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Therese Desmond
, 1919-20

by James Burnside

watercolour on paper (sheet: 27.6 cm x 25.1 cm)

Therese Desmond (1902–1961), radio and stage actress, was born Mary Long in London and came to Australia as a teenaged orphan at the end of World War 1. She studied with the actor-manager Duncan Macdougall, who had established Sydney’s Playbox Society in 1923. At the Playbox Theatre on Rowe Street in 1925, Desmond appeared in the leading role in Zola’s Therese Raquin. Through the Playbox, she met the English-born actor Teddy Howell, whom she married after acting for a year in Hobart. Desmond’s stage career burgeoned in the early 1930s with performances in The Seagull, Hedda Gabler and Othello for the Playbox and Independent Theatres, and later for the Experimental Theatre, of which she was co-director with Howell. However, by 1936 Desmond and Howell were household names through their starring roles in Fred and Maggie Everybody, which first aired on ABC radio in 1932. Written and produced by the couple, it became Australia’s longest-running comedy radio series, broadcast on more than 50 stations at its peak. Desmond appeared in many other plays and drama series, among them Coronets of England (1937–1943). During the 1940s and 1950s she was involved in production of radio programs including Hester’s Diary and Dr Paul, which aired for 22 years. In 1947, with Howell and their daughter, Madeleine, she was a founding member of the Radio Players.

This portrait of the young Therese Desmond is by her grandfather, with whom she emigrated.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Madeleine Howell 2013
Accession number: 2013.41