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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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I watched the special on the Performance Channel about Sir Robert Helpmann. Very interesting. They didn't mention too many actual dates & I suspect they may have tweaked the chronology in a few places.

The Tales of Helpmann (1990)

His mother was on stage but she gave it up when she married. She determined to give Bobbie every chance (making up for chances she felt she missed?). Bobbie used to "direct" his sister (interviewed) and their friends in childhood productions.

His father went to Melbourne one time & when he came home he said "Well if you're going to dance you're going to dance well and there's a girl there that's got a company and she'll take you in as a student and you'd better be good" So he went into Melbourne with his Mother the next week and "the girl" that his father had met was Anna Pavlova !!!

Bobby was fascinated by Pavlova (who wouldn't be) and worked well with her but his father refused to let him leave for Europe with her.

So he went into musical comedies. Met Margaret Rawlings who was touring Australia with The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Helpmann was allowed to go to Europe with Margaret & her husband (more respectable than a single female dancer, also Bobby was a bit older by then). Margaret Rawlings was a friend of Ninette de Valois (Madame) who was just establishing the English National Ballet. Margaret introduced the young Helpmann & he continued the ballet training he'd started under Pavlova. He was put into the corps de ballet for Coppelia in his first year. For the next season he danced the lead role of Satan in Job. Madame then choreographed The Haunted Ballroom for Alicia Markova with Bobby as her partner. This was followed by the first full performance of Swan Lake outside Russia.

De Valios then told him "I've found you a new partner" and introduced him to a young girl called Peggy Hookham - better known as Margot Fonteyn.

They danced Sleeping Beauty in 1936.

Bobby took drama lessons at the Old Vic as well as dance at Saddler's Wells (both were managed by Lilian Bayliss). He played Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1937. Vivian Leigh was Titania, Ralph Richardson was Bottom & John Mills was Puck.

Bobby started to choreograph in 1946. A ballet of Hamlet was followed by the play (at Stratford) with Bobby as the lead in both.

The ballet company moved to Covent Garden & they became The Royal Ballet after the war. Sleeping Beauty with Margot & Bobby was a triumph in London and then at the New York Met.

He played King John and Shylock in one season at Stratford upon Avon - while still dancing with Margot at Covent Garden.

Then in 1947/8 - The Red Shoes !!
(He'd already played De Jong, the quisling, for P&P in OOOAIM).

Moira was interviewed and said "Well it was the last thing we expected. We thought it'd be a nice little movie. It would come out - it might have a little bit of success, then be forgotten like everything else. But it still goes on now"

There were some clips from ToH in the opening credits & the whole thing was called "Tales of Helpmann" - but no real mention of his work in ToH !!

Powell appeared in Bobby's "This Is Your Life" in Australia presenting him with a pair of Red Shoes and a ballet master's cane.

Larry Olivier mounted two plays for The Festival of Britain in 1953. Shaw's Caesar & Cleopatra and Shakespere's Anthony and Cleopatra. With Vivian Leigh, Larry & Bobby in the leads they were a huge success in Britain & then on Broadway.

Bobby was Vivian's friend and confidante off stage. She loved his wicked sense of humour, his impertinence and willingness to send up the over pompous (like Larry). Larry was not amused :(

Bobby and Frederick Ashton danced the ugly sisters in the Sadler's Wells Christmas pantomime ballet, Cinderella.

Bobby made a huge hit on Broadway and then London opposite Katherine Hepburn in The Millionairess. Kate then toured Australia with him and the Old Vic company and the Sadler's Wells ballet. Bobby & Kate did Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure and The Taming of the Shrew.

Bobby wrote "The Display" after Kate & he went to see some Lyre birds in the forest. Probably the first all Australian ballet.

Bobby then invited Nureyev to Australia and they danced Don Quixote. The performance (and the 1973 film) helped to establish the Australian ballet.

Bobby was a favourite uncle to the children of his friends. However when he played the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang he terrified them. But he soon won them over again.

Bobby partnered Dame Margot in The Merry Widow in her later years.

There was an argument with the board of the Australian ballet & Bobby resigned. Asked about the woman who succeeded him, he said "I understand she was in the corps de ballet of TRS ... but I can't remember her" :)

He did a lot to rid Australia of "The Cultural Cringe" (was it Clive James who named it thus?) The way that Australians had a tendency to think that everything artistic from Australia was bad and only artistic things from abroad were any good.

One of his last roles on stage was for Dame Ninette as The Red King in Checkmate at Covent Garden.

Interviews with his sister, Margot Fonteyn, Stewart Granger, Moira Shearer, Dame Ninette, Margaret Rawlings, Alicia Markova & Katherine Hepburn.


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