Robert Helpman

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, the eldest child of James Murray and Mary nee Gardiner. The family moved to Adelaide in 1914 and Robert was educated at Prince Alfred College. As a child his parents took him to a theatrical 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.
HelpmanOpportunities 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.
His appointment 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 prominence.
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 home country, while acknowledging 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 Association's 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.

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