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One of her best friends – entertainer and actress Maria Venuti - is publishing her memoir, full of surprising, occasionally shocking and overall entertaining stories from her life, as Deputy Editor Louise Keller reports.

Coinciding with 50 years in the business and her 70th birthday, singer Maria Venuti’s memoir A Whole Load of Front, published by New Holland, has just been released. Her talents lie in many areas but above all she is best known as a larger-than-life glamorous showbiz personality whose flamboyant dress sense has always highlighted her ample bosom. Her film career, however, should not be overlooked. But before I start, let me first declare my connection. 

When I first came to Sydney aged 18, as a professional singer (Margaret Keller - Louise is my second name), Maria Venuti was the first person I met. I had been living in Tasmania for 5 years, having got a break on the TV talent quest equivalent of Idol, a show called Showcase. I had auditioned at Channel 6 as a 16 year old schoolgirl and TVT6 had offered me a great opportunity - as hostess and vocalist on the Logie-award winning children’s show It’s Just For Us with outrageous Lindsay Edwards in the compere hot seat. Two years of twice-weekly live television experience followed, while still at school. Then while singing at Wrest Point Casino one night, my academic aspirations and university scholarship were put on hold when Sydney theatrical agent Tony Brady saw me perform and invited me to Sydney to work in the television and club scene. 

I didn’t know anyone in Sydney and the Darling Point apartment that Tony had organised for me to share with another singer (Dianne Horder), was not quite ready. That’s where Maria comes into the story. Maria, by then already something of a well known singer, and another client of his, offered to let me stay with her for a couple of weeks and to show me the ropes. The fact that she took a virtual stranger into her home and life, speaks volumes about the kind of person she is.

"close friends"

At that time, she lived with her Egyptian mother Bella in an inner western Sydney suburb house, which is where I put my bags for those first memorable weeks, sharing Maria’s life – and double bed. Our manager had no doubt whispered in her ear, asking her to show the naïve, innocent teenage orphan from the then sleepy town of Hobart around the brutal, big bad city and keep an eye on her. Being introduced to Sydney’s glittering showbiz nightlife through the practised and experienced eye of this notorious singing icon with a bosom that stopped the world like a red traffic light - was not something I was likely to forget. Although we were total opposites, I was fascinated by her aura and the unlikely confluence of her genuine friendship and wild outrageousness.

We have been close friends ever since - and that was over 30 years ago.

(Left) Maria - in full flight; (Right) With bosom buddy Jeanne Little and Mike Walsh

In her frank and intimate memoir (written with journalist Christine Hogan), Maria reveals much about herself and her life. Her singing career began by chance when as a 17 year old secretary she was ‘discovered’ at a Kings Cross Jazz Club. Her new boyfriend Michael had rudely not shown up and she accepted musician Ron Roman’s invitation to listen to his band’s music rehearsals in a basement club. He was the bandleader /bass player /singer and was obviously taken by Maria’s appearance and no doubt, the impressive décolletage she was not shy to flaunt. It was the first time Maria had ever been inside a night club and as she sat in the empty club listening to the band playing their jazz standards, she was transported into a world of which she desperately wanted to be a part. She asked if they had a girl singer, cheekily offered her services, took the microphone and sang Gypsy in My Soul. That’s how it all began for Maria, who subsequently easily slid into the role of a sexy songstress, exuding a natural sensuality as she performed in all the top venues of the 60s - Romanos, The Latin Quarter, Chequers, the Club and on the television circuit. 

"career successes, personal recollections and heartfelt passions"

Maria’s 303 page memoir is packed with stories, career successes, personal recollections and heartfelt passions. We learn about her family and her Sicilian Egyptian heritage, her teenage years and the loss of her virginity. Her story canvasses her personal life – through her marriage, birth of her daughter Bianca, divorce and love affairs. She works tirelessly for charity (she received an AM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours’ List in 2003), performs in cabaret and television and can often be seen on the red carpet, usually wearing impossibly low-cut gowns. It’s a colourful read that includes anecdotes about high profile show business faces.

(Left) Rolf Harris improvises; (Right)... in title role of upcoming movie Bathing Franky

Not surprisingly, her acting roles have had a lower profile, although many know her as Bobo’s mama in the popular SBS TV series Pizza. Maria’s film roles include Gino, Fistful of Flies, Big Mamma’s Boy and Owen Elliot’s debut film, Bathing Franky with actor Henri Szeps, due for theatrical release later this year (2011). The transformation of Maria the glamorous diva to Franky, an elderly woman of 80 suffering from post-polio syndrome, strokes and arthritis is extraordinary. Writer Michael Winchester initially had doubts, but the results speak for themselves. The chapter in which Maria describes the bath scene in which a chocolate milkshake is tipped over her head, she displays a playfulness that typifies how wholeheartedly she throws herself into every project. 

"a lively read that jumps from one fascinating tale to another"

A Whole Load of Front is a lively read that jumps from one fascinating tale to another. It is surprising, occasionally shocking and overall entertaining as we learn about the life and thoughts of this unique and extraordinary woman who has made her mark. 

From Maria's private album - at Bianca's christening, October 1980

Published March 10, 2011

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A Whole Load of Front, published by New Holland (Format: Hardback); RRP: $32.95


A Champagne Toast to a special friend - Maria Venuti and Margaret Louise Keller

At Urban Cinefile's 10th birthday celebrations in 2007 at Chauvel
(Maria, Louise, Bianca)

Foreword by Bert Newton
"She (is) funny, entertaining, outrageous, sexy, voluptuous, loud and beautifully loving! Then, if you're lucky, there's a song which is guaranteed to kill 'em"

Ita Buttrose
"Big bold and beautiful - Maria Venuti is a one-woman dynamo. Her confidence is inspiring: her sense of humour is infectious as is her zest for life. The world would be a duller place without her."

Alan Jones
"You're a star, Maria."

Variety, Children's Charity
"Maria is no token charity worker.. so many owe so much to this amazing woman."

Mike Walsh
"Look past the glitz and the glamour and listen to that great voice."

Rolf Harris
"Maria has always been a larger than life character, bulging with fantastic energy, a gutsy voice and never afraid to leap in and shoult out for a good cause."

Maria with mother Bella

Maria and daughter Bianca

"I just live for today, and let life surprise me tomorrow"

... at the book launch at Machiavelli's restaurant in Sydney

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