Jane Mallett

Jane Mallett, actor-comedian (b Jean Dawson Keenleyside at London, Ont. 1899; d at Toronto, Ont. 14 April 1984). Raised in Regina, Sask., Mallett was an undergraduate at Victoria College, University of Toronto, and performing as Miss J. D. Keenleyside at Hart House Theatre when, in 1921, she was invited to play the leading female role in Arnold Bennett's The Great Adventure at Toronto's Upper Canada College. Opposite her was Frederick Mallett, a UCC chemistry teacher. In 1926 she married "Freddie" Mallett; the marriage produced one child and lasted for over 50 years.

Briefly calling herself Jane Aldworth, she began her almost 60-year professional acting career with the various American stock companies operating in Toronto in the 1920s, playing everything from duchesses to ingenues to the mothers of leading ladies twice her age in the latest comedies, melodramas and murder mysteries imported from Broadway.

In the 1930s she acted with the Actors' Colony Theatre at Bala, Ont., appeared with the Hart House Players Club, and won the 1936 Dominion Drama Festival's best actress award as Viola in Twelfth Night. Mallett's training in the rigours of weekly stock made her a versatile performer, and she went on to play a variety of roles with many of Toronto's post-war professional theatre companies. But it was in comedy that she excelled, and she became principally known, and beloved, as a revue performer. From 1934 to -45 she wrote and performed in her own two-player revue, Town Tonics, which established her as "Canada's funniest housewife."

Mallett appeared in several other revues throughout the 1930s, '40s and '50s, most memorably with the New Play Society's famous annual topical revue, Spring Thaw. She performed in seven Thaws between 1948 and 1955, with a veritable who's who of Canadian comic talent, one of whom, Don Harron, called her "the funniest home-grown Canadian since Bea Lillie."

Mallett was also a popular radio and television performer. Known on radio as "the girl with a thousand voices" because of her talent for portraying as many as five different characters on the same show, she was nationally known for her work in several soap operas, on such important series as Andrew Allan's famous CBC Wednesday Night and Stage programs, and on the sitcom Travels with Aunt Jane, which was written for her. She was featured many times on CBC TV's Festival program, appeared as a guest on numerous television series, and made several movies.

Jane Mallett received the Brenda Donohue Award for outstanding contribution to Canadian theatre, ACTRA's John Drainie Award for distinguished contribution to broadcasting and, in 1975, the Order of Canada. The achievement that earned her the title "godmother of Canadian performers" was her role as founding president of The AFC (previously known as the Actors' Fund of Canada), which provides emergency financial assistance to entertainment professionals — working in all aspects of film and TV, music, dance and theatre — when they are faced with crisis situations which threaten their health, dignity or ability to work. It was to recognize her efforts on behalf of her profession and her fellow performing artists that in 1985, the year after she died of emphysema, the newly renovated Town Hall of the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto was renamed the Jane Mallett Theatre in her honour.