Australian Biography: Hayes Gordon


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1994, 26 Minutes

“We believed that if people understood themselves better and understood their neighbours better we’d have a greater civilisation. Because after all, that is the meaning of the world civilisation, the ability to live cheek by jowl with somebody else. And we tried to do the sorts of plays that made people more aware of their inner workings. So that if they had a hang-up, they didn’t externalise it by kicking the cat, or punching the postman, or finding a convenient scapegoat down the street onto which they could heap their own feelings of disquiet.”  Hayes Gordon, speaking about the Ensemble Theatre

Hayes Gordon grew up in the 1930s Depression and lived in the tenements of Boston, USA. An only child, he helped support his parents by teaching projects to street kids at Peabody House (set up to provide out of school education to poor children, to keep them off the streets and out of trouble). At Peabody House he became fascinated by chemistry, and when he left school he chose to study pharmacy, because he wanted to save the world, by curing every ill.

However, quite by accident Hayes became an actor, working alongside greats such as Rouben Mamoulian, Jackie Gleason and Karl Malden. He was also lucky enough to work with the best teachers in New York, including Lee Strasberg, Sandy Meisner and Howard da Silva, from whose acting styles he later drew inspiration in his own teaching career. What Hayes discovered in show business was that he could change people's attitudes. They would come into the theatre believing one thing, and he could send them away believing something else. He now wanted to change the world by operating at a human and ethical level.

Hayes was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, because he became known as a communist sympathser and 'troublemaker' and so in 1952 he moved to Australia to work, performing lead roles in the shows Kismet and Annie Get Your Gun. In 1958 he founded the Ensemble Theatre at Milsons Point, which became a theatrical landmark in Sydney, teaching the craftmanship of acting, and producing many innovative and provocative productions.  

After his close association with the Ensemble came to an end, Hayes returned to the stage to play Tevye in two productions of the highly successful Fiddler on the Roof. It was to become the most celebrated role of his Australian career.  

In his later years, Hayes Gordon wrote the book Acting and Performing. He received an OBE and an Order of Australia for his services to the arts.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

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Producer/Director/Writer: Frank Heimans

Interviewer: Robin Hughes

Year: 1994

Running Time: 26 Minutes

Classification: G

Curriculum Links: English; Drama Studies; Theatre and Performance Studies; History of Australian Theatre; History; SOSE/HSIE and Civics and Citizenship.


Theatre in Australia

SKU 199300804
Brand Film Australia

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