ThrowbackThursday: Hollywood comes to Eltham 1955

Hollywood star visits Eltham

#ThrowbackThursday – Grace Mitchell, a talented artist in later life and baker, managed a pastry shop business near the corner of Mount Pleasant and Main roads, Eltham in the 1950s.

Shortly after her marriage to Arthur Mitchell in 1948, Arthur incurred a head injury from an an accident and was unable to work.  Grace realised she needed to be home to care for her husband as well as earn an income.  She managed the bureaucracy of council permits, and made modifications to her home with savings to get the business off the ground without having to borrow money.

Grace and Arthur were avid gardeners and would grow, wash and mince vegetables for pasties while Grace hand made and rolled the pastry.  They cooked and minced their own meat for the pies and the fruit for the sweet pies came from their orchard at the rear of the property.  She also baked scones and cakes.

Katherine Hepburn
Unknown author Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio publicity photographer / Public domain

With weekend visitors travelling to Eltham on the train for days trips, her reputation grew as the spot for afternoon tea.  Grace’s daughter Jenni mentions the visit of dancer, Robert Helpmann and U.S. actress Katherine Hepburn in her Grace Mitchell: a short history [2012].

Reminiscences in We did open a school in Little Eltham: Eltham Primary School 209, 1856-2006 a history [2006] include a mention of Grace’s famous pastry shop and the Sunday afternoon visit by Helpmann and Hepburn.

In Anne Edwards 2019 biography of Katherine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman, she is described as a “grande dame of American actresses, fierce individualist, and Hollywood legend.”  A bonafide star she was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won four.  Robert Helpman became world famous as Britain’s most outstanding ballet dancer and subsequently turned his attentions to stage and screen. The two first met in London in 1952 when they appeared together in the play “The Millionairess” on the West End.  He subsequently invited her to be part of an Australian tour presenting three Shakespearean plays.  In May 1955 Helpmann and Hepburn arrived in Sydney, Helpmann was returning to his native land after being away for 25 years.  They were accorded a reception by the Mayor of Melbourne.  In NSW Hepburn visited St Matthews Church and Rectory at Windsor and donated £50 to the church restoration fund. She later wrote of her fascination with the blue lakes area near Adelaide and the “extraordinary” lyrebird.

Grace operated her pastry shop for over 16 years.  She supported the Shillinglaw Cottage Preservation Campaign to preserve the cottage through its Flavour of Eltham community cookbook published in 1964 and hosted cooking classes in the new Living and Learning Centre

Flavour of Eltham : recipes and other items collected by friends of the Shillinglaw Cottage, page 91 advertising Grace Mitchell’s Home Made Cakes & Pies (EDHS collection)
Grace Mitchell and Ursula Dors, Cooking Class, Eltham Living and Learning Centre (EDHS collection)

Katherine Hepburn passed way in 2003 aged 96 years. Her trademark was playing strong independent women with minds of their own.  Grace Mitchell passed away aged 95 years in 2011.

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