Peter Allen performing at the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre, 1 May 1983
|Birth name||Peter Richard Woolnough|
10 February 1944|
Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||18 June 1992
San Diego, California, United States
Peter Allen (born Peter Richard Woolnough; 10 February 1944 – 18 June 1992) was an Australian songwriter and entertainer. His songs were made popular by many recording artists, including Elkie Brooks, Melissa Manchester and Olivia Newton-John, with one, "Arthur's Theme", winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1981. In addition to recording many albums, he enjoyed a cabaret and concert career, including appearing at Radio City Music Hall riding a camel. His song "I Still Call Australia Home", used extensively in advertising campaigns, was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2013.
Allen was the first husband of Liza Minnelli, with the couple divorcing after seven years of marriage; he later came out as gay. Both he and his long-term partner, Gregory Connell, died from AIDS-related illnesses, with Allen becoming one of the first well-known Australians to die from HIV/AIDS. Several years after his death, the musical The Boy from Oz was written about his life. It ran on Broadway and earned Hugh Jackman a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
Peter Allen was born Peter Richard Woolnough in Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia. He was the grandson of George Woolnough, whom Allen immortalised in his song "Tenterfield Saddler". He began his performing career with Chris Bell as one of the "Allen Brothers", who were a popular cabaret and television act in the early 1960s in Australia. He began performing as "Peter Allen" around the same time. Mark Herron, the husband of Judy Garland, discovered Allen while he was performing in Hong Kong. He was invited to return with them to London and the United States, where he performed with Garland.
Allen commenced releasing solo recordings in 1971, but throughout his career achieved greater success through his songs being recorded by others. Allen scored his biggest success with the song "I Honestly Love You", which he co-wrote with Jeff Barry and which became a major hit in 1974 for Olivia Newton-John. Her single reached number one in the United States and Canada and won two Grammy Awards, for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Newton-John. Allen also co-wrote "Don't Cry Out Loud", with Carole Bayer Sager, popularised by Melissa Manchester in 1978, and "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love", also co-written with Bayer Sager and popularised by Rita Coolidge in 1979. One of his signature songs, "I Go to Rio", co-written with Adrienne Anderson, was popularised in America by the group Pablo Cruise.
In 1976, Allen released an album Taught By Experts, which reached number one in Australia, along with the number one singles "I Go To Rio" and "The More I See You". Although his recording career in the US never progressed, he performed in Atlantic City and Carnegie Hall. He had three extended sold-out engagements at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, where he became the first male dancer to dance with The Rockettes and rode a camel during "I Go to Rio." This performance was broadcast live and exclusively on subscription television service WHT The Movie Network.
His most successful album was Bi-Coastal (1980), produced by David Foster and featuring the single "Fly Away," which, in 1981, became his only US chart single, reaching No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Allen co-wrote the song "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" with Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, and Christopher Cross, for the 1981 movie Arthur. The song reached number one in the US, and the songwriters won an Academy Award for Best Song. One lyric for the song: "If you get caught between the moon and New York City" was adapted from an earlier song that he and Bayer Sager co-wrote. Allen and Bayer Sager also co-wrote "You and Me (We Wanted It All)," which was recorded by Frank Sinatra. A video of Sinatra singing the song at Carnegie Hall was included as part of the Sinatra: New York package, released in late 2009.
Allen performed on Australian Television at many important occasions: in front of Queen Elizabeth II in 1980 at the Sydney Opera House, before Prince Charles and Princess Diana, once in Melbourne and again in Sydney in 1981, at the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1983, where he unveiled for the first time his Australian "Flag" shirt, and the 1980 VFL Grand Final in Melbourne. His "Up in One Concert" of 1980 was a huge ratings success across the country. When Australia won the America's Cup in 1983, he flew to Perth to sing before an audience of 100,000. In 1988, he opened for Frank Sinatra at Sanctuary Cove, Queensland. In America he appeared at the 30th Anniversary of Disneyland. He returned to recording on Arista with an album entitled "Not the Boy Next Door" (1983). In 1990 he recorded his final album on RCA Victor, Making Every Moment Count, which featured Melissa Manchester and Harry Connick, Jr.
