Hamilton Playbox presents the New Zealand premiere of Famous Flora, written by Elisabeth Easther, on April 13.

Famous Flora is about the life and times of Aucklander Flora MacKenzie, a woman who knew better than most people that sex sells.

Flora was a socialite, nurse, dress designer and, coincidentally, a Madam. The daughter of Sir Hugh MacKenzie, long-time head of the Auckland Harbour Board, Flora enticed the rich, the famous, intellectuals, politicians and the nation's bohemians into her life, earning herself a reputation for being the antipodean hostess with the mostest.

This play is about Flora MacKenzie's life and the times; some of it fabricated - for the sake of drama and structure - but most of it stemming from intensive research. It is set in two distinct periods, 1942-44, when American troops were making their presence felt in New Zealand and 1976, when New Zealand was filled with more political and social intrigue than is often thought.


'Sex sells' runs the mantra and Flora McKenzie sold sex. During World War II, her famous frock shop became the front for an infamous knock shop.

Growing up in Mangere, the child of wealthy landed gentry, Flora could never have guessed her sheltered life would turn out the way that it did. Her adult life started with a stint as a nurse, but she quickly discovered fashion was her passion and became the proprietor and designer of Ninette Gowns "the finest dress salon in the Pacific".

Flora's role in the war effort was entertaining the visiting American troops. Once money changed hands a business was born: a new business for Flora, but the oldest one in the book.

The beautiful models at Ninette easily made the transition from mannequins to Madam's Girls in Auckland's Ring Terrace. Flora saw no harm in her new career, she was simply giving people what they wanted. But the times, people, and ultimately the police, were not inclined to be kind.

On her death, at her home on July 8, 1982, she had cirrhosis of the liver and a weak heart. She had been ill and in pain for some years; she had never married nor borne children and was rumoured to have left her premises to the man who delivered her weekly crate of whisky.

All her money went to the deaf. Although no death notice was published and her funeral was a quiet affair, the obituaries and tributes to her were fond and numerous.

Amongst those who paid tribute to MacKenzie was one of her former legal counsel, Roger Maclaren, who said: "She was generous to a fault and always a sucker for a soft touch. She had an amazing sense of humour, she was garrulous, obscene - she was everything a madam should be, I suppose".

Famous Flora directed by Liz Sheppard and Lee Owens, on stage at Riverlea Theatre from April 13 till 27.