Publicist Shirley Carroll O’Connor, who spent 25 years as the first female press agent for the Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros. and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses, died Dec. 16 in Laguna Hills, Calif. She was 93.
Carroll was the president of Carrolls Agency, one of Hollywood’s oldest PR and advertising firms, which closed in 1980.
Carroll attended classes at Los Angeles City College and UCLA.
When WWII broke out she became the assistant director of the Los Angeles office of Russian War Relief and specialized in the then-new field of public relations.
She met Norman Carroll O’Connor, a ringmaster and sideshow talker, at a party in Hollywood in 1944 and they married in 1945.
O’Connor was starting a career in public relations with the circus, a role Carroll took up with him.
In her memoir, “Life Is a Circus,” she recounted stories of sharing a car with an uncaged leopard on her honeymoon, losing eight elephants on Hollywood Boulevard and befriending circus and sideshow performers the Sheep-Headed Men, Flipper Boy, Two-Faced Man and Lovanda, a full-sized head on a platter.
After resigning from the circus in 1969, she began handling legit and rock accounts.
The couple established the Carrolls Agency in 1953 and handled publicity and advertising for H. Warner Buck’s Sportsman Show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus, Jungleland in Thousand Oaks and Pacific Ocean Park.
Carroll was the basis for Rhonda Fleming’s character in 1959 pic “The Big Circus.” She and Fleming made several publicity appearances together.
After her husband’s death in 1967, Carroll continued the business and moved into publicity and advertising for Broadway shows in Los Angeles. She was the press agent at L.A.’s Shubert Theater for the original production of “Grease.”
In 1972 the Universal Studios Tour engaged Carroll to handle the publicity for the new Universal Amphitheater and its rock and pop concerts and for the U.S. premiere of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Following the close of the production she spent seven years as director of tour and amphitheater publicity.
In 1974 she handled the publicity and advertising for the American premiere of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Roxy Theater on the Sunset Strip.
Nancy Hereford, press director of the Center Theater Group, said, “I hit the jackpot when Shirley Carroll hired me. What a special woman. At the time, she had been in the business for almost 30 years and yet she had such enthusiasm for her work. It was infectious. And I think it was why she did such a good job publicizing all the hot, new musicals of the day, such as ‘Tommy,’ ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show.’ ”
In the early 1960s she began a long association with Milt Larsen and his “It’s Magic!” show. The collaboration resulted in the establishment of Hollywood’s Magic Castle. Other Larsen projects included the Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica and the Variety Arts Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Carroll is survived by her son, Kevin C. O’Connor, and two grandchildren.
Donations in her name may be made to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis.