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THE SOAPIE SCRAPHEAP

Author: RACHEL BROWNE
Date: 01/07/1995
Words: 1138
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: TELEVISION
Page: 4
REBEKAH Elmaloglou was only 15 years old when she swapped high school for soap stardom. As Home And Away's angst-ridden teen Sophie Simpson she was beaten, abused and ended up becoming an unwed teenage mother.

And things weren't travelling too well off screen either. "I started having anxiety attacks and getting sick - my body just couldn't handle it any more," says Rebekah, now 21, who looks back on the three and a half years she spent on Home And Away as the most stressful and physically gruelling of her life. She worked 12-hour days and her weekends were consumed by interstate publicity appearances and photographic shoots.

After collapsing from exhaustion in 1991 and suffering a series of debilitating panic attacks, Elmaloglou left the Channel 7 soap at the end of 1992, aged 18.

"I went in to Home And Away a child and came out an adult."

Taking advantage of her international fame, Elmaloglou quit the show and spent the Christmas of 1992 in the UK working on a pantomime. Then she returned to Australia and waited for the job offers to roll in. And waited. Waiting eventually turned to worrying.

Elmaloglou wasn't prepared for the shock of going from feted international soap siren to out-of-work actor.

"When I was working, I used to look at unemployed actors and think it must be their fault that they're not working but now I understand their position 100 per cent."

Occasionally she gets the odd guest role on TV, theatre work and bit parts in films but admits: "Some days I get quite paranoid and think, 'I'll never work again'. The thing that worries me is that I'm not skilled for any other job.

"I left school half way through Year 10 so I only have a very basic education. I have nothing to fall back on. I'm not even qualified to get a waitressing job because I have no experience."

So does she feel the soap industry took advantage of her at such a young age?

"They use you to sell their product basically," she said bluntly.

During those fleeting years when she was paid a hefty $1,000 to $1,500 a week Elmaloglou's parents invested her earnings in a house in Sydney's eastern suburbs and art work. "Those are great investments. I was lucky I never lost it on the financial side." But for many of her former colleagues, the ending has not been so happy. For every Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan or Craig McLachlan, there are many former starlets and hearthrobs who end up on the scrap heap after their contracts expire.

They go from magazine covers, glittering parties, international travel and astronomical salaries to the whatever-happened-to? file or worse.

There have always been strong whispers in the industry about young actors being given illegal stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines to get them through the gruelling days and the nights although no-one associated with the shows is willing to comment.

Three years ago Home And Away heart-throb Les Hill earned $2,000 a day for personal appearances and $2,000 a week for a UK pantomime.

Earlier this year the 21-year-old, now back in Australia, admitted in a magazine interview that he had blown every cent on alcohol and women in London's fast lane.

After inquiring whether Hill would receive a fee for this article, a spokeswoman for his agency said, "Les isn't really doing anything at the moment he's, um, taking a break it might not be something he wants to talk about."

Meanwhile Melissa Tkautz, a former E Street starlet and pop diva, whose last single, Is It My Body? sank without a trace, is now paying the rent with a two-week guest spot on Echo Point. At just 21 she's already trading on former glories.

Other former soap stars to disappear into the ether include Neighbours' Blakeney twins Gillian and Gayle, now in London; Home And Away's Lisa Lackey, who still pops up on commercials for feminine hygiene products and Mat Stevenson, most recently seen in a guest role on Blue Heelers.

Just back from the brink is The Heartbreak Kid's Alex Dimitriades who quit school to work on the spin-off TV drama, Heartbreak High. He announced his resignation from the show last year only to suffer months of unemployment before landing a role in the ABC's new drama, Blue Murder, expected to screen this month or next.

Adrian Lee, an E Street sex symbol until the show's axing three years ago, now has his highest profile in commercials for biscuits and deodorant.

So who can blame former Home And Away favourite Emily Symons for returning to the Summer Bay fold after spending three years unsuccessfully launching her career in the UK?

Even when unemployed, Symons still lived like a star, spending up to $6,000 a week on beauty treatments, according to her former husband, English musician Nick Lipscombe. He has claimed the actress ran up huge debts while in London living the lifestyle she'd been accustomed to as a soapie star.

"They go from travelling the world, being treated like a star, having their every whim catered for and being paid e"traordinary money - especially if they do the pantomimes in the UK - to having no job and no prospects. It is quite devastating for some of them," said Neighbours' casting director Jan Russ who cast success stories such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Craig McLachlan, Guy Pearce, Rachel Friend and Annie Jones. But their enduring stardom is very rare.

"It's pretty hard to warn a 16-year-old kid that this might not happen to them because at that age they think of unemployment like they think about car accidents - that sort of thing happens to other people, not me.

"Television can be this nasty creature which plucks people from obscurity, eats them up, spits them out and doesn't care what happens to them afterwards," said Russ.

"That's the tragedy of this business." n

THE CURSE OF THE LOGIE

For one fabulous moment these Logie winners for Best New Talent were the most popular actors in Australia, but look what happened to their careers afterwards.

1989: Nicolle Dickson has done little acting work since leaving Home And Away two years ago. These days she helps her husband James in his real estate business and is expecting her first child. She was recently a ghost on Home And Away.

1990: Georgie Parker has worked fairly consistently in TV and theatre since leaving A Country Practice. She is not working at the moment but is understood to be re-negotiating her role as Morgan "Mad Dog" Cartwright in the second series of Fire.

1991: Richard Huggett won fame as E Street's psycho Sonny Bennett. He worked on Neighbours, travelled overseas, returned to Australia in 1993 and won a role on Paradise Beach which was promptly canned. He's been quiet since.

1992: Kym Wilson made her soapie debut on Channel 9's short-lived Family And Friends before graduating to A Country Practice. Last year she juggled hosting Video Smash Hits with playing a teacher on Heartbreak High; neither contract was renewed. Recently she has concentrated on theatre work and has formed production company with partner Jeremy Sims. She has also had a guest role in the first Cody telemovie.

1993: Simon Baker-Denny E Street's executive producer Forrest Redlich saw this beach bum dancing in the video clip for Melissa Tkautz's Read My Lips, He followed up his role on E Street with a part in Home And Away and a guest role in G.P. While he can be spotted on an airline commercial, his most recent role was in the ABC's new drama series Naked which is yet to air.

1994: Melissa George, former roller-skating champion, became a household name (among teenagers at least) as Home And Away's troubled teen Angel. She's deciding whether to quit the show and gamble on taking her career overseas.

1995: Lisa McCune This Perth actor's first gig was a commercial for Coles. Channel 7's hit drama, Blue Heelers, with its solid quality and high ratings, has given her a good grounding. She has shown no sign of leaving the series.

 
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