Garnet H. Carroll OBE 1902-1964
Garnet H. Carroll
Garnet H. Carroll died in Melbourne on 23 August 1964, on the eve of his departure for London to see the world premiere of the musical Robert and Elizabeth.
But it was with his musicals that Carroll challenged the traditional supremacy of J.C. Williamson’s: Kismet (1955), Salad Days (1957), Bells are Ringing (1958), Free as Air (1958), Once Upon a Mattress (1959), Lock Up Your Daughters (1961), The Most Happy Fella (1961), The Sound of Music (1961), The King and I (1962), Wildcat (1963), Carousel (1964), Finian’s Rainbow (1964). Carroll’s three-year alliance with the Tivoli resulted in The Merry Widow with June Bronhill (1959), and The Music Man and the electrifying West Side Story (1960) – which, sadly, was one of his biggest financial disappointments. For a decade from 1955 Carroll’s company General Amusements Pty Ltd held the lease of the Capitol Theatre in Perth.
Garnet H. Carroll died in Melbourne on 23 August 1964, on the eve of his departure for London to see the world premiere of the musical Robert and Elizabeth. His son, John, eventually brought the show to Melbourne. For some years he maintained the pattern set by his father, but in 1969 the family company, Carroll Freeholds Pty Ltd, leased the Princess to the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. The company was bought by David and Elaine Marriner in 1986. After extensive restoration, the theatre reopened with Les Misérables in 1989. Carroll is commemorated by a plaque in the stalls foyer, but his first floor office is now a gentlemen’s toilet.
Garnet H. Carroll treasured his Princess Theatre and he loved ‘the business’ and the people in it. Benevolent and approachable, he attracted a dedicated backstage team and provided a nurturing environment for a generation of talented young Australians, such as performers Gloria Dawn, June Bronhill, Toni Lamond and Judy Banks, and, behind-the-scenes, designer John Truscott and entrepreneurs Andrew Guild and Frederick J. Gibson – Carroll’s nephew – who eventually ran the new Theatre Royal in Sydney. Carroll’s enthusiasm extended to community theatre. He was a key supporter of Gertrude Johnson’s National Theatre and the inaugural president of the Victorian Drama League (VDL). In memory of his brother, Bruce, he funded the Bruce Carroll Memorial Plaque which, for many years, was presented to the winner of the VDL’s annual one-act play competition.
It was entirely appropriate that Carroll should bequeath funds to Monash University to establish the Garnet H. Carroll Prize to encourage ‘artistry in musical theatre’ – embracing music and lyrics, performance, design, lighting and production.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Watch this space
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