CAROL RAYE (1923-2022)
Born Kathleen Mary Corkrey at Rotherhithe, in the London docklands, in 1923, her first stage role, at age 15, was the lead in the Portsmouth Players production of No, No, Nanette in 1938. She came into the orbit of Australian choreographer Freddie Carpenter who launched her War-time stage career, changing her name to Carol Raye. Her breakout opportunity came soon after war was declared, when she made her triumphant London debut at His Majesty’s Theatre in Stanley Lupino’s Funny Side Up.
In 1945 Raye made her screen debut, starring opposite Billy Hartnell in Strawberry Roan. But it was as the Empress Maria, opposite Peter Graves, in Paul L Stein’s musical romance Waltz Time which launched her as an international star on its release in 1945.
She met her husband, Yorkshireman Robert Ayre-Smith, a student at the Royal Veterinary College (London), in 1948. They were married 3 years later in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1951. Within weeks of the birth of their first daughter in 1952, Ayre-Smith took up a position to run a 1,000-acre experimental farm in Kenya. Raye was by his side for the next 12 years, raising their three children, but while in Nairobi from 1962, Raye was contracted as producer/director (and on-screen talent) for the fledgling multilingual Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. Raye’s was one of the first faces on television in British East Africa.
Following Kenya’s independence in October 1963, Ayre-Smith accepted an offer to join the CSIRO in Australia, and the family emigrated to Australia in 1964.
Her career since has been stella as both performer and producer, and following the phenomenal success of The Mavis Bramston Show in 1964 she was regarded as one of the most influential women on Australian Television.
Over the following three decades she made a return to the stage, appearing at the Ensemble, Hunter Valley, Marian Street and Sydney Theatre Companies, as well as starring roles in the commercial theatre.
Raye flirted briefly with politics when she unsuccessfully stood for pre-selection as a Liberal candidate for the Senate in the early 80s. She did, however, accept a three-year appointment to the Theatre Board of the Australia Council.
Raye officially retired in 2000, following a guest appearance in SeaChange.
Carol Raye died peacefully on 18 June 2022. She was posthumously awarded the AM in the Queen’s Birthday 2022 Honours; she was recognised ‘for significant service to the performing arts as an actor and producer.’
Hard Cover – Illustrated; includes full production lists, index – 342 pages