Fourteen-year-old Diane Elliott was a girl on a mission.
With her movie scrapbook tightly clenched in her hand, she boarded the South Perth ferry and headed to the Capitol Theatre to catch an unlikely glimpse of her idols — Hollywood screen legends Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
The Oscar-winning husband-and-wife team were in Perth in March 1948 as part of a touring Old Vic Theatre Company and their visit was surrounded with much fanfare and media hype.
And it was at the couple’s reception with many of Perth’s socialites that young Diane took her chance.
As the stars mingled with the guests, it was Olivier who approached her.
“He was generous enough to start talking to me and I told him I wanted to go to London to become an actress,” she recalls.
“He asked me, ‘Is that your dream?’ When I replied yes, he said, ‘You should follow your dream’.
“So that’s what I did.”
Elliott graduated from Perth Modern School and did a variety of jobs as she raised money for her trip to London. She was 21 when she finally left.
Elliott arrived knowing no one and eventually found some acting work in Swansea. After a series of events and circumstances, she became the first Australian to win a scholarship at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
After graduating, Elliott’s first major audition was for a production of Shifting Heart — and, by coincidence, the auditions were taken by Olivier. He asked her to understudy the production and she gratefully accepted.
Later, when the production was in Leeds, she again ran into Olivier backstage.
“I told him that we had met before, many years ago back in Perth,” Elliott said.
“He obviously didn’t remember, but I told him that he had told me to follow my dream. ‘And did you?’ he said. “I said yes and he replied, ‘I’m glad you did’.”
In the early 1960s, Elliott scored a leading female role in a production of the comedy Boeing Boeing at the Apollo Theatre — becoming the first West Australian to perform in a starring role in London’s West End.
As a result, Elliott mixed in A-list celebrity circles, having afternoon tea with Leigh, playing golf with Sean Connery and performing for the Queen at Windsor Castle. She also met her actor husband, Alan Tilvern, at a London supper club. He appeared in dozens of films and is probably best known for his role as movie mogul R.K. Maroon in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Elliott said there was no doubt that her meeting with Olivier in Perth 70 years ago inspired her to become an actress.
“If Olivier hadn’t told me to follow my dream, would I have still gone to London and become an actress,” she said. “Probably, yes. But there is no doubt our brief conversation in Perth confirmed that was what I wanted to do. He was my inspiration. I am thankful to him.”