Hollywood Publicist Shirley Carroll O'Connor Dies at 93

Shirley Carroll O'Connor

Her 25-year career included serving as the first female press agent under the big top of the Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros. and Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey circuses.

Shirley Carroll O'Connor, a longtime Hollywood publicist whose colorful career included 25 years as the first female press agent under the big top of the Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros. and Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey circuses, died Dec. 16 in Laguna Hills, Calif. She was 93.

Nancy Hereford, press director of the Center Theatre Group, served as an apprentice to O'Connor in the 1970s and announced her death Tuesday. "She was quite a woman," Hereford said.

O'Connor was the president of the Carrolls Agency, one of Hollywood's top and oldest entertainment-based public relations and advertising firms before it closed in 1980.

She began her career in show business when she married into the circus in 1945. Her husband, Norman Carroll O'Connor, was a ringmaster and sideshow talker and was starting another career in PR. Shirley joined him in this endeavor and recounted stories in her memoir, Life Is a Circus, of sharing a car with an uncaged leopard on her honeymoon, losing eight elephants on Hollywood Boulevard and having as friends such circus and sideshow performers as the Sheep-Headed Men, Flipper Boy, Two-Faced Man and Lovanda, a full-sized head on a platter.

After resigning from the circus in the 1969 season, she began handling theater and rock accounts, earning her the title of "oldest counter-culture publicist."

Shirley and Norman established the Carrolls Agency in 1953 and handled publicity and advertising for H. Warner Buck's Sportsman Show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Great Western Livestock and Dairy Show, Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey, Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus, Jungleland in Thousand Oaks and the Pacific Ocean Park.

After Norman's death in 1967, she continued the business and moved into publicity and advertising for Broadway shows in Los Angeles.

O'Connor was the press agent at the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles for the original production of Grease and for Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign, Raisin and The Magic Show. At the Huntington Hartford Theatre, she handled Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and Sammy Davis Jr.

In 1972, she was engaged by Universal Studios to handle the publicity for the new Universal Amphitheatre and its numerous rock and pop concerts and for the American premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar. When the production closed, she began a seven-year stint as director of tour and amphitheatre publicity.

In 1974, she handled the publicity and advertising for the American premiere of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip.

In the early 1960s, she began a long association with Milt Larsen and his famous It's Magic! show. The collaboration with Larsen resulted in the establishment of the Magic Castle in Hollywood, where O'Connor's job was to publicize the private club without making people feel that it was too exclusive.

O'Connor's job as the first female circus press agent was used for Rhonda Fleming's character in the 1959 movie The Big Circus. She and the actress made several publicity appearances together.

Shirley is survived by her son, Kevin C. O'Connor, daughter-in-law Donna and grandchildren Colin and Meghann. Donations in O'Connor's memory can be made to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis.