Sir George Tallis 1869-1948

George Tallis

Sir George Tallis

George Tallis was born in modest circumstances in Kilkenny, Ireland, on 28 October 1869.

After working as a reporter for the local newspaper, 17-year-old Tallis followed two of his brothers to Australia.

Tallis started at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, as the proverbial office boy.

 

‘A streak of theatrical genius’

‘The Taits were all able men, each in his own way,’ wrote long-time J.C. Williamson executive Claude Kingston. ‘But none of the Taits was Tallis’s peer as a live theatre entrepreneur. He had come into The Firm and learnt his trade under J.C. Williamson; as well as that he was born with a streak of theatrical genius – a blend of creative perception, visual imagination, good taste, intuition, and courage. To George Tallis, that quietly spoken, solidly built, well-groomed man of the world, near enough was never good enough. He was a perfectionist; everything had to be exactly right from the leading lady’s gowns down to the lace of the youngest ballet girl’s shoe. Watching a rehearsal, he would decide that the dresses of the chorus were unsatisfactory in some seemingly insignificant detail – perhaps the shade of the sashes or the length of the skirts. “Scrap the lot,” he would order. When it came to a question of excellence or money Tallis never counted the cost. Excellence won every time. I remember him for his mellow wisdom, his attentive way of listening to opinions different from his own, his faultless manners. I have never known another man who was, quite unstudiedly, as courteous as Tallis, not only to his social superiors and equals but also to his lowliest subordinates. It is true that he had one dire weakness: this was an unconquerable propensity to run away from trouble, which inevitably led on to worse trouble in the end. He could not nerve himself to face the immediate unpleasantness.’

George Tallis was born in modest circumstances in Kilkenny, Ireland, on 28 October 1869. After working as a reporter for the local newspaper, 17-year-old Tallis followed two of his brothers to Australia. His brothers died young, but Tallis was far luckier. Within days of his arrival in Melbourne he was working for entrepreneur J.C. Williamson, who was impressed by the lad’s mastery of Pitman shorthand. Tallis’s association with Williamson and the firm that he founded would last for more than 50 years.

Tallis started at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, as the proverbial office boy, but his keenness and his shorthand ability soon convinced Williamson to make him his private secretary. Before long he was treasurer at the Royal and the Princess. Tallis loved everything about the business of show business. He swiftly mastered costing, costumes and casting, leasing and letting theatres, negotiating contracts and favourable performance rights, publicity, profit and loss accounts and handling recalcitrant performers. He was deeply was involved in many of Williamson’s biggest ventures, such as the 1891 visit of the great tragedienne Sarah Bernhardt.

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Biographical references

Alwyn Capern, George Michael Tallis: ‘George Tallis KT’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency, 1995
Mimi Colligan: ‘Sir George Tallis’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 12, Melbourne University Press
Claude Kingston: It Don’t Seem a Day too Much, Rigby, 1971
Viola Tait: A Family of Brothers, Heinemann, 1971
Michael and Joan Tallis: The Silent Showman, Wakefield Press, 1999