HOW NECESSARY IS A REWRITING OF THE BOB ELLIS STORY?

AN awkward silence exists in the wake of the Weekend Australian’s cover story ” A Family Affair”  A Family Affair which exposes the predatory sexual behaviour of several celebrity arts figures in the 1970s. Writer Rosemary Neill says reveals “Growing up in a licentious household in the care-free 1970s had a devastating consequences” for the children of celebrated  poet and playwright Dorothy Hewett.

 “Swaggering, starry identities — among them Brett Whiteley, Patrick White, Martin Sharp, Bob Ellis and British photographer David ­Hamilton — passed through the girls’ lives; many illustrious names from the theatre, film, literary and visual art worlds were frequent visit­ors to the family terrace in Woollahra in Sydney’s east.

How this explosive feature plays out- in particular for the legacy of filmmaker Ellis- will be interesting.

 

I wrote the following after Ellis’ death in  April 2016

By Mike Welsh

Bob Ellis who died at the weekend, has been variously described as “one of the finest scoundrels our nation has had the good fortune of sharing” (Rhys Muldoon); “the Truest of True Believers” (Kevin Rudd); and “he dispensed his views both barrels and full blast and to hell with the consequences” (Everald Compton).  It’s a fair start but fails dismally to describe the essence of the writer/playwright/filmmaker/wrecker of conservative political ambitions. Muldoon probably goes as close as anyone who tried to “nail” the real Bob Ellis.

 Last year I reread Goodbye Jerusalem , the 1997 book by Bob Ellis. In fact it was the second book of Bob’s I’d revisited.  I had also picked up for a second time the more contemporary and less controversial 2010 Ellis political tome Suddenly, Last Winter (An Election Diary)

My review copy of Goodbye Jerusalem is  special because it survived a pulping publisher Random House was forced to undertake after legal action from Liberal MPs Tony Abbott and Peter Costello and their  spouses.

Goodbye Jerusalem  was described at the time as a ‘wake’ of sorts. Ironically, Bob Ellis in public always looked as though he was in a slow motion hurry, possibly heading to or returning from the wake of yet another famous Australia actor/writer/ALP stalwart or sundry other notorious person whom he’d known for years…You wouldn’t know who Bob Ellis knew.

bob ellis books pic

I only knew Bob Ellis from the many phone interviews he generously participated in for my radio program. By far, for my money, Bob’s best caper was vowing to destroy (politically) Bronwyn Bishop by taking her on in a by-election for the Blue Ribbon (Sydney) Northern Beaches seat of McKellar.  

 I knew him by name only, as the author of the play The Legend of King O’Malley and was surprised when a friend assured me that he was regarded as a genius amongst Sydney’s political/intellectual push”. The friend also told McFadyen that “Women wanted to have Bob Ellis’ children.”

TV producer Ian McFadyen
bob ellis election poster.jpg

The essence of Ellis’s eccentricity and storytelling skill is in the Goodbye Jerusalem chapter, Six Degrees of Separation. Bob brilliantly demonstrates his almost unique grasp of Kevin Bacon’s game, in which a group of players attempt to connect a nominated actor to Bacon in as few steps as possible. Discussing the 1993 Fred Schepisi movie “Six Degrees of Separation”  and to ease the boredom on a long road trip with director Michael Jenkins (Blue Murder, Scales of Justice), Ellis takes up the challenge and prunes Bacon’s concept further….to three degrees of separation. And manages to create a uniquely Australian example in the process.

Bob wrote speeches for singer Kamal who corresponded regularly with Sir Donald Bradman. Ellis’s father lived next to the Darcy family in East Maitland and sparred with a young Les Darcy. And Bob worked with the man who made Phar Lap the movie. An impressive trifecta but as Bob was wont to say often…”and so on, and so it goes”.

In almost any chapter of Bob Ellis’s illustrious and colourful life he could easily nail an entertaining result within the allotted six steps of Bacon’s popular parlour game. One of his favourites involves the late Robert Hughes (art critic not sit-com actor). Bob Hughes’ brother is the Q.C. Tom Hughes, whose daughter Lucy is married to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose Auntie is the actress Angela Lansbury, whose father George Lansbury was the British Labour leader in Britain in the 1930s.

Another book I have read more than twice is Frank Hardy’s Four Legged Lottery.  Frank Hardy’s grand-daughter is the writer Marieke Hardy who has a female dog named Bob Ellis and a tattoo which reads “and so on, and so it goes”. Three degrees of separation!!!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Six Degrees of Separation

This week I reread “Goodbye Jerusalem “ the 1997 book by Bob Ellis. In fact it’s the second book of Bob’s I’ve revisited recently. I also picked up the more contemporary and less controversial 2010 Ellis tome “Suddenly, Last Winter” (An Election Diary)

My copy of “Goodbye Jerusalem” (a survivor of the original release pulped due to a legal issue involving the Abbotts and the Costellos) may well be valuable if Bob signs it before he dies. Comrade Ellis is that type of famous Australian.  Many people say many things of him and he’s not even dead yet. Neat trick that.

TV Producer and Logie winner Ian McFadyen wrote on his site under the title “Night Thoughts on Jerusalem” that he “first learnt of Bob Ellis in the late Seventies. I knew him by name only, as the author of the play The Legend of King O’Malley and was surprised when a friend assured me that he was regarded as a genius amongst Sydney’s political/intellectual push. She told McFadyen “Women want to have his children.”

Image

For my money, and I know him by phone interview only, Bob Ellis always looks like he’s in a slow motion  hurry  possibly heading  to or returning from  the wake of a yet another terribly famous Australia actor/ALP stalwart or sundry other notorious person whom he’s known for years…You wouldn’t know who Bob Ellis knows.

In “Goodbye Jerusalem” Bob brilliantly demonstrates  Kevin Bacon’s guarantee of a group of players connecting a nominated individual to Kevin Bacon in as few steps as possible. In “Goodbye Jerusalem” Ellis takes up the challenge and prunes Bacon’s concept further….to THREE degrees of separation.

And the example is this uniquely Australian Trifecta.  Bob is close to singer Kamal who corresponded regularly with Sir Donald Bradman right up until his death (the Don’s). Bob’s father lived next to the Darcy family in East Maitland and sparred with the young Les and Bob worked with the man who made Phar Lap the movie. It could be a Quadrella more than a Trifecta but….as Bob is wont to say often…”and so on, and so it goes”.

And in any chapter Bob can also use up all of his allotted six steps. An entertaining Ellis after dinner Six Degrees of Separation story involves the late Robert Hughes (art critic not sit-com actor). Bob Hughes’ brother is the Q.C. Tom Hughes, whose daughter Lucy is married to money bags MP Malcolm Turnbull, whose Auntie is the actress Angela Lansbury, whose father was the British Labour leader in Britain in the 1930s.

A kid who grew up in my street was presented with the “Tommy Woodcock”  strapper trophy (for the strapper of the Melbourne Cup winner) by the visiting Princess of Wales after his charge What A Nuisance won the big two miler in 1985. He later met actor Tom Burlinson who played Tommy Woodcock in the movie Phar Lap. Didn’t really need the Princess of Wales step in that series but it’s necessary in order for me to seamlessly segue into the musical version of Bacon’s theory… Herbert Farjeon’s 1927 hit   “I’ve danced with a man who’s danced with a girl who’s danced with the Prince of Wales”

 Another book I have read more than once is Frank Hardy’s “Four Legged Lottery”.

  • Frank Hardy’s grand-daughter is the writer Merieke Hardy who has a female dog named Bob Ellis and a tattoo which reads “and so on, and so it goes”. Three degrees of separation!!!