Versatile performers of all kinds – singers, comedians and musicians – were much in demand throughout Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Working solo or in pairs, with portable acts of relatively short duration, and taking advantage of newly available modes of transport (principally, privately-driven cars, affordable taxis and inter-city plane services) entertainers performed wherever opportunities arose, adapting their acts with each opportunity to perform. Versatility was a performer’s key asset, as Lola Nixon explains.
Nixon began performing with Sorlie’s travelling revue as a teenager in 1949, working as a dancer and singer with Gloria Dawn. From 1953 through to the decade’s end, she performed with Harry Wren’s nostalgic variety shows, touring through Australia and New Zealand. In 1954 she toured with the Florence Desmond Fun and Dance Show for the Perth-based producers Edgley and Dawe.
Nixon auditioned for Harry Wren as a dancer, but she also performed as a singer, fronting the chorus line as a soubrette. She was also required on occasion to feed lines to comedians and act in comedy sketches. Nixon recalls being ‘thrown to the wolves’ and ‘learning her craft’ on the job. ‘Comic timing’, in particular, she learnt by covering for leads who got sick. On one occasion she took Lola Fanning’s spot in a comedy sketch with Morrie Barling: ‘You really had to be on your toes’, she recalls, ‘because he might have picked up the paper that day and seen something funny, and it might just go on’.
Performing in night clubs was Nixon’s mainstay. In ‘gaps’ between touring with Harry Wren’s shows, Nixon would ‘fill in, doing a nightclub or something, because by that time I was competent enough as a soubrette to front a ballet in Andres’. For a period in 1954, Nixon was performing a 7 o’clock show for the ‘pre-theatre crowd’ at Andres, then ‘I would then zap across to Castlereagh [Hotel], do a show with Keith [Peterson] and Frank [Strain] till 10 o’clock. Then I’d zap back across the road and do an 11 o’clock show at Andres’.
Nixon recalls the mid-1950s as the heyday of live entertainment in Sydney’s night clubs: ‘if you wanted to you could push yourself and do five shows a night just by running across the street – because you had the Theatre Royal up here in Castlereagh [Street], the Carlton Rex, Romano’s, the Hotel Australia – that was huge – and you had Princes in Martin Place’.
Nixon’s varied career also included stints in musical theatre and appearances on variety television. In May 1958, she performed on ATN-7’s Sydney Tonight, and in June of that year, on GVT-9’s In Melbourne Tonight. In May 1959 she was back in Sydney, performing with Ron Fabri in the Night Club Lounge at the Oceanic Hotel in Coogee.
In the early 1960s, having played Nancy in Oliver the musical for some eighteen months, after Toni Lamond had left the role due to illness, Nixon went ‘back to the clubs’. In 1967 and 1968, she was engaged by producer William Orr to perform in the revues, Hello America, and Follow the Sun, at the Doncaster Theatre Restaurant in Kensington.
Regarding her ability to sustain herself with work as a performer, Nixon explains: ‘I was very lucky, going right back to the beginning, you were trained to be versatile’.
- Lola Nixon interviewed by Bill Stephens, 29 April 2005, National Library of Australia, http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn3425500
- ‘Unfair’ competition for blondes, The Mirror (Perth), 3 April 1954, p. 6.
- 200 see hotel vaudeville, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 1954, p. 8.
- Easier job for Lola, Sun Herald, 8 October 1967, p. 104.
- Spectacle at Sydney Restaurant, Australian Women’s Weekly, 20 March 1968, p.3