Sunday, August 18, 2013

RIP Diamond Lil (Marcus Craig)



Via Newstalk ZB, also confirmed in today's Sunday Star Times by David Hartnell... "It's been revealed that Auckland cabaret and variety artist Marcus Craig, who worked on stage and television as drag queen Diamond Lil, died in Australia last Saturday.

His passing at the age of 73 has been confirmed by long-time friend Kevin Hodges, appointed by the coroner in Queensland to act for Mr Craig in the absence of any known next of kin.

The outrageously camp befeathered and bejewelled Diamond Lil was a fixture at the Ace of Clubs in Auckland during the 1970s and 80s.

In recent years he suffered from poor health and passed away from a heart complication caused by his diabetes. Mr Hodges says Mr Craig was increasingly immobile recently.

Marcus Craig had been a featured player in the New Zealand TV series The Spotlight, and was in other programmes as well."


The liner notes below are from my copy of Diamond Lil's 1976 album Listen! Listen!, written by Ace of Clubs owner Phil Warren....


Prime Minister Rob Muldoon and his wife Thea, with Diamond Lil
Top pic, Diamond Lil performing with Fred Dagg (John Clarke)


LP front and back covers. Released on Ace Records, cat no LIL 001


Added 26 August, published originally on GayNZ.com, dated 24 August.

[GayNZ Editor's note: The following brief sketch of Marcus' life was provided through associates in Queensland It appears that when he died he was out of contact with any New Zealand relations and the person attending to his estate is eager to contact any NZ kin or friends. In the first instance email, in confidence: news@gaynz.com.]

Marcus Craig was born as David Lennard, in Adelaide, Australia, in 1940. The son of an Aussie railwayman and an English actress mother, he was brought up in the South Australian village of Naracoorte. His father served in the South Pacific with the AIF during WW2 and returned unscathed, only to die in a railway accident a year later. His mother toured with the Carl Rosa Opera Company in Brisbane and his maternal grandmother was a pianist for silent movies and his grandfather once sang with Dame Clara Butt.

As a child David learned piano, sang as a boy soprano and acted in school dramas. As a teenager, working in an Adelaide music store, he decided to become an actor.

“A girlfriend persuaded me top take the part of a wedding guest in an amateur show. I went reluctantly but on the night of the first dress rehearsal I went out in front of the lights and it hit me – pow!”


With the Adelaide based Flinders Revue Company he played Tony in The Boy Friend, Timothy in Salad Days and Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie as well as revue. He played for several years in Adelaide’s own Old King’s Music Hall.

He appeared in three Skippy television programs, played a barman in the Mick Jagger movie, Ned Kelly, worked on various television series and was an out of breath athlete in the Ryan O’Neal film, The Games.

Here’s a quote from critic Bute Hewes on the occasion of the opening of William Forbes-Hamilton’s Victorian Music Hall at the Star Hotel in November 1971.

“Then of course there was Mr Marcus Craig, queening it over everybody and upstaging his fellow artists atrociously. As an unloved pantomime fairy, fat and fourtyish, he brought the house down. As a dainty diminutive red-coated soldier, he was straight out of the military camp. Mr Marcus Craig could take his performance to any Victorian music hall anywhere in the world.”

By November the show had moved to Auckland’s Inter-Continental Hotel and run up 500 performances.

By 1974 Marcus had withdrawn from the Music Hall and joined Edye Parker’s Troupe at Oliver’s Restaurant in a floor show based on the film Cabaret.

He moved to New Zealand by accident in 1974, stopping on his way to London for a few weeks and ending up working with the Mercury, Central and Independent theaters.

His most memorable theatrical experience was an Auckland opening night playing the part of Shakespeare in Bernard Shaw’s “Dark Lady of the Sonnets.”

“Right at the opening the buckle in my trousers went and I had to go through the performance clutching at my waist to keep my trousers up.”


In 1975 he developed his Diamond Lil character and was performing at Phil Warren’s Ace of Clubs nightspot at the back of the Civic Theatre.

"I don’t play the character of Diamond Lil as a woman, I play it as a male, dressed up as a woman, sending the character up. I don’t treat it for real. That is different from a female impersonator endeavoring to appear like a woman. I even use my hairy chest as part of my send up. When one writer described me as a‘drag queen of Music Hall’, I was furious. In the ‘Diamond Lil’ show I play one brief male role (The Pink Shadow) and assume the femme comedy characterisation for the rest of the show.”

At one time Marcus was considered as a replacement for John Clarke when Clarke left TV2 to move to Australia. In 1976 he recorded a live LP, Diamond Lil live at the Ace of Clubs. His live recording of Gumboots with John Clarke made the NZ Top Twenty.

Marcus received a VAC Scroll of Honour in 1978 and in 1981 won the Benny and the Shure Golden Microphone. He served on the VAC committee in 1978, 1981-83 and was President in 1991.

He suffered ill-health in recent times. His blood circulation to his legs was operated on in 2011. He was currently living in Brisbane at the time of his death. His health over the last four or five years was in steep decline with diabetes as the root cause of most of it.

1 comment:

Janet de Castro said...

As a waitress at the Ace of Clubs during the mid 70s I saw Marcus Craig's acts repeatedly. He was a very hard working ,dedicated performer who gave of his best at each show. Bless Him for the laughter and levity he provided in Auckland during
this era.