When it comes to Australian entertainment industry royalty, the name Toni Lamond is amongst the top of the list. Now aged 87, Toni Lamond says she never gave up “the business”.
“I hadn’t retired, but it seems the business had retired me. Nobody was asking me to do anything,” lamented Lamond.
Then in July last year, Toni Lamond received an unexpected phone call from an ABC TV producer about a new show called The Recording Studio.
“They wanted a well known person and I’d been chosen,” Lamond explained.
Lamond admits she didn’t know much about this new tv program at the time, but the opportunity to be in a recording studio was too good to refuse.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Well I can’t stand up to perform anymore’. My dancer’s body is breaking down. This is what happens to old dancers and old athletes, and I have to sit down to perform,” said Lamond.
However, despite her physical limitations, Toni Lamond still had her voice.
“She said I would get a chance to sing with an orchestra and I hadn’t sung for an orchestra in over thirty years and I rather liked the idea!” laughed Lamond.
Toni Lamond thought the The Recording Studio was about young people trying to get into the recording industry. She had no idea the emotional depth of this new series until she watched the first episode last month.
“They didn’t tell me much about it. I had no idea until I saw the first episode how emotionally pulling-in it is. It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful and so sad. And they’ve got such different stories,” Lamond reflected.
The promotional material about The Recording Studio, describes the show in this way: “Everyday Australians are offered the chance of a lifetime, to help them professionally record the one song that means more to them than any other. It’s a place where stories can be told and captured forever. Across 10 episodes the audience intimately get to know each person and the reason behind their recording. This behind the scenes look at what it takes to record a song is at times humorous, at times heartbreaking, but always moving, with the talent of these normal Aussies awe inspiring.”
Indeed, episode four of The Recording Studio, features not just Toni Lamond, but a 15 year old boy from the country who leaves his remote cattle farm and travels to the big smoke to record a song for his family.
While Toni Lamond is not your “everyday Australian” it had been decades since she had the opportunity to perform with an orchestra and has never recorded the signature song chosen.
“It was rather beautiful … they chose the song ‘As Long As He Needs’ me from Oliver! – which I played Nancy in the Australian production. It was a very beautiful song to sing and I hadn’t sung it for fifty years and so it was beautiful. I nearly broke down and cried,” Lamond shared, the emotion evident in her voice.
“Luckily I didn’t! I hung in there! I was so thrilled that even after fifty years I could still hit the notes!” Lamond laughed.
The episode was recorded in July last year and Lamond has not yet seen the finished product.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing in on Tuesday night, it’s given me something to look forward to.”
“There’s a lot I don’t remember. I’m 87 now and a few things are slipping by! I thought it was just going into the studio and singing with the orchestra. I thought I can do that, that’ll take two hours. No – there were three nine hour filming days!” exclaimed Lamond.
What made the experience all the more special was having her son join her for some of the interviews. Her son is Tony Sheldon, a legendary performer in his own right.
“That was lovely, because he’d been away for seven years in New York. He’d become a Broadway star with Priscilla Queen of the Desert and he’s been working pretty much non stop in New York for seven years, so he was out here doing the anniversary tour of it and then he went straight into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He’s playing Grandpa now, which was very funny because within days of him closing in Priscilla he had to start growing his beard. And he’s stuck with that beard until 2020! He can’t shave it off !” Lamond chuckled.
Participating in The Recording Studio provoked a lot of memories for Toni Lamond. Stories such as returning to work when Tony was just a small baby and telling him not to cry as he laid in his bassinet in the dressing room or “they’ll hear you out in the audience!”
“Not only did he not cry, but when the band played in the orchestra pit, his little toe would go in time! I said to my husband, ‘I think he’s going to be in the business’, and boy has he ever been since!” Lamond laughed.
Toni Lamond remains very close to her son and she is extremely proud of not just his achievements, but also who he is as a person.
“He knocked them dead in New York … He just knows so much about everybody in the business, because he loves it so much and he cares about it. He’s not only clever, but he’s lovely with it. There’s a lot of clever people that you wouldn’t want to spend the time of day with them, but Tony is very popular in the business. He’s made me very proud.”
Due to her physical limitations, Toni Lamond hasn’t been able to sit in a theatre for over five years. It meant she missed out on seeing her son’s return engagement in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and she hasn’t seen him in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“No one videoed the latest Priscilla or Charlie. It is pretty lousy.” complained Lamond.
Reflecting on her own career, Toni Lamond said there were many highlights.
“When I look back I realise how lucky I was, because luck is you being at the right place with the experience and the knowledge and the talent to do that particular thing at the time when it presents itself. That’s luck. I mean, a lot of times people have the talent and it doesn’t present itself, or it presents itself and they don’t have enough talent to meet the challenge. I’ve been terribly lucky, because I never went to a school to learn,” explained Lamond.
Toni Lamond was born to vaudeville performers Stella Lamond and Joe Lawman.
