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(generated from captions) John Michael 'Hollywood' Howson to a generation of Australian kids first became known as Clown as 'Adventure Island'. writer and celebrity journalist, Then, after a career as a comedy to writing musicals. he turned his talents is John Michael Howson. Tonight's Talking Head THEME MUSIC Nice to meet you, Peter. John Michael, lovely to meet you. Thank you very much. Thanks for coming on the show. a lot of things, Now, you're known for some of those things today, and we'll transit through and Hollywood gossip as well, but as a celebrity writer than anything else, perhaps. perhaps you're better known for that What drew you to that world?

at dinner parties. See, I used to amuse people I wrote for everybody. wrote for Mike Walsh and everybody. I wrote for Graham Kennedy and I got his own show he said, And then when Mike

at dinner parties. "You know, you tell great stories "Why don't you tell them on air?" travelling the world, So, I finished up to movie location, going from movie location for 'The Mike Walsh Show'. interviewing celebrities that if I did an hour interview, And Mike was generous enough over so many days. he would run that hour

"Hollywood Howson", Then he started calling me but Hollywood Howson stuck. something I could kill him for, It stuck. It's stuck, hasn't it? you met in Hollywood... Of all those people from a great distance here. And we see them some not. Some of them seem attractive, that most appeal to you? Who are the ones I love people that just talk. Oh, see, I love the raconteurs. you don't expect to be great. See, sometimes it's the people so cooperative, Arnold Schwarzenegger - to give you what you want. so willing in the business. Marvellous. He's the best salesman Exactly. That's why he's a good politician. been pretty amazing too. Well, John Michael, your own story's Let's see where it began. DRAMATIC MUSIC

I believe I'm gonna catch me a rat. and I guess I always will. I love the movies. Always have, the National Theatre, St Kilda, And this is the Hoyts Victory to me. but it will always be

every Saturday afternoon This is where I used to come to watch the serials. SONG: # You ought to be in pictures

# You're wonderful to see... # serials and adventure epics, And after having seen all those to the St Kilda Esplanade we used to come down here

and re-enact them all. we had hide-outs, We had forts, we had caves, we had all sorts of secret places. # You want to be in pictures... # over this bridge There were more battles fought in our movies of the mind to get the bridge over Remagen. than were fought MANIACAL LAUGHTER for a kid to grow up. What a great place it was right here in Melbourne. This was Hollywood fantasy land '20s-STYLE MUSIC W.J. Howson - My father, Billy Howson -

steeplechase jockey. was a top-flight Won three Grand Nationals. quickly when he was a little boy My father had to grow up very so he had his childhood through me. 'cause his mother died, with him. Everything was an adventure and he would hug me, He would take me to scary movies and very safe. and I felt very close to him young lady. My mother was a convent-educated that everybody liked. She was a woman and father's marriage broke up, And later on, after my mother

an ex-cop who became a publican. she married a wonderful man, went to Western Australia My mother and stepfather and didn't want me living in pubs, New Norcia College. so she sent me to a boarding school,

BELL TOLLS but I sort of took to it. I was a city kid,

New Norcia, it was a combination and Benedictine monks. of Marist Brothers an unattractive child, I must have been because I never had any problems putting the hard word on me. with anyone and my grandfather, I was desperate to write of a newspaper in Mildura he had been editor as a cadet journalist and he got me a job at the 'Sunraysia Daily', Mildura. because you do everything A country newspaper is great and you learn to research. BELL DINGS and I worked at the ABC Radio News. I went to Melbourne a lot of comedy writing At that time, I was doing for revue theatres in Melbourne show that wanted a joke or two, and a couple of the odd television to try for the world outside." and then I thought, "I'm going in those days, So, like a lot of young Australians I sailed off to England. JAUNTY MUSIC as a fashion journalist So I got a job 'Menswear Great Britain', with a magazine called because when I turned up, and I got the job was that interested I don't think the editor whether I could write about fashion, and he said, "You've got the job." but I looked like a million dollars, sometimes television, I moonlighted by writing for comics, the art of comedy writing. and I really did learn And anyway, I'd been there 4.5 years to Australia, and decided to come back you know, a mixture of sick of the weather, sick of never having any money. my grandma, they expect me home." Then I thought, "My poor old mum and And I decided I'd come back. in all sorts of things in the UK. Well, you'd been dabbling When you came back, about what you were gonna do? did you have much of a clue Not an idea in the world. this is dating me - was opening, About that time, Channel 10 - "I'm gonna ask for a job," and I thought, people on television in the UK. 'cause I had been writing for

In fact, they offered me... and they said, Literally, I walked off the street "Yeah, write 'The Ray Taylor Show.'" Let's go back a step. the 'Sunraysia Daily' as the editor When your step-granddad is working on worked as a stringer, right, and later then followed in those footsteps, if you'd not actually do you think you still were destined to be a writer?

