Gloria Dawn 1929-1978

Gloria Dawn

Gloria Dawn

Gloria Dawn Evans was born in Port Melbourne on 26 February 1929.

In 1939 she toured with other talented youngsters in the Tivoli Gang. In 1941, when she was 12, her mother launched her at the Tivoli as an adult soubrette.

In 1949 Dawn made her musical comedy debut in Little Nellie Kelly and Sunny for Will Mahoney at the Cremorne.

In 1959 Garnet H. Carroll gave Gloria Dawn the coveted Carol Burnett role in his production of the musical Once Upon a Mattress at the Princess in Melbourne.

 

The ‘unactressy’ actress

‘Gloria Dawn was brought up in variety as part of the razzamatazz of the Tivoli era,’
wrote Katharine Brisbane, ‘and in her later years she brought that same vitality, roughness and single-minded professionalism to the legitimate theatre – sometimes to its consternation. She was in the business because she was born to it and knew nothing else.’

Gloria Dawn Evans was born in Port Melbourne on 26 February 1929. Her father was William Evans, a ventriloquist, magician and paper-tearer known as Billy Andross, and her mother was Zilla Weatherly, a contortionist and singer who toured for many years with her sisters Zaida and Queenie (‘Toots’ and ‘Gaga’). Gloria made her stage debut with them when she was only 14 days old. Three years later she was singing and dancing, billed as ‘Baby Dawn’.

In 1939 she toured with other talented youngsters in the Tivoli Gang. In 1941, when she was 12, her mother launched her at the Tivoli as an adult soubrette. She appeared there with George Wallace, Jim Gerald, Queenie Paul and Roy Rene (‘Mo’), though she had a golden rule: ‘I never work blue or nude.’

In 1946 Dawn appeared in revue for Harry Wren at the Cremorne in Brisbane. The following year she married a juggler, Frank Cleary, and together they toured with Sorlie’s tent show in pantomime and revue. In 1949 Dawn made her musical comedy debut in Little Nellie Kelly and Sunny for Will Mahoney at the Cremorne. In 1952 she had the title role in the starry production of Cinderella at the Melbourne Tivoli. Tommy Trinder, who played Buttons, was impressed: ‘She was a great artist. Had she gone to England or America she would have been a world star.’

In 1959 Garnet H. Carroll gave Gloria Dawn the coveted Carol Burnett role in his production of the musical Once Upon a Mattress at the Princess in Melbourne. In 1961-2 she toured for J.C. Williamson’s in the comedy The Amorous Prawn and as the ebullient Rose in the Australian musical The Sentimental Bloke, and she played her first dramatic role – in an episode of Crawford Productions’ television series Consider Your Verdict.

From 1965 until 1967 Gloria Dawn featured in a string of sparkling Phillip Theatre revues for William Orr: A Cup of Tea, a Bex and a Good Lie Down, Hail, Gloria Fitzpatrick (a ‘revuesical’ designed to showcase her versatility), There Will be an Interval of 15 Minutes and But I Wouldn’t Want to Live There. Following this, she played the title role in Annie Get Your Gun, first, in 1967, ‘in the round’ in a large tent at Warringah Mall on Sydney’s North Shore, and, a couple of years later, at David H. McIlwraith’s resplendent Lido Theatre Restaurant in Russell Street, Melbourne.

n 1972 Dawn and comedian Johnny Lockwood conducted workshops in vaudeville tradition for the cast of the Old Tote’s How Could You Believe Me When I Said I’d be Your Valet When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?, and John Bell’s free-wheeling interpretation of Goldoni’s A Servant of Two Masters.

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Biographical references

Katharine Brisbane: ‘Goodbye Gloria’, in The Australian, 6 April 1978
Susan Hogan: ‘Gloria Dawn’ in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 13, Melbourne University Press
Tony Sheldon: ‘Gloria Dawn’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995