Over recent months Sydney “Pub Tsar” Justin Hemmes’ Merivale Group acquired the Collaroy Hotel on Pittwater Road for a reported $21 million⋇. The hotel (currently closed for renovation) is situated in one of the Northern Beaches’ finest old and best preserved buildings, the Arlington Amusement Hall✦. A hotel since the late 1990s The Arlington’s premises has traded under various names including ‘The Collaroy’ and the ‘Surf Rock Hotel’. Earlier than this the building had housed the Northern Beaches’ first wine bar called ‘1066’. The building also contains the separate Collaroy Beach Club.
The iconic building with its asymmetrical Federation brick facade has a commercial life story dating back to the First World War. It was built by Herbert Williamson for his wife Christina somewhere between 1915 and 1919. It was officially opened as the Arlington Amusement Hall in 1921 although it had already been used a cinema showing silent feature movies from 1919.
At the time of The Arlington’s public opening the local newspaper described it thus, “The hall is situated right on the beach and attached to it are four shops … The hall is commodious, and is approached by a fine vestibule, a stage and dressing rooms and also a gallery add to the comfort of both entertainers and patrons …” Originally the building contained a row of (four) retail shops with attached 1st floor residences. We know that the business enterprises of three of these shops comprised a draper, a chemist and a stationer.
Collaroy, a beachhead prone to sand erosion
Arlington Amusement Hall’s location, built right on to the beachfront has made it and other buildings around it on that side of Pittwater Road susceptible to storm damage. In 1944 huge storms lashing the beach washed away some three metres of the Hall’s foundations. Fortunately the building was in the main spared in 2016 when many nearby properties had their frontages, fences and walls uprooted in the massive winter storms…not so fortunate was the Collaroy Beach Club premises affixed to the Arlington Hall/Hotel which lost a balcony in the violent onslaught of savage nature.
PostScript: Collaroy’s other building relic
It is interesting that Arlington Hall started its life as a picture theatre because today when people associate Collaroy with cinema, they think of another old historic building on the opposite side of Pittwater Road – the still operating, independent Collaroy Cinema (trading as ‘United-Cinemas” in conjunction with Avalon and Warriewood cinemas further up the peninsula). Collaroy Cinema, an Art Deco building from the 1930s, with its garish and (to some tastes) sickly blue-painted exterior, stands out from the modern beach shopfronts around it. The Art Deco building retains its elegant design, but its tired, slightly battered appearance representing nearly 80 years of lived-in experience is in stark contrast with the “tender loving care” bestowed on The Arlington. Collaroy Cinema remains one of the relatively few surviving and operating picture houses of its kind in New South Wales.
Nomenclature: the name of both the suburb and the beach derives from the paddle steamer SS Collaroy which was stranded off the beach for three years in the 19th century (1881-84).
⋇ coming on top of Merivale’s 2016 acquisition of another Northern Beaches’ landmark, the even more historic Newport Arms (rebranded by Hemmes as ‘The Newport’)
✦ Amusement Hall seems to be a bit of a misnomer…rather than being a place where you’d expect to find penny arcade machines and games of fun and luck (the domain of English style seaside piers), amusement halls, also common in the US in the same era, could simply be large buildings which functioned as multi-purpose community halls
John Morcombe, ‘Arlington Amusement Hall a Collaroy icon for almost a century’, Manly Daily, 31-Oct-2014
‘Collaroy/Narrabeen, Voices from the Past’, Australian Heritage Festival, 01-May-2017, www.nationaltrust.org.au
‘The Collaroy hotel’, Architects Nicholas + Associates, http://anplusa.com/projects/the-collaroy-hotel/
‘Art Deco Cinemas, Picture Palaces and Movie Theaters’, www.decolish.com
The Conqueror (1956) was a doomed film, both cinematically and in terms of its devastating human cost. Its reception critically was abysmal and its performance at the box office was less than mediocre. Reviews for the movie disaster have been consistent in assigning it an unenviable position as one of cinema’s worst ever pictures, one of Hollywood’s greatest “turkeys”¹.
Yahoo!Movies described The Conqueror as “the most toxic movie ever made”…tarnishing the careers of those who appeared in this egregious stinker, especially its star John Wayne, effectively bankrupting RKO Pictures (costing a blown-out $6 million) and contributing to the deaths of an inordinate number of its cast and crew².
John Wayne, faced with the need to fulfil the third and final picture of his contract with RKO, apparently fished the discarded script out of the rubbish bin and convinced the assigned director Dick Powell (who in turn convinced RKO’s owner Howard Hughes) to make the film with Wayne playing the role as Mongol warlord Genghis Khan (a role intended apparently for Marlon Brando). By all accounts Wayne was grossly miscast⋇, interpreting the great Mongol leader as a cowboy (probably an entirely natural notion for the Duke!). The script (by Oscar Millard) was terrible and vacuous as the following inane, awkward samples of the dialogue illustrate:
Temujin: I feel this Tartar wo-man is for me, and my blood says, take her. There are moments for wisdom and moments when I listen to my blood; my blood says, take this Tartar wo-man.
Temujin: She is wo-man, Jamuga…MUCH wo-man!
