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The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Magazine: Feb Issue
Last month I was at the Hibiscus Coast Village north of Auckland celebrating their 25th anniversary. They had asked me to unveil a brand new plaque to my dear friend of forty-five years, Phyllis Diller.
So you’re now thinking ‘why did they ask me? Well, twenty-five years ago I brought Phyllis out from Hollywood to open the village by cutting a ribbon and unveiling a plaque. Over the years the plaque had become – shall I say – somewhat weather-beaten? I’m sure you know that Phyllis passed away on the 20th of August last year at the age of 95. Village manager Peter Gasston asked me if I would like to unveil a new plaque, which of course I was delighted to accept in the memory of Phyllis doing the very same thing 25 years ago to the day.
I had the most marvellous day as did Somboon and VAC Secretary Glenda Law who I invited as the village is in her area. Residents of the village entertained us with a very funny sketch that they had written themselves.
Also a group of guys performed several numbers in the style of a barber shop quartet which was tremendous – not to forget a beautiful lunch they put on for us. All in all it was a great way to complete my year
of speaking engagements.
I know that Phyllis would have loved the day, especially knowing that two of her books she had
autographed for the village twenty-five years ago were still in their library and being enjoyed.
~ David Hartnell.
Published in The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Magazine Feb 2013.
The lowering of a flag to half mast at Hibiscus Coast Village recognised a special connection with world famous humorist Phyllis Diller.
The village was one of two retirement complexes opened by Phyllis in 1987, who died on August 20 in her Los Angeles home aged 95.
It was opened in December by Phyllis and her New Zealand friend, celebrity gossip columnist David Hartnell.
The then owner John Bethell wanted to invite a celebrity to the event for the opening and contacted Mr Hartnell for some suggestions.
“I arranged for her to come down to open the villages because people who are going to retirement villages would know who she was – she spoke the same language,” Mr Hartnell says.
“I’ve known her for 43 years. Back then she said she always wanted to come to New Zealand whenever the option came up.
“I was asked if I could get a celebrity, and I knew exactly who should come.”
The village has a plaque up in recognition of Phyllis and her part in the opening.
“We have ordered a new, updated one to be put up because the old one was getting a little worn,” current manager Peter Gastill says.
Village resident Jocelyn Martin, now 77, was at the opening ceremony and recalls Phyllis as a very witty woman.
“She was a scream. Even when she wasn’t on camera. She made naughty jokes about how many facelifts she had. Phyllis was extremely thin and had high heels on. She made wise cracks all the time and laughed at all her own jokes. It was a very happy day.”
Jocelyn recalls the 35 residents having an afternoon tea with the celebrities.
Mr Hartnell says Phyllis was a very kind celebrity to her fans.
“You just don’t meet celebrities like they use to be. Phyllis was a very loyal friend of mine. I accompanied her on a number of occasions in Los Angeles, she was so kind to her fans who would come up.
“She always signed autographs and even carried her own pictures so she could sign them for people who didn’t have anything.
“At the village opening she was genuinely interested, she looked at everything and spoke with everyone.”
Mr Hartnell says Phyllis opened two retirement complexes on her visit, one in Mt Eden and the Hibiscus one.
She then stayed three days in Auckland and visited Rotorua.
- © Fairfax NZ News
For decades Bob Kerridge has dedicated his life to saving abandoned and injured animals at the SPCA in Auckland. He’s also the man behind a trust fighting to save Auckland’s neglected historic St James Theatre. Last month our respected VAC Patron David Hartnell MNZM was made an Ambassador of the trust to save the St James Theatre alongside actor Sam Neill.
The St James Theatre is a heritage stage theatre and cinema located on Queen Street in Auckland. Built in 1928, it was originally designed for vaudeville acts. It’s architect Henry Eli White also designed many other famous theatres in Australia and New Zealand; these include the St James Theatre in Wellington and the State Theatre in Sydney. It has been closed since 2007 after a fire raised concerns about safety and compliance. The building is classified as a ‘Category I’ (“places of special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value”) historic place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
The St James Theatre was commissioned by John Fullers and Sons Limited to replace the Fuller’s Opera House which burned down in 1926. The site on Queen Street opposite the Civic Square was acquired for around £100,000 and construction of the theatre was estimated to cost around £80,000. Upon it’s completion the eldest brother of the Fuller family, Sir Benjamin Fuller, pronounced the St James to be “the theatre perfect”. The grand opening was on July 5, 1928 with the London Musical Company performing Archie.
The St James has undergone several major modifications since it’s construction. Just a year after it was opened cinema projectors were added due to the emerging popularity of cinema over vaudeville. From then on cinema became a major part of the St James, it’s first film screening was Gold Diggers of Broadway, shown on Boxing Day 1929.
In 1953 the building’s façade and vestibule underwent renovation for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, who attended a cinema premiere screening in December of that year. As part of the renovations the unique facade was hidden behind sheets of metal in an attempt to give the building a more modern look.
The Official Magazine of the Variety Artists Club of NZ Incorporated
The boy with the state-house upbringing who became a makeup artist and gossip columnist to the stars has worked for 40 years in the entertainment industry and has no plans to retire. ‘People who retire don’t like their work. I love my work.’ He lives in Auckland with his partner of 20 years
What place has gossip in our media and society? Is it like expensive vices – best consumed rarely and only in small doses?
I’ve always believed gossip is like raw fish – it becomes less valuable with age. I’m happy to say that the public has a voracious appetite for celebrity gossip. But I truly believe that gossip, whether celebrity or not, is the oil of all human society. Continue reading
Purple-rinsed Australian “giga-star” Dame Edna Everage touched down in Auckland today for the start of her farewell New Zealand tour.
A glittering and bejeweled Dame Edna, the alter ego of Barry Humphries, enthusiastically greeted city representatives and media at the Town Hall, saying she was delighted to be back in the country.
Deputy mayor Penny Hulse and Dame Edna’s long-time friend, gossip columnist David Hartnell, were among the gathered group.
The famous housewife will perform six shows at Auckland’s Civic Theatre as part of her show Eat Pray Laugh! – her final show before retiring from touring.
Removing a purple jacket to reveal a “faux Chanel” hot pink top, matched with black skirt and high heels, Dame Edna said she had a special connection to New Zealand, which she described as beautiful and special.
When asked by deputy mayor Penny Hulse if she had any advice about how to improve Auckland, she said it should embrace its individuality.
Sir Derek Jacobi, CBE is an English actor and film director.
David Hartnell, MNZM is NZ’s No.1 Hollywood gossip columnist.
Both theatrical, both gay, both awarded for their services…
Both with the same hairdresser?
Or is Derek another of David’s long-lost half-brothers?
David Hartnell, despite his 40 years of rubbing shoulders with celebrities, lives a fairly staid life, it seems.
Of course I had my picture taken with the gossip columnist, David Hartnell. Wouldn’t you have? The one thing everyone knows about him is that he has all those photographs of him with famous people and that they are prominently displayed in his house, even in the loo, which is where he keeps what he calls his “wanker’s wall”.
There was no good reason for going to see him except that, as he knows better than almost anyone, flattery will sometimes get you somewhere. In this case it got me into his house and if he regretted the outcome of his sweet-talking, he heroically hid it even when I pointed out that his famous pictures were a bit (a bit!) dusty. “Who cares? As Quentin Crisp said: ‘It doesn’t get any worse after three years!” Continue reading