Robinson, Kathleen (1901–1983)

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Robinson, Kathleen (1901–1983)

Australian theatrical producer. Born in 1901 in Melbourne, Australia; died on December 28, 1983; daughter of Mary Louise (McKay) Robinson and Matthew John McWilliams Robinson; attended Fren-sham School in Mittagong, Australia; studied in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art; studied production in London.

Kathleen Robinson was born in 1901 in Melbourne, Australia, the only child of Matthew McWilliams Robinson and Mary McKay Robinson , the niece of millionaire pastoralist Sir Samuel McCaughey. Kathleen's love of theater began after seeing an elaborate production of Ben Hur with her mother. She was further encouraged to participate in theatrical productions at the Fren-sham School in Mittagong. In April 1923, Robinson appeared in a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel while living in Sydney. Although it was only a benefit performance for the Ryde Homes for Incurables, she received critical acclaim.

Robinson moved to London with her parents and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She eventually joined an Australian tour with Lewis Casson and Dame Sybil Thorndike and played minor roles in St. Joan, Madame Plays Nap, and Macbeth. After her father's death in 1929, Robinson and her mother moved back to London, where she studied theatrical production. From 1932 until 1935, she ran the Westminster Theatre with Osmond Daltry. Her production of Arms and the Man, with rehearsals attended by the playwright George Bernard Shaw, traveled throughout Europe.

On her return to Sydney in 1940, Robinson took a lease on the Minerva Theater at Kings Cross with co-director Alex Coppel, and formed Whitehall Productions. Intending to create a company of native Australians, she established an academy for dramatic art in 1944 and offered training to veterans of World War II. Peter Finch was one of several well-known Australian actors who got their start at the Minerva.

Robinson's determination and financial support kept the theater alive for ten years, but Whitehall could not operate at a loss indefinitely. MGM bought the Minerva Theater in 1948 to use as a cinema. Although Robinson initially won a case to prevent Whitehall's eviction from the theater, poor health resulting from a combination of low blood pressure and a debilitating fall in early 1950 forced her surrender of the Minerva. She died on December 28, 1983.


Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

Jane E. Spear , freelance writer and editor, Canton, Ohio