Monday, 12 December 2011

Tall Poppies: David Williamson's Nothing Personal

At interval I rushed out and ordered two gins and tonic in a clenched and stertorous panic fearing the second half of the play might well be as bad as the first; and then, for want of tonic, a Black Label scotch with ice. But the second half was fine. For David not Kristin had written it, and the evening then rose to his long accustomed altitude of dull bland Shaftesbury Avenue acceptability. There were genuine laughs and some actual poignancy when Carla died of brain cancer and her daughter addressed her empty chair. But the first half came close to war crime, and in a better ordered universe Kristin would be tried in The Hague for it and get two years, and the Ensemble and David six months each for collaborating with the enemy.
It is time these implacable Williamsons were discussed with clarity and care. They have sued me, justly, once before this and received in reparation the ruin of the briefly resurrected Nation Review. And I did like very much Don Parties On and I said so publically, to David's perplexed and mawkish gratitude, earlier this year. And we do talk warmly from time to time. But Nothing Personal, despite superb performances, a nice transparent-perspex design by Steven Butler and shrewd, longsuffering direction by Mark Kilmurry, up against it like no-one since General Perceval in Singapore, has insulted the intelligence of even its most pliable North Shore audience unforgiveably this time, and even they applauded only listlessly, wondering what precisely it was they had seen. Let me strive to explain this.
Bea, a female publisher, tells Roxanne, her assistant for thirty years, that the Booker Prize if won by a certain author would increase her sales, but a Booker Prize nomination would have absolutely no effect. And Roxanne nods as if this nonsense were news to her; or true. Bea deplores furthermore all novels of the multicultural bent (by which I guess she means The Slap) which 'get down in the gutter' and is righteously reluctant to publish them, preferring Anita Brookner. Naomi, her game young sub-editor, tells her times have changed and plots to overthrow her; and in part pursuit of this aim assents to being fucked by Kelvin, the wealthy handsome adulterous Chairman of the Board, in his Byron Bay hinterland farmhouse, to which he has flown her in his personal jet and to her surprise, after lashings of champagne, flung her to the carpet and had his way with her. Because of this, and her lying about it, her longtime squeeze Simon, an idealistic inner city architect intensely involved in public housing in Newtown, leaves her forever, being ignorant of the long tradition of stray fucks by lady publishers in most of the recent centuries. She copiously repents, and wants him back, and he, morosely returning to pick up hisx things ... but I shouldn't spoil it for you.
Nothing which deigns to occur in these eighty-two minutes which I will never get back has any plausibility except the brain cancer, and Bea's neglect of her daughter in childhood, which persists in surprising her daughter, though not the rest of us, for decades thereafter; and, oh yes, Naomi's metropolitan promiscuity, treachery, ambition, self-righteousness, presumption and venality. But not her or Bea's manner of talking. No female publishers I have ever known in the course of twenty-two books have ever talked like that, like Playschool presenters unveiling the alphabet, nor known so little of life among the lower orders and refused to read about them. As always these Williamson characters speak in uncontradicted explicatory paragraphs, dumbed down to the level of those Women's Weekly subscribers who increasingly crowd the matinees, and his people only vestigially exist outside the hobbling plotline he and Kristin have rough-hewn for them, one steamy summer Sunday afternoon in Port Douglas, Noosa, or Byron.
It is all very strange, and pretty familiar. It is what one might call the curious, continuing Williamson South Sea Bubble, unpierced and scarcely examined these thirty-four years. The Big Brand Name continues and its usual audience, unaware of any other Australian writing, turns up religiously to it year after year. It is as though no other Australian drama exists. The Slap does not exist; Grass Roots does not exist; Blue Murder; Rake; Underbelly; Hotel Sorrento; Beneath Hill 60; Breaker Morant; The Year My Voice Broke; Angel Baby; Honour; Noise; Traitors; The Games; A Hard God; Animal Kingdom; Cloudstreet; A Local Man; Pig Iron People; Country Music; Sky; Away; Blackrock; Intimate Strangers; Italian Stories; Myth, Propaganda And Disaster In Nazi Germany And Contemporary America; King of Country; Barmaids; Diving For Pearls: works of plain superiority to Top Silk and Corporate Vibes and Celluloid Heroes and The Great Man which pummel on the doors of the few available theatres while Williamson, still bizarrely thought our finest playwright when he is merely our tallest, continues to somehow prolong his underwhelming yet charismatic reign by yet another decade, yearly banking millions and ofttimes bellyaching that he is not praised enough -- like Madonna or Albert Schweitzer or Carl Sandilands  or Mother Teresa -- for the suffering he has endured for his art, in a kind of parallel universe where rivals and standards and new opinions barely exist. It is a form of lunacy, like Enron, or Demidenko, or Norma Khouri, or Baz Luhrman, and should be exposed, or at the least mulled over by a Noosa psychotherapist.
What is worst about all this is what one might call the Kristin Williamson Rule of Thumb, which declares all sins that are initially denied are always forgiven when at last found out. Thus Bea's neglect of her daughter Lucy in childhood and her contempt for Lucy's working class bloke is initially punished by her banishment from her grandchild's life, but is then, after haughty confessional declamation, forgiven and re-embraced. And the workplace sexual harasser Kelvin, rebuffed in love, yet retains the respectful friendship of the gorgeous, talented female he so briefly whanged and so lavishly shamed in the Byron Bay hinterland (there is no Byron Bay hinterland, I come from up that way, discuss) and now in penance overpays. It is the ethic of a female inner-urban careerist long practised and skilled in Spin, one who, in her haughtily glamorised memoir David Williamson: Behind the Scenes, understates, by my count, her own unhidden adulteries while overstating and hyperbolising David's; and I speak with some close personal knowledge of this, and of matters long known by a few surviving elderly readers once agog at the Williamson-Ellis exchanges in Days Of Wine And Rage, whose re-publication Kristin has lately forbidden, printing the legend, as she is wont to do.
...Some aged lingering grudges inform these present rancorous ruminations, of course, and some envy of a public success and national esteem so inordinate and ill-gotten. But most of it, I swear, is altruistic aggravation at the yearly gazumping of theatres hallowed and crowded as the Ensemble by such blithering shallowness as this while great works like, say, The Will, by Amy Maddison, are performed unnoted in tinier, grimier spaces to audiences blown away by their excellence.
Greta Scacchi, a formidable, tall and erotic presence, gives her Bea what beef and heft and brain she can, recalling now and then Faye Dunaway's simmering Crawford in Mommie Dearest. Julie Hudspeth is very good as her longtime supportive plain-speaking lieutenant Roxanne. Matthew Moore has a whiff of Stork about him in the gloomy mistrustful role of Simon, Naomi's patient cuckold, here played very well indeed. Jeannie Drynan is blithe and moving as the oversmiling, overbuoyant, bulky, grandchildless cancer patient Carla; Emma Jackson very fine as Bea's vengeful, scalded, unforgiving daughter Lucy; and Andrew MacFarlane persuasive as the wealthy womanising wooer Kelvin, especially in the boozy, bumpy seduction scene and its nods towards date rape. And Rachael Coopes makes a fair deal of sense of Naomi, the usual Kristin supergirl, jangling, righteous and brimming with sexual doubt and moral ache, who will always opt for the money and whore herself when the opportunity, and the tempter's dick, arises. And Mark Kilmurry's direction, given the text, is miraculously subtle, measured and somehow, despite the mounting vacuity, dignified.
But whatever the signature's truthfulness it should not have been staged as written. A couple of weeks' rewriting after some workshopping and some lacerous dramaturgy was essential and might just have saved the first act from its unceasing embarrassments and me from alcoholic excess, but I doubt it. Some research on the publishing industry might have helped. Les Murray's fine definition of publishers, 'air hostesses in training', might have added a laugh. But sheesh it was a shocking night.
None of these glum, exhausted, necessary judgments were arrived at with any pleasure I assure you in the last three cranky nights of their accumulation. I too would prefer, like David, a quiet life. But the Emperor's New Clothes have been falsely acclaimed for too long by a lot of intelligent people who should know better, and proudly worn for too long by a nice man, fallen among flatterers, whose foot has been for too long on the throat of larger talent, causing harm to our civilisation.
And so it goes.


At 14 December 2011 at 14:35 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

Nothing personal? I hope I can stay on your right side, Bob. (or is it the left side?)

Our main bone of contention is the worthiness or otherwise of Julia Gillard. As you may have noticed, I regularly defend her and her government, mostly because I see her as a bulwark against the sacking of Rome by Abbott and his vandals. I don't know about you, but I see encouraging signs lately that given some clear air, a Labor Prime Minister may slowly emerge from Gillard's (admittedly steep) learning curve.

I know that your antipathy is personal, going back to the Baktiyarhis, but sometimes the greater good has to be considered. If it is not possible to praise Caesar, perhaps Caesar could be ignored and never mentioned in polite company?

At 15 December 2011 at 16:22 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No, what should happen is we follow the logic of saying Rudd should never have been leader and ask Beazley back. He won back nineteen seats that Keating catastrophically lost and in 1998 got four hundred thousand more votes than Howard, two party preferred, and on the day he was replaced Labor was on 54 percent where now, under Gillard, they're on 43.

He could be made PM tomorrow and given Garrett's or Melham's or McLelland's vacated seat in an urgent by-election and while he's waiting sort out Nuigini. With Kelly at Defence, Faulkner at Foreign Affairs, McKew given Arbib's seat and Arbib Washington and MKew given Arts and/or Communications, Smith Trade, Rudd South Pacific Small Emergencies and Gillard, well, Immigration, and everyone else pretty much where they are, it would soon look like a Labor Government worth voting for.

Beazley at 63 is three years younger than Churchill when first PM.


At 15 December 2011 at 19:51 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

Hmm. All that assumes Beazley wants to go back in. I think he is quite well placed in Washington, and that he'd want his head read to get into the lions den again.

As for the rest, may I say it is pie in the sky, or perhaps porcine aviators doing aerobatics?

At 15 December 2011 at 22:17 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No, I think if Beazley were offered the Prime Ministership of Australia and nineteen months to enact some policies he favoured he would ptobably say yea, and so would you or I. It's a tragedy anyway that he was displaced by Crean and Latham and Rudd and John Faulkner each time voted for his displacement. I ask him yo apologise now for this. He is too much forgiven for his high and lofty intentions and too infrequently cursed for his fuckwitted votes in caucus.

I ask him to respond to this.

At 15 December 2011 at 22:41 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Sorry, 'probably say yes'.

At 16 December 2011 at 00:03 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to understand why "The Club" was, and evidently still is, assigned for HSC study.

At 16 December 2011 at 00:22 , Blogger Frances said...

Kim Beasley was a loveable man, who alienated the public in several ways: one, by not demonstrating the respect towards the women in his life that the ghastly Howard showed to his...see videos of them both in public.
Howard always ushered, turned to, had a protective arm for Janet. Kim's eyes when his daughters or wife embraced him were always elsewhere, roaming around the room. Not a good look.
Another, by referring to people/the public as "folk", a demeaning word suggesting that we were all forelock pulling yokels engaged either in spinning wheels or morris dancing.
A pity ... mind you, he also seemed to get a bit too excited about war games.
Otherwise a pretty nice bloke.
He probably won't do a worse job in Washington than Mark Vaile.

At 16 December 2011 at 00:39 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

The Club was a very good Beresford film with Graham Kennedy, Jack Thompson, Frank Wilson and John Howard, and it has a number of fire-eating middle-aged male roles and performs on the stage quite powerfully. It was more closely researched than a lot of his work and genuine in its love-hatred of Australian Rules and benefits, I think, from its paucity of female characters which Williamson (and/or Kristin) never does very well.

