George Wallace 1895-1960

George Wallace

George Wallace

George Wallace was recruited for the revue Business as Usual in 1939, and he remained a Tivoli headliner in show after show until Americana in 1947.

He reached a vast post-war audience via radio: from 1949 he starred as ‘the boy from Bullamakanka’ in the weekly George Wallace Road Show on the Macquarie Network.

He died in Sydney on 19 October 1960.

 

With the outbreak of war, the Tivoli Circuit reluctantly replaced its overseas stars with locals. George Wallace was recruited for the revue Business as Usual in 1939, and he remained a Tivoli headliner in show after show until Americana in 1947 – though he managed to fit in occasional forays to Will Mahoney’s Cremorne Theatre in Brisbane. During this period Wallace frequently worked with the urbane Englishman Edwin Styles and, most memorably, with the ebullient Jenny Howard. It was for her that Wallace hurriedly scribbled the words and music for ‘A Brown Slouch Hat’. It became the nation’s favourite home-grown wartime patriotic song. At the Tivoli Wallace perfected his ‘Stanley the Bull’, ‘Fanny Shovelbottom’s Friend’ and ‘The Drongo from the Congo’ routines and his sublime drag creation, ‘Sophie, the Sort on the Bus’, and also romped through the Tivoli’s traditional Christmas pantos.

Wallace had cameo roles in two more films – as the barber in The Rats of Tobruk (1944) and the hall keeper in the Eileen Joyce biopic Wherever She Goes (1951) – but, like Roy Rene, he reached a vast post-war audience via radio: from 1949 he starred as ‘the boy from Bullamakanka’ in the weekly George Wallace Road Show on the Macquarie Network. In 1952 he tried his luck in Britain; it was the only disaster in his long career.

Harry Wren brought Wallace back to the stage to star with Jim Gerald and other ‘senior’ favourites in his nostalgic Thanks for the Memory revue. Directed by Queenie Paul, it opened at the Princess in Melbourne on 3 October 1953. The Age called it ‘Music hall magic.’ Wallace’s last show was Wren’s The Good Old Days in 1956-57. By the end of the tour his health was failing. He was not well enough to sign up for Wren’s next revue, Many Happy Returns, in 1959, so his son, George Junior, took his place. In so doing, young George left the Theatre Royal in Brisbane without a star, so, in a nice twist, father replaced son for five weeks. This was George Wallace Senior’s curtain call. He died in Sydney on 19 October 1960.

Many of George Wallace’s friends and fans treasured his paintings and the little dolls he made and sold for charity. His son, who had started in show business as ‘Wee Georgie Wallace – a chip off the old bloke’ lived much of his theatrical life in his father’s shadow. ‘He’s got the face of his mother,’ old George used to say, ‘and who could be funny with a dial like that!’ Nevertheless, George Junior led a merry variety company at the Theatre Royal in Brisbane for a record ten years, and transferred his show successfully to television. He died in 1968, survived by a son and a daughter, both of whom had lengthy careers in Gold Coast show business – Georgia as a dancer and Jeffrey as a drummer.

George Wallace’s illustrious career was celebrated in Funny by George, an affectionate 1999 TV documentary. The producers managed to track down Wallace’s wife who, despite her great age, treasured happy memories of the man she had married more than 80 years before. She died shortly after the documentary was screened.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Nancye Bridges: Curtain Call, Cassell, 1980
Victoria Chance: ‘George Wallace’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Raymond Evans: ‘George Leonard Wallace’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 16, Melbourne University Press
Jim Murphy, Don Percy and Ian Woodward: Funny by George, TV documentary, 1999
Stuart Sayers: ‘George Stevenson Wallace’ in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 12
Frank Van Straten: Tivoli, Lothian Books, 2003