Robert Murray Helpman (Helpmann was his stage name as
Robert Helpman had 13 letters and he was known as Bobbie
to his friends) was born
9 April 1909 at Mount Gambier SA,
Gardiner. The family moved to Adelaide in 1914 and Robert
was educated at Prince Alfred College. As a
him to a
performance in Adelaide and from that moment on he wanted
to be a dancer.
His father determined that if he was to take on such a
vocation then he had to be the best and gained young Robert
lessons in Melbourne with Anna Pavlova.
for male dancers were limited in Australia and so in 1933
Helpman went to London where he featured
as principal dancer for the Royal Ballet and its predecessors
from 1933 to 1950. His main partner was Margot Fonteyn.
Helpman was aware that dancing was not possible as a lifelong
career and so in the 1940s he started looking to acting
and producing ballets.
Helpman returned to Australia in 1965 to help form the
Australian Ballet with Peggy van Praagh and he remained
as a director until 1975. In 1965 he was named Australian
of the Year for 1966 and was knighted in 1968. He
was awarded the Order of the Knight of the North Star in
Sweden in 1975 and previously in 1950 was given the Scroll
of Honour by Norway. He also received the Order of
the Cedars from Lebanon.
as Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival from 1970
to 1976 was well-received by South Australians and he did
much to raise the profile of this festival to world-wide
What is little known is that Robert Helpman was a director
of Metro Meats, a huge meat processing company started
by the Helpman family and others.
Sir Robert Helpman died in Sydney on 28 September 1986
ending the career of a world renowned artiste whose
his talent, never quite came to terms with his overt
homosexuality. His partner of 36 years, Michael Benthall,
died in 1974.
Helpman's name is perpetuated in the NSW Robert
Helpman Dance Scholarship, the Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre
at Mount Gambier, the Australian Entertainment Industry
annual awards are named The Helpmann Awards and the Helpmann
Academy in SA that offers award courses for people seeking
professional careers in the arts.