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Yvonne Lawley


Yvonne Lawley began acting in her teens, but it was once she reached her 60s that her screen career really began to take off.

Lawley hoped to study at England's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. But life took an abrupt turn enroute to England, when she met the man she would marry. As a result she spent ten years in Calcutta, after her engineer husband was posted to India during World War II.

In the 60s Lawley added radio and television acting to her theatrical CV. During this period her acting career continued to play second fiddle to her husband and family.

In 1976 Lawley appeared as one of the catholic teachers in 1976 TV classic The God Boy. Within a few weeks of the tele-movie's premiere, she starred in Blues for Miss Laverty, an episode of anthology TV series Winners & Losers. Based on a story by Maurice Duggan, the film saw Lawley playing the title role of a lonely music teacher trying to hold her life together.

1979's Middle Age Spread marked the first of a host of small roles on the big screen. Sam Pillsbury's The Scarecrow and the ill-fated Among the Cinders were among those that followed.

Lawley began to devote more time to acting after the death of her husband, in the mid 80s. Ironically it was around this time that she played a recently widowed woman in Alison MacLean's 25-minute short Rud's Wife (the film is discussed in detail in Deborah Shepard book Reframing Women). Screening on television as part of the About Face anthology slot, the script was inspired partly by interviews with real-life widows.

At the age of 76, Lawley's screen career was busier than it had ever been. Directly after finishing work as Olivia on the final season of Gloss, Lawley began work on her first and only starring role in a feature film.

Ruby and Rata, the second feature directed by Gaylene Preston, is a serio-comic tale of a battle of wills between an elderly landlord and the young solo mother who moves in downstairs. Lawley played Ruby, and described the character as "a realist with her eye forever on the main chance". After a lifetime of Ruby having things her own way, the possibility of being dependent on others frightened her, Lawley added. "It does so many women - yours truly included." 

Lawley's performance won praise from VarietyThe ListenerThe Evening Post and The Auckland Star. Within hours of finishing her six day a week stint Ruby and Rata, she flew to Sydney to begin a memorable turn as Sam Neill's nagging mother in Death in Brunswick.

In this period Lawley also took parts in award-winning Front Lawn short Linda's Body and Australian TV series Chances. She also starred as an old woman desperately trying to create a past in Jessica Hobbs short Stealing Home. That was in 1991, and for the next eight years Lawley worked mainly in television, including stints on Shortland Street and the Xena/ Hercules franchise.

Yvonne Lawley died in 1999. Arts show [email protected] included a tribute to her in the eighth episode of their second series.