EXCLUSIVE: Veteran actor Mary Ward may be one of many in Victoria’s lockdown right now, but at 105 she still has a smile and a twinkle in her eye.
Best known for playing “Mum” on Prisoner from 1979 – 1981 and devious Dee Morrell in Sons & Daughters in 1983, she is surely Australia’s oldest living actor.
Born in Fremantle in 1915, her lifetime has seen two World Wars, the Spanish Flu and now a Coronavirus pandemic. At 105 she even outlives Hollywood star, Olivia de Havilland.
Mary’s family settled in Broome where her father was a pearler and, later, the local publican. From the age of 5, Mary would set off by boat each year for 9 months of boarding school in Fremantle. In her teen years, she met a young Lang Hancock before he became one of Australia’s first mining magnates.
Mary studied acting in Perth before setting off to London in her early twenties to further her acting career. She also taught elocution and befriended Lionel Logue, who became the speech therapist to King George VI.
At the outbreak of WWII, Mary was forced to return to Australia. She joined the ABC and became its first female announcer. Her nightly show was broadcast to the armed forces stationed in the Pacific. She became known as the “Forces Sweetheart” reading letters and playing music requests. She once said of her role, “ I was there really to be the girl next door.”
There were acting roles in UK television and her first film was 1949’s Eureka Stockade. In the 1970s she began acting full-time in Australia appearing in such shows as Rush, Homicide, The Young Doctors, I Can Jump Puddles and famously as benevolent Jeanette “Mum” Brooks on Prisoner (a character serving an 18 year prison sentence for the euthanisation of her terminally-ill husband).
Her other credits include The Henderson Kids, GP, The Damnation of Harvey McHugh, Blue Heelers, Jenny Kissed Me, Backstage and Amy. There have also been numerous stage roles, notably with the Melbourne Theatre Company.
Nephew Mark Breheny tells TV Tonight, “Up until the start of the various lockdowns, my wife and I visited her regularly. She also has visits from her remaining relatives in WA, and to this day remains a proud Western Australian. She really was very much ahead of her time in the pre-war period -an independent, career-minded woman who set off overseas on her own to make her mark. And that she surely did.
“Unfortunately, the reduced contact she has with people due to the virus lockdowns has slowed her engagement levels but her wonderful smile and the twinkle in her eyes remain.”