Authors: Peter Keogh
Tags: #Su Pollard, #Debbie Reynolds, #Gay Australia, #Gay England, #Hollywood, #Sexual, #Abuse, #Catholic, #Trial, #Cancer, #Prostate, #Thyroidectomy, #Chemotherapy, #Vanuatu, #New Zealand, #New York, #Maly Drama Theatre, #Bali, #Julie Andrews, #Angela Lansbury
The telephone interview went for over 40 minutes and I can honestly say this grand dame of the theatre was a dream to interview. If I could own three words in the English language it would be... witty, warm, and charming! And I would give them to Debbie Reynolds, who is all of those words and more!
Irene originally opened at New York's Vanderbilt Theatre in November 1919, and ran for 670 performances. With such hit tunes as âAlice Blue Gown', âI'm Always Chasing Rainbows', and âYou Made Me Love You', this toe-tapping musical lifts the spirits like no other.
When Irene was first played at His Majesty's Theatre in January 1983, those performances were also a sell-out. Now the 25
Anniversary production, “Irene - in Concert” hits Perth at His Majesty's Theatre for seven performances only from January 25 to February 2. This production will not be touring Australia, so Perth is the only place you will see such an enduring enchantress of the stage and screen, Miss Debbie Reynolds, and sitting front row centre will be the two guys that made it all possible, the dynamic duo (celebrating their 20
anniversary together next year), none other than Peter Keogh and Sacha Mahboub.
The 11 year-old boy's dream has come true!'
A few little fun snippets, some of Debbie's anecdotes, left out of my last book include the following: Lucille Ball was apparently extremely tight and the only person she knows who would re-gift presents she received, but she was also a genius and very serious off camera. Shirley Maclaine, in her opinion, was slightly â
off the wall'
but they were friends and even appeared together in a movie called
These Old Broads,
which was written by Debbie's daughter Carrie Fisher and also starred Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Collins. Her greatest friend ever was the beloved Agnes Moorehead. They made several movies together and Debbie very much looked up to her. There were rumours that Debbie and Agnes were lovers for several years because they were so close, but I know for a fact that they were just very dear friends. Sir John Gielgud was hired to direct Debbie on Broadway in the musical
but he was fired from the job by the producers. Debbie said it broke her heart to see Sir John in tears as he was told the news, but they remained good friends.
One of her best friends was Liberace, and it made her very angry when he passed away that more was made about the fact that he died from AIDS than the quality of his enormous talent. Charles Waters, the director of the movie
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
, in which Debbie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress
only wanted Shirley Maclaine to play the role of Molly Brown, so Debbie made an appointment to go to the director's home to talk it through and also invited him to see her show in Las Vegas. Finally he said, â
Debbie, you are too short for the role',
to which she replied, â
?' The rest is history! She also confided that although everyone thought she may not have liked Elizabeth Taylor because of the Liz/Eddie Fisher history, she was very close to her and would deliver fun meals to Elizabeth's home on a weekend and they would have girlfriend-type chats. She was very saddened by her death.
Debbie is a night person who is at her best afternoon. I could write two books about her. When we were flying to New Zealand from Perth she called me over to her seat on the plane to show me some article in
magazine about Paris Hilton. Debbie knew the Hiltons but she was not a fan of Paris -
âFamous for what?'
she said. Then she looked at me and said, â
24 hour room service'
and threw the magazine on the floor. I was aching I was laughing so much!
Debbie looks amazing for her age and one of the tricks she told us was the first lesson she learned at MGM - never let too much sun on one's face as one ages. She always wears a hat outside and always keeps her skin well covered. She is so tiny and like Sach adores the big band-era music. She is also not computer savvy but is slowly adapting to it all. Luckily, her assistant Donald helps her a lot with that kind of work. Often during the time we spent together on her trips to Australia Debbie called me her â
. Knowing Donald as I do now it was indeed a compliment.
When Sach turned seventy she, together with my BEST pal, the late Jenny Powers (Debbie's PA), plus dear Gerry Gennario who has now also passed, and her MD Joey Singer sent a beautiful video greeting. Likewise, when I turned seventy last August, she sent me a personal video. I just love her, as does Sach.
Workplace Issues and Reaching Seventy
Not long after I started work at my current workplace I started to have some regrets, mainly because I found the computer system very user âunfriendly' after what I had been using at BOCS. Also, the manager I was taking over from was pregnant and I later found out totally unskilled in retraining. I hated it so much that I used to meet Sach in the car park at lunch time and sit with him in the car for the whole hour dreading to go back, but I needed then, and still do, a wage. I also was shocked to find out that before I arrived someone had run my name through Google and discovered that I had been involved in a trial in London. At that time, this was not something I was thrilled everyone knowing about and I felt a bit sad, but since my first book was published it is now common knowledge. I guess it's human nature to be curious and with search engines like Google everything is at hand these days.