Radioactive set The Conqueror was a patently absurd vehicle by any standard – as an attempt at film art or as a plausible historical reconstruction…but as disastrous as the movie was, it was to have far more serious and far-reaching tragic consequences. Most of the filming took place at Snow Canyon¤ near Saint George in Utah, 130 odd miles from a nuclear test site where the US Government detonated 11 above-ground nuclear explosions in 1953. By the time location filming took place, June-August 1954, winds had shifted the still highly radioactive soil downwind to Snow Canyon. The shooting of the action sequences (in an adventure movie this was most of the film!) necessitated that the performers wallowed in the carcinogenic dust day after day.
The film’s producers (Hughes and Powell) were aware of the proximity of the atomic testing before shooting started but had been assured by the government that the atomic tests posed no risks to public health, a gross deception (self-deception?). Compounding the dilemma, at the end of the location work Hughes ordered that 60 tons of the radioactive reddy-brown dirt from the Snow Canyon site in Utah be carted back to the RKO film set at Culver City for re-takes!
Consequently, by about 1980 it could be shown that 91 of the 220 individuals who made up the film’s location staff had contracted cancer including its stars Wayne, Susan Haywood, Agnes Moorehead and Pedro Armendáriz (one of Wayne’s sons who had a small part in the movie later also died of cancer). There is no definitive way of proving that the contaminated soil was 100% to blame for the cancer deaths…Wayne had a heavy smoking habit (up to seven packs a day!), as did others in the cast, which could have been a contributing factor to the malignancies⍔. The harmful effects of the area’s radiation however is undeniably part of the explanation for such an aberrant outbreak of disease. Robert Pendleton, professor of biology at the University of Utah, concluded that the toxic fallout of Saint George was of epidemic proportions, that the toll was about three times what might be expected³. In addition it is well documented that health checks on ordinary residents of Saint George similarly revealed higher incidences of cancer than other comparable areas⁴.
PostScript: Howard Hughes’ own private purgatory
As is well-known, The Conqueror’s Producer Hughes lived as a recluse, (literally) hermetically sealed off from the rest of humanity, for his last years. It is believed that he deeply regretted his decision to go ahead with The Conqueror project. Hughes delayed the film’s theatrical release and attempted to purchase every single print to try to keep it out of the public eye. Part of his penance in his hermit mode of existence, it has been claimed, was to watch and re-watch the disastrous movie every day (along with Ice Station Zebra⁵).
⋇ Wayne as a 13th century Asiatic warrior was a ludicrous choice, as the casting was overall – only two of the entire performers were of Asian descent. Many of the doomed extras were undisguised Navajo Indians
¤ Howard Hughes thought the rolling red hills would be similar in appearance to the steppes of Mongolia
⍔ although ‘Duke’ Wayne did not die from his lung cancer (which went into remission) but from the subsequent stomach cancer he contracted [Gaggiano, below]
¹ included in H & M Medved & R Dreyfuss’ 1978 The Fifty Worst Films of All Time
² ‘The Conqueror: The story of the most toxic movie in Hollywood history’, (Yahoo!Movies, 09-Nov-2016), www.uk.movies.yahoo.com
³ Pendleton: “…in a group this size you’d expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up even in a court of law” – Karen G Jackovich & Mark Sennet, ‘The Children of John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dick Powell Fear That Fallout Killed Their Parents’, People, originally posted 10-Nov-1980, www.people.com
⁴ Rory Carroll, ‘Hollywood and the downwinders still grapple with nuclear fallout’, The Guardian,, 06-Jun-2015, www.guardian.com
⁵ Greg Caggiano, ‘The Conqueror (1956): The Film That Killed John Wayne … Literally’, Reel to Real, 26-Jul-2010, https://gcaggiano.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/the-conqueror-1956-the-film-that-killed-john-wayne-literally/
The walk from The Spit to Manly is one of Sydney’s classic walks along a wild, rugged yet suburban coastline. The full journey is 10km through lush, dense bush land and spectacular lookouts. The first half of the walk (rated Grade 3 by NPWS) – Spit Bridge to about Balgowlah Heights – has a lot of up-and-down, crossing over foot bridges, winding steps but nothing too steep. The water views looking across to Little Manly, North Head and South Head are singularly impressive, and offer a sharp contrast with the contours of the walking track, through promontories dominated by a thick covering of nature.
The aesthetic significance of The Spit to Manly walk is evident to anyone who follows its sinewy trail, but it was also intriguing for me to discover little snippets of local history along the way. In my previous post (‘Sydney’s Heritage and History Trails: Manly Scenic Walkway’), I featured some of the historical points of interest pertaining to the eastern end of the Manly Scenic Walkway (Fairlight to Manly Wharf).
Our starting point for the MSW walk going west to east, The Spit✥, a narrow channel of land jutting out from the northern part of affluent Mosman, was originally known as the “Sand-Spit”. Although there had been some tentative type of service earlier, Peter Ellery started the first truly effective ferry service from the Spit to Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Ellery ran the service from land he had acquired for farming in present-day Clontarf (today where Ellery’s Punt Reserve is situated) in a direct line over the water to the tip of The Spit. Ellery charged the users of his hand-operated punt ⅙d for a horse and cart and 6d for pedestrians. His service proved popular, popular enough for it to become a public ferry by 1871 (in 1888 a steam punt◙ replaced the hand-cranked boat) [‘The Spit – Historical Overview’, (Local Studies Service, Mosman Library, www.mosman.nsw.gov.au)].
