Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dawn, Gloria (1929–1978)

by Susan Hogan

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

Gloria Dawn (1929-1978), entertainer, was born on 26 February 1929 in Port Melbourne and baptized Gloria Dawn, only child of William Edward Evans, a Melbourne-born theatrical artist, and his wife Zilla Emma Edith, née Odlïng (d.1993), who was born in Bangkok. Gloria travelled with her parents, itinerant vaudeville performers known as Billy 'Andross' and Zilla 'Weatherly', and began her stage career in infancy. By the age of 13 she had progressed from doing Shirley Temple imitations at picture theatres to taking soubrette roles. Before performing at night, she attended the local convent by day wherever the family happened to be working. Her theatrical training was gained through experience. A brilliant mimic with a retentive memory, she mastered pantomime, vaudeville, cabaret, revue, musical comedy and drama, but she would never, in her words, work 'blue or nude'.

On 15 January 1947 at the Presbyterian Church, Indooroopilly, Brisbane, Gloria married Francis (Frank) Patrick Cleary, a variety artist. Their three children lived with them in a caravan through years of travel. When the family settled into a modest house at Rosebery, Sydney, in the mid-1960s, it was Gloria's first permanent home. She later moved to Darling Point. Although she separated from Frank about 1970 after the birth of their fourth child in 1969, she valued family traditions and never sought a divorce.

In the 1950s Gloria Dawn had endeared herself to a wide audience as the golden-haired ingénue in Sorlie's travelling tent-show. She played the lead in the pantomime, Goody Two Shoes (1957-58), and in the musical comedies, Once upon a Mattress (Melbourne, 1959) for Garnet Carroll and Albert Arlen's version of C. J. Dennis's poem, The Sentimental Bloke (1962). Dawn consolidated her position as 'Australia's First Lady of Revue' in popular satirical shows at the Phillip Theatre, Sydney, notably A Cup Of Tea, A Bex and A Good Lie Down (1965).

From revue and pantomime Gloria had learned timing and command of the audience. Although diminutive, 'five foot nothing' (152.4 cm), she had a powerful voice, 'vitality, toughness and singleminded professionalism'. In her first serious role, as Oola in Peter Kenna's The Slaughter of St. Teresa's Day, she was voted the best actress of 1972 by the Sydney Theatre Critics' Circle. Her performances next year in Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage for the Melbourne Theatre Company and in Kenna's A Hard God were acclaimed. She also appeared in two films, They're a Weird Mob (1966) and The Mango Tree (1977).

Considerate and unassuming off stage, Gloria took up her knitting in spare moments during a production. She was the model for the businesslike and motherly Doris in Kenna's Furtive Love. At the height of her stage success she was happy to appear at a club and in a television advertisement. Treatment for cancer obliged her to forfeit the demanding role of Rose in the musical, Gypsy (1975), and to abandon her show at the Music Loft, Manly (1977). Once the nature of her illness became generally known, fellow actors held a benefit night which raised $8000. Survived by her two sons and two daughters, she died on 2 April 1978 in King George V Memorial Hospital, Camperdown, and was buried with Catholic rites in Botany cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • ABC, Women in Question, television documentary series (Syd, 1978)
  • K. Brisbane, Entertaining Australia (Syd, 1991)
  • Listener In-TV, 21-27 July 1972
  • Australian Women's Weekly, 5 Mar 1975
  • Theatre (Sydney, Melbourne), July 1977, May 1978
  • Australian, 28 Oct 1972, 10 Oct 1975, 6 Apr 1978
  • Herald (Melbourne), 20 May 1974, 1 May 1975
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 12 Jan 1977
  • H. de Berg, interview with Gloria Dawn (transcript, 1977, National Library of Australia).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Susan Hogan, 'Dawn, Gloria (1929–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dawn-gloria-9926/text17577, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

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