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George Wallace

An Australian comedian, vaudevillian and film star. He was one of the most successful Australian comedians of the 20th Century.

He was born George Stevenson Wallace at Aberdeen, New South Wales, and died at Kensington, New South Wales. His career as one of Australia's most popular comedians spanned four decades from the 1920s to 1960 and encompassed stage, radio and film. Ken G. Hall, who directed him in two films, wrote in his autobiography that George Wallace was the finest Australian comedian he had known.

The story goes that Wallace was born in a tent in the middle of winter in the New England region of New South Wales. The midwife reportedly fed the newborn baby hot porridge to help him survive the freezing temperatures. George later turned the resultant damage to his vocal cords to his advantage and his raucous voice soon became part of the trademark for the "Boy From Bullamakanka". In the 1920s he appeared as part of a duo with 'Dinks' Patterson named Dinks and Onkus.

The pair danced and sang, and for someone who looked like a wharfie (with his barrel chest and short legs) Wallace was surprisingly acrobatic and light on his feet, and the public loved him for his slapstick style and everyman appeal.

Turning solo, Wallace was soon snapped up by the Fuller circuit in Sydney and from there he moved to the Tivoli Theatre circuit. By the 1920s he was considered to be one of the "Big Three" most popular performers in Australian comedy. He wrote all of his own scripts and in 1945 penned a song that was to become a World War II standard, "A Brown Slouch Hat with The Side Turned Up".

The 1930s saw George turn his talents to film. He starred in five films, all comedies. Three of these, His Royal Highness (1932), Harmony Row (1933) and A Ticket in Tatts (1934), were directed by F. W. Thring for Thring's company, Efftee Film Productions. The other two, Let George Do It (1938) and Gone to the Dogs (1939), were directed by Ken G. Hall for Cinesound Productions.

Wallace's contributions to these films extended beyond his performances. He developed the concepts for His Royal Highness, Harmony Row and A Ticket in Tatts by drawing on his stage revues, and co-wrote Let George Do It and Gone to the Dogs. Wallace's other film work included a 1932 short film, "Oh! What a Night!", which he is said to have directed unofficially. In later years, he was seen in supporting roles in two dramatic films, The Rats of Tobruk (Charles Chauvel, 1944, Australia) and Wherever She Goes (Michael Gordon, 1953, USA/Australia).


The five feature films that Wallace starred in are among the few surviving examples of his work. As the most sustained series of Australian comedian comedies produced before World War II, these films provide some support for the claim that George Wallace is Australia's equivalent of Charles Chaplin. Yet Wallace's work was more original than this comparison suggests; he did not simply emulate Chaplin and his comedy films were not mere copies of Hollywood movies.

In his physical presentation as well as his performance style, George Wallace differed from international stars of slapstick comedy. For instance, his clothing and speech allude to an Australian working-class type and contrast with Charles Chaplin's mock-dapper Tramp persona.

The fact that Wallace's performances combine tap-dancing with pratfalls makes him unusual among film comedians anywhere. Moreover, Wallace's films prefigure developments in Hollywood comedy. An example is the fictional country of Betonia in His Royal Highness, which predates satirical depictions of fictional nations in such celebrated films as The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (1933) and Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940).

Other aspects of Wallace's films that are relatively unusual for the period are the comedic treatment of haunted houses in Harmony Row and Gone to the Dogs and scientific experimentation in Gone to the Dogs, which emphasize the resourcefulness of Australian filmmaking in the face of Hollywood's international dominance.

George Wallace's transition from stage to screen parallels the career progressions of many internationally famous vaudeville performers in a period when movies' popularity was eclipsing live theatre. However, the financially struggling Australian film industry of the 1920s and 1930s provided fewer opportunities than Hollywood did. Although Wallace continued to work after World War Two, with a successful career in radio and on stage as well as occasional film roles, his film career never returned to its 1930s peak.

This was undoubtedly influenced by factors outside his control, such as F. W. Thring's death in 1936 and Cinesound Productions' decision to cease feature film production in 1940. Indeed, the films that Wallace stars in defy the fact that the Australian film industry was already struggling to survive. These films continue to be a high point of Australian screen comedy.

Wallace's films with F. W. Thring formed a precedent for later comedians to move from the stage and television to feature films; examples are Barry Humphries, Paul Hogan and the Frontline (Australian TV series) team.

Unlike many Australian comedies made before World War II, Wallace's films do not celebrate the bush as "the essence of Australianness".[10] Instead, these films are significant for reflecting Australian comedy's movement away from the bush to emphasise urban settings, which would become more prevalent in later Australian comedy. However, the full significance of Wallace's films in relation to later Australian screen comedy is perhaps yet to be understood.

In recent decades, George Wallace has been the subject of a documentary film, Funny By George: The George Wallace Story and a stage show about his life, Falling On My Left Ear: A Show About George Wallace.

George Wallace had one child, George Leonard Wallace (George Wallace Jnr.), who became a famous comedian in his own right. He had considerable success on television in the late 1950s and 1960s. George Wallace Jnr's television show, Theatre Royal, which originated in Brisbane, won a Logie Award in 1962 and 1963.
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