Obituary: Toby Rowland

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The Independent Online
Toby Rowland, theatre producer: born Libby, Montana 19 October 1916; joint managing director, Stoll Theatre Corporation Ltd 1959-84; married Mildred Landstrom; died 9 August 1994.

TOBY ROWLAND was a leading theatre producer in the West End of London, and for 25 years a key figure at Stoll Moss Theatres, the largest theatre group in the capital, latterly as joint managing director with Louis Benjamin, who died two months ago.

Rowland had produced plays in London since 1955, and after retiring from Stoll Moss in 1984 set up a new production company, Libby Productions. The name came from Libby, Montana, where Rowland was born in 1916. He went into the theatre first at the Seattle Playhouse, where he met Millie Landstrom, his lifetime partner and wife. They went to New York, where Rowland was co-founder of the first off-Broadway theatre, the Playroom Club on West 19th Street. His first production there was a presentation of The Infernal Machine in 1938.

Rowland set up in London first in 1950, with HM Tennent, London's largest and most distinguished producing theatrical