Plays close to Williamson's own early experience like The Coming of Stork, The Department, Don's Party, What If You Died Tomorrow and Emerald City work well as a rule in almost any production. It's the prefabricated, topical, headline-hogging ones like The Great Man, Top Silk, Corporate Vibes and Nothing Personal that irritate the most, because, I think, they always contain a Kristin Supergirl figure that has no parallel in the human species in any epoch of modern or ancient or pre-neolithic history and the audience sense its fraudulence and though they applaud it dutifully go off shaking their hesds.

The one you really should see is his 'Australianised' King Lear ('You bastard of a wind!') which demonstrates a shallowness of mind and a feebleness of taste that must have come from some sort of nervous breakdown, drunken bender or marital distraction that future bored biographers would do well to examine.

At 19 December 2011 at 15:35 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

From David Williamson:

Bob, I tried to post this on your blog but it asked me for a URL and I'm not technical enough to know what it was asking for. Probably best I send it to you privately in any case.

Bob, you're really displaying some primeval anger there by going back to a King Lear I wrote some thirty years back on the request of Peter Oyston in order that school kids could grasp the plot then go back to the original text. Oyston believed, maybe wrongly, that as roughly a third of Shakespeare's words have changed meaning, most quite radically, that it might be a way to approaching the difficulty many young students have making sense of the material. It was most probably a misguided enterprise but in no way meant to denigrate and certainly not matvh the words of the Bard.

On the rest of your diatribe, what can I say? I'll stop writing my plays when people stop coming and NOTHING PERSONAL is all but sold out on word of mouth. When you're attacking me like that you're also denigrating the audiences who do come. This is evident in your contemptuous referral to them readers of women's weekly. To you they're idiots who don't know any better. To me they're intelligent and decent people who find my work connects with their lives. I'm not about to step down according to your commands. It's simple. Theatre requires audiences. People come to my plays and always have. If they didn't get something out of them they wouldn't keep coming. I don't make decisions to program my work. Theatre companies do because they don't like to go into debt. By Sandra Bates own admission programming my plays for the last fifteen years has helped the theatre survive and prosper so that the work of other writers can be seen and appreciated. The Ensemble has never had any subsidy in its fifty years existence and so box office success is crucial. Sandra assures me, and has shown me the figures, that the Ensemble is only in the healthy financial position it is because of my plays. I like to think I have helped a terrific little theatrecsurvive. Like the Elizabethan writers I'm a working playwright. I craft plays to the best of my ability in the hooe people will come, and I love doing it and I get a huge buzz out of the connection between the play and the audience. I've never claimed to be Australia's greatest dramatist butbI work hard at the craft and apparently I've been doing something right. I did appreciate the fact that you liked "Don Parties On" and said so publicly. And I did thank you privately, perhaps too effusively, but it's been hard to endure the regukarity if your of your savage attacks on myself and Kristin over the years so for you to say something positive about me was gratifying and surprising. At any rate now you've brought things back to normal with your burst of rage maybe you'll find someone else to attack, at least for a while. David Williamson

At 20 December 2011 at 15:05 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Dear David,

I don't think the 'it makes money' argument holds much water. Privatised prisons make money. Cluster-bombs make money. Child prostitution makes money.

The question is whether you serve Australia better than, say, Nick Enright or Steve Sewell or Hannie Raison or Jan Balodis or Amy Maddison or Barry Oakley or Tom Murphy by putting on your recent third-rate work in venues that might prosper these better writers and so make money that you don't need and they could use to write more plays or feed their children.

It's not entirely your fault, of course. There should be more theatres, and there's a lot of subsidised Williamson-grovelling by lazy managements you probably never asked for or muvh like. But it is worth wondering, I would think, since you do make buckets of money (what is your fortune? twenty million dollars?more?) if it might not be better spent in the coming year on a new small theatre in some provincial city -- you could afford it -- that puts on original plays by Australian writers still undiscovered or too long neglected; in belated gratitude, you might say, for the help you got from the rest of us when you were starting out.

You speak of the 'regularity of my savage attacks' as if I did it every week. But if you care to look at the record you will find I praised in print your episode of Libido, Stork, The Coming Of Stork, The Department, Don's Party, Petersen, Duet for Four and Travelling North, and I went four times to Dead White Males which I really admired and took friends to, and I told John Derm backstage how much I esteemed A Conversation, wrote a crit extolling Face To Face, the movie, and -- as you say --defended Don Parties On against its many rancorous elderly attackers, only last year.

And to the best of my memory I have cursed in print in the last FORTY years only Gallipoli, for which you amazingly sued me, Eliza Fraser for its unamusing farcical-cannibalism-and stomach-spearing sequences, your wacky ocker endless King Lear, and, last week, Nothing Personal, which in your current welter of baseless fury you have judged somehow to be the climax of a mounting series of 'diatribes' I sit up late most nights confecting against you out of envy, though they occur on average only once a decade.

Please believe me: you and Kristin scarcely feature in any of my twenty-two books, which usually have bigger fish to fry -- Hawke, Keating, Beazley, Bush, Blair, Bin Laden, Hicks, Haneef, Assange, the Bakhtiyari family, the Murdoch family, the Kennedy family, the execution of Saddam Hussein, the history of slavery and the foolishness of the global capitalist economy-- and rarely, if ever, advert to our famous threesome, or Kristin's lies about me in her thrice-spun book about you and your 'open marriage' and its occasional queasy consequences. Please read one of them sometime, or any ten pages of any one of them, to get some sense of my range of sympathies, friendships, beliefs, moral worries, pet dogs, family life and preoccupations.

What you do not seem to grasp in all these years of your unending self-absorption and low-level paranoia is how boring you are --not so much in your plays, which quite often succeed, but in your published prose, which barely attains the drear, parched levels of Gerard Henderson. I ask you read with care, for instance, your cranky response to me above and then oany article by, say, Wendy Harmer or Annabel Crabb or David Marr or Marike Hardy or Les Murray or me.