The growing pressure for improved communications and transport lines between Sydney and the Manly area prompted a series of proposals (1862, 1888, 1915) for a bridge to be built across The Spit, before finally the go-ahead was given and a low timber bridge constructed and opened in 1924. Manly Council financed the bridge, and in a deal with the state government was permitted to reimburse its expenditure by collecting tolls for its use. In 1930 control of the bridge was passed to the Department of Main Roads [‘The Spit – Historical Overview’, ibid.].
The current bridge, a bascule lift span type made from steel and concrete, dates from 1958. The bridge, constructed in the same position as the erstwhile timber one, is also low-lying … consideration was given to making it a higher level bridge, but displaying a regrettable lack of foresight, the powers-that-be eventually plumped for the easier option and their legacy is still bedevilling Sydney motorists today! The Spit Bridge is believed to be the only Australian lift bridge still in operation on a major arterial road [‘Spit Bridge’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org].
Clontarf Pleasure Grounds
A beautiful tranquil reserve fronting the beach sits on the land where Clontarf Pleasure Grounds once stood (owned for many years by publican Issac Moore (Sr) and his descendants). For around half-a-century from circa 1860 the Grounds was a popular venue for numerous leisure activities…including games of quoits, skittles and cricket, picnics, swimming and of course drinking! Clontarf Grounds were reputed to be “the oldest, largest, and most shady pleasure grounds in the harbour” [MacRitchie, John, ‘Clontarf’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008,http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/clontarf, viewed 31 Oct 2017]. Over the years Sydney’s Clontarf has had several associations with Ireland: the name itself derives from the Battle of Clontarf, 1014 (a town close to Dublin); in the 1800s the grounds drew huge crowds during holidays including the Catholic Young Men’s Societies on anniversary days.
Attempted assassination in the Pleasure Grounds
In March 1868 a lone, mentally disturbed Irishman (and alleged Fenian sympathiser⌘) Henry O’Farrell took the opportunity during a visit by Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh to Clontarf, to shoot but not kill Alfred, Queen Victoria’s son. The British Prince was not badly wounded (the would-be assassin’s bullet was impeded by the “double thickness of the Duke’s trouser braces”). Prince Alfred was ferried to Sydney’s Government House for treatment. One unintended upshot of the incident was the establishment of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) at Camperdown through publicly subscribed funds raised to commemorate the Royal’s safe recovery◬. O’Farrell’s fate was sealed, he was summarily tried and hastily hanged within a month. His lawyer tried to run an insanity defence (entirely plausible) but in the prevailing climate O’Farrell’s case was a hopeless one. The incident had provoked pro-royal Australians into unleashing a torrent of prejudice aimed at Catholics, Fenians and Irish folks generally [MacRitchie, ibid.]
Clontarf Beach ‘Tent City’
During the Great Depression this now fashionable beachfront and reserve at Clontarf was the site of an impromptu tent city comprising several hundred homeless people down on their luck…the makeshift tent ‘homes’ were cobbled together with posts found in the bush and hessian (coated with whitewash, lime and fat as waterproofing)[MacRitchie, ibid.]
PostScript: MSW’s white sands
One of the pleasures of walking the stretch of the MSW track between Clontarf and Fairlight Beaches is coming upon the various little beaches that jot the coast. Often sheltered in bays away from the powerful ocean currents, some of these “mini-beaches” are accessible only from wooden staircases leading down from high on the promontories around Dobroyd Head and Balgowlah Heights. Bearing names like Castle Rock Beach, Forty Baskets Beach, Reef Beach and Washaway Beach, walking on these pockets of sandy white strips convey a sense of being in a remote and deserted location, despite most of the spots being a only a stone’s throw from middle class suburbia.
Grotto Point Aboriginal carvings
A short diversion off MSW onto a side track on the Dobroyd Point stage of the walk will allow you to view a number of archaic Aboriginal engravings – this part of the headland is known as Grotto Point. Enclosed in wooden pens are various depictions of whales, boomerangs and small fish carved into the rock platform.
✣✣ for more on Clontarf and the whole Sydney pleasure grounds era see also my 2014 post ‘A Day-Trippers’ Paradise: The Vogue for Pleasure Grounds in 19th/20th Century’
✥ a Spit (or sandspit) is a deposition bar or beach landform that juts out from the coast
◙ the introduction of the steam punt at The Spit later on (1911) would allow the Manly trams to be carried across Middle Harbour [MacRitchie, ibid.]
¤ as a result Northern Sydney motorists continue to be plagued by traffic bottlenecks every time the Spit Bridge opens in the middle for passing water crafts
⌘ It seems to have been generally assumed at the time that the Irishman was acting on behalf of the Irish Underground Fenian Brotherhood but this remains inconclusive
◬ the adjacent Duke of Edinburgh Parade is named in honour of Prince Alfred
Of the many, many coastal walks afforded by “the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security…”(Governor Arthur Phillip’s appraisal of Port Jackson after sighting Sydney for the first time in 1788), the seaside walk on the southern side of the suburb of Manly✳ is certainly right up there with the most picturesque of them.
