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Obituaries

Lucille Ryman Carroll, 96; MGM Talent Manager Mentored Actors

November 02, 2002|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Lucille Ryman Carroll, who headed MGM's talent department from 1941 to 1954 and helped sign a young actress named Lana Turner, died Oct. 23 in Glendale. She was 96 and had been ailing for some time.

Carroll, who also helped arrange a key screen test for Marilyn Monroe and played a role in bringing June Allyson and Janet Leigh to MGM, was one of the few women to reach a position of executive power in the old Hollywood studio system.

"She was strong-willed and indomitable, but always a lady," said Harrison Price, her longtime friend and financial manager. "That's how she made it to Louis B. Mayer's studio."

Carroll worked directly with Mayer, auditioning actors, shopping for scripts and supervising the studio's younger talents.

Once, on her way across country to interview teenage actresses for the 1944 movie "National Velvet," she got an urgent call from Elizabeth Taylor. She was not yet 12 years old at the time -- too young for the role of Velvet Brown, Carroll had decided.

"Elizabeth Taylor burst into my office and said, 'I hear you're going looking for someone to play Velvet. I don't know why you're wasting your time. I'm going to play Velvet.' "

Carroll made her national search as planned but Taylor got the part anyway. "If Elizabeth Taylor wanted something, she would get it," she said.

Carroll was known to be a tough business woman with a soft heart who mentored Hollywood hopefuls with the help of her actor husband, John Carroll, who reached his peak in the '40s as a leading man in such frolics as the Marx Brothers' "Go West." John Carroll died in 1979; the couple had no children.

"Lucille was chronically generous," Price said. "She couldn't turn down anybody with a hard-luck story."

One of her most famous proteges was Monroe, a newcomer when she met the Carrolls in 1947 at a celebrity golf tournament. For months after that, the 21-year-old Monroe lived rent-free in the Carrolls' Hollywood apartment while they spent weekends on their horse ranch in Granada Hills. They gave her a weekly allowance of $100 -- but Lucille Carroll did not get her an MGM studio contract.

"She was cute and sexy but she didn't have the leading lady quality that Mr. Mayer was signing up in 1947," she explained to Monroe biographer Donald Spoto.

The Carrolls did pressure John Huston to give Monroe a screen test when the director was casting his 1950 movie "The Asphalt Jungle."

Huston owed the Carrolls $18,000 in boarding fees for his horses, and they offered to extend his payments if he would give Monroe a chance. Huston hired Monroe to play Angela in the movie.

Born in Macon County, Ill., the oldest of three children, Lucille Ryman dreamed of being an actress. Her father, a doctor, was killed in World War I and her mother, a schoolteacher, raised the family. The aspiring actress moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA in the late '20s and studied acting at the Pasadena Community Theater in the early 1930s.

She got stage roles at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood and the Morosco Theater in New York in the early 1930s but turned to smaller-scale producing and directing.

In 1937, she was named a traveling talent scout for Universal Studios, based in New York. Four years later she moved to MGM in Hollywood, where she met her husband.

While she was at MGM, she was the personal manager of several actors, including her husband. From the time after she left her studio job in 1954 until well into the 1970s, she produced the occasional film, including "Ride in a Pink Car" (1978) in which her husband played a leading role. She also purchased the screen rights to classic movie scripts, among them "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

The Carrolls lived graciously, Price recalled. "Lucille was a lady of the old school," he said. "She loved fine silverware and French antiques. She was proud of an antique bed she owned. King Louis of France slept in it -- well, one of the King Louis."

By the late '30s, Carroll had persuaded the rest of her family to join her in Los Angeles. "She managed her family like she managed her career," Price said.

Her brother, Herbert, became one of the most important artists at Walt Disney Studios, drawing the first illustrations of Disneyland, which opened in 1955, as well as Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

After his death in 1989, Carroll established the Ryman-Carroll Foundation, of which Price is a founding board member, in Herbert Ryman's memory. The art program offers weekend classes to high school students from Southern California schools.

"Lucille considered her brother to be a great California artist," said Marty Sklar, vice chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering, who was a close friend of Herbert Ryman and is president of the Ryman-Carroll Foundation.

But even with her brother, she was the talent manager. Sklar said, "Lucille would look at [his] paintings and say, 'Herbie, paint some more animals right in here.' "

In her will, Carroll requested that donations in her memory be made to the foundation's Ryman Program for Young Artists, 315 W. 9th St., Suite 806, Los Angeles, CA 90015-4202.

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