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Kellaway, Cecil Lauriston (1890–1973)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Cecil Lauriston Kellaway (1890-1973), by Ruskin Studio, 1920-39

Cecil Lauriston Kellaway (1890-1973), by Ruskin Studio, 1920-39

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24231637 [as Captain Medway in Turned Up]

Cecil Lauriston Kellaway (1890-1973), actor, was born on 27 August 1890 at Cape Town, South Africa, son of Edwin John Kellaway, possibly caretaker at parliament house, and his wife Rebecca Annie, née Brebner. A godson of Cecil Rhodes, he was educated at the Normal College, Cape Town, and in England at Bradford Grammar School. He studied engineering and on his return to South Africa was employed in an engineering firm. He had, however, taken part in amateur theatricals from childhood, and soon left to go on the stage, touring for three years through China, Japan, Siam, Borneo, Malaya, North and South Africa and Europe. In Johannesburg on 15 November 1919 he married 17-year-old Doreen Elizabeth Joubert.

Well-known as a comedian in South Africa, Kellaway came to Australia in 1921 under contract to J. C. Williamson Ltd. On 21 January 1922 he appeared as the comic father of four daughters in A Night Out at Melbourne's Theatre Royal. He made a hit and performed in revivals in 1924, 1926 and 1931. For sixteen years he played character roles in musical comedies with Williamson's New Musical Comedy Company and became a favourite with audiences in such roles as Count Orpitch in Katja (1925), the polite lunatic in The Belle of New York and the British major in Sons o' Guns (1931). In 1932 he played in Blue Roses and Hold my Hand with Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard and in 1936-37 in The Gipsy Princess, A Southern Maid and The Merry Widow with Gladys Moncrieff; in the last as Baron Popoff he gave 'the audience a mild attack of convulsions with his gait, and his red boots and yellow pants'. Whatever his part, Kellaway played it with 'aplomb and careless grace'. Sometimes an inferior piece was partly redeemed by his acting — the Bulletin claimed that in a revival of Florodora (1931) Kellaway gave 'a depth and humanity to Tweedlepunch that even the author could not suspect was there'.

In 1933 Kellaway made his first screen appearance as Dad Hayseed in The Hayseeds but his performance derived from Bert Bailey's and lacked spontaneity. However he wrote the story for It Isn't Done (1937) for Cinesound Productions and played an Australian squatter who inherited an English title with such success that he was given an American contract by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. and went to Hollywood. He returned briefly to Sydney next year to make Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1939) for Cinesound.

At Hollywood he appeared in over seventy-five feature films including Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights (1939) with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, I Married a Witch (1942), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and Harvey (1950). He was twice nominated for Academy awards for his roles in The Luck of the Irish (1948) and Guess who's Coming to Dinner (1967). Occasionally he appeared in New York in Broadway musicals and later on television. Experienced, professional, polished and versatile, he always researched his parts deeply, endeavouring to play the man not the type, and had a 'passion for accuracy' in his scripts.

An 'eccentric roly-poly' weighing sixteen stone (102 kg) with a 'round-faced, cherubic' countenance, Kellaway was an 'incurable gambler' who pored over racing papers. He always regarded Australia as his country by adoption and kept open house for Australian servicemen at his home at Saltair. He also owned a ranch in Arizona. He died on 28 February 1973 at Los Angeles; his ashes were buried in Westwood Memorial Park. His wife and two sons survived him. Of his brothers, Alec (d.1973) appeared in Australian feature films and Leon, a ballet dancer known as Jan Kowsky, became ballet-master for Edouard Borovansky and the Australian Ballet.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cargher, Opera and Ballet in Australia (Syd, 1977)
  • A. Pike and R. F. Cooper, Australian Film 1900-1977 (Melb, 1980)
  • J. C. Williamson Ltd Magazine, 1 Aug 1931
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 26 Dec 1925, 2 Jan 1937
  • Bulletin, 11 Mar, 14 Oct 1931, 9 Sept 1936
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Apr 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Oct 1936, 2, 8, 31 Mar 1937, 4 Aug, 24 Oct 1938, 26 Mar 1943, 3 Mar 1973
  • People (Sydney), 19 Dec 1951
  • New York Times, 2 Mar 1973.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Kellaway, Cecil Lauriston (1890–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kellaway-cecil-lauriston-6909/text11985, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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