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Paper no 5 summary









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Paul Bentley

October 1999

Key words

Theatre, Australia, JC Williamson, Tait Family


The story of JC Williamson Limited, beginning with the appearance of James Cassius Williamson and Maggie Moore in Stuck Oil at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, in August 1874.

In 1881, Williamson establishes his company in partnership with George Musgrove and Arthur Garner, signalled the arrival of an enterprise that would dominate Australian show business for nearly a century.

In the 1890s, business and personal disasters were punctuated with some notable successes, including the Australian tour of Sarah Bernhardt and regular Christmas pantomime’s such as Matsa, Queen of Fire.

These hits foreshadowed further successes after the turn of the century –  Ben Hur, Parsifal, a tour by H.B. Irving and the Melba-Williamson Opera Company season in 1911.

Following the death of J.C Williamson in 1913, the fortunes of the company over the next fifty years were guided by the Tait brothers, whose company amalgamated with JC Williamson in 1920.

Successful presentations during the 1920s, including two major tours of opera by Dame Nellie Melba and two tours by Anna Pavlova, were followed by the uncertainty of the depression years, the emergence of the talkies and other management problems. 

In 1944, the Firm, as it had become known, helped establish the Borovansky Ballet, support which continued until the death of Edouard Borovansky in 1959.  

In the 1950s, the company lost its domination. Long runs of American musicals were counteracted by the shadow of Government subsidy of entertainment, competition from new entertainment media (television and cinemascope) and the deaths of the Tait brothers, E.J. Tait (in 1947) and John Tait (in 1955. The Sutherland Williamson tour in 1965 was the swan song of the remaining brother, Sir Frank Tait. 

With their passing, the company struggled to survive mergers and restructuring during the 1970s and 1980s, despite the involvement of interests headed by Michael Edgley and Kenn Brodziak, and was acquired by the private investment company, the Danbury Group in 1984.

In 1997, Danbury revitalised the company as J.C.Williamson Entertainment Inc, an American based independent group of companies involved in live and filmed entertainment.

Publications, library and archival resources and websites are listed at the end of the article.

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