She never set out to be famous. She was aloof actuality herself. Conspicuously, arrestingly, clearly herself. It’s aloof that actuality Jeanne Little complex wigs, abundantly apocryphal eyelashes and a apparel that was aiming for Hollywood allure but somehow came out as aerial camp.
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She was loud. She was flamboyant. There was no-one abroad like Jeanne.
“It was about as if she came from addition planet,” says acquaintance and ball anchorman Craig Bennett.
And she was like that all the time, says her alone adolescent Katie Little. “You try actuality woken up by Jeanne Little at seven o’clock in the morning to go to academy and see how you like it,” she says.
For Jeanne, activity was, literally, a cabaret. Until it wasn’t.
Until the loudest actuality in the allowance was addled silent. Until a actuality who never chock-full talking was rendered mute. Until the amusement died and the active accuracy achromatic into the affliction of Alzheimer’s. And it wasn’t funny anymore. Again the apple became a little bit added ordinary.
Jeanne’s coast was as abrupt and capricious as her ascendance had been.
With not abundant added than a bed-making apparatus and an outrageously communicable personality, she went from absorbed her own business authoritative apparel for association ladies and annoyance queens in a dress boutique in Sydney’s Paddington, to the highest-paid woman in television.
She comatose into television back she was eight months abundant at the age of 36. Finding maternology clothes too boring, she had fabricated her own far added aces frocks.
Supplied: Katie Little
In 1974, a bedfellow had alone out of the top-rating daytime TV affairs The Mike Walsh Show. A panicking agent had spotted a photograph of outrageously dressed Jeanne in the Daily Telegraph and beatific a taxi. From the aboriginal “hello daaarliiiings” she was a sensation.
“The country fell in adulation with the accomplished Jeanne Little catastrophe,” Katie says.
Two years later, she acquired a appearance business agitated when, in a cyclone of dejected feathers, she won a Gold Logie, ultimately becoming, at $1,000 a week, the highest-paid woman on Australian television.
But like all abundant comediennes, she was never as ditzy as she affected to be. It is harder than you ability anticipate to be that silly. That affectionate of cool requires planning, control, timing.
“Mum was advancing up with the account for the spots and the segments,” Katie says. “She was advancing up with the questions that she’d accord Mike Walsh to ask her back she was out there.”
Radio personality and actor Wendy Harmer agrees.
“It took a lot of assurance and adeptness and ability to coin her way in the male-dominated apple of ball in the 70s. There was adjustment to the madness,” she says.
“She didn’t aloof bedrock up and babble about anything. Jeanne would actually accumulate her eye on the issues of the day.”
Supplied: Katie Little
Jeanne’s absonant voice, which by her own acceptance could band paint, was not an affectation. It was the aftereffect of a crippling adolescence stutter.
“The way she overcame that was acquirements to elongate her words, like daaarling,” Katie explains.
“She absolutely approved adamantine to get over that and to try to accent actuality and affected her stutter, she put a lot of assignment into actuality able to speak. I anticipate she alike went to a analyst at one point.”
It paid off.
“People would aloof stop in the artery and about-face around, they knew instantly it was Mum’s voice,” Katie says.
Jeanne had developed up the youngest of seven accouchement with a Glaswegian distinct mother, Catherine, who was a tailor.
“It was a poor household,” Katie says. Jeanne would accomplish summer apparel out of tea towels. “Mum admired appearance and consistently capital to attending fabulous.”
But in those aboriginal years on The Mike Walsh Show, she was alone actuality paid $25 a week.
“She’d rip photos of Hollywood cine sirens out of Vogue magazines and stick them on the wall,” Katie remembers.
“And she’d amount out how to do article agnate on a cartel budget.”
Katie says her mum looked for afflatus wherever she went — application apple-pie automated waste, balloons or debris bags.
“I bethink my ancestor and I sitting there for two weeks flattening milk canteen caps,” Katie says. “Mum hand-stitched them assimilate this affectionate of tube dress and concluded up attractive like a admirable mermaid. Things that you anticipation were debris or annihilation at all she’d about-face into a aces outfit.
“If we went to the bazaar she would go, ‘Can I accumulate that piecrust? I’ll fry them up and about-face it into a aces hat’.”
Supplied: Katie Little
Jeanne was accepted for her comestible hats, as Ita Buttrose, a adolescent panellist on the daytime appearance Beauty and the Beast recalls.
“She consistently fabricated it assume like they were accessible to do. But back you looked at them and all the intricate details, and the way she absorbed sausages, you realised a lot of adamantine assignment had gone into it,” she says.
Jeanne had been a committed affair babe in Paddington, again a bohemian community, back she met her bedmate Barry Little, a larger-than-life personality himself. He had been a model, photographed by Helmut Newton.
Jeanne was cutting a bright artificial dress with artificial flowers ashore on it. As the albino flowed and the affair became hot and mild the flowers broiled off the dress and Cinderella was affected to do a hasty abandonment from her prince.
But Barry begin her to be a “complete individual”. He knew a attenuate affair back he saw it.
“He took me for dinner,” Jeanne said in a 2006 adventure of ABC’s Talking Heads program. “And I didn’t absolutely anytime like anyone else. I had consistently anticipation of Barry as actuality the alone actuality I absolutely adored. And it was aloof a mad, mad wedding.”
Supplied: Katie Little
The Little domiciliary was like actuality in a ball for their daughter.
“I do absolutely feel like I grew up in about a affected production. I grew up in this big, alpine terrace abode and my bedchamber was on the top attic with my mother’s bed-making room. And bottomward in the basement was my father’s autogenous architecture business. So we lived in this big crazy artistic mess.”
After her ancestor died in July 2019 at the age of 89, Katie came beyond a box of adulation belletrist he had written. It boring dawned on her that they were not to her mother but to a macho lover, addition she had accepted as Uncle Colin, who had formed in the autogenous architecture business in the basement.
Barry had met Jeanne anon afterwards they had burst up.
“I bethink Barry adage to me that the accomplished acumen he went from actuality a gay man to a beeline man was because of the abracadabra of Jeanne,” her acceptable acquaintance and ball anchorman Craig Bennett says.
It had not been a secret; Jeanne had joked about it — “He adored me from actuality an alcoholic and I adored him from actuality gay” — but no-one had told Katie.
Supplied: Katie Little
Katie says the adumbration fabricated her “rethink her accomplished family” and the apple in which she grew up.
“It’s like my accomplished adolescence and history is like this puzzle,” she says.
“But bodies accept sat me bottomward and said he never angry his eye to anyone abroad [after they met].”
Barry and Jeanne admitting accepted anniversary added perfectly.
“Barry so adored and adequate Jeanne, and Jeanne adored and adequate Barry. A added genuine, abysmal and amazing adulation you’d be hard-pressed to find,” Craig says.
Around 2010, back Jeanne was still accomplishing her cabaret show, Katie started accepting anxious buzz calls from people. Jeanne was apathy her curve on television, she was authoritative berserk inappropriate comments
“I bethink in those aftermost years of Beauty and the Beast that she would say some absolutely odd things, she’d say bluntly abhorrent and crazy things, and that was not like Jeanne Little,” Bennett says.
Jeanne was still smiling, walking, talking, working, but she was accident her mind.
After she died, Katie would acquisition addendum in her handbags with little pieces of cardboard with names on them.
“We had bodies over for banquet and Mum was off in addition room, maybe scribbling pieces of cardboard with people’s names,” Katie says. “She couldn’t bethink our abutting friends.”
She came to appointment Katie and couldn’t acquisition the advanced door. “You’ve been to my abode on abundant occasions. How could you not apperceive area the advanced aperture is?” Or she would airing out the advanced door, leave it open, and Katie’s adolescent accouchement would chase her.
Ita Buttrose — who is an agent for Dementia Australia — noticed that Jeanne would balloon area she was. “But she was absolutely able at ambuscade this.”
Supplied: News Ltd / Newspix
Jeanne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 68 at the Royal Prince of Wales Hospital. Her specialist Tony Broe warned she would abide to deteriorate; she would accept to retire and she would charge to go into care. Barry said, “But we’ve appointed shows into the New Year, we are activity on a cruise.”
In denial, Barry adequate her, as he consistently had. He didn’t appetite anyone to know, he didn’t appetite her to go into care.
At a banquet back Katie broached the subject. “It was like a bomb went off. I bethink Mum sitting at the end of the table afterwards I’d served banquet and anybody assuming things were normal. And watching my mother attractive at a bowl and assuredly acrimonious up a allotment of bill with her duke and thinking, ‘Mum doesn’t apperceive how to use cutlery’.”
With a babyish and a adolescent adolescent to attending after, Katie had to cut herself off from her ancestor and his accompany for three months.
Barry capital to accumulate Jeanne at home as continued as accessible but it became impossible.
“She was aloof walking about the dining allowance table all day,” recalls Craig.
“There were fears that she could set the accommodation afire and there were fears for her own assurance with knives.
“A assembly of actual abutting accompany stepped in and said, ‘Barry, this is what needs to happen’. It absolutely bankrupt his heart. They had not been afar in all those years of marriage.”
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In care, Jeanne attenuated so quickly, says Craig, “it fabricated your arch spin”.
Within three months she didn’t recognise her daughter.
“Barry would sit there, he’d authority his Jeanne’s hand, he’d sing to her, he’d allocution to her, but alike that became too abundant for him,” Craig says.
“He aloof couldn’t buck the affliction of seeing his already beautiful, vivacious, outrageous, amazing wife aloof bargain to addition lying in a bed in a nursing home staring at the ceiling.”
For Katie there was guilt, her mother didn’t apperceive who she was, who anyone was. The aces Jeanne Little wasn’t there anymore. She was in a bed aphasiac and immobile.
“There was a lot of answerability associated in those aftermost few years. In hindsight don’t anticipate I behaved awfully well. I’d pop in and see mum but I didn’t absorb a lot of time there,” she says.
When Barry died, she went to acquaint Jeanne but there was no response. “I didn’t apprehend one”.
Supplied: Katie Little
In anamnesis of her mother’s alms work, she launched the Jeanne Little Alzheimer’s Research Fund, with Neuroresearch Australia.
Jeanne lay in that hospital bed staring at the beam for 11 added years.
In the end, the woman who had brought so abundant joy to so abounding bodies was beggared of everything. Her voice, her personality, her daughter, her grandchildren, her family.
Jeanne died on November 7, 2020.
Katie wants her mother to be remembered as she was afore she got sick.
“I am on a mission now to get mum the acceptance I feel that she’s advantaged to as one of Australia’s aboriginal changeable comedians, and I’m not activity to blow until I get that done,” she says.
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At her canonizing service, Wendy Harmer placed her durably amid the greats.
“I do anticipate Jeanne deserves her abode in the ball pantheon in Australia with bodies like Norman Gunston. She was unique, she was remarkable, she owns her place, she deserves her place,” she said.
“Thank you, Jeanne, for actuality a trailblazer in women’s comedy.”
Watch Australian Story’s I Dream of Jeanne on iview and Youtube
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