You do not rate as a writer of prose, David. Please do better in this field if you can. Take lessons. Practise. Go to Kristin for tips. And please do not moan of your unjust persecution by your vigilant envious enemies when many, many theatres put on your recent mediocre plays while refusing better ones. Or moan in better prose.

At 20 December 2011 at 15:13 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

(Continued) If you want to take this any further I suggest you turn up at Gleebooks on some imminent, mutually convenient night -- your seventieth birthday, perhaps -- and read out some of your better prose for half an hour and I'll read out some of mine, and then have Justice Kirby measure by the audience response which one of us is funnier.



At 20 December 2011 at 20:02 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

I should add that I loved The Removalist and convinced Maggie Fink to make a film of it and so sped your fortunes in cinema. 'Second rate' I should have said, not third.

No need to overdo it.

At 22 December 2011 at 03:28 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No word from David for two days. I perhaps overdid it.

No denial either that Kristin wrote the first half of Nothing Personal. How many others, I wonder.

In 1974 she said to my wife Anne Brooksbank, 'You're so lucky Bob lets you put your name on the plays you do together.'

There's probably been a few more since then.

At 22 December 2011 at 11:16 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

I am a (dis?)interested spectator. I do love to watch a good argument. :)

At 27 December 2011 at 23:47 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They have sued me, justly, once before this and received in reparation the ruin of the briefly resurrected Nation Review."

Bob, you repeat again above that I sued you over Gallipoli. This is not true. I considered it, went to a good QC, was told that your accusation that I had plagiarised dialogue in Gallipoli was slanderous and I could extract money from you pretty easily if I'd cared to. I didn't care to. All I asked was an apology in print as accusing a writer of plagiarism is a serious accusation. Your apology did not bankrupt the Nation Review, as no money at all was involved. I could have also made a lot of money out of me when you made the extraodinary accusation on radio that I didn't write my seminal play, "The Removalists" but had stolen it from an actors improvisation. The actors themselves refuted this the next day and your only defence was that you had heard this story from someone but couldn't remember who.

Again I chose not to sue even though being accused of plagiarising the whole play which had established me as a playwright was about as low an accusation as they go.

I have no desire to read my prose alongside yours. I'm not a prose writer of any distinction and few can match your rhetorical gifts. I write plays, which to your annoyance continue to attract audiences.

I an happy to be considered boring if you are the touchstone of someone who is interesting.

Your attacks on Kristin are hurtful to both of us. As long as I keep writing plays I am a fair target, but Kristin has been a terrific wife, a wonderful mother and grandmother, and as you concede, a talented prose writer, but she's not writing any more. If you have any decency just leave her alone.

Your level of viciousness towards your targets says more about you than them.

David W

At 28 December 2011 at 03:23 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Ellis, you poor man. You're 70. Let it go. How sad that you spend late nights thinking of a new way to malign a playwright who has survived 40 years when you have barely made it in the alternative theatre. Yes, I loved King O'Malley but you did have a gifted co-writer. You have talents. Heaps. I used to read your Nation Review pieces and laugh out loud. I hear you are sought after as a speech writer by every state politician who has ever lost an election. Why bother using your considerable wit on trying to destroy a playwright you once claimed as an admired friend? Ah, but you are an honest creature. You do admit you are envious.
No, I didnt write a word of Nothing Personal.
Yes, there was a mass of research into publishing companies. David acknowledged and thanked two major companies, Penguin and Random House in the program.
Why do I even bother to reply to you Bob?
I never read blogs but Bruce Bersford alerted me, laughing in disbelief, to this one. And at the time he had just see Nothing personal and was genuinely positive about it. Check that out if you dont believe me.
Enough already. It Christmas. A dear friend up here on the Sunshine Coast has just lost his whole family - wife and three small daughters in a tragic house fire and the whole community is in shock.
There is more to life than creating vitriol.
Sad man, let it go.

At 28 December 2011 at 15:33 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Dear Kristin,

No, I'm not 70; no, I don't write plays; no, I never made it in the alternative theatre, not even 'barely'; no, I never wrote for a politcian who subsequently lost a state election; no, I'm not sad. You get everything so wrong.

I'm 69. I don't write plays, I co-write them -- and screenplays, and television series, and speeches and songs -- and there's a big difference. My co-written plays and screenplays have won more awards than David, but more than one person wrote them. There were two screenplays though that I did write alone: The Nostradamus Kid, which tied for the Critics' Circle prize with The Piano which won an Oscar, and Orwell 1936 which Colin Firth calls the best script he ever read. But what would he know.He probsbly hasn't read Eliza Fraser.

The state leaders I wrote for, Carr, Rann, Gallop, Bacon, Rees, sometimes lost elections before I worked for them but never after. The federal leaders I wrote for, Keating and Beazley, each lost and won an election, Beazley only on the numbers alas, with 400,000 more votes than Howard. I work for Bill Shorten and Paul Howes now and each is looking good; like future Prime Ministers some say. I wrote as well for Debus, Shaw, Sartor, McLeay, Bradbury, Lomax-Smith, Cicarello, Kamahl, Margaret Throsby, Bob Brown and one secret Governor-General, speeches of which they were occasionally, not always, proud. I've never had a play staged in an 'alternative theatre', only the Ensemble, the Prade, the Jane Street, the Independent, the Phillip Street, the Theatre Royal Hobart and the Stables, places David was not too proud to be seen in.

Why get it all so wrong? And why for fuck's sake declare that old friendship should stop me railing against a bad play, any more than our three nights in bed in Diamond Creek should stop you from bagging me now, thirty-seven years later? It didn't stop either of you from suing me only six years later. Why be so inconsistent? Why be so stupid?

