Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arnold, Victor Julius (Vic) (1905–1982)

by Janet McCalman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Victor Julius Cauvain (Vic) Arnold (1905-1982), actor, theatre manager and union official, was born on 6 July 1905 at East Dulwich, London, eldest child of John Julius Arnold, commercial traveller, and his wife Charlotte Maud, née Swindells. At 16 Vic ran away to sea; he worked in passenger and cargo vessels on the Atlantic run. In the late 1920s he left his ship at New York, and for a year toured the United States of America with vaudevillians. Finding himself in San Diego, California, he decided to sail to New Zealand. He was probably a communist by this time and had been drawn to theatre as a means of mobilising the working class.

After taking part in a militant maritime strike, Arnold was briefly gaoled in Wellington in 1932. By August he had crossed the Tasman to Sydney. Joining the Communist Party of Australia, he obtained the post of secretary of the Workers’ Art Club. He became the organising genius of the drama section, which in 1936 adopted the name New Theatre League (shortened to New Theatre in 1945). Similar bodies were formed in other major Australian cities, drawing inspiration from the New Theatre League in the USA, the realist art movement in the Soviet Union and the Unity Theatre in Britain. The Sydney league became a focus for anti-fascist activism in Australia. Its emblematic production, Till the Day I Die by Clifford Odets, played more than a hundred times on Wednesday nights between 1936 and 1939, in defiance of a State government ban.

In 1938 Arnold argued for `an Australian people’s theatre with its roots in Australian soil’, and produced Betty Roland’s War on the Waterfront, a dramatisation of the strike (1938-39) by Port Kembla waterside workers over the export of pig-iron to Japan. Arnold organised a mobile unit, or `living newspaper’, to show the play in Port Kembla, but when the company tried to stage it in the Sydney Domain, he and four others, including Hal Alexander, were arrested. The five were fined £5 each. On 21 January 1935 at Holy Trinity Church of England, Dawes Point, Arnold had married Sylvia Mary Lunn, a saleswoman; they were divorced in 1939. He moved to Perth, where he was involved with the Workers’ Art Guild.

Enlisting in the Citizen Military Forces on 5 March 1941, Arnold understated his age by seven years to transfer to the Australian Imperial Force in 1944. He served in Australia and New Guinea with detachments of the Australian Entertainment Unit, acted in plays produced byPeter Finch and rose to sergeant before being discharged on 4 September 1946. Still active in the Communist Party, he worked in the Melbourne New Theatre and was secretary of the Realist Film Association. On 31 October 1951 at a civil ceremony in Melbourne, he married Joan de Hugard, a clerk.

From 1958 Arnold was Victorian State secretary of the Actors’ and Announcers’ Equity Association of Australia. He increased the membership, secured better conditions for members and led a successful campaign to establish a quota of domestically produced programs on commercial television--a turning point in the history of Australian culture. Arnold was a secretive but delightful man. Of middle height, he looked `like a Spaniard’, according to the journalist Jeanne Liddy. He worked almost until his death; Joan was also on the staff of Actors’ Equity, serving for nearly four decades. Childless, but survived by his wife, Arnold died on 7 November 1982 at Box Hill and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Left News, Jan 1939, p 11
  • Daily News (Sydney), 1 June 1940, p 2
  • Woman (Sydney), 7 May 1945, p 20
  • Actors’ and Announcers’ Equity Association of Australia, Equity, Nov 1982, p 7
  • series A6119, item 1938, and series B883, item WX41277 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Actors’ and Announcers’ Equity Association of Australia (Victoria) records (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Janet McCalman, 'Arnold, Victor Julius (Vic) (1905–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/arnold-victor-julius-vic-12149/text21769, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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