"The minute I get onto that stage all I can say is I know that I belong there and I am very much at home on the stage. It is like my space, like I belong there. I can’t explain it anymore than that and when the audience comes in the equation is worked out."
- Ruth Cracknell
It is quite ironic that one of the veteran sweethearts of Australian theatre with her wit and understanding, is best remembered for a TV role as a senile old woman. Fortunately, there is much, much more to Ruth Cracknell than Maggie Beare. Don't get me wrong, Mother and Son was a highlight of Australian telly history, and in no small part, thanks to Ruth. But there was so much more to her life and career.
Ruth was born on 6 July 1925 in Maitland, a country town in NSW. Her family moved in her early childhood, and she grew up in Sydney. Ruth's childhood was influenced by strong-willed, witty aunts, who shaped her upbringing. She went to high school at North Sydney Girls High (the same school my mum went to, but a completely different era). At 17, she saw her first play and was hooked on drama.
She joined a theatre company, and began her acting career gaining roles on stage. She was too short for romantic roles, although this was a blessing as it meant that she was destined to do comedy and character roles. She was brilliant.
Radio enabled her to reach a larger audience during the period of 1945-1948, in the form of radio plays. In the mid-1950s she spent two years in England on the BBC. Fortunately, she returned to Australia where she married Eric Phillips. They had three children - Ruth shunning the expectations (but not shirking the responsibilities) of housewifedom, returned to the stage.
This time not only to the live theatre, but she also appeared in movies and on television series. Her works included Playschool, The Dismissal and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. As well as the famous Mother and Son, and her wonderful role in Spider and Rose. There was of course more to her life than her performances.
Naturally she supported the arts in Australia, specifically being patron to both the Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Theatre for Young People. She was also an advocate for aboriginal Reconciliation. In 1980, Ruth became a Member of the Order of Australia. And was given the honour of becoming an Australian National Living Treasure in 1998. As well, Ruth was inducted into the Gold Logie Hall of Fame.
I would never speak ill of the dead. And even it was a good idea, it would be hard to come up with something in Ruth Cracknell's case. She was meticulous in her field, a pleasure to watch and an all round nice guy. Ruth had the amazing capacity to make you laugh and think at the same time.
"The only thing that keeps me sane in this frightening world is that there is humour in every situation."
- Ruth Cracknell
Frontier (1997) (mini series)
Lilian's Story (1995)
Spider and Rose (1994)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1992) (TV)
Kokoda Crescent (1989)
Emerald City (1988)
Alice to Nowhere (1986) (TV)
The Dismissal (1983) (mini series)
Mother and Son (1983) TV Series
The Best of Friends (1981)
Golden Soak (1979) (mini series) ... aka "Gold der Wüste, Das" (West Germany)
The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978)
The Night, the Prowler (1978)
The Singer and the Dancer (1977)
Ben Hall (1975) (TV Series)
Seven Little Australians (1973) (mini series)
The Cousin from Fiji (1972) (TV)
Dead Men Running (1971) (TV Series)
That Lady From Peking (1970)
Fiends of the Family (1968) (TV)
I'm Alright Now (1967) (TV Series)
Bellbird (1967) (TV Series)
Smugglers Beware (1963) (TV Series)
The Patriots (1962) (TV Series)
Smiley Gets a Gun (1959)
A Biased Memoir (1997)autobiography
A Journey from Venice (2002) released on CD and cassette only
http://www.abc.net.au/btn/australians/rcracknell.htm (Last visited: 29 May 2005)
http://www.humanities.curtin.edu.au/cgi-bin/view?area=ccs&dir=Events_and_Publications&page=EJ_Lectures (Last visited: 29 May 2005)
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185635/ (Last visited: 16 Oct 2004)