Lucky Grills

Lucky Grills built a career as a versatile entertainer, ‘zapping’ between night clubs and performances in variety theatres, traveling shows and, later, on television.

Grills formed a musical comedy duo, Tex and Lucky, with Brian Ryan in the mid 1940s. They performed around Melbourne for concert parties and at Returned Services League clubs around Melbourne, and at Dick Fair’s Amateur Hour at the Hawthorn Town Hall, before landing an audition with producer David Martin for the Tivoli’s 1948 Revue Continental.

After playing twelve weeks at the Melbourne Tivoli and another twelve weeks in Sydney, Grills landed a part in Harry Wren’s 1949 production of Hellzapoppin, a mad-cap musical revue licensed from comedians Olsen and Johnson who had first produced the show in New York. The show opened in Adelaide and toured to Perth, Ballarat, and New Zealand, before closing with a Melbourne season in October. Wren remounted Hellzapoppin with Roy Rene at Sydney’s Empire Theatre in April 1950. But, in the downtime, Grills returned to the Tivoli for seasons in Melbourne and Sydney, and by April, was performing with a new partner as the Kenley Brothers, at the Roosevelt Club:

I went and spoke to Abe. He said, ‘It doesn’t worry me, mate – if you can do the two shows’. So we were doing a seven o’clock floor show at the Roosevelt. Taxi waiting outside. We’d go straight down [to the Empire]. We’d be there at half-past-seven or twenty-to-eight. The show would start at eight o’clock, finish at eleven. Then we’d go back to Roosevelt. We did that for about six weeks.

The Kenley Brothers were part of the floorshow at the Roosevelt. They both played ukulele and sang comedy songs, finishing with songs in the zany style of Spike Jones, accompanied with washboard, car horn and the like. Grills performed at many nightclubs in Sydney: Andres, the Celebrity Club, the Mountbatten, the Tatler, Sammy Lees’ and Ziegfields in the city, the Kellet Club in Kings Cross, the Golden Key at Bondi, Pruniers in Double Bay. He also performed at the St George Leagues Club, the Parramatta Leagues Club, the North Sydney Anzac Club, and similar licensed clubs around Sydney, in Newcastle and Wollongong. Grills recalls performing ‘five or six jobs a day’ and ‘working Monday to Sunday’; at £5 per show, he was earning £80 to £90 per week.

Grills toured with travelling shows – Stars of the Services, Ashton’s Varieties, an army revue tour in 1953 to Korea and Japan, where he appeared at the Latin Quarter night club in Tokyo, and then with Sorlies Revue for three years from 1954. By the end of the 1950s, he was performing at the Theatre Royal in Brisbane, at the Currumbin Playroom and the Coolangatta Hotel at Surfers Paradise, and cross-dressed in dame roles for Christmas pantomimes at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. An anecdote from Grills’ time with Sorlies gives the flavour of his act:

I used to play me banjo uke and I’d get Norma to bring it on to me. One of the programs I said, “Thank you very much darling, go to my dressing room and wait, if I’m late start without me”. She said, “I just saw you in your dressing room stitching your pyjamas”, she said, “you were in a bit of a hurry”. “Yeah”, I said, “well I’m a married man, with eight children”. “Well”, she said “what’s that got to do with stitching your pyjamas?” “Well, a stitch in time saves nine.” And I was ordered to take it out of the show or I’d be sacked. So I did.

From February 1960, Grills managed – and performed in – his own travelling show, Carols Varieties, which toured the east coast and inland regional towns for six years. From the mid 1960s, Grills was appearing regularly on television, with ‘about two years travelling back and forth’ between Sydney and Adelaide, where he was a regular guest comedian on Ernie Sigley’s Adelaide Tonight and the Reg Lindsay Country Hour. While in Adelaide, he also performed live at ‘the Hindmarsh Hotel, Pooraka, and the Enfield Hotel’.

