Cultural and creative life

Homage to Hollywood: Classic pub turns a Vivid shade of glitter

Learn the secrets of Surry Hills’ Hollywood Hotel as part of the Vivid X|Celerate program.

Homage to Hollywood

The Hollywood Hotel and its owner Doris Goddard are among the last of their kind.

In this era of hospitality barons with multiple interests, there are few pubs left in Sydney where the publican’s identity is still bound to the pub itself.

Built in 1940 a part of what was once a movie industry precinct in Surry Hills, the art deco-styled Hollywood has been largely untouched by the passage of decades. And it’s synonymous with Doris, whose career in film, cabaret and hospitality is now the subject of a series of tribute nights, Homage to Hollywood.

Presented in this year’s Vivid X|Celerate program, the Hollywood plays host to some of Sydney’s best and legendary cabaret and drag performers. On the stage, you’ll see Suzie St James, Connie Cartier, Christa Hughes, Melissa Ali, Malika Lam, Monique Kelly, Lada Marks and Les Girls legend Carlotta.

Mark Symons, the producer of the shows, has been with the Hollywood for the past 20 years as hotel manager and, more recently, as licensee. His first encounter with Doris, he said, changed the direction of his life.

“It’s been a long running joke between Doris and I that we share when punters ask if we’re mother and son,” said Symons. “My quip is that I was living on the streets of Havana, Cuba. And when Doris visited, she asked me if I would like to go to Hollywood.

“With stars in my eyes and the thought of being the next Desi Arnaz, I jumped at the opportunity – only to find myself in the back streets of Surry Hills.”

The truth is slightly less colourful. Mark and Doris were introduced by a mutual friend. Mark was running a Surry Hills travel agency while Doris ran the Hollywood with her late husband, Charlie Bishop.

“I found her such an interesting character. I was a little overwhelmed with her being in films but we built a strong rapport and so I decided to give the travel business the flick.”

Sydney born and bred (she grew up in Forest Lodge), Doris spent a couple of decades as a guitar-toting cabaret artist and movie actor before entering the pub trade.

She played Beijing nightclubs in the years following the Communist Revolution and when she moved to London in the early 1950s, she carved out a notable film career.

You can see her featuring alongside Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn (and fellow Aussie Robert Helpmann) in the 1956 comedy The Iron Petticoat. And she played Helga, a Swedish shot-putter in Geordie, an Olympics-themed caper starring Bill Travers and Alistair Sim.

By the early 1960s, Doris had returned home. With her widowed mother Essie, she bought the Belmore Park Hotel in Surry Hills in 1964 and saw to it that women would be made welcome in a largely men-only world. Doris was among the first of Sydney’s publicans to install a women’s toilet in a public bar.

Moving on from the Belmore, Doris took over the West End in Balmain and the Marlborough in Newtown. She moved to the Hollywood Hotel in 1977.

It wasn’t the most salubrious of districts at the time. But under Doris’ watch, the pub became a haunt for the bohemian set and an impromptu cabaret stage for its landlady.

Until recently, Doris could be found most nights, holding court from a stool at the end of the bar.

“Doris and I continue to work well together though old age has caught up with her,” said Symons. “She has high care needs now.”

Suzie St James, 'Homage to Hollywood' curator, with a portrait of Doris Goddard
Suzie St James, 'Homage to Hollywood' curator, with a portrait of Doris Goddard

Homage to Hollywood is a tribute to Doris and her work as a female publican, singer-songwriter and Sydney identity. “Her music and story will be celebrated,” said Symons. He adds that the Homage series also pays tribute to the wider cabaret and drag artiste community nurtured in the Hollywood over the years.

Hollywood Hotel has always encouraged new artists and provided a platform for these artists.

“After the shows, from midnight onwards, we’re inviting drag queens of all levels of experience to come and compete for a best of the night award. Then we’ll crown the best performer of the season on the finale night (Saturday 15 June)," Symons said.

“Suzie St James is the curator of the show and it’s been amazing to see her juggling her day job with co-ordinating all the artists involved,” said Symons. “The 4 shows are all going to be very different with artists bringing their own perspectives to Homage. And it will be amazing to have Carlotta do the finale – she’s such a legend. We’re honoured to have her perform at the Hollywood.”

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Hotel Hollywood. Credit: City of Sydney Archives
Hotel Hollywood. Credit: City of Sydney Archives

Vivid X|Celerate is a partnership between the City of Sydney and the NSW Government. The City provides cash support to small, local venues to enable them to curate, promote and market their own live music programs.

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