As a constant, serial co-writer (with Michael Boddy, Les A Murray, Akex Buzo, Stephen Ramsey, Andrew Ramsey, Denny Lawrence, Anne Brooksbank, Tracey Rohrsheim, Vivienne Skinner, Rob McLachlan, Paul Cox, Carl Schultz, Carl Green, Phil Noyce, Bart Rose, Chris Neal, Craig Lahiff, Lex Marinos, Mark Batistich, Max Gillies, Bruce Beresford, Drew Forsythe, Geoff Burton, Darren Hanlon, John Ralston Saul) I've never been in that sense David's direct competitor, and he's never truly worried me as a rival dramatist: I'll back Newsfront against Phar Lap, Unfinished Business against Duet For Four, A Local Man against The Last Bastion, Down Under against Corporate Vibes, and The True Believers against Dog's Head Bay, any time.

What did worry me, however, and still worries me about him and you is your strange refusal to give anything back -- to the arts community that made youso lavishly rich. I assume you have about thirty million dollars. Why not, like Patrick White, endow a David Williamson Scholarship, or Fellowship, or Festival, or Foundation? Why not, as Nick Enright did, assist young playwrights with their stagings and revisions? Why not, as Annie and I did, though we had almost no money, buy a small theatre and make its sole purpose the putting on of new plays by Australians?

It was the Nimrod Street Theatre, later renamed The Stables. It launched, while we owned it, the careers of Michael Gow, Michael Lynch, Steven Sewell, Jim McNeil, Robert Menzies, Anne Tenney, Grant Fraser, John Upton, Rob George and Penny Cook and further propelled Mel Gibson. We charged two hundred and fifty dollars a week for the hire of it, poured buckets of money into it that we earned elsewhere, in television writing mainly, never sold it to developers, never had a subsidy. (continued)

At 28 December 2011 at 16:17 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...


Look, I'm sure you're right, and Bruce Beresford was 'genuinely positive' about Nothing Personal: he's a good, loyal friend and a tactful collaborator. But if you also asked him about Intimate Strangers, the play by Denny Lawrence and me that he directed as a reading, with Amanda Bishop as Marilyn Monroe and Rhys Muldoon as Laurence Olivier, and if he rates it as worse or better than the best David Williamson play, he might well vacillate before he answers. You could ask him on Saturday, when we're both at his party. Let's do that shall we. And we could also ask the same question about the Wharf Revue.

And your lofty assertion that I'm 'sad' I find a little puzzling. I've never been divorced, unlike you and David, or on drugs or alcoholic or clinically depressed, and Annie, my partner of forty-six years, a good cook,and our three graduate children and our tiny, buoyant grandson Remy and his motger Slice Ellis had our usual Christmas beer tasting on Sunday over Sydney's finest water view befire I went back to my Murdoch miniseriesand my Shakespeare In Italy rewrites and it all felt like a modest quantity of happiness to me. But perhaps you know better. Perhaps you are more informed.

Your idea too that I stress over David night and day seems equally embellished, hyperbolic and foolish. I didn't realise until this morning he'd even written back; two and a half days ago.

And I do know how it feels to have one's house burn down, Kristin, I really do, and how it feels to lose a sibling too; but I do not insert those punishing traumas into my public arguments on other things. And I wonder why you do.

One night when we were fucking in Diamond Creek in the bedroom with the billiard table in it you told me you were descended from German royalty. And it struck me then that your attitude is a good bit like that of a royal. No criticism will be tolerated. Her Majesty is not amused. Live theatre is our patch, we are the Firm, and we hereby assert and proclaim that Droit De Seigneur which upstarts of lesser ilk must not presume to. Go away, Ellis, you're a serf, a scullion, a nothing. Please bow while walking backwards out of the room.

I ask you to look again into that mirror in which you always see yourself as the fairest of them all, and know yourself, at last, through other, cooler, more democratic eyes.

David I will get to separately.

See you Saturday.

At 28 December 2011 at 17:18 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Sorry, 'his mother Alice Ellis'.

At 28 December 2011 at 21:03 , Blogger Ben Pobjie said...

Know what's a good play? "We Will Rock You". Why doesn't David write something fun like that?

At 28 December 2011 at 21:30 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Add to those I've written speeches for Bryan Brown, Geoffrey Rush and Jackie Weaver and to those I've written screenplays with Chris McGill, Fred Schepisi, Ernie Dingo and Werner Herzog.

I'm really sorry for the literals, and will try to improve my touch-typing and my late revisions.

I was called away to the cricket and I'm sorry.

At 28 December 2011 at 21:32 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

And Gerry Connolly.

At 28 December 2011 at 23:08 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

It's possible I've put Kristin in some difficulty here. If she admits to the fucking it will mean, if the date is correct, that a good deal of her memoir is false, or spun, or misremembered, or refabricated, or re-edited.

If she does not admit to it she will have to say why she did not deny it when it was first alleged in print in 1976, or when Days Of Wine And Rage came out, with her approval, in the 1980s.

Either way it will do her no good.

A factual memoir, or none at all, would have been a better option.

So would speaking less libellously of me.

At 29 December 2011 at 14:25 , Blogger Ben Pobjie said...

Who else have you written speeches for, Bob? I am compiling a list to pin on my bedroom wall.

At 29 December 2011 at 19:15 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Well, if it comes to drama as well, King O'Malley, Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe, Vivien Leigh, Noel Coward, Arthur Miller, Winston Churchill, Rupert Murdoch, Lord Florey, Will Shakespeare, Pope Sixtus the Fifth, Gough Whitlam, Ben Chifley, Ernest Hemingway, Bea Miles, Norman Lindsay ... quite a few. All but O'Malley in the last three years. Hiw many did you? I'll put tgem up on my hip flask.

Look to your diet, Popje. Lest I else outlive you.

See as well my reply to you, if they put it up, on Unleashed.

At 29 December 2011 at 19:36 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Sorry, Popjie.

How coukd I misspell a man so famous?

At 29 December 2011 at 20:28 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

How could I misspell 'could'?

At 30 December 2011 at 13:21 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

I always thought it was Pen Bobjie? Or Bob Penjie??

Never mind Ben, I delighted in your send up of 'Lazarus Rising', and any number of your articles on the Drum; just not this last effort.