References

  • Lucky Grills interviewed by Bill Stephens, National Library of Australia, 3-5 July 1995, http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn653520
  • Grills, Lucky. 2003. Just Call Me Lucky: An Autobiography, Daisy Hill, Qld : Lucy Grills, c2003.
  • Program and photographs from Carols Varieties, QPAM Museum.
  • Lucky Grills and Tex Ryan, Barrier Miner, 13 November 1948, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48577734
This entry was posted in Comedians, Nightclubs, Travelling shows and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Lucky Grills

  1. Doug Symes says:

    I was stationed at HMAS Tarangau in 1973 and Lucky was on an entertainment tour to Vietnam, on the tour were The Allisons, a juggling act and a very young,and shy, Renae Gyer. The Allisons stayed at our home overnight and after the show, during a “session”,lucky bet Rex Allison that he could juggle some oranges through the overhead fan. The upshot was, he couldn’t and shredded orange went everywhere. A lovely man Lucky and fondly remembered

  2. What a great memory, Doug. Thanks for sharing. Lucky Grills was such a character. It’s great to learn that the Allisons were still touring in 1973. I have some notes on them working night clubs in Hong Kong and Melbourne at the Lido in the mid 1960s. cheers, Jonathan

  3. Stephen Fleay says:

    Great to read about Lucky’s early days….I was Lowrey Organist with Carols Varieties in 1963 and 1964……sadly lucky has passed away…..Geoff Mack who co-owned “Carols” with Lucky turns 90 on December the 20th 2012……Geoff and his wife Tabbi live north of Sydney. Geoff composed “Ive been Everywhere”…and many others

  4. Dear Stephen – thanks for getting in touch. It’s great to learn about your work with Lucky Grills, Geoff Mack and Tabbi Francis. I took some notes on programmes from Carols Varieties at the QPAC performing arts collection in Brisbane – and I can see you on the programme as ‘Australia’s youngest exponent of the World Famous Lowrey Organ’! I also have some notes from the Barrier Miner in Broken Hill, and see you were with Carols when they toured there in September 1963. I’d be interested to learn where else you went? best wishes, Jonathan

  5. Stephen Fleay says:

    IN 1963 and 1964 Carols Varieties toured from Deniliquin in Southern NSW as far North as Mossman Queensland, as far west as Mount Isa, Thargomindah Quilpie and Broken Hill…..we “shared” the Queensland coastal run with Sorlies which has in its last days…however Carols performed in different venues to Sorlies. So glad QPAC has taken in my photo collection of Carols Varieties. My Lowrey Organ was acquired whilst working at the Gold Coast Hotel burleigh Heads in 1962 (i was also yardman, barman, waiter as well as musician) in late 1962 after turning freelance Lucky Grills spotted my performance at Claude Carnell’s Jungle Hut at Greenmount….Geoff Mack and Tabbi Frances came to visit at my father’s West Burleigh Animals reserve where a Lowrey Organ audition was staged underneath our Queensland house……I joined this touring show at the beginning of the 1963 tour….rehearsals were at Geoff Macks Mount Kuring-Gai residence. Geoff and Tabbi still live there…….
    When I started my European work firstly in Manchester in 1982 (I was later working for the BBC as correspondent out of Amsterdam) the presenters at the commercial station Picadilly Radio were keen to know about Lucky Grills who had become well known through his “Bluey” TV series being aired then on Granada Television. i arranged a radio interview via telephone with Lucky and the audience of Picadilly Radio lapped it up.
    I have audio recordings of Carols Varieties at Allora in 1963 and Darlington Point (NSW) in 1964….as well as the large photo collection which includes some Kodachromes. Geoff Mack taught me much about Photography…….and….there’s a 3 hour VHS here contaninig (silent) home Kodachrome movie clips of Carols Varieties……

  6. Leanne Griffiths says:

    My father Bobby Diamond started out with lucky when he was about 18 and remained friends till both passed .

  7. Seeking a woman named Kay Richardson who used to travel with Sorlies

  8. Sandy Brown says:

    Have read Lucky’s book (Your story says copyright Lucy by the way) and its a real enlightenment into what he and others of the day put themselves through. Amazing talents & amazing stamina Miss him so much even though I never knew him personally – am a big fan

  9. Bill Stephens OAM says:

    Dear Stephen Fleay, I remember seeing you perform with Lucky, Jeff and Tabbi, on our visits to the Gold Coast. We became friends with the trio when Carols would visit Griffith each year, and set up their tent in the vacant land adjacent to the Griffith Memorial Hall. The Griffith Amateur Musical Revue Company presented our shows in the Griffith Memorial Hall, and we felt very honoured one year when Lucky, Jeff and Tabbi, and the female Elvis Presley, who’s name unfortunately I can’t recall, all dropped in to one of our performances. We maintained our friendship over the years and in 1995 I recorded an interview with Lucky for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History program.
    You mention that you have given your photographic collection to QPAC. Do you still have the audio and VHS tapes of Carols ? If so, have you considered depositing them with the National Film and Sound Archives ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *