It was 1998 and the annual TV Week Logie Awards was unfolding without any surprises. Daryl Somers was hosting again, Lisa McCune would win Gold again and her Blue Heelers co-star John Wood would miss out on taking home a trophy again, continuing what would become an almost decade-long losing streak.
If the evening seemed predictable for the local talent, think about how mind-numbingly tedious it may have been to the celebrities who’d flown in from overseas. Kenny Rogers had at least managed to belt out a tune, but Friends actor Matt LeBlanc was sitting at the bar, presumably wondering why interminable foreign awards nights were in the job description for a global sitcom superstar.
Spotting LeBlanc looking downcast and surrounded by flunkies, TV stalwart Larry Emdur grabbed a bottle from behind the bar and pushed through the actor’s entourage. “You look bored as sh*t, mate,” he said. “Want a Sambuca?”
LeBlanc’s eyes lit up. “Hell, yeah. Are you Italian?” he replied to the then thick-haired host of The Price Is Right.
“No,” Emdur answered. “Does it matter?” He promptly poured his new drinking chum a shot.
For the rest of the night the pair whooped it up, sending staff at Melbourne’s Crown Towers in search of more bottles of the liqueur. At one point (or possibly many), Emdur told LeBlanc his wife Sylvie loved him. When he woke the next day, head thumping, the host found a personally signed photo from LeBlanc to Sylvie pushed under his door. As Emdur tells Stellar, “I thought it was really sweet he remembered – because I didn’t remember a thing.”
For many, “not remembering”, in Logies parlance, is code for wanting to forget. Because if television’s night of nights is a celebration of show business, drama, talent and increasingly fashion, then it has also been the setting where our stars can let down their hair after a long year of work. Notably, the night Emdur was carousing with LeBlanc was the same evening a naked Tracy Grimshaw, then host of Today, inadvertently locked herself out of her hotel room after drinking tequila shots with James Packer.
Yet for 61 years, through plenty of mishaps and misdemeanours, the Logies has been the show that goes on and – some would say – on and on and on. This year, though, it won’t. For the first time since its inception in 1959, the event that has been as consistent as Richard Wilkins’s hair – a ceremony that has survived network spats, dud hosts and frock fails – will not go ahead. Much like the time Molly Meldrum gatecrashed actor Samuel Johnson’s Gold Logie acceptance speech in 2017, coronavirus has interrupted proceedings.
The cancellation may give livers a rest and spare network publicists their annual damage limitation dramas, but one is left wondering: where’s the fun in that? So in the absence of the big show, Stellar is paying tribute to an industry that not only entertains, but sustains – and never more so than in recent months when we’ve been locked down with John Logie Baird’s beloved invention for company.
Indeed, when the late trailblazer Graham Kennedy coined the term “Logie” Awards in 1960 to honour the television pioneer, he could not have imagined how a rogue virus would not only disrupt the industry, but cement its timeless ability to both inform and distract. Contained in our homes, we clamoured for news about what was happening around the world. And when we needed an escape from our own lives, we could happily visit Ramsay Street, Summer Bay and Mystery Road, even if Sam Mac’s Sunrise weather reports, previously broadcast from attractive regions, took us no further than the balcony of the 2019 Gold Logie nominee’s flat.
Across interviews with more than 20 TV stars, what becomes clear is that even after ABC comedian Tom Gleeson’s controversial Gold Logie win and provocative speech last year, the awards remain a source of pride. Certainly our cover stars Carrie Bickmore, Kate Ritchie and Lisa McCune salute the night as a celebration of both the shows and their audiences.
Bickmore, who won Gold in 2015, tells Stellar, “A lot of people like to take little digs at the Logies, but for me it’s an awesome chance to catch up with friends and colleagues from other networks and to celebrate the industry we work in.”
Two-time Gold Logie winner Ritchie concurs. “I absolutely loved every single Logies I attended and I’ve never been too cool to say so,” she says. “For me, it was always the one night a year full of warm camaraderie and celebration, followed by a week of sore feet and storytelling.”