“My mother and father divorced. Then Stella met another comedian, Max Reddy. I had been in Sydney with a nanny, because it was the depression and they had to go where the work was. It wasn’t until I was seven that I was flown to Melbourne and had a family for the first time – the Reddy family. Two and a half years later they had Helen, my baby sister, and went straight back to work again and I became the nanny to Helen! They were radio stars at this time, and then when I was ten I made my professional debut,” shared Lamond.
Lamond’s big opportunity came at the age of fifteen, when she secured a job at The Plaza Theatre in Northcote – an old movie theatre where they had commenced hosting variety shows. Lamond would sing a solo in front of a line of dancers, then step back and join the dance line-up. Toni Lamond refers to this as her “schooling”.
“Because they knew my background as the daughter of a comedian, I could work in the comedy sketches with the comedians. Well that was my university, because you’d rehearse for a week then you’d open and you’d do the show at night and then you’d do a a couple of nights, then you’d start rehearsing for the change of program the next week. So you were constantly learning new stuff and going on. I was there for two and half years and what I learnt from the various comics was comedy timing.”
That experience and comedic knowledge lead to Lamond’s next opportunity – working with “well known baggy pants” comedian George Wallace, including a tour to New Zealand.
“And then they were bringing a famous comic out for the Tivoli, called Tommy Trinder. He was a huge star in England. He said to the producer, ‘This time I’m not going to bring out a woman to do the routine with me, this time, I’d like to give a local girl the chance,’ and the producer said, ‘I know just the girl – I’ve got this girl Toni Lamond,” she explained.
Toni Lamond met “Mr Trinder”, admitting she never called him Tommy in the entire time she worked with him, and that was her audition. She walked straight into the first rehearsal. This gig lead Toni Lamond to find love.
“They had the Tivoli ballet. There were four male dancers, and I fell in love with this gorgeous guy called Frank Smith. We started going together and after the tour, and several months, he asked me to marry him. And I said, ‘I would love to marry you, but I’m sorry, I’m not going to be Mrs Smith! I’ve endured my childhood as Toni Reddy, and my stepfather was reluctant to let me use my middle name, which was Lamond, which was my mother’s name, but I said I’m not going to be Mrs Smith!” Toni Lamond explained.
Her Uncle Roddy was a numerologist and Toni Lamond explained her predicament of not wanting to be Mrs Smith. Uncle Roddy looked at the numbers for her fiancé – Frances Edwin Smith. According to Uncle Roddy’s numerology, Frank Smith was in the wrong job – he’d make a better builder’s labourer. He gave Frank three options for a new surname: Stewart, Shelton or Sheldon. He chose Sheldon and officially changed his name to Frank Sheldon. Frank Sheldon ended up the top television producer in Melbourne. Toni Lamond credits his success to his name change!
Undoubtedly, the most significant career change for Toni Lamond came from television.
“It was amazing! We were put under contract and for six years I was three nights a week on live television. We’d rehearse the song and dance numbers, but we’d get the comedy routine that day and we’d rehearse it. And we’d have to learn it! Back in those days, in the 50s and 60s, we had to learn everything. We didn’t get it written down. These days it drives me crazy when I see them reading off. We had to learn the damn thing by 9.30 that night when we went live to air! For six years I did that” exclaimed Lamond.
Television was hugely significant in raising Toni Lamond’s profile.
“I noticed the difference almost a couple of weeks after I was a regular in television. People started stopping me in the street. People go to the theatre once in a blue moon maybe and see you from a great distance, but here we were going into to their homes,” said Lamond.
What also helped Lamond’s success was being a regular on the hugely successful showIn Melbourne Tonight with Graham Kennedy. Yet, it was when Noel Ferrier was guest hosting that Toni Lamond was given a nickname that would remain with her for many years to come.
Doing her best Noel Ferrier impersonation, Toni Lamond explained it was when he introduced her with, “Oh, here comes Lolly Legs Lamond” the name Lolly stuck.
“I used to go on and show my legs – I had terrific legs then – and it stuck! I was called Lolly from then on; I wasn’t called Toni for years later,” she laughed.
After being on television for several years, Toni Lamond was finally told how to work differently on television in comparison to performing in a theatre.
One of the show’s writers explained to her, “You’re not on the stage now with hundreds and thousands of people out there that you’ve got to reach. You are performing to one person – that lens in the camera, that’s who you are performing to. Bring it right down to that. Don’t yell at the camera.”
“So I learned to look into the camera and just perform to that one person who was sitting at the other end. It got me my second Logie! It was amazing!” Toni Lamond shared.
It’s clear that at the ripe old age of 87, Toni Lamond has a lifetime of wonderful stories to share. Just what comes out in tomorrow’s episode of The Recording Studio, she’s very keen to find out.
“It’ll be brand new a lot of it. I’m very excited to see it!”
The Recording Studio airs on Tuesday 7th May at 8pm on ABC TV and is also available on iview.