Jeanne Little’s mother sounds like she was some character. A tough woman who brought up a large family on her own, she instilled in her children one very important philosophy.
My mother used to always say, -˜Low ambition is a crime,’ Jeanne explains. She always said it doesn’t matter if what you do is dreadful and you fail, you must have a go.
That has stayed with me my entire life, and I have tried to live by it. One thing you can never accuse me of is not having a go.
Jeanne is sitting in her Paddington home she shares with her interior designer husband Barry, talking about her new memoir, Hello Darling!
While Jeanne was draped in feathered jacket as she answered the door, the woman chatting intensely about the content of her book is the serious side of Jeanne Little.
Her book, written with journalist Siobhan O’Brien, charts a fascinating life that began in suburban Sydney and had her dabbling in fashion and drag circles by her teens.
I was out of control then, she recalls. I loved fashion as my mother was always sewing, and I was too. People would stare at me thinking I was a freak, but I would just look back, thinking they knew nothing about fashion.
The gay guys always loved that I looked vibrant and, when I was taken along to a drag show, I thought, if that is what boys can look like, what am I doing looking so boring? I was so influenced by drag shows as they were so clever and inventive.
A marriage to Barry and a daughter Katie followed, as did her own fashion business, before the fateful day when a TV producer invited her on to The Mike Walsh Show.
A Gold Logie cemented her place in TV history, but it was in 1987 when the musical Jerry’s Girls premiered that Little showed she also had a singing talent, which has since taken her across many musical and cabaret stages.
In Jerry’s Girls, Little had all the comedy songs, but there was one sad moment when she took off a silly hat and sang I’ll Be Here Tomorrow -“ and stopped the show.
That was at the time we had lost about 50 friends to AIDS and, every time I sang that song, that was for them and I would almost bawl. I also had friends in the audience to see the show who were also so sick. It was a terrible time.
Little also faced her own battle with cancer, as well as being labelled a racist for her outspoken views on TV’s Beauty And The Beast over the past decade.
But at 68, she is unapologetic for who she is, and admits one of the reasons she wrote the book was to finally have her say on many of the battles she has been embroiled in.
Initially I didn’t want it written at all as I didn’t want to sell my story just to expose everything, she says. But I figured I did have to be honest and tell the story of the dark sides that have happened too.
But that was one of things I admired about the drag queens in the old days. They were so badly treated, but they still got up and did the shows and just kept going -“ and still looked fabulous.
Sounds like her mother would be proud.
Hello Darling! is published by Allen & Unwin.