McDonald (born October 30, 1948 Glen Innes NSW Australia)
is an Australian stage and screen actor.
a graduate of Cranbrook School and NIDA, first came
to wide public attention playing the supporting character
"Kid Eager" in the second series of the
groundbreaking Australian television comedy series
The Aunty Jack Show in 1973. It was while working
on Aunty Jack that McDonald first performed the character
for which he would become best-known, the gauche and
inept local regional TV personality, Norman
first appearance was in a series of brief sketches
(written by Wendy Skelcher) which saw him reporting
uncomfortably on a "sex-scandal drought"
in his home town, the NSW regional city of Wollongong;
a drought he eventually breaks by appearing nude on
Aunty Jack, McDonald went on to work with the same
team in the comedy miniseries Wollongong The Brave
(1973) and Flash Nick from Jindivik (1974). The Gunston
character was revived for one episode of Wollongong
The Brave, a parodic show business biography entitled
"Norman Gunston: The Golden Weeks".
the time of his major breakthrough on Australian TV
in 1975, McDonald also made his first major film appearance,
playing a minor role in the landmark Peter Weir film
Picnic at Hanging Rock.
1975, McDonald revived the Gunston character for TV
with the help of a writing team that included Morris
Gleitzman (now a successful children's author) and
veteran TV comedy writer Bill Harding, who had written
for the pioneering Australian TV satire The Mavis
new series, The Norman Gunston Show was a parody of
the Tonight Show format, and McDonald himself has
stated that it was originally based on a mediocre
late-night chat show hosted by expatriate American
entertainer Tommy Leonetti. The series saw Gunston
now the unlikely host of his own national TV variety
show. After a slow start, the series rapidly gained
a sizable audience by word of mouth and by 1976 it
was a major hit, with McDonald winning the coveted
Gold Logie Award that year, becoming the only winner
in Logies history to win the award in the name of
the character he played.
series, which satirised many aspects of Australian
culture and show business, was a mixture of live and
pre-recorded interviews, awkward musical segments
-- excruciatingly sung by Gunston himself in the broadest
'strine' accent -- and continuing comedy sketches
such as "Norman's Dreamtime" (in which Norman
read a stories to a group of children, such as "Why
Underpants Ride Up") and the fondly-remembered
soap-opera TV parody "Checkout Chicks",
which featured actress Anne-Louise Lambert (who starred
as Miranda in Picnic at Hanging Rock).
Gunston's gormless personality as a cover to avoid
down the defences of his 'victims', McDonald pioneered
the satirically provocative "ambush interview"
technique, which was used to great effect in legendary
interviews with Paul McCartney, Muhammad Ali, Keith
Moon and actress Sally Struthers.
Norman Gunston, McDonald also had a surprisingly successful
recording career, releasing a string of satirical
novelty pop records that anticipated the pop parodies
of Weird Al Yankovic. Norman's Top 40 chart hits included
his interpretation of the Tom Jones classic "Delilah",
the punk rock send-up "I Might Be A Punk But
I Love You, Baby" and "We're All Marching
In The KISS Army", a parody of the KISS single
"I Was Made For Loving You".
versions of the Norman Gunston shows were screened
in the UK in the late 1970s and it is arguable that
McDonald's pioneering work was a direct influence
on the later British comedy characters Dennis Pennis,
Alan Partridge and Ali G. In the late 1990s, American
actor Martin Short also created a distinctly Gunston-esque
talk-show host, Jiminy Glick and one of the sketches
in that show, "La-la-wood Tales", is a direct
copy of the "Norman's Dreamtime" sketch,
featuring Glick reading a satirical fable about Hollywood
to a group of children.
he suffered inevitably from typecasting as Gunston,
McDonald was able to create another memorable character
in the successful ABC television series Mother and
Son, in which he played the long-suffering Arther
Beare, whose life is dominated by his obligation to
care for his increasingly senile mother Maggie (played
by Ruth Cracknell).
has also appeared on stage at Sydney's Her Majesty's
Theatre and at Nimrod Theatres in many dramatic and
was also the host of a sales video series for the
now renamed Telecom Australia, promoting the ease-of-use
and corporate usefulness of the Telememo communication
later years, McDonald fought a public battle with
depression which reached crisis point after an abortive
attempt to revive the Gunston character for a commercial
TV series in 1993. He is a member of the Board of
beyondblue, an Australian
national depression initiative.
1999, a portrait of Garry McDonald by artist Deny
Christian won the Packing Room award at the Archibald
2005 McDonald filmed a Tele Series called Step Father
of The Bride for ABC Australian Television.
Rope with Andrew Denton - 12th April 2004
guest will not recognise himself in this introduction.
The rest of us know him as a national treasure, someone
who in a career of delights has given us not one,
but two of the greatest Australian TV characters ever.
We see him as a giant of his craft, a man with a great
heart and even greater courage. He on the otherhand
looks in the mirror and just sees some bloke called
Garry McDonald: I actually look in the mirror and
see my grandfather.
Denton: Is that right?
McDonald: And he has been dead for a really long time.
Denton: Yeah. It's really good to have you on the
McDonald: Thank you.
Denton: Been looking forward to this for a long time.
Your dad, Rubin, reckoned you were always funny and
said you were always going to do comedy, did you know
McDonald: Did you speak to him this week. How do you
know by Dad's name?
Denton: Rubes? Yeah. How did you know you were funny?
McDonald: People laughed.
Denton: Yeah, that's a sign. It's a pretty good sign.
McDonald: Yeah it is. It's one of the surest signs
Denton: Yes, but it's having the confidence to say
that thing to fill the gap and say what you think's
going to be funny.
McDonald: I know, I know like just before your guest
comes on, to say you going to wear that shirt?
Denton: I apologise all right.
McDonald: And I said to him, I said to him you bastard,
I've just been doing that myself in the mirror looking
at me and saying why are you wearing that shirt? You
know I'm so, saying sorry, I, I've changed, taken
the show from you a bit here.
Denton: That's fine.
McDonald: But same thing, I'm terribly conservative
you know, which seems a bit, bit strange when I played
Norman Gunstan, but I'm terribly conservative, and
I kind of got a bit sick of it. And I was in Melbourne
year before last doing 'Laughter on the 23rd Floor',
a Neil Simon play and I thought, oh I wish I was a
bit more sort of daring in the way I dressed, you
know more colourful, like Barry Otto, so sort of wild
in the way he dresses. So I saw these trousers that
were striped, you know they were really lovely, these
fantastic trousers and an orange and a pale lime T-shirt
that you that went with them, really well. And I,
I bought them I thought, and when I bought them thought,
funny section to be selling those clothes in, and
I wore them in the city you know, and I had people
looking at me, apparently they were pyjamas, I didn't
think to, I'd wear them on the tram to a barbeque,
I was an hour on the tram you know in my pyjamas.
And the worse thing is people just kind of accepted
it, oh he's just you know having another one of his
turns. I really liked them, so now I wear them as
Denton: You could have worn them tonight, we wouldn't
McDonald: Yeah, yeah right.
Denton: Let's take a look at a little bit of 'Mother
and Son', because I want to talk more about comedy.
This is perhaps one of Australia's most loved sitcoms.
(Excerpt from 'Mother and Son'.)
Denton: That's a two-handed there. I'm going to ask
you a bugger of a question, what's the secret to doing
McDonald: Oh, well I think the most important thing
is that it's got to be totally believable and it's
got to look effortless.
Denton: And how much courage does comedy take, people
look at it and think oh that's fun, that must be fun,
how much courage does it take?
McDonald: Not much fun to .
Denton: So lesson one is be real.
Denton: Going back to courage, and we're going to
look at your other creation here.
McDonald: Oh yeah, it was very courageous.
Denton: Norman, Norman Gunstan, which for some of
the younger members of our audience they wouldn't
have seen Normal Gunstan, this is, this is Norman
with Mohammed Ali. (Excerpt from interview.)
Denton: Now let's talk about courage in comedy.
McDonald: That's my gig.
Denton: How scary was it sometimes to be Norman and
front these people?
McDonald: Ah yeah, well that was you know, that was
pretty scary. I guess it depends, some, some days
it was scarier than other days. Most of the time it
was pretty scary.
Denton: So when you're for instance, how would it,
how would it work with Norman, when you're preparing
to do Mohammed Ali?
Denton: There, there's, you were the performer, but
there is a team of people made that happen, how would
you get to that point?
McDonald: No, well you'd get the odd question you
know something like, I can't remember the Mohammed
Ali questions, but say to Julian Clary it was like,
you're you know you're putting your, you're pretty
big with homosexuality aren't you, and he said yeah.
That was sort of my favourite subject at school, I
could have taken it as an elective but I chose Modern
Greek instead, and you know it's stuff like that,
and that's he'd write that. And sometimes, and so
then Julian Clary would say, he said, "Yes, well
but homosexuality is much easier to get your tongue
around than modern Greek".
Denton: Good answer.
McDonald: Oh yeah he was pretty fast, and so you'd
try not to laugh of course, but if the interview started
to go well, you could then ad-lib. But you would have,
often you'd have question say like that or you'd have
a question that required an answer, and you realise
you could go, one or two ways, like to Chuck Colson,
you discovered, you found Jesus in jail didn't you?
