If I was famous and someone asked me to name my top five dinner guests – I know I’d have a problem answering. Not because I can’t nominate five people but because I’ve never been able to settle for less than six – C.J. Jung, Barbra Streisand, Barry Humphries, comedian Carl Barron, Enid Blyton and Dame Edna Everage. (I’d also want Martha, Oprah and Peter Everett, but that’s just too many queens in one room.)
Odd mixture, I know – but wouldn’t it be a fascinating blend? The diva antics between Babs and the Dame, the brain-curling philosophies exchanged between the two Carls, the delicious purity of Enid’s creative mind played off against the wit and worldliness of Our Barry. Ready repartee indeed.
Truth be told, though – like most Australians, I’ve also always known my Top 5 Dinner Guest List really is possible. We have all, after all, grown up with the knowledge that Barry Humphries and Dame Edna Everage are one in the same. Short of a few quick and bespangled costume changes, the dinner party of my dreams has always been a true possibility (please God, please make it come true).
Nonetheless, persistent rumours have abounded this fine land for years… shallow whispers in the halls of theatres and green rooms that perhaps Humphries, one of our finest entertainers, writers and intellectual wits, is not responsible (at least in the physical sense) for the outrageous persona that is the Dame. Humphries himself has always most vehemently denied he and Edna are one-in-the-same, and the Dame herself seems to have more than a lip-curling distaste for the man deemed to have ‘created’ her.
Adding to the disparity between separate identities has been the fact that the pair have rarely been seen together. This is probably due, in large part, to the fact that Humphries finds Dame Edna so utterly distasteful, and obviously tired of being stung with relentless verbal barbs and an off-putting sense of omni-self-importance.
Of course, for those of us who love Edna, that persnickety side is part of her alluring charm and the ego is probably a by-product of the mega stardom this woman has been subject to – a stardom that shot her from bland housewife to a jet-setting talent who counts Queen Liz amongst her cup-of-tea counterparts. I mean, it’s not her fault she’s so feted and adored.
And adore her, I utterly, utterly do. It was therefore with great pleasure and a wee bit of anticipation, that I devoured Humphries’ latest, most scandalous book – Handling Edna, recently. After reading this mesmerising and very unauthorised tell-all, I must say, I am totally converted. Barry Humphries is no more Dame Edna than my backside is proportionate to Ella Macpherson’s. These are two totally separate, unaffiliated entities, yes indeed.
And Humphries provides the proof… taking us on a journey back to his early days as a performer, how Edna wrote to him (he still has the actual cards on hand), practically begging him to represent her in the initial stages of her phenomenal career ride, and how he initially liked Edna despite his incredulity over this woman’s delusional belief that she could offer something worthwhile to the entertainment industry.
But offer she did – and her success proliferated on a rapid scale; sometimes with the aide of Humphries, oftentimes without.
Their relationship was a tricky one. Sweet. Sour. Sour grapes. Edna was always on the lookout for more more more and, coupled with his own career and personal demons, Humphries found himself pulling away from this rising star, unable to handle her idiosyncrasies and demands. Edna’s rapid rise was obviously held with some disdain on the part of the author – whether through amazement at her achievements or through (just perhaps) a teensy shade of envy.
From Edna’s side, it was clear she had a reluctant yet supportive mentor in Humphries, if not an anomalous one. There was many a time Humphries made choices that added fuel to the Humphries/Everage persona debacle. On the odd occasion, for example, and mostly borne from a last-ditch performance decision, Humphries was caught out impersonating Edna, complete with befeathered gown, puce hair and spangled specs.
As is her way, Edna at first took the impersonations as a form of flattery and adoration rather than a barefaced attempt to ride her feathery coat tails. But over time, these and other incidents began to fracture the manager/megastar relationship – a relationship that still remains prickly. Thorny, even.
Despite his ambivalence and oft reluctance to manage her, Edna had in Barry an honest and capable representative who may not have held his charge in high esteem nor held any particular fondness for her work, but nonetheless felt driven to come to her aide, as the suctioning vampires of wealth and renown floundered around her, grasping at her gladdies.
When Edna dumped Humphries and changed agents to the irrepressible Wanda Smellie, it was Barry who eventually rescued her when that smelly company hoodwinked the megastar and almost toppled her from her bedazzled perch. Yes, these are just some of the trials and tribulations Edna’s fans know little about, and Humphries has revealed it all in Handling Edna.
But nothing – absolutely nothing – will prepare megastar fans for the shocking revelation buried deep within Humphries’ book. It involves the little known, mouse-like Kiwi – bridesmaid Madge Alsop. Known by fans as an inert, innocuous, ineffectual, and somewhat inadequate human being (at least in the eyes of the Dame), the revelations that come to light involving Madge will pack such a powerful wallop, you’d be best advised to read the book lying down.
I’m not sure how Dame Edna has handled the public disclosure of this shocking eye-opener, but needless to say she has certainly gone into hiding since the release of Handling Edna. I, for one, wish to officially reach out to her, as a mother myself, with heart-felt, gladdie-clutching empathy over the deeply encrusted sores she must be picking over right now.
In the meantime, it seems Barry Humphries has managed to offload a little of his bitterness and frustrations over the Edna journey – told whole-heartedly in Handling Edna. Yes, he doesn’t paint Edna in the most glorious light, and while I do concede that times must have been challenging during their professional relationship, it’s plainly obvious Edna has been able to rise above on her phoenix wings while Our Bazza wallows in the shallows of disdain.
Is that disdain warranted? Probably. The Dame’s career has, after all, probably eclipsed Humphries’ quite impressive achievements incalculably since their relationship began, and who doesn’t need a little wallow and weep over a cup of tea and a vanilla slice when such adversity befalls us?
Barry, I just have to say – chin up, old boy. Your book is good. Your writing is consistent. There may not be sparkle, but there’s honesty there – and an obvious need to get some things off your chest. Your work may be a little biased, perhaps a little sour, but it is reliable. Methodical also comes to mind. Your fans have developed a warm – albeit lukewarm – affection over the years that will certainly hold you in good stead for a few more years to come.
Edna, despite the deep gashes Handling Edna must have wrecked on your immaculately kept exterior, may your scabs heals quickly and leave shiny, fresh patches for you to poise over and ponder the oft unjustness of life. I know you will rise again from your shiny patch – and stretch those dazzling, phoenix-like wings. Your fans are here, waiting – hopeful, humbled… and waving gladdies.