pacific, to the island nation of Samoa, and I’m constantly reminded of how vast this earth really is. Samoa was my 36th international stop. Then I met someone who had more uppity than me to go places, and any future planning now ceases to involve painting the house but more like an hour on Skyscanner and a credit card.

Adz Hunter

Adam: In another blog post you wrote about how an actor should go with (at least initially) the particular type that they might be given, such as playing repeated “baddies”. You wrote, “Actors struggle being told exactly what they look like at times because they have an idea in their head of the types of roles that they want to play” I wonder if ironically, given how a career in front of the camera makes it all about ‘you’, that some performers also lack self-awareness. That is, self-focus or even rumination doesn’t mean insight?
Adz: Actors need to have an acute sense of themselves and the way they are perceived. We study ourselves in order to become other people. No point in trying to figure out somebody else if you don’t understand yourself first. Actors also do a lot of hiding. They’re masters at it. A lack of self-awareness can only come about if a person believes in their own hype. Play the game. Not the hype. The entertainment industry is a narcissistic business and a way of dealing with it is to continue telling the stories that compelled an audience to listen to you in the first place.

Adam: You must have the face of a “baddie”, because you’re starring in two short-films where you play someone on the wrong side of the law, The Olive Branch Job and your own 2 Birds and a Wrench.
Adz: I get typecast in a way, which isn’t so bad. The darker roles are more interesting and when you have eyebrows like Jack Nicholson and cheekbones that would kick most meth addicts off the street you tend to run with it. Hence the blog I wrote that outlines rolling with what god gave you – it could make you a lot of money. Plus I like playing a bastard. Bastards are complex, they’re troubled, flawed. Iago was a bastard. So was Richard III.

Adam: Tell me about your latest writing effort, the short-film 2 Birds and a Wrench, which you co-produced and co-star with Roger Woods.
Adz: 2 Birds and a Wrench is the second creative venture with Roger Woods. I wrote something that we both wanted to make that fulfilled a desire we both love – dark comedy. I wasn’t interested in writing a film with a message, but something that appealed to us and our audience. I have a wicked, at times sadistic sense of humour that Roger feeds off. We thought about making a movie where two first time hit men signed up for the wrong job and bludgeon their way through the ordeal and come out unlikely winners. We threw many different ideas around but still kept coming back to this one. We fundraised, held auditions, got an incredible director and a stellar cast, and shot a movie we are very proud of. When we were accepted in Portsmouth International Film Festival with three nominations, at least we didn’t feel like a bunch of losers throwing our money down the toilet. Film-making is an ultra-sensitive beast and red flags two very important things that we are constantly reminded of – money and patience. It was no doubt going to be difficult and shooting the entire movie at night proved a challenge but upon completion there was a wonderful sense of achievement.

With Roger Woods.
With Roger Woods.

2 Birds and a Wrench is currently doing the festival circuit, so visit its Twitter page to see where you can catch it. And do keep up with Mr. Hunter (that’s a term of endearment, he didn’t make me call him that), himself, on his Twitter page. Stop on by Adz’ blog. Fresh Off the Plane is available on YouTube.

Top photo: Andy McColl.

Back to the Island

Back in May, I published an article here asking some good people the following question: What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Since that post, two more responses came from some hard-working people and I’d like to share them. The answers prove that no man or woman is an island.

Yvette Freeman (Photo: APB Speakers International)
Yvette Freeman (Photo: APB Speakers International)
Dylan Neal (Photo: IMDb)
Dylan Neal (Photo: IMDb)

Yvette Freeman is currently appearing on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. She plays Irma, one of the “Golden Girls”, an inmate who hasn’t seen life outside a prison – much less an island – in a long time. Yvette said that, “Besides things to support living, I would love books by Maya Angelou, music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and someone to love”.

For Dylan Neal, being on an island would be somewhat familiar. He is currently playing Jack Griffith, editor of a newspaper in the coastal town portrayed in Hallmark’s Cedar Cove. Dylan thought that “If family can’t join – survival guide, hand crank radio, and a knife”.

I’ve been thinking about what I would want. Like Mark Deklin, who said in the previous post that he’d like “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza”, I would probably go with a never-ending bottle of a base spirit. I love wine, but I don’t like drinking it out in the sun. Plus, I figure the island would have lots of fruit trees from which to make cocktails. Then I’d like some ancient history to read. Perhaps Herodotus’ The Histories or Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. The first piece of writing I won an award for drew on the notion of a Pyrrhic victory, something I learnt about in Ancient History class. Wow, 17 and I thought I knew everything. Finally, there’d have to be someone to share it with. Gilligan had The Skipper, Brooke Shields had Christopher Atkins, and Auntie Mame had Vera Charles. The last two weren’t on an island, but they did know how to turn water into Gin Rickeys.

Holding the Mirror Up to Wendy

Wendy StrehlowYou could forgive Wendy Strehlow for being hard to tie down for an interview. When I first contacted her, she was in the last week of rehearsals for the Australian staging of the Pulitzer prize-winning Clybourne Park. Her dual roles were Bev and Kathy, two women separated by 50 years but bound together by “race, real estate and the volatile values of each” (Playbill). The play sold out before it even opened at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney. Wendy, however, was very accommodating.

Wendy, of course, occupies a unique position of affection with the Australian public. As Sister Judy Loveday in TV’s A Country Practice, it is not an exaggeration to say that Australia took Wendy and her cast mates into their homes and hearts. I don’t know that I, or many people my age, ever really got over ACP. Of course, since leaving the series, for which Wendy took home the 1985 Logie for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, she has moved between television and theatre at a brisk pace. So much so that, here, I should only discuss some recent performances and save the rest for Wendy. Those recent characters on stage have included Mistress Quickly in the Bell Shakespeare Company’s retelling (if you think Shakespeare couldn’t include a set involving a shipping container and milk crates, think again) of Henry IV, Part 1 and 2 in the form of Henry 4; her Sydney Theatre award-nominated Jac in I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard, which wasn’t written by Stoppard, and Nadya in Travesties, which was; the upwardly mobile Jane in The Greening of Grace; and the matriarch of The Memory of Water. She was an actor and facilitator in Four Deaths in the Life of Ronaldo Abok, developed by Ian Meadows and Adam Booth in collaboration with the Southern Sudanese community in Sydney. Wendy and I have also called Adelaide, South Australia home and Flinders University our alma mater (well, for her – for me, I’m not sure what fixed-term contract is in Latin) and so I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say about the City of Churches.

 

Adam: Tell me about growing up in Queensland. What did your parents do and how did you get into acting?
Wendy: I grew up in the outback outside Rockhampton, my family were farmers and we owned a bakery! So lots of diversity there. It was a childhood of wide open spaces and lots of freedom. I have a large extended family so we were always busy doing something together. I started ballet when I was four. Apparently I pestered my mother to take me to classes. I had the great good fortune to then at 11 be introduced to acting by the wonderful Jenny Simpson who ran the youth section of Rockhampton Little Theatre. It was a revelation! I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and that really started the love for me. What an inspiring introduction. Shakespeare is still my favourite!

Adam: You attended the then-recently formed Drama Centre at Flinders University in South Australia. You and I both have experiences with Flinders University. What was Flinders like as a student studying drama in the ‘70s, and for one who was living away from home in Adelaide?
Wendy: I went straight from the outback to Adelaide. I was in heaven. I loved the markets, the theatre and just the feel of what I believed was a “big” city. Flinders was a very “out there” Uni. Wal Cherry was an inspiration; Noel Purdon was showing us Pasolini films illegally! I was introduced to film noir, and Gus Worby was generally just being subversive. Michael Morley introduced me to Brecht and Zora Semberova was my absolute inspiration as she encouraged me to continue with dance but move into contemporary dance. For me, it was the most extraordinary introduction to the world of theatre and film.

Adam: When I speak to actors about their education, some have vivid memories of a particularly insightful acting technique or task that they completed in class? Did you have a similar experience(s) at NIDA?
Wendy: Yes. My year had the great good fortune to work with Geoffrey Rush and Aubrey Mellor and George Ogilvie in 3rd year. We did our Chekov with Aubrey, a self-devised piece called Mirth of a Nation, which was a history of Australian vaudeville with Geoffrey, which was my personal favourite. He had just come back from Lecoq school in Paris and we had an absolute blast putting that show together. We did Love’s Labour’s Lost with George Ogilvie and also John Galsworthy’s Strife with George. It was such a wonderful and exciting year and so inspirational.

Adam: What do you remember of one of your first TV roles, Robyn in ABC’s A Step in the Right Direction 
Wendy: Di Drew had just worked with us on our TV exercise at NIDA and she cast Noel Hodda and me straight out of NIDA so I was really excited and it was a great experience. Di is such a fantastic director and teacher.

Adam: You started playing Sister Judy Loveday in A Country Practice from the first episode of the series, but then the character didn’t appear for a while. Why was this?
Wendy: I did the pilot and then while they were waiting to see if the series would go ahead, I was offered a year of work with the South Australian Theatre Company and a role in For the Term of His Natural Life, so it was too good an opportunity to turn down. Luckily they asked me back at the end of that year!

Wendy as Judy Loveday
Wendy as Judy Loveday

Adam: There were a number of storylines on A Country Practice that became Australian television iconic moments or, at the very least, are well-remembered all these years later. One Judy moment that has stuck with me is when she and Matron Sloan (Joan Sydney) were brutally attacked by a patient (played by Max Phipps). For you, what were your most memorable storylines and who did you enjoy working with the most?
Wendy: I loved anything I did with Joan because she was so creative and inspiring and soooo funny! She is one of the cheekiest actors I have ever worked with and she taught me so much.

Adam: Has Judy been an easy character to live with?
Wendy: Judy was a gift and I am very proud of what the writers and producers and myself created. I received some fabulous fan mail and feedback about her and she was such fun to create.

Adam: You went pretty much straight from ACP to the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion at the Phillip Street Theatre in Sydney. What was it like to take on this role?
Wendy: I was really nervous about performing Shaw, but I think as a performer you owe it to yourself to keep pushing your boundaries. I was working with a terrific director, Mark Gaal and we collaborated really well.

Adam: You’ve always worked across TV and theatre. Do you find this to be a happy marriage?
Wendy: Yes. The challenges are so different but ultimately what you are doing is telling the story and the truth for that character. Ian McKellen calls the camera “the smallest audience”. I can really relate to that analogy and I love the differences.

Adam: Who have been some of your favourite characters to play on the stage?
Wendy: Ariel, The Tempest; Mistress Quickly, Henry 4; Rosalie in Jonathan Gavin’s BANG; Nadezhda Krupskaya in Travesties; Jac in Toby Schmitz’s I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard; and most recently, Bev and Kathy in Bruce Norris’s Clyborne Park.

Wendy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)
Wendy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)
Wendy, Briallen Clarke, Cleave Williams, Paula Arundell and Nathan Lovejoy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)
Wendy, Briallen Clarke, Cleave Williams, Paula Arundell and Nathan Lovejoy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Adam: You’ve performed in several period pieces, including the World War I-themed Travesties by Tom Stoppard; Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass set at the time of Kristallnacht; Bill W. and Dr. Bob set in the thirties; the civil-rights era Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris; as well as Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal. What is it about these roles that draws you tell them?
Wendy: Well, firstly being asked to do the roles is a massive plus. There are so many great actors in this country who are not working as much as they should. Then, once you have been asked to create these characters, telling their story and finding their truth and communicating that to your audience is paramount.

Adam: Of course, you’ve also performed in several Shakespeare works, including an all-female The Taming of the Shrew; and several comedies including last year’s I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard. You seem to have a fulfilling range of roles?    
Wendy: I am very lucky. I reckon also if you get this opportunity give it all you’ve got. I am very grateful for these opportunities.

Adam: Can you tell me about your involvement in the very special Four Deaths in the Life of Ronaldo Abok, by playwright Ian Meadows?
Wendy: Ian’s co-director Adam Booth asked me to get involved. Ian and Adam were both working with the Sudanese community. It was a completely rewarding and eye-opening experience. I knew almost nothing about Sudan and the cast had never acted before but I became very close to them and they welcomed me so warmly. Considering what had happened in their lives, they were so open and curious. I have such respect for what they are achieving here.

Adam: For many years, you have been vocal on the rights of artists and the need for arts to be on the Australian national policy agenda. What do you see as the issues facing the arts today?
Wendy: We need a certain amount of funding to survive but I don’t think we can rely on it. We need to seek support and sponsorship through the private sector. I am passionate about the vital role the arts play in society. “Holding the mirror up to nature”, so to speak. Without a healthy and thriving arts culture we are spiritually bereft. I sincerely hope that working with the corporate sector we can help our cultural uniqueness to thrive which can only be beneficial for all of us. I don’t personally believe that Government should be wholly responsible for providing those fund but recent proposals to cut arts funding are very short sighted and quite frankly unfathomable.