Now, I thought his answer was going to be yes, but
his answer was no. And so I, I had to well, I had,
it wasn't much of a re-write, I had to say, "no,
I mean you know, what would he be in for?" But,
usually the questions, you had a vague idea where
you thought they'd go with the answers. But the bonus
was if the interview was going well then you could
drift off the script, you know. If the interview wasn't
going well, you stuck to the script as much as you
could, cause at least you knew you had a few laughs
Denton: That's a very scary prospect though.
McDonald: Sure, you're doing this.
Denton: Well no I, I don't have a series of jokes
written as people can clearly see. Ah, but that's
a scary prospect because if the guest for instance
is, doesn't like Norman at all or is completely thrown
by you, you really have no control over that process.
Denton: Your lines may be completely useless, so what
do you do then?
McDonald: Um, well cut and run. I didn't have too
many of those, I mean I, I mean you didn't see them
you know, Margaret Thatcher.
Denton: You're on cable now.
Denton: No, what happened with Margaret Thatcher?
McDonald: Well Margaret Thatcher came out here, and
she'd just become leader of the opposition, of the
Tories, and I got to the press conference, so it was
a public press conference, and I'd ask a question
and she'd answer the question and emit yes, immediately
at the end of it, so she'd been briefed that you don't
give any moment where he can get back in. So she was
going to be the lead into the TV show and I was dying,
you know. Ah, something about the Irish problem, and
she said I really don't think that's something we
can be amusing about, yes. And I you know I tried
everything and in the end I said is it true you've
got a serious drinking problem?
Denton: Ha ha.
McDonald: And she said, and then that stumped her,
she was probably thinking of Denis. And she said,
no, no only this water. And I said oh, I just thought
I'd try on the off chance you know. So I got a come
back, but it was that, that was all I got, just that
one, and so we just used it as a 10 second tease for
the show. But I mean you got the odd person that,
that didn't like you, I can't think of too many, I've
really wiped them, usually I, being sort of, you know
having this sort of mindset that I've got, I usually
remember the worse things, but with Norman I seem
to only remember the good things. Ah, there's Ken
Russell wasn't great, but
Denton: Keith Moon was another who was most
McDonald: Oh yeah, that wasn't, that wasn't so good.
Denton: But I don't mean to drag you back to that
McDonald: Yeah, he wasn't so good, and I mean we showed
it, but we had to fit it in with a lot of other stuff,
with the with the rest of the band.
Denton: I mean this is, it's quite shocking I think
to all of us to discover that Margaret Thatcher has
no sense of humour, I mean this is
McDonald: No, yes sorry.
Denton: Something that you could never have guessed
McDonald: No, I know it's a terrible shock.
Denton: Did you stay in character the entire time
as Norman when you met somebody?
McDonald: I went out to, say I'd go out to someone's
house, this is back in '75 where you could you know,
it wasn't so controlled by publicists then, and I
got out there, you'd, I'd be dressed like Norman obviously
and, but I'd say, oh hello you know nice to meet you
and thank you very much for having us at your house
and beautiful house you've got here, I better just
go and work on my questions. And they'd say okay.
Then I'd come back in, cameras rolling and I'd like
"hoi", here I am like in character, the
only person I decided I wouldn't do that with was
Ken Russell, which I just walked in as the cameras
were rolling and it was like, oh how do you do Mr
Russell, I'm Normal Gunstan. So he didn't get to,
I didn't do any of that beforehand, and he was really
annoyed. It was much better to let them see the actor
beforehand. Really interesting.
Denton: Is that right?
McDonald: He was really really annoyed.
Denton: We have other, on other piece of footage here
of Norman, which if if it didn't exist you'd find
hard to believe ever happened.
McDonald: All right.
Denton: I can't think of a country which would allow
such an historic moment to be so desecrated, watch
McDonald: Oh god. (Show video clip.)
Denton: What was that day like?
McDonald: Who was that tall man? Well yes it was pretty
amazing. I mean it's really interesting isn't it,
I mean you look at something like that and you think
that would not be possible nowadays would it, to get
anywhere near them.
Denton: No. You'd be shot. And this was the most intense
political atmosphere in the history of this country
and there you were in the middle of it
McDonald: I was a callow youth, I was 25 or something,
Denton: Did you have a sense of the day though?
McDonald: No, it was
Denton: No, Really? Was it exciting to be there slightly
taking the piss out of a moment in history?
McDonald: Well, the bit where I talked to the, to
the crowd, Gough wasn't there, that was before he
came out. And then he came out and I didn't get to
say anything really except do you know whistling and
all that sort of stuff and then he was gone, so, I
think he probably took one look at me and thought,
'Oh no. If it's not bad enough, no, him.'
Denton: For a man to whom dignity was all, this was
the moment for, it never occurred to you that maybe
this was going at just an inch too far to be.
McDonald: No, no, no not at all, isn't that funny,
yeah. See, stuff like that now, I you know, then I
was just like, I really was, I was hungry, hungry
for it, you know really hungry for it.
Denton: Do you look back on Norman with affection?
McDonald: Oh yes.
Denton: Or is a shudder of delight that you never
have to be him again?
McDonald: Oh bit of both, ha ha, yeah oh yeah, I'm
too old to do that now. But no, yeah a lot of affection,
Denton: And I want to take you back, and I know it's
often talked about, but let's, to that dark time in
McDonald: Oh yeah.
Denton: When you hosted 'Rip Snorters'.
McDonald: Ha, or as my son called it 'RIP Snorters'.
Denton: No, I actually don't mean that, let's talk
about the whole.
McDonald: Oh, it was a joke was it?
McDonald: Oh right, that's pretty good.
Denton: Yes. Two of us got it.
McDonald: Well, that shows how many people saw 'Rip
Denton: Exactly right.
McDonald: Thank heavens.
Denton: And you had the full breakdown and the whole
series was canned, and it was a huge public event,
most people still don't understand what breakdown
McDonald: Well, it's, it's a funny sort of term, it's
Denton: Yeah, can you take us through the stages of
it, how does it begin, how do you know it's beginning?
McDonald: Well, I was getting more and more anxious,
but I didn't know what that was, I just thought it
was kind of stage fright, I'd be very, very concerned
about doing stuff, and you know, worried that it wouldn't
go well, blah, blah, blah. And I used to try and get
rid of this tension by meditating. But basically what
I was trying to do was get rid of it, not confront
it and find out where it was coming from. I'd just
try and say, 'right I'll do this for 20 minutes, that
will get rid of it'. And it would, at the end of the
20 minutes I'd had this huge experience and like it'd
just shoot out of me and I'd think, 'oh wow that's
it'd come back you see, I wasn't dealing with what
the cause was. But I, and it was getting slightly
worse, slightly worse, slightly worse.
Denton: And as you, as you go deeper, what does that
McDonald: Well, then what happened was we came in
to Sydney to do the show and we'd had a lot of problems,
had a lot of problems and the producer-writer walked
out just before opening night, about three or four
days before. And I went off with the head of programming,
I think it was at Channel 7, and John Eastway, who'd
taken over producing, had to quickly find a writer,
and we went to a restaurant you know like, it was,
I think it was all like saying come on Garry, it's
going to be fine.
we got legless, we got so drunk, and one of the worst
things you can do with anxiety is to have a really
bad hangover. Anyway, so I started the week that was
on air, with no writer and with this extraordinary
hangover. But, Bill Harding came back to write it,
the original writer. And, I got through that first
show, and then suddenly I, I found I just couldn't
get out of bed. And it was terrible.
Denton: What's happening?
McDonald: I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't concentrate,
I'd go to work and I'd just, was like a fog. I mean
William Stone talks about a fog and there's like a
fog there. Nothing goes in. Your brain just seizes
and I was trying to do a Prince number and I just
couldn't do it. I couldn't, couldn't be, oh no creativity
was coming out, I had to sit down all the time.
I went off to the doctors to see the GP and I remember
they said, 'oh you can see him in half an hour'. And
I went outside and sat in the gutter, well on the,
on the sort of edge you know. And it was like you
had this sort of extraordinary hangover. And you know
eventually I mean you do, you end up being in the
foetal position, it was extraordinary.
position, just not wanting to work. And you could
come good for about an hour or two. I could, you could
drag me out there and put up a whole lot of cue cards
and I'd come good for about two hours or so and then
you'd sort of crash again, it was really interesting.
But that's major depression.
Denton: Yeah, but there you were at the height of
your breakdown and you actually did consider suicide
didn't you? How seriously did you consider that?
McDonald: Well, seriously enough that it freaked me
out. And I rang up the psychiatrist who was very kind
and had given me his home phone number and said to
him that I'd, I'd had this sort of overwhelming desire
to top myself. So you know it's very interesting,
people, when you see about people that have committed
suicide, and friends and loved ones will say look,
it must have been an accident, he just wasn't like
that they don't know how it comes across, how it comes
over you so quickly, so quickly and so powerfully.
And if you have, you were having trouble anyway, that
you might be, I mean people with anxiety and depression
are often very good at hiding it, and that feeling
can just rush over you.
Denton: There you were, how, how do you turn that
McDonald: Well you know with anti-depressants. I took
anti-depressants for about 18 months I think, but
I, when I started to get much better, when the depression
lifted this other thing was still there. This, this
thing that I thought was stage fright, this fear.
And so I didn't quite understand what that was about.
I mean one of the psychiatrists I had to go and see
because I had to frustrate the contract with Channel
7, said that I had major depression with phobic anxiety
and it was all sort of gobbligook to me.
then someone sent me a book called 'Anxiety Attack
Don't Panic', which has now been re-written as 'Power
Over Panic'. And that was like an eye-opener, it was
like, oh my god, this is me. This is, and so that's
when I realised I had this thing called an anxiety
Denton: Because previous to that you'd had all sorts
of not very good advice hadn't you?
McDonald: Well you know I don't know about not very
good advice, I mean the depression they handled really
Denton: Did you have to, weren't rubber bands prescribed
at one point?
McDonald: Yeah, well, I went to different people,
I had one psychologist I went to first up and the
best bit of advise he gave me was to walk every morning
for 20 minutes and I said I haven't got time, I haven't
got time to do that. He said, you've got time to sit
around all day worrying, of course you've got time
for half an hour, brisk walk for half and hour. And
that's fantastic advise for anyone with depression.
Force yourself to do that every morning, every morning,
as soon as you get up, put on the walkers and go out
for a brisk walk, and about 20 minutes and you'll
notice a change, it's very, very good.
then he sent me to a different psychologist, and this
psychologist tried all these weird things, one of
them was a session with a psychologist, not cheap.
She gave me a rubber band to wear around my wrist,
and you wear this rubber band all the time, and when
you get a negative thought it's got to be pretty tight
the rubber band, and when you get a negative thought,
and you start to tell yourself that you're no good,
you recognise it as a negative thought, and you go,
oh right negative thought, you pull the rubber band,
really tight, really tight, and then you let it go
and when it hits the inside of your wrist and stings,
you swap the negative thought for a positive thought.
positive thought when I let it go was thank heavens
I brought the drugs with me you know. But that didn't
Denton: When you had that depressive episode last
year and pulled out of the play, was that a case of
still being ill or being cured? Where does that sit
on the graph?
McDonald: No, that was kind of a newie. From about
September the 11th on, September the 11th really shook
me and I kind of thought that when that happened that
was the end of the world, we were going to go into
sort of the Third World War, and it never kind of,
and it's lots of things happened, you know, then Ruth
that really threw me, and it's not like I'd visited
her, I'd visited her once in hospital, ah I mean she
wasn't seeing a lot of people, it was, you had to
kind of make an appointment to get to see her, and
I, I didn't crack hardy I'm afraid, I blubbed a bit.
So I didn't know whether they probably wouldn't want
me to go back anyway.
when she died I didn't kind of get out of that. I
could think about her every day and get really quite
emotional, it was very interesting. So I got into
a morbid state, and it, it just sort of stayed there
and it kind of got worse and worse and worse.
Denton: You're about to start in a play at the Sydney
Theatre Company, 'Amigos', the new David Williamson
play, how do you know you're ready?
McDonald: Oh, oh I don't think I haven't been, I think,
I don't think I haven't been ready for a long time,
It took about three months last time to get over the
depression. Actually it was a bit hard to kick, I
was a bit lazy with the homework, I couldn't, I just,
it's because I'd done it 10 years ago, I thought I
shouldn't have to go back to tors and do all this
writing out thoughts and challenging them and all
that. So that worried me.
interesting, I'm playing another character who's obsessed
with depression and he's obsessed with the dying side,
so I, I have a different spin on it now.
Denton: Do you think you'll ever find contentment
in life, peace, where you won't feel anxious? Is that
the, you said at the start of the interview self-realisation,
is that what you're looking for?
McDonald: I've got a pretty good life. I don't have
any complaints. I've got a really very pleasant life.
I don't want for anything. And I've got a good marriage
and lovely grandkids and my son-in-law and daughter-in-law
are fabulous, I couldn't, you know very, very lucky
my needs are very slight. Oh yeah, oh yeah I do, but
I try not to. Ha ha, this is too deep for me, my head's
Denton: No, no, in the post-September 11th world,
are you a happy man?
McDonald: Well yes as my psychologist pointed out
to me, he said how's it changed your life? It's true,
Denton: Garry McDonald you're a treasure, thank you.
Story - 11th Feb 2002
Producer: Vanessa Gorman
Researcher: Vanessa Gorman
I'm Caroline Jones. Welcome to a new season of Australian
Story. Next week we bring you a special report on
the Governor-General, but we start the year with a
program about a beloved Australian actor and comedian.
He's Garry McDonald and he's a legend for all the
laughter he's brought us. But in his time, Garry McDonald
has wrestled with some fearful demons, and in doing
so he's broken the silence around a huge health problem.
So this is Garry McDonald's story, and it contains
an interview with Ruth Cracknell recorded before her
Logies Awards, 1997
CRACKNELL: I'm going to talk about Garry as long as
I want to. 1973, we saw Garry in the 'Aunty Jack'
show, and this would probably be maybe the first time
we saw that brilliant comic genius, the potential
that we were all waiting for and which burst upon
us like no-one else.
Norman Gunston is one of the great comic characterisations
in this country ever. Garry brought such brilliance,
such bearing, such inventiveness, such courage to
that role, and all of us here in this room are absolutely
on our knees at that particular wonderful brilliance.
and gentlemen - Garry McDonald.
MCDONALD: Thank you very much. I must say I was, very
surprised when they told me I'd won this award because
only a couple of months ago I was on 'Where Are They
Now'. Which didn't seem to be a great reflection on
my career, especially as I was actually on air in
two shows on two different networks at the time! But,
you know, you get used to that. One year you're on
'This Is Your Life', the next 'Where Are They Now',
until you slip into obscurity in a 20-part drama on
GEOFFREY ATHERDEN, writer: Garry has a natural vulnerability
which is underneath quite a degree of confidence.
Garry knows that he has a high level of ability, but
he has a perfectionism that goes with that that creates
anxiety, so that he's always worried that he's done
something as well as he should have or as well as
the moment demanded.
PORTMANN, director: And that's what makes him such
a good comic. Um, and so, in a way, his strength can
sometimes also be his undoing - that strive for perfectionism,
that need to make sure every moment works and the
anxiety that came with that can also undermine you
and destroy you as well, if you're not careful.
GARRY MCDONALD: This week I start 'Stones In His Pockets'.
It was my first foray into directing. So I'm remounting
it now for the Melbourne Theatre Company.
getting that so much now. It's like you're dead because
you're not on television. But I love it. I love theatre.
I adore it. It's quite interesting - it's quite exciting
- directing. There are two types of boss. There's
one where you work and you do your work because you're
sort of frightened of the boss, and there's the other
boss that encourages everyone to be creative. I'm
hoping that when I redirect 'Stones In His Pockets'
I will be the creative boss, rather than last time,
which was, "Don't do it like that!" The
fearful boss. I've had a go at that. It doesn't work.
MCDONALD, mother: Garry - he could always entertain
you, even if he was naughty. Always showing off.
REUBEN MCDONALD, father: He was into comedy - it was
amazing - at school. It was unbelievable.
MORA MCDONALD: When you look back, you can see that's
what he was meant to do. He wouldn't have ever been
happy at anything else.
GARRY MCDONALD: I was an extremely attractive child.
I had hair. That's enough to make me attractive. I
had blond hair. Um, I had... and protruding teeth,
unfortunately. I was a bugger of a kid. I had quite
a cutting sense of humour as a child. I mean, you
could see where Norman came from. And my tongue was
my greatest weapon, 'cause I was slight, and yet I
was incredibly sensitive and I still am, but I could
dish it out.
REUBEN MCDONALD: Garry used to catch the bus, the
old double-decker buses, down to Cranbourne, and I
believe the upper deck would be roaring with laughter
by the time it got to Cranbourne with Garry's antics
and his quick wit. He just had it.
MORA MCDONALD: The best performance he's ever done
was to meet and marry Diane Craig. If nothing else
was great, that was! Yeah.
GARRY MCDONALD: I remember the day I met her. It was
like...I couldn't talk. She was just so beautiful.
And, ah, and I didn't talk to her from then on. She
had a leading man that wouldn't talk to her.
CRAIG, Garry's wife: I found him very appealing, but
he didn't actually say much to me for quite some time,
and, it wasn't until the play had actually opened
that he did...that he did start talking and that we
did get to know each other.
GARRY: But otherwise - oooh, boy - I probably would've
gone through the whole run without talking to her.
Too beautiful. Should be a law.
DIANE CRAIG: By the time we came back to Sydney we
were pretty firmly an item and we've been together
ever since - 30 years, 30 years on.
GARRY MCDONALD: Yeah, we were 23 and 22 when we had
our first child, David. And then three years later
we had Kate. And I guess, in a way, I don't think
I was such a great father or such a supportive husband.
I mean, once the career took off, I really got into
that in a big way.
CRACKNELL, actress: Garry's Norman Gunston is one
of the most incredible creations we have in Australia
- extremely daring, extremely bold, vulgar where necessary.
I don't know how he did it, nor, knowing Garry as
I do, how he had the courage to push into all those
situations, and that, of course, is because he had
another persona, didn't he? He had Norman Gunston,
which can - and did indeed - hide Garry and all Garry's
fears very beautifully.
GARRY MCDONALD: Why it was so popular, I don't really
know. I think the vulnerability was part of it. There
was something terribly Australian about the sort of
gormlessness as well.
Norman hated sex. Hated it! Ooh. There's a lot about
Norman that's really interesting, that's like deep
down there's some seed there, you know, the whole
sort of discomfort with sex. I mean, I quite like
doing it. But, you know, it's very interesting. It's
just sort of like an exaggeration of myself, in a
way. Of course it is. It's my clown.
