Arts & Entertainment

NAKED CITY – BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS

In the early days of Australian television during the late 1950s, Sydney had Desmond Tester, the Cabbage Quiz and Captain Fortune – Melbourne had the Tarax Show with Happy Hammond, Princess Panda and Gerry Gee. Of all the various early children’s favourites only one would ever achieve national celebrity at the time – and that was the incredibly popular ventriloquist doll Gerry Gee.

Whilst Melbourne was the centre of the phenomenon, Gerry Gee ‘Junior’ dolls were sold all over Australia and loved by both boys and girls, the latter especially catered for with the ‘Geraldine Gee’ doll. You could buy dolls in the colours of your favourite football team and when The Beatles toured Australia in 1964, a special mop top Gerry was released. Along with the purchase you received a certificate of membership for the ‘Gerry Gee Juniors’ which arranged bus trips and other get-togethers of sometimes hundreds of children and their pint sized versions of the real Gerry.

These days these dolls are a highly sought after collector’s item, but like many toys of the 50s and 60s, few have survived the ravages of time and youthful play sessions. If you do find a Gerry Gee doll chances are it’s missing an arm or a nose from its very vulnerable plaster of paris face. The original Gerry Gee dummy was imported from the US at a cost of two hundred pounds, a small fortune at the time and was sold at auction many years later for $17,000.

The man behind the Gerry Gee craze was the much loved ventriloquist Ron Blaskett, who died in April of this year, aged 96 and at one stage was one of the best known faces on Australian television, especially in his hometown of Melbourne. When children’s TV moved to a new level of sophistication in the late 60s and 70s, Ron continued as a ventriloquist performing right up until the age of 90 when he announced his official retirement. As the TV appearances dried up, he tried his hand at a more mature audience, playing clubs and pubs throughout Victoria, at one point noting that he and Gerry were obliged to “work blue” to bring in the dollars.

Speak to anybody today, who once was a Gerry Gee Junior, and you’ll discover a warm affection for a period in Australian culture when a certain innocence prevailed and children employed their imagination rather than computer games, iPads and other spoon fed electronica. Singer Jeff Duff is one who fondly remembers owning a Gerry Gee doll and appearing on the Tarax Show with a studio full of doll clutching Gerry Gee Juniors, during the late 1950s. He recalls this early experience, the first of many TV appearances during his enduring career, as a real inspiration and the spark that inspired him to become the entertainer he is today.

Sadly little remains in the way of TV footage featuring Ron and Gerry from this period, although there are numerous archival photographs. Just where the original Gerry Gee dummy, sold at auction in 1998, is now located, I am not too sure. It certainly deserves to be on display in a museum, perhaps alongside the stuffed carcass of Phar Lap in the Melbourne Museum. Even better – astride the mighty Phar Lap, bringing together two of the great icons of Australiana in an exhibit that would delight the heart of any Gerry Gee Junior.

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