It’s not polite to ask a woman of Toni Lamond’s stature her age. Suffice to say she is at a time in life many of her peers are propped up in front of the television watching Deal Or No Deal.
But a quiet life could never suit this lady who, in her own words, lives and breathes entertainment.
This month the legendary performer will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement from Melbourne’s Green Room Awards.
A phone conversation with Lamond is a little bit like a private audience to one of her shows. There are no short answers. Stories roll off the tongue in great sweeping monologues peppered with gags and even phrases from songs -“ it’s all very upbeat and very, very showbiz.
From an early age the seeds for a life on the stage were sewn. The singer comes from a long line of entertainers. Both parents were stars of The Tivoli, upholding the vaudeville tradition of spending most of their time on the road.
My mother sort of gave birth to me and then went away on tour -“ it was the depression and she had to go and earn money, Lamond recalls.
By the age of 10 Lamond was making appearances in her parents’ variety shows and singing on the radio.
It was the perfect training and set her up for later roles in the burgeoning local music theatre scene. Original productions of The Pajama Game, Oliver, Gypsy, Anything Goes and Tunnel of Love all bear the Lamond signature.
The big leap in Lamond’s career came with the introduction of live television in the early 1960s. She and her husband, Frank Sheldon, were regular fixtures on Graeme Kennedy’s groundbreaking program In Melbourne Tonight and, after two years of guest appearances, they were given their own night. Somewhere around this time Noel Ferrier dubbed the singer Lolly-Legs Lamond. The phrase stuck and later became the name of her record label.
By today’s standards, a TV show hosted by a woman is not such a big deal but back in the 60s the In Melbourne Tonight show format was a boys’ club. Lamond can claim credit as the first woman in the world to host a Tonight Show variety show format.
It was pretty full on, the star says. Band call was at 6.30pm, camera call at 7.30pm, put your make-up and frock on, and live to air at 9.30pm. There were no Autocues -“ you had to learn it and then you had to go home and unlearn it, she said.
The young comics who are around today are the natural descendents of what we did back then.
Lamond’s one-woman show Times of My Life (written and directed by her son, Tony Sheldon, of Priscilla the Musical, The Producers, and Torch Song Trilogy fame) features early Australian television footage and is as much a history of the entertainment industry as the celebration of the performer’s life.
Toni Lamond’s Times of My Life -“ A Play With Music is on at the Seymour Centre from 29 April to 10 May. Details www.tonilamond.com.