Edna Edgley AM 1910-2000

Edna Edgley

Edna Edgley

THe splendid lady made her splendid entry as Edna Teresa Luscombe in Carlton, Victoria, on 3 December 1910. She was born, she said, ‘with a desire for dance.’

By the age of 18 Edna was Ballet Mistress for Edgley and Dawe’s touring revue Midnight Frolics.

In 1940 Eric Edgley and Edna married in London.

In 1951 Edgley and Dawe moved to Perth, where they leased His Majesty’s Theatre, which they eventually bought.

 

‘A desire for dance'

‘She was a wonderful support to me,’ said entrepreneur Michael Edgley in tribute to his mother.
‘My father died in 1967 in Perth and I had been working with him for five years, and she was instrumental in my decision to go on with the business. She really was an icon in her own right, and the longer she went on, the more her reputation grew. She was basically involved in the theatre for 83 years; she literally began on the stage at age six. Not only did she have a phenomenal life, she went the best way that anyone could hope for, without pain, very quietly and with great dignity. It was just a splendid exit for a splendid lady.’

That splendid lady made her splendid entry as Edna Teresa Luscombe in Carlton, Victoria, on 3 December 1910. She was born, she said, ‘with a desire for dance.’ She learnt at Jennie Brenan’s school in Melbourne and made her debut, age six, in the ballet recruited by J.C. Williamson’s for an Italian Grand Opera season. When she was 10  she was cast in the pantomime Sinbad the Sailor at the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, in which the English vaudeville duo, Eric Edgley and Clem Dawe, were the stars. By the age of 18 Edna was Ballet Mistress for Edgley and Dawe’s touring revue Midnight Frolics. Later she was also the comedy ‘feed’ to the famous duo. In 1933, under the banner Clem Dawe’s Midnight Frolics, they played a long season at the Theatre Royal in Hobart.

In 1935 Edgley and Dawe gamely took a fourteen-strong all-Australian revue company to England with a show called Seeing the World, but it was a financial disaster. In 1940 Eric Edgley and Edna married in London. After a three-month tour of South Africa the Edgley company headed back to Australia. In mid 1942 Edgley and Dawe – and Edna Luscombe – were featured in the Tivoli revues Hillbilly Shindig (with Bob Dyer) and Glad Rags (with George Wallace). Edna also worked in radio – she was featured on Melbourne’s 3DB with a weekly show, Keep It Clean. Eric and Edna’s first child, Michael, was born in 1943.

After a string of further Tivoli revues and pantomimes came a long season in Hobart in 1948. In 1951 Edgley and Dawe moved to Perth, where they leased His Majesty’s Theatre, which they eventually bought. ‘Edgley and Dawe Attractions’ inaugurated their tenancy with yet another Midnight Frolics and, the following year, Vaudeville Revue. In between their own attractions, the company made the theatre available to other commercial producers and to local ballet and opera groups.

By the end of the 1950s rising costs and competition from television forced the Edgleys to try a new approach. In 1962 they imported the first of what became a colourful cavalcade of outstanding attractions from behind what was then the Iron Curtain: ballet companies, folk ensembles, circuses, orchestras, concert artists.

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Biographical references

Gabriella Coslovich: ‘Farewell to an entertainment entrepreneur extraordinaire’, in The Age, 10 May 2000
Ian McRae: ‘Edna Edgley AM’, in On Stage, Winter 2000
‘Mrs Edna Edgley AM’, in Inaugural James Cassius Awards program, The Entertainment Industry Employers Association, 1998
Edward H. Pask: Ballet in Australia – The Second Act, Oxford University Press, 1982