A Talk by Bunny GibsonBy: Bunny Gibson (Nov 13 2004)
By way of an introduction to the Guest Speaker on Saturday evening John O’Dea told us about his recent trip cross-country to Adelaide via Stockinbingal. His vivid account of their adventures through the back blocks must surely have been wishful thinking, but once they reached the metropolis and the gay bath-house Harry knew, they were able to put their fantasies to the test.
The guest speaker was Bunny Gibson. She was not in the least put out by John’s lurid tale, nor did she notice that the audience of seventy or eighty was slightly down.
She was, she told us, born in Liverpool, England the daughter of George Albert Victor Gibson. When asked why he had so many names when she had only one he replied he was named after the Kings. “And which King was called Victor?” she challenged the authenticity of his claim. The irreverence which prompted her grandparents to also include the name of the King’s mount is the font of her sense of comedy and the ridiculous.
She was born in 1940s and experienced the rationing and other hardships of the aftermath of the War. Television was in its early years and she was lucky enough to land a job in the burgeoning industry – in Sydney, Australia. Being under age, her parents insisted that she be housed with proper supervision. She still enjoys the irony of her parents concern in the choice of hotel – the Rex at Kings Cross.
She became friends with the hairdresser down stairs, a young man who was yet to undergo transformation into Carlotta of Les Girls fame. She worked in the theatre, and the security of an ongoing contract with a margarine commercial which paid very well.
She served her time in Vietnam with other entertainers and said the Aussies took care of their girls by making sure that they were never without a drink. Ironically she said it helped dull the pain but of what she left to our imaginations.
Then she married John Meillon and her account offered her the opportunity to describe some pre breathalyser folklore that has would be remembered by most of the locals in the audience.
Among the wedding guests was a visitor from the old country who had to be persuaded to come to the ‘reception’. Being hard up John and Bunny were holding their reception at a Mosman pub. When that was explained, he said “Well, all right, but just for one…” Standing in the circle he accepted the drink bought for him. When he finished it he made to leave amid protests. Embarrassed he said he had specified for one drink. “Oh no, not one drink, one round. John bought the first, now it’s your turn!”
The newspaper account given by the chauffeur who was a friend. He told them that while John studied the form, she was hitting the grog. But their married lasted over twenty years and in showbiz, it had its highlight and its downs.
One anecdote she told concerned a visiting celebrity on location in the bush. Robert Mitchum was reluctant to accompany John and Bunny downstairs to the bar. However he was persuaded to overcome his reluctance when the very thing he feared happened, not because he was afraid for himself, but of hurting the inevitable smart alec who picked a fight. And of course he knew that it would happen. When it did, he told the clown he could have one blow, but nothing to his face, his livelihood. The punch to his solar plexis went almost unnoticed, but the tough man of cinema delighted the bystanders when he demanded his reciprocal rights.
She was in London when she received a cable telling her of her husband’s death. She returned immediately and is forever grateful when she was met at Mascot by an mutual friend. His going to pieces, almost total collapse which immediately threw the responsibility upon her to look after their old friend and made her forget her problems.
She told of how she was asked to become an ambassador, but having always travelled together on her husband’s Australian passport she had never been naturalized. Having said she would like to accept, she was impressed with what expedition it could achieved. Nancy Wake is another ambassador, who lives in London and who supported by none other than the current heir to the throne.
Bunny remains grateful for what had initially been a very generous payment for her role in the margarine ads, though the payment was never raised over the seventeen years she played the part. To this day it remains the same. As a professional, she said, she has devoted her life to building and polishing her skills and she believes she deserves proper reward for it. She doesn’t believe in giving professional services for nothing.
That said, she says that she cannot understand the huge prices asked for by the big productions and how ordinary families can possibly afford to take their children to what she clearly believes is an essential part of their lives. She herself supports the smaller theatres. She has spent the past five or six Christmases with the same six foot six companion and she is looking forward to visiting Adelaide with him soon after.