IRIS NORGROVE -Wurlitzer Organist
8.2.11. Iris (Norgrove) Gray died quietly in her sleep last night in Melbourne this morning in her 89th year. All her family remained over there but she lived in NZ in retirement until a year or two ago when she returned to Melbourne to be closer to her family. Iris was a celebrated Civic theatre organist and there are photos on this websiteand a biography on our www.civictheatre.co.nz website.
Things worth stating for my time on the Wurlitzer
1. the Film was ‘Desiree” (French, about Napoleon) Joseph Moodabe wanted me to sing a French number in my 10 minute slot after the news reel. I went to have my French checked by a french teacher. (Parlez mmoa da more’) Moodabe said I had more money than sense, as no one would know my French was correct or not. On the opening night, the Governor of New zealand arrived with friends. After I took the organ down, his Secretary came to me and gave me a note from the Governor to say ‘So enjoyable, your French was perfect”. How I enjoyed showing it to Mr. moodable!.
2. Moodabe always had bright ideas - so one show he asked me to dress like Ella Shields ( dinner suit and hair like a man) and sing “Walking my Baby back home:. It brought the house down, 3000 people. My father was at the Cabaret and he said, "best hand you ever had”. - stamping,calling and whistling out. Moodable came down and said -’never again will you do Ella shields”- no one stamps and calls for more in the Civic Theatre”.
3. Introduced 8,00pm chimes as the organ went down (25 feet in air). The chimes were in the top opera box where people could see them playing the Westminster chimes as I descended. People raved about it, how it had never been done before!
4. The large Wurlitzer has 375 real instruments 9 an orchestra). Bag Pipes are not in an orchestra so I decided to fake them. Bass and Snare drums with my foot, no trems, harmonic instruments for melody ‘great’ manual, and an octave in accompaniment manual for drone! So successful I made a long playing record called ‘Wurlitzer in Scotland”, now being claimed on the Internet as being in demand as a ‘Collectors item”!
5. Worth noting there were two lady Wurlitzer singing organists in the World. I was one of them.
6. When I was leaving the Civic Theatre for the State Theatre in Melbourne largest organ and Theatre Australia) i asked a Maori Chief to check my Maori. he patted his big Pukunui stomach) and said, “so good - you make the Maori cry!”)
7. At the State Theatre, Melbourne, 4000 seating, Melbourne 1956, had the Olympic Games. The Director asked me what i intended to play for such an auspicious occasion. I said I will play a part of every National Anthem of every country. As I played, the French would stand up when I played their anthem, then the Italians, then the Germans etc. etc..... I was highly commended for this.
8. The Auckland City Council now owns the Civic Theatre and have spent millions of dollars putting it back to its original state. The WURLITZER was sold by Moodabe (Amalgamated Theatres) to Southward’s Museum in Wellington.
Iris Norgrove Gray.