Debbie Kruger
Expo 88
Variety name tag While I was trying to figure out how to make it in Australian theatre as a dramaturg, a person who was absolutely pivotal in my life pushed me to start writing articles about people in theatre and the Arts. When Variety, a legendary showbusiness newspaper published out of New York, advertised for a Sydney-based reporter, my pushy pivotal friend urged me to apply.
I got the job, and then spent four high-flying years as a showbiz journo in Sydney and London for what was then the most respected entertainment trade paper in the world. At the bottom of this page is a selection of my Variety reviews; if you'd like to cut to the chase and read them, click here.
The first thing that had to be done when I came on board in December 1986 was to give me a Variety moniker. Since the paper's inception at the turn of the 20th century, reviewers were given abbreviated versions of their real name, which were tagged at the end of their reviews. So Aussie Bureau Chief Blake Murdoch was Doch. David Stratton was (and will always be) Strat. I requested Krug - not because I fancied the champagne, but because I thought it sounded cool. So Krug I became, and to many people, I'll always be Krug.
Variety ID cards I had a large brief: to cover the Australian television, radio, home video, music and live theatre ("legit") industries. I also filled in for Blake Murdoch on the film industry beat several times a year when he was away being an important Bureau Chief.

It took a bit of time to adjust to Variety's journalistic style and jargon, but before long I was writing of execs ankling, honchos averring, directors helming and skeds being slated.

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I was also having much fun on the Sydney opening night circuit, and regularly flying interstate to cover television program launches, major theatre premieres and the odd Arts festival. It was a ready-made social life. And hard work, too, of course! Bob Evans and Debbie
Bob Evans, Sydney Morning Herald theatre critic in the late 1980s, with Debbie at the opening night of the 1987 Sydney Film Festival
Simon Burke & Debbie
Actor Simon Burke and Debbie at a
Griffin Theatre Company opening night, 1987
These were the late 1980s when the media industry was hitting the heady heights and long lunches were a fairly standard part of the day's schedule (or sked, as we would say in Variety-speak). My colleague and honcho, Blake Murdoch, was a decent, generous and food-loving guy, so Variety staff and stringer lunches were slated whenever possible. As there were only three full-time staffers - Blake, myself and our secretary Lily (later replaced by Jane, who still works in the Variety Sydney office) - we invited our film reviewer and guru David Stratton along and whoever else was close by.
The Variety team at lunch
A 1987 lunch at the Bayswater Brasserie
L-R: Lily, Strat, Krug, Doch and Pher (Jim McPherson, our Melbourne stringer)
Debbie, Blake and Strat at lunch
A 1989 lunch at the Berowra Waters Inn.
Krug, Doch and Strat working far too hard.
There really was a lot of hard work put into reporting on the busy Australian showbiz industry for both daily and weekly versions of the paper. And once a year we would put together the legendary "Aussie issue" of Variety, with a guaranteed front page headline and feature, and around 40 pages of editorial (and, of course, advertising) inside. The local industry loved our Aussie issue. Blake and I usually broke our backs doing it, but it was always rewarding.
1988 Australian Review in Variety
With television and radio being the main part of my beat, I was regularly interviewing TV execs, with Christopher Skase, his CEO Bob Campbell, Frank Lowy, his American recruit Bob Shanks, Sam Chisolm and others subjected to my questioning. I never interviewed Kerry Packer, nor Alan Bond when he owned the Nine network, but I did go to a Nine launch party on his private yacht.
Variety clippings
As for Skase, I did an in depth interview with him when he invited the tv writers up to his Mirage resort on the Gold Coast for the Seven Network's 1988 season launch. He acquitted himself well until the end of the interview, when I asked him why I was forbidden to sunbathe topless around the resort swimming pool, when it was perfectly acceptable around the pool at his Port Douglas Mirage resort.

I wonder how much topless sunbathing was going on around the pool in Majorca a few years later. Ahh, Skase... RIP.

