Kathleen Robinson

Kathleen Mary Robinson (1901-1983), producer, was born in Melbourne, the only child of Mary Louise (born McKay) and Matthew John McWilliam Robinson. Her mother was a niece of millionaire pastoralist (Sir) Samuel McCaughey and her father was McCaughey's general manager, and in 1912 a partner in the purchase of McCaughey's 'Toorale', 'Dunlop' and 'Nocoleche' Western Division leases. Matthew also owned 'Oakhurst' station near Wyalong. Kathleen spent her early childhood at 'Toorale', in western New South Wales, and attended Frensham School, Mittagong, where Miss West (q.v.) encouraged participation in theatrical productions.

Kathleen was living in Sydney in April 1923 when she appeared in H. W. Varna's production of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It was a benefit performance for Ryde Homes for Incurables but the Green Room's critic commended Kathleen Robinson's playing of Lady Blakeney. Much later Kathleen said her love of theatre had started when she was taken by her mother to see Ben Hurr (a J. C. Williamson spectacle at Her Majesty's before the 1902 fire). Her father and his partners sold their runs in 1924 for 350,000 pounds. Kathleen and her parents went to London, where she was a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, before joining Lewis Casson and Dame Sybil Thorndike's Australian tour. Kathleen played minor parts in Media, St Joan, Madame Plays Nap and Macbeth.

After her father's death in 1929 she and Mrs Robinson went to London where Kathleen studied production. From 1932-35 in partnership with Osmond Daltry she ran the Westminster Theatre. Several European and provincial tours followed. Before she took Arms and the Man to Scandinavia, Bernard Shaw rehearsed the company. In 1940 Kathleen brought her mother back to Sydney. Taking a lease on the Minerva theatre at Kings Cross, with Alex Coppel as co-director, she formed Whitehall Productions. In 1944 she opened an academy for dramatic art, where training was available for ex-servicemen. Her intention was to establish an indigenous live theatre; most of the productions at the Minerva were all-Australian and several talented young Australian actors, including Peter Finch, had their first professional engagements there.

After MGM bought the Minerva theatre in 1948 to use as a cinema, Kathleen took legal action to avoid eviction and won her case. She was ill, suffering from low blood pressure, in early 1950 when she injured her back in a fall. She never fully recovered. While bedridden, after the accident, she gave up the battle with MGM which immediately opened the Minerva as a cinema. It had survived as live theatre for ten years, only through Kathleen's determination, and her inheritance; Whitehall Productions had been losing money - but she pursued a dream. In the long interval between her accident and death, on 28 December 1983, the indigenous theatre which had been her goal became reality.

Heather Radi