The modern Logies have become notable for big emotional moments, such as Bickmore’s impassioned Beanies 4 Brain Cancer speech, as much as they are for the glamour epitomised by Ritchie’s 2006 show-stopping black-and-white Alex Perry gown (her favourite, incidentally). But they weren’t always so polished.
Female stars now spend months deciding on a gown to wear and working hard to ensure it will fit them just right. Back in 1981, entertainment veteran Denise Drysdale was travelling down from the country one afternoon to pick hers. A new mum, she settled on a long red jumper with tights in either red or purple; she was too sleep-deprived to remember much except falling asleep in the hallway outside the afterparty.
Drysdale has only missed one Logies night in the past 45 years and still regards her 1975 Gold Logie win as the most memorable. As she collected her award from American acting legend John Wayne, she recalls, she wasn’t sure whether “to say hello or stick ’em up”.
“I’m 5ft 2in [1.57m] and he was 6ft 3in [1.93m], so I took my shoes off on stage because it was the smallest I would ever look on television,” she tells Stellar, laughing at the memory. “He gave me a cuddle; it was hysterical.”
Drysdale admits to being starstruck by some of the big Hollywood names – she shared a lift with Dallas leading man Patrick Duffy and was “flabbergasted” by what she recalls as his “pumpkin-sized” head – but believes the real star of the show was always Bert Newton. “To me, Bert should have compered all the way through. He had so much knowledge and knew so much about everybody and everybody loved him.”
Newton, who hosted the show 20 times, may be synonymous with the Logies, but it’s unlikely he knew everything. Did he know, for instance, that Drysdale would bring aluminium foil in her handbag so she could wrap up the steak and take it home to her dogs, or that she also took her own Vegemite to spread on the bread roll? Was he aware, hosting in 2006 alongside Somers, McCune, Georgie Parker and five-time Gold Logie winner Ray Martin, that Play School dolls Little Ted and Jemima went missing after the show was inducted into the Hall of Fame? Huge drama ensued behind the scenes, until the dolls were eventually found.
The truth is that while the Logies are all glitz and glamour for the stars, they are a headache for organisers. There’s the contrivance of big names having to leave the hotel via the car park only to re-enter in a stretch limousine, and every year the heads of publicity from each network are escorted into the venue to approve seating plans to accommodate warring exes and network rivals. Meals are served before the awards begin, but many linger so long on the red carpet they start drinking on an empty stomach.
Social media has made campaigning for votes more transparent, but such tactics are not as recent a development as many think. For years, publicists would buy up copies of TV Week and stay up late into the night filling in multiple voting forms on behalf of their talent.
And plenty take losing with a grain of salt. Doctor Doctor star Rodger Corser has been nominated for the Gold Logie three times and has lost to Gleeson, Johnson and Grant Denyer. He tells Stellar, “I don’t know if I can get close to John Woods’s record of consecutive losses, but a boy can dream. Though he did spoil it by winning in the end.”
Asked for his thoughts on the Gold Logie following Gleeson’s 2019 win, two-time Gold nominee Andrew Denton tells Stellar succinctly, “It has all the lasting value of a fart in a hurricane.”
A year on Gleeson remains proud that he helped the ABC win a record number of Logies and has a message for anyone lucky enough to stand on the stage when the show resumes in future years. “Don’t be boring!” he implores. And for anyone still smarting at his acerbic speech, the comic has himself experienced Logies disappointment.
In 2008 he remembers excitedly introducing himself to Denton, his favourite Logies host. “I had been doing comedy for over 10 years by then, so when I introduced myself to him and he said, ‘And what do you do?’ I was devastated. What made it all the more cutting was he wasn’t taking the piss.”