Adam: Your daughter, Sophie Hensser, is currently co-starring in Love Child. Does the whirlwind that is this new TV hit remind you of your time on ACP?
Wendy: Yes! But she is so much better equipped to deal with it than I was. Also she is an actor for all the right reasons. She loves the craft and is always willing to learn and grow.

 

Wendy can be found on Twitter here.

All We Need is an Island

What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Variations of this question are often used as an icebreaker or team-building exercise. I remember completing one during the first tutorial of a second-year psychology class, which required the group to rank items most useful after an emergency lunar landing. If there’s one thing psychology students have an aversion to, it’s group work. However, psychologists have been known to throw their students or research participants in the deep end. In 1954, as part of the Intergroup Relations Project at the University of Oklahoma, Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues took two groups of boys to Robbers Cave in Oklahoma. The boys were split into two groups – the Rattlers and Eagles – and intergroup conflict was generated through competitive tasks like baseball and cabin inspections (that would bring out the competitive streak in anyone) by staff members. Prizes included four-bladed knives, and were highly coveted. As reported in the book Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment (1954/1961), “The trophy was so valued by the winners that they kissed it after they took possession and hid it for safety in a different cabin against a possible seizure by the losers”. The experiment was a success in generating conflict. Of course, the experimenters wanted to show that you may reduce conflict by introducing goals that are only obtainable if both groups worked together. But I digress. In short, while many of you would find these Moon/Island hypothetical group tasks only mildly discomforting, as a psychology student they were true practice runs for our survival if we had an errant lecturer needing research subjects.

"It's never a three-hour tour!" (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)
“It’s never a three-hour tour!” (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)

Another thing that comes to mind when I think “island” is Gilligan’s Island. I’ve always felt that the criticism of the show as being unrealistic because of how many outfits Ginger wore on the island was unfair. Surely, these armchair (or Panton chair if you grew up with the show during its original run) critics opine, the passengers on a three-hour tour would have never packed at least 98 changes of clothes (the number of episodes). I have a couple of remarks for this. Firstly, you don’t know how this is not only possible, but indeed probable, until you’ve travelled with my friends and I for a weekend away. Second, if you are looking for holes in the fabric a Sherwood Schwartz-created show, is this really the worst of them? I’m more concerned about where Alice the housekeeper slept in the Brady house.

With these two (flights of) ideas in my mind, I decided I’d ask some friends and/or generally nice people the question of what three items they would like to have with them if they went the way of the Swiss Family Robinson or, more recently, the characters of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Their answers didn’t have to strictly adhere to logic. For example, if they were to mention a favourite album, a record or CD player didn’t have to be one of the other items. Also, they could bring/be with their loved ones – the answers needn’t be only items as specified in the question. The answers were enlightening, entertaining, heart warming, and didn’t once mention a volleyball. Good for them.

Mikey Wax (Photo: Justin Steele)
Mikey Wax
(Photo: Justin Steele)
Matthew Jordan (Photo: Facebook page)
Matthew Jordan
(Photo: Facebook page)

Mikey Wax has a new single, “You Lift Me Up”, and an upcoming album in June. It’s understandable, then, that he might just want a whole orchestra with him. Failing that, Mikey explained his first choice: “An acoustic guitar – I can’t live without a musical instrument, and I would need something to write about how lonely I was on the island. I would ask for a keyboard but that would require a power outlet. A baby grand piano on a deserted island would be pretty cool but getting one there just doesn’t seem possible”. His second choice would be, “Chips and guacamole – I hope this doesn’t count as two separate things. I believe I could live entirely off this one dish and be satisfied. It will provide necessary energy to build a boat out of tree branches and escape off the island”. For number three, “Scotch or wine – you can’t be on a deserted island without some sort of alcohol. Having a good bottle of scotch like a Macallan or a nice bottle of red wine would be necessary”. Singer-songwriter Matthew Jordan has been busy lately releasing singles, including his cover of “I See Fire”. His requirements are also musical: “My Beatles records, a baby grand piano, and maybe my Kindle if I didn’t have to worry about charging it. I think as long as I had all my Beatles music to listen to and a baby grand to play, I’d be happy for a long time Actually, listening to Rubber Soul while relaxing on a desert island sounds pretty awesome to me. It’d be like a vacation!”

