Around January 1959, Pilita Corrales, a young Filipino singer from Cebu, met the American actor and magician, John Calvert, while performing in Manila. Calvert invited Corrales to board his yacht, the Sea Fox, and together they set sail for Singapore, where Calvert had arranged a season of magic shows at the Shaw Brothers’ Sky theatre. Calvert’s act, ‘direct from Hollywood’, promised ‘Exotic Spectacle! Music! Magic! Mirth! and Girls! Girls! Girls!’, while Corrales took second billing as ‘Spanish Song Bird’ above Nikki Lynn (’Golden Glamorous Girl’), Holli Daye (’Big, Blonde & Beautiful’) and Bob Markworth (’World’s Greatest Archer’).
After their Singapore season, Corrales toured with Calvert’s troupe through the Shaw Brothers circuit in Malaya, and then set sail in the Sea Fox for Australia, but days out of Darwin en route to Sydney, the Sea Fox ran into trouble and drifted without power for four days, until the Australian air force and navy came to the rescue. Corrales and Calvert completed the journey by air, arriving on time to open for Australian producer Harry Wren in From Outer Space at Sydney’s Empire Theatre on 7 August 1959.
Other records of Corrales’ Australian adventures with Calvert include a newsreel of the couple drinking ‘jungle juice’ with a gorilla at Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo, a television appearance as a magician’s assistant and singer on the Bobby Limb Show in 1960, and an ill-fated venture in Tasmania making the never-released movie, Port of Escape.
By April 1961, Calvert was back in Singapore, having left Australia before a warrant was issued for his alleged theft of the film. But Corrales stayed on in Australia for several years, having recorded Pilita Tells the Story of Love with Astor Records, a successful album of love songs in English, French, Spanish and Tagalog, and having established an audience for her singing – across Melbourne’s airwaves, in particular – with regular appearances on television and radio.
Corrales’ cultural identity also transitioned in Australia. On an episode of the Graham Kennedy Channel Nine Show for New Year’s Eve 1961, Corrales performs solo. No longer appearing as Spanish, the show’s host, Graham Kennedy, introduces her as ‘wonderful Filipino Pilita’. Also appearing on that episode, broadcast from the television studios of Melbourne’s Channel Nine, is Toni Lamond performing in a comedy sketch.
- Excerpt from the ABC documentary, Love is in the Air, 2003 – includes footage from The Bobby Limb Show, c. 1960, and the Graham Kennedy Channel Nine Show, c. 1961 – via YouTube.
- ‘Man who makes elephant vanish’, Straits Times, 17 Jan 1959, p. 7
- ‘Sea Fox and Skipper Calvert turn up’, Straits Times, 11 Feb 1959, p. 4
- ‘A fantastic show by Calvert’, Straits Times, 18 Feb 1959, p. 5.
- Advertisement for John Calvert at the Sky Theatre, Singapore, Straits Times, 28 Jan 1959, p. 5.
- ‘Fears for yacht of film star’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Jul 1959, p.5
- ‘Baffling search for yacht Sea Fox’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Jul 1959, p.1
- ‘Yacht found safe in Arafura Sea’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Jul 1959, p.1
- ‘Yacht owner accepts tow offer’, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jul 1959, p.1
- ‘Fed. Ministers confer on yacht reports’, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Jul 1959, p.1
- ‘Sea Fox man blames damaged sextant’, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Jul 1959, p. 1
- ‘Sea Fox rescue: N.T. resentment of criticism’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Jul 1959, p.7
- ‘Calvert plans salvage of Sea Fox’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Jul 1959, p.1.
- ‘Actor John Calvert arriving in Sydney on a TAA aeroplane after being shipwrecked near Darwin’, two photographs by Ken Redshaw, 17 July 1959, State Library of New South Wales, Australian Photographic Agency 06856 and 06855
- From Outer Space, Empire Theatre, Sydney, 7 Aug 1959, State Library of New South Wales, theatre program collection.
- ‘Animal oddities: the silly season at the Zoo’, Fox Movietone newsreel, 27 August 1959, National Film and Sound Archive, Title No. 131436
- The Bobby Limb Show, episode 18, c. 1960, National Film and Sound Archive, Title No. 11982
- Eric Reade, History and Heartburn: The Saga of Australian Film, 1896-1978 (Sydney: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 150.
- ‘$800,000 row: Calvert repilies’, Straits Times, 4 May 1961, p. 2.
- Pilita Corrales with Arthur Young and his Orchestra, Pilita Tells the Story of Love, Astor Records, Australia, 1959, National Film and Sound Archive, Title No. 626666.
- Graham Kennedy Channel Nine Show, c. 1961, National Film and Sound Archive, Title No. 466415.
- Corrales, Pilita: Interviewed by Nick Weare, 20 Nov 2007, audio recording, National Film and Sound Archive, Title No: 745730.