Born: Established: 4 Jun 1895 Aberdeen, Scone - Aberdeen area, Upper Hunter area, Newcastle - Hunter Valley area, New South Wales, ; Died: Ceased: 19 Oct 1960 Sydney,
For details regarding George Wallace's movements between 1924 and ca. 1934, see George Wallace Revue Company.
1. GEORGE WALLACE'S COMIC STYLE:
Though George Wallace's success was due in large part to his innate comedic abilities, the original revusicals he staged also allowed him a great deal of scope to show off his other talents. Among his more popular productions were Harmony Row and His Royal Highness (both were later adapted to film), The Pickled Porter, Alpine Antics, The Oojah Bird, Lads of the Village, Off Honolulu, and Dangerous Dan. An Everyone's review of the opening week of his return Sydney season in 1925 (this time at the Fullers' New Theatre) was one of the first to draw comparisons with Nat Phillips's shows: 'The popularity of that clever Australian comedian George Wallace is evidenced in the remarkable business being done here since his advent last Saturday week. Wallace is decidedly individualistic, for his style is particularly his own; moreover it is a style that meets with a remarkable amount of appreciation from local audiences... Harmony Row is this week's offering by the little comedian and it deals with the life of a policeman. The idea suggests unlimited opportunities for fun making and so it proves to be. Wallace is supported by a very fine cast which included Mr Marshall Crosby, also a ballet of very advanced order. It looks as if these tabloids will vie with the Stiffy and Mo shows in point of popularity' (11 Mar. 1925, p.34).
Much of his humour was drawn from the simple things in life. 'He often played the hen-pecked husband whose wife berates him for his lack of responsibility', writes Katrina Bard ('History of Vaudeville', p.75). He also had an ingenious way of telling a tale, whether it be about Stanley the Bull, the Prodigal Son, the saga of Aboriginal girl Lily Quilt, and even popular favourites such as an 'under the weather' husband returning home at three in the morning. In such scenes, Wallace's ability to exaggerate the falling down-drunk (often by falling down numerous times) kept audiences in stitches for years. While two of his greatest vaudeville creations were Oncus and the terribly refined bus conductress Sophie the Sort, he also invented other memorable characters such as Annie, the pride of the mob; the Drongo from the Congo; Fanny Shovelbottom's Friend; Officer Dreadnought (Harmony Row); Dangerous Dan (Dangerous Dan); Prairie Pete (At the Crossroads); Nelson, the pride of the navy (Off Honolulu); and Tommy Dodds (His Royal Highness).
In Memoirs of an Abominable Showman, Billy Maloney writes of Wallace, 'His female creations "Sophie the Sort" and "Sophie the Busgirl" rank with another famous comedian's impersonation - Don Nicols' "Girl Guide". In recent years "Sophie" was George's most successful act, a hilarious interlude built around a passenger's attempt to take his Alsatian dog on the bus. Finally Sophie told him that the only way he could get on the bus would be to do with the dog what he told Sophie to do with the bus. It was George's nearest approach to a blue gag, but he told it with such whimsicality and finesse that it would have gone over well at a church social. Who will forget his famous description of Pavlova's "Dying Swan". "A joker rushed up a lane and shot a drake!" explained George' (p.38).
2. GEORGE WALLACE - THE MAN AND HIS LEGACY:
When George Wallace died in 1960, aged sixty-six, the Sydney Morning Herald described him as 'a scallywag (you couldn't print half the stories)' and a '100 percent Australian with a heart of gold' (23 Oct. 1960, p.57). Billy Maloney says of Wallace that he was the most versatile of all his peers: 'He was a wonderful ad lib comic, he could write his own songs, he painted the scenery, did lightning sketches on stage, played piano and saxophone, was an acrobatic dancer (I'll never forget that wonderful ear-slide he did at least once every performance) and his gravel voice could easily be heard in the last row without any of your modern amplification' (p.38).
Charles Norman provides further insights into Wallace, recalling his time with the comedian's revusical company (although he gives no indication of when this occurred): 'There was one revue that George put together with a country atmosphere. We were sort of bushwhackers. There were barn dances and celebrations and songs and dances with a hillbilly twang. I think he called this little turkey Split Log Junction. This was the first show in which he put together the "little girl double act" - "Stinker and Sunbeam, Recitin' Singin' and Dancin'." With the art of wearing comedy clothes his appearance was a riot before he spoke - a wig of long blond curls with an awful bow on top, and the ballet skirt, with one-up and one-down pants. With his mellow style of comedy he did what he wanted to with an audience. He was the most popular of the comedians with the American troops. In this country revue I was the one that had outgrown the town. I was commencing to look beyond the haystacks. At last the time arrived. I'm off! George wrote me a fine little song. I still have it. All the cast were on stage at the Junction (a small cut out of the end of a carriage). I was dressed in a straw hat with vivid coloured socks. Battered suitcase in one hand, I sang: I'm gonna leave this old home town of mine, / I'm goin' to where the bright lights shine / I wanna see a cabaret where they turn night into day / I wanna see all the girls with their beautiful curls / I wanna dance and sway and do the shimmy / I wanna dress myself up like a lord / I'm gonna buy myself a T-Model Ford / And when I get back with my fortune made / All the other fellers will be right in the shade. I'm gonna leave this old home town of mine!' (When Vaudeville was King, pp.108-109).
Numerous tributes to George Wallace's generosity and professionalism have been published over the years, with the overwhelming consensus being that he was as well liked by his industry peers as he was by his adoring public. Theatrical agent Ted James recalls his time as a second comedian working on stage with Wallace the star: 'He was on stage for my act and he could have easily stolen it from me, even the flick of an eyebrow would have been enough. But he didn't. He didn't even move a muscle. He just waited there, deadpan, while I got the applause and the laughs... He was a lovable bloke. Never ruthless. Perhaps he helped more struggling performers than anyone else in show business' (Sydney Morning Herald 23 October 1960, p.57). In the same article, Brody Mack confirms this view of Wallace by recalling one of the comedian's many attempts to give 'some deadbeat actor a part in his show':
'"What can he do? What's his specialty? [I asked]." "Crowd scenes", George replied. "Good heavens", I said, "you only have 20 in your company, what do you want with crowd scenes". George was quick on the comeback. "Put him with me", he winked, "and he can be the idle of the crowd" (p.57).
By all accounts, too, Wallace was a scallywag who love to socialise and party, but was equally comfortable being alone at home, especially with his love of painting. Ted James further recalls one time in Western Australia when the company decided to have a barbeque: 'George went out and barbequed statues in the park - he built fires around them' (pp.57, 82). As one of Australia's greatest-ever comedians and vaudeville stars, George Wallace's legacy lies in his versatility, his instinctive (often ad-libbed) style of delivery, his affinity with the audiences of his day, and the amazing levels of physicality he infused into his comedy routines, an ability he shared with fellow revusical star Jim Gerald.
3. HISTORICAL NOTES AND CORRECTIONS:
3.1. Although some publications have claimed that the Dinks and Oncus partnership was formed in 1919 (Entertaining Australia, p.179, Companion to Theatre in Australia, p.191, and Australian Dictionary of Biography, p.365), evidence from several primary sources indicates that the pair did not come together until 1920. An Australian Variety review (dated 27 May 1920) records, for example, that they had only been together a few weeks at that stage: '[George Wallace] has doubled up with Dinks Paterson, and went a riot. As they have only been together a couple of weeks, we hate to think what they will give patrons in, say, a couple of months. No bigger laugh has ever appeared on the Clay time' (p.8).Supporting the latter date, too, are several brief paragraphs published in the two leading industry magazines in early 1920, which appear to indicate that both men were still working solo. The Theatre (January 1920, p.26) reports on Wallace's female impersonation as 'Annie the pride of the mob', while a report in Australian Variety the following month notes, 'Dinks Paterson, who is one of the tallest members of the vaudeville profession, did a couple of new songs in the first part, and also put on a laughable sketch in the second, and which went over "good-oh"' (12 February 1920, p.12).
The 1919 claim appears to have originally derived from the 1960 interview with Jack Paterson (Sydney Morning Herald 23 Oct. 1960, p.57), whereby he claims that Wallace would bring his two-year-old son on stage when the act was lagging towards the end (ca. 1923). Born 16 May 1918, George Leonard Wallace was actually aged five (going on six) in 1923.
3.2. During his twenty-two-month season at Brisbane's Tivoli Theatre (9 March 1957 - 24 December 1958), George Wallace Jnr staged at least one of his father's revusicals: S. S. Sunshine (23-29 March 1957). Due to very limited details being available through advertising and reviews, it is unclear whether he revived any others. The only George Wallace Jnr revusical/revue productions from 1957-1958 to be identified to date are Honeymoon Hotel (16-22 March 1957); George Wins the Casket (13-19 April 1957), possibly being based on his father's film, A Ticket in Tatts (1934); and The Follies of 1958 (4-10 January 1958).
