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Michael Ralph Thomas Gunn

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In this page talks about ( Michael Ralph Thomas Gunn ) It was sent to us on 27/05/2021 and was presented on 27/05/2021 and the last update on this page on 27/05/2021

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Michael Ralph Thomas Gunn (1840 – 24 October 1901) was an Irish businessman and theater manager who built and ran the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. For several years he was closely involved with Richard D'Oyly Carte, and the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He invested in some of Carte's ventures and helped manage Carte's theater and touring productions in England while Carte was in the United States.

Early years

Michael Gunn, the father of Michael Ralph Thomas Gunn, moved to Dublin from Scotland and began work as a piano tuner. His wife Elle was a corsetière. They settled in Fleet Street, where their sons John and Michael were born in 1832 and 1840. They spent three years in Clare Street then in 1850 opened a business at 13 Westland Row{{efnThe Wilde family were neighbors of the Gunns on Westland Row. selling pianofortes and harmoniums. Later they expanded into selling and publishing sheet music. Michael junior was interested in music as a child, and became an accomplished player of the violin and the piano.
The brothers John and Michael Gunn both worked in the family music business. In 1861 their father died in a horse-drawn omnibus accident when the driver lost control and the vehicle was backed into a canal lock. In 1862 his widow was awarded £4,660 in damages. In 1864 M. Gunn and Sons moved to a large location at 16 Grafton Street in downtown Dublin. They advertised "the finest collection of pianofortes ever brought together in Ireland". The company opened a branch in Cork in 1869.
Michael Gunn was a member of the Dublin Corporation (the city government) in the late 1860s and early 1870s, when he had to retire from this position due to the demands of his business enterprises. He loved travel and spoke fluent French and Italian, as well as some German. It was while visiting France and Italy that the idea came to him of building a modern theater in Dublin.

Gaiety Theatre

On 21 April 1871 John and Michael Gunn obtained a 21-year license to establish "a well-regulated theatre and therein at all times publicly to act, represent or perform any interlude, tragedy, comedy, prelude, opera, burletta, play, farce or pantomime". The brothers had the Gaiety Theatre built on South King Street in Dublin 1871 for £26,000. Construction was completed in just 28 weeks. The designer was Charles J. Phipps, who was already experienced in theater design. The Lord Mayor of Dublin laid the foundation stone in a ceremony on 1 July 1871, although by that time the work was already quite advanced. The Gaiety Theatre opened on 27 November 1871. The opening performance was She Stoops to Conquer, performed by the John Woods Company. The prologue by John Francis Wall was delivered by Mary Frances Scott-Siddons.
Where other Dublin theaters had resident performers and technical staff, the Gaiety provided a stage for touring companies almost all year apart from Christmas, when they put on a pantomime produced in-house. This gave the public more variety, gave the touring companies a larger audience, and saved money since the theater needed fewer employees.
The Gunns brought the best actors and troupes in the world of theatre to Dublin each year, performing classic plays by Shakespeare and others, classical opera, light opera from Gilbert and Sullivan, and opéra bouffe. Adelaide Ristori and Sarah Bernhardt appeared at the Gaiety. Emily Soldene caused a sensation when she wore tights and rode a horse onto the stage.
In March 1874 the Gunn brothers took ownership of the Theatre Royal, Dublin from John Harris, who had run it for nearly 25 years. John and Michael Gunn remained joint owners of the Gaiety, but John managed the Gaiety while Michael managed the Theatre Royal. Michael's brother John died in 1877. Michael continued to run both theatres.

