Upstaged

The last ten minutes of the TV Week Logie Awards on Channel 9 last night was like a train wreck you couldn’t look away from. As I cringed and cowered on my couch, I still couldn’t bring myself to change channel and ignore the debacle that unfolded before mine and a nation’s eyes. As if Richard Wilkin’s ill-fitting suit wasn’t disaster enough, Ian “Molly” Meldrum’s drunken speech will now likely feature in a “Ten Most Awkward Celebrity Appearances” on YouTube or a Channel 9 special later this year.

But it’s Samuel Johnson that has my utmost sympathy. The talented actor won last night’s coveted Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality on Television 2017, edging out last year’s winner Waleed Aly, The Project co-host Peter Helliar, Family Feud’s Grant Denyer, and actors Rodger Corser and Jessica Marias. Johnson had earlier won Best Actor for his role as iconic TV presenter and personality Ian Meldrum in Molly, giving an emotional speech paying tribute to his sister Connie, who is dying of cancer. Johnson seemed genuinely surprised to win the Gold Logie, and as he started his speech, the vision cut several times to an emotional Meldrum in the audience. Then in the midst of Johnson’s down-to-earth, self-deprecating acceptance speech, a clearly intoxicated Meldrum made his way onto the stage carrying a gift bag. And that’s pretty well when Samuel Johnson’s night of triumph and accolade came to a screeching halt.

I grew up watching Molly Meldrum on Countdown; enjoyed his easy, unpretentious interviews with up-and-coming musical artists as well as superstars of the 70’s and 80’s. He continued promoting Aussie musicians and performers on Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday! often being the butt of jokes, and double-entendres by John Blackman and his alter-ego Dickie Knee. I remember seeing Meldrum back stage at HHIS in the 90’s when I did a stand-up routine on Red Faces, and I felt as if I’d been in the presence of Australian television royalty. And then there was Molly’s near fatal 2012 fall from a ladder, after which the TV icon was placed in a medically induced coma, with Australians hoping and praying for his recovery, and leaving the now 74 year old Meldrum with an ongoing brain injury. 

Molly is a legend. An institution. A national treasure. But… Last night’s win of the Gold Logie wasn’t his moment! While Samuel Johnson’s role in “Molly” ultimately won him the award, it was Johnson’s talent, hard work, and popularity as an actor that gave him the honour of receiving the plaudits from his peers in the industry and the television viewing public. It was Johnson’s time to shine, not Meldrum’s!

The Logies has long had a history of awkward and embarrassing moments, both on an off screen, with performers letting their hair down with a few too many drinks, and sometimes even coming to blows. Samuel Johnson seemed to defer to Molly Meldrum’s presence on the dais last night, handing over the spotlight to 2012’s Hall of Fame inductee. Meldrum spoke unintelligibly at times, rambling on about Johnson’s previous gig in the critically acclaimed series The Secret Life of Us, dropping more than a few F Bombs, babbling on and on in a drunken, self-serving monologue. In those minutes of intoxication, I wished that Bert Newton had been there to intervene, as he so artfully did in years past, with a quick witted jibe that would have diverted attention from Meldrum, and returned the focus to the man of the moment — Johnson.

Samuel Johnson has been a stand out performer on Australian screens for twenty years, winning awards from the AFI and AACTA. He’s philanthropic work for children’s cancer charity ‘Canteen’ and in more recent years the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and his own charitable foundation ‘Love Your Sister’, focusing on breast cancer research and awareness, led Johnson in 2014 to be awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to cancer research support organisations and to the performing arts. When Johnson stood on the stage to accept his well-earned Gold Logie he deserved better than to be upstaged by a blathering drunk in Meldrum. Clearly Johnson is a good guy, and probably took it all in his stride, and would be the first to brush off any suggestion his limelight was stolen by Molly Meldrum. That’s what nice guys do. They don’t make a fuss, and they don’t let temperament get in the way. But in my humble opinion, Meldrum owes him an apology. Molly described himself as an “old drama queen” last night, but that excuse really doesn’t cut it any more. He may well be known amongst friends and colleagues in the industry for enjoying “celebrations” a little too much, but that’s not really good enough. It wasn’t his award or speech to appropriate, and it wasn’t his moment of success – it was supposed to be Johnson’s.

I hope after the champagne and red carpets have been put away for another year, and the last reveller has rolled into a taxi as the sun rises this morning, that Hall of Famer Meldrum will review his behaviour from last night, do himself a favour, and give Samuel Johnson a call and say “Sorry!”

Congratulations Samuel.

© 2017 Benjamin MacEllen

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