The Governor of N.S.W. wept at the premiere
of an Australian "Love Story"
DASHING SISTERS MADE
ago three Sydney sisters fresh from school
produced a "Love Story"
film which became a
phenomenon of its time and place.
It was a silent film coyly
called "Those Who Love." It took four weeks to film in
Sydney-and had audiences weeping in the aisles, from Sydney to London.
The ancient weepy - it
bears some resemblance to
"Love Story"-cost its pro
PHYLLIS McDONAGH - she was art director
and publicity boss.
ducers $2000 to make against Minsky's $2.4 million, and returned them $4000 against his $16 million (to date).
Only a few older Aus-
tralians would have recalled
it - if Mrs. F. T. O'Brien, of Kensington, riffling through the paper for her TAB daily doubles, hadn't glanced at a large photo- graph of Howard Minsky.
"I read the story under-
neath and I was thunder-
struck. Absolutely," exploded Mrs. O'Brien, who happens to be Phyllis, one of the movie-pioneering McDonagh
"I turned around to O.B.
(my husband) and said, "There's nothing new under the sun! Paulette, Isabel, and I did this decades ago here in Sydney!' "
Mr. O'Brien (the calm type) went on reading his
Phyllis, a dashing figure in
purple pantsuit, just sat staring at her father's old tiger-skin tapestry, propped rakishly against the wall of
their home unit.
"And did it start the memories rolling!
"Mr. Minsky paid Erich Segal $100,000 for his 'Love Story' script," said Phyllis, a generous figure with jolly face and unchagrined person- ality.
"We didn't shop for our script."
In fact, they sat down in the prep room of their boarding school and wrote their own plot.
Like "Love Story," the result was a popular, financial freak, drawing packed houses and earning
its distributors more than
the leading Charlie Chaplin picture of the year.
The McDonagh girls put their doubled investment into making a second film, "The Far Paradise," another
Rich boy, poor girl
Phyllis says "Those Who Love" was like Erich Segal's story about the two loving young Americans.
In "Love Story," the hero comes from a stylish, moneyed background. The heroine, pure as snow in spirit, is from a deprived
one. Hence conflict.
In "Those Who Love," the hero comes from a noble, moneyed background. The heroine, poor but pure, is a dancehall girl. Hence conflict.
In both films, love crashes the barriers of background environment. However, the heroine dies in "Love Story" and lives in "Those Who Love."
The plot of "Those Who Love" sounds far from simple as Phyllis tells it.
Hero Barry Manion ( Sydneyite Bill Carter)
throws off his aristocratic background after a frustrat- ing affair with an actress, Bebe Doree ("a real hard- boiled little lizzie"), played by Sylvia Newland.
Barry, son of Sir James and Lady Manion (J. C.
Williamson's actor Robert
Purdie and Sydney socialite Mrs. Kate Trefle), becomes a proper plebeian - "we had him working down at the wharves."
He discovers his true love, beautiful Lola Quale (Isa- bel- McDonagh, working under the stage name Marie Lorraine), in a bar ("Actu- ally, he comes in for a drink after work and sees the bar
boss tackling the virtue, or however you put it, of this poor girl").
Chivalrous Barry knocks the pubkeeper flying, thus losing the penniless girl her job and lodgings.
He makes up by putting her up at his flat ("All very proper, of course - we showed them in separate rooms"). They discover their love during "a terrific storm. She's so terrified of light- ning, she flies into his room
and the scene ends with his
DRUMMOYNE HOUSE, Drummoyne, their home and movie location. At right: Under demolition last month, to make way for a seven-storey block of home units.
PAULETTE McDONAGH directing a scene in "Those Who Love," the movie that started the sisters on their short but successfut film career. Paulette joined a technical class to learn the job.
arm around her, comforting
The game is up when Sir James' solicitor tracks down the recalcitrant Barry, meets Lola alone, and warns her
She runs awray, not want- ing to come between Barry and his family. He goes to pieces ("really to the dogs, drinking in low places and the like") while she works as a nursing aide at the Royal Prince Alfred Hos- pital. ("It's international, so the film doesn't say what hospital it is.")
