Garnet H. Carroll OBE 1902-1964

Garnet H. Carroll

Garnet H. Carroll

The son of a country dentist, he was born in Singleton, New South Wales, on 4 December 1902.

He worked for a couple of weeks at David Jones department store, and invested his earnings in tap lessons.

In February 1927, Carroll found a place in Ernest C. Rolls’ production of Sunny, the opening attraction at the Empire Theatre in Sydney in February 1927.

 

Entrepreneur par excellence

1n 1955 Sir Ralph Richardson led a starry British company on a national tour of Australia in Terence Rattigan’s The Sleeping Prince and Separate Tables. Later he wrote: ‘After what we had considered to be our “try out” at Perth, we moved on to Melbourne. There Mr Garnet Carroll possesses a delightful theatre – built in the golden age of theatres, it has a beautifully shaped auditorium, which is perfect in size, and has plenty of gold in the decorations (it was the Princess). We played for 10 weeks in Melbourne to excellent business. Wherever we went and whatever we did, we had the advantage of the powerful and energetic presence of Garnet Carroll; this was very important to us and it helped us greatly. Garnet is not the kind of manager who is pictured with a big cigar and his feet up in the office; he physically does the hopping about on his own feet, and he does what it is supposed he might do; he manages. He could always make me laugh, and there were times on tour when that can be the best tonic in the world.’

John West described as Garnet Hannell Carroll as ‘a 20th-century entrepreneur in a 19th-century mould’. The son of a country dentist, he was born in Singleton, New South Wales, on 4 December 1902. When his father insisted that he should follow his profession, the boy fled, spending three years surviving on odd labouring jobs. When Carroll Senior eventually relented, Garnet returned to the fold. The family moved to West Maitland in 1921. There, by day, Garnet assisted in a menswear shop; by night he played juvenile leads with the local amateur musical society.

Garnet formed a song-and-dance act with his younger brother, Bruce, but this folded when Bruce drifted into films – he eventually ran the Capitol Theatre in Perth. Garnet drifted too – to Sydney. He worked for a couple of weeks at David Jones department store, and invested his earnings in tap lessons. He was good enough to get a role in Lionel Walsh’s 1926 country tour of No, No, Nanette. Soon after, in February 1927, Carroll found a place in Ernest C. Rolls’ production of Sunny, the opening attraction at the Empire Theatre in Sydney in February 1927. He combined a small part – the Ship’s Captain – with duties as assistant stage manager.

When Sir Ben Fuller took Sunny to Melbourne, Carroll went with it. Fuller, whose own son showed little enthusiasm for show business, made the bright young man, his protégé. In 1928 Fuller cast him as Sergeant Joe Wilkins in Rio Rita, and again he assisted with stage management. After this, Fuller sent Carroll to manage his St James Theatre in Auckland. While he was there Carroll married Catherine Stewart Elliott, ‘Kitty Stewart’, one of Fuller’s leading ladies.

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Biographical references

Ivor Brown: Theatre 1955-56, Max Reinhardt, 1956
Alastair Duncan: Actors Blood
Julie McKinnon: ‘Garnet H. Carroll’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 13, Melbourne University Press
John West: ‘Garnet H. Carroll’ in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995
John West: Theatre in Australia, Cassell, 1978