June 10, 1908 - July 14, 2010.
LISTEN HERE for Freda's signature song "Non,je ne regrette rien' sung by Edith Piaf
Born in Kaeo in 1910, Freda Stark was the daughter of James Stark, a shopkeeper, and Isabella Bramley. Her father encouraged her to learn dance, and she began to do so at nine years of age.
After leaving school, Freda worked as a clerical worker by day, and danced as "L'Etoile" (The Star) during the evenings, and her repertoire included tap, high kicks, tumbles and hula. During the 1930s, she also learned classical ballet, as steps toward an advanced examination certificate at New Zealand's Academy of Dance, which she acquired in the late thirties.
In 1933, Freda joined Ernest Rolls' revue, and met a young dancer named Thelma Trott, and the two women fell in love. In 1934 Freda was in the chorus of the Duchess of Danitz, while Trott starred. At this time, Trott married Eric Mareo, their conductor. The relationship was cut short in 1935 when Trott took a fatal overdose of the prescription drug Veronal in unexplained circumstances, leading to Mareo being charged with her murder.
Mareo was tried twice for the murder of Trott, was twice found guilty, and was twice sentenced to death by hanging, (later commuted to 12 years in prison).
Freda was a prosecution witness at both trials and had to endure being outed as a lesbian, and constant subsequent accusations that she had given either mistaken or selective testimony while under oath. Nude photographs of Freda were reproduced during the trial, but Stark remained unperturbed, and was later described as a model Crown witness.
During the Second World War, Freda was a clerical worker at the Colonial Ammunition Company during the day. At night, she entertained New Zealand and American troops at the Wintergarden cabaret and nightclub. At times, she was clad only in a feather headdress, a g-string and gold bodypaint. The appreciative American Expeditionary troops bestowed the title "Fever of the Fleet" on Freda, and often booked out the Wintergarden specifically to attend her performances, hiring an accompanying band and floorshow at the same time.
After the Second World War, Freda relocated to London, where she met and married Harold Robinson, a New Zealand-born dancer (and himself a gay man) at Sadler's Wells. The duo starred together in New Zealand-born Robert Steele's art film, Curves and Contrasts (1947), before their marriage ended by mutual consent. They did not divorce until 1973 and remained close friends.
Although based in the United Kingdom, Freda frequently revisited New Zealand, before she returned permanently in 1970, and became a secretary at the University of Auckland.
During the 1990s there was renewed interest in her days as a dancer, and her life was celebrated in a biography Freda Stark: Her Extraordinary Life by Dianne Haworth & Diane Miller and in Peter Wells and Stewart Main's documentary, The Mighty Civic (1989).
READ Freda Stark - Biography from the Dictionary of New Zealand
READ Mystery: A truth blurred by fug of drugs, passion and sex : NZ Herald Review of 'The Trials of Eric Mareo' an online book by Charles Ferrell & Rebecca Ellis which retells the story, with headlines from the Truth newspaper, about the trial of Eric Mareo who murdered his wife Thelma - the prime witness was FREDA STARK