Probably, yes, I think so. Where did it come from? Well, I think the family... As I said, I have very colourful relatives. They have a way with words,

and I think it was just a case of putting those words down on paper. It's not a big step to go from storytelling to story-writing. That was part of it. It was in the family tradition without me knowing it at the time. Certainly a colourful family. What about your dad, Billy Howson, the jockey? He was a very glamorous man. I mean, he was good-looking, he was dapper beyond belief. He always drove the most beautiful cars. He was funny. He was like a fair-headed Cary Grant in many ways.

And...I don't think women could resist him, and he couldn't resist women. So, I know the marriage... When you were 11 or something, the marriage sort of came to its end. But what's your memory of it, of your mum and dad together? Oh, sad. I always felt as a young... In fact, just recently I saw a dear friend of mine talking to his son, who is my godson, and I was so absolutely... broken-hearted that I never had that as a young man with my father. I thought, "Oh, God, if only I could have talked to Dad "like they're talking to each other," you know. It was...I think people don't realise. It's all very well, marriages break up, but children are very important and you do wear those scars. And you were an only child. I was an only child. I hate divorce - I hate it. Well, what about prior to that? They were unhappy. See, after the jockey thing finished, it's a terrible thing to have been yesterday's man. I don't think people realise this - that once you've been somebody, it's very hard to be nobody again, and from being someone who could walk in anywhere and everybody knew him and he was the centre of attention, and then suddenly he wasn't a star anymore. And I learnt then - I didn't realise, but I learnt one thing that's all... What's the saying? "Sic transit gloria," you know? You do... Glory passes, fame passes, and you'd better be prepared to have a life after that. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't. They think it's gonna go on forever. See, people in the arts have a longer spin because if you're any good at it, you may go into your 50s or your 60s before the chopper falls. But sporting people, it's very short-lived. In those days in Western Australia as you were growing up, when did you decide you were gay? Oh, I think about 17 - 16, 17. Was it hard in those days? I never found it hard because I never thought about it much. You know, I'll tell you what I honestly thought. I thought... I was reading - this is in the '50s - reading 'The City and the Pillar' and 'Finisterre', but the only thing about all those books, it's a bit like 'Brokeback Mountain',

which I thought was a miserably depressing film. They always had to die at the end, you know. "For your sins, you will die!" But I used to read all this stuff and think, "I think I'm a bit like the blokes in that book." (Stammers) And it wasn't even a physical/sexual thing, it was an emotional attachment to men, you know. I think that probably comes from my, you know, my childhood. I always was around men and I liked being with those men. I really loved it, but in a non-sexual way - purely as a thing that I could identify with. And then, eventually, I - I love the word - "came out" to the family, and my mother said, "Oh, darling, it takes all types to make a world." And my stepfather, same thing. I mean, they were very... And my stepfather was a real rugged character, you know. He was an ex-cop who became a publican and had learned to tap dance, so when he had a few drinks, up on the bar and was Fred Astaire. So, you can imagine with a dad like I had and a stepfather like I had, I mean, I loved them - they were fabulous people. Well, metaphorically you learned to tap dance too.

Let's have a look at you when you come back from the UK and you break into television in Australia. Four o'clock? Yes. Ooh, I've got to go and watch 'Adventure Island' on the television. But, Clown, this IS Adventure Island! We live here, remember? We don't! JOHN: I must say that writing for children is marvellous. I reverted. I just went back to my childhood. And I loved playing, first of all, Fifi Bear in 'Magic Circle' and then Clown, because I really was those characters. SONG: # Ho ho, ho ho... # I had some men on a plane to America,

two great, big oil riggers going off to work in the Gulf of Texas who came up to me and sang the 'Adventure Island' song. How marvellous is that? I must say, I got very emotional. After 'Adventure Island', of course, I was a clown with nowhere to go, but I'd met a lot of people in the business at dinner parties and I'd tell funny stories and whatever. I think I went on 'Don Lane' and I'd be doing stuff with Bert Newton and wrote Mike Walsh's 'Tonight Show' in Melbourne. So, when he went onto daytime, he said, "You've gotta come on and tell some of those stories." Then "Hollywood Howson" was born. They go into the dunny to have a quick brush and comb and a whip-up and whatever, and come out and go, "No pictures, no pictures!" LAUGHTER Oh, I got to meet everybody. I went to Monaco to interview Prince Albert, and he said, "Let's have lunch." I thought, "Oh, it'll be very grand." We went to a pizza joint! Oh, I thought I was gonna get away from the bright lights! I can see you're gonna have your work cut out for you. You'll be rushed off your feet. (Laughs) I've enjoyed doing movies, but I'm not an actor. But I did have fun with Sir Robert Helpmann in a film called 'Second Time Lucky' in which I played - surprise, surprise - a series of gay characters.