Mark Deklin (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)
Mark Deklin
(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)
Ben Lawson (Photo: IMDb)
Ben Lawson
(Photo: IMDb)

Mark Deklin plays the man with a past, Nicholas Deering, on Lifetime’s Devious Maids. Mark, himself, is a man of many pasts, with a background in English literature and history and having worked as a book dealer and jazz pianist. His choices reflect some of this. First there would be, “An iPod fully loaded with music – particularly classical (especially Baroque and Renaissance) and jazz (especially by the likes of Coltrane, Tatum, Davis, Mingus, etc.)”. Then he’d like “a Nook or Kindle fully loaded with books – an even distribution of fiction, science, history, philosophy, and humor, please”. Finally, it’s important to stay nourished with “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza… No explanation needed”. Mark does concede, “And I guess water would be good, too”. Ben Lawson, Michael in the upcoming ABC pilot Damaged Goods and recently seen in 2 Broke Girls and Australia’s Love Child, found that the island would bring out some chords and a couple of clubs or spades, “I’d want goggles first of all. Then maybe a guitar. I don’t really play guitar but I’d presumably have a fair bit of time to get good at it. And then a deck of cards; I’d just hope that somewhere on the island there were some natives that I could teach to play 500”.

Holland Taylor (Photo: Linda Matlow)
Holland Taylor
(Photo: Linda Matlow)
Eric Hutchinson (Photo: Facebook page)
Eric Hutchinson
(Photo: Facebook page)

Comfort food, and comfort in other forms, is important. Holland Taylor’s character Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men would attest to that. For Holland, she would need on her island, “An encyclopedia, a mattress, and a chef who had his knives and pots and pans and olive oil and butter and a gun and a fishing pole. Young chef”. If Eric Hutchinson ever needed inspiration for a new album after his recent release, Pure Fiction, a lazy afternoon on the island would do it with, “A chair, an umbrella and a very large bottle of tequila”.

Sheila Kelley (Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)
Sheila Kelley
(Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)
Jesse Bradford (Photo: Brian To/WENN)
Jesse Bradford
(Photo: Brian To/WENN)

Sheila Kelley, actress and founder of lifestyle and fitness movement Sheila Kelley S Factor (seen on Oprah and The Ellen DeGeneres Show) may want to build a pole and ambient space for her pole dancing sequence of movements. She requires, “A solar powered iPod. A machete. A flint”. Jesse Bradford is used to playing characters in situations of high-stakes such as Rene Gagnon in Flags of Our Fathers, intern Ryan Pierce in The West Wing, and Dom in the recent The Power of Few. So it is understandable that an island stranding requires a low-key approach, “Two guitars and a ChapStick”. For Shane Withington, who has played characters in rural (A Country Practice) and seaside settings (currently on Home and Away), it’s also a “Guitar”, as well as “good red wine, and Cate Blanchett”.

Shane Withington (Photo: Home and Away official site)
Shane Withington
(Photo: Home and Away official site)
Fabian (Photo: Official site)
Fabian
(Photo: Official site)

No man or woman is an island, of course. Fabian’s Golden Boys tour with Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell would have to go on hiatus if he were stranded, but he said, “I would want to have my wife, my children and my grandchildren with me”.

Chad Lowe (Photo: ABC Family)
Chad Lowe
(Photo: ABC Family)
Donna Loren (Photo: Mark Arbeit)
Donna Loren
(Photo: Mark Arbeit)

Chad Lowe grew up in the Midwest before moving closer to water in Malibu. For Chad, whose character Byron Montgomery on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is used to moving (to Iceland, no less) or trying to move others (to Vermont or New Orleans), the choice was clear, “My daughter Mabel, my daughter Fiona, and my wife Kim. I realize they’re not ‘items’, but they’re the only thing/people I care about. Plus I know that if we were all together everything would be fine”. Donna Loren is no stranger to the question or the island. She spent 15 years living on the Big Island and Oahu in the ‘90s and co-starred in the Beach Party films. Donna also recalled an episode of The Newlywed Game in the ‘60s where “a husband was asked, ‘If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you like to be with?’ And the answer was ‘Donna Loren’!” (I think that couple made their second TV appearance on Divorce Court.) But Donna’s choices are also three people. She explained it this way: “The heart of my husband, Jered; the dancing legs of his father, Harry; and the great compassion of my first husband’s father, Si”.

