Gladys Moncrieff OBE 1892-1976

Gladys Moncrieff

Gladys Moncrieff

In 1940 Moncrieff made a triumphant return to the stage in The Time of Your Life, a Tivoli revue, in which she shared top billing with another musical comedy stalwart, comedian Don Nicol.

Though the microphone made her extremely nervous, Moncrieff kept herself busy with her own weekly radio show on the national Macquarie Network.

 

She returned to Williamson’s for more revivals, and undertook a concert tour for the ABC. She
was driving to Melbourne to discuss a radio performance of Tosca when she was seriously injured in a car crash. She spent six months in hospital. As soon as  she was well enough, she resumed her concert career, still in plaster and still on crutches. Her departure by rail from Sydney attracted a large crowd and was covered live by the ABC. According to legend, as the train steamed out of the station, listeners were told that, ‘Gladys Moncrieff has tied a posy of flowers to her crutch and is waving it out the window.’

In 1940 Moncrieff made a triumphant return to the stage in The Time of Your Life, a Tivoli revue, in which she shared top billing with another musical comedy stalwart, comedian Don Nicol. In 1943 she toured New Guinea, entertaining the troops, but, at home, she was doomed to still more revivals for Williamson’s.

In 1944, while she was playing in Melbourne in Viktoria and Her Hussar, two of the show’s featured dancers resigned from Actors’ Equity. As a result most of the rest of the company went on strike, but some of the principals – notably Gladys Moncrieff – remained loyal to Williamson’s, and ran the gauntlet of a picket line led by, ironically, Don Nicol. During the strike’s three chaotic weeks, Equity members staged fund-raising shows in support of their striking colleagues. Eventually the authorities found in favour of the actors. This established the principle of 100 per cent union membership, which was eventually accepted by the country’s theatrical entrepreneurs – and by Miss Moncrieff, who reluctantly joined Equity.

In 1947, while holidaying in New York, Moncrieff went with E.J. Tait to see Annie Get Your Gun. ‘You could play this, Gladys,’ he told her. Fortunately 55-year-old Moncrieff demurred – in fact she had her heart set on a leading role in Song of Norway but, perversely, Williamson’s gave it to an unknown American import. In 1951 Moncrieff ventured to Japan and Korea for more troop concerts. On Boxing Day that year she opened in Gay Fiesta, the first of Harry Wren’s big nostalgic revues. Five days later the papers announced that she had been awarded the OBE.

Though the microphone made her extremely nervous, Moncrieff kept herself busy with her own weekly radio show on the national Macquarie Network. She persevered because of the young talent it was designed to assist. Tenor Donald Smith and soprano Roslyn Dunbar were two of the contestants who went on to great things.

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Biographical references

Ian Bevan: The Story of the Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
Peter Burgis: ‘Gladys Moncrieff’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 10, Melbourne University Press
Alwyn Capern and John West: ‘Gladys Moncrieff’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Adrian Magee: Gladys Moncrieff – Australia’s Queen of Song, Reed Library, 1997
Gladys Moncrieff: My Life of Song, Rigby, 1971
Charles Osborne: Max Oldaker – Last of the Matinee Idols, Michael O’Mara Books, 1988