Kenn Brodziak OBE 1913-1999

Kenn Brodziak

Kenn Brodziak

In 1946 Brodziak formed Aztec Theatrical Management and Publicity Company.

Kenn was edging into the ‘big league’ of Australian entrepreneurs, working in competition – or, more often, cooperation – with Garnet H. Carroll, David N. Martin and J.C. Williamson’s.

The Black and White Minstrel Show, was a spin off from a popular small-screen show.

 

In 1946 Brodziak formed Aztec Theatrical Management and Publicity Company. But what started out as a publishing firm, printing tourist guides and organising a newspaper column called ‘The Shopping Spy’, became increasingly involved in theatre. In 1948 Brodziak presented Doris Fitton’s acclaimed Sydney Independent Theatre production of O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra in Melbourne. Others shows followed, including Sumner Locke Elliott’s lustily-languaged Rusty Bugles, which went on to tour widely through Australia and New Zealand, in association with Garnet H. Carroll. In 1952 Brodziak imported his first big overseas star, Jessie Matthews. She toured for him in the play Larger than Life.

By now Kenn was edging into the ‘big league’ of Australian entrepreneurs, working in competition – or, more often, cooperation – with Garnet H. Carroll, David N. Martin and J.C. Williamson’s. But he was different: he never owned a theatre. ‘I worked independently,’ he said. ‘I found that if I got the attraction, I’d always get the theatre. We’d do it in a joint presentation. I’d get the show and they’d put up the theatre. We’d have some percentage arrangement for sharing.’ Soon theatre owners were coming to him, asking for shows to keep their theatres open. 

In 1954 Brodziak imported the brilliant drummer Gene Krupa, French crooner Jean Sablon, Ted Heath and His Band, and the sensational Water Follies. He also acquired the Australian amateur and repertory rights for the works of several notable overseas playwrights, including Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman and William Inge.

Unlike his fellow entrepreneurs, Brodziak didn’t regard television as a threat. Instead he used it constructively to promote his attractions, and he imported many of the stars of overseas TV programs. And one of his biggest successes, The Black and White Minstrel Show, was a spin off from a popular small-screen show.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s he was involved in tours by Winifred Atwell, Moira Lister, Lonnie Donegan, Bob Crosby, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Ruth Wallis, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Helen Shapiro, Kenny Ball, Sophie Tucker, Marcel Marceau, Eartha Kitt, Joyce Grenfell, Nelson Eddy, Des O’Connor, Jack Benny, and the musical Stop The World – I Want To Get Off. His greatest coup came when he engaged the Beatles for an Australian tour before they had become world famous. By the time they got to Australia in 1964, they played for a fraction of the fee they could command elsewhere.

Other concert attractions included Marlene Dietrich, who toured for him twice, Manfred Mann, Cilla Black, Mark Wynter, the Dave Clark Five, the Seekers, Gene Pitney, P.J. Proby, Peter Paul and Mary, Normie Rowe, Bob Dylan, Herb Alpert, and Trini Lopez. Brodziak’s theatrical productions included Madge Ryan in Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, Ron Randell in There’s a Girl in My Soup, Robert Morley in his one-man show, the musical Instant Marriage and The Windmill Revue.

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Biographical references

Ian Bevan: The Story of the Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
John Cain: On With the Show, Prowling Tiger Press, 1998
Noel Ferrier: There Goes Whatsisname, Macmillan, 1985
Raymond Stanley: ‘Mr Kenn Brodziak OBE’, in Inaugural James Cassius Awards program, The Entertainment Industry Employers Association, 1998
John West: ‘Kenn Brodziak’ in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995