Earl Carroll

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American producer, director, author and songwriter for the stage from the 1910s to the early '30s.
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b. 16 September 1893, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 17 June 1948, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, USA. A producer, director, author and songwriter, in the 20s and early 30s, Carroll’s glamorous revues, ‘Featuring The Most Beautiful Girls In The World’ rivalled other similar - although perhaps more up-market - productions such as the Ziegfeld Follies and George White’s Scandals.

Carroll was selling programmes in theatres when he was 10 years old, before working his way around the world while still in his teens. From 1912-17 he was a staff writer with the Feist music publishing company, and also contributed material to Broadway shows such as The Passing Show Of 1912, the Ziegfeld Follies Of 1913, and Pretty Miss Smith (with composer Alfred Robyn, 1914). He wrote his first full scores for So Long Letty (1916) and Canary Cottage (1917). After serving as a pilot in World War II, Carroll worked with the composer Alfred Francis on The Love Mill (1918), and then moved into management and production to such an extent that, in 1922, he was able to build his own Earl Carroll Theatre in New York. Between 1923 and 1932 (plus an extra version in 1940), he staged a series of ‘girlie’ revues under the title of the Earl Carroll Vanities, with the exception of 1929 and 1935 when the shows were presented as the Earl Carroll Sketchbook. They all had decent runs, but there were notable editions in 1929, when the show ran for 440 performances, and featured songs mostly by E.Y. ‘Yip’ Harburg and Jay Gorney, such as ‘Kinda Cute’, ‘Like Me Less, Love Me More’, and ‘Crashing The Golden Gate’; and in 1930, again with Harburg and Gorney’s songs such as ‘Ring Out The Blues’ and ‘I Came to Life’. In 1931, several of the numbers were written by Burton Lane and Harold Adamson, including ‘Have A Heart’, ‘Goin’ To Town’, ‘Love Come Into My Heart’ and ‘Heigh Ho, The Gang’s All Here’, plus interpolations from other songwriters such as Ray Noble, Reginald Connelly and Jimmy Campbell with their ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’; and in 1932, when the Vanities was staged by the young Vincente Minnelli, Lilian Shade introduced Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s ‘I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues’, which Jack Teagarden adopted as his theme tune.

In 1931 the new Earl Carroll Theatre, ‘the largest legitimate theatre in the world’, opened on the site of the old one, with 3, 000 seats and a number of features that ranged from black velvet walls, to reconditioned air, to free soft drinks in the intermission. The naked women and the onstage antics still had the critics fuming at what they considered to be ‘a monstrosity of bad taste’. Many famous names appeared in Carroll’s shows during the years, including Joe Cook, Sophie Tucker, W.C. Fields, Lillian Roth, Jack Benny, Helen Broderick, Jimmy Savo, Patsy Kelly, William Mahoney, Milton Berle, and one of Britain’s brightest stars, Jessie Matthews, who, in the 1927 edition, suffered the indignity of having coins thrown onto the stage by a dissatisfied audience. Carroll was also involved in other Broadway and off-Broadway shows such as Murder At The Vanities (1933), and in several movies, A Night At Earl Carroll’s (1940), Earl Carroll’s Vanities (1945), and Earl Carroll’s Sketch Book (1946). One of Broadway’s most flamboyant showmen, Carroll died in an air crash in June 1948.