Esther, fetch the other yet - the blue one, yes? Of course, my great television acting role was in 'Power Without Glory' in which I played - surprise, surprise - a gay dress designer. Now, when I started doing it the director said, "Can you make it gayer?" ..to avoid the stampeding herd? (Laughs falsely) Yes. And I said, "Any gayer than this "and you're gonna have the Carnival of Rio!" SONG: # Hooray for Hollywood... # I have a great sense of timing. I thought, "I've got to get away." Then I went to Los Angeles to do some stories and a friend of mine, he said, "Listen, make the big change. Come here," and I did. So I learned to build a career. It gave me incredible self-confidence. God. That's a great interviewer. I auditioned for things and I got the parts - television things and radio commercials and whatever - but I wrote for a lot of magazines. It was fun at first but, you know, what happened was the gossip angle came in, and I don't wanna know about salacious, you know,

who's sleeping with who and all that rubbish. So, I talked myself out of a very highly paid job simply because I couldn't do it. It was worrying me. And that's when I started really getting out of the celebrity thing and became...I wrote a couple of thriller chillers. Oh, yeah! (Sings) # Well, she's so cold... # And then, as one door closes another one opens. I came up with the idea, together with David Mitchell and Melvin Morrow, to do a musical based on the life of Johnny O'Keefe.

So, we wrote 'Shout', and it turned out to be a massive hit. And I started thinking that maybe after 17 years in Hollywood, I should think about relocating back to Oz. (Sings 'Shout') I want to come to 'Shout' a bit later, but in those early days, 'Magic Circle Club' and 'Adventure Island', you created those. Created them and wrote them, and had the best time of my life. You know, one of the things... I have never talked about this before publicly. The wonderful people in both shows, we had a huge following. We didn't do it as a live show. It was always done like a film, you know, in a studio, whatever. Occasionally we had visits from children who were very, very sick. We stayed in character. Nobody lit a cigarette - you could smoke in those days. Nobody got out of costume, nobody went out of character, and we made those little children feel that they were in this magical world. You've spent your life, actually, caring about children. (Emotionally) I find it hard to talk about. Mmm. Still. As well as...as well as doing this, you're also writing political satire.

Yes, I was, 'cause I always think that, you see, when you're living off the public purse, you're a fair target and you're a fair target for comedians. And I don't care what party it is. Equal opportunity. Today it'd be nothing, but we were sending up the powers-that-be, we were sending up the establishment. And then later, when I wrote for 'Mavis Bramston' the same thing happened, and I did sketches that actually got condemned from the pulpit and... (Stammers) ..headlines in the 'Truth' and whatever. Shocking, shocking. We were gonna be banned. I was gonna be excommunicated, practically.

And my darling Aunt Margaret, who's my godmother, because I loved the movies, said, "The movies will addle your brain."

I said, "Well, they have, and I'm making a fortune." (Laughs) But I was forewarned, you know, all these terrible things. "You'll finish up on the cover of 'Truth'", and I did! And I went, "God, I've made it! I'm in the headlines in 'Truth'"! When you first went to Hollywood, you actually did that quite a lot off your own bat, didn't you?

I did, yeah. Didn't you do that out of your own pocket? Oh, golly, yeah. I went off to Hollywood with my trusty credit card, and fortunately for a wonderful woman, Marlene Daly, who had been married to Jonathan Daly, who had a tonight show in Melbourne. And I said to Marlene, "I'm here, I know nobody. "Can you get me some interviews?" And, God bless her, she got me people like Charlie's Angels. Well, the show had just started and these were the hottest young stars in Hollywood, you know, at that time - Farrah with all the hair and whatever. So, I came back to Australia with interviews that nobody could get. So they ran the interviews. Thank God I got the money and I could pay the credit card off.

But that was the gamble I took and from then on it was, you know, the star thing took off with 'The Mike Walsh Show' and...

