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Muriel Myee Steinbeck (1913–1982)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

Muriel Myee Steinbeck (1913-1982), actress, was born on 21 July 1913 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, youngest of four children of William Martin Steinbeck, schoolteacher, and his wife Lily Clarissa, née Batten, both born in New South Wales.  The family left Broken Hill when Muriel was 5.  She was educated at Newcastle and at Sydney Girls’ High School (1926-30).  Working at the Macleod Gallery, Sydney, stimulated her interest in art, particularly the works of Norman Lindsay.  On 7 July 1934 at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, she married Robert Aubrey, a journalist.

Interested in acting from school days, Steinbeck joined the amateur Sydney Players’ Club in the early 1930s.  Noticed by Lawrence H. Cecil of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, she was invited to audition for radio.  From 1936 she was a freelance actress with the ABC and commercial stations, appearing in Macquarie Radio Theatre (2GB), Lux Radio Theatre (2GB, then 2UW) and James Raglan Players (2UE).  At first hired for dramatic roles, she soon displayed a flair for comedy.  In the 1950s and early 1960s her voice was heard in plays and in serials, including 'Portia Faces Life', 'Blue Hills' and 'Gabrielle'.  From 1963 she was a regular member of the ABC’s program 'English for New Australians'.

Steinbeck’s professional stage career had taken off in 1940, when she was chosen to understudy the visiting actress Marie Ney at the Theatre Royal.  Whitehall Theatrical Productions at the Minerva Theatre then hired her.  While playing mainly in modern popular drama, she also portrayed Helena in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Miranda in The Tempest and Portia in The Merchant of Venice, in various amateur, professional and radio productions of Shakespeare’s works.  One of her last appearances was as Mrs Hushabye in G. B. Shaw’s Heartbreak House at the Old Tote Theatre in 1964.

In the early 1940s Steinbeck had been signed up by Ken G. Hall for several short war documentaries including Another Threshold, in support of a war loan, and South West Pacific (shown by H. V. Evatt to Churchill and Roosevelt).  Her first role in a feature film was in A Son is Born, filmed in 1945 and co-starring Peter Finch and Ron Randell.  In the acclaimed Columbia Pictures Pty Ltd film Smithy (1946), depicting the life of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, she played his wife Mary.  Steinbeck also appeared in Into the Straight (1949), Wherever She Goes (1951), Long John Silver (1954) and They’re a Weird Mob (1966).

Hailed in 1941 as 'one of the best half-dozen younger-school actresses of the Australian stage and radio', Steinbeck was 5 ft 5 ins (165 cm) tall and slender, with chestnut hair and green hazel eyes.  In 1942 an interviewer praised the quality of 'controlled strength, sensitivity and drama' in her personality and features.  'Her wide, calm eyes, broad brow, strong, sweet mouth . . . make for character as well as beauty'.  Demonstrating physical and mental versatility in combining concurrent radio, stage and film commitments, she took the lead in the first commercial television serial, 'Autumn Affair', in 1958 on ATN-7, and in 1960 played Mrs Bligh in the ABC’s Sunday evening serial, 'Stormy Petrel'In 1963 she compered 'Woman’s World' on ABN-2.  Later she appeared in commercial television’s  'Homicide' and 'My Name’s McGooley--What’s Yours?'.

Divorced in April 1950, on 17 October 1951 at the Wesley Chapel, Sydney, Steinbeck married with Methodist forms Brian Dudley Nicholson, a company manager and engineer.  In the mid-1950s she 'semi-adopted' her young nephew John Steinbeck.  She left her acting career in Sydney in June 1966 to join her husband at Orange.  She helped at the works office of his quarry at Cullya, participated in local ABC radio and amateur theatre and taught drama at Orange Technical College.  In Sydney in 1949 she had set up an academy to teach film aspirants the art of working before the camera and the microphone.  She wrote On Stage: A Practical Guide to The Actor’s Craft (1969).  Survived by her husband and the daughter of her first marriage, she died of cancer on 20 July 1982 at Orange and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Camilleri, In the Broken Hill Paddock (2006)
  • Pix, 17 May 1941, p 6
  • Listener In, 27 December 1941-2 January 1942, p 13
  • ABC Weekly, 14 July 1945, p 9
  • TV Week, 27 July 1963, p 32
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 12 February 1969, p 17
  • M. Steinbeck scrapbook (National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Steinbeck, Muriel Myee (1913–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Muriel Steinbeck, 1970

Muriel Steinbeck, 1970

State Library of New South Wales, 126474

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Aubrey, Muriel Myee
  • Nicholson, Muriel Myee

21 July, 1913
Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia


20 July, 1982 (aged 68)
Orange, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.