Barry is taken to RPA to recover from a wharf acci- dent. Lola nurses him, and
his parents become recon- ciled to their love when Lola presents them with her devo- tion and a little Barry (born just after the separation).
Phyllis says the picture was corny. "But it had a human element people
"In those days every
Australian-made film made us out to be a lot of bush- whackers, on the 'Dad and Dave' theme.
"The three of us talked and talked and decided if Australia was going to com- pete overseas we'd have to meet overseas standards by making interior films - technically difficult then."
The three sisters did every- thing together. "We prac
tically lived and breathed as one. We were the oldest of a family of seven and inseparable.
"Every Saturday after- noon the three of us used to go down to the local pic- ture house, cry together at the villainous scenes, bellow with laughter at anything funny."
They had known theat- ricals and sporting people since they were toddlers.
"Father (Dr. J. M. McDonagh, known as Sporting Mac to intimates)
and mother used to have
these Sunday-night recep- tions in the drawing-room of father's home, which was then in College Street over- looking Hyde Park.
"We three would sit there, quiet as mice, looking and listening to all these fabu- lous theatricals. We cut our teeth on theatre.
"So when we went to boarding school that's all we talked and thought
about. Schoolwork was a
When they left school, Dr. McDonagh (known in Syd- ney for his spending ways) believed enough in his girls to give them $2000 for their film experiment - and his blessing.
"Father always believed in us. And when we proved on paper we knew what we were about, he let us have
"We had a down-to-earth approach. We thought well ahead and planned the details meticulously. We
knew talent wasn't enough if it was half baked."
Paulette, the quiet, authoritative type, was appointed director.
She joined a film class to learn about production techniques and camerawork.
Isabel (the family beauty - "we'd just stare at her for ages and think: 'Is she
our sister?' We were so
proud of her") was the obvi- ous actress. She got her experience by playing the
lead in two Beaumont Smith
productions, ended up play- ing feminine lead in all four McDonagh films.
Phyllis, the extrovert (who can make a crossing on the Manly ferry sound like a saga down the Amazon), was appointed art director and publicity woman.
They formed themselves into a company called MCD
Before they got under way, Dr. McDonagh suddenly died-"the saddest
moment of our lives." But they didn't give up.
"Mother was a trained nurse, and after father's death a group of Sydney doctors suggested she open
a convalescent home for their use.
"So we moved into Drum-
moyne House, a terrifically interesting old house in Drummoyne, built by con-
"Two wings were set aside for the convalescent home, and we used the main part.
"Drummoyne House had 22 rooms and an under- ground passage that led to
the water. Marvellous!
"We packed our living quarters with father's treasures - great Venetian mirrors, large gold-framed oils, ornaments, furniture pieces, and tapestries.
"The house, with its 40ft. hall and long, high-ceilinged reception - room, was a ready-made studio - and furnished with wonderful props."
Paulette, Phyllis, and Isabel hired one of Sydney's best-known movie camera- men, other local technicians,
and a cast.
"We were full of fun and optimism. We knew we would keep within our $2000
RIGHT: Champagne picnic at Tamarama Beach early in the film. The flapper in diamond
checks, played by Sylvia Newland, is getting m her hooks into Barry Manion (Bill Carter). His rich parents buy her off, and the indignant Barry rushes away to become a wharfíe.
DRAWING-ROOM at Drummoyne House was used for this scene, in which Sir James and Lady Manion (Robert Purdie and socialite Mrs. Kate Trefle) discuss Barry's future.
ISABEL McDONAGH (professional name Marie Lorraine) is the girl whose virtue is saved by Barry the wharfie, battered in a fight. They fall in love.
budget - although others in Australia were spending much more to make quite ordinary films then-because we had everything planned and down on paper and a rigid shooting schedule.
"As we were getting ready to make the film, we had incredible publicity because we were girls and
sisters and this was our first attempt."
