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VALE

former SECRETARY OF ACTORS BENEVOLENT FUND

LEO BROWN

1937 - 1918

Leo Brown served as Secretary of the Actors Benevolent Fund of NSW for over thirteen years. He joined the committee after he retired from his job with Marrickville Council, where he had worked since he was a teenager.

Leo was known for his love of cars, technology and process. He was renowned for taking scrupulous minutes and initiating the use of new technology to streamline council meetings. When Liz Harris resigned as Secretary of the ABF and Leo’s name was suggested as a replacement the only question came from Helen Lorain Rasko, who thought he might be overqualified.

Leo took to his new position with enthusiasm, often visiting grant recipients to check on their welfare.  It was only when he started to experience difficulties with his speech at the monthly meetings that he began to realise there might be something wrong with his health. He sought medical advice and was diagnosed with progressive aphasia, a disease that robs patients of their ability to communicate. Leo struggled to fulfil his duties, often relying on the help of then Treasurer Bill Young, whom he regarded as a dear friend, but it became clear that he was going to have to resign. He did so in 2015, with great regret, but the travel from his home in Leura to Redfern was becoming too much for him.

Leo’s disease progressed so he had to go into care for the last few months of his life. He died with his family around him on 4 November 2018, a couple of weeks before his eighty-second birthday.

Leo’s funeral was held at Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens on 8 November. Chairman John Gregg represented the Fund and Bill Young was also present. It was a full house for Leo, standing room only.

Maggie Dence, a long-serving committee member with the ABF had this to say about her time working with Leo, ‘I don’t think he was ever anything but calm and gentle with us all (and his patience must have been tried on several occasions!)’.  Lee Young, another former board member wrote, ‘Leo was loved - a true gentleman’.

Leo is survived by his two daughters, Belinda and Yolande and his four beloved grandchildren. Sadly missed by his brother Peter and sister Noeline..


KEN HORLER 

MAN OF THEATRE, CIVIL LIBERTARIAN AND BARRISTER

1938 - 16TH SEPTEMBER 2018

Ken Horler was born in Sydney in 1938 and attended Scots College on a scholarship. A brilliant student, he matriculated at sixteen with a maximum pass and enrolled in Arts Law at Sydney University. It was there that he forged friendships that lasted his entire life. After graduation, he practiced as a barrister, took silk in 1986, became Chairman of the Council of Civil Liberties (1987- 92), and, for a time, was an acting judge. 

Ken loved the theatre passionately: the plays, the props, the very space itself. He conducted this passion in the teeth of his parents, who desperately hoped the wretched fad would pass. So did the law firm Dawson Waldron, Nichols and Edwards where he was an articled clerk. A frantic phone call to locate him would usually draw from a partner the clenched response “Mr Horler hasn’t been sighted in weeks.”

Ken eventually would be found in some basement around the university painting flats for a forthcoming production. The plays he directed included Twelfth Night, where his younger contemporary John Bell shone as Malvolio, Brecht’s Mother Courage which starred Germaine Greer. Peter Carroll was also in the cast. His peers graduated and went to England to begin their professional training. The late Richard Wherrett went to Stratford East in London and John Bell to the Bristol Old Vic and later, the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon. Ken hot-footed it to London as well. He had hardly arrived when the sudden and tragic death of his sister Deanne brought him back to Australia. Ken then seemed to turn his back on the theatre and begin to earn his living at the bar. 

As a barrister, he was a natural. He had a sharp, retentive memory and, as the phrase goes, was “good on his feet”. He absorbed information fast and in court gave no quarter. His colleagues valued his courage in the face of sometimes overbearing judges. They also rated highly his ability to communicate with juries with clarity and humour. It was during these years that he made one of the best decisions in his life: he married fellow lawyer Lilian Bodor.  She became his helpmeet, collaborator, the mother of his only child Sacha, and his strong right arm.