One of his songs, I Still Call Australia Home, became popular through its use in television commercials, initially for National Panasonic, and since 1998 for Qantas Airways. . This has since become an unofficial anthem for Australians abroad.
He made his Broadway debut on 12 January 1971, in Soon, a rock opera that opened at the Ritz Theatre and ran for three performances. He starred in his own one-man revue on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre, "Up in One: More Than a Concert" (1979), which ran for 46 performances.
Allen recorded a live album called "Captured Live at Carnegie Hall" where songs from his musical Legs Diamond, were previewed. Legs Diamond opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on 26 December 1988, with a book co-written by Harvey Fierstein. The musical ran for 64 performances and 72 previews. After Legs Diamond closed he returned to concert work, touring with Bernadette Peters during the summer of 1989. Peter and Bernadette also performed in the early 1980s on the Academy Award broadcast in an extended musical tribute to Irving Berlin.
- He appeared in a cameo role in the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978).
- His live version of "Everything Old is New Again" can be heard on the soundtrack to the film All That Jazz (1979).
- He was the musical guest at Miss Universe 1981.
- He appeared in the 1982 television version of The Pirates of Penzance (as the Pirate King).
- He appeared as the "man in studio" in the TV series Miami Vice's second-season premiere episode "The Prodigal Son".
- He also did a pilot for a new Name That Tune show in 1990, and the pilot for what became CBS's short-lived primetime game show The Hollywood Game. He died the day the series, which ended up being hosted by Bob Goen due to Allen's illness, debuted. (citation: The Boy From Oz by Stephen MacLean, 1996)
Allen was born in Tenterfield, a small Australian country town where his grandfather, George Woolnough, worked as a saddler. He grew up in nearby Armidale NSW, where he lived from about 6 weeks of age until the age of 15. This is also where he first learned piano and dance. His father Dick became a violent alcoholic after returning from World War II [Service Record]. He shot and killed himself when Peter was still young. George never understood, nor got over this devastating event. Soon after this the family moved to Lismore to live. This tale is told in the song "Tenterfield Saddler". On 26 November 2005 an extension of the Tenterfield library was opened and named the "George Woolnough Wing".
Becoming more comfortable with his homosexuality from the 1970s to 1984, Allen had a long-time partner, Gregory Connell. Connell was a fashion model from Texas who designed the sound and lighting for Allen's shows and sang backup on his rendition of "I Go to Rio." Connell died from an AIDS-related illness in 1984 at their home in California.
Death and legacy
Allen's last performance was on 26 January 1992 in Sydney. He died in San Diego, California, on 18 June 1992 from an AIDS-related throat cancer. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea.
A documentary titled The Boy From Oz about Allen was produced after his death, featuring clips from his performances as well as interviews with performers who worked with him.
A stage musical based on his life, also titled The Boy from Oz, opened in Australia in 1998. Using his largely autobiographical songs, the production starred Todd McKenney as Allen and Christina Amphlett of rock group Divinyls as Judy Garland. In 2003, the musical opened on Broadway, becoming the first Australian musical ever to be performed there. In this production Allen was played by Hugh Jackman, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal in 2004. Jackman performed this role again two years later when the show toured large arenas in Australia under the title The Boy From Oz: Arena Spectacular.
- Chris and Peter Allen's Album No. 1 (1968) (unavailable on CD) (featuring Chris "Allen Bell")
- Peter Allen (1971)
- Tenterfield Saddler (1972)
- Continental American (1974)
- Taught By Experts (1976) (not on CD, though most of the songs are on the Singer Songwriter Anthology)
- It Is Time For Peter Allen (1977) (live album, available on CD as part of the Singer Songwriter Anthology)
- I Could Have Been a Sailor (1979)
- Bi-Coastal (1980)
- The Best (1980)
- Not the Boy Next Door (1983)
- Captured Live at Carnegie Hall (1985)
- Making Every Moment Count (1990)
- At His Best (1993)
- The Very Best of Peter Allen (1997, also known as The Boy From Oz, 1998)
- Peter Allen – The Singer Songwriter Anthology (1998, box set)
- Digitally Remastered Best (1998)
- The Very Best of Peter Allen: The Boy from Down Under (2004)
- Ultimate (2006)
Among those who have covered his songs:
- Bobby Sherman ("Jennifer", "Just Ask Me I've Been There")
- Carole Bayer Sager ("I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love", "Don't Cry Out Loud", "You're Interesting, "You and Me", etc.)
- Anne Murray ("Everything Old is New Again")
- Peggy Lee ("I Go to Rio")
- Diana DeGarmo ("Don't Cry Out Loud")
- Dusty Springfield ("Quiet Please There's a Lady on Stage", "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love", "(But It's A) Nice Dream")
- Carly Simon ("Someone Waits For You")
- Pablo Cruise ("I Go to Rio")
- Frank Sinatra ("You and Me, We Wanted It All")
- Dionne Warwick and Sarah Dash ("Somebody's Angel")
- Patti LaBelle ("I Don't Go Shopping")
- Asha Puthli ("She Loves to Hear the Music")
- Maureen McGovern ("I Could Have Been A Sailor")
- Olivia Newton-John ("I Honestly Love You")
- Bernadette Peters ("Only Wounded," "I Never Thought I'd Break")
- Melissa Manchester ("Don't Cry Out Loud," "You and Me")
- Judy Collins ("I Could Really Show You Around")
- David Campbell ("I Honestly Love You")
- Glenn Yarbrough ("I Could Have Been A Sailor")
- Karen Akers ("Taught by Experts")
- Rita Coolidge ("I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love")
- Claude François ("Je vais à Rio")
- Mystic ("Ritmo de la Noche")-samples "I Go To Rio." Furthermore, Coldplay's Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall samples "Ritmo de la Noche" so songwriting is also credited to Peter Allen and Adrienne Anderson.
- Lee Kernaghan ("Tenterfield Saddler")
- Chris Colfer ("Not The Boy Next Door")
- Bob Lind ("Somebody's Angel") As of 2012, this is the only officially sanctioned recording by Lind of a song he did not write.
- Ian McShane ("I Could Have Been A Sailor")
- Tom Postilio (Love Don't Need A Reason, I Could Marry The Rain)
Andy Williams ("I Honestly Love You") in the 1974 album 'You Lay So Easy on My Mind' 
- "The complete list". National Film and Sound Archive. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- He then became a Goodwill Ambassador for Radio City Music Hall. Peter Allen allmusic.com, accessed 2 December 2008
- Wometco Home Theater/Peter Allen and the Rockettes TV Commercial on YouTube
- Duncan Macleod. "Qantas I Still Call Australia Home". The Inspiration Room Daily. Retrieved 2 July 2009.
- McIntyre, Paul."It's all aboard for a Qantas jumbo",Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 2004
- Cudd, Bruce."Remembering Peter Allen", gmhc.org, 2003
- "Miss Universe 1981 Judges & Guest stars". bellezavenezolana.net. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Lucy E. Cross. "Peter Allen". Masterworks Broadway. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Lambert, Bruce (19 June 1992). "Peter Allen, Concert Entertainer And Songwriter, Is Dead at 48". The New York Times.
- The Boy From Oz listing amazon.com, accessed 2 December 2008
- "Tom Postilio Discography – What Matters Most". MTV. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
- Peter Allen at the Internet Movie Database
- Peter Allen bio and recordings
- Peter Allen Exhibition Website
- Peter Allen Collection, including his personal archive and costumes, at the Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
- Peter Allen biography, Hall of Fame, Frank Van Straten, 2007
- Internet Broadway Database listing
- David Smith and Neal Peters, Peter Allen: Between The Moon and New York City (Delilah Press, 1983; ISBN 0-933328-57-5)
- Stephen Maclean, Peter Allen: The Boy From Oz (Random House Australia, 1995; ISBN 0-09-183052-4)