Skase headline

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With all the launches, parties and opening nights I was going to, I occasionally found myself - with others - photographed for the industry trades, such as Encore, or social pages in the Sunday papers. Don't be deceived by those happy snappy social smiles... I was always on the beat, like a good reporter!
Newspaper and magazine clippings
Newspaper clipping One event I did enjoy being photographed at was the Seven Network's launch party for Home And Away, the TV soap that has become a phenomenon around the world. The launch was held in January 1988 at a swish restaurant at Palm Beach in Sydney's northern-most peninsula, where the show was to be filmed. We were told to dress for the beach, and were all transported to the venue in a bus, plied with alcohol and food, and sent home in taxis very late that night. Just another television industry function.
Debbie with Seven Network execs
Debbie and Seven Network programming
honchos, Glen Kinging and Gary Fenton,
at the Home and Away launch
I liked the look of it from the promo reel they showed us so I started watching Home and Away when they premiered it later that month. 19 years later the show is still going strong, and call me a dag, but I am still watching it - and loving it - to this day. If you're also a fan, go visit Summer Bay at the Home and Away website.

Interestingly, the composer who wrote the catchy theme song for the show, and today still makes his living writing all the incidental music for each eposide, is Mike Perjanik, the Chairman of APRA, where I worked for a few years.

There were plenty of inventive promotional junkets put on to launch tv shows (and record releases and theatre opening night parties). I remember eating lunch in the middle of a makeshift cane field for the Nine Network mini series Fields of Fire. The Melba mini-series launch was at the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne, and the ABC-TV launch for The True Believers, the miniseries on the Ben Chifley days of the Labour Party, was held at Parliament House in Canberra.
Various ID tags from special events
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One of the once-in-a-lifetime events Blake and I were able to attend was the 1988 Australian Bicentennial celebrations on Australia Day. We had media passes giving us access to the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House where Prince Charles and Princess Diana were in attendance.
Charles and Di at the Bicentennial Celebrations
Di and Charles flanked by politicians and guards
Debbie at the Bicentennial Celebrations Bicentennial media passes
We didn't actually report on the events of January 26, 1988, but we had a jolly good time hanging out on such a fine day on Sydney Harbour with Tall Ships sailing into the yonder. Debbie and a tall ship in Sydney Harbour
Bicentennial Festival of Sydney program
There was, however, a lot happening on the Arts front in 1988 due to the Australian Bicentennial Authority's Arts festival and related events, so I had a busy year reviewing specially commissioned plays and going to major national arts festivals, such as the Adelaide Festival.
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In addition to the Bicentennial in 1988, with its national events, Brisbane hosted World Expo, and I managed to get invited for the opening ceremony (officiated by Queen Elizabeth II) and concert.

My hosts were the wonderful people at Channel TVO (now Ten Brisbane), headed by GM and programming helmer Mike "Big Bird" Lattin, the nicest tv exec I ever knew. Mike used to send me presents like a box of Queensland Bowen mangoes for Christmas. His team was the friendliest and most helpful group of television people in the world! They even invited me to their Managing Director's house for a party where Tony Curtis was the special guest of honour.

Debbie and Tony Curtis
Debbie with Tony Curtis
Expo 1988 passes
The reason I was really keen to be in Brisbane for the opening of Expo was the concert featuring the reunion of Little River Band with original lead singer Glenn Shorrock, with special guest Glenn Frey of the Eagles. It was a brilliant night at the Riverside Stage and I had an unobstructed view standing beside the tv cameras. You can read my review of the concert.
Queen Elizabeth opens Expo Little River Band at Expo
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Before the LRB reunion there had been an incarnation of the band that featured John Farham on lead vocal. That lasted three albums before LRB disbanded and Farnham launched the new Whispering Jack phase of his career - a phase that has endured now for 15 years and still going.
My Variety reviews of John's concerts were important to him and his manager Glenn Wheatley for mapping his success internationally. So the record company promo guy set up "interviews" for me with John which really amounted to a nice lunch in his suite at the Sebel Townhouse. John's a great guy and we had fun back in those days when we got to hang out.
Debbie with John Farnham
Debbie, John, a couple pairs of really '80s Ray-Bans and some seriously wide shoulder pads.
Nicole Kidman and I had met and become friends before I started at Variety, when I interviewed her for an article in The Australian. As she was busy in the late 1980s making TV miniseries (Vietnam and Bangkok Hilton) and the feature film Dead Calm for Kennedy Miller productions, our paths crossed regularly at industry functions as well, and even more so when her then boyfriend, Marcus Graham, scored a role in the TV soap E Street. Here we are schmoozing about town.
Debbie and Nicole
Deb and Nic at the 1988 Sydney Theatre
Critics Circle Awards
Nicole, Marcus and Debbie
Nicole, Marcus and Debbie at a Ten Network function, 1989.
Newspaper clipping of Nicole and Debbie
Jo Litson with Debbie
Good pal Jo Litson, Arts scribe supremo, with Debbie at the opening night party for Chess, February 1990.
I guess the best thing about my job with Variety was the constant stream of invitations to opening nights, particularly for theatre events, as theatre was my big passion in those days. The big shows were the most fun - nice frocks, great parties, lots of champagne, and all my fellow journalist friends having a good time with me. The after-show parties for Les Miserables, Big River, 42nd Street and Chess stand out in my memory as really great schmooze-fests.
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My fellow theatre reviewers were an interesting bunch and I loved them. They all took their work seriously and genuinely believed they were contributing to a healthy and fertile Arts scene, but of course not all the playwrights, actors and directors saw it that way.
For my part, I was in a unique position. In those pre-internet days, I was the only theatre critic in Australia reviewing for an international publication, and my reviews carried weight, especially for theatrical producers hoping to take a show to Broadway or the West End. I loved reviewing - it was the closest thing to dramaturgy I could get at the time - and only rarely did I deliver a scathing review, such as for the musical Seven Little Australians.

