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Le Brun, Bobby (1910–1985)

by Charles Grahame

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Bobby Le Brun  (1910-1985), comedian, dancer and producer, was born on 25 February 1910 at St Leonards, Sydney, only child of English-born George Marshall, commercial traveller, and his Queensland-born wife Ethel, née Wilson.  His widowed mother brought him up.  Named Eric Stanley, but called Bobby, he attended North Sydney Boys’ High School, where he gained the Leaving certificate.  He was employed first by the Australian Drug Co. Ltd and then by Von Drehnen & Holterhoff, woollen merchants.

Stage-struck from schooldays, Bobby aspired, after seeing George Wallace in vaudeville in the 1920s, to make people laugh.  He learned to dance at Lew Dunn’s dancing school.  When he teamed with Harry Portlock they became the 'Le Brun Brothers, Simultaneous Steppers'.  The pronunciation was Anglicised as shown in his later billing 'Bobby Le Brun. Just for Fun'.  After appearing in the pantomime Babes in the Wood on Harry Clay’s vaudeville circuit, Sydney, he went into 'Mo’s Merry Monarchs' in Fullers' theatres with the female impersonator Tikki Carpenter, and worked with Portlock in Con Moreni’s company.  In 1930-31, with 'Kate Howarde’s Dramatic Players', he toured country Queensland.  He teamed with George Chanti in a new dance act for Eric Edgley’s and Clem Dawe’s Midnight Frolics in Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane.  A performer on radio in Sydney, he also worked (1931-32) with stage bands in cinemas and ballrooms in country New South Wales and Queensland.

In 1933 George Sorlie employed Le Brun as a solo comic and sketch comedian in his tent theatre; Le Brun stayed for five years.  From 1937 to 1940 he played at various venues including the Hollywood Theatre, Perth, and the Bohemia Theatre, Brisbane.  In 1941 he joined 'Barton’s Follies' tent show, which played at Newcastle from 1942 to 1945.  After engagements with the Tivoli circuit, he toured with the illusionist 'The Great Levante' in 1947.  Le Brun had married Gracie Violet Boyd, a variety artist, on 8 November 1941 at St John’s Church of England, Balmain North; they had no children.

After Sorlie’s death in 1948 Le Brun joined his widow to take the show on the road again through Queensland and New South Wales.  Le Brun’s wife was ballet mistress.  Proprietor and principal comedian, he had an ingratiating manner on stage, wore gaudy suits, and moved easily between sketch comedy, solo character work and items in drag.  His style was broad—with a touch of the vulgarity of the English music hall—but never offensive.  His performances as the dame in pantomime attracted the actors John Bell and Geoffrey Rush to the theatre.  Le Brun toured with Sorlie’s until 1961 when competition from television and clubs made it impractical to continue.

For five years Le Brun played cabaret and floor shows at the Coolangatta Hotel, and then at Newcastle and again on the Gold Coast; he also made occasional television appearances until his retirement in 1974.  He was the first recipient of the John Campbell fellowship at the 'Mo' awards in 1977, and was awarded the OAM in 1981.  Survived by his wife, he died on 7 September 1985 at Newcastle and was cremated..

Select Bibliography

  • C. Grahame, 'Bobby Le Brun OAM', in P. Parsons (ed), Companion to Theatre in Australia, 1995
  • People (Sydney), 12 March 1952, p 11
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 'Saturday Magazine', 26 November 1977, p 7
  • B. Stephens, interview with B. Le Brun (ts, 1985, National Library of Australia)
  • private information
  • personal knowledge

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Charles Grahame, 'Le Brun, Bobby (1910–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/le-brun-bobby-14144/text25155, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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