Person - Marie Armstrong
OLIVE MARIE ARMSTRONG (1928-2020)
As a teenager Marie loved ice skating at the Glaciarium. It was here in 1946 that she met people who told her NT’s God Bless the Guv’nor was very funny. After seeing it twice she went with two friends to join NT and was greeted at the counter by the theatre's Secretary Pat Bullen who nearly fell over when all three said they didn’t want to act. Marie's first task was typing stencils of scripts. A political and theatrical innocent, she proudly told people she personally knew Stanislavsky ~ whom she’d confused with NT actor Stan Polonsky.
In 1948 she worked backstage operating the music cues for The Match Girls (nervously placing a needle on a marked spot on a gramophone record) and in 1949 was a prompter on The Lion on the Square. Her first stage appearances were primarily as a dancer in Pot of Message 1949 and Press the Point 1950. (Marie eventually took over choreography from Peter Francis ). Subsequent NT shows in which she was involved as an actor, director, dancer or choreographer include The Emperor's New Clothes 1951, The Candy Store 1952, United Notions 1953, Reedy River 1953, Under the Coolibah Tree 1956, Nekrassov 1957, TV or Not TV 1957, Johnny Noble 1957, Fission Chips 1959, The Night of the Ding Dong 1959, Hold the Line 1960, Sandhog 1962, The Wall 1963, The Marriage 1963, You've Never Had It So Good 1965, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window 1966, Mother Courage 1966, On Stage Vietnam 1967, America Hurrah! 1968, Exposure 70 1970, The Death of Bessie Smith 1971, It's Time To Boil Billy 1972, What's New 1973, Chollobonga 1975, The Freedom of the City 1975, Yobbo Nowt 1981, First Class Women 1982, Waiting for the Parade 1984, Tales From Hollywood 1986, The Death of Phillip Robertson 1988, The Life of Galileo 1989, The Hired Man 1991, Portrait of an Artist 1994, Lots More Funny Business 1999, Life Is A Funny Business 2000, and Stop Laughing, This Is Serious 2002. In 2002 Marie directed a concert version of Reedy River for the National Folk Festival. She also staged regular public events to commemorate Eureka, and in 2015 performed in a May Day celebration of Sydney NT's history. She was a passionate advocate for indigenous causes.
For much of the 1970s Marie was NT President and its Vice-President for much of the 1990s. She held various other committee positions including Workshop Co-ordinator, and was NT National Secretary from 1953 until 1967 when she vacated the position in favour of Shirley McDonald. She ran movement and acting classes, adjudicated workshops, marched regularly on May Day, and was a core participant in Street Theatre activities, performing at factory gates and inside workplaces. She was a keen traveller. In 1979 she studied acting wth Stella Adler in Los Angeles where she had dinner and caught a show with writer Albert Maltz, one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten. From the USA she went to Russia where she visited the Moscow Arts Theatre.
Marie was made a NT Life Member in 1969 and awarded an OAM for service to the community in 1986.
As a member of the CPA she was regularly reported on by ASIO who noted in 1954 that her photo was on the May Day files. In 1970 the agency observed that NT was no longer as active as before nor CPA controlled; in 1985 Marie formally resigned from the Party after 39 years' membership. She had attended CPA branches at Rose Bay (a fellow member was Gilbert Stead, Christina's brother), Bondi, Edgecliff and Earlwood, and in 1969 had joined the CPA Theatrical Branch. For much of her working life Marie was employed as secretary to Herbert Bovyll Chandler, a Communist who ran the Newsletter Printery and who had an extensive ASIO file. She also worked for the Metal Workers' Union.
Marie was born Olive Marie Tancred in Sydney on 28 June 1928 but took the surname of her stepfather Richard Stonehouse after her mother’s remarriage in 1932. Her maternal grandfather, a plumber at Mort’s Dock, was involved in the 1890s shearers strikes and an uncle was a member of a left-wing book club. Marie attended Darlinghurst Public School where she learned her first lessons in racial tolerance. She defended her African-American friend from bullying and discovered that commonly used words such as “reffo” and “dago” were not acceptable. With Loretta Boutmy she studied toe, ballet, tap and theatrical dancing at the Kath Hannabery Dance School at Taylor Square. Marie spent a year at Canterbury Domestic Science School but often truanted, going into the city with her “stage mother” Beatrice to shop or watch movies.
In 1951 she married John Armstrong. Marie Armstrong died at home in Croydon on 5 October 2020.
- National Library of Australia, Marie Armstrong interview, 2006
- State Library of NSW, Marie Armstrong papers, ca. 1890-1999, with papers of John Armstrong, 1901-1981
- State Library of NSW, Marie Armstrong further papers, 1900-2003