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Hayes, Vina Evelyn (Evie) (1912–1988)

by F. Van Straten

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

Vina Evelyn (Evie) Hayes (1912-1988), entertainer, was born on 1 June 1912 in Seattle, Washington, United States of America, daughter of George Hayes, stage mechanist, and his wife Eva, a soubrette. Evelyn’s childhood was spent on the theatre circuit; her stage début, aged 4, was singing and dancing in a Christmas show. She took acting classes, toured the West Coast vaudeville summer circuits under the care of her mother, and appeared as an extra in Hollywood films, gaining a small role in Warner Brothers’ Hold Everything (1930) and making several musical shorts.

After touring with Georges Carpentier’s revue company, Hayes moved in 1934 to New York, where she worked as a `song plugger’ at Irving Berlin’s music publishing house and sang on radio and in nightclubs. Will Mahoney soon engaged her as his leading lady for a variety tour of the United Kingdom and Europe and, now known as Evie, she sang for the British Broadcasting Corporation, appeared in cabaret and cut her first records. On 26 March 1938 at the register office, Westminster, London, Evie and Will were married. It was Mahoney’s third marriage; he was 44 years old and she was 25.

While on their honeymoon, Mahoney and Hayes travelled to Australia to appear on the Tivoli variety circuit. The Melbourne première of their revue, Why Be Serious?, on 22 August was (the Age declared) a `triumph’. They toured Australasia for several years. In 1943-48 Mahoney managed the Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane, and with Hayes presented revues, pantomimes and musicals that proved immensely popular with Australian and American troops. They raised £500,000 for war charities.

Though not a conventional beauty, Hayes possessed a vivacious charm, an affable American accent and a singing style that ranged from sultry to strident. In 1947 she won the coveted lead role, originally played by Ethel Merman, in Annie Get Your Gun, which opened at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. This was the first large-scale new musical staged in Australia after the war; at the end of its marathon three-and-a-half-year tour, Hayes visited the USA and underwent plastic surgery to reshape her nose. She returned to Melbourne in 1952 for a brief revival of Annie, then starred in Kiss Me, Kate, a revival of Oklahoma! and, in 1953, another Merman show, Call Me Madam.

From 1958 Hayes appeared regularly on television; she worked as a compère, singer, comedian and commercial presenter on Graham Kennedy’s `In Melbourne Tonight’. In 1963 she took the title role in the Australian musical Mata Hari, the Flame of Istanbul, at the Bowl Music Hall, and three years later toured as Mrs Brice in Funny Girl. After Mahoney’s death in 1967, she established a talent school for children, which led in 1971 to new prominence as a judge on Channel 10’s `Young Talent Time’. Her warmth and gentle encouragement endeared her to a rising generation of performers.

In 1969 Hayes was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but she persisted with teaching, television and speaking engagements. On 26-27 October 1988 she sang in a World Expo ‘88 variety concert at the Lyric Theatre, Brisbane. Eight weeks later, on 26 December 1988, Evie Hayes died at South Caulfield, Melbourne; she was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Crampton, Evie Hayes (1992)
  • P. Parsons (ed), Companion to Theatre in Australia (1995)
  • People (Sydney), 24 Mar 1954, p 17.

Citation details

F. Van Straten, 'Hayes, Vina Evelyn (Evie) (1912–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hayes-vina-evelyn-evie-12610/text22715, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 October 2014.

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

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