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Carroll, Garnet Hannell (1902–1964)

by Julie McKinnon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Garnet Carroll, n.d.

Garnet Carroll, n.d.

photo privately sourced

Garnet Hannell Carroll (1902-1964), theatrical entrepreneur, was born on 4 December 1902 at Singleton, New South Wales, son of Roger Bede Carroll, dentist, and his wife Mildred Lorne, née Smith, both native-born. Educated at Singleton Grammar School, Garnet learned to play the cornet when the circus came to town. Rather than become a dentist, he left home at 14 and took sawmilling and fettling jobs before rejoining his family at East Maitland in 1921. While working in a menswear store, he joined the local musical society, played juvenile leads, and with his brother Bruce did supporting song-and-dance acts. In 1926 Garnet toured with Lionel Walsh's company in No, No, Nanette and other musical comedies. At the opening of the Empire Theatre, Sydney, on 28 February 1927 he was in the chorus line in Sunny. The show was bought by Sir Benjamin Fuller and moved to the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Next year, in Sydney, Carroll played Sergeant Joe Wilkins in Rio Rita and was stage-manager when the production toured Australasia for three years.

In New Zealand Carroll managed Fuller's Auckland theatre and married the Australian actress Catherine Stewart Elliott ('Kitty Stewart') on 11 April 1930 at the local registrar's office. Returning to Australia, he supervised the closure of the Fullers' theatrical empire and spent the Depression in Melbourne. In 1934-35 he was stage-manager for several operas directed by Charles Moore who had come from Covent Garden, London; they 'discovered' (Dame) Joan Hammond. In 1937 Fuller offered Carroll a partnership. Managing director of Fullers' Theatres Pty Ltd from 1939, Carroll had become managing director of the Carroll Fuller Theatre Co. Pty Ltd by 1946. Carroll was also a director of various other companies connected with his theatrical enterprises. He acquired the Stockton theatre at Newcastle, New South Wales, the Capital Theatre, Perth, and, after Fuller's death in 1952, bought his share of the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Hampered by the lack of a theatre in Sydney, from 1955 Carroll worked closely with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust.

After World War II Carroll brought many famous companies to Australia, including the Ballet Rambert (1947-48), the Old Vic Theatre Company with Sir Laurence (Lord) Olivier and Vivien Leigh (1948), the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company (1949), the Vienna Boys' Choir (1954), the Chinese Classical Theatre (1956) and the Sadler's Wells Opera Company (1960 and 1962); in addition, he brought Dame Sybil Thorndyke and Sir Ralph Richardson to open the Elizabethan Theatre, Sydney, in July 1955. Carroll was never afraid to take risks: he often staged elaborate American musicals—among them Kismet (which he himself produced in 1954), The Sound of Music (1960), The King and I (1960) and Carousel (1964)—while they were still in their early months on Broadway, and tried unknown singers and actors. He lost heavily on some productions, such as West Side Story and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Relishing his work, Carroll had helped Gertrude Johnson to establish the National Theatre Movement in the 1930s; he produced its first opera, The Flying Dutchman, at the Princess in 1938 and continued to support amateur theatre. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1949. Plump, with sleek, silver hair and heavy, tortoiseshell glasses, he kept his weight in check by dieting, and enjoyed swimming and yachting. At first nights he moved happily around and about, 'dispensing warm smiles and a pat on the back'. He belonged to the Victorian and the Green Room clubs. Having suffered from diabetes for more than ten years, Carroll died suddenly of coronary vascular disease on 23 August 1964 at his South Yarra home, Melbourne, and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Coalstad (ed), Theatre in Victoria (Melb, 1950)
  • H. Hunt, The Making of Australian Theatre (Melb, 1960)
  • G. Lauri, The Australian Theatre Story (Syd, 1960)
  • J. West, Theatre in Australia (Syd, 1978)
  • Outdoor Showman, Jan-Feb 1957
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Nov 1948, 13 Nov 1954, 8 Dec 1956, 24 Aug 1964
  • Age (Melbourne), 23, 26, 29 Aug 1964
  • Australian, 24 Aug 1964
  • Northern Territory News, 17 Aug 1985.

Citation details

Julie McKinnon, 'Carroll, Garnet Hannell (1902–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carroll-garnet-hannell-9697/text17117, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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