Goodbye daaarling: Stars gather to celebrate the life of zany TV legend Jeanne Little, 82, at a laughter-filled memorial service for the Gold Logie winner who died after a long battle with dementia
- Gold Logie winner and beloved entertainer Jeanne Little died this month aged 82
- Little appeared on The Mike Walsh Show, Midday Show and Beauty and the Beast
- She had suffered from the ravages of dementia for the last years of her long life
- Little’s memorial service was held at the Hayden Orpheum theatre at Cremorne
- She was famous for outlandish fashion and trademark greeting ‘Hello daaarling’
Gold Logie winner and Australian entertainment legend Jeanne Little has died aged 82 after a long battle with dementia
Entertainment legend Jeanne Little has been remembered as a madcap television talent, serious stage performer and Australian performing icon.
Singers, actors and media figures who worked with Little over her long career gathered on Wednesday for a memorial service to farewell the beloved star.
Little died on November 7 aged 82 after a decade-long battle with dementia.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions numbers were capped at 100 for the celebration of Little’s life in the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace at Cremorne on Sydney’s lower north shore.
The art deco cinema is owned by former daytime TV presenter and theatre producer Mike Walsh, who first brought Little into Australians’ lounge rooms.
Her family asked that instead of sending flowers friends and fans donate to the Jeanne Little Alzheimer’s Research Fund.
Celebrant Scott Duncombe gave permission to those in the theatre to ‘applaud, to cry, to pray, to laugh or just be present’ as they honoured ‘an Australian icon’.
To those watching the service on a live stream at home he suggested cracking a bottle of champagne and raising a glass to acknowledge there was now ‘one less star on this planet.’
Among the guests were singers Marcia Hines, 67, and Maria Venuti, 79, former federal parliamentary speaker Bronwyn Bishop, 78, ABC chair Ita Buttrose, 78, and commentator Prue MacSween, 68.
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Entertainment legend Jeanne Little has been remembered as a madcap television talent, serious stage performer and Australian performing icon. Among those who attended a memorial service on Monday were singer Marcia Hines (left) and ABC chair Ita Buttrose (right)
Singer Maria Venuti was among those to celebrate the life of Jeanne Little. Venuti, who suffered a stroke four years ago, is pictured with daughter Bianca
Former federal parliamentary speaker Bronwyn Bishop (pictured) came to celebrate the life of Jeanne Little at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace at Cremorne on Sydney’s lower north shore
Due to COVID-19 restrictions numbers were capped at 100 for the celebration of Little’s life in the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace at Cremorne on Sydney’s lower north shore
Walsh, 82, sent a video tribute to a ‘great star and a good friend’ while 75-year-old Patti Newton recorded a message from her and 82-year-old husband Bert.
Fellow Gold Logie winner Denise Drysdale was sorry she could not make it down from the Gold Coast. ‘Jeanne Little will be remembered as one of the most beautiful human beings that ever lived and that is no overstatement,’ she said.
Little was born Jeanne Mitchell in Sydney and made her television debut on The Mike Walsh Show showcasing designer maternity wear in September 1974.
Craig Bennett, entertainment reporter and a friend of 40 years, said: ‘She fell into television like other people might fall into mud.’
Walsh’s producers had seen a photograph of the pregnant Little modelling clothes from her struggling inner-city dressmaking boutique Jeanne Mitchell at Five Ways, Paddington.
Little was born Jeanne Mitchell in Sydney’s Paddington in 1938 and made her television debut on The Mike Walsh Show showcasing designer maternity wear in September 1974
Comedian, broadcaster and long-time friend Wendy Harmer (pictured) remembered Little as a trail-blazing female comic
Craig Bennett, entertainment reporter and long-time friend, said: ‘She fell into television like other people might fall into mud.’ Bennett is pictured delivering his eulogy
A guest had pulled out of the show and Little was called in as a last-minute replacement. Her first words on air were ‘Ooh, aah, hello daaarling.’
Stand-in host John-Michael Howson thought the producers had hired a drag queen who had ‘shoved a pillow up her frock’, Bennett said. The Channel 10 switchboard went haywire.
Little soon became a regular guest and audience favourite with her flamboyant fashion, larger-than-life personality and trademark ‘ooh, aah’s and ‘hello daaarling’s.
Willing to give anything a go for the sake of a laugh, she tried her hand at knife throwing, paragliding, flying a plane and riding an elephant.
Originally Little was given just $25 an appearance but within two years she was the highest-paid woman on Australian television, earning $50,000 a year.
Little’s zany outfits were as loud as her drawling voice and included frocks fashioned from aluminium foil, garbage bags and toast. She made edible hats out of pizza, french fries and ice cream cones.
Commentator Prue MacSween (left) and singer Maria Venuti (middle) attended the memorial service. Venuti’s daughter Bianca is pictured right
Mark Trevorrow, creator of lounge singer and fictional morning show host Bob Downe, remembered going home from high school in the mid 1970s to watch Jeanne on The Mike Walsh Show
Little once said of her over-the-top persona: ‘Initially, I was probably this frenetic… overdressed maniac.’ She is pictured attending the 46th Annual TV Week Logie Awards at the Crown Entertainment Complex in Melbourne in 2004
Little won the Gold Logie for most popular popular television personality in 1977 for her appearances on The Mike Walsh Show and two more Logies while on the same program.
Channel Seven featured Little’s talents on the variety chat series Jeanne’s Little Show (1977) and the wacky sitcom Cuckoo in the Nest (1978) which ran for four episodes.