I have had a very successful career in the theatre industry for over fifty-five years and pride myself on working hard and was quite highly respected in many areas of the industry. I have also always been known for my slightly vulgar and very out-there self - double entendres and the like - which hardly ever caused any kind of offence, except twice - once at my first job more than fifty years ago and again more recently, but I have been advised not to discuss the latter here. I also know that for some reason I have the ability to be able to make people laugh; hopefully never at the expense of anyone's sensibilities. Now at almost seventy-one years of age, I adhere to Bette Midler's statement,
âFuck âem if they can't take a joke
'! When I resigned from BOCS I was overwhelmed by the cards and greetings from all the staff and even members of the public, so I guess I am doing something right!
I recently decided to take a look at myself a bit more deeply and try to assess why I allow myself to get hurt quite often. I realised that I really feel for people, which is why some people can pull me this way and that, and when I care about them and can't go their way, it really hurts.
Life does start to take its toll, especially after seventy years. One still feels as one did at fifteen but a quick jog now requires a nap afterwards and looking in the mirror one sees a totally foreign person. I always shave with my eyes shut now! We were in a gay bar here a few months ago when some younger guys were passing me and one of them said,
âExcuse me Nanna
.' It was like a knife in the bosom - I jest but it didn't make me feel that wonderful! It also made me feel a bit sad because the gay bars now are so different from those we spent time in. Everyone was out for a great time, and not just sexually. My best pal at the time, Betty Box Office, and I used to visit a gay bar in the â70s that was run by the most wonderful man, Holly Wood. I think it was called the Clarendon. One day after work at the box office of the Playhouse Theatre we popped into the Clarendon for a quick beverage and noticed all the inviting colours of the liqueurs on the shelves and decided we would try every one of them. A couple of hours later we both staggered out to the car park and almost passed out on the bonnet of Betty's car and vomited our hearts out. After we had recovered sufficiently we took off for home. As we sped along the freeway for some unknown reason - I still tease her about it today - Betty suddenly changed gears from top gear to reverse. I have no idea why! We did not have seat belts at that time so we both almost went head first through the windscreen. Sobered and a bit bruised, we made our way home. If it had happened today we would no doubt be in prison! Dearest Betty is about to turn eighty and we are as close now as when we first met.
The gay bars today we find a bit threatening and a lot of the younger clientele seem to be so angry and aggressive and drugs seem to be everywhere. No time for us
. However, in Perth a fabulous bar/nightclub called
has opened an extension of the bar we used to attend thirty years ago and added a rooftop section that is a bit quieter and more suited to older persons but still great fun. More people, gay and straight, these days meet through web sites where a photo is exchanged, and if the look suits, a meeting is arranged. As a result there is less live interaction at gay venues, which were such a fun part of discovering my gay identity.
As the years pass our health issues increase. Last week I had a battery of blood tests and sad to say that every test that should have been low was high and every test that should have been high was low, so if I don't act on my doctor's advice promptly this may be my last epistle. Frightening, so I plan to start...
! The hardest matter for me has been to face the fact that dear Mum has once again at ninety-one had a return of her cancer, but she has decided that the side effects of the chemotherapy are so debilitating she has stopped that part of her treatment. My sister and brother-in-law are living in Mum's home and taking good care of her, which I know she appreciates, as do I. My biggest fear these days is that I will finally have to face the day I have dreaded for over seventy years - losing Mum!
Last year I was given the most wonderful seventieth birthday party by John Frost and his partner Shane O'Connor at their beautiful home in Bayview, Sydney, overlooking a bay of islands, all organised by Sach and John, who was extremely generous. The day before about twelve dear friends and family who had flown from Perth to Sydney, along with Paul Callaghan who kindly flew in from Malaysia en route to London, were all given a special private tour of Sydney Opera House, the theatres and behind the scenes, all because I was a staff member from the day the Opera House first opened. My guests were all thrilled. We were then given a grand tour of the magnificent State Theatre by one of my oldest and dearest friends, the wonderful Stuart Greene. Once again we were shown areas that only a VIP would normally see - it enthralled my guests and meant the world to me. Stuart is a genuine lover of all things
and we loved working together as ushers at Her Majesty's Theatre and the Theatre Royal. He has met every celebrity who has passed through the State Theatre and has many a tale to tell, including how Joan Collins, who had a very expensive âMeet & Greet' for her fans after her show, only allowed them to come as close as a few metres from her! Apart from that, Joan was touched by a collection of her memorabilia that Stuart had collected over the years.
The party was a wonderful celebration - Sach had all the place mats made from photos of me at various stages of my life. We had wonderful food, drinks supplied by John and Shane, music from Tim Cunniffe, and video messages from all over the world from special and much-loved friends like Robert Cope, Paul Peacock, Sally Brookes, Sherry Anne-Cunniffe, The Rt Honourable Lord Mayor of Perth the
Lisa Scaffidi and a person whom I admire more each day, Debbie Reynolds!
After the party John and Shane kindly asked us to spend a few days on their beautiful property in the countryside about an hour from the city, before we flew to Vanuatu. Paradise for us! It was pouring rain and we had fun exploring the joys of country life. John and Shane are turning the property into a very elegant retreat; they are a special couple and generous to a fault.
A few days later, as a birthday gift, my nephew Brad Pritchard and his beautiful partner Fiona McGrechan flew Sach and I with my sister Patsy and her husband Carey to Vanuatu where Brad is now based. We had five glorious days with very special people. Brad is like a son to Sach, so he was ecstatic to be able to spend time with him. I loved every single minute of the trip - great company, beautiful scenery and a million laughs. A joyous five days! Brad is my sister Patsy's first born to her husband Mike Pritchard. Their marriage may have ended but they remain friends and have both been instrumental in assisting to raise Brad with 100% support from Mike's wife, Sue, and Patsy's husband Carey Gibbons.
Shortly after I wrote this, Vanuatu was practically removed from the map by a category 5 cyclone, the most severe of its kind. Brad and Fiona spent the night in a basement in three feet of water with three friends, two dogs and their cat. During the night their roof blew away and water poured into the basement - they had to keep bailing out water so as not to drown. They had no power, water or sewerage. Brad was terribly upset because the whole building he worked in, which was huge and similar to Ikea but with more white goods, has totally disappeared. His greatest concern was for his staff, most of whom lived in very fragile dwellings that have been destroyed.
When Sach first met Bradley he was up in a tree at his seventh birthday party, so Sach climbed up the tree to be with him and an immediate and deep bond was formed that is still strong today. He was a cute and endearing child and I used to be his worst nightmare at times. I would be driving him to YMCA but stop on the way at strangers' homes and say that we had to get out now. It's a wonder he talks to me now, but he not only talks he is a wonderful, generous friend. Sach would give up his kidneys for Brad if he needed them! His partner Fiona is both beautiful inside and outside. She is a tolerant and loving lady with eyes that melt everyone's heart. Sach and I are hoping wedding bells will be ringing before we shuffle off - at our age getting closer quickly!
Patsy and Carey also have a son, Brodie, who is their pride and joy and who had a few growing pains many years ago. But what youth hasn't had those? Look at me! He has settled down to be an intelligent, artistic, charming and responsible young adult. Brad's father, Mike, has two delightful sons with Sue, Jake and Chad, and they are all very close which is terrific. I say full marks to both families for their parenting skills and for raising such fine citizens. It looks like I'm the only odd ball in the family.
Recently I have had more health issues. I'm sure you will not be surprised to hear of this, but when a hypochondriac really gets sick its panic stations time!
Late last year I fell off a stool at work - sober as a judge, I swear - and seemed to have hurt my collarbone, so I was sent to have an x-ray. A few hours after work I was in my favourite bar,
The Oyster Bar,
and chatting with the manager and good friend Vicki Sankey when my mobile rang. I excused myself and took the call, which was from my doctor, who informed me that the x-ray showed that my collarbone was fine. But just by chance, in the corner of the x-ray they noticed that my thyroid gland was very swollen and I was told to return first thing the next day for an urgent CT scan of my thyroid. Vicki said she noticed that my face blanched and she saw me get a bit teary so she rushed over with a scotch and coke, on the house! It certainly helped.
The CT scan result the following day shocked the doctor, who sent me immediately to an endocrinologist who told me that my thyroid was more than twice its normal size. It was growing down behind my collarbone and starting to press into my trachea. This explains how, on my last night at John Frost and Shane O'Connor's place in Sydney, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought I had mumps, because my neck was so swollen and it was difficult to breathe. I called the After Hours GP who just gave me some aspirin but apparently it was the thyroid pressing on my trachea. Back in Perth I was speechless as the surgeon booked me in for a total thyroidectomy. Sach practically carried me home from the surgery, since I was a total wreck! I was warned about the risks, such as total loss of voice, cancer and more.