Matt Long (Photo: Twitter page)
Matt Long
(Photo: Twitter page)
Rick Lenz (Photo: Offical site)
Rick Lenz
(Photo: Offical site)

Matt Long played the empathic Dr. James Peterson on Private Practice, as well as a freelance artist who crossed swords with Joan in Mad Men, working on the Samsonite account amongst others. Now that would be a sturdy island suitcase. Matt would want “my wife, our six-month-old daughter, and a fishing pole”. Rick Lenz experienced life on the plains in The Shootist and more cramped quarters in Cactus Flower. Rick tells me, “1: My wife—for my soul. 2: My paints etc.—for my soul. And 3: books and paper—for my soul. The rest, God will provide”.

Francine York (Photo: Official site)
Francine York
(Photo: Official site)
Dick Gautier (Photo: Official site)
Dick Gautier
(Photo: Official site)

Francine York probably doesn’t need books on the island. She played the Bookworm’s moll on Batman. Francine would while away the hours with “Liam Neeson, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Selleck”. And for Dick Gautier, Get Smart’s logical robot Hymie, some long-time island dwellers are the best option, “I’d like to take Tina Louise, Bob Denver and Jim Backus”.

Don Rickles (Photo: Twitter page)
Don Rickles
(Photo: Twitter page)
Lana Wood (Photo: Facebook page)
Lana Wood
(Photo: Facebook page)

Some felt in spite of the fish caught, painting, dancing and companionship, they’d want to perhaps get off the island. “Mr. Warmth” (or, as any child will gleefully exclaim, “Mr. Potato Head!”) Don Rickles was aware he may be there for a while. He guest starred on Gilligan’s Island, after all. In addition to “a satellite phone so I can call a rescue team” Don would need “a portable toilet” and “a great chef”. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever met James Bond at a card table, but didn’t want to gamble and spend a moment longer than she needed to either: “To quote John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful…a plane, a runway a pilot!” I wonder if John were marooned with her, could he put down his baritone guitar for a while and work on that runway? Some would stay and try to make it work. Erin Murphy sometimes got things done with a twitch of her nose as Tabitha on Bewitched. She’d want, “My husband, for love and companionship; a large pan, to boil water and cook food; and a boat, so I can leave the island when I’m ready for my next adventure”. Josephine Mitchell, star of A Country Practice, is much more use to a drier setting of that show’s Wandin Valley. However, she has a plan to ensure there will always be leftover sustenance, “I would take a Kindle with unlimited downloads, lots of sunscreen and a grape vine so I can make my own red wine”.

Erin Murphy (Photo: Official site)
Erin Murphy
(Photo: Official site)
Josephine Mitchell (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)
Josephine Mitchell
(Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

So, not one of my castaways mentioned food concentrate or 50 feet of nylon rope. But why would you, really? I actually sent an email through to Buzz Aldrin’s team asking him the island question. Team Buzz (they sign their emails that way) very politely passed on the request but wished me the best of luck. I like a Team that gets back to you after a request, even if it’s not an affirmative. If I ever am stuck in one of those team-building exercises again and the Moon question comes up, you know who I’ll call.

Whose choices would make you want to join them on their island? What would you take with you? I’d love to read your choices in the Comments section.

Alias Smith and… Smith

Source: Mark Smith Comedy
Photo: Mark Smith Comedy

Have you ever felt “a bit short changed in terms of life” or that you’re one step away from getting “found out” as an imposter? Mark Smith understands. I knew there was a reason that I liked him. That and he’s also darn funny. Since starting in comedy a few years back while at University, Mark’s been living the life of a working comic gigging all over the U.K. Since 2010, he and pal Max Dickins have recorded their podcast, Dregs, a name coined by Mark’s father. The pair had been a part of sketch revue group, The Leeds Tealights, and dregs are, after all, the remnants of tealights. A few months back Mark debuted his solo Edinburgh Fringe show, The Most Astonishing Name in Comedy. Russell Howard introduced him as “One of the best new comics around”. I agree (as if Russell needs my approval).

In this chat, Mark tells me about all sorts of things: from comedy writing, gigging in intimate settings (not what you think) and the Edinburgh Fringe, to how he navigates expectations at parties and how he might like to while away some years.

 

Adam: When I was young, I wanted to be a doctor like the ones portrayed in the Australian TV serial A Country Practice. Then I realised I didn’t like the sight of blood (or stethoscopes for that matter) and so I thought maybe I could just star in A Country Practice. Those dreams of dramatic stardom didn’t pan out. What did you want to be and when did you decide that you wanted to get into comedy?
Mark: When I was little I very vividly remember that I wanted to be a doctor, but as I grew up I realised I wasn’t good enough with any of the scientific subjects at school. So that was that I guess. I didn’t ever really think about getting into comedy until I was about 21. I was always a huge fan of comedy but never saw it as a thing I was ‘allowed’ to do I suppose. Then my best friend started getting into it and I was like ‘hey, this is for us’.

