Roy Rene was a great Australian vaudeville performer and radio broadcaster. Born Henry van der Sluys in 1891, he grew up in Adelaide in a family of nine. His Jewish Dutch migrant father worked as a cigar maker on Hindley Street.
Rene won a singing competition at the age of 10. This led to pantomime performances across Adelaide, including at the historic Tivoli Hotel. The family moved to Melbourne, where Rene studied performance art. Among his acts was a highly successful comedy partnership with Nat Phillips known as Stiffy and Mo.
Rene was especially popular during the Great Depression and World War II. He also later performed on radio. Many of his most popular phrases, including “streuth” and “you beaut!”, were once common in Australian slang.
Rene made an important contribution to Australian performing arts. The South Australian government commissioned famed portrait artist Robert Hannaford to create a sculpture of him for Adelaide’s west end. Lord Mayor Michael Harbison unveiled it on March 4, 2010.
The artist said: “I had fond memories of Roy Rene when I was growing up. Crafting a sculpture that represents this iconic comedian is a great honour.”
The sculpture is emotive and joyous, reflecting Rene’s character and the effect he had on his audience.