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Ernest C. Rolls Ernest C. Rolls i(A143658 works by)
Born: Established: ca. 1890 Warsaw,
Eastern Europe, Europe,
Gender: Male
Arrived in Australia: 1925
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Ernest C. Rolls (born Ernest Dareweski) emigrated from Warsaw to England at age 17 and soon afterwards began his theatrical career as a producer. He first came to the attention of the Australian public in 1914 after employing several Australian chorus girls for his revue, Full Inside (Oxford Theatre, London). By 1920 Rolls' four theatrical ventures in London (including the reconstruction of Sadlers Wells) saw him £45,000 in debt and the following year he was declared bankrupt. He was back in business by the 1923/24 festive season, producing Aladdin in London.

Rolls came to Australia in 1925 to stage his Aladdin pantomime for J. C. Williamsons. Two years later Rufe Naylor engaged him as producer for the first Australian season of Sunny (also the first production at the newly built Empire Theatre, Sydney). The following year Rolls scored a massive hit with his lavish production of Rio Rita for the Fullers in 1928. His other production for that firm was the revue Good News. After finishing up with the Fullers, Rolls found himself back at the Empire Theatre, producing the revue Whoopee for George Marlowe. He then moved to the Ambassadors, staging a series of cabaret/revues under his own management.

The combined effects of the depression and the talkies made a Rio Rita a hard act to follow, and indeed, almost all of his subsequent productions failed to recoup their investment, even despite the stella cast of performers he engaged - including for example: George Wallace, Ella Shields, Fred Bluett, Gus Bluett, George Moon, Alec Kellaway, Syd Beck and Jennie Benson. Among his productions in the early 1930s were the pantomime Puss in Boots (1930), the revues Topsy Turvey (1930), League of Happiness, Laughing Eyes and Step This Way (all 1931), Bright Side Up, Venus Ltd and The Big Show (1932), Honi Soit (1933) and The Merry Malones (1934). Rolls' was not confined only to producing his shows, but occasionally also wrote them, including for example The Big Show - a collaboration with Alf J. Lawrence. Although essentially based in Sydney, Rolls sent his company interstate on several occasions during this period, with the seasons invariably comprising a selection of shows already staged in the NSW capital.

After again suffering heavy financial losses he moved to New Zealand and leased a chain of theatres. When J. C. Williamson's was bought out in 1937 and split into two operations (property/investment and theatrical productions) , the new owner John McKenzie made Rolls managing director/producer of the theatrical arm, Australian and New Zealand Theatres Ltd. Within a year, however, Rolls had run up significant losses for the company and was forced to resign. He subsequently returned to England where he reportedly spent his last years presenting variety shows at English seaside resorts.

[Source: Australian Variety Theatre Archive]

Most Referenced Works


  • Rolls was married to 'popular London revue artist' Jenny Benson.

  • John McKenzie, a chain store magnate from Victoria who had by 1937 established considerable business interests in New Zealand, presumably formed a business and personal relationship with Rolls prior to offering him the position of general manager. Given Rolls' previous business failures the decision was no doubt viewed in some quarters of the industry as 'brave.'

  • Entries connected with this record have been sourced from on-going historical research into Australian popular theatre being conducted by Dr Clay Djubal.
Last amended 17 Nov 2011 09:44:04
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