Person - Eddie Allison

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EDMUND JAMES CHARLES ALLISON (1912 - 2005)

Eddie Allison joined the Workers' Art Club (WAC) in 1934 and maintained a close connection with the New Theatre League (NTL) and its successor New Theatre (NT) until 1982. His grandfathers were a quarryman on one side and a Greek fisherman on the other. Born on 26 September 1912, he attended Woollahra Public School, sang in a local church choir, gained his Intermediate at East Sydney Tech, and at age 15 his Leaving Certificate at Tech High (Alexander Mackie building), doing well in English and History, OK in Maths and Tech Drawing, but failing French. He then trained as a woodworker, and was employed in a Chippendale factory before getting the sack at 21. He later became a gardener.

It was while working in a domestic laundry at Rushcutters Bay that Eddie heard about the WAC through a signwriter who drew the shop window notices for Goodlands grocers at 36 Pitt Street. Eddie was at the official WAC opening in October 1932, a simple ceremony with sketches and revolutionary songs, and trade unionists talking over cups of tea. He was initially not overly impressed, his main interest the Sunday night screenings of German classic films such as The Last Laugh with Emil Jannings. In January 1934 he saw a program of short stage sketches by WAC members. Jerry Wells the club's President appealed for members and Eddie joined up and attended the next general meeting.

At first he was crew, building a bigger stage at 36 Pitt St with footlights, spotlights and a curtain, and organising props. He started acting in June 1935 in Sixty Miler a one-act play written by WAC members, playing the leader of a mutiny aboard a coffin ship caught in a storm off the NSW coast. “We want this rattletrap beached and we’ll bloody well see that she is!” Eddie announced and fought with the captain. That actor, aged over 60, was knocked out, his head hitting the stage with a clunk.

Other roles followed: in Carrion Crow 1935, Waiting for Lefty 1936, Major Barbara 1936, Karl in Till the Day I Die 1936, Paradise Lost 1936. He played the Poet of the Masses and directed Squaring the Circle 1937, acted in and helped build the set for Boy Meets Girl 1937 (in which Carl Allison also acted), played Bolshie in Where’s That Bomb? 1937, helped design the set for Six Men of Dorset 1938, acted in Trumpets of Wrath 1938, played Money Power in Where’s That Bomb? 1938, directed Bury the Dead 1939, acted in Cannibal Carnival 1939, Bessie Bosch 1939, Plant in the Sun 1939, directed and played Money Power in Where’s That Bomb? 1940, directed and acted in The Patriot and the Fool 1940, No Armistice 1940, directed and acted in Stampede 1940, directed and acted in repeat of Boy Meets Girl 1940, The Gentle People 1940, played the father (critiqued as miscast) in Awake and Sing 1941, Father Christmas in I’d Rather be Left 1941, directed Waiting for Lefty 1941, acted in Waiting for Lefty 1941 and Private Hicks 1941, directed and played a Nazi in Till the Day I Die 1941, was lighting designer on A Doctor in Spite of Himself 1944, directed and acted in Decision 1944, built the set for Western Limit 1946, played Lennie in Of Mice and Men 1946, directed Spanish Village 1951, played Thommo in the 1953 premiere of Reedy River , directed Home Brew 1954, directed Under the Coolibah Tree 1956, acted in the Cecil Holmes film Three in One 1957, played Danforth in The Crucible 1958, performed in Fission Chips 1959, directed and acted in The Quare Fellow 1959, directed Tartuffe 1960, in rehearsed reading Fun and Games 1960, directed Hold the Line 1960, with his wife Eileen directed The Drums of Father Ned 1961, directed and designed An Enemy of the People 1962, directed and designed Operation Olive Branch 1963, directed Othello 1964, co-directed Come All You Valiant Miners 1965, directed Mother Courage 1966, directed and designed The Good Soldier Schweik 1967, directed War and Peace 1968. He returned in 1982 to play Thommo in Reedy River but was disgusted when the grog came out at interval. He had harsh words for NT directors and committee members and deplored that the old fighting theatre's political plays were now being produced by the Nimrod.

Eddie was also involved in non-mainstage activities. After one May Day march when NTL members were dismantling their float, they were set upon by the New Guard wielding bicycle chains. Eddie, "Theo", Bruce Bull and Ken McCarron won the punch-up behind St Mary’s Cathedral. He rode a penny farthing at the Naughty Nineties Labor Jubilee Ball at the Trocadero in 1940. Eddie served on the NT committee in 1940 and 1956, was President in 1960, and made a Life Member in 1964. He ran NT acting lessons and stage management classes, and in 1978 donated $500 to the theatre. An outside production was Romeo and Juliet which he directed for Sydney University Players in 1962, addressing the actors as "Comrades".

Eddie had a lifelong passion for cinema. In 1939, as a member of the short-lived Sydney Unity Film Group, he co-produced and acted (opposite Florence McCracken) in a silent documentary Take Notice about unfair rent rises. Others involved were Paul Moline and Warwick Parkes. In 1957 Eddie became manager of 16mm international film distributors Quality Films; his secretary was Betty Spink.

Eddie was a long-term member of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). After joining the Air Force in 1942, he was stationed at Tamworth where he formed a CPA cell, keeping members in touch via a Gestetnered news sheet. He was also stationed at Parkes. He did not serve overseas, was able to visit Sydney once a month, and became active in the bases' entertainment unit which put on regular shows. Eddie made stage curtains, built sets and supplied NT scripts including revue material from I’d Rather be Left. A benefit for the Comforts Fund toured from Parkes to Dubbo and Orange. Eddie got drunk with Jack Fegan in an army camp. Back in Sydney he was a member of the Edgecliff branch of the CPA (he lived on New South Head Road) and a member of the CPA Media Branch. After leaving the CPA he joined the SPA.

Described in various ASIO reports as tall, solidly built, with a brown beard and moustache and a loud voice, Eddie spent his last years in Canberra where he grew roses and where he died on 8 March 2005 aged 92.

He married twice. In 1935 at Woollahra he wed Molly Welton; she petitioned on grounds of desertion and they divorced in 1946. Eddie later married Eileen Irene Lydia Ryan née Bullen, the widowed sister of Pat Flower, a NT member and its President in 1959. The couple spent 1952-3 in Europe. Described by ASIO as having an “excellent personality” and a pleasant and educated voice, Eileen played the matriarch in Here Under Heaven 1961, was assistant director on The Long and the Short and the Tall 1962, and acted in Mother Courage1966. Eileen Allison died in October 1973.

NFSA Australian Screen holds a copy of the 1939 silent documentary Take Notice. It can be viewed online.


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