Danny La Rue
26 July 1927 – 31 May 2009
If you think of a panto dame then surely Danny La Rue must be somewhere near the top of the list of the very best. He is widely considered as one of the showbiz greats with a career spanning almost 60 years in the spotlight. Having his name attached to any show was a certain crowd puller and he became one of the most in demand pantomime performers.
"Vulgar, yes, but there is nothing crude about me!"
-Danny La Rue
Daniel Patrick Carroll , or as we knew him Danny La Rue, was the son of a sailor born 26th July 1927 in Cork in Ireland. For many years his career was managed by his partner Jack Hanson and after he passed away in 1984 Danny’s close friend Anne Galbraith became his advisor and accompanied him on tour and at all his shows. He had his own West End Club and performed there nightly with in his regular midnight slot and in 1968 his rendition of ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’ landed him at no.33 in the UK singles chart and the song would go on to become his theme tune. Throughout the 60’s and 70s he was amongst the highest paid stars on TV. Possibly his best known and well-remembered stage role was as Dolly Levi in the iconic show Hello Dolly, a role he made his own and despite being panned by critics won him a score of adoring fans. Danny also became known for his spectacularly lavish, expensive and flamboyant outfits which he would wear whilst performing and he was the master, or mistress, of the double entendre.
Danny dedicated a great deal of his life to pantomime appearing in over 45 of them from 1956-2005. In 2002 Danny was awarded the O.B.E in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. It was only in 2006 that Danny was forced so slow down on his working life following a mild stroke and in 2009 Danny passed away peacefully in his sleep following a battle with both prostate and throat cancer aged 81. Danny’s legacy has loved on and in 2010 a selection of his larger than life costumes went under the hammer as they were auctioned off.
1956 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the New Regal Cinema Gloucester
1957 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Finsbury Park Empire
1958 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Manchester Palace alongside Bob Monkhouse
1959 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Newcastle Empire
1960 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Theatre Royal Nottingham with Lonnie Donegan
1961 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Birmingham Hippodrome with Lonnie Donegan
1962 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Leeds Grant with Lonnie Donegan
1963 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Bournemouth Pavilion with Stan Stennett
1964 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the New Theatre Oxford with Des O’Connor
1965 Cinderella as one of the Ugly Sisters at the Golders Green Hippodrome with Dickie Henderson
1967 Sleeping Beauty as the Wicked Queen at the Golders Green Hippodrome
1968 Sleeping Beauty as the Wicked Queen as the Saville Theatre London
1978 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the London Palladium alongside Wayne Sleep
1980 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at Bristol Hippodrome
1981 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Birmingham Hippodrome
1984 Mother Goose as Mother Goose at the Theatre Royal Plymouth with Patsy Rowlands
1985 Mother Goose as Mother Goose at the Alexandra Theatre Birmingham with Isla St Clair
1986 Mother Goose as Mother Goose at the Theatre Royal Bath
1987 Mother Goose as Mother Goose at the Churchill Theatre Bromley
1988 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Grand Theatre Blackpool with Billy Pearce
1989 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Halifax Civic
1990 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Davenport Theatre Stockport with Rachel Friend
1991 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Mayflower Theatre Southampton with Stefan Dennis
1992 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Birmingham Hippodrome with Britt Ekland
1993 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the New Victoria Woking with Ray Meagher
1994 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Theatre Royal Plymouth with Vicki Michelle
1995 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the New Wimbledon Theatre with Karl Howman
1996 Aladdin as Widow Twankey at the Lyceum Sheffield with Les Dennis
1997 Cinderella as the Baroness at the Mayflower Southampton with Brian Conley
1998 Cinderella as the Baroness at the Birmingham Hippodrome with Brian Conley
1999 Cinderella as the Baroness at the Theatre Royal Plymouth with Brian Conley
2000 Cinderella as the Baroness at the New Victoria Woking with Melinda Messenger
2001 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Theatre Royal Plymouth
2002 Cinderella as the Baroness at the Wycombe Swan High Wycombe
2003 Cinderella as the Fairy Godmother at the Theatre Royal Nottingham with Bobby Davro
2004 Cinderella as the Fairy Godmother at the New Theatre Cardiff with Dave Benson Phillips
2005 Cinderella as the Fairy Godmother at the Ashcroft Theatre Croydon with Stephen Mulhern
Did you know...
Danny appeared in 30 Royal Command Performances
He made a guest appearance in an episode of the comedy Mr Bean
Due to his risqué routines he gained the nickname Danny La Rude
OBITUARY - as printed in The Guardian 2nd June 2009
Danny La Rue, who has died aged 81, flouted the usual showbusiness rule that, to be funny, every female impersonator needed to have an obvious suggestion of –hobnailed boots beneath a long frock. In a variation on this tradition, he appeared attired in sequinned dresses, but immediately said "wotcher, mates!" in a gruff voice. Yet what La Rue achieved was to replace a traditionally derisive mocking of women, that showed them as faintly grotesque, with glitter and elegance. He did it to such an extent that, apart from his height of over 6ft, he might easily have been a beautiful woman trying her luck with saucy jokes and sentimental songs. He became the first
performer for many years to base his entire career on impersonating women.
"Vulgar, yes, but there is nothing crude about me," was his guiding maxim, as he flounced around variety stages, clubs, pierheads and pantomimes, doing a dozen changes a show, sometimes with stylish but over-the-top dresses which cost £5,000 each. At his peak, in the 1970s, he was earning the equivalent of £2m a year, and had four homes, a Rolls-Royce and an entourage of 60.
