By Geoff Corbett
March 24, 2014
Programs from the actor Jon Ewing's performances, at the Old Tote, The Nimrod, Marion Street Theatre, the Menzies Hotel Theatre Restaurant and the Sydney and Melbourne Theatre companies, show that he worked almost continuously in his beloved profession, and alongside many of Australia's notable actors and directors. Unlike many actors, Ewing never had to wait on tables in between jobs.
As an actor he had major roles in many productions to critical acclaim: Camelot, Cabaret, Tarantara! Tarantara!, The Threepenny Opera, Candide, The Venetian Twins, Sweeney Todd and the smash hit Nicholas Nickleby, even Hamlet on Ice at the Bondi Pavilion.
One of hs greatest roles was as Albin in La Cage Au Folles, the 1985 production at Her Majesty's
Theatre where he lit up the stage with Keith Michell. Dancing around in drag and belting out songs, he looked very much like his mother, albeit an overdressed version. That year, he took the Green Room Award for Male Actor in a Leading Role (Music Theatre) for Albin. It was during this season that his father died, but his performance that night didn't miss a beat.
Ewing was also a well-regarded director and some years was off the stage as often as he was on it. He worked for most of the major theatres in Sydney at one time or another and often dreamt of a balance of work, saying, ''What I'd like ideally is to have some nice offers as a director and some as an actor and then make my choice for the year.'' Then he'd laughed it off as, ''Wouldn't we all?''
Jon Douglas Ewing was born in Paddington on October 6, 1936 to Jack Ewing, a labourer and returned soldier, and his wife, Elsie (nee Collingwood). His career began with Gilbert and Sullivan productions at his school, Sydney Boys High School, where one of his teachers encouraged this vocation. He joined the Rathbone Academy of Dramatic Art and Finishing School when he left high school, and was soon making ABC radio plays and in touring productions of Pygmalion to high schools.
He went on to study under Hayes Gordon (whose influence, he said, was, ''somebody turning on a searchlight for me'') and, in 1958, helped to establish the Ensemble Theatre, now Australia's longest continuously running professional theatre company, with Reg Livermore and others.
The actors at first had to do almost everything as well as act, Ewing used to recall being up to his elbows in fabric dye just hours before the performances were due to start.
Ewing's last major on-stage role was in the 1990s, as Monsieur Firmin in The Phantom of The Opera. It was during Phantom that his arthritis started to get the better of him, and it is now acting folklore that he would be helped to the stage before taking off as though everything was all right. At the end of the run, he was in so much pain that retirement became his preferred occupation.
Ewing was a private person and withdrew quietly from the stage. In 2003, his love of Stephen Sondheim brought him out of retirement to direct Putting it Together, a collection of Sondheim's songs at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne, but after that, he never worked again, despite a few tempting offers.
In his later years Ewing was well known to the coffee shop proprietors and dog owners of Kings Cross, where he could be seen regularly hobbling along Bayswater Road. He became so tiny and frail that on one occasion was picked up by the wind and blown across the road, breaking his arm in two places.
Though becoming increasingly housebound, he loved nothing more than lunch with a small group of friends, washed down with a good white wine. He was a sparkling conversationalist, with many tales from around the world, and had a roaring laugh. Though some regarded him as prickly, he was a loyal and loving friend.
Jon Ewing is survived by his sister Janet, nephew Geoff and his wife, Rae Owen, and great-nephew Jack.
EWING, Jon (Jon Douglas Ewing)
Born: 10/6/1936, Paddington, New South Wales, Australia
Died: 3/24/2014, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Jon Ewing’s western – actor:
Quigley Down Under – 1990 (Tout)