DIANE CRAIG: There were times when he would get very
stressed. Um, I mean, the early shows, too, went live
to air and quite often scripts weren't finalised until
the last minute. It was...it was...there was a lot
I had my first anxiety attack when I was 22 after
smoking some hashish, and it was pretty bloody powerful.
And I think that was the start of the insecurity -
that sort of suddenly I became terribly self-aware
and lost a certain edge of confidence. And it sort
of... it kind of was there on and off for years and
it came back very strongly with... when I started
by myself, really out there with 'Norman'. The anxiety
came back quite strongly. And the more sort of successful
I got, the more anxious I got, 'cause I thought there
was more at stake.
got to the stage where, by series three, I got onto
tranquillisers for a while there, Valiums and Serepax
and Mogadon. It was actually four years before people
would think of me as anything but Norman.
then 'Mother and Son' took off, and that was it. It
was the continuity. It's the continuity that the audience
need to break the mould. The anxiety started to come
back again midway through 'Mother and Son'. I was
getting really bad. I mean, really out of all proportion.
I mean, that was a bit of a warning. I started to
go and see someone then. I went and saw a psychologist
about it. And, um...but it still was happening.
GEOFFREY ATHERDEN: He's probably one of the most exacting,
personally exacting actors that I've ever dealt with.
Um, while we were making the 'Mother and Son' series,
quite often I'd drive Garry home, and on the way home
the conversation would be mostly from Garry, talking
about the moments that he didn't think he'd got quite
right. It would often start with him saying, "I
missed that! I missed that point. I should have got
it." I think the price for perfectionism is the
pain that you experience when you don't reach the
level of perfection that you hoped to.
GARRY MCDONALD: And it was a fantastic show. I loved
doing it. I absolutely loved doing 'Mother and Son'.
But there was this little fellow inside of me that
was constantly saying, "Oh, everyone just thinks
Ruth's funny. They don't think you're funny."
And, you know, I mean - I may as well be honest about
it. Um... And so I thought, "Oh, I want to do
some of the broad stuff again."
mean, I felt that I was the second banana in 'Mother
and Son' I just found it extraordinarily stressful,
and because by then I had this perfectionist strain
so that in the end nothing was quite good enough.
Anxiety and depression are quite closely related and
I had been struggling with that and I just got more
and more anxious and anxious and anxious and anxious.
the writer walked out of the 'Gunston' show about
three or four days before it went to air. So I had
the breakdown and eventually I snapped over into major
depression, and that was appalling. I've never experienced
anything like that in my life. Um, you'd wake up in
the... ..William Styron calls it... ..'Darkness Visible',
I think he calls it. And you wake up in the morning
in this just dreadful, dreadful fog. And, ah, I'd
come good about... I was able to do a couple of shows
because I'd come good about six o'clock. But I couldn't
rehearse. I couldn't rehearse dance numbers. I just
was like... sitting like this all the time. It was
just appalling, you know. And it saps you of energy.
It's like you've got this monumental hangover without
DIANE CRAIG: After the first week or so, once it came
to the day of the taping, he couldn't get out of bed
in the morning. And it was awful, um... ..and it was
an awful thing to try and deal with because having
had no experience of, you know, this sort of thing,
I didn't know what the best way to handle it was.
I was totally at a loss.
DAVID MCDONALD, Garry's son: And it was just like
this bedroom in total darkness. Um, like really heavy
air too. It was just, like, shit a brick, you know,
this isn't good. And it was just this frail little
man sitting on his bed and just not there. I mean,
he's never been the most physical specimen, but there
was just nothing left.
ATHERDEN: Well, in some ways it was the worst possible
thing, the absolute worst possible thing to happen
to Garry out of what he was trying to do in getting
Norman Gunston back on the screen - to go back and
then fail, fail in the sense of having to pull the
plug and say we're not going on with the series. I
can't imagine anything that would be worse than that.
GARRY MCDONALD: And I was mortified that I was putting
people out of work. I mean...and there were some people
who'd just joined the show and they'd given up other
jobs. You just think, "God." But there was
nothing I could do. I...ah...I was a basket case.
became quite suicidal. You don't just suddenly take
away whatever the stress is and suddenly it's alright.
You know, you could be going really great guns and
suddenly this suicidal thought would come out of nowhere,
which was quite freaky. I fell in love with the South
Coast and I used to come down here quite a bit. And
that's when I decided that was it. I wouldn't come
down here on my own anymore because I'd worked out
ways of going up into the rainforest and topping myself.
So I, ah, I stayed with family, stayed back home.
of my life I've always thought I'm different to people.
I'm different - I wish I was like other people. And
in actual fact, I think, deep down I'm not. I mean,
none of us really are. And I think a lot of people
drift through life, or you've got the other type of
person that tries to control everything in life, and
any sort of self-reflection is seen as an indulgence.
