Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Banvard, Yvonne (Fifi) (1901–1962)

by Anne-Marie Gaudry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Yvonne (Fifi) Banvard (1901-1962), actress, was born on Christmas Day 1901 in Melbourne, daughter of William Horley, an actor from England, and his Victorian-born wife Annie, née Moore. William and his relations toured the world as 'The Flying Banvards'. When her parents separated, Yvonne trouped round America with her mother, a dancing mistress, in the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company, and at the age of 7 made her début as Fifi in The Belle of New York; henceforward she was to be known on and off as 'Fifi'. After touring North America with the Oliver Morosco company and appearing with the Alcazar stock company at San Francisco, she emerged as one of Mack Sennett's bathing girls and performed in moving pictures for three years. With exaggeration, she later claimed to have studied ballet with Anna Pavlova before deciding that 'it was easier to sing a comic song'.

Returning to Victoria, on 19 November 1920 Yvonne married an American actor-producer Edward Ralph de Tisne (d.1931) at Chelsea with Congregational forms. She joined the Fullers' vaudeville circuit and, with her husband, did a song-and-dance act, 'Fifi and her Excess Baggage' (1921). In Melbourne in 1921-22 she appeared in the successful pantomime, Bluebeard, as an exotically costumed Fatima with more than a resemblance to Theda Bara. As 'Yvonne Banvard', from September 1922 at the New Theatre Royal, Brisbane, she was the leading lady with the Reynolds-de Tisne Players in over forty productions. The company disbanded in July 1923 when her marriage broke up. Banvard was next engaged by J. C. Williamson Ltd for a long run of musical comedies and won admirers for her portrayal of the 'vivacious and peppy' Lady Jane in Rose Marie (1926-27). On 17 September 1928 at St John's Anglican Church, Toorak, she married a Perth merchant Ernest Cephas Hunter Broadhurst; they were to be divorced in 1936.

In February 1931 Banvard returned to Australia from the U.S.A. to tour with Clem Dawe in 'gay and sparkling' variety shows. As the platinum vamp June East, she appeared with Roy Rene in the Cinesound film Strike Me Lucky (1934); by 1939 she was playing in Brisbane. Based in Sydney in the 1940s, she blossomed as a wireless personality, taking part in the 'Bob Dyer Variety Show', radio comedies and such serials as 'Mrs 'Obbs'. On 22 July 1944 at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, Sydney, she affirmed that she was a 30-year-old spinster and married 29-year-old Charles Kilburn, a clerk in the Royal Australian Air Force; they were to be divorced in 1950.

In 1948-49 Fifi produced a number of plays, including Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!, for the Whitehall management at the Minerva Theatre, Kings Cross. She moved to Hobart in 1950 with Gwenyth Friend, a set-designer and sister of the artist Donald Friend. Leasing the Theatre Royal, Yvonne formed a repertory company, Fifi Banvard Productions; despite favourable reviews, the venture was a financial disaster. Back in Sydney in 1952, she resumed work in radio and produced several plays at the Independent Theatre for (Dame) Doris Fitton; in 1958 she supported (Sir) Robert Helpmann in Noel Coward's Nude with Violin at the local Theatre Royal. Commended for her 'theatrical ebullience', Fifi made her farewell appearance as Mae Peterson in the musical, Bye Bye Birdie (1961). She died of myocardial infarction on 24 June 1962 at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated; she left her estate to Gwen Friend, with whom she had shared a flat at Double Bay.

A woman of energy and passion, Fifi said that she preferred serious dramatic roles, but it was her flair for comedy and sense of the burlesque that made her popular. In her later years she remembered the theatre as a place of 'glamour, romance and good fellowship', and rued its becoming 'cold hard business'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Porter, Stars of Australian Stage and Screen (Adel, 1965)
  • Queensland Society Magazine, Dec 1922, p 51, Mar 1923, p 37, Nov 1923, p 37
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 Feb 1927
  • Mercury (Hobart), 5, 19 Sept 1950, 3, 17 Oct, 4 July 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Mar 1950, 30 July 1953, 24 Aug 1958, 19 Oct, 13 Dec 1961, 26 June 1962
  • Theatre Royal (Hobart), theatre programmes, 1950-52 (State Library of Tasmania).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Anne-Marie Gaudry, 'Banvard, Yvonne (Fifi) (1901–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/banvard-yvonne-fifi-9421/text16561, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hurley, Yvonne
  • Broadhurst, Yvonne
  • Kilburn, Yvonne
  • De Tisne, Fifi
Birth

25 December 1901
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

24 June 1962
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation