Sunday, March 8, 2020

Exclusive: Dame Edna Everage Revelation !

Theater greats who worked with Zoe Caldwell: Christopher Plummer * Vanessa Redgrave * Charles Laughton * Laurence Olivier
Last month the Queensland born Actress Zoe Caldwell OBE (pictured) passed away at the grand age of 87 in Pound Ridge New York where she had lived for the past 30 years. Caldwell was born in Melbourne in 1933 to a working class family. She longed to be an actress and was offered a permanent part in1954 in the Union Theater Repertory Company in Melbourne. As Zoe quickly became an accomplished thespian her reputation spread and in the late 1950s she was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK. At times she would return to Australia to appear in a variety of plays.
Caldwell had a sort of "quiet" career but became one of the most sought after actresses particular on Broadway after she moved to the USA. When the name 'Zoe Caldwell' appeared in lights at the front of any New York theater the production was basically assured of success.

The list of theater greats who Zoe worked with are legendary: Charles Laughton, Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Edith Evans, Christoper Plummer and Sir Laurence Olivier among them. While Caldwell appeared in a few movies. the stage was her first love and over her career she won four Tony Awards in the USA, the ultimate accolade in live performance.

One budding actor who appeared with Zoe Caldwell in repertoire was a young Melbourne comedian Barry Humphries. Whisper's impeccable source relates to us a tale of a conversation between the two greats.
Humphries turned up at a Melbourne theater early one evening and regaled Zoe of a new project he had embarked on. He outlined the brief script he had written and the character he had invented: a  Melbourne housewife who in her ordinariness would encompass every terrifying aspect of Australian suburban life. Barry, in fact, wanted Zoe Caldwell to consider taking the role of Edna Everage which he explained to her, would be a cabaret ongoing performance that Humphries hoped to flesh out as the character developed. He correctly believed that the general public, including those he basically mocked with his suburban housewife would grow to love Mrs Everage of Moonee Ponds.

Alas, although Caldwell thought the project was absolutely brilliant  and that she could also see it could easily become popular, the role was not for her. She just didn't want to commit to a project that may be years in development.
As a disappointed Humphries retreated from her dressing room Caldwell had one last word for him : " Barry, the character is a  brilliant invention and you are a superb actor- why don't you play Edna yourself?".
So there you are: the inside story of the creation of the world wide, nay Galaxy-wide megastar Dame Edna Everage.