Lee Gordon 1923-1963

Lee Gordon

Lee Gordon

Gordon started 1961with an All American Rock Spectacular, which brought back many of his earlier imports.

In July 1963 Gordon was arrested on drug charges and fled Australia. The official cause of his death in a small London hotel on 7 November 1963 was cardiac arrest, but his friends were sceptical.

 

In the latter half of 1960 Gordon diversified: a Big Boy Hamburger Drive-In in Parramatta Road, Taverners Hill and a ‘high class strip restaurant’, the Primitif, in Kings Cross. Neither lasted long. A nightclub called the Peppermint Lounge in Goulburn Street was another failure. Gordon also lost heavily on a jazz spectacular featuring Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Jonah Jones, the Teddy Wilson Trio, Dakota Staton, Al Hibler, Coleman Hawkins and Ray Price.

Gordon started 1961with an All American Rock Spectacular, which brought back many of his earlier imports. Next was Connie Francis – his first young female headliner – with Bobby Vee. After them came American pop psychologist Dr Murray Banks, a final Frank Sinatra tour – his fourth for Gordon – and Chubby Checker headlining a show exploiting the latest dance craze, the Twist. A subsequent Twist promotion in the United States and a disastrous season with the foul-mouthed comedian Lenny Bruce ruined Gordon’s reputation and his finances. By this time Gordon had survived a severe mental breakdown and was working in partnership with the ‘colourful Sydney identity’ Abe Saffron. He opened – and closed – a seedy nightclub in Oxford Street. His final enterprises were Sydney’s first disco, located in the old Kings Cross Theatre, and The Jewel Box, a drag venue in Darlinghurst Road. This made a star of a stunning young transvestite who Gordon called Carlotta; the show eventually evolved into Sammy Lee’s long running Les Girls drag spectacular.

In July 1963 Gordon was arrested on drug charges and fled Australia. The official cause of his death in a small London hotel on 7 November 1963 was cardiac arrest, but his friends were sceptical.

Lee Gordon changed Australian show business forever. He brought us some of the world’s greatest entertainers, but he also introduced us to an exciting generation of young Australian performers who proved that they, too, could draw crowds. His success encouraged the building of new Festival Halls in Melbourne and Brisbane. There never could be another Lee Gordon, but entrepreneurs like Kevin Jacobsen, Kenn Brodziak and Harry M. Miller carried on where he left off. ‘I really liked him,’ said Miller. ‘I always found him to be a soft, gentle guy, very sharp but soft. If you asked him for a favour he’d do it, and because he was honourable in his behaviour with me you see a guy in a different light I suppose.’

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Toby Creswell: Love is in the Air, ABC Books, 2003
Alan Heffernan: Big Shows: The Lee Gordon Years, Alan Heffernan, 2003
Max Moore: Some Days are Diamonds, New Holland, 2003
Michael Sturma: ‘Lee Gordon’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14