Peter Allen AM 1944-1992

Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Born Peter Richard Woolnough on 10 February 1944 in the New South Wales country town of Tenterfield, he grew up in nearby Armidale and began his career there when he was11, singing in the local pub.

He taught himself piano, quit school at age 14 and the following year, in Surfers Paradise, created ‘The Allen Brothers’ with Chris Bell.

In 1967 Peter Allen married Liza Minnelli.

Not the Boy Next Door

In spite of the title of one of his songs, Peter Allen was not ‘taught by experts’. Born Peter Richard Woolnough on 10 February 1944 in the New South Wales country town of Tenterfield, he grew up in nearby Armidale and began his career there when he was11, singing in the local pub. He taught himself piano, quit school at age 14 and the following year, in Surfers Paradise, created ‘The Allen Brothers’ with Chris Bell. They were technically a singing duo, but their first engagement was as bellboys at the new Chevron Hotel.

After their act debuted at the Grand Hotel in Coolangatta they were booked for an appearance on ATN7’s afternoon Teen Time show in 1959. The following year an appearance on Bandstand gave them national exposure. Soon after their song ‘First Kiss’ was published they were signed by Johnny O’Keefe for Lee Gordon’s Leedon label; it was O’Keefe who produced their first recordings. In January 1962 they landed an unlikely ‘day job’ as Tweedledum and Tweedledee in William Orr’s production of Alice in Wonderland at the Phillip Theatre in Sydney, while at night they worked at Chequers nightclub as a support act for the veteran American chanteuse Frances Faye; her flamboyant act provided potent inspiration for young Peter Allen.

Later in 1962 the Allen Brothers started an extended tour of Asian clubs and hotels. In Hong Kong in 1964 they were seen by Judy Garland, who was on her way back to London after her disastrous Australian visit. Beguiled by the young men’s charm and talent, she appointed herself their manager and flew them to London, where Peter Allen became engaged to Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli.

In 1965 the Allen Brothers appeared with Garland on CBS TV’s On Broadway Tonight, and were her support act for concert engagements in Canada and the United States. They made their American club debut supporting Garland at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. Next year they released their first US singles; an album followed.

In 1967 Peter Allen married Liza Minnelli. To celebrate, Liza and the Allen Brothers played an enormously successful season at Chequers in Sydney. Over the next three tumultuous years, Garland died, the Allen Brothers gave their final performance, Allen and Minnelli separated, and Peter Allen studied acting with Uta Hagen. He appeared on Broadway with Richard Gere, Barry Bostwick and Nell Carter in Soon, a rock opera that struggled through 21 previews and closed after only three official performances. Understandably, Peter Allen decided his future lay in song writing.

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Biographical references

Stephen MacLean: The Boy from Oz, Random House, 2006
Ian McFarlane: The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop, Allen & Unwin, 1999
David Smith and Neal Peters: Peter Allen, Souvenir Press, 1983