MILESAGO - Profiles
|TOMMY HANLON Jr
Born Parkersburg, West Virginia - ca. 1923
TV host, magician, actor, comedian and circus ringmaster Tommy Hanlon Jr was one of Australia's first television superstars and one of its best-loved personalities. Speaking after Hanlon's death in October 2003, his close friend Bert Newton hailed him as a major figure in our TV history:
"He was as important to Australian television as anyone else in its history. He opened daytime television back in the '60s with extraordinary ratings that will never be surpassed. As a man he was a beautiful human being, even his foibles were classy."
Another friend and former colleague who paid tribute to him was veteran Nine Network voiceover man Pete Smith:
"Along with Bert and Graham, he was one of only a few who attained genuine superstar status here ... He's been a wonderful performer, a master magician, a very funny comedian and a top television star. The curtain's come down on a real-life three-ring circus."
Federal Minister for the Arts and Sports Senator Rod Kemp also paid tribute:
"Tommy Hanlon Jnr came to Australia from the United States and was part of the birth of Australian television. He was a gifted comedian with a circus background including skills as a magician and an acrobat. A regular feature in Australian living rooms for so many years, there is there is no doubt that Tommy Hanlon Jnr will be long remembered as one of the pioneers of Australian television."
Interviewed by ScreenSound in 2001, Hanlon said he was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia. A sixth-generation entertainer, he claimed that his first performance was as a baby when his father, Tommy, carried him on stage. At four he was performing regularly onstage with his father. When his parents split, the 14-year-old Tommy jumped out of his father's motel room window and headed for Hollywood. He ran whiskey, dealt blackjack in Alabama, worked for two years with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre in Los Angeles, appeared on stage alongside W.C. Fields and also appeared in a number of Hollywood movies, including Follow The Boys (1944).
Hanlon's first marriage ended in divorce; their son, Tommy Hanlon III, went on to invent a vertical take-off aircraft and became vice-president of Bell Helicopters. Hanlon met his second wife, Murphy, in a Red Cross doughnut line when they were entertaining US troops in Korea.
He came to Australia in 1959 for a season at Melbourne's Chevron and Sydney's Chequers nightclubs. He made appearances on Graham Kennedy's In Melbourne Tonight, and was an instant hit. Sensing opportunities in Australia, Hanlon returned in 1960 and was soon working three nights a week on IMT, often filling in as host. Observational humour comprised much of his stand-up act. He would always close by pulling a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket and reading yet another "letter from mom".
In 1961 he began hosting the program It Could Be You on GTV-9 in Melbourne, which ran until 1969. The program reunited relatives and aimed to help people in difficult situations; it was hugely popular and still ranks as the highest-rating daytime television program in Australian TV history.
Hanlon hosted the show for nine years and won the Gold Logie in 1962. He left Nine in October 1968, at a time when he was one of Australia's highest-paid entertainers, earning more than $1000 a week. "I shouldn't be in television. I get hurt too easily. I'm far too sensitive of criticism," he said at the time. "There are things in the world other than television."
In 1967 he bought into Ashton's Circus, the first person outside the Ashton family to hold an interest since it hadbeen founded 134 years earlier. While circus was his first love, TV kept calling Hanlon back, and he hosted like Let's Make A Deal, Show Of Surprises and The Entertainers.
Hanlon left television after Pot of Gold ended and returned to his first love, the circus. He first joining Ashton's Circus and then Silvers' Magic Circus, where he remained for 23 years and worked as a master of ceremonies until his retirement in 2001.
Tommy Hanlon died on Thursday 11 October 2003 at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. He was believed to have been in his early 80s. He died ten days after suffering a heart attack. Only weeks earlier, a frail Hanlon had been the subject of a tribute on the Nine Network's This Is Your Life.
On 16 October 2003 hundreds of his friends and family gathered at the Powerhouse Function Centre on Albert Park Lake to pay tribute to Hanlon. The crowd included Daryl Somers and circus entrepreneur Mervyn Ashton. Hanlon's close friend Bert Newton was unable to attend because of production commitments with GMA. Near the coffin were the symbols of Hanlon's greatest loves: a portrait of him and his wife, and the Australian and American flags.
Pete Smith delivered the first eulogy:
"Tommy Hanlon Jr will be remembered as a first class comic, a wonderful clown, a masterful magician and the most successful daytime star of his era. Of course there were the stars and none shone brighter than the man we honour here today. He lived the life of a circus performer and was a natural from the time he arrived here. Far from heaven being a resting place for Tommy, I can only imagine him up there performing -- non-stop."
A highlight of the service was a video presentation of Hanlon's career highlights. The tape included the 1961 Gold Logie winner performing on It Could be You.
His daughter April said that the last time they had talked, he told her that he had lived the greatest life of all. She followed circus tradition by scattering sawdust and tinsel on her father's casket and fought back tears as she delivered her eulogy:
"I've never heard anyone say anything bad about him. And he never really said anything bad about anyone else."
Grandson Jeff Almond said: "He always made sure mum and I were OK. He had a joke for me every day and if it was a good he would say, 'You can can have that one'."
Comedy writer Mike McColl Jones parodied Hanlon's trademark "Letter from Mom" routine with his own "Letter from Tommy" in heaven. "TV up here is just heaven ... There are no reality shows and no Daddos in sight."
Daryl Somers said that his fondest memory was working with Hanlon on the Moomba Showboat and singing 'Bosom Buddies'. "He was a total professional, a very genuine person. I and everyone else loved him."
Tommy's beloved wife Murphy died in 1990. He is survived by his daughter April Bell, who lives in Melbourne, his son Tommy, four grandsons and a great grand-daughter.
Lucky this beautiful man found us
|REFERENCES / LINKS|
Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 2003
Melbourne Herald-Sun, 11 October 2003
Melbourne Herald-Sun, 17 Oct 2003
DCITA Media Release, 10 Oct 2003