Barbara Leane has been remembered by friends and colleagues as a trailblazing talent agent, an astute businesswoman and a mentor to countless actors and young agents.
Leane died on Friday on the Gold Coast after being diagnosed with cancer in January. Her age was a ‘state secret.’
Barbara Leane Management mentored some of the country’s most successful actors including Luke Ford, Wendy Hughes, Max Cullen, Kerry Armstrong, Peter Phelps, Bruce Spence, Anne Looby, Ian Stenlake and Susan Prior.
Phelps was 18 and making his debut on The Restless Years when legendary actor John Ewart asked him about his agent. “What do they do?” Phelps asked, so Ewart urged him to approach Leane, who went on to represent him for 25 years until she retired.
“Barbara was the den mother to every one of her beloved actor cubs,” Phelps tells IF. “She chose her client actors on who that person was as much as their prowess or what they could earn, whether rookie or veteran.
“Often when a role was won, the Moët would pop in her office or she would share the tears of the many troughs and valleys, rather than the high peaks, that actors journey through. There is a beautiful bright pink presence in the agency upstairs.”
Morrissey Management’s Fleur Griffin was 21 when she got her start in the business in 1997 thanks to Leane, who taught her the skills of agenting.
“Her drive and care, chutzpah, enthusiasm and sass are unsurpassed and reflected in some of the extraordinary careers she created and guided,” Fleur tells IF. “She just loved the business, loved actors and was truly one of the greats.”
Spence was repped by her from around 1983 until 2003 when she sold her company to Ross Mollison, which became Mollison Keightley Management (MKM) in 2010.
On Facebook Spence posted: “We had some wonderful times together. Being a member of your flock was a privilege and a joy. We had many great times together, many cheeky chats. You will most certainly be sadly missed.”
MKM’s Monica Keightley says: “Barbara Leane was an iconic agent, an extraordinary businesswoman and mentor to many and a trailblazer in our industry.”
Sarah Linsten, another agent who got her start with Barbara and worked for her for eight years, observes: “She had a wonderful cheeky sense of humour and an incredible fun energy. Her agency was a huge part of her life. She admired a great work ethic and was extremely passionate about her actors/clients and those close to her.
“She somehow blended old school with a modern twist…a big personality.”
McGregor Casting’s Kirsty McGregor recalls the agent was very generous with her time when she was a teenage actress and that continued after she moved into casting. “She was fierce, fair and huge of heart. I loved working with her,” Kirsty says.
Fellow casting agent Tom McSweeney hailed her as an “icon in our industry, a mentor to so many and a cherished colleague I was fortunate to also call a friend. Her intelligence, class and chutzpah will be sorely missed in this world.”
Another former client, Susan Prior posted on Facebook: “Dearest Barb Barb Barb, we loved you so, you were a beacon of chutzpah, light, love, enthusiasm, fun, and sassily strong.
“But underneath marshmallow, and sometimes you hurt. You always gave everything, you wore your heart on your sleeve, and you loved people. I was so chuffed when you took me on and you were incredibly kind and loving to me as my first ever agent.”
Leane was Anne Looby’s agent from the mid-1990s until she sold the agency to Mollisons. “She remained my dear friend since that time,” Anne says. “A force of nature, she was planning to write a memoir – what a read that would have been.”
Zoe Carides says: “Thank you for all your love and support of me over the decades – you were a brilliant agent, mentor and friend, and my heart goes out to your dear Barry, and to all your beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Heaven will surely be pink.”
Survivors include Barry, her husband of 58 years; their children Debbie and Adam pre-deceased her.