Myra De Groot
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Myra De Groot
Played: Eileen Clarke
Born in the East End of London in 1937 just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Myra De Groot became involved in showbusiness from a very early age touring the country with a troupe of tapping tots. In her teens she graduated to West End musical comedy, and in the course of her career, went on to work in practically all aspects of the entertainment industry, including stints as a magician's assistant and an actors' agent.
She left England for America in 1958; where she went on to appear in TV shows such as Bewitched, Perry Mason, Land of the Giants and The Monkees. And in keeping with her love of the theatre, Myra starred in West Side Story on Broadway and appeared alongside Howard Keel in Pyjama Game.
In 1972, Myra, her husband Pat and two young children, Christopher and Simone, moved to New Zealand where Myra directed and starred in several productions with the Independent Theatre in Auckland. While Myra flourished professionally in New Zealand, her personal life wasn't as successful and she and Pat separated. Pat and the children returned to America, while Myra moved on to Australia in 1980, at the behest of her close friend, John Barningham, a renowned TV executive of the time. In Australia, Myra appeared on stage and screen, with roles in Prisoner as Barbara Krantz and as Laura Watkins, the sister of Ida Jessup (played by her future Neighbours co-star Vivean Gray) in The Sullivans.
In 1985, Myra was cast as the meddling Eileen Clarke in Neighbours. Making her debut in the early episodes of the soap's run on the Seven Network, the character of Eileen was only ever intended to appear on the show for a week. But Myra saw the potential in the character and wrote up an expanded character outline for the producers. It worked, and Eileen quickly became a recurring character, appearing on a semi-regular basis with a shrill cry of "Desmond" to her put upon son Des everytime she arrived on screen.
Although there was plenty of scope for Eileen to be a regular character on the series, it was Myra's decision to come and go, in order to continue with her first love, the theatre. Nonetheless, Myra was considered a fully signed up member of the Neighbours cast, and always appeared in official cast pictures and other publicity material. Indeed, Myra was one of the stars who worked tirelessly to promote the series when it was cancelled by Seven and moved to a new home on Channel Ten in 1986.
Myra was universally loved by her co-stars. Anne Charleston recalled how she "dominated conversations in the greenroom with monologues peppered with hilarious one-liners, while obsessively stabbing away at the tapestry which was always close at hand. She was always deep in conversation over coffee and brandy, with some young actor who needed advice, or dispensing her 'Jewish penicillin' (chicken soup) to an unwell cast member."
It was while appearing in the theatre that Myra first started to feel unwell in late 1987. Myra initially put the pain she felt in her back down to starring in a production of Nunsense by night (which included a rigorous tap dancing routine, while dressed in a nun's habit) and filming her scenes as Eileen by day at the Global Studios in Nunawading. By Christmas the pain had spread and Myra saw a doctor, but her symptoms were puzzling and there was no diagnosis. A holiday in Bali failed to make a difference and when she arrived home she was much worse. On top of this, Myra was filming the gruelling and emotional scenes of Neighbours which saw the death of Eileen's daughter-in-law Daphne, played by Elaine Smith. Doctors finally suspected she had a tumour and she was admitted to the Peter McCallum Cancer hospital in Melbourne for a biopsy.
Myra was only to leave the hospital two more times. Once was for a weekend break before treatment began, and the second was to attend the 1988 Logie Awards. By that time, Neighbours was at the peak of its success, both abroad and at home in Australia, and Myra was determined to be a part of celebrating that success on that special night. Although frail and pale, and confined to a wheelchair, Myra looked glamorous in sequins and a fur coat and was thrilled to be part of the night. By the time her co-star Jason Donovan won the Silver Logie for Most Popular Australian Actor and dedicated the award to Myra, she had already left the ceremony – forced by her illness to return to hospital.
Six weeks later, on Easter Monday 1988, Myra passed away. Tributes were paid to her from her heartbroken co-stars, including Craig McLachlan, Jason Donovan and Anne Charleston. On-screen, the wonderful, classic character that she had created was allowed a happy ending when Eileen moved to England and married the man of her dreams.
She was a wonderful, gutsy lady, who lived with great gusto and died with courage and dignity. We shall all miss the constant phone calls; her incessant smoking; her busyness – she was known as the human dynamo; her laughter (raucous and infectious) and her one-liners and conversation peppered with colourful adjectives.
Anne Charleston and Jan Russ, Private Lives of the Stars of Neighbours, 1988
Eileen's Left At The Altar
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