Person - Jerry Wells

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DENIS GERALD WALLS (1908 – 1999)

By 1929 when he married for the first time, he had adopted the surname Wells. His first name was spelt variously as Gerald, Jerold and Jerry and his reputation at New Theatre varied from lovable villain to very unsavoury type, sarcastic with a big ego, arrogant and "a pig". Nicknamed “casting couch Wells", he was reputedly expelled from the CPA because of his attention to women. On joining the theatre young women were routinely warned to be on their guard.

Born Denis Gerald Walls on 14 August 1908 in Hampshire, England, he was orphaned as a young child and evacuated by an aunt and uncle to Australia at the outbreak of the First World War. He was apprenticed to an ironmonger before succumbing to his passion for the stage. He became WAC President in 1934 after George Finey walked out.

At age 25 Wells was reviewed favourably as Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion for the WAC in 1934. After that he acted in and directed a string of WAC/NTL productions: the Prime Minister (a lot of words, he didn't need a prompt) in On the Rocks 1934; the Prince in Twelve Thousand 1935, Crass in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists 1935, and the baronet in Mrs Warren's Profession 1935. In 1935 (when he was in real life living in poverty "on the smell of an oil rag") he also acted in and directed Love on the Dole and played the scavenging carboard box man in Carrion Crow.

Wells played the manager in Life Is Calling 1936, Harry Fatt in Waiting for Lefty 1936, co-directedAnna Christie 1936; co-directed Major Barbara 1936; directed and played Schlegel in Till the Day I Die 1936; directed Paradise Lost 1936, directed Bury the Dead 1937; directed and played Friday in Boy Meets Girl 1937; directed and played The Gentleman in Where’s That Bomb? 1937; played Mustapha in Ali The Cobbler 1937; acted in Behind the Scenes 1937; directed The Brave and the Blind 1938; a revival of Where’s That Bomb? 1938; directed a revival of Bury the Dead 1938, and directed Six Men of Dorset 1938.

In July 1938 Wells moved to Western Australia to take up the post of director of the 868 - member Repertory Club, a post he secured against 70 applicants. In Perth he produced a varied program (including Boy Meets Girl, Our Town, The Corn is Green, French Without Tears and a poorly lit Gaslight), was fined for playing his wireless without a licence, and had his portrait painted by Max Ebert.

Back in Sydney by December 1940 he resumed his connections with the NTL, remaining with the organisation for another nine years. In that time he worked on 25 productions including Golden Boy, The Little Foxes, Tartuffe, Enemies (“modern as the atomic bomb”), Juno and the Paycock, All Change Here and the revues I‘d Rather Be Left and Marx of Time. As director of the last he exploited the looks, and harassed some, of the young and pretty chorus. Unfazed on stage, he called out “Missed me!” when a sound effect didn’t happen and, after the delayed gunshot was heard, milked his death. During the Second World War he got a job at Bunnerong Powerhouse and wasn’t called up.

After leaving NT, Wells worked in radio drama, on stage at the Minerva and for J C Williamson’s, and on film in documentaries and Cecil Holmes' Thunderbolt.

In 1957 Wells went to England. He played Luther’s father in ITV’s Luther. After receiving praise for his Magwitch in the 1959 BBC series of Great Expectations, he went on to play heavies in B class films, and small parts in The Two Ronnies and The Benny Hill Show (usually as a squeezer of dancers’ bottoms). He died at Bath on 19 July 1999, survived by his partner of 27 years Belinda Berge.

In Australia he married, with Methodist rites, Nea Gladys Annie Luck on 11 April 1929. She divorced him on grounds of desertion on 2 January 1941. In 1943 he married Eunice Penton. According to ASIO, he "gave her a hell of a life" and they divorced.

There is a lot of material online about Jerold Wells including a Wikipedia entry. The National Library of Australia holds his biographical cuttings file.

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