La Rue was never a gay icon, nor a butt of the feminist movement, which sometimes surprised him. His core audience was, in fact, blue-rinsed ladies of a certain age who sent gushing letters congratulating him on his awards: showbusiness personality of the year in 1969, theatre personality of the year in 1970, 25 years in show business award in 1976 and entertainer of the decade in 1979.
They wrote saying how much they admired his legs or his self-manufactured rubber bosom, presumably because they identified with him and were comfortable with his act – though it sometimes included raucous jokes which, coming from anyone else, might have caused deep offence. He got away with it, he claimed, because everyone knew that everything he did and said was just a pretence: he regarded himself as an actor.
Although Paul Scofield tried to –persuade him to act in "legitimate" –theatre, and Laurence Olivier wanted him to play Lady Macbeth, La Rue did not risk trying to escape his limitations. He would explain that taking off –Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bette Davis and Joan Collins, or Sophie Tucker singing My Yiddisher Mama, was acting enough.
As a cabaret perfomer, he could be decidedly risqué, earning himself the nicknames Danny La Rude and Danny La Blue. Offstage, he could also be reckless and get away with it. Once, he was appearing at a London club and in a –Coventry pantomime simultaneously. At the same time, the royal family were asking for an increase in the civil list. When the Duke of Edinburgh, visiting La Rue's show, asked him if he was doing it for the cash, La Rue replied that it seemed to be all the fashion.
A Guardian critic said in the 1960s that La Rue's material was "dirty night-club jokes for drunks and bored people and other actors, and yet it is truly cleansing and cathartic". To which a reader from Hampstead – not usually regarded as the centre of La Rue's core audience – inquired acidly whether the critic was "going through a period of severe mental strain". The reader –obviously regarded La Rue's material as neither filthy nor psychologically significant, just funny. This was the received opinion throughout a long career which, he said, was sustained by discipline and application.
Born Daniel Patrick Carroll in Cork, Ireland, La Rue was the youngest son of a Roman Catholic cabinet-maker, who had five children. La Rue never knew him. His father went to New York in the 1920s with the idea of bringing his family over later, but died before this could happen. Danny was then 18 months old.
His mother, whom he described as his life's inspiration, decided to compromise by seeking the family's fortunes in England. She lived in Soho, central London, struggling on her widow's pension and wages as a seamstress to provide for the large family, while young Danny attended schools in London and then, evacuated from London during the blitz, in Exeter. One day he found his mother in tears because she didn't know where the money for his new school uniform was going to come from. On leaving school, he earned £1.50 a week in a –bakery; wartime rationing was in place and he was allowed to take cakes home as a perk. He got a job in Exeter as a window-dresser, then moved back to London, doing the same job for an Oxford Street store.
Called up for the Royal Navy, he made his first stage appearance, aged 18, as a native girl in a comic send-up of the serious play White Cargo. John Gielgud saw it in Singapore and told La Rue that he should take his ability to make people laugh more seriously. Once he left the navy, he did so. An old naval friend told him about auditions for an all-male chorus in the show Forces Showboat. Harry Secombe was in the same show.
Forces Showboat went on tour for months, but La Rue saw little point in dressing up as a woman in the –provinces. It didn't seem to be getting him anywhere, so he returned to the Oxford Street store and initiated lunch-time fashion shows. Then the promoter Ted Gatty persuaded him to do a West End revue in drag. He would do it, said La Rue, as long as it were not under his real name. When he arrived for rehearsals he found that Gatty had already given him the name Danny La Rue.
The producer Cecil Landau saw the show and got La Rue a two-week slot at Churchill's club in Mayfair, which turned into a three-year engagement as top of the bill. La Rue spent the 1950s appearing on stage, often in –pantomimes staged by the impresario Tom Arnold. He also appeared in cabaret in clubs with such success that, in the early 1960s, he opened Danny's, his own club in Hanover Square, which lasted nine years.
This was in contrast to a later business venture, in the 1970s: restoring the derelict stately home Walton Hall near Stratford-upon-Avon, which he had bought for £500,000 – much of his considerable savings. He poured the rest into restoration and turning it into a hotel and arts centre, only to find that the two Canadian managers were conmen who had left him with a pile of unpaid bills, for which La Rue was legally responsible. The day after his 56th birthday, La Rue's company went into voluntary liquidation and he was forced to sell his home in Henley to pay off the debt.
It got worse. In 1984 he took the lead in Hello, Dolly! which was critically panned and closed soon after. Later that year, his manager of 30 years, Jack Hanson, whom he described as "the love of my life", died of a stroke. La Rue drank himself to sleep every night until a –psychic told him that his pet dog was the reincarnation of Hanson. Taking –further comfort from his Catholic religion – he kept a little shrine by his –bedside – La Rue resumed his disciplined routine of personal appearances at pierheads and in pantomime, rationing his television appearances as always. Why, he asked, should people pay to see him on stage when they could see him for free on TV?
He never married and was angry at those who called his announced, but later called-off, engagement to an American millionairess in 1987 a publicity stunt. In 2000, his companion Wayne King, an Australian pianist, died aged 46, of Aids. Two years later, in recognition of the thousands of pounds he raised for Aids charities, La Rue was appointed OBE (the Queen was said to be a great admirer of his act). Suffering from the eye condition macular degeneration, in 2006 he also suffered a stroke, though even then his agent said that La Rue was "dying to get his old frocks out, dust them off and get back in the limelight". Shortly afterwards, in poor health and receiving financial assistance from an actors' charity, he moved in to the home of his former dresser and longtime friend Annie Galbraith, who cared for him until his death.