Adam: Tell me about some of your first gigs.
Mark: My first gig was for the Chortle Student comedy competition. It was incredibly nerve wracking as you’d imagine. And I was rubbish, as you’d imagine. But there was something about it that I enjoyed and so I thought I’d give it another go. I’m still doing that really. Giving it one more go, every gig, until someone says that I mustn’t keep doing this.

Adam: After you’d started in comedy you didn’t pursue it intensely straight away?
Mark: I probably did about five gigs in the first six months. So no, not intensely at all. I was a student up in Leeds and there were a few really good comedy nights but nothing that was exclusively for the students. Bear in mind that this is a huge university with a massive student population, and there was no comedy for them whatsoever. So I decided to start a night at the [Leeds University] Union and MC that. It was ideal really, I got to get some stage time and the students got to see some excellent comedy for £4.

Adam: Comedians devise material in various ways and settings. In her book, Nat Luurtsema said that she dresses up to write even when she’s at home, and the choices may be a ball gown or silk and stilettos. She did acknowledge that some of her choices led her neighbour to suspect that she was a rather unsuccessful (given she was always home) sex worker. You’ve said before that you’re not the kind of comedian who begins with a blank page and starts writing. What is your process?
Mark: I basically write anything that I find funny in the notes in my phone. It could be anything, a turn of phrase, an idea or sometimes a fully formed joke. Then when my phone is filled up with those I’ll sit down and try and write about each of those ideas. Most of the time you look back on your phone notes and realise that what you’ve written is either impenetrable or just shit. Like I’ll often wake up in the middle of the night, write something down and think it’s brilliant. Then look at it in the morning and realise I’ve just written something like ‘dongboots’ in my phone. Nonsense. Other times though I find it’s a good jump off point. After that it’s a case of writing and testing it. And doing that until it works and is good enough for a paying audience to see.

Adam: Phyllis Diller invented her husband, “Fang”, for her routine. I think she said other comics used their real husband’s names, which was fine…until they died and they had to change the act. How do you decide how far to go with using real people or situations in your life?
Mark: Ha! I tend to use real names for real events because otherwise I’ll get all confused mid-routine. If ever I use a made-up event I go with the name Kelvin who is a friend of mine from back home and he doesn’t mind me doing that because he doesn’t exist.

Adam: Some of your standup deals with your dissatisfaction with a monosyllabic name. You have the opposite problem to say a Ben Kingsley (Krishna Pandit Bhanji), Alan Alda (Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo), Fred Astaire (Frederick Austerlitz), or even Benny Hill (whose original name, Alfred Hawthorne Hill, could have led to a life as a museum curator). You did go by the name Winston Smith for a while. How does having a simple name impact you (how do you ever know what you’re getting up to on Google?), and when changing it the first time why didn’t you experiment with the whole thing?
Mark: I think when I first started I worried about stupid shit like that. I thought Mark Smith was too boring a name and that people would forget it immediately but it turns out that no-one cares what your name is as long as you are good. If people want to Google me they can just bang the word comedy on the end of Mark Smith. EASY!

Adam: When I tell people at parties that my background is in psychology they usually ask, “Oh, are you going to analyse me?” Occasionally they’ll also want to know whether I can see their future. I have to then explain that, “No, I’m not a fucking fortune teller” (note: psychology, being the pseudoscience that it is, I do make use of crystal balls from time to time). Do people you meet expect you to always be ‘on’?
Mark: I think a lot of people do yeah. But generally it’s not too much of a problem. To be honest most of my friends now are in the same job or something similar and so it’s cool to not have that pressure. I never really liked it so when I first started I would tell people on a night out that I was an accountant or a delivery man or something else that never really needed any more explanation. Just a good, solid job that would cut any expectation. Now I’m fine with it.