When Bell and Wherrett returned from the UK having completed their apprenticeships in the profession, Ken sensed change in the wind.  Sydney’s Old Tote theatre was approaching its final curtain; there was a palpable hunger for a theatre with fresh interpretations of the classics and new Australian plays. Ken found a disused shed in Nimrod Street Darlinghurst, and arranged a lease. There, in late 1970, he established a theatre with John Bell and Richard Wherrett that would change the country’s theatre history. Although his mother had burned all his university memorabilia, the wretched fad had not passed.

A cross-section of old friends from university and the law were conscripted to repair the Darlinghurst shed. We scraped and painted. Some of his clients worked off their debts to him by labouring on weekends. Ken presided, puffing small cigars and doing some light work with a broom. When the city fathers closed the theatre for its inadequate fire stairs and toilet facilities, Ken got good press space by ridiculing them. He then set to work. He lobbied and fought and raised money. He relished a fight and was in his element in opposition.

When the theatre re-opened, one of his most significant productions was Basically Black, a landmark revue he wrote and directed with indigenous actors and singers. Brett Whiteley designed a powerful poster for the show. Other work from this time was a revival production of Alex Buzo’s Rooted and the premiere of another Buzo play, Coralie Lansdown Says No. Ken also directed several plays by Jim McNeil, who had written them while in prison.

With Nimrod’s growing success, Ken looked around for a bigger space. In 1973 he found the old Cerebos salt factory in Surry Hills and, under what he called “the Old Mates Act,” negotiated the transfer of the property from its owners to the Nimrod for one dollar – the best deal since John Batman bought Melbourne. Today it lives on as the Belvoir Theatre. 

Lilian became the general manager of the new Nimrod. Wherrett, Bell and Ken Horler, already a formidable triumvirate, created a heady and controversial theatre. Of its first 18 productions, 15 were new Australian plays and nine of them were written specifically for the Nimrod. The company’s parties for launching each new season became famous for their hospitality and exuberance. “If there is a heaven,” wrote the late British critic Sheridan Morley, “It is in the bar of the Nimrod.”

Ken, as a benign impresario, was always on the lookout for new talent and new plays, and bought his own taste to bear. Meanwhile, a cabal was forming against him. Outside opposition he could handle, but not lack of confidence from his peers. He was forced out in a palace coup in 1980. It was an exile he never quite overcame. Even so, the Nimrod’s best days were already over. It closed its doors in 1987. 

Determined to run their own show, Ken and Lilian leased a large room in George Street, renovated it and opened a Theatre Restaurant called Upstage which specialised in revue. It failed to draw audiences and snap-closed. 

He went back to the Law. In spite of being out of the theatre, he still saw plenty of plays and after the show, often bought drinks for the cast. He loved the company of actors and Nature brought her returns. He saw his daughter Sacha graduate from NIDA and take her place as one of Australia’s leading stage and screen actors. It was a sweet revenge.

Those of us who have enjoyed lives in the theatre are all deep in Ken’s debt. He forced open a door and gave us opportunities to find our own way and our own living. The cockpit of the original Nimrod Street Theatre still stands as The Stables in Darlinghurst where today it is the home of the Griffin Theatre Company. It not only defined an ideal audience-to-stage relationship of the new and larger Nimrod Theatre, it became the prototype for new stages all over Australia.

Then there was the great pleasure of knowing this short, stubby, emotional, gregarious, disputative, bearded man with a large and hospitable heart who valued and gave real friendship. 

In 2004 Ken had a fall and it was serious. He lived quietly after that but Sacha disputes this. What is certain is that over the next fourteen years Lillian cared for him beautifully. Ken was recently admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital following a stroke. He died peacefully on 16th September. He’d just turned 80.

RON BLAIR 27/09/18




ROBERT GRAHAM ALEXANDER

5 January 1942 - 11 April 2018

ACTOR

Robert went to Sydney’s Trinity Grammar School, where he excelled in athletics (he ran for the school), theatre (he acted opposite fellow student Richard Wherrett, who was to direct him later at the STC), and music. After matriculating, he went to Sydney Conservatorium, where he studied singing - the accompanist at his final recital was Roger Woodward -, and then gained his Diploma of Education at Sydney Teachers College, where he met his life partner of 54 years, the potter Barry Blight.