Henry Gilbert Smith
Pivotal to Manly Scenic Walkway (henceforth MSW) and to the seaside community of Manly as a whole is the historic Manly Wharf, the original of which was built by Henry Gilbert Smith in 1855⌽. Smith, known as the “Father of Manly”, had a vision of how the undeveloped bushland that dominated Manly in the 1850s could be transformed into a thriving seaside resort. Purchasing and leasing in excess of 300 acres of land, Smith built Manly’s early hotels, including one (as a sop to the local Temperance Society?) that served only soft drinks! As well the pioneer entrepreneur was responsible for planning the layout of Manly’s streets and parks as they still exist today [‘Manly Heritage Plaques Walk’, www.manlyaustralia.com.au]
Carrying passengers to Manly
Creating a seaside resort a good 11.3km from Sydney (a formidable distance in the 19th century) necessitated a good transport link. Travel by water was the obvious mode of transport for the beach suburb. HG Smith started the first regular service from the wharf operated through the paddle steamer Phantom which ferried day-time visitors to Manly and night-time theatre-goers to and from Sydney in the 1860s. From the 1870s the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company. controlled the suburb’s ferry services. Briefly in the early 1890s the Port Jackson Co had competition from a new rival, the Manly Cooperative Steam Ferry Co which lowered fares and increased services. By 1896 the Manly Co-op business however faltered and was wound up and Port Jackson Co resumed its monopoly.
The Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Co, whose motto was “Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care”, continued to serve the public at Manly until 1972 when its role was taken over by Brambles Industries which in turn passed ownership to the state government two years later [‘The Heart of Manly Heritage Walk’, www.manly australia.com]. In the early 1990s the government operator introduced Catamaran vessels, JetCats, to replace the unreliable and costly hydrofoils…the Manly service is now operated by Bass and Flinders Cruises operating as Manly Fast Ferries.
East Esplanade was the venue for many of Manly’s early cultural activities, such as the Venetian Carnival which flourished from around 1913 on. The carnival comprised stalls with food and entertainment (eg, “chocolate wheels and other gambling devices”), costumes, fireworks and a water pageant [‘The Heart of Manly Heritage Walk’]. By 1930 the annual Venetian Carnival was promising the greatest “new attractions, new frolics and new stunts … ever organised in the Southern Hemisphere” with the inclusion of aeroplane rides, a “night time raid”, a “monkey speedway” and participation by Manly Surf Club. The event in 1930 ran for three weeks during Summer with the proceeds pledged to Manly Hospital and other local charities [The Sydney Mail, 15-Jan-1930 (Advertisement)]
A meander along the Esplanade
Rows of Norfolk Island pines (no surprise to learn was also the idea of HG Smith!) flank MSW with narrow strips of sand on both sides of the wharf forming beaches sheltered in the cove from the ocean. Standing in front of the wharf building opposite Manly’s famous (Italian-inspired) Corso, if you go left, past the fast food outlets on West Esplanade the walking path heads back toward the suburb of Fairlight. Right, past Aldi◘ takes you on to East Esplanade and the walkway curves around past an assortment of clubs devoted to aquatic pursuits (Manly Yacht Club, 16ft Skiff Club, etc) and connects up with the locale known as Little Manly.
If you head further east where the Esplanade ends, the road will make its way to Little Manly Beach and Point with its spectacular promontory views. Little Manly today is uniformly residential but for a very long period (1883-1964), the Manly Gas Works located at Manly Point Park met all the area’s domestic gas needs.
Beyond Little Manly is the dense pristine heathland known as North Head, a sandstone promontory with a significant history of military and immigration activities. North Head’s surviving fortifications were strategically important to the country’s eastern coastline defence especially during WWII. The headland also functioned as Sydney’s Quarantine Station for a huge stretch of New South Wales’ history (1832-1984), isolating smallpox and other infectious diseases from entering the community.
Little penguins and large selachii
Starting back at the wharf and heading in a western direction this time, along West Esplanade, we note the first of numerous stencilled messages on the walkway alerting walkers to the presence of little penguins. Manly Wharf and its surrounds are known nesting grounds (May/June) for migrating colonies of Eudyptula minor.
Further along MSW one of the first complexes we pass is the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, a public aquarium displaying sharks, stingrays, little penguins (easier to spot here than on the nearby shoreline!) and other refugees from the ocean. A lure for thrill-seeking visitors is the “Shark Dive Xtreme” (swimming with 3m plus grey nurse sharks). The Sanctuary has been somewhat of an institution in Manly for 52 years¤ but is now in the final chapter of its Manly story – in March this year the management announced its upcoming closure, citing that the business, in a small ageing building, was no longer viable [B Kay, ‘Manly Sea Life Sanctuary aquarium to close at the end of the year’, Manly Daily, 30-Mar-2017].
