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Brunton, Christine Dorothy (Dot) (1890–1977)

by Martha Rutledge

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

Christine Dorothy Brunton (1890-1977), by Bertram Park, 1920s

Christine Dorothy Brunton (1890-1977), by Bertram Park, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23259510

Christine Dorothy (Dot) Brunton (1890-1977), actress, was born on 11 October 1890 in Melbourne, third child of John Brunton (d.1909), an artist from Scotland, and his second wife Cecily Christina, née Neilsen, an English-born actress. Dorothy was educated at Alford House, Sydney, and from 1905 at Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne. Brought up in theatrical circles (her father became a scene-painter for Bland Holt), she first appeared on stage in Holt's production of The White Heather on 22 April 1908 at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide, and toured with the company next year. In Sydney she studied singing (from 1910) with Madame Grace Miller Ward, wife of Hugh Ward, then joined J. C. Williamson's New Comic Opera Company in September 1911. Miss Brunton made the most of any chances, whether playing small parts or understudying. The Bulletin drama critic repeatedly pressed her claims to leading roles. As Jolan in Gypsy Love (1914) she was described as 'the merriest and most mischievous little creature possible'.

In Sydney and Melbourne during World War I Brunton starred, almost without a break, in musical comedies—such as High Jinks (1915) and The Girl in the Taxi (1915)—and enlivened them with her charm, humour, 'zest and sparkle'. In addition to singing and dancing, she was an accomplished actress, especially as a soubrette. Her most famous role was Letty in So Long, Letty (1915-16); its marching song was adopted by servicemen who carried their golden-haired 'Diggers' Delight' shoulder-high to her cab each night.

After visiting the United States of America from September 1917, Brunton sailed for London. On 28 August 1918 she made her début as Fan Tan in Shanghai at Drury Lane. She was 'literally worshipped by Australians . . . they cheered, they coo-eed, they whistled with ear-splitting shrillness and joyous abandon'; the male star was not pleased. In December she took over the lead in Soldier Boy at the Apollo Theatre and in 1919-20 appeared in The Bantam, V.C. and Baby Bunting. Her cosy flat in Regent Street was known as 'The Diggers Rest'; there Dot entertained soldiers 'ranging in rank from privates to generals'. She was tender hearted and generous; her dresser Lillian Banks averred that no one 'knows of her charitable work or what she gives away'.

Critics welcomed Brunton's return to Sydney in October 1920 in Yes, Uncle! and Baby Bunting (1920-21). She also appeared in two comedies with Alfred Frith before leaving for Los Angeles to visit her brother. Back home, in 1924 she joined Hugh J. Ward Theatres Pty Ltd for a string of musical plays. In 1926 she acted with Guy Bates Post in a drama, The Climax; they toured South Africa, then took the play to London where it failed at the Little Theatre in 1927. Next year Dorothy toured as Fleurette in The White Camellia with Harry Welchman; she played the same part at Daly's, London, in 1929, but suffered from serious chest trouble. In Sydney again, she appeared as Betsy Burke in Dearest Enemy in 1931 and starred in revivals of pre-war musical comedies. She refused to take part in a radio version of Dearest Enemy in May 1933 because the Australian Broadcasting Commission had suppressed 'every little swear word'. As Kitty Hamble and Bella Tout in Road House she 'roused the audience to shouts of laughter'. Her only films, Seven Keys to Baldpate (1916) and Clara Gibbings (1934), were failures.

On 15 August 1931 at Wesley Church, Melbourne, Dorothy married with Methodist forms Ben Dawson (d.1948), a merchant and a divorcee; they lived in London from about 1935. Dorothy was badly injured by German bombing in 1944; some four years later she was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's disease. Returning to Sydney in 1949, she later visited Sweden in search of a cure and gained some relief. A forgotten 'darling of the theatre', Brunton lived quietly with a companion at Bellevue Hill, and took pleasure in reading and classical music. She died on 5 June 1977 at the Sacred Heart Hospice, Darlinghurst, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Who's Who in the Theatre (Lond, 1947)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July, 2 Aug 1909, 3, 4 Feb 1911, 14 Jan, 22 May 1918, 18 July 1919, 20 Feb 1924, 11 June 1928, 4 Feb 1931, 16 May, 4 Sept 1933, 22 Feb 1934
  • Bulletin, 1 Feb, 16 May 1912, 24 Dec 1914, 30 Dec 1920
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 Sept 1914, 24 Apr 1916, 2 June 1924
  • Australasian, 3 Apr, 10 July 1915, 29 Apr, 9 Sept 1916, 17, 31 Mar 1917
  • Times (London), 29 Aug 1918, 13 Jan, 3, 17 July, 26 Sept 1919
  • Punch (Melbourne), 24 Apr 1919
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 5 Mar 1972.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Brunton, Christine Dorothy (Dot) (1890–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brunton-christine-dorothy-dot-9608/text16939, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 October 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

Christine Dorothy Brunton (1890-1977), by Bertram Park, 1920s

Christine Dorothy Brunton (1890-1977), by Bertram Park, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23259510