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Wallace, George Stevenson (1895–1960)

by Stuart Sayers

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

George Stevenson Wallace (1895-1960), by unknown photographer, 1939-45

George Stevenson Wallace (1895-1960), by unknown photographer, 1939-45

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H33853 [with Lois Green]

George Stevenson Wallace (1895-1960), comedian, was born on 4 June 1895 at Aberdeen, New South Wales, son of George Stephenson Wallace, painter, and his wife Catherine Mary Ann, née Scott, both native-born. Known as 'Broncho', George senior began touring in minstrel shows. George junior appeared on stage at the age of 3 as a pirate in a Sydney pantomime and was the infant member of a family song-and-dance act until his parents divorced. A juvenile busker on the Pyrmont waterfront, he was later apprenticed in his stepfather's ink factory. He spent his youth knocking about North Queensland as a farm-hand and canecutter before he joined a road show at 16.

On 3 January 1917 at the People's Evangelic Mission House, Brisbane, Wallace married Margarita Edith Emma Nicholas, a barmaid, and brought her to Sydney next year. Early in 1919, after an unpaid trial performance of acrobatic clog-dancing at the Newtown Bridge Theatre (one of Harry Clay's city and suburban vaudeville houses), he was engaged at £4 a week. The bill changed weekly and the audience knew what it wanted. Wallace soon introduced his wife to feed him patter and their 2-year-old son to join in acrobatic poses. The family act did not last, but 'Wee Georgie Wallace' partnered his father occasionally before Wallace and his wife separated in 1924.

Late in 1919 Jack Paterson and Wallace had teamed up at the Newtown Bridge Theatre as 'Dinks' and 'Onkus' ('The Two Drunks'), a knockabout comedy act inspired by the success of 'Stiffy' and 'Mo'. A year later they were Clay's most popular performers, regularly playing to full houses. The partnership survived for five years, while Paterson's role steadily diminished. By mid-1922 Clay was advertising new programmes of vaudeville and revue by 'Onkus and His Merry Company'.

In 1925 Wallace joined the Fuller circuit for £20 a week. His talents both as a performer and as a witty song and revue sketch writer soon prompted the Theatre Magazine to predict, 'in the face of theatrical providence', that one day he would be 'Australia's greatest comedian'. Wallace was small and tubby, with goggle eyes, mobile expression and a croaking voice. Baggy trousers precariously hitched at half-mast beneath his protruding stomach, a checked shirt and a battered felt hat were his trade marks. He had the audience rolling in the aisles. Astonishingly agile, he perfected the art of falling on his left ear and built a repertoire of absurd tales about such characters as Stanley the Bull, the Drongo from the Congo and the so-refined bus conductress, Sophie the Sort.

Unusually in his profession, he did not try to steal scenes. The Theatre Magazine described him as 'irresistibly funny without ever descending to the vulgar': his humour was larded with a robust yet innocent country flavour that contrasted strikingly with the pungent comic styles of his great contemporaries Roy Rene and Jim Gerald. Going to see every new George Wallace revue was said to have become 'a pleasant habit' with his admirers.

The Depression and competition from films created difficulties for vaudeville, but Wallace found new successes on the stage, in film and in pantomime—though never as a Dame. As Dandy Dick he appeared with Gladys Moncrieff in the Australian musical, Collits' Inn (1933), by 'Varney Desmond', and took the role of Asticot in The Beloved Vagabond (1934). Wallace made seven films, re-working his earlier revue scripts as the screenplays for His Royal Highness (1932) and Harmony Row (1933), and collaborating in writing the scenarios for A Ticket in Tatts (1934), Let George Do It (1938) and Gone to the Dogs (1939). Songs he composed included the popular World War II tune, A Brown Slouch Hat. He taught himself to play the piano, saxophone and guitar, and was a good caricaturist and amateur landscape painter; as another hobby, he made dolls from felt. Passionately fond of animals, particularly horses, he had a chicken farm at Rooty Hill.

Joining the Tivoli circuit in the early 1940s, Wallace earned £120 a week. He also appeared in two more films, as the barber in The Rats of Tobruk (1944) and the stage-manager in Wherever She Goes (1951). From 1949 he had a weekly radio show on the Macquarie network; he later played opposite Gerald in such nostalgic variety shows as Thanks for the Memory (1953) and The Good Old Days (1957), staged by Harry Wren. Heart disease forced Wallace into semi-retirement in 1957. Survived by his son, he died of chronic bronchitis and emphysema on 19 October 1960 at his Kensington home, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • J. West, Theatre in Australia (Syd, 1978)
  • A. Pike and R. Cooper, Australian Film 1900-1977 (Melb, 1980)
  • H. Love (ed), The Australian Stage (Syd, 1984)
  • J. Stewart, An Encyclopaedia of Australian Film (Syd, 1984)
  • Theatre Magazine (Sydney), 1 Apr, 2 June, 1 Nov 1919, 1 Jan, 1 Mar, 1 Oct 1920, 1 June 1922, 2 Mar, 1 Apr, 1 May, 1 June 1925
  • People (Sydney), 28 Feb 1951, p 25
  • Australasian Post, 3 June 1954
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Dec 1944, 21 Aug 1957
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Oct 1960
  • Sun (Sydney), 20 Oct 1960
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 23 Oct 1960.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stuart Sayers, 'Wallace, George Stevenson (1895–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wallace-george-stevenson-8961/text15765, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 13 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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