At 30 December 2011 at 13:49 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, I am loathe to continue this exchange but factual errors do need to be corrected. Your estimate of my personal worth has soared from twenty million to thirty million in a matter of days. Given the state of the share market this is optimistic. In fact both figures are wild overestimates of reality. In terms of my reluctance in giving back some of my supposed staggering wealth to fellow writers, the Writer's Guild will make an announcement next year that I will be doing this on an annual basis. This has been planned for some time and is nothing to do with your urging. We also donate generously to other causes which are even more worthy than the local arts scene. Examples are Care Australia, Medecin sans Frontieres, and most famine or natural disaster collections as they occur. Our generosity has also extended to the Ellis family on two occasions, once to the fund when your house burnt down and then to your election campaign fund when you opposed Bronwyn Bishop. For the latter I even, at your request or Anne's, wrote possible election slogans for you which given my apparently meagre prose skills probably weren't used. Kristin and I also spent many years of unpaid effort establishing the Noosa Longweekend, an annual regional arts festival which has successfully established itself as a venue where each year new and established artists in many art forms are given a very visible forum. I can only conclude that your continued vitriolic diatribe against Kristin is because she does not treat you with quite the amount of reverence you feel you deserve from the opposite sex. David W

At 30 December 2011 at 15:47 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

How much money do you have?

At 30 December 2011 at 16:09 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No answer.

I may have to ask his fellow Queenslander Assange.

At 30 December 2011 at 16:18 , Blogger Ben Pobjie said...

I don't do speech work: I am an acute diagnostician.

At 30 December 2011 at 16:58 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Unleashed have destroyed my reply to you, Popjie, a loss to world literature as grave as that of Love's Labour's Won. I will get to you in a minute, fumbling throug ashes of memory for some hint, some gleam, of what I said.

In the meantime there are these Williamsons, murmuring of their 'generosity' but refusing to say at every turn how much money came to them and how much they gave back.

They may be closet Medicis for all I know but I would like, as a published economist now selling out in China, what the figures are. How much, beyond drinks at the bar, they have given to young playwrights, in contrast to my gift for ten years of a small theatre for two hundred and fifty dollars a week.

I suspect the sum is under a hundred dollars, and their personal fortune around ten million but as David says, the share market being what it lately is, it might be less than that.

I'll get to you Popjie, believe me. In the meantime, keep up the creamcakes. You know it makes sense.

At 30 December 2011 at 17:22 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Sorry, 'to know what the figures are'.

At 30 December 2011 at 19:09 , Blogger Ben Pobjie said...

I rather think you already expend too much energy on me, Bob. Your fans will start to think you're slumming.

At 30 December 2011 at 19:35 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, I can't compete with your prose skills or your infinite generosity to your fellow writers, but I notice you don't comment on our generosity to you on those two occasions. Wouldn't it be better to wait until the writer's guild announcement next year before you conclude I'm doing nothing for new writing talent? My net worth might be fractionally ahead of yours but Palm Beach property is quite the equal of Sunshine Beach property so you're not doing too badly. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to ask the really high earners in the arts, like Cate, Hugo, Nicole and Russell and our top international film directors how much they are giving back? The truth is in terms of arts earnings we're minnows. And yes the Williamson contributions to non arts causes are considerable and have been for a long time. And Ben Pobjie, don't put yourself down like that. You're far funnier than Bob.David W

At 30 December 2011 at 22:42 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's New Year's Eve. Can we all join, back to back, and do a wild Lambada?

At 30 December 2011 at 23:05 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

to oosterman :

If that is you, Helvi, I'm game! If it's Gerard, no offence, but just a conga line will do :)

Happy New Year!

At 31 December 2011 at 02:55 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug Quixote:

Ha,ha ,what about ring-a-ring-a rosie and we all fall down.
Happy New year to all from both of us.

At 31 December 2011 at 14:07 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Dear David,

Oh dear.

As always, the pre-emptive cringe and grovel and exit abashed from the room: I can't compete with your prose skills, as in 1976. Why then do you charge so much for them, David? Millions. Millions.

As to the rest of it:

Cate gives back by running a theatre in which plays by Australians are put on and Australian actors directed by Oscar winners and writer-performers of genius like the Wharf Revue gang allowed uncensored to do their brilliant heretical work, sacrificing tens of millions she might be making year round in Hollywood to so here in Australia.

Russell Crowe gives back by funding and running a football team and giving lifetime careers to working class young men, and money beyond their forefathers' dreams.

Hugh (I assume that 'Hugo' was a typo) Jackman gives back by running a film company in Sydney and employing Australians in it and developing Australian projects and compering big Australian occasions like the Twenty Twenty.

Nicole gives back by working for the UN among the starving peoples of the Third World for two or three months year.

If my Palm Beach property means I'm not doing too badly why does Kristin call me a 'poor, sad man?'

For Christ's sake learn how to argue, David. It's the basis of good dialogue.

And don't cringe back out of the room protesting your talentless, humble status.

Like Uriah Heep.

At 31 December 2011 at 16:16 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

Apropos of nothing, I came across this attempted post in my archives. As Glenn Milne was a protected species on the Drum at that time (Oct 2010) this was rejected, repeatedly :

Mirror on the Wall : Glenn, that was surely a triumph last week. Gillard a Greens Puppet! LOL

Face : Hmmph. The article got hijacked by misogyny and hypocrisy and overrun by all that row over sainthood and the war debate that wasn't.

Mirror : Sainthood?

Face : Yes, as if that should be an issue. No-one asked me to do an article, so it should not have even been on the radar.

Mirror : Well, moving on, what about Howard's book? That's got to be worth a go!

Face : Of course, you know I was the doyen of journalists who broke the biggest story of 2006, that Howard had agreed to retire after a term and 2 years, to get Costello to support his leadership bid in 1994.

Mirror : No, I was with Peter Costello then.

Face : Yes, I bought you at the garage sale just after . . . hey you know all about it!

Mirror : Haven't you heard of cabinet confidentiality – well, it certainly applies to mirrors.

Face : You bastard! All those stories you could have told me . . .