3.3. Fred Parsons's claim that in 1929, Wallace was still 'a very minor comedian, half of a comedy act called, of all things, Dinks and Oncus' (A Man Called Mo, p.7) is an example of the type of bias and error that can be absorbed into the historical record if not checked for veracity (see also the Nat Phillips/Stiffy and Mo entries in AustLit for further evidence of Parsons's re-writing of history). Not only had the Paterson and Wallace partnership been dissolved for some five years by 1929, but it is also clear that Wallace was far from being a 'very minor' comic, having been a leading Fuller's act for most of the intervening years. A glance through the numerous, and mostly positive, reviews of Wallace's company during its first year or so together indicates that the comedian was even then seen as a major Australian variety performer:
'George Wallace must have made a fine impression throughout New Zealand, as visitors from the dominion, when referring to Fuller shows, never fail to mention the success the little comedian made in their country, where his style of comedy was so much appreciated' (Everyone's 12 November 1924, p.39).
'Fullers' Theatre:- The first appearance of the George ("Onkus") Wallace revue company at this theatre revived memories of the business done by Stiffy and Mo, inasmuch as both houses last Saturday played to capacity... As an entertainer Wallace is of the highly eccentric order, and with his extraordinary dancing and acrobatics, vies with the best revue company at present on the circuit; and this is saying something in view of some exceptionally talented performers' (Everyone's 4 March 1925, p.30).
'George Wallace Jnr, five year old son of the comedian at the Fuller Theatre, was another small-sized riot at the Hippodrome last Saturday. For his years he is a mental and professional marvel. Three generations of Wallaces have now made history in Australian vaudeville, i.e. Bronco, Oncus, and now Wee George' (Everyone's 18 March 1925, p.36).
'George Wallace has immense personality. In addition, he is refined and, last but not least, has a delicious sense of humour. Only one thing he lacks; he has not yet, as it were, "found himself." At the present moment his style of humour is nondescript - his fun is spontaneous without being individual. In other words, he has not as yet had a sufficiently wide experience to adopt a brand of humour which is distinct enough to be imitated. That time has yet to come, however, remember these words and watch.... George Wallace is undoubtedly a gold mine for the Fuller firm' (Theatre Society and Home April 1925, p.15).
3.4. Wallace's half sister, Bebe Scott, appeared in his revue company around 1929-1930. In the early 1930s, she married British stage, radio, and film actor George Randall. The couple soon afterwards began what was to be a five-year engagement presenting a children's radio program, The Cap and Bebe Show, on Brisbane ABC radio station 4QG.
4. FILM CREDITS:
5. GEORGE WALLACE ENGAGEMENTS CHRONOLOGY - 1919 - 1958:
1919: March - December; Harry Clay's Sydney Suburban circuit.
1920: January - December; Harry Clay's Sydney Suburban circuit.
1921: January - December; Harry Clay's Sydney Suburban circuit.
1922: January - December; Harry Clay's Sydney Suburban circuit.
1923: January - December; Harry Clay's Sydney Suburban circuit.
1924: February - July; Dunedin, New Zealand.
NB: For details regarding George Wallace's career movements between August 1924 and ca. 1935, see also George Wallace Revue Company.
1932: 22 October - 18 November; Regent Theatre, Brisbane [with Frank Neil's Musical Comedy Revue Co].
1933: 23-31 December; Princess's Theatre, Melbourne [Collits' Inn].
1934: 1 January - 7 April; Princess's Theatre, Melbourne [Collits' Inn] / 21 April - 16 June ; Princess's Theatre, Melbourne [Beloved Vagabond] / 24 August - 10 October ; New Tivoli Theatre, Sydney [Beloved Vagabond].
1955: 19 March -; Theatre Royal, Brisbane [Pin-up Parade Co].
1957: 20 September - 3 November; Theatre Royal, Brisbane [The Good Old Days Co].
1958: 26-31 December; Theatre Royal, Brisbane.
1959: 1 January - 5 February; Theatre Royal, Brisbane.
The following recordings are available commercially and/or through various Australian libraries.
Compilations (compact disks):