Googie Withers AO (1917-2009) and John McCallum AO CBE (1918-2010)

Googie Withers and John McCallum

Googie Withers and John McCallum

Googie Withers’ and John McCallum’s long, long love affair with the Australian public started more than half a century ago, in 1955.

John Neil McCallum was born on 14 March 1918 in Brisbane.

He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

 

High Spirits

‘My association with J.C. Williamson’s began [in 1959] when I was summoned to the presence of John McCallum, the joint managing director,’ recalled actor Noel Ferrier. ‘Although I had not previously met him I was suitably impressed by his English theatre aura, which he wore like a toga, although he was born in Australia. He asked me if I would be interested in working with his wife, Googie Withers, and himself, in a play called Roar Like a Dove. I put on my expression of gratitude, did a passable routine of doffing the cap and said how honoured I was to be offered such an opportunity. I had no shame. After all, being asked to work with John and Googie was tantamount to some sort of accolade. We toured throughout Australia and New Zealand. Travelling with the McCallums then was rather like trooping around with the Romanoffs before the revolution. The circumstances of the period gave the whole caravan a feeling we were living through the last days of an era. The winds of change were whistling through the theatrical corridors and John and Googie were among the last of a particular style of theatre which traded on mystique and glamour as much as performance.’

Googie Withers’ and John McCallum’s long, long love affair with the Australian public started more than half a century ago, in 1955, when they made their Australian debut at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne in, what J.C. Williamson’s publicity proclaimed to be the ‘smoothest, smartest, sparkling success,’ Simon and Laura, a new London comedy by Alan Melville. The anticipation was extraordinary. John was the local boy returning from overseas triumphs, while Googie was already well known to Australians from her many British films.

John Neil McCallum was born on 14 March 1918 in Brisbane, where his father ran the Cremorne Theatre. He appeared in several amateur productions, such as Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society’s Hamlet at the Princess Theatre, Woolloongabba, in September 1936. Later that year he went to London. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, worked in British repertory and, in 1939, appeared with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and the Old Vic. After war service with the AIF, he worked for J.C. Williamson’s, producing The Wind and the Rain at the Theatre Royal in Sydney, starring opposite Gladys Moncrieff in revivals of The Maid of the Mountains and Rio Rita, and playing in Susan and God, By Candlelight and Claudia at the Comedy in Melbourne. He then returned to London. In his second British film, The Loves of Joanna Godden, he found himself co-starred with Googie Withers.

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Biographical references

Noel Ferrier: There Goes Whatsisname, Macmillan Australia, 1985
John McCallum: Life with Googie, Heinemann, 1979
Frank Van Straten: ‘A Toast to Googie and John’, published in the programme for the Australian tour of High Spirits, 1993