Let's go to 1989, when you make this decision to actually move to the US permanently and you become a US citizen, even, don't you? Yeah, dual citizenship. I didn't think I was ever gonna come back. But what was going on in Australia to make you actually make that choice to move? Nothing, from my point of view - nothing. I mean, I was sitting next to people all the time. I thought with all the interviews that maybe someone would say, "Oh, he could do a late night interview show," and I just got tired of being the guest, particularly when sometimes you'd sit next to bozos and you'd think, "God, how have they got the chair and I haven't?" I mean, there's a certain jealousy comes into that, because you think, "Well, I'm better than that," and you didn't get the gig. So before bitterness ate me up, I thought, "I think a move is required."

And it was a wonderful move, the best thing I ever did in my life. I shook myself up. Why was it the best thing? Because I proved to me I could do it without being in Australia. Back when you were a kid, you sat next to a journalist at the ABC called David Sale. He went on to write 'Number 96'. But there was something happened there

that actually was to intrigue you. Well, we were obviously not meant to be news journalists at the ABC, because David was sitting at his typewriter going... (Sings cheerily) And I thought, "This is the happiest man I've ever seen in my life." His mind was elsewhere, was it? His mind was... He was in... I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm writing a show." (Gasps) The only time I'd ever heard anyone say that was in the movies at the Victory Theatre, St Kilda. Writing a show! (Gasps) So I said, "Where's it gonna be on?" He told me the whatever, and I said, "Oh, I'd love to write something like this." This is before I'd actually ever written comedy stuff or anything. So I had an idea for a couple of ditties and songs. Not only did I write them on the typewriter, I found the metre on the typewriter, on the old Remington. (Sings cheerily) The keys actually beat out the tune. And I submitted it and it got into the show, and it got rounds of applause every night. Which is why I asked you the question - 'cause I wanted to talk to you about 'Shout' and 'Dusty'. As soon as you think about the idea of a musical about Johnny O'Keefe, you can see why it worked. Well, it was funny, because when 'The Boy From Oz' came out I thought, "Why didn't I think of a show about Peter Allen?" And I thought, "There's another great Australian story, "and that's Johnny O'Keefe." But I mentioned it to someone in Melbourne and they said to me, "Kevin Jacobsen would love that idea." So, we talked to Kevin. The deal was done in 48 hours. We wrote the show, the first draft, in two weeks. This is the day...

We started writing the day the Olympics opened, and we opened the following January. Never in the history of show business has a show been put together so fast. It could have been a catastrophe. It was the biggest hit. So, then we started looking for the next show. And that's what we're gonna do now - have a look at what's happened, when you talk about the next show. Miss Tamsin Carroll as Dusty Springfield. APPLAUSE # Doesn't matter where you go or what you do # I wanna spend each moment of the day with you... # I'm a Broadway baby, and having such a huge success with 'Dusty' - I mean, it's amazing. London is looming. If it opens in London, I will be beyond happy. Not that I'm diminishing anything just working in Australia, but there is the lure of,

having had a success in Australia, taking that abroad. APPLAUSE AND CHEERING So, we do a couple of... Yeah, extra verses would be great. JOHN: Well, I'm bitten by the bug now. I can't wait to do the next show. I'm working on a show called 'Pyjamas in Paradise' about the early days of Surfers Paradise, and they used to have teenage pyjama parties. So, 'Pyjamas' will probably open next year sometime, and then David, Mel and myself are talking about our next show together and several other adaptations of American hits.

MAN: What a wonderful show 'Dusty' was.

I still do radio journalism, entertainment journalism, opining about the state of the arts. But I love the immediacy of talkback radio. I think that's great. You can be doing anything and listening to the radio. Now, what about the Academy Awards, John Michael?

You've covered so many, it's not worth mentioning. The most interesting part was when the dead people came on, and I think, well, you know, things are crook when the dead people are the most entertaining part of the show. JOHN: I can't tell you how thrilled I was the children's charity, when Variety, the Heart of Show Business Award, gave me an honour, with children's television. for all the work I'd done everyone had forgotten. I'd sort of thought you know. I couldn't believe it. I've gotta tell you, I cried, to be recognised. It was so wonderful SONG: # You can see all the stars the Hollywood Boulevard... # # As you walk down starts at the base here. The Walk of Fame walk about this size. The stars are going to be if I would chair a committee Variety then asked me to do a tribute to the entertainers of the century,

and that we would set up a Walk of Fame of murals, statues, down in a place called Waterfront City at Docklands in Melbourne. Long overdue. I have such a passion for remembering great Australians who laid the groundwork that... I'm now the beneficiary of it. Others will follow us. (All sing) # To feel the rhythm of life

