KNEEBONE firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-11-19 published
New Zealand comedian found fame in Canada
Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - Page R7
Toronto -- Comic actor Tom KNEEBONE died in a Toronto hospital on Saturday after suffering a heart attack. He was 71.
Mr. KNEEBONE, who was from Auckland, New Zealand, performed at Ontario's Stratford and Shaw Festivals, as well as on Broadway and at London's Old Vic.
After he came to North America in 1963, many critics remarked on his expressive features. New York Times writer Walter Kerr once wrote: "His eyes are all right, but I think his nose is crossed."
In Toronto, he appeared in shows like Oh, Coward! and That Hamilton Woman.
Recently, he had been working with the Smile Theatre Company, writing and directing plays for senior-citizen centres. Canadian Press
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KNEEBONE email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-12-01 published
'Curtain up, laugh, laugh, laugh, curtain down'
Versatile comic actor appeared in a string of hit revues, as well as at the Shaw and Stratford festivals, in London and on Broadway
By Allison LAWLOR, Special to The Globe and Mail Monday, December 1, 2003 - Page R7
At the mere mention of his name some people would just start giggling. In fact, wherever the wonderfully comic actor Tom KNEEBONE went there was laughter. He loved not only to make other people laugh but also to let out his own deep laugh, which Friends say seemed to start in his gut and make its way up through his body, gathering force as it went.
"Tom could make me laugh longer and harder than anyone else," said Gary KRAWFORD, a long-time friend who first worked with him in the mid-1960s. "He was without a doubt the funniest man I've ever met in my life."
Mr. KNEEBONE, who has been described by some critics as one of the world's top cabaret performers, died in a Toronto hospital on November 15 after suffering a heart attack and other complications. He was 71.
The versatile performer appeared for many years at the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival of Canada, where during the 1976 season he played Puck opposite Jessica TANDY in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He also performed at London's Old Vic, the Charlottetown Festival and on Broadway. He was a guest with the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, a company he greatly admired.
Toronto audiences may remember him best for the string of hit revues he performed with Dinah CHRISTIE, which included Ding Dong at the Dell, The Apple Tree and Oh Coward! "I was absolutely in awe of the man," Ms. CHRISTIE said, recalling the first time they performed together 38 years ago.
They developed an enduring partnership that resulted in appearances across the country performing everywhere from cabarets to big concert halls with symphony orchestras. In Toronto, they performed together at Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall. Over the years, working with Mr. KNEEBONE became like "working with kith and kin," Ms. CHRISTIE said.
"We made each other laugh," she said, adding that they worked so well together because they were complete opposites.
While Mr. KNEEBONE was happy living and working in the big city, Ms. CHRISTIE feels more at home on her farm in rural Ontario with her animals and open space.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, on May 12, 1932, Mr. KNEEBONE later moved to England to study at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. After graduation, he went with the company on a 1963 North American tour. When the tour folded in New York, Mr. KNEEBONE went out looking for work. He travelled to Toronto and joined the Crest Theatre Company, where he got a job performing in a production of She Stoops to Conquer. He later starred with the Canadian comic actor Barbara HAMILTON in the hit revue That Hamilton Woman. The road was paved for him after that and, as he was quoted as saying, it was 40 years of "curtain up, laugh, laugh, laugh, curtain down."
Over the years, several critics remarked on Mr. KNEEBONE's unique facial features. Walter KERR in The New York Times once wrote: "His eyes are all right, but I think his nose is crossed."
In Time magazine, comparisons were made between Mr. KNEEBONE, Pinocchio and Charlie Brown. "With leprechaun whimsy, and a pace as assured as the Dominion Observatory Time Signal, his major weapon is a wonderfully mobile face that he seems never to have grown accustomed to. Small wonder," the writer wrote. "His features might have been drawn by a child. Eyes like silver dollars, a nose that wobbles to a Pinocchio point, and a mouth tight and tiny as Charlie Brown's when he is sad."
The moment the sun came up in the morning, Mr. KNEEBONE was up and out of bed, opening his curtains and declaring: "Let's get on with the show," his friend Doug McCULLOUGH recalled. "You cannot take the theatre out of Tom," Mr. McCULLOUGH said. "Tom was always on stage."
Mr. KNEEBONE was never without a story to tell, whether it was a tale about the crazy person who gravitated to him on a Toronto subway or a character he met while performing in a small town. "Everything had a theatrical dimension," Mr. McCULLOUGH said.
In recent years, Mr. KNEEBONE turned his attention toward writing and directing plays for the Smile Theatre Company. Once again he and his long-time friend Ms. CHRISTIE were collaborators. Together they brought professional theatre to senior citizens' homes, long-term care facilities and hospitals. Mr. KNEEBONE had been the company's artistic director since 1987.
Known for his extensive research, he spent hours combing through books and old musical recordings at libraries and theatrical museums collecting information to use in his productions. He charmed all the librarians at Toronto's public libraries, Ms. CHRISTIE said.
He loved the process of gathering Canada's little-known stories, whether it was the tale of a war bride or the country's first black doctor, and then bringing them to audiences. He also saw it as a way to give something not only to people whose health prevented them from getting to the theatre, but to the country that has accepted him so warmly when he arrived.
Despite his writing and directing, he never stopped performing. Just weeks before he died, Mr. KNEEBONE and Ms. CHRISTIE performed some of NoŽl Coward material together for a benefit.
"He was one of the masters of NoŽl Coward," Mr. Krawford said.
In addition to his stage work, Mr. KNEEBONE performed in film and television, including the movies The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Housekeeper.
A proud Canadian, Mr. KNEEBONE was honoured by his adopted country with the Order of Ontario, and was named a Member of the Order of Canada in October, 2002.
He leaves his cousin, Robert GIBSON, in Australia.
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