George Wallace (Australian comedian)

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George Wallace
Born
George Stephenson Wallace

4 June 1895
Died16 October 1960(1960-10-16) (aged 65)
NationalityAustralian
OccupationComedian, vaudevillian, film star
ChildrenGeorge Leonard Wallace (known as George Wallace Jnr)[1]

George Stephenson "Onkus" Wallace (4 June 1895 – 19 October 1960), was an Australian comedian, vaudevillian, radio personality and film star. During the early to mid-20th century, he was one of the most famous and successful Australian comedians on both stage and screen, with screen, song and revue sketch writing amongst his repertoire. Wallace was a small tubby man with goggle eyes, a mobile face and croaky voice who appeared in trademark baggy trousers, checkered shirt and felt hat. He was the father of entertainer George Leonard Wallace. His career as one of Australia's most popular comedians spanned four decades from the 1920s to 1960 and encompassed stage, radio and film entertainment. Ken G. Hall, who directed him in two films, wrote in his autobiography that George Wallace was the finest Australian comedian he had known.

History[edit]

George Stephenson Wallace was born in Aberdeen, New South Wales to George Stevenson Wallace a painter and Catherine Mary Ann, née Scott. His father toured in minstrel shows, and George junior appeared at age three in a Sydney pantomime. He was in his parents' song-and-dance act until they divorced. He later busked in Pyrmont, New South Waleswaterfront, worked in his stepfather's ink factory, and was a farm-hand and canecutter in North Queensland. He then joined a road show at age sixteen.[2]

It was often claimed that Wallace was born in a tent in the middle of winter in the New England region of New South Wales and that his trademark hoarse voice was the result of damage caused to his vocal cords by being fed hot porridge as a baby by the midwife in order to survive the extreme cold, something Wallace turned to his advantage for the "Boy From Bullamakanka".[citation needed]

Wallace married Margarita Edith Emma Nicholas on 3 January 1917 and moved to Sydney in 1918. Wallace worked at Newtown Bridge Theatre for £4 a week. Wallace used his wife in his act. Their two-year-old son join them in acrobatic poses. His parents separated in 1924.[2]

In the 1920s he formed a double act with Jack 'Dinks' Patterson as "Dinks and Onkus".[3] The pair danced and sang, and for someone who looked like a wharfie (with his barrel chest and short legs) Wallace was surprisingly acrobatic and light on his feet, and the public loved him for his slapstick style and everyman appeal.[2]

Turning solo, Wallace was soon snapped up by the Fuller circuit in Sydney[2] and from there he moved to the Tivoli Theatre circuit. At Tivoli, he was teamed up with British actress, Jenny Howard. By the 1920s, he was considered to be one of the "Big Three" most popular performers in Australian comedy. He wrote all of his own scripts and in 1942 penned a song that was to become a World War II standard, "A Brown Slouch Hat with The Side Turned Up".[2]

The 1930s saw George turn his talents to film. He starred in five films, all comedies and was the biggest, if not the biggest, Australian star.[4] Three of these, His Royal Highness (1932), Harmony Row (1933) and A Ticket in Tatts (1934), were directed by F. W. Thring for Thring's company, Efftee Film Productions. Wallace was under contract to Efftee during this time for an estimated £3000 – £5000 per year, during which he also made stage appearances for the company.[5][6]

He said in 1933 that he turned down an offer from Universal to film in the US.

The other two, Let George Do It (1938)[7] and Gone to the Dogs (1939), were directed by Ken G. Hall for Cinesound Productions.[7] Wallace's contributions to these films extended beyond his performances. He developed the concepts for His Royal Highness, Harmony Row and A Ticket in Tatts by drawing on his stage revues, and co-wrote Let George Do It and Gone to the Dogs. Wallace's other film work included a 1932 short film, "Oh! What a Night!", which he is said to have directed unofficially.[8] In later years, he was seen in supporting roles in two dramatic films, The Rats of Tobruk (Charles Chauvel, 1944, Australia) and Wherever She Goes (Michael Gordon, 1953, USA/Australia).

Films[edit]

The five feature films Wallace starred in are among the few surviving examples of his work.[9] As the most sustained series of Australian comedian comedies[10] produced before World War II,[11] these films provide some support for the claim that George Wallace is Australia's equivalent of Charles Chaplin.[12][13]

In his physical presentation as well as his performance style, George Wallace differed from international stars of slapstick comedy. For instance, his clothing and speech allude to an Australian working-class type and contrast with Charles Chaplin's mock-dapper Tramp persona. The fact that Wallace's performances combine tap-dancing with pratfalls makes him unusual among film comedians anywhere. Moreover, Wallace's films prefigure developments in Hollywood comedy. An example is the fictional country of Betonia in His Royal Highness, which predates satirical depictions of fictional nations in such celebrated films as The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (1933) and Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940).[14] Other aspects of Wallace's films that are relatively unusual for the period are the comedic treatment of haunted houses in Harmony Row and Gone to the Dogs and scientific experimentation in Gone to the Dogs, which emphasize the resourcefulness of Australian filmmaking in the face of Hollywood's international dominance.[15]

George Wallace's transition from stage to screen parallels the career progressions of many internationally famous vaudeville performers in a period when movies' popularity was eclipsing live theatre. However, the financially struggling Australian film industry of the 1920s and 1930s provided fewer opportunities than Hollywood did.

Although Wallace continued to work after World War II, with a successful career in radio and on stage as well as occasional film roles, his film career never returned to its 1930s peak. This was undoubtedly influenced by factors outside his control, such as F. W. Thring's death in 1936 and Cinesound Productions' decision to cease feature film production in 1940. Indeed, the films that Wallace stars in defy the fact that the Australian film industry was already struggling to survive. These films continue to be a high point of Australian screen comedy.[16]

Legacy and influence[edit]

The films Wallace made with F. W. Thring influenced subsequent Australian comedians who successfully made the transition from stage to television and then film, such as Barry Humphries, Paul Hogan and the Frontline (Australian TV series) team.[17] Unlike many Australian comedies made before World War II, Wallace's films do not celebrate the bush as "the essence of Australianness".[18] Instead, these films are significant for reflecting Australian comedy's movement away from the bush to emphasise urban settings,[19] which would become more prevalent in later Australian comedy. However, the full significance of Wallace's films in relation to later Australian screen comedy is perhaps yet to be understood.

His career as one of Australia's most popular comedians spanned four decades from the 1920s to 1960 and encompassed stage, radio and film entertainment. Ken G. Hall, who directed him in two films, wrote in his autobiography that George Wallace was the finest Australian comedian he had known.[20]

In recent decades, George Wallace has been the subject of a documentary film, Funny By George: The George Wallace Story[21] and a stage show about his life, Falling On My Left Ear: A Show About George Wallace.[22]

George Wallace had one child, George Leonard Wallace (George Wallace Jnr.), who became a famous comedian in his own right. He had considerable success on television in the late 1950s, and 1960s. George Wallace Jnr's television show, Theatre Royal, which originated in Brisbane, won a Logie Award in 1962 and 1963.[23] He died of chronic bronchitis and emphysema at his home in Kensington, New South Wales.[2]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1931 George Wallace, Australia's Premier Comedian Short film
1931 Oh, What a Night! Short film
1932 His Royal Highness[2] Tommy Dodds Also credited as writer
1933 Harmony Row[2] Tom 'Dreadnought' Wallace Also credited as writer
1934 A Ticket in Tatts[2] Also credited as writer
1938 Let George Do It[2] Joe Blake
1939 Gone to the Dogs[2] George Also credited as writer
1944 The Rats of Tobruk[2] Barber of Tobruk
1951 Wherever She Goes[2] Stage Manager

Unmade films[edit]

  • Ginger Murdoch (1930s)

Select theatre credits[edit]

  • A Fireman's Troubles (1919) – Sydney
  • Act with Jack Paterson, Dinks and Onkus (circa 1919–23) – Harry Clay Sydney suburban circuit
  • Mulligan's Mixup (1921) – revusical
  • Two Days Out (1921) – revusial
  • In a Ballroom (1922) – revusical
  • Over the Hills, Tally Ho (1922) – revusical
  • Fullers Theatres New Zealand tour (1924)
  • George Wallace Revue Company (1924–30) – revue – various
  • A Dancing Delirium (1924) – revusical
  • Some Night (1924) – revusical
  • Alpine Antics (1924) – revusical
  • The Pickled Porter (1924) – revusical
  • Off Honolulu (1924) – revusical
  • Harmony Row (1924) – revusical
  • The Oojah Bird (1924) – revusical
  • At the Cross Roads (1924) – revusical
  • Lads of the Village (1924) – revusical
  • Midnight Revels (1924) – revusical
  • Dangerous Dan (1925) – revusical
  • Athletic Frolics (1925) – revusical
  • Money and Matrimony (1925) – revusical
  • The Sparklers (1925) – revusical
  • Rising Tides (1926) – revusical
  • Night Lights (1926) – revusical
  • Happy Moments (1926) – revusical
  • Scrambled Fun (1926) – revusical
  • His Royal Highness (1927) – revusical
  • Married Bliss-ters (1928) – revusical
  • Bald Heads (1928) – revusical
  • Me and My Girl (1929) – revusical
  • S.S. Sunshine (1929) – revusical
  • Cinderella (1931) – Melbourne
  • Frank Neil Musical Comedy Revue (1932) – Brisbane
  • Collits' Inn (1933–34) – musical – Melbourne, Sydney
  • Oh What a Night (1933) – revusical
  • The Beloved Vagabond (1934) – Melbourne, Sydney
  • Business as Usual (1939) – revue – Tivoli Circuit
  • The Crazy Show (1940) – revue
  • Beauty on Parade (1945) – revue – Melbourne
  • Gay Fiesta/Mother Goose (1951) – Adelaide
  • Thanks for the Memory (1953–56) – revue – Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide
  • A Night of Pink Champagne (1954) – revue – Melbourne
  • The George Wallace Show (1955) – revue – Broken Hill
  • Pin Up Parade (1955) – revue
  • The Good Old Days (1956–57) – revue – started Sydney then toured to Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and throughout New Zealand, then returning to Sydney

Radio[edit]

  • The George Wallace Programme (1942)
  • Trial by Music (1948)
  • George Wallace's Barn Dance (1949)
  • The George Wallace Road Show (1949–50)
  • The George Wallace Show (1950–53)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "George Leonard Wallace". Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Wallace, George Stevenson (1895–1960)". Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  3. ^ Stuart Sayers, "Wallace, George Stevenson (1895–1960)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, Melbourne University Press, 1990, p. 365. ISSN 1833-7538 [1]
  4. ^ "WHO ARE OUR POTENTIAL STARS?". Table Talk. Melbourne. 31 August 1933. p. 17. Retrieved 16 March 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Counting the Cash in Australian Films"', Everyones 12 December 1934 p 19-21
  6. ^ "Film Industry In Australia". The News. Adelaide. 11 June 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 17 March 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ a b "GEORGE WALLACE". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 27 February 1937. p. 12. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  8. ^ Lesley Speed, "The comedian comedies: George Wallace's 1930s comedies, Australian cinema and Hollywood". Metro, 158, September 2008, p. 77. ISSN 0312-2654
  9. ^ Unfortunately, none of these films are available commercially and no plans for a DVD release have been made public. The films are held by The National Film and Sound Archive.
  10. ^ Steve Seidman, Comedian Comedy: A Tradition in Hollywood Film, UMI Research, Ann Arbor, 1981. ISBN 0-8357-1199-4.
  11. ^ Speed, p. 77
  12. ^ Ken G. Hall, Directed by Ken G. Hall: Autobiography of an Australian film maker, Landsdowne, Melbourne, 1977, p. 142. ISBN 0-7271-0452-7
  13. ^ Vagg, Stephen (18 August 2019). "Australian Movie Stars". Filmink.
  14. ^ Speed, p. 80.
  15. ^ Speed, pp. 79-80.
  16. ^ Vagg, Stephen (23 December 2019). "Australian Film Musicals You Probably Didn't Realise Existed". Filmink.
  17. ^ Felicity Collins, "Comedy", The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, ed. Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer and Ina Bertrand, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 1999, p. 75. ISBN 0-19-553797-1
  18. ^ Collins, p. 75.
  19. ^ Speed, p. 79.
  20. ^ Philip Taylor, "Ken G. Hall", Cinema Papers January 1974 p 86
  21. ^ "Funny By George – The George Wallace story". ABC TV documentaries. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2000. Retrieved 14 November 2007.
  22. ^ Falling On My Left Ear: A Show About George Wallace, written and directed by Mary-Anne Gifford, 2002.
  23. ^ Raymond Evans, 'Wallace, George Leonard (1918–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, Melbourne University Press, 2002, pp 470-471. [2]

Other references[edit]

  • Bertrand, Ina. Australian Film Studies: Efftee Productions, La Trobe University Centre for the Study of Educational Communication and Media, Bundoora, 1977. ISBN 0-85816-114-1.
  • Bridges, Nancye. Curtain Call. Cassell. ISBN 0-7269-0465-1
  • Funny By George: The George Wallace Story, Director Don Percy, Writing Credits Jim Murphy, Australia 1999.
  • Pike, Andrew, and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production. Oxford University Press and Australian Film Institute, Melbourne, 1980. ISBN 0-19-554213-4.

External links[edit]