This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007
Dorothy Hetty Fosbury (Andrea) Jenner (1891-1985), actress, journalist and radio broadcaster, was born on 1 March 1891 in Sydney, eldest of four children of William Alexander Gordon, a station manager born in India, and his Melbourne-born wife Dora Ellen, née Fosbury. Dorothy grew up on Edgeroi, a property near Narrabri, and was educated by governesses before the family moved to Darlinghurst, Sydney, in 1903. She then attended a private school at Goulburn, Ascham School, Edgecliff, and the Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Darlinghurst, displaying more interest in singing, dancing and ice-skating than in academic pursuits. After further private tuition she sailed to England, stayed with relatives and had a lively social life. Recalled to Australia by her parents around 1913, she established a dressmaking business in George Street, Sydney, and helped (J. C. Williamson Ltd stage a fund-raising revue for the war effort.
In 1915 Dorothy departed for San Francisco, United States of America. She moved to Hollywood and worked as an extra and sometimes a stuntwoman on film sets. On 5 March 1917 at Stockton, California, she married Murray Eugene McEwen, whom she later labelled an alcoholic and a gigolo; the marriage broke down in 1921. Dorothy became a stock actress with Paramount Pictures Inc. and obtained generally small parts in several films, including The Chorus Girl’s Romance (1920) and Clarence (1922). Unable to earn enough money as an actress, she worked as a production assistant on The Ten Commandments (1923) and resumed dressmaking. A `fool for handsome men’, she married George Onesiphorus Jenner, an advertising writer and a divorcee, on 25 March 1923 at Hollywood. In 1925 she fled to Sydney and the marriage, as disastrous as her first, was subsequently dissolved.
Dorothy Jenner played the lead in Raymond Longford's Hills of Hate (1926) and was an art director on For the Term of His Natural Life (1927). She accepted in 1927 a gentleman friend’s offer of a ticket to England, where she fell ill. Convalescence in Switzerland was followed by a tour of Europe. Her impressions of a Spanish bullfight were cabled back to the Sydney Sun. This led to a weekly column under the byline `Andrea’, chosen from a numerology list. She thought of herself as `the playgirl of the western world’. In 1934 she agreed to chaperone a wealthy young Indian in the USA, and continued her column —a mixture of gossip, character sketches, royal news, fashion reportage and theatre criticism—from New York.
In May 1939 Jenner flew back on a visit to Sydney, where she was stranded by World War II. She came third in the Australian Red Cross Society (New South Wales division) fund-raising `queen’ competition in 1941. Accredited as a war correspondent for the Sun in September, she went to Singapore. She despatched several stories from Asia and had a brief liaison with a wing commander, her one true love. In January 1942 she was interned in the Stanley prisoner-of-war camp, Hong Kong. Through a diary kept on toilet paper she recorded military developments and drily profiled her fellow internees. She helped to allocate supplies and participated in lectures and plays. The sight of her irrigating her colon dissuaded a Japanese officer from raping her, and she invoked dysentery as an excuse not to make propaganda broadcasts to Allied forces in the Pacific.
Thin and unwell, Jenner returned to Australia in October 1945. She joined the speaking circuit, persuaded Associated Newspapers Ltd, owners of the Sun, to pay her half her salary for the past four years, and invested the proceeds with her nephew in a business venture that failed. Associated Newspapers sent her overseas in 1947. Recalled to Sydney in 1950, Jenner resigned from the Sun and joined (Sir) Frank Packer ’s Daily Telegraph, where she wrote the `Postscripts’ column. Although uneasy with her volatile boss, Jenner, never a fan of trade unions, joined him in his battles against the authority of the Australian Journalists’ Association and its code of ethics.
In 1953 Jenner left for Ezra Norton’s Truth and Daily Mirror, where she covered society events. She served (1954-60) on the board of the Phillip Street Theatre, which staged revues. She went along good-naturedly with Gordon Chater’s impersonation of her there as Andrea in `Little Lady Make Believe’, but maintained, nevertheless, that she knew most of the people whose names she dropped.
With small, elegant hands and shapely legs, Jenner was always immaculately groomed and expensively dressed. She put on a beauty spot each morning, had a face-lift and remained circumspect about her age. She appeared on an Australian Broadcasting Commission television panel game show and moved into radio just as the Daily Mirror proposed that she retire. In the late 1950s she joined radio station 2UE to host a morning show with Tom Jacobs, dispensing a mixture of worldly wisdom and `horse sense’. `Hello, Mums and Dads’, uttered in a deep resonant voice—a result of rupturing a vocal cord while a prisoner of war and of years of smoking—became her trademark.
Early in the 1960s Jenner was lured to 2GB, where she secured a secretary, a salary of £5000, and a promise of £10 a week in retirement. She studied newspapers and magazines before recording the next day’s show. Her pungent patter resulted in numerous complaints from listeners. In 1967 Jenner became the host of an early talkback program but in 1969 her session was dropped by 2GB. In 1970 she presented a national morning program on the ABC before being replaced by a music format, and a similar fate befell her at 2CH in 1972.
Jenner worked for the Black and White committee of the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales, the State Meals on Wheels Association and the Wayside Chapel, and was named a life governor of Sydney Hospital. She was appointed OBE in 1968. A supporter of the Liberal Party of Australia, she was accused in parliament of smearing Australian Labor Party supporters as communists, and attracted libel writs from Gough and Margaret Whitlam and Jim Cairns. Several co-authors dropped by the wayside before her memoir Darlings, I’ve Had a Ball! (1975), written with Trish Sheppard, was published and widely serialised. Jenner appeared on various television shows including `This Is Your Life’. Surviving a serious car crash in 1976, she died on 24 March 1985 at her Potts Point flat and was cremated. Her friend Judy Cassab twice painted her portrait.
Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'Jenner, Dorothy Hetty Fosbury (Andrea) (1891–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenner-dorothy-hetty-fosbury-andrea-12697/text22889, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 October 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007