Story: Tarr, George Herrmann

Page 1 - Biography

Tarr, George Herrmann

1881–1968

Actor, scenic artist, theatre manager, film-maker

This biography was written by Clive Sowry and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

George Herrmann Tarr was born at Sydney, Australia, on 22 September 1881, the son of Agnes Emily Herrmann and her husband, William Tarr, a sawyer. He made his stage début at the age of five, and was associated with a number of touring theatrical companies such as the Fitzmaurice–Gill Dramatic Company. Tarr first came to New Zealand in 1902, appearing in comic sketches for vaudeville shows including those promoted by Percy Dix.

Tarr seems to have had early training in painting theatrical scenery. When he married Alice Mary Blackburn at Melbourne on 21 June 1905, his occupation was recorded as signwriter. He joined the Taylor–Carrington Company in December 1907 and toured New Zealand with them for the next few years. At this time the early picture theatre circuits were being established and Tarr assisted Henry Hayward in setting up and managing various cinemas. He was manager of the Empire Theatre (Napier) in 1911, and the Opera House (Gisborne) in 1913.

George Tarr moved into film production in 1914, when he wrote and produced Hinemoa, a lengthy dramatised film based on the Maori legend. With financial backing from Edward Anderson of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, and with Charles Newham as cameraman, the film was made at Rotorua with an all-Maori cast drawn from the Reverend F. A. Bennett's Maori choir. New Zealand's first feature film, it was screened throughout the country by the principal picture theatre circuits and was later shown overseas.

In 1917 Tarr enlisted in the army and for a time served with the machine-gun corps in France. He returned to New Zealand after 18 months. After being demobilised in October 1919 he settled permanently in Auckland.

Tarr's other major work as a film-maker was the feature-length record of the Melanesian mission, Ten thousand miles in the SY Southern Cross, which he filmed in late 1921 during the mission steamer's annual trip to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and the Solomon Islands. When the film was first screened at the Auckland Town Hall on 19 April 1922, the bishop of Melanesia, Dr J. M. Steward, described the scenes and explained the customs of the people as the film was being shown. Later screenings were accompanied by a lecturer or by Tarr himself. Although the film screened widely in New Zealand and was sold overseas, Tarr did not feel encouraged to continue as a film-maker.

His later career was in the theatre, as actor, producer and scenic artist. He produced prologues and designed stage effects at various Auckland theatres, and occasionally acted in short sketches. He was a life member of the Light Opera Club. In many theatrical ventures he worked with his wife, Alice (known as Darcie), who was a skilled costume designer. Both were involved in the pageants Robin Hood (1934) and Runnymede (1937), produced in commemoration of King George VI's coronation. As a scenic artist Tarr was outstanding, producing scenery for many amateur and professional theatrical productions in His Majesty's Theatre, Auckland.

George Tarr died at Milford, Auckland, on 7 January 1968; Alice Tarr had died in 1960. There were no surviving children.