Hosting is undoubtedly a poisoned chalice, and clearly part of the rationale in recent years behind having a series of presenters headline the show instead. Wendy Harmer compared it to slowly chopping off your arm with a blunt chainsaw, though Rove McManus, who shares the greatest number of Logie Awards (10) with McCune, tells Stellar he’d love the opportunity to host solo, having shared the role with Eddie McGuire and Andrew O’Keefe in 2005.
Like many though, his most treasured Logies memory is that of Bickmore’s emotional 2015 acceptance speech. McManus was working in New York at the time, and stopped halfway along Brooklyn Bridge to watch on his phone. “It’s one of those ‘remember where you were’ moments for me,” he says.
When Bickmore took the stage, she tells Stellar, “I just felt so overwhelmed and intimidated looking at all those people I admired.” But she soldiered on and paid loving tribute to her late husband Greg, who had died of brain cancer in 2010, and popped a beanie on her head as she implored the audience in the room and watching at home to raise awareness and increase funding for research into the disease – a move that led to the formation of her charity Carrie’s Beanies 4 Brain Cancer.
“I never would have anticipated five years on that we would have raised over 12 million dollars,” says Bickmore, whose annual campaign returns on July 14. “Every time I see someone walking down the street wearing one of our beanies, my heart bursts. We almost couldn’t do our campaign because of COVID-19, but we found a way to overcome the challenges.”
Others nominate Johnson’s love for his sister Connie, who died of cancer a few months after he won; Kerri-Anne Kennerley’s induction into the Hall of Fame with her late husband John by her side; and Dylan Alcott’s speech calling for greater visibility for people with disabilities.
The night is also a celebration of camaraderie. As McCune points out, hers were just as much for her fellow cast and crew. “On the nights I won Gold, standing in line at the cab rank outside Crown felt like a Cinderella moment – Logies stashed, parties happening inside, and me going home to get sleep before work the next day where we got to make more drama!”
For Network 10’s Angela Bishop, her highlight was partying with Sex And The City’s Mr Big, Chris Noth, while Parker cringes at the thought she called out “quick sticks” to the cast of All Saints when asking them to join her onstage as she won the Gold Logie.
Meldrum will never forget Dannii Minogue bringing him his Hall of Fame award when he missed the night after falling off a ladder in his backyard, although he does admit to Stellar, “I am still trying to forget my speech with Samuel Johnson. I wish I’d never done that. Talk about a classic example of me totally losing the plot on live TV. I still cringe thinking about it.”
Kennerley says she keeps her Logie in the living room and takes it to speaking events, where people remark on how heavy it is. Harmer remains thrilled she met Beyoncé and Ronn Moss from The Bold And The Beautiful. As for hosts, she doesn’t have a preference. “One male or woman host. Three bloke hosts – Rove, Eddie and Andrew. A collective noun of hosts – a goblet of hosts? Someone in a bear suit… in the end, who cares?” she quips.
There is universal hope that the Logies – having endured voting scandals, Newton popping his cummerbund (he gave it to Ritchie, who has kept it as a memento) and a move from Melbourne to the Gold Coast – will return in 2021. McCune says it’s like going to a school formal “but in a dream”, and Corser agrees, though points out it’s one where the teachers “get drunk as well”.
Even some of our biggest names admit to being tongue-tied when meeting their idols. Rebecca Gibney remembers accosting a young Nicole Kidman and gushing about her talent while Today host Karl Stefanovic tells Stellar that he “dribbled and made a mess of myself” upon meeting Home And Away stalwart Ray Meagher. The new dad assures us he’s given up on all-nighters after turning up drunk to host his breakfast show in 2009. “Now that Ali Langdon is on board, she’s ready to take that baton,” he says. “She’s talking a real good game; if she can talk the talk hopefully she can walk the walk.”
The Morning Show host Emdur will be equally restrained when transmission resumes. “It’s a great chance to catch up with old friends, though obviously since the introduction of phone cameras, I have given up Sambuca,” he says. “I still feel sick every time I smell the stuff.”