Mirror : Now now, mind your blood pressure. How about revealing Downer's Devastating Disclosures?

Face : Hasn't that been done?

Mirror : No-one will notice that, and even if they do, so what?

Face : As long as you take the blame if it misfires.

Mirror : (Aside : What could possibly go wrong?)

At 31 December 2011 at 16:32 , Blogger Anthony said...

You pulled out the creamcakes line twice in one day, for use both on Pobjie and on myself. What's with that?

At 31 December 2011 at 17:30 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

It was a cheap shot, Nephew, at both of you, and I apologise. It was interwoven into the wonderful poetic Popjie-hating piece that Unleashed trashed.

In your case it was praise for your politically incorrect and hourly augmenting fatness, a condition which did not stop Alfred Hitchcock making eighty though eating scones every twenty minutes, nor Marlon Brando making seventy-seven after subsisting principally on ice cream for thirty-two years

My long delayed book The Big Fat Lie we should perhaps compose together, before my diabetes takes me out.

At 31 December 2011 at 22:45 , Blogger bowerbird said...

Fascinating. From these exchanges, one can draw the following conclusions:

1. Bob Ellis had sex once or twice some decades ago. Bully for him.

2. Bob Ellis' grandchild may or may not be buoyant naturally. Any tiny baby is buoyant once you've fed him beer, as is implied by the sentence in which he was introduced.

3. Once said grandson acquires enough language, news that Grandfather is what in modern parlance is called a 'troll' ought to be broken to him gently. Such revelations can be traumatic - although perhaps the beer will help.

4. The spirit of Christopher Hitchins lives on in Bob Ellis. And by spirit, I do mean Johnny Walker.

At 31 December 2011 at 23:20 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...


Hitchins is spelt Hitchens, my grandson has only mother's milk, my favourite tipple is Dimple, I have driven home 5,223 times to Palm Beach without being successfully breathalysed, or pehaps 5,224, and your libel would cost you 250,000 were I of a Kristin or Costello turn of mind.

I don't mind being called a troll.

I have sex five times a fortnight at 69, a rate unchanged since I was 50.

What's your score? You must answer this, or show yourself a prurient fool.

Have a nice new year.

Watch out for drinks with umbrellas in them.

And short, thick, Russian condoms.

At 31 December 2011 at 23:44 , Blogger Helvi said...

DQ, I'll happily dance the Lambada with you as long as I don't have to discuss the Ellis /Williamson Affair...
I came here for movie reviews, and I'am now wittnessing a real live drama unfolding...

At 31 December 2011 at 23:44 , Blogger Ben Pobjie said...

Another good play was Hating Alison Ashley. I think Sam Shepard wrote that one.

At 1 January 2012 at 00:32 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is brilliant. Somebody should turn it into a play.

At 1 January 2012 at 01:35 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Some poor, sad, septuagenarian former squeeze of Kristin Williamson.

At 1 January 2012 at 02:32 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but how does this relate to 'Game of Thrones'?

At 1 January 2012 at 02:56 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

The child star of Game of Thrones is playing the lead in my wife Anne Brooksbank's desert film, to be shot in March in South Africa.

Good of you to ask.

At 1 January 2012 at 14:33 , Blogger Ben Pobjie said...

Also, both Bob Ellis and David Williamson were originally characters created by George RR Martin: it was only later they broke out into the world of reality.

At 1 January 2012 at 14:55 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

After a trial run as the Beazleys and the Howards.

The Williamsons' current mantra, 'We will decide what facts come out, and the circumstances in which they come,' was very successful in its original version and has been repeated.

At 1 January 2012 at 15:15 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arguing on the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics—even if you win, you're still a spastic.

At 1 January 2012 at 15:24 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Under the present regime you could probably arrested for that.

I who co-wrote a hundre Shorten speeches in praise of the disabled now ask your address so I can send the wallopers round.

At 1 January 2012 at 15:34 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Accepted. Of course, the substance remains true—the whole thing is not a good look, n'est-ce pas?

At 1 January 2012 at 15:43 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

What is your address?

Make my day.

At 1 January 2012 at 15:52 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, you were serious? No, I'm not sure why I would actually provide that.

At 1 January 2012 at 16:15 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Because you are a wrongdoer, nickosun, who should pay your debt to society and thus discourage other hoons from kicking cripples by moonlight as they do in A Clockwork Orange.

No, I was joking.

At 1 January 2012 at 18:20 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

bombast meets its match

At 1 January 2012 at 21:44 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

What the fuck does that mean?

At 1 January 2012 at 21:57 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a link, Bob. Click on it and peruse the splenetic prose at the other end. Professor Bunyip may be your right wing doppelganger.

At 1 January 2012 at 22:43 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Thank you for that. I've just replied to one of his replies.

Who is he?

At 1 January 2012 at 23:03 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most common guess on the Professor's identity is that it's Imre Salusinszky. I doubt it and have my own guess but I don't know. No doubt you could find out if you were prepared to threaten legal action and make an application for discovery before suit from Google. However that might be problematic for a man who frequently boasts he never sues!

At 1 January 2012 at 23:28 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No, I think it's Piers Akerman.

At 2 January 2012 at 03:10 , Blogger Nilk said...

Wow. First time reader, first time commenter. Probably last time, too.

No matter.

I came here via the Billabong (the link KenParish posted) and am thoroughly gobsmacked.

You blog, your rules, Bob, I understand that, but a few things leap out at me.

With respect to how much money David has earned through his plays... who cares? He earned it. If people want to pay millions for his writing, then that's what it's worth. It's the beauty of a capitalist system.

Sorry if that doesn't suit you, but you don't have the right to dictate how much a person can make.

Nor what they can do with it. If he wants to spend it on collecting stamps, or shopping, or travelling on cruise ships with the hoi polloi rather than giving it to starving artists, again it's his money.

I know you're working on changing this state of affairs, but you've not succeeded yet.

You speak of your wonderful partner of 46 years on the same thread that you also speak of having sex with another woman less than 46 years ago.