Collaboration with Richard D'Oyly Carte

In 1875 a company organized by Richard D'Oyly Carte started a tour of England and Ireland. Carte's company performed La Périchole, La fille de Madame Angot, and Trial by Jury, by Gilbert and Sullivan. After ten weeks in England, the company opened at the Gunns' Gaiety Theatre on 5 September 1875. Michael Gunn became enthusiastic about Carte's plans for comic opera in England. Gunn became a close friend of Carte{{efnCarte later said of Michael Gunn, "I have a greater respect and regard for him than I think for any man living except my father." and later became a business partner of Carte's.
In 1879 Carte left for a tour in the United States, and Gunn took over management of his opera business in England during his absence. He sent two companies to play Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore in theaters around the British provinces, one with Richard Mansfield as Sir Joseph Porter and the other with W. S. Penley as Sir Joseph and the contralto Alice Barnett as Little Buttercup. During Carte's absence Gunn stood in for Carte in legal fights with the Comedy Opera Company in London, which had originally financed Pinafore.
In 1879 Carte became interested in a site on the Strand as a place to build a new theatre. In 1880 he involved Gunn, who helped him find businessmen to form a syndicate in which both Gunn and Carte had shares. At first the new theater was to be called the Beaufort Theatre, but that was later changed to the Savoy Theatre after the nearby site of the ancient Savoy Palace. C. J. Phipps was commissioned as architect. The Savoy Theatre opened on 10 October 1881. In 1881 Gunn upset Gilbert by booking a musical piece by another author for the Savoy, and Gunn was forced to move it to another theatre.
At the start of 1882 Carte was bound for New York, while Gunn was supervising the Gilbert and Sullivan touring companies and managing the Savoy Theatre. Gunn continued to invest in opportunities in London. For example, he took a major stake in the Savoy Turkish Baths Company. The prospectus of the Savoy Hotel, issued a few months before it opened in August 1889, listed Gunn among the directors.

Later activities

thumbuprightCover of a programme for Sinbad the Sailor, Christmas 1892 pantomime at the Gaiety
The Theatre Royal in Dublin was completely destroyed by fire on 9 February 1879. Gunn began to spend more of his time in Dublin. In 1883 he employed the theatre architect Frank Matcham to expand the Gaiety. Matcham redecorated the auditorium in baroque style and built an extension to the west that held the parterre and dress-circle bars. In 1886 Gunn built a new theatre, Leinster Hall, on the site of the Theatre Royal. Adelina Patti sang at the opening concerts and returned in 1891 and 1895. Nellie Melba gave two concerts there in 1893. The hall was used for affordable concerts such as the Promenade Concerts and the Dublin Popular Concerts. Gunn later opened the first commercial gymnasium in an annexe to the hall. After Gunn retired and moved to London, Leinster Hall was converted in 1897 to become a new Theatre Royal.

Family life

Gunn was attracted to a member of Carte's 1875 company, Barbara Johnstone, who used the stage name Bessie Sudlow. Carte was Michael Gunn's best man when he married Johnstone on 26 October 1876 at the St Marylebone Parish Church, London. The bride was given away by George Dolby. {{efnGeorge Dolby (1831–1900), was a theatre manager and a close friend of Charles Dickens. Afterwards, Johnstone performed on stage only once more. They had six children, including Kevin (born 1880), Brendan (born 1881), Selskar and Haidée (both born in 1883), and Agnes. Haidée and Agnes both became actresses. Agnes later became Lady Webb as wife of Sir Ambrose Henry Webb. Selskar Gunn became prominent as an expert in public health.
Gunn and Bessie had a house in Merrion Square, Dublin, and another on Russell Square, London, both fine properties. They were one of the richest families in Dublin, and often held large gatherings at their house. Gunn was a close friend of John Stanislaus Joyce, father of James Joyce. James Joyce became a friend of Michael's son Selskar. In Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, Gunn (or Makeall Gone, Gun the farther, etc.) is repeatedly used as a symbol of the creator-god-father.
Gunn died at his London residence near Hampstead on 24 October 1901 at the age of 61. His estate was estimated at just over £20,000. His wife became owner of the Gaiety and held it until 1909.




  • {{citation url= accessdate=2020-07-27
  • title=Death of Mr. Michael Gunn journal=Advocate location=Melbourne, Australia ref=

  • {{citation url= accessdate=2020-07-27
  • title=History publisher=Gaiety Theatre ref=

    • {{citation ref=
    • title=Selskar Michael Gunn journal=American Journal of Public Health publisher=American Public Health Association volume=34 date=October 1944 issue=10pages=1096–1097 doi=10.2105/AJPH.34.10.1096 pmid=18016067 pmc=1625293

    • {{citation url= ref=
    • title=The Theatre Royal, Hawkins Street, Dublin - A History journal=Freeman's Journal date=3 March 1874
      Category:1840 births
      Category:1901 deaths
      Category:Irish theatre managers and producers

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