Dame Edna Everage AD is a character played by Australian comedian Barry Humphries. As Dame Edna, Humphries has written several books and hosted various television shows (on which Humphries has also appeared as himself). In 1979, Dame Edna was the subject of a BBC Arena mockumentary: "La Dame aux Gladiolas".
Dame Edna is known for her lilac-coloured hair (which she claims is natural) and over-the-top eyeglasses.
While Humphries freely states that Dame Edna is a character he plays, Dame Edna consistently denies being a fictional character or drag performer, and refers to Humphries as her "entrepreneur" or manager. Indeed, Dame Edna has frequently said that the thought of a man dressing up as a woman for entertainment purposes is repulsive.
According to Dame Edna's autobiography, and to statements she has made, she was born Edna May Beazley in the (then) small rural town of Wagga Wagga, and started her stage career on December 19, 1955 as Mrs Norm Everage, an "average Australian housewife" from Moonee Ponds, a Melbourne suburb. When her husband, Norman Stoddard Everage, died of prostate cancer, Dame Edna became the founder and governor of a charity called Friends of the Prostate, and the creator of The World Prostate Olympics.
Dame Edna has four adult children: two daughters, Valmai (currently assisting Dame Edna on her new programme for ITV 1; The Dame Edna Treatment) and Lois, and two sons, Bruce and Kenneth, whom she describes in a caricature of gay men, though she shows no awareness of their homosexuality. Dame Edna's mother is incarcerated in a "maximum-security twilight home for the bewildered". Valmai is the only family member (as of yet) to be seen.
Besides these family members, her elderly "bridesmaid" Madge Allsop (played by Emily Perry), a New Zealander from Palmerston North, is often present during Dame Edna's appearances and television shows, but never speaks a word, though she is often the butt of Dame Edna's jokes.
Dame Edna is revered for her insights into her homeland. When asked why Australians are so good at sport she commented "Good food and diet; open air life; juicy steaks; sunshine - and the total absence of any kind of intellectual distraction."
On 7 March 2007 her home town (Melbourne) renamed a city street in her honour: Dame Edna Place, formerly Brown Alley off Little Collins Street, was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, John So. Dame Edna Place is opposite Royal Arcade and The Causeway, between the major roads, Elizabeth Street and Swanston Street; it was, until its renaming, a service alley for adjoining buildings. Dame Edna was not at the renaming ceremony, but was represented by 10 look-alike Dames.
The Edna Everage character first appeared in a Melbourne comedy revue in 1955. At this time she was "Mrs Norm Everage". An interview with Mrs Everage was one of the programmes screened on HSV-7's first day of programming in 1956.
Her overseas debut, now as Edna Everage, was in the early 1960s at comedian Peter Cook's nightclub, The Establishment, in London's West End, where she received a poor review from Bamber Gascoigne, then the drama critic for The Spectator. Barry Humphries cites Peter Cook as being instrumental in launching Edna's UK career.
In 1972, she appeared as Barry McKenzie's "Aunt Edna" in the film, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and its sequel Barry McKenzie Holds His Own. It was during this time that she was "knighted" by then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, becoming "Dame Edna".
Edna makes a brief cameo appearance in the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Dame Edna became notable in the UK throughout the 1980s and early 1990s for her semi-regular television shows. She became popular with broadcaster ITV after her performance on the first An Audience With...(..Dame Edna Everage) in 1980. She was later given her own gameshows and variety shows such as The Dame Edna Experience in 1987 and Dame Edna's Neighbourhood Watch in 1992, in which she and her sour-faced "bridesmaid" Madge had a look at people's houses.
In 2000 and 2004, Dame Edna appeared on Broadway. These were ostensibly not "performances", but rather "appearances", with Dame Edna giving monologues and interacting with audience members.
During 2001 and 2002, Dame Edna appeared in the fifth season of the television show Ally McBeal playing the guest role of Claire Otoms, a client of the show's law firm who later became a secretary at the same firm. The character shared Dame Edna's voice and style and was explicitly listed in the opening credits as being played by Dame Edna Everage (although Barry Humphries received a credit in the closing credits). Claire Otoms is an anagram of "A Sitcom Role".
Dame Edna appeared at the Closing Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. During her act she sang a song containing her thoughts on Melbourne and Australia in general. More recently (20 May 2006) she appeared on ITV's coverage of The Prince's Trust annual fundraiser. She took part in a Blind Date themed skit, picking Chico Slimani over Roger Moore and Richard E Grant.
On the 23rd of September, 2006, during an interview on Parkinson, she revealed that she will be returning to ITV in 2007 with a new chat show, The Dame Edna Treatment. The show began on Saturday 17 March 2007, with the set-up being that Edna runs a health spa where various famous guests come for treatment.
In 2003, Vanity Fair magazine invited Dame Edna to write a satirical advice column; a piece published in the February issue created a storm of controversy when Dame Edna, in a reply to a reader who asked if she should learn Spanish, wrote:
Forget Spanish. There's nothing in that language worth reading except Don Quixote, and a quick listen to the CD of Man of La Mancha will take care of that ... Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to? The help? Your leaf blower?
The satirical intent—poking fun at the haughty attitudes of wealthy Americans who hire low-waged Hispanic domestic workers—evidently went over the heads of some readers. Many who subsequently complained appeared not to realise that Dame Edna is a character and that she is not really a woman. Some members of the Hispanic community read the joke as a deliberately racist remark, and complaints flooded in to the magazine. Hollywood actress Salma Hayek responded angrily, penning a furious letter in which she denounced Dame Edna. Death threats were even received and Vanity Fair was eventually forced to publish a full-page apology to the Hispanic community.
Humphries commented later: "If you have to explain satire to someone, you might as well give up." When Dame Edna was questioned about the controversy on the eve of her 2003 Australian tour, she retorted that Hayek's denunciation was due to "professional jealousy", and that Hayek was envious because the role of painter Frida Kahlo (for which Hayek received an Oscar nomination) had originally been offered to Edna:
When I was offered the part of Frida I turned it down, and she was the second choice. I said 'I'm not playing the role of a woman with a moustache and a monobrow, and I'm not having same-sex relations on the screen' ... I'm not racist. I love all races, particularly white people. You know, I even like Roman Catholics.Good Job!
- Dame Edna Official Website
- The Dame Edna Treatment at itv.com
- Virtually Edna (Online Documentary & More)
- Dame Edna Street
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