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’.
- 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