Dame Doris Alice Lucy Walkden Fitton, Mrs Mason, DBE (3 November 1897 – 2 April 1985) was an Australian actress of stage and film and theatrical director and producer who founded and for 35 years headed Sydney's Independent Theatre, staging a diverse range of local and international dramas, many for the first time in Australia, including Sumner Locke Elliott's wartime comedy, Rusty Bugles, and Max Afford's thriller Lady in Danger.
Doris Alice Lucy Walkden Fitton was born in Santa Ana Manila, Philippines to English born broker Walter Albert and Janet Frazer (née Cameron) Fitton. Her father died when she was young and in 1902, aged five, she relocated to Australia settling in Victoria with her mother and elder sister, Ethel. She was educated at Loreto Convent, Ballarat and took acting classes with Gregan McMahon. Fitton had her first acting role in Melbourne with J.C. Williamson in 1915.
In 1922 Fitton married law clerk Norbert Keck "Tug" Mason in Sydney, where they lived in Chatswood, New South Wales and Potts Point, New South Wales before moving to Berry Street, North Sydney in 1953.
She joined the Turret Theatre where she was secretary as well as performer. She helped found the Independent Theatre in St James' Hall in 1930, taking its name from the Independent Theatre Society founded in London by J. T. Grein. As the company developed, they progressively moved to better premises until in 1938 they took over the old Coliseum in Miller Street, North Sydney.
All told, the Independent Theatre staged more than 400 productions, including Sumner Locke Elliott's controversial Rusty Bugles, Max Afford's Lady in Danger and Gwen Meredith's Shout at the Thunder. Doris Fitton was usually producer and director, and frequently leading lady, and in each of these roles she won praise from the critics. With Doris's failing health, the Independent closed in May 1977. It was reopened in 1998, continuing its tradition as a training ground for young actors and playwrights.
Notable students and associates
- John Appleton, stage and radio producer
- Sumner Locke Elliott, stage producer and writer
- John Alden, theatre entrepreneur
- Ruth Cracknell, Australian actress
- Reg Livermore, actor of stage and screen
- Bud Tingwell, actor
- Googie Withers, British entertainer
She gained public recognition for her commitment to theatre in Australia with her appointments as Officer of Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1955, as Commander (CBE) in 1975, and as Dame Commander (DBE) in 1982.
In 1952 they were living at a three-storey flat in Pott's Point before moving to North Sydney in 1953. This house was later demolished to make way for the Northern Expressway. They then moved to Ridge Street, North Sydney, around the corner from the Independent Theatre.
Death and legacy
Doris Fitton published her autobiography, Not Without Heat and Dust,in 1981. She died in North Sydney, on 2 April 1985, aged 87.
A commemorative plaque was unveiled on 17 December 1986 on the footpath in front of the Independent Theatre in her honour, with the famous stanza from As You Like It: "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances..."
- Doris Fitton (1981). Not without dust and heat: my life in theatre. Sydney: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-312035-6.
- Philip Parsons, Victoria Chance (Ed.) (1995). Companion to theatre in Australia. Sydney: Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-86-819357-7.
- "New Amateur Theatre", Sydney Morning Herald. 23 May 1930. p. 6
- Independent Theatre
- SMH 28 January 1939
- It's an Honour: OBE
- It's an Honour: CBE
- It's an Honour: DBE
- "Little Theatre Mainspring", Sydney Morning Herald. 5 June 1949
- "Convict-built house made over" Sydney Morning Herald. 21 October 1954 (Women's Supplement), p. 3