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Rene, Roy (Mo) (1891–1954)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Roy Rene — "Mo" to thousands of stage and radio audiences — died at his home in Cottenham Avenue, Kensington, yesterday. He was 63.

He was regarded as Australia's greatest comedian and was frequently compared with Charlie Chaplin of the cinema and Grock of the circus.

Mo never fully recovered from a heart attack he suffered in May, 1953, when visiting a friend in Lismore.

He made his last professional appearance in June this year when, despite illness, he left his bed to appear on a radio programme in support of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Fund.

His life is magnificently told in his memoirs which he wrote in 1945 and is now a collectors' piece.

Born at Adelaide, of a Dutch Jewish father and Australian mother, he was christened Harry van der Sluys.

His first professional appearance was as a child in a backyard circus – admission an empty bottle – in which he wore black tights (his father's dyed underpants). 

Mo selected his theatrical career after a disappointing debut as a jockey. He "rode work" on the track at the age of eight, was thrown several times and came to the conclusion he couldn't ride.

His first theatrical engagement was in Adelaide at the age of eight in the pantomime "Sinbad the Sailor," as a boy soprano and a duck.

Mo's father, a cigar manufacturer and bookmaker, wanted him to join the business, but Mo chose the foot-lights, and at 18 assumed the name of Roy Rene, after a French comic.

He got his first big break when he took the place of a Jewish comedian who walked out of a duo act in one of Sir Ben Fuller's shows. 

His Sydney debut was with Harry Clay's shows at the Old Standard Theatre.

He visited New Zealand, imitating Julian Rose's sketch, "Levinsky at the Wedding," and in 1914, formed a partnership with Australian-born Nat Phillips as "Stiffy and Mo." They kept Australian audiences in fits of laugher for 15 years.

Mo made one film, "Strike Me Lucky," which was a failure, but his original sketches – "Good Queen Bess," "Henry VIII," "Dick Whittington" and "McCackie" – topped the bill on the Tivoli circuit.

After the war he went into radio and many of his expressions became quips of the day.

Mo's wife, the soubrette, Sadie Gale, whom he married in 1929, his son Sammy and daughter Milo survive him.

The funeral will be at Rookwood Cemetery after a service at the Chevra Kadisha Memorial Chapel at the corner of Oxford and Wallis Streets, Woollahra, at 10 a.m. to-day.

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Citation details

'Rene, Roy (Mo) (1891–1954)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/rene-roy-mo-8181/text35037, accessed 16 November 2018.

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