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Actor, Playwright, Director, Comedian
Although Mary Walsh is perhaps best known now for her work with the television program "This Hour Has 22 Minutes", she also has done extensive work in theatre as a performer, writer and director.
Walsh was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1952, the seventh of eight children for Leo and Mary Walsh. When she was eight months old she contracted pneumonia, and was moved to her aunt's house as a precaution. She ended up being raised by her aunt and uncle, while her parents and the rest of her family continued to live next door. Although Walsh has said that it took many years for her to be able to regard being "given away" with any sort of humour, in her words, "that is the piece of sand that has made me the...pearl that I am today." (Johnson, p. 49) She credits the sense of humour possessed by her aunt and her aunt's friends with helping her to sharpen her own comic instincts. By the time she reached her teens she was rebelling against the strictness of her Catholic high school by smoking, shoplifting and sneaking alcohol into her locker. She also began developing her ability to create memorable characters by adopting British and Brooklyn accents, using these different voices for caustic commentary.
After a brief engagement to an American serviceman (and a move to Colorado to be with him), Walsh returned to St. John's where she got a job working at a local store. A position as a summer replacement radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) led to an offer of a part in a local amateur play. This in turn led to her joining the Newfoundland Travelling Theatre Company (NTTC), where she worked with Tommy Sexton, Greg Malone, Robert Joy, Dyan Olsen, Cathy Jones and Andy Jones, the future members of the CODCO troupe. After a brief period spent in Toronto attending acting classes at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Walsh was lured away to join her former NTTC collaborators in a production at Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille. The play, Cod on a Stick, was a resounding success, so much so that the CBC brought the group to St. John's to record the performance for radio in 1974. A tour of Newfoundland and Labrador with an expanded version of the play followed during the summer of 1974, and the decision was made to relocate the troupe (now officially named CODCO, for Cod Company) to Newfoundland. Other plays followed, including Sickness, Death, and Beyond the Grave, Das Capital: Or What Do You Want to See the Harbour for, Anyway?, and The Tale Ends.
Walsh continued to write and create plays with the other members of CODCO after two of the original actors left (some of this material would make its way into the television program "Wonderful Grand Band"). In 1986 the CODCO group began work on a series of half-hour shows, commissioned by Salter Street Films; these led to the creation of their self-titled show on CBC Television, which ran from 1988 to 1993.
In addition to her work with CODCO Walsh was active with other theatre groups. After a touring stint in England and Wales with Theatre Passe Muraille's The Farm Show in 1979, Walsh returned to Newfoundland and became involved with the management of the Longshoremen's Protective Union Hall (LSPU Hall), a centre for experimental theatre in St. John's. During her tenure she was involved in writing, directing or acting in many of the LSPU Hall's productions, including High Steel and Terras de Bachelhau.
She was also involved with theatre in other parts of the country. The Factory Theatre in Toronto staged her play Hockey Wives in 1988. She directed a production of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet for the Centaur Theatre in Montréal. She also appeared onstage, playing the James Joyce character Molly Bloom at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 1985, and winning praise for her performances in A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario in 1993.
After the breakup of the CODCO troupe in 1993, Walsh presented the idea of a satirical weekly news show to Salter Street Films. Finding support for this idea, she began assembling the cast, inviting fellow CODCO alumnus Cathy Jones, and Newfoundland comedians Greg Thomey and Rick Mercer. The resulting show, "This Hour Has 22 Minutes", has become one of Canada's most successful television ventures, sometimes drawing larger audiences than the regular news broadcast. Walsh has appeared on the show portraying such memorable characters as Marg Delahunty, Miss Eulalia, Dakey Dunn, and one of the four Quinlan quintuplets. The show itself has won a total of 19 Gemini Awards.
In addition to her ongoing role with "This Hour Has 22 Minutes", Walsh currently hosts the show "Mary Walsh: Open Book" for CBC Television. She has starred in a number of feature films, including Secret Nation, New Waterford Girl, and Mambo Italiano; she has also appeared on such television programs as "Random Passage" and "Dooley Gardens". She has received honorary degrees from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Trent University. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000.
Cameron, Amy. "Books are like food to me : one of Canada's top comics thinks she knows why Canadians love to read". Maclean's. Vol. 116, No. 24 (June 16, 2003). P. 46-47
"CODCO" [online]. Encyclopedia of Canadian theatre. [Cited June 16, 2003]. Access : www.canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Codco
"CODCO". The Oxford companion to Canadian theatre. Ed. Eugene Benson ; L.W. Conolly. Toronto : Oxford University Press, 1989. P. 103
Gray, Charlotte. "Mary, Mary, quite contrary". Chatelaine. Vol. 68, No. 12 (December 1995). P. 69-70, 96, 98
Johnson, Brian. "22 minutes for high schticking : satire is a national sport, and Mary Walsh has a wicked slapshot". Maclean's. Vol. 109, No. 9 (February 26, 1996). P. 46-51.
"Mary Walsh". Contemporary Canadian biographies 1998 [CD-ROM]. Toronto : Gale Canada, 1998
"Mary Walsh - Actress". Canadian newsmakers 1997. Ed. Robert Lang. Toronto : Gale Canada, 1998. P. 661-663
The plays of CODCO. Ed. Helen Peters. New York : Peter Lang, 1992
Rudakoff, Judith. "Playwright Mary Walsh". Fair play : twelve women speak : conversations with Canadian playwrights. Judith Rudakoff ; Rita Much. Toronto : Simon & Pierre, 1990. P. 165-174
Stars in the sky morning : collective plays of Newfoundland and Labrador. Ed. Helen Peters. St. John's : Killick Press, 1996
"Walsh, Mary" [online]. Encyclopedia of Canadian theatre. [Cited June 16, 2003]. Access :