The first day, all of Drummoyne was out on Wright's Road to get a good look at the cumbersome movie cameras, old klieg lights whh reflectors, and the host of painted actors
The McDonagh giris' equipment blacked out all
electricity in the street because of its heavy elec- tricity draw. No one in Drummoyne complained.
The frantic makeshift conditions, plus the rigid time limit, would have made a seasoned director throw
up his hands in surrender it spurred the girls on.
"We were utterly deter- mined and took every mis- hap in our stride. At the outset the three of us agreed to abolish the word 'no' from our vocabularies."
Which was just as well. They were beset by mishaps.
"The lights we used were terrifically strong. After a day's shooting your eyes were raw and watery and you couldn't see much
at all - like someone had thrown pepper into them.
"Not long after shooting began we all came down with klieg eyes. We just had to lie low for a couple of days, which meant a com- plete holdup in the shooting
Then their cameraman had virus influenza.
"The poor man was in a terrible way, shivering and sweating, and as the day
wore on Paulette and I liter-
ally held him up at the camera to get through."
Then the girls put him to bed in Drummoyne House and took tums sitting up all night, feeding him aspirin
and lemon drinks.
Next morning, spindly
legged and groggy, he was back at the job.
The entire cast caught this
"One morning we had to shoot a hospital sequence. The walls of the bedroom we'd adapted were reflecting too much light.
"Every single person on the film worked like demons repainting the whole room in
Each night the McDonagh girls saw the rushes of the day's filming - "And we felt we had a good picture."
Preparations were launched for a preview screening.
"We hired the Prince Edward Theatre with its
leading organist, Eddie Hor- ton, at the Wurlitzer.
"We sent out 500 invita- tions to members of the film
industry and the Governor, Sir Dudley de Chair-whose daughter Elaine had a small part in the film."
Phyllis still gets choked up when she thinks about that grand preview moment
- "The most momentous
hour of our lives. We knew we'd emerge either victors or embarrassing failures."
With the wistful notes of
"Always" (the film's theme) wafting through the theatre, "Those Who Loved" began to unwind.
"We sat in the dress circle, side by side, so ner- vous we could hardly
"Thea we relaxed a bit, reassured by that quiet which always settles in a theatre when die audience is being held.
"Halfway through, Paul- ette nudged me and whis- pered, 'Look at the Gover- nor.' He was sitting fairly close by. We saw him hold a handkerchief to his eyes.
"Other men in the audi- ence followed suit. We looked at each other and smiled the happiest smiles of
As the last scene faded the audience rose to their
feet with a burst of applause.
"It was still ringing in
our ears when we left the dress circle."
They rushed out to get that evening's newspapers,
and saw two headlines : "Governor Cries At Film" and "Best Australian ' Film Ever Made."
The following year the McDonagh sisters went into production with "The Far Paradise," which had a long run at the Regent Theatre.
They followed with a
handful of successful docu- mentaries, including one on Phar Lap and another on
In the mid-'thirties they produced "The Cheaters," another long-run attraction, followed by the first Austra- lian "talkie"-"and by far the best picture we pro- duced" - "Two Minutes' Silence," from the play by Leslie Haylen, who became the Federal Member for Parkes.
"We'd done our bit" With no proper talkie equipment around, it was made, says Phyllis, under "incredible difficulties."
It turned out to be the McDonagh girls' swan-song.
A full talkie system was not installed in Sydney , until two years later - and by that time the sisters had given up movie-making.
"We gave up because we thought we'd done our bit
and we wanted to move on
to other things separately.
"Isabel got married and now lives in London with her daughter and two sons.
Paulette lives in a unit in
Kings Cross. And I'm very happy as a journalist."
When they occasionally get together they wonder what would have happened if they'd moved on to Hollywood.
"Fox Films offered to send us. But we were sensible girls. We sat down and talked and decided we would end up very small fish in a big pond.
"At home we had work and a reputation."
Tfot long ago Phyllis paid
a sentimental call on old Drummoyne House.
"Oh, it was terrible, terrible - I stepped into the beautiful, high-ceilinged hall and almost died! It's been turned into flatettes and it looks so cold and awful I never want to see it again."