Adam: You first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007 as part of an ensemble. You then went on to direct and write shows in subsequent years, appear with your Dregs podcast partner Max Dickins, and as part of The Comedy Zone showcase. Just a few months ago you debuted your solo show. How do you prepare for the Edinburgh Fringe and what’s it like for the performers once you’re there?
Mark: Edinburgh is an enormous, grizzly beast with huge blood-stained fangs and terrifying claws and a weird sort of grin on its face which has also got six eyes. Imagine that! I’m sorry what was the question? Yes Edinburgh, I have a love-hate relationship with it really. I love it when I’m not there but when I am, like most performers, it becomes all encompassing and engulfing. You start to think that the world revolves around this little bubble you create. I think it’s really unhealthy. Having said that, it is a wonderful place, the city is beautiful and it’s full of great comedy. I just wish it wasn’t seen as the biggest thing of the year. So many comics, including myself, see it as the focal point of the year whereas I think it should be seen as just a thing that happens. A really good, but horrendously gruelling thing that happens.

2013 Ed Fringe show poster. Photo: Mark Smith Comedy
2013 Ed Fringe show poster. Photo: Mark Smith Comedy

Adam: On one of your podcast episodes, you and Max were discussing playing to almost empty rooms.
Mark: Four’s quite good though, isn’t it?
Max: Well, it’s good in the context of having sold no tickets.
Mark: Yeah better than no. I can’t remember what I sold.
Max: What you sold.
Mark: I know sellout was used a lot. The word ‘sellout, total sellout.
I’ve lectured to rooms with a capacity of 500 before that only had four students. How do you deal with that sort of thing?
Mark: It can be quite demoralising but that is the nature of Edinburgh, and gigs in general. As a new comic you learnt to play those tiny numbers so it’s not such a problem to be honest. Obviously it’s not ideal, but it’s fine. Sometimes it’s nice to have a small audience because you can literally get to know your entire audience. My favourite show of my last Edinburgh run was on the last night. I had seven people in and they were glorious. We had a proper laugh and everyone (I think) thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously it’s a different sort of satisfaction to having a particularly good gig in a packed house but it’s still cool.

Adam: You’ve been recording Dregs since 2010. What do you enjoy most about the podcast?
Mark: I enjoy talking shit nonstop for a while and then letting our producer pick the bones out of it. We’ve been so lucky to always have a good producer. We had Joe Thomas for a couple of years and he is basically a genius. He’s now the youngest station controller in the entire country at a station in Oxford. Now we have Will who somehow manages to make even Max sound amusing at times. And that takes a lot. I like working with Max though, he’s a funny little shit.

Adam: I particularly like your ribbing of Max in his attempts to be a ‘Renaissance man’. And how almost in the same breath you guys can go from discussing ‘gravitas’ or ‘hyperbole’ to more “blue” humour.
Mark: Yeah, it’s pretty stupid most of the time. To be honest a lot of the time I feel like I black out and then only realise what’s been said when we hear the edit. I have a feeling that’s down to Max drugging me etc.

Max and Mark. Photo: Dregs Facebook page
Max and Mark. Photo: Dregs Facebook page

Adam: On Dregs you mention a lot of the travel you’ve done. Where is your favourite place so far and have you/will you gig overseas?
Mark: I love America. I go there as often as time permits and plan to drive all around someday. I love everything about it but particularly baseball. For some reason baseball has really got under my skin. It’s something I can absolutely get onboard with and given that that’s about the most American thing in the world it make sense to move there and watch it every day for the entirety of my life until I die of baseball.

In terms of gigging I haven’t done that much overseas. I went to do a couple of nights in the Middle East in Bahrain. That was cool. I’d like to a lot more though. Specifically Australia. I’d love to do Adelaide and Melbourne. I visited Oz when I was about 22 and did that whole student thing of going up the east coast. It was fucking amazing.

Adam: A lot of people would have become familiar with you through Russell Howards Good News. It’s quite popular here in Australia. How important is a show like that to building your profile? Do you like performing for TV?
Mark: I think it is very important, or at least it’s been very important for me. I don’t know if I like performing for TV because I’ve only really done it the once. Obviously it’s cool though and I’d like to do loads more of it.

Adam: What are your plans for 2014?
Mark: I’m currently co-writing a TV series with Nick Helm that is going to be filmed in June. On top of that I’m writing my new stand up show and trying to develop a couple of other TV things, so I guess we’ll just see what happens.

Adam: Anything else that you’d like to mention?
Mark: Yeah, get me on Twitter. Ha! What a shallow thing to say. But seriously, do. Like one in twenty of my tweets are reasonably funny.

 

Mark’s Twitter home he speaks of is found here. He also has a website (I knew I should have gotten something besides dot com. The .co.uk looks so pretty on his…). The Dregs podcast can be listened to here (via SoundCloud) or downloaded through iTunes.