Good Reading : December / January 2007
DECEMBER 2006 / JANUARY 2007 ı goodreading 39 writing life word of mouth hello darlings! Journalist and editor SIOBHAN O’BRIEN recently wrote the biography of the inimitable, much-loved Australian show biz celebrity JEANNE LITTLE. Here she gives us a taste of what the experience was like. Five months into writing Hello Darling! The Jeanne Little Story I invited Jeanne and her husband Bar ry to stay with me at Bawley Point on the New South Wales south coast, where I live with my husband and our two children. When the Littles arrived, I installed them in a self-contained cottage on an adjacent property. Anyone who’s ever been to Bawley Point will understand what I mean when I say that there is not much here except sun, sand, scrub and a lot of blowflies in summer. Convenience in this town means a half-hour drive to Ulladulla. We invited them for dinner. At 6.30 pm I knocked on their cottage door to fer ry them up the hill to our home. Jeanne opened the door wearing a stunning silver and black jacket, tailored trousers to match, diamante ear rings (much like disco balls), and false eyelashes that looked like spiders perched on her eyelids.The piece de resist- ance was a cropped platinum blonde wig. ‘It keeps my head warm,’ she said as my eyes wandered up toward the crown of her head. It occurred to me at that moment that I should have invited more people (and p p more of an effort), given that Jeanne’s extremely private audience consisted of my husband, our then two-year-old Evie and our then 8-month-old Earl. But it didn’t worry Jeanne. She marvelled at Evie’s vast teddy bear collection, and seemed just as impressed as Earl with the discovery of his tongue. The next day Jeanne, Barry and I talked for hours about Jeanne’s childhood, mar riage and career, then I suggested we go out for lunch. As the three of us got into the car, it occur red to me that I still had two baby seats strapped into the back of the vehicle and, since Bar ry was fir mly ensconced in the front, there was nowhere left for Jeanne to sit. But it didn’t matter how vigorously I insisted that I remove one of the baby seats; Jeanne equally vigorously insisted that I leave it where it was. ‘I can fit,’ she said, as she proceeded to clamber into it. ‘Honestly, it’s no trouble at all.’ It was at this moment that the words of Katie Little (Jeanne’s daughter) rang in my ears: ‘Once Mum puts her hoof down, she won’t budge.’ I let Jeanne have her way and it was in such a manner, with Jeanne’s head up around the roof and her hips miraculously moulded to my son’s micro-seat, that I took the Littles on a ten-kilometre round trip to the local café. I first met Jeanne at the Surry Hills Festival in 1999. We had been invited to anoint Crown Street’s best retail store, along with other judges who included a twenty stone Polynesian transvestite with bosoms the size of my head. We marched along the street, in and out of about a dozen shops, providing each with a score.We must have looked much like the Pied Piper and his rats, with Jeanne Little as the piper. About a month later, I called Jeanne to interview her for an article I was writing on Sydney socialite and wallpaper designer Florence Broadhurst. I didn’t declare myself as the person Jeanne had met at the festival, for fear she might take me for the twenty- stone transvestite. Florence Broadhurst had been very close to the Littles, and their anecdotes bout their friend infused the piece with much col- ur and life. Jeanne launched the book I eventually wrote about Florence. The most articulate description of the biogra- her’s role I have seen appeared in a recent article y Tim Elliott, who wrote: ‘It takes a special type of asochist to write biographies. Lashed to his subject if to a raft, the biographer must weather all anner of storms.’ But even though juggling Jeanne’s ography and the needs of my children was hectic d at times extremely trying, the project itself was an absolute pleasure. While working on Hello, Darling! I frequently rubbed my hands together with delight at the task that lay before me, or belly-laughed at something absurd that Jeanne had said or done. Jeanne and Barry could not have been better to work with: they are generous, courteous, dedicated, focused. As my literary agent Fitzroy Boulting said to them: ‘A biographer can say things about you and your life that you could never say about yourself.’ This was something that Jeanne and Barry understood right from the beginning. As a result, I was provided with the freedom to write about Jeanne as I see her, not as she wishes to be seen. Hello Darling! The Jeanne Little Story by Siobhan O’Brien is published by Allen & Unwin, rrp $29.95.