By MARK TREVORROW
It’s been a soggy, sad, masked-up Sydney summer for most of us – and in particular for me, with the loss of a shocking number of old friends and associates, two of them a critical part of my personal and professional life in cabaret and comedy.
Genius comedy writer and children’s author Doug MacLeod, who died last November in Melbourne aged 62, was a delightful friend and colleague for decades. He cruelly suffered a stroke in 2011 and never fully recovered, beautifully cared for by Stephen Erasmus, his devoted husband of 40 years. You may not know Doug, but you know a lot of his jokes. He wrote on Fast Forward, Full Frontal, Big Girl’s Blouse, Something Stupid and on Kath & Kim, and I was lucky enough to have him write my 2000-01 Foxtel series The Bob Downe Show.
To this day I love performing the brilliantly funny and satirical Hallmark card poems he wrote for the show, originally read out by Gina Riley as Coralee Hollow and me as Bob Downe. (And yes, I’ve put them up on YouTube!)
It’s exquisite to lose old friends who you knew Before, During and After experiencing success together – usually at completely different times, deepening the shared journey. Doug was adored by everyone who knew him – as was Wendy de Waal.
Wendy, who died in Sydney in January after a six-month battle with cancer, is the reason you’ve even heard of me. We met in Melbourne in 1980, when she was a hairdresser and I was a cadet journalist, and within weeks we were conspiring to escape our day jobs and into fame and fortune on the nearest stage. Roping in our circle of mates, we co-founded our cabaret group The Globos in June 1980 as a party act, miming old pop songs and TV commercials, in perfect ’60s clobber. (The number of people who claim to have been at that first performance in our South Yarra flat could fill the Margaret Court Arena.)
Wendy and I met Gina Riley that same year and it was Gina (aged 18 at the time) who encouraged us to join St Martins Youth Arts Centre, a semi-professional young people’s theatre company under the inspired, subversive leadership of artistic director Helmut Bakaitis. Handily, St Martins was literally around the nearest corner to our flat and it was there we met the aspiring performers who would make up the professional Globos line-up, which we took to Sydney in 1982 for the opening of Kinselas cabaret on Taylor Square. We were a huge hit there – thanks to our worked up, pretty and slick stage act, along with Countdown, The Mike Walsh Show, and Wendy’s incredible vocal performance on our hit single Tintarella di Luna. Oh, and me for hustling a record deal with Mushroom!
Wendy and I were a great creative partnership, the two halves making the whole. We both loved realising the fantasy of frocking up to perform, emptying every op shop from Chapel Street to Fitzroy. I’d find the music and adapt the hilarious old TV commercials for us to lip-sync, while Wendy was the greatest hair and makeup artist I’ve ever known.
We both managed to stay full time in the Biz after The Globos finished in 1986; I created Bob Downe – a kind of solo Globo, really, now singing the songs I used to lip-sync – while Wendy acted, wrote, directed and performed before hitting her niche as a sought after and beloved hair and makeup artist, working on everything from Moulin Rouge to Wolverine to Star Wars to Strictly Ballroom The Musical to Doctor, Doctor and a thousand productions in between.
Wendy possessed a pure, searching, truly queer spirit, open to everything and everyone – including the two wonderful guys she hooked up with long term, who had to navigate her witchy ways and boho gay boyfriends: Kinselas lighting designer Peter Neufeld and then Murray Robertson, an assistant director in films and TV. Together, Wendy and Murray produced two incredible daughters, Lily and Angel, with Lily’s three-year-old daughter Mykki providing simple, beautiful, innocent joy during Wendy’s final months at home, surrounded by her adoring family.
Our friendship and creative partnership changed lives, most of all our own. Wendy and I were Mickey and Judy putting on a show in a barn which went to Broadway. Together at Kinselas we discovered Sydney and Sydney discovered us – we were adopted as mascots by the theatre and film crowd who hung out there, many of whom are still close mates 40 years on. George Harrison took us to dinner!
And of course in 1982 we were surrounded by Oxford Street at its absolute, pre-AIDS peak. Every night was a party and every sunrise saw us wolfing nachos and melted cheese at Dean’s on Kellett Street, grooving to the ’50s & ’60s jukebox, where I discovered our second hit single: Sonny & Cher’s The Beat Goes On.
Vale Wendy – and Doug – along with others in my immediate circle who have recently passed, or who are dealing with life-challenging illness and loss. It’s all been an awful climax to a very strange two years, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.
– Mark Trevorrow