# To feel the powerful beat... # Since I've got back I've been asked to be patron of a few things, Gay and Lesbian Chorus. including the Melbourne to do what I can to promote them. I'm honoured to have been asked somebody's different sexuality, When the sexual quality comes in, still get nervous, people get nervous, media, but they're just people. particularly in the electronic by people singing? They sing. Now, can you be offended There you go. Come on, kids. We're getting home. living in the burbs and loving it - So, I'm back in Melbourne, always lived close to the action - never lived in the burbs in my life, with a beautiful garden wonderful partner and peace of mind. and three little chihuahuas and a all our furniture from Los Angeles, But we decided we'd bring 'cause I said, "I don't want the radical shock of not recognising the sofa." (Laughs) Alfie is originally from Guatemala. Probably the nicest person I know. Has a large family. I'm godparent to one of his nephews, and they all call me 'Uncle'.

We've been together for 14 years. One of the neighbours said... (Foreign accent) .."Oh," you know, "welcome to the neighbourhood, John Michael and Alfie. "Really lovely having you here. "We don't care what you boys do." you know. And I said, "Well, we don't do much, and walk the dogs." (Laughs) "We just water the garden # Yeah! Yeah! # Yeah # Man! # They look like pretty happy souls. They are the sweetest people. Oh, wonderful. and I've taken them to my heart. They've taken me to their hearts a sense of Catholic guilt? Did you grow up with a practising Catholic. Never, and I'm still When you see archbishops... It doesn't affect me. Well, he can say what he likes. I don't care what they say.

because I'm not a sinner. You see, that's it, Mary - later Dusty Springfield -

did struggle with these things, didn't she? Of course she did. She had a profound sense of guilt. I'm happy to say that in the later part of her life she reconciled herself with her faith, and it's wonderful. I mean, there are people that walk away, reject everything and walk away. Good. If that's what they have to do, they have to do. I didn't. Let's talk about Dusty. Yeah. She's a great subject. She's so complicated - which makes her attractive. that's one of the things What a great story. Oh, God, what a great story. which I'm proud of But, you know, the thing about it we've got her exactly on the stage. is that everybody that knew her said

You're an interesting combination and writer, of not just creator of these things and sophisticated business head. but also quite a cool been very smart in a business sense. I mean, your choice of subjects has common sense in this business, I think you have to have very good or at least a good business manager. See, they've fallen in... But I see people that think...

have you noticed? Fame is everything today, You don't have to do anything to be famous. Look, I have a friend who never made it as a star, but has had a wonderful career being a working repertory actor in England. This might be summed up by the story of one George Abbott, who...I know you're a particular fan of his life. A great producer and writer who lived to be 102. Was always referred to as Mr Abbott, and even at 102 was at the top of his game. from you when you're 102? So, are we gonna expect things If I live to be 102, yes. I must say, I'm lucky. of a great age, actually, My family all live to be and then they drop dead. my rellies have had happy deaths. You pray for a happy death, and all They've just gone. (Laughs) John Michael. This has been a happy half-hour, Thank you. Thank you very much. And that's John Michael Howson. next week. We'll be back with another show we're at... If you'd like to look at our website,

to hear your comments. ..and we'd love See you in a week from now. Captioning and Subtitling Closed Captions provided by Get up closer! And next week on Talking Heads... I believe that my competitive spirit I've always been competitive, so certainly rubs off onto the young people that I coach because if you don't want to win, why are you training? MAN: Wednesday on 'The Cook and the Chef', Maggie and Simon share their secrets about new season's vegetables. There you go. You put the rubber on. (Both laugh hysterically) Tantalising tastes.

This program is not subtitled This program is captioned live. Tonight - with Iraq collapses. Mark Vaile's resurrected wheat deal as gang violence grips the Top End. Pleas for help need for nuclear energy. John Howard talks up Australia's of Canberra racing, And the man who was the voice Tony Campbell has died.

Virginia Haussegger with ABC News. Good evening, The Federal Government's efforts

wheat trade with Iraq to restore Australia's lucrative

is proving a bitter harvest. after his visit to Baghdad Despite Mark Vaile's confidence at the beginning of the year, has collapsed. a $100 million deal The sale foundered as Peter Costello took the helm in Federal Parliament in place of an absent John Howard. Mark Vaile had high hopes his dash to Baghdad would salvage Australian wheat sales from the wreckage of the AWB scandal,