But I actually think now that it's absolutely obligatory
to being a human being - that you are... you are really
short-changing yourself and you're being foolish if
you don't discover who you are, if you don't actually
know how you operate, how your mind works.
wasn't until the nervous breakdown I found out what
was wrong with me. Once I started having the therapy
for the anxiety, etc, you started to realise, um...
what you'd been doing to yourself, what your mind
had been doing to you and how you needed to take,
it sounds funny, but you needed to take control. I
mean, part of the, control is often the problem. But
how you needed to not allow your mind to, ah, to race
off in its negativity, in its, in its desire to bring
you down all the time and tell you that you're not
good enough. I mean, it hasn't turned me into this
extremely confident person, but it's certainly far
more confident than I was. Much more confident than
good, the therapy, because the therapy - you actually
start to see how hard you are on yourself 24 hours
of the day. I realised this was the simple version
of what I was doing with my career. I was doing it
everywhere, every aspect of life, anything I was doing.
I was putting a time limit on myself. I should be
able to do this the best. It's like, even, fishing.
I still do it. If I go out I've got to catch a fish,
you know. I feel stupid if I can't cast well and all
that. That's crazy. You go out there to have fun.
stopped meditating because of the depression... when
I had the depression. And I thought I might try and
get back into meditation again. For a long time now
I was kind of practising it in the wrong way - sort
of running backwards, you know. I was running away
from stuff. And yoga's not about running away from
stuff. It's actually absorbing yourself in the world.
It's definitely the way to go to help the stress levels
and the anxiety, but because it really does burn stress
Shankarananda - he was the yogi that had initiated
me into yoga in 1981. So I decided to get back into
that with a much more inquiring mind, though. In actual
fact, the way he taught the yoga was much more into
self-inquiry. He was much more interested in people
questioning who they are and looking at the way their
mind works. Because it's spiritual, there's no...
I mean, there's no other way. What can you say? You
can try and make it mundane. We can try and, I could
sit here and say, "Meditation's very good for
you. It's all about the control of the mind and it's
about relaxation." But it's actually about a
lot more than that and it's actually quite powerful
and it's quite mysterious, so why not say it's mystical?
It is quite mysterious, what happens.
HICKIE: The National Depression Institute is Australia's
national response to the major public health problem
of depression and other common mental disorders.
did an unusual thing. He didn't try and hide it. He
didn't say that he was away with chronic fatigue or
a mystery illness or unavailable for a certain period
of time. He said it was a mental health problem, and
that's really important. It's placed him at a great
deal of risk. People's reaction to that is to now
see him as a person with a mental health problem.
"Can we trust him in the future? Is he gonna
fall apart again?" In fact, he's moved from being
someone who had a major problem to someone who now
has treatments and strategies. He's far less at risk
than he ever was. But in our society, he now suffers
the consequences of having revealed the problem.
DIANE CRAIG: For the last, oh several years, he's
been coping - he's been fine again. And, I mean, I
will quite often get people will come up to me and
sort of say, "How's your husband? Is he alright?"
GARRY MCDONALD: I wasn't so concerned about... about
the breakdown being so public. I didn't think about
that so much. And, you know, like, I often say it
was the most publicity I ever got. Wasn't a bad career
GEOFFREY ATHERDEN: I think Garry's been terrific about
it, because when someone is as public as Garry, to
come forward and say, "I've been through this
and this is what happened to me and here I am, "I've
come out of it," is some of the best form of
information to people out there, and very reassuring,
I think, for a lot of people. I think most people
go through at least mild depression at some time in
their lives, um, and to have that acknowledged as
something that's as common as it is, and to have someone
like Garry say, "Here, it happened to me and
I came through it," is one of the most useful
things and positive things I think he could have done.
RUTH CRACKNELL: For any performer, the nerve it takes
to get out there is, indeed, stripping yourself naked.
The most public form of indecent exposure there is.
No other art form makes you do that. You have no protection.
You go out there and you are just alone.
GARRY: When you're younger... I just really wanted
to be that successful, that popular in that field,
and I got it. So I was very ambitious there, and I
seem to be less ambitious now. I seem to be less jealous
now - which is good - of other performers. I mean,
there's... sometimes there's a twinge. I mean, that's
OK. But before it was out of all proportion. And I'm
not so much ambitious anymore to be famous. In fact,
I find all that, the upkeep on that's all a little
bit tedious. I see the breakdown as... I mean, apart
from the fact that people, to this day, you know,
are constantly worried about me, which is very sweet.
But, I kind of see it as this tremendous wake-up call
that I had. I mean, it was like... it was like a blast
from the cosmos saying, "Wake up, Garry. Stop
being an idiot. Get yourself together."
McDonald often speaks to individuals and groups of
anxiety sufferers about treatment options.
and Community Entrepreneurs