Hayes Gordon AO OBE 1920-1999
In 1967 J.C. Williamson’s persuaded Gordon to return to the stage as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
In 1971 for Williamson’s and Kenn Brodziak’s Aztec Services, he directed the play Who Killed Santa Claus?,
Gordon’s final stage appearance was in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound for Gary Penny Productions at the Opera House Playhouse.
Hayes Gordon was 79 when he died on 19 October 1999.
In 1967 J.C. Williamson’s persuaded Gordon to return to the stage as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He told a reporter, ‘I don’t get kicks out of acting any more. My job is to teach.’ Why then, did he take the part? ‘I am doing it simply for the money.’ And the money went to support the Ensemble. Fiddler opened at Her Majesty’s in Sydney on 16 June 1967. Gordon’s bravura performance was universally praised. Despite health problems he stayed with the show throughout its nearly three-year run, and resumed his practice of giving acting classes for his fellow performers. Gordon went straight from Fiddler to directing a 200th anniversary re-enactment of the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, an event largely sabotaged by groups of protesters.
Back at the Ensemble, Gordon relinquished some of his administrative control. He reluctantly accepted the introduction of subscription programming and applications for government subsidies. In 1971 for Williamson’s and Kenn Brodziak’s Aztec Services, he directed the play Who Killed Santa Claus?, a starring vehicle for his old friend and Ensemble pioneer, Maggie Fitzgibbon. In 1972 he married actress Helen Terry, a former student (his previous marriage, to budding American music theatre performer Katrina Van Oss, had ended in divorce many years before). In 1973 he directed Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun for the Christchurch Arts Festival. Also that year the Ensemble’s teaching activities transferred to a building in Pitt Street, and later to the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. And Gordon made headlines when he declined an invitation to direct the opening ceremony of the Opera House, which he regarded as a $100 million design debacle.
Gordon returned to the professional stage to play Daddy Warbucks in the musical Annie for J.C. Williamson’s, Edgley and the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust. The national tour opened at Her Majesty’s in Melbourne on 25 October 1978. The year 1979 brought the Order of the British Empire and a tribute on This is Your Life.
By 1983 the Ensemble’s old warehouse theatre had outlived its usefulness. The company moved to a former cinema space in the Opera House while a new Ensemble, designed by Allan Williams, was built in Kirribilli. It opened on 18 August 1984 with Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue. The new theatre seated 216, but without the ‘in-the-round’ flexibility that had been so much a part of Gordon’s ideal.
Gordon, meanwhile, returned to the stage as Tevye in an Australian Opera revival of Fiddler on the Roof. It opened at the Princess in Melbourne and provided the company with one of most unexpected success. It later played at the Sydney Opera House and the new State Theatre in Melbourne. Gordon’s final stage appearance was in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound for Gary Penny Productions at the Opera House Playhouse. His book Acting and Performing was published in 1992. Gordon’s last directorial assignment was Simon’s Jake’s Women at the Ensemble in 1993. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1997.
Hayes Gordon was 79 when he died on 19 October 1999. He was survived by his wife and daughter, by a theatre and an acting school, and by several generations of theatre people who had been nurtured and inspired by his energy, expertise, dedication and profound selflessness.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Lawrence Durrant: Hayes Gordon – The Man and His Dream, Hale and Iremonger, 1997
Reg Livermore: Chapters and Chances, Hardie Grant, 2003
Don Reid: ‘Hayes Gordon’ and ‘Ensemble Theatre Company’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995