Sir George Tallis 1869-1948
Sir George Tallis
Williamson was living in Sydney and was happy to leave the Melbourne management, and much of the organisation of the company’s national touring schedule, in Tallis’s capable hands.
When Williamson died in 1913, Tallis became The Firm’s chairman of directors and ‘the most influential and significant theatre personality in Australia.’
The 1897 tour by the matinee idol Julius Knight was particularly significant for both Tallis and Williamson, for Knight’s company included Mary Weir, who was to become Williamson’s second wife, and Amelia (‘Millie’) Young, whom Tallis married in 1898. Amelia was a Melbourne-based actress whose siblings included the much loved musical comedy star Florence Young. By this time Williamson was living in Sydney and was happy to leave the Melbourne management, and much of the organisation of the company’s national touring schedule, in Tallis’s capable hands. Tallis also personally invested in some of Williamson’s productions, such as the 1900 Knight tour, and several successful musicals.
In 1904 Williamson, anxious to divest himself of more of the minutiae of management, decided on a radical reorganisation. He sold a quarter of the shares in the JCW firm to Gustave Ramaciotti, his Sydney-based legal adviser and owner of the Theatre Royal there, and another quarter to Tallis. ‘Rami’ and Tallis each paid £6,250, while Williamson retained a 50 per cent interest in the enterprise. It was a congenial and mutually advantageous arrangement, and from then until his death Williamson spent much of his time abroad, confident that “The Firm”, as it came to be known, was in good hands.
At that time Williamson’s had a permanent staff of 650, plus hundreds of temporarily employed actors, extras, musicians and stage staff. It had a circuit of first class theatres throughout Australia and New Zealand around which it toured drama, opera, musical comedy and pantomime companies and occasional concert artists. The annual running costs were reported to be around £200,000, for an annual profit of some £60,000.
In 1910 the Williamson business was incorporated as J.C. Williamson Ltd, with a capital of £180,000. Soon after, J.C. Williamson sold a quarter of his shareholding to Tallis, and a further quarter to solicitor Arthur Allen. Tallis also purchased Ramaciotti’s holding. This gave him 62.5 per cent, Williamson 25 per cent and Allen 12.5 per cent. In 1911 Tallis sold a sixth of his interest the American actor and entrepreneur Hugh J. Ward. It was a decision he came to regret, as relations between them were frequently uneasy. The Firm also incorporated rival entrepreneurs Meynell and Gunn, who had previously been supported by Rupert Clarke and John Wren. When Williamson died in 1913, Tallis became The Firm’s chairman of directors and ‘the most influential and significant theatre personality in Australia.’
Watch this space
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