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 anonymous donation of $25,000 was made in honour of the life and work of the much-loved actress Victoria Longley. This provided seed funding for the Victoria Longley Cancer Appeal.
In 2015 a generous grant from the Thyne Reid Foundation made it possible for the Fund to invest in the redevelopment of its website, the creation of a new logo and innovative marketing materials including a cinema commercial featuring ABF Patron Jacki Weaver AO.
Over the 76 years since its foundation, the ABF has established itself as an essential and integral part of the Entertainment industry.
A NOTE ON FUNDRAISING
The Fund has received income over the years from a wide variety of sources, be it through the extraordinary generosity of individuals like Gordon Chater, John Bell and 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 in only a few 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 in over 30 plus years, produced in excess of 40,000 quarter hour episodes of radio drama, donated $10,000 to assist performers in need – particularly radio actors. 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. Another source of welcome support has been legacies from estates such as the late Redmond Phillips, Adele Aldritt, Ron Shand, Nick Enright and most recently Tessa and Chrysanthany Mallos. ‘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 to the patrons and staff of The Ensemble Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company who have proven to be amongst the Fund’s most generous supporters. We acknowledge in particular Sandra Bates, former Artistic Director of The Ensemble, as one of the most dedicated and loyal advocates the Fund has ever had.
Jacki Weaver and Derryn Hinch donated their winnings from Channel 9’s ‘How to be a Millionaire’ and Noeline Brown donated $50,000 from her winning appearance on 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.
PAST COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Over the years, scores of generous people have volunteered their time to serve on the Management Committee of the ABF. Some have devoted notable periods of service, and so we acknowledge:
Helen Lorain Rasko OAM (39 years); Lynn Rainbow (37 years); Bob Alexander (35 years); Betty Crosby (30 years); Maggie Dence (23 years); Jeanne Cracknell (23 years); Frank Lloyd (22 years); Moya O’Sullivan (21 years); Marion Johns (17 years); Noeline Brown (13 years); Leo Brown (13 years); Jonathan Biggins (13 years)
August 2012 Sydney Morning Herald article.