After secondary teaching - English and Music - and travelling with Barry, including four years teaching in England, he returned to Sydney to teach. But he wanted to act, to catch the wave of the 60s theatre renaissance. He started professionally with Adelaide’s Theatre 62, then Nimrod. In 1976 he was, along with Kerry Walker and Tony Sheldon, a member of the first company of six actors of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company, Newcastle. He was an ideal company man, both professionally (the willingness to take on any rôle, and the talent to shine in it) and personally (the temperament to take rough with smooth, the gift of friendship). His maturity and life experience kept the fledgling troupe together.

On returning to Sydney his more than 40-year career took off. He was seldom out of work: mainly theatre, but TV (many, including continuing rôles) and film too, supplemented by extensive voice- over. (He was uncommonly well-spoken.) His more than 90 theatre rôles included twenty for Nimrod, twelve for the STC, twelve for Bell Shakespeare (of which he was an Associate Artist), and work for most of the country’s leading companies (including Opera Australia, STC of SA, QTC, Ensemble, Marian Street, Island Th. Co., and Sport for Jove), and in all states. He loved Shakespeare: his Jaques, Polonius, and Shylock were particularly memorable. He won a Green Room Award for his performance in Torch Song Trilogy. 

Robert gave much to the profession. For some years he was on the committee of the Actors Benevolent Fund; he was politically engaged; he mentored younger colleagues.

Robert’s last rôle was as the Scottish hotel manager in The Judas Kiss. His subtlety and restraint, his accent, the detail of his characterization, all were superb. It was a performance that would have graced any stage in the world. It was only a matter of days before he had to call in sick for the first time in his career, then days later to withdraw. He was a great believer in ‘Dr Theatre’, the belief that if you go on sick, the show will put you right. But he needed stronger medicine. It was the beginning of a steady decline that lasted more than a year.

An actress friend wrote: ‘I did not know him well, but whenever we met I would feel warmed by the sun’.

He is survived by Barry, and by his sister, nephew, and niece.

- Terence Clarke


MOYA O'SULLIVAN

30 November 1926 – 16 January 2018

Actor

Moya O'Sullivan was a versatile actor indeed!  I believe she commenced her career working in radio - and legend has it she appeared rather suddenly 'on the scene' - playing a lead in an ABC Drama and was wonderful. She was in a very popular comedy series "Life with Dexter" playing Willie Fennell's wife.

There was a long career in the Advertising world doing voiceovers - where her skill quickly put her at the top of the list.  I first met Moya in 1961 at the Independent - she played "Sylvia" in "The Women" and had a huge success with the role - it's a cracker of a part and Moy grabbed it with both hands!  I was an ASM (as well as playing a role) so was able to watch her every night - what a lesson!  And I was lucky enough to be ASM on "A Period of Adjustment" by Tennessee Williams - Moy played a rather 'mousey' role - so different to "Sylvia"!  It was about this time she got her driver's license and told me that she'd had trouble working out how to get to the Independent - because she could only turn left (!)  she found turning "right" too scary!  She lived somewhere like Double Bay so I can only image how she worked that one out!!!  

We shared 'digs' in London where she worked in Television as well as Stage, she got a good role in the West End in a play starring Ronnie Fraser (the UK actor) Suzannah York, Moy played Annette Crosbie's 'mother' - only one scene but she made it a highlight - she returned to Australia shortly after and continued her career - voicing ads, doing a few plays, television, including a good long run in "Neighbours".

Moy also spent many years on the Board of the "Actors' Benevolent Fund" -our Charity that she was always passionately supporting.  She was great to work with - down to earth and yet firm in her belief of the respect acting should be given - I shall miss her - the talent, the laughs and our friendship which lasted for so long - she was one of the best!  

Maggie Dence - MEAA member since 1962