In 1944, many members of the acting profession were caught up in the devastation that World War II was bringing in its wake. The loss of so many breadwinners had brought hardship to a huge number of families and it was recognised that urgent action was required to look after the families of lost servicemen and women and those who had returned injured or incapacitated. It was in this spirit that the first meeting of the NSW Branch of the Actors Benevolent Fund was held on January 11, 1944. In attendance were Marshall Crosby, Ernest Woods, Harcourt Garden, Myra Dempsey, Lynne Foster, Gwen Plumb and Hal Alexander.
A donation was made by Laurence Olivier - resulting in his being nominated as the first Patron of the ABF - and Stanley Holloway donated the proceeds from one of his shows.
In 1950 Doris Fitton of the Independent Theatre generously donated the proceeds of special performances on a regular basis and in recognition she was named a Patron of the ABF.
Throughout the 1950s the Fund was assisted by donations from a wide variety of sources, including Dame Sybil Thorndike, Sir Lewis Casson, Charles Chauvel and The Phillip Street Theatre.
In November 1963 Gladys Moncrieff became Patron of the Fund. Other notable Patrons have included Gordon Chater; Ron Frazer; Edna Edgley; Grace Gibson; Michael Edgley; Harry M Miller and Stuart Wagstaff.
In March 1995 a striking design by artist Martin Sharp of Ginger Meggs performing on stage was accepted as a suggestion for ABF Christmas cards. The Ginger Meggs ABF card became a popular longstanding fundraiser, still available to this day.
In August, 1995 the Fund’s name was changed to ‘Actors Benevolent Fund of NSW Incorporated’.
In March 2004 the ABF was informed that one third of all future royalties from the work of playwright Nick Enright had been willed to the Fund on an ongoing basis.
In July 2006 a donation of $100,000 was received from a couple who wished to remain anonymous, but who expressed “concern at the number of actors who fall into financial difficulties as they get older”. The donors state they “would like to help through the Fund”, adding that “they would appreciate the Fund being able to help directors as well”.
Another significant donation came from an anonymous person who donated a bequest of $25,000 in honour of the life and work of the much-loved actress Victoria Longley.
In 2015 A generous grant from the Thyne Reid Foundation made it possible for the Committee to undertake a complete and long-overdue overhaul of the Fund with new branding and logo and the development of a new website and marketing materials including a cinema commercial featuring ABF Patron Jacki Weaver.
The future plans for ABF will cement the position of the organisation as an essential and integral part of the Entertainment industry.
A NOTE ON FUNDRAISING
The Fund has sourced income over the years from a wide variety of sources, be it through the extraordinary generosity of individuals like Gordon Chater, John Bell or Grace Gibson or by innovative means such as the small levy on entrance tickets to Sitmar Cruises shows that Lynn Rainbow organised. At only 20c a ticket, the latter raised thousands of dollars over only a short number of years. Similarly, the redoubtable Betty Crosby raised funds by selling tickets to the opening nights of shows at the Theatre Royal. In 1981, Grace Gibson, who over 30 plus years produced in excess of 40,000 quarter hour episodes of radio drama, wished to show her appreciation to those actors who had helped her immensely and donated $10,000 so that her gift could assist performers in need – particularly radio actors. Another source of welcome support was legacies from estates such as those received in the 1990s from the estates of the late Redmond Phillips, Adele Aldritt and Ron Shand. ‘Bucketing’ collections after theatre performances has always been (and continues to be) a reliable source of income for the Fund and thanks must go to all the Theatre Companies and casts, both subsidised and commercial, that have assisted and continue to assist the Fund in this way. Special mention in this regard must go The Ensemble Theatre and its patrons who have proved to be amongst the Fund’s most generous supporters. Sandra Bates, past Artistic Director of The Ensemble, was one of the most dedicated and loyal supporters the Fund has ever had and our thanks go to her in particular. Another hugely appreciated relationship has been that between the ABF and the Board of ALVA (Australian Ladies Variety Association Inc). Over the years, a bond of common care has existed between ABF and ALVA, with the latter donating in recognition of those variety performers who currently number amongst the Fund’s beneficiaries.
Less usual but no less welcome income has been sourced from Jacki Weaver and Derryn Hinch donating their winnings on Channel 9’s ‘How to be a Millionaire’ and Noeline Brown donating her winnings of $50,000 from Channel 7’s ‘Celebrity Spelling Bee’. She had been so determined to win for the Fund, she says, that she’d surrounded herself with dictionaries for days before the event, boning up on difficult words like ‘diarrhoea’ and ‘haemorrhoid’. “It’s just as well I made a study of medical terminology,” she reports, “as my winning effort was ‘cirrhosis’.” Channels 7 and 9 also helped the Fund at times through charity telethons and many casts of television shows have donated appearance fees.
We welcome any support you may want to direct towards the ABF and encourage you to remember us when considering bequests or at the end of the financial year.
All donations are fully tax deductible.
PAST COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Over the years scores of generous people have given their time to serving on the volunteer Committee of the ABF. Their names can be found on the Friends page. Some have devoted notable lengths that should be acknowledged, amongst them being:
Bob Alexander (35 years); Betty Crosby (30 years); Marion Johns (17 years); Moya O’Sullivan (21 years); Jeanne Cracknell (23 years); Frank Lloyd (22 years); Lynn Rainbow (37 years); Maggie Dence (23 years); Jonathan Biggins (13 years); Noeline Brown (13 years); Leo Brown (13 years); Helen Lorain Rasko OAM (39 years)
August 2012 Sydney Morning Herald article.