Monica Maughan

Monica Maughan
Born Monica Cresswell Wood
(1933-09-15)15 September 1933
Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Died 8 January 2010(2010-01-08) (aged 76)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Occupation Actor
Years active 1954–2009
Spouse(s) W. Brian Essex (1954–1957)
Rowland Ball (1968–2010)

Monica Maughan (15 September 1933[1] – 8 January 2010[2]) was an Australian actor with roles in film, theatre, radio, television and ballet.

Early life and education

She was born Monica Cresswell Wood in Tonga to Australian missionaries Rev. Dr A. Harold Wood and medical doctor Olive Wood (née O'Reilly). She had 5 brothers and sisters, including Dr Elizabeth Wood-Ellem and Rev. Dr H. D'Arcy Wood. The family moved to Sydney, Australia, in 1937 – Monica was three and a half and spoke no English – and shortly afterwards to Melbourne, where her father became principal of Methodist Ladies' College (MLC) and her mother his informal deputy.

Monica attended MLC, where she received her only formal drama training with speech teacher Dorothy Dwyer, and went on to study French at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1959 with a BA.

Monica was a member of the Melbourne University Dramatic Club where she adopted the stage name Maughan. She made her stage debut opposite Barry Humphries in Ben Hecht's fast-paced satire The Front Page in April 1954.[3] While studying part-time, she worked as a secretary at St Ives Hospital in Melbourne.[4] In 1960, she returned to MLC to teach speech.[5]

Acting career

Monica Maughan launched her professional career with the Union Theatre Repertory Company (UTRC) in 1957 playing Capulat in Jean Anouilh's romantic comedy Ring Round the Moon at the Union Theatre, Parkville. Her first leading role came that same year in Beauty and the Beast. The UTRC, Australia's first professional theatre company, became the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) in 1968. Maughan appeared in more plays for that flagship company than any other actor. She also directed plays for the MTC. Her last MTC performance was in the premiere production of David Williamson's Scarlett O'Hara at the Crimson Parrot in 2008.

Cast in J.C. Williamson productions in the early 1960s, Maughan spent 1963–66 working in the UK, where she appeared in various West End productions – including stepping in for Moira Lister when the latter was sick.

Maughan appeared in at least 7 plays in her first year back in Australia, most of them lead roles, and throughout the late sixties was hailed for her stage performances, such at the title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1968), directed by MTC founder, John Sumner (theatre director) (1924-2013). In 1971, she won the Melbourne Theatre Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of pregnant spinster Anna Bowers in Donald Howarth's Three Months Gone. Coincidentally, Maughan was three months pregnant at the end of the play's run.[6]

She worked with almost every major theatre company in Australia, including Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus for the Queensland Theatre Company in 1978, and the role of Aggie in A Hard God produced by the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Sydney Theatre Company, both in 1981.

Her best-known stage role may have been as Miss Prism in the MTC's The Importance of Being Earnest. The production, co-starring Frank Thring, Ruth Cracknell and Geoffrey Rush, was so popular that it toured Australia between 1988 and 1992, and was televised by the ABC. In 1999, she created the role of Suzanne Beckett in Justin Fleming's Burnt Piano at Belvoir Company B, and demonstrated a command of classical piano played live in each performance. In 2003, she starred in Inheritance by Hannie Rayson.

Early television roles in Crawford's dramas led to ongoing television parts that made Maughan a recognisable face around Australia, including prim secretary Jean Ford in the first year of The Box (1974–75) and downtrodden prisoner Pat O'Connell for five months in women's-prison drama Prisoner in 1979–80. Working extensively with ABC TV and radio over nearly 50 years, Maughan received an AFI Award and a Silver Logie Award for her role as Monica McHugh in the ABC's black comedy mini-series, The Damnation of Harvey McHugh (1994).

Monica Maughan extended her repertoire to include non-dancing roles with the Australian Ballet, including Doreen's mother in The Sentimental Bloke (2002) and Effie's mother in La Sylphide (2005).

Her 20 or so feature films include A City's Child (1971), Road to Nhill (1997), Crackerjack (2002) and Strange Bedfellows (2004), plus a number of films by Dutch-Australian director Paul Cox. Her last film role was in Blessed, directed by Ana Kokkinos in 2009, and described by 3RRR film critic Brian MacFarlane as Maughan's best ever.

She did not live to play the title role in Belvoir Company B's Gwen in Purgatory in 2010, a part written for her by Tommy Murphy and directed by Neil Armfield.



Maughan was always coy about her age and many sources gave her year of birth as 1938. When celebrating 50 years of professional acting in 2007, Maughan said she was "20 or 21" on her first acting tour in 1954 and admitted she "always lied about my age".[7]

Personal life

Maughan's first marriage was to Brian Essex, then a medical student, in December 1954, with her father officiating.[8] Her second marriage, in January 1968, was to Melbourne solicitor Rowland Ball;[1][6] the couple had three daughters.


Maughan died of complications from cancer at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne on 8 January 2010.


  1. 1 2 Carman, Gerry (9 January 2010). "'Wonderful' thespian a real trouper". Sydney Morning Herald.
  2. "Actress Monica Maughan dies". ABC News. 8 January 2010.
  3. "Students in tense play". The Age. 23 April 1954.
  4. "Fry Play". The Age. 16 April 1955.
  5. "Wide Interests Among Graduates". The Age. 25 February 1960.
  6. 1 2 "Winning Monica lives the part". The Age. 6 March 1971.
  7. "A lady never reveals her age". Sydney Morning Herald. 16 November 2007.
  8. "When The Bells Peal Out". The Age. 31 December 1954.
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