If we follow MSW walkway to its natural end-point, it would take us past magnificent, dense bushland, serene bays and scenic lookouts on a trek of 10km to the low-lying Spit Bridge – this archaic looking bridge is the curse of motorists forced to twiddle their thumbs in peak-time gridlock whilst the bridge opens in the middle to let various sea craft through its passage.
The walkway passes another local landmark Manly Pavilion (a bistro/reception venue these days) and continues up the stairs. At the top two base relief bronze plaques greet walkers and joggers, these are of Federation era politicians Edmund Barton and the somewhat itinerant Henry Parkes, both residents of the area in the 19th century. Apparently these are replacement plaques as the originals were stolen from the site in 2014 [J Morcombe, ‘Federation fathers Barton and Parkes stolen from Manly’, Manly Daily, 01-Apr-2014]
The MSW path soon reaches the suburb of Fairlight, in the 1920s, along with Balgowlah collectively known as Manly West. Fairlight was named after Fairlight House, the mansion home of Henry Gilbert Smith (that seminal figure in Manly’s development again!). English-born Smith took the name from a village in Sussex. Built in the 1850s by colonial architect Edmund Blacket, the house was demolished in 1939. All that is left to remind us of its one-time grandeur is a plaque on the spot showing a grainy old photo of the grand house.
Fairlight Beach Dutch submarine episode
The small beach at Fairlight with its rocky shore and unpredictable breaks holds no attractions for board surfers but its position nestled into the cove and small tidal pool makes it kid-friendly. A tourism sign on the beachfront recounts its connection with a Dutch submarine which had seen action in the world war against the Japanese (the K.12 succeeded in torpedoing several enemy warships). The K.12 sub had been residing in Manly harbour when heavy storms in 1949 prompted the leasee, the Port Jackson Co, to try to tow it to a safer haven in Neutral Bay. Unfortunately in the process it became grounded near Fairlight Beach and sat there for 18 months before being refloated early in 1951…the K.12 was salvaged for scrap and eventually finished up in a new location near Ryde Bridge where it sank again! Parts of the sub’s engine and the bow are still wedged on rocks at Fairlight Beach [G Ross, M Melliar-Phelps, A century of ships in Sydney Harbour (1980); ‘Submarine Refloated, Salvaged for Scrap’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18-Jan-1951]
PostScript: Kay-ye-my, the Aboriginal name for Manly Cove and North Harbour
Long, long before the Europeans came to the area, Manly was home to two indigenous Eora peoples, the Cannalgal and Kay-ye-my (AKA Gamaragal) clans, who were the custodians of the land. On one part of the walkway overlooking North Harbour there’s information signage which celebrates the Kay-ye-my clan who for millennia contentedly inhabited the Manly region, living a traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering.
The Gamaragal were situated on the north shore of Port Jackson – occupying the land from Karabilye (Kirribilli) to the cliffs of Garungal or Carangle (North Head) and the sandy bay of Kayyeemy (Manly Cove) [‘Gamaragal – Aboriginal People of Manly and Northern Sydney’, Dictionary of Sydney, 24-Sept-2013, www.home.dictionaryofsydney.org
FootNote: Manly East and Manly West
Less than one hundred years ago Sydney cartographers divided the suburb of Manly and its greater surrounds neatly into East and West Manly…as illustrated in the following street maps taken from the 1922 Wilson’s Street Director (predecessor of the standard Sydney street directory Gregory’s). Today’s distinct suburbs of Fairlight, Clontarf, Seaforth, Manly Vale and North Manly are not identified on the maps, and ‘Balgowlah’ and ‘Dobroyd'(sic) are listed as locales only. Note also no bridge at The Spit in 1922.
✳ the origin of the name for the suburb can be traced back to Phillip himself…on his visit to the area the first governor described the aboriginal inhabitants as ‘manly’ in physique. As if to demonstrate the veracity of Phillip’s observation forcefully, one of the clansman in fact speared the governor over a misunderstanding at Little Manly Beach! (Phillip recovered from his wound and to his credit did not seek to inflict retribution on the native population)
⌽ later a second parallel wharf was built for cargo transport which became redundant after the construction of Spit Bridge in 1924 enabled easier road transport. In 1928 the cargo wharf was converted into a Fun Pier which operated until 1989
◘ where the Manly Fun Pier was until its closure and demolition in 1989
¤ starting in 1965 as Manly Marineland and later known as Oceanworld Manly before its present handle
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
~ Søren Kierkegaard
On the 17th of this month US film actress with a social conscience Marsha Virginia Hunt turned 100, joining the illustrious company of Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas, forming a trio of Hollywood film centenarians all still alive! (Libby and Kirk both reached their triple figure milestones during 2016).
Adulation for Marsha’s momentous achievement haven’t quite attracted the stratospheric fanfare or media attention and hype that Kirk Douglas’ 100th bash did last December, or in past years as other Hollywood household names like Bob Hope’s did. Of course it would not be expected, Marsha has never achieved the limelight that those other centenarian luminaries demanded in their Hollywood careers. She was a serious actress but never got the star ‘creds’ that others in the business did…but the elusiveness of stardom for Marsha wasn’t down to a shortfall in her acting ability – rather the explanation for this lay in the intervention of external factors which were to impact on her career.
Ms Hunt’s film career from its start in the Thirties looked promising, but in the super-charged, competitive stakes for the glamour female roles she came close without ever quite clasping the big prize…especially in 1939 when she tested impressively for the much sort-after part of Melanie in Gone With The Wind but narrowly lost out to (fellow centenarian) Olivia de Havilland. The following year Hunt did score a supporting role in the prestigious period movie Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier.
After World War II the grubby, gutter politics of McCarthyism dealt a savage blow to Marsha Hunt’s career…as it did to numerous other Hollywood liberals during that time when it was the fashion de jour in America to go full-throttle after citizens who were merely alleged or implied to be communists (truly a “Dark Age of guilty until proven innocent” witch-hunts!) For a fuller account of Hunt’s story see my earlier blog on this site (June 2014) Marsha Hunt, Lifelong Social Activist: Not your Average Hollywood Role Model.
With her reputation unfairly besmirched (tantamount to no more than implicit guilt by association!), Hunt was punished by being inexorably squeezed out of the Hollywood film mainstream. Potential parts in A-movies disappeared and the public saw her relegated to B-pictures and eventually to television and theatre (few good roles in theatrical movies came her way after 1947, the 1948 film noir Raw Deal and the much later Johnny Got His Gun (1971) were rare exceptions for the Chicago-born actress).
After being blacklisted by HUAC in 1950 after having made around 50 films since 1935, Hunt only featured in three films during the next eight years [‘Marsha Hunt (actress, born 1917)’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org]. By the Fifties and Sixties Hunt was finding work only easy to find in television – in a minor-note series Peck’s Bad Girl and in numerous guest roles on Zane Grey Theater, The Twilight Zone and so on ad infinitum.
Marsha Hunt: Life lived forwards…
After her semi-retirement in 1960 Hunt stepped up her active involvement in progressive causes including support for same-sex marriage, ending global poverty, raising awareness of climate change and promoting peace in Third World countries [Memos, Roger C. (October 17, 2014). “Honoring Actress – Activist Marsha Hunt on her 97th Birthday!”. Sherman Oaks, California: Patch.com. Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2016]
In a series of interviews last week in honour of her 100th birthday Miss Hunt reflected on her career and on the missed stardom, which seemed to have touched her but only lightly. Hunt merely remarked of her Hollywood years that she was grateful for being allowed to be an actress and show her versatility on the screen✳…or as she put it in her characteristically humble, unassuming way, she is “a grateful girl of 100!” [J Kinser, ‘Marsha Hunt at 100: The Actress Recalls the Blacklist, Film Noir and Being Cast in Gone With a The Wind‘, Movie Maker, 13-Oct-2017, www.moviemaker.com].
JE Smith seems to have summed up the essence of Marsha Hunt and the paradoxes in her movie persona and career fairly well in the title of his interview with the centenarian, “American girl, Un-American woman, upstanding centenarian” [JE Smith, ‘Marsha Hunt: American girl, Un-American woman, upstanding centenarian’, Sight & Sound, 17-Oct-2017, www.bfi.org.uk].
Once vilified by HUAC as “Un-American”, Hunt’s longevity and achievements are testimony to all that is good about American society – an authentic patriot but also a defender of freedoms for all citizens – whilst repudiating all that is bad about American society. At the same time we have Hunt’s unceasing activism as a humanitarian concerned for the world as a whole and its future well-being, a tireless advocate for peace and progress, and for a more fair distribution of resources and safeguards for the environment.
✳ the unstated inference is clear…rather than being factory-made into (an overhyped) star!
The 1939 cinema classic The Wizard of Oz, the movie that launched teenage singer/actress Judy Garland into stardom, has long had a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most ‘cursed’ films.
Many, many things did go wrong on the set, including costs…the MGM musical/fantasy came in over budget at a cost of $2.8 million. This in part reflects The Wizard of Oz’s disjointed trajectory – going through five directors including King Vidor, George Cukor and Richard Thorpe and 14 screenwriters in the course of the production. The movie’s ultimate director Victor Fleming (who also directed the other great Hollywood film of 1939 Gone With The Wind) was widely suspected of Nazi sympathies.
The staggeringly appalling treatment of 17-year-old Judy Garland (Dorothy) would today be seen as out-and-out child abuse, irrespective of whether it was within or without the celebrity world. The film-makers half-starved Judy, limiting her to only one square meal per day, fed her on barbiturates and got her fixed on an 80-a-day cigarette habit. Garland eventually spiralled into a tragic pattern of drug dependency and suicide attempts. [E Power, ‘The Wizard of Oz – Dark side of the rainbow’, Irish Examiner, 15-Sept-2014, www.irishexaminer.com].
Equally alarmingly was the casual disregard of the health and well-being of other cast members as well. Buddy Ebsen (later famous as Jed Clampett in TV’s Beverly Hillbillies), to achieve the silver make-up of his character “The Tinman” was coated in aluminium powder which gave him an allergy and got into his lungs, after two weeks he became seriously unwell and was hospitalised and out of the film✳. His replacement Jack Haley was less exposed to deadly toxins but still contracted a troublesome eye-infection.
Fitting out supporting actress Margaret Hamilton for the role as the “The Wicked Witch of the West” meant painting her skin with green copper, exposing her to a clear carcinogenic risk. Even more perilous, in one hazardous scene Hamilton was nearly burned to death when a pyrotechnics feature went horribly wrong…requiring the actress to be hospitalised for a couple of weeks.
The film’s jinx extended to minor players like the munchkins (small colourfully-garmented characters portrayed predominantly by people with the condition dwarfism). The vertically challenged actors were grossly underpaid (‘Toto’, Dorothy’s dog in the movie was paid more than them!) and consequently they got drunk every night and reportedly ran riot on the set. Even Toto didn’t escape a mishap – one of the supporting actors accidentally stepped on him in a scene breaking the mutt’s paw and necessitating a canine replacement.
In the celebrated poppy field scene Dorothy and other characters get saturated in snow flakes, the only problem was the substitute snow comprised sheets of lethal asbestos![Power] Hollywood regularly used 100 percent industrial-grade chrysotile (white asbestos) in films, in White Christmas (1954) Bing Crosby got it poured all over him! Ray Bolger’s “Scarecrow” straw-filled costume was also lined in asbestos in order to be flame-proof [S Kazan, ‘The Wizard of Oz or The Wizard of Lethal Asbestos Exposure?’, (Kazan, McLaine, Satterley &’Greenwood], www.kazanlaw.com].
The curse for a time seemed to continue post-release. Although The Wizard of Oz is universally celebrated today as a classic of the cinema, it did not meet with immediate acclaim from either the public or critics. These reservations did not start to turn around until the CBS television network reintroduced the movie to the wider public in 1956. In 1989 the US Library of Congress nominated The Wizard of Oz as “the most-viewed motion picture on television syndication” [‘The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org]. Countless scores of viewers of the joyous spectacle of ‘Oz’ over the years would have been blissfully unaware of the unhappy, off-screen events that relentlessly dogged the production.
PostScript: Judy a victim of MGM’s mogul monster
MGM’s systematic abuse and exploitation of Judy Garland emanated from the very top of the studio – MGM head Louis B Mayer. To get the absolute most out of the studio’s new star Garland, Mayer maintained tyrannical control over all aspects of the Wizard of Oz star’s life⌖.
Mayer hooked Garland on a cocktail of drugs, having her fed alternating courses of amphetamines, adrenaline shots and downers like Seconal. And Mayer, to ensure that Judy, away from the studio, kept to the strict diet of coffee, chicken soup and cigs, had a battery of spies reporting back to him on the beleaguered actress’s behaviour [Neil Norman, ‘Dark side of Oz: The exploitation of Judy Garland’, Express, 05-Apr-2010, www.express.co.uk]]
✳ Ebsen as a result of exposure to the deleterious materials was required to use a respirator for the remainder of his life (he lived to 95) ⌖ a mistreatment aided and abetted by Judy’s own mother Ethel who mercilessly drove the early show business career of Garland and her sisters, thinking nothing of feeding the three sisters pep pills to cope with the brutal workload she had burdened them with! [Norman]
Glebe Point Road is the heart of the inner west suburb that bears its name…a leisurely stroll from the Broadway end of the road reveals the variable character of Glebe itself. Close to the Broadway Centre are numerous eateries and coffee shops frequented by Gen X’s, Millennials and the occasional Zennial, three-quarters of which are university students from just across Parramatta Road at USYD. As we get closer to the other end (Glebe Point) there is a mix of elegant old houses, isolated groups of shops and a liberal sprinkling of backpacker lodges. This built-up urbanisation a stark contrast to the era before white settlement in the 18th century when the Glebe area was a Turpentine Ironbark forest inhabited by the indigenous Wangal and Cadigal clans.
The word itself, glebe (from glaeba (L), clod of earth), refers to an area of land devoted to the maintenance of an incumbent of the church. The colony of Port Jackson’s first governor, Arthur Phillip, set aside the land here for church purposes in 1789.
Sydney’s Broadway and Parramatta Road marks the eastern boundary of Glebe and the suburb extends west to Rozelle Bay, a body of water flowing into Johnstons Bay and eventually into Sydney Harbour. Rozelle Bay houses a bustling marina sitting on a strip of land incongruously known as “Glebe Island” (not an island!) which accommodates the old bridge that once linked Pyrmont to Glebe Island and Rozelle, which was replaced in the mid 1990s by the modernist looking cable-stayed new Glebe Island Bridge (name later changed to Anzac Bridge).
Although Glebe was subjected to waves of greed-fuelled demolition during the 20th century, heritage architecture still characterises a significant chunk of the suburb’s residential complexion. A representative sample of 19th century houses have been preserved despite the best efforts of developers and development-sympathetic state governments to jettison the old to make way for new dwellings and a network of freeways crisscrossing Glebe (see PostScript on Lyndhurst below).
Early trends toward gentrification
The Church’s 1856 sell-off of some of its land in Glebe was the spark that started the suburb’s long spiral into an inexorable gentrification. A two strata society developed with Glebe Point (the bay end) becoming the location for many new homes of the urban gentry, these better-off citizens were clearly separated off from ‘The Glebe’ where the more numerous working class resided.
By 1870 the terrace had become the dominant build form in Glebe. By WWI there was several distinct types of terrace – colonial Georgian, Regency, Victorian Gothic, Italianate and Federal style – standing side by side. Terraces were the optimal solution to accommodate Glebe’s rapidly growing population, having the virtue of economical outlays on land and building materials.
Italianate villas and cottages figure prominently among the residences of Glebe that have survived to this day, eg, Bellevue c1896 (Italianate Victorian home reprieved from the demolishers’ wrecking ball, today a cafe for walkers (with or without dogs) and cyclists on the foreshore)❈; other Victorian Italianate buildings including the Glebe Court House, the Town Hall and Kerribree. Many of Glebe’s finer buildings were the work of the leading architects of colonial New South Wales (such as Barnet, Blackett and Verge). For a time Glebe was known as the architect’s suburb.
As the early land use of Glebe was taking shape the foreshore was not considered suitable for residential development, opening the way for exclusive use for marine industry – and for sporting activity. Glebe Rowing Club has long had its position on Blackwattle Bay and Jubilee Oval, near the old tramsheds, was the home ground of Glebe Cricket Club in the Sydney Grade Cricket competition.
Timberyards in the foreshore dress circle
A walk along the foreshore from Blackwattle Bay reveals precise little of the suburb’s concentrated industrial past. Modern apartments sit hunched together close to the waterfront where once timberyards and sawmillers dominated the landscape❈. On the foreshore path a monument to those activities is a rusty old crane and winch…Sylvester Stride’s Ship-breaking Yard and Crane business used these devices to break up steamers to recycle metals. Most of the industry – which also included noxious industries like boiling down works and slaughterhouses as well as a distillery – were gone from the Bay by 1975. Hardy’s Timber Mill, an extended complex of building structures, was for a time converted into artists’ studios.
Remarkably, the small grassy stretch of foreshore known as Pope Paul VI Reserve was until the early eighties the only public access point on all of Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays. The papal appellation bestowed on the reserve derives from the lobbying efforts of right-wing Labor Catholic politicians in Leichhardt Council to commemorate the spot where Paul VI landed by launch during his 1970 papal visit of Australia.
One item remaining on Blackwattle is Walter Burley Griffin’s Glebe incinerator dating from the early 1930s. An elegant building in the Art Deco style, in 2006 it was restored as an interpretative work with its once impressive chimney stack in skeletal form. The incinerator was one of a number in Sydney (and elsewhere) constructed by the famous Canberra Capital designer as a response to council’s need to find a more effective way to dispose of increasing amounts of consumer garbage۞.
PostScript: Georgian mansion with a varied past
A survey of Glebe’s history and heritage is not complete without noting one of its grandest, earliest and still extant old homes. Lyndhurst is a mansion with an exceptionally colourful history. The once impressive scale of the estate has been plundered by successive subdivisions over the years…if you visit it today by locating its street address (57-65 Darghan St) the big surprise is finding that the building’s back affronts the street! Lyndhurst was built in 1833 by colonial architect John Verge as a marine villa for surgeon and pastoralist Dr James Bowman, the son-in-law of wool pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur. In the last 100 years the Lyndhurst estate has served many purposes – from theological college to pickle factory to hospital to broom factory and in the 1960s and ’70s as the headquarters of the Australian Nazi Party (Australian National Socialist Party). Lyndhurst was one of the many great Glebe residences slated for demolition in the early seventies by Askin’s government, a fate it and many others fortunately avoided!.
❈ the campaign to save Glebe’s heritage homes from corporate culling was spearheaded by the Glebe Society, formed by concerned local residents in 1969
today there is one remaining timber yard along the shoreline of Rozelle Bay, Crescent Timber, being actually in Annandale, adjacent to Federal Park
۞ hitherto the preferred methods of disposal were either piling garbage on to tips, burying it or carting garbage six miles out to sea on barges and jettisoning it overboard (only for the tide to return it to shore!), had met with growing public disapproval
 B & B Kennedy, Sydney and Suburbs: A History and Descriptions, (1982)
 eg, the vision of long-term Liberal premier of NSW Robin (Robert) Askin, born and bred in Glebe, was to turn the suburb into a network of freeways – fortunately for Glebe’s heritage integrity this was never implemented, ‘Sir Robert Askin’ https://www.glebesociety.org.au/?person=sir-robert-askin
 ‘History and Heritage’, The Glebe Society Inc, www.glebesociety.org.au
 Solling, Max, Glebe, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/glebe, 03 Oct 2017
 ‘History of Glebe Foreshore parks’, (City of Sydney), www.cityofsydney.gov.au
 ‘Timber Industry’, (Glebe Walks), www.glebewalks.com.au
 ‘Pope Paul VI Reserve (interpretative sign)’, (Glebe Walks), www.glebewalks.com.au
 ‘Historic Glebe Mansion Lyndhurst, Once Australia’s Nazi Party Headquarters, on Market for $7.5M’, (B Wong), 07-May 2016, www.dsilytelegraph.com.au