I enjoyed a good relationship with the publicists for the different theatre companies and commercial producers, although watching them work made me vow never to become a publicist myself. I later ate my words, and became a hot shot PR whiz with the distinct advantage of knowing exactly what made a journalist tick.

Sydney theatre critics and publicists
The 1989 Sydney theatre critics and publicists Christmas lunch. Back row L-R: Andrew Urban, Kevin Sadlier, Tony Delroy, John Pearce, Frank Gauntlett, Bob Evans
Middle row L-R: Roberta Muir, Anne Saxon, Jenny Brown, Judith Johnson, Angela Bennie, Jo Litson, Ian Phipps, Debbie Kruger
Front: Bruce Pollack
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I probably didn't fully appreciate the amazing position I was in until some years later. Blake and I were very young and very high-flying in the late 1980s, two twenty-somethings running an increasingly important bureau for a legendary international newspaper. We had the wisdom and guidance of our film reviewer David Stratton, one of Variety's most respected crits, and our television reviewer Mike Harris (Miha), who had founded Variety's Aussie bureau in the 1970s. Miha sadly passed away in 1999. A stickler for correct language use, when I started at the paper he gave me a copy of the book When Words Fail - A Casebook of Language Lapses in Australia which I still have to this day.
The Variety workspace
My workspace at the Sydney Variety office 1986-1990. From such chaos is great reporting made.
David Stratton, Debbie, Mike Harris and Blake Murdoch
My final day in the Sydney bureau, Feb 1990
L-R: Strat, Krug, Miha and Doch
I resigned from the Sydney bureau of Variety and moved to London in March 1990, where I was almost immediately offered a job in the London bureau. I was covering the film beat there, and certainly moved in some interesting circles, lunching with Sir Richard Attenborough, taking afternoon tea with David Puttnam (I don't think he had been knighted yet!). I also got to review some major West End legit shows.

I also spent time visiting the New York and Los Angeles offices during that year, meeting with some of the great Variety scribes I'd been faxing (this was pre-email, remember) for years.

But 1990 was a difficult time for long-time staffers at Variety. The new editor in New York, Peter Bart, had some very different ideas about how the paper should look and sound. He and I did not see eye to eye so I ankled the paper at the end of that year, four years almost to the day since I had started in the Sydney bureau.

Variety office in Los Angeles
The LA office on Wilshire Boulevard
Debbie and Rich from LA Variety
Debbie with Rich Bozanich
from the Daily Variety office in LA
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Writing for a daily and weekly trade paper for four years meant that my articles ran into the many hundreds, possibly thousands. While I did not keep copies of the lengthy, detailed, authorative articles on Australian television regional aggregation, Bond Corporation's annual reports, Christopher Skase's lavish plans for the Seven Network, ABC-TV's season launches or home video anti-piracy measures, I did keep copies of all my music, theatre and film reviews, a small selection of which I share with you here. Just click on any title and you'll be taken to the full review.
John Farnham
Little River Band/Glenn Frey
Crowded House
Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli & Sammy Davis Jr
Kylie Minogue

Fools of Fortune
Memphis Belle

The Rivers of China
Les Miserables
Big River
Seven Little Australians
Boswell for the Defence
Harold In Italy
Our Country's Good
Show Boat

I've recently renewed contact with some old time and long time Variety staffers based in London who, along with other old Variety muggs from the pre-Bart days have put together a fabbo website for Variety alumni. Click here for the Simesite.

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