I find that disrespectful to her, but that's just my opinion. You demean yourself as well as her, and also Kristin by waving this laundry in the blogosphere.

I'm not a fan of David's work, by the way, although I enjoyed Dead White Males. The people I like to watch these days are people like Pat Condell, Bill Whittle and Action Figure Therapy (okay, that last one's my guilty pleasure).

Of course, as someone who votes Liberal, my opinion is probably irrelevant. I'd also be lying if I said I haven't found this whole post and the thread that followed entertaining. I have.

But with real people involved, it has a trainwreck fascination for me.

Enjoy your blogging endeavour - it can be a lot of fun and definitely educational. I certainly found out more than I ever wanted about our local literary lions, and there's plenty of grist for the Professor's mill.

Good luck.

At 2 January 2012 at 07:00 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No, a lot of David's 'earnings' was from what you might call the taxpayers' money, the state-funded Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Adelaide Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre Company, West Australian Theatre Company, The Australian Film Commission, The South Australian Film Commission, The NSW Film Commission, the Victorian Film Commission, Film NSW, Film Australia and Screen Australia all running at a loss to pay him, over time, the millions he made from the work that often, not always failed to make it into the black in a way that you, a Liberal-voting believer in capitalist enterprise, would understand az legitimate business profits.

It's not his money, it's ours.

The adultery you are so shocked by was first aired in 1976 in a series of letters by David, Kristin, my wife, Patrick Cook and me in the Nation Review and a book called Days Of Wine And Rage that reprinted them in, I think, 1982. My wife did not feel demeaned by them and herself admitted to a casual adultery in one of them; it was the way a good few people lived in those days, and have done in literary circles for centuries.

So you've got everything wrong so far. Money in the arts in this country does not go to profit-making enterprises but loss-making enterprises in the main, enterprises like the Australian Opera, and people like the Williamsons make their pile out of loss-making enterprises a good deal but not all of the time, and they are not an example of capitalism but state socialism a good deal but not all of the time, sucking on the teat of the public purse,as you might call it, seizing money from your wallet, say, at the crippling rate of maybe a dollar a year from 1970 to 2007 when Andrew Upton told them to go away and they went to the Ensemble.

All clear now?

I await your apology with modest hope. Your grave libel of me and my wife and the way we have conducted ourselves would have earned us, after the Abbott and Costello precedent -- one must not call a married woman unchaste -- a quarter of a million dollars each if we were the kind of capitalists you approve of, profit-seeking, careless of how we earn and spend it. But luckily we are social democrats, luckily for you, and will not trouble you, though the Williamsons might, with even a lawyer's letter and a settlement for, oh, eighty thousand dollars out of court.

Which is a quaint way of saying, like Len Maguire in Newsfront, a taxpayer-funded film that my wife and I and Howard Rubie wrote and subsequently made millions, 'Go bite your bum.'

At 2 January 2012 at 13:14 , Blogger Nilk said...

I stand corrected, Bob. Or sit, as the case may be.

I'm glad that you and yours do not feel yourself demeaned by behaviour that was aired long ago; that was purely my opinion.

I suppose that would make me a prude in your view, but I've been called a lot of things in my life, and will be again.

As I was also unaware of the circumstances from way back when, I'm happy to apologise for any misunderstanding.

Why you would wait with modest hope, I don't know. I see no gain in upsetting people without reason, and I honestly don't see where 'grave libel' lies in my view of the discussion.

Regarding David and Kristin making millions out of the public coffers, wouldn't that be a reason to cease taxpayer funding of the arts?

I'm happy for funding to go where it's needed - hospital beds, better roads, that sort of thing.

There is too much wastage of public funds as it stands, and the economy is not in the best of shapes.


At 2 January 2012 at 15:55 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

I suppose that is an apology from nilk, Bob. I await the next instalments in the saga with interest. :)

At 2 January 2012 at 16:21 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

To Niik,

No, I favour public subsidy of the arts -- of the BBC, the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, Svenskfilmindustri, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Toyal Covent Garden Opera, the Byron Bay Writers' Festival, tge Adelaide Festival and so on. Why would I not?

I just don't like too many millions of it going to the Williamsons, who are already terrifically rich, while better writers, and there are probably dozens, wait on tables or tend bar.

But thank you for apologising. It means a good deal to me.

At 2 January 2012 at 17:55 , Blogger Nilk said...

Doug, do you want me to fall upon my sword because what is to me a mere difference of opinion is considered grossly offensive by the person I differ with?

That's a wee bit precious. :)

And Bob, you're welcome, although there really is no need to thank me for what I consider basic courtesy. I can happily indulge in flame wars, and have been known to, but they don't always make for clear communication.

At 2 January 2012 at 19:34 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Go bag your head.

At 3 January 2012 at 03:45 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

G'day Bob.

I noticed your comments re Shorten on Frankel's article at the Drum; my agreement with you was of course ignored, even though it made the point that Liberal staffers and partisans are attempting to lay groundwork for an attack on a future Labor PM, who I suggested may succeed to PM Gillard, in about 2019. :)

At 3 January 2012 at 05:54 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Sooner than that. My guess is before April Fool's Day.

Let's say the Ides of March.

At 3 January 2012 at 12:29 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

The Ides of March, 2011.

I remember announcing to our Latin class in 1956 that this was the two thousandth anniversary of Caesar's murder snd the teacher, Mrs Murphy, judging me over-zealous in my studies.

At 3 January 2012 at 14:02 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3 January 2012 at 14:05 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

The good news is that this is 2012 and Shorten himself considers Julia to be the one, despite your reservations.

I was keen for the Mad Monk to be replaced as Opposition Leader when he was one by-election away from becoming PM, but I now wish him long to remain as OL where he can rave to his heart's content or stand mute and shaking for 72 seconds (revised version, Channel 7 left out 48 seconds of the silent shaking) if that is his wont.

My real expectation is that Gillard will face another OL soon, and my hope is that she'll face many more before handing over to Shorten or Combet in 2019.


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