She appeared on The Mike Walsh Show for 15 years and continued with the format on its successor, Midday With Ray Martin. She was also seen on Good Morning Australia and The Bert Newton Show.
Little attributed her unique raspy delivery to her Scottish family’s accent combined with a nasal Australian twang and a childhood case of diphtheria which damaged her vocal chords.
She sometimes claimed to have been dropped on her head as a child by her father. ‘Maybe it was a combination of the drop on the head and the diphtheria,’ Bennett said.
Patti Newton described Little as a ‘wonderful lady’ in a recorded a message on behalf of herself and husband Bert which was played at the service (pictured)
Katie Little said she had become almost delirious organising the two-hour memorial service. ‘My mother had a slightly different funeral plan and the biggest decision I had to make was do I spend the money on a coffin or drag queens?’ she said. Katie is pictured with son Hunter
Little’s daughter Katie announced the news of her mother’s death on November 7. ‘My mother has left the earthly plane,’ she wrote on Facebook alongside a photo of her as a young child sitting on her mother’s lap
Little further drew out her words to moderate a stutter developed as a teenager and was patron of the Australian Stuttering Foundation.
Bennett said Little had once taken elocution lessons in London from a teacher who winced when he heard her speak. Asked what happened to the man trying to help her, Little said, ‘Daaarling, he shot himself.’
There was nothing wrong with Little’s singing voice and she had a successful career in musical theatre.
Little played alongside Marcia Hines, Debra Byrne and Judi Connelli in the 1987 Australian production of the musical revue Jerry’s Girls.
The following year she performed for the Prince and Princess of Wales at the Royal Command Bicentennial Concert in Sydney. She met the pair and greeted them both with, ‘Hello darrrling’.
‘That was just simply Jeanne Little,’ Bennett told the audience. ‘The most fabulous and gorgeously divine anyone anywhere.’
Little’s zany outfits were as loud as her voice and included frocks fashioned from aluminium foil, garbage bags and toast. She made edible hats out of pizza, french fries and ice cream cones
Marlene, a one-woman tribute to German-American actress and singer Marlene Dietrich, won critical acclaim in the Australia and the United States and was followed by A Tribute to Marilyn Monroe.
Theatre producer Christine Dunstan described Little as ‘an amazingly accomplished stage performer.’
‘This legend, this icon was quite without equal,’ Dunstan said. ‘There will never be anyone again like Jeanne Little. That mould was a one-off.’
Little was 33 when she married interior decorator Barry Little in 1971, 13 years after they met.
Their only child Katie, now 43, became a comedian and writer, penning a memoir about growing up with her mother called Catch a Falling Star.
Little’s whackines carried over into her private life. She believed she had been kidnapped by aliens as a teenager and during the production of Jerry’s Girls had been held down by ghosts.
She turned down a cameo in Paul Hogan’s hit 1986 film Crocodile Dundee because Barry didn’t like the script.
Little’s memorial service pictured) featured songs and video tributes from friends including Patti Newton
She was also offered an acting part as Doctor Who’s mad Australian aunt but the UK’s Actors’ Equity did not approve and she lost the role.
Little became familiar to a new generation of television viewers as one of the beauties in Beauty and the Beast hosted by Stan Zemanek and Doug Mulray from the mid 1990s to early 2000s.
‘An absolute one-off,’ Bennett said. ‘We’ll never see the likes of her again. A heart as big as the world.’
Comedian, broadcaster and long-time friend Wendy Harmer remembered a trail-blazing female comic who wrote her own questions for Walsh.
‘She was absolutely running the show,’ the 65-year-old said.
Mark Trevorrow, creator of lounge singer Bob Downe, remembered going home from high school in the mid 1970s to watch Jeanne on The Mike Walsh Show.
Little made her television debut on The Mike Walsh Show showcasing designer maternity wear in September 1974. She soon became a regular guest and audience favourite with her flamboyant fashion and trademark greeting, ‘Hello daaarling’. Little and Walsh are pictured
He first met his idol in 1980 when Walsh was shooting his show at the National Theatre in Melbourne and he asked her how the host handled her antics.
‘Jeanne said, “Daaarling, he’s fine, you can do anything you like as long as you don’t touch the hair”.’
Katie Little said she had become almost delirious organising the two-hour memorial service.
‘My mother had a slightly different funeral plan and the biggest decision I had to make was do I spend the money on a coffin or drag queens?’ she said.
Katie introduced Professor Peter Schofield CEO of Neuroscience Research Australia to talk about dementia by telling the gathering, ‘If it was up to me I’d just be saying, “F*** Alzheimer’s”.’
Little she performed for the Prince and Princess of Wales at the Royal Command Bicentennial Concert in Sydney in 1988. She greeted them both with, ‘Hello darrrling’. Little is pictured charming the Princess
It was revealed in February 2011 that Little had been diagnosed two years earlier with Alzheimer’s disease, which by 2014 according to her family was so advanced she ‘no longer knows where she is or what’s going on around her.’
Little’s family set up the Jeanne Little Alzheimer’s Research Fund through Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) at Prince Of Wales Hospital for research into dementia.
Little spent her last years in a nursing home where husband Barry died in July last year aged 89.
Donations to the Jeanne Little Alzheimer’s Research Fund can be made here.
Jeanne Little is survived by daughter Katie, grandchildren Tom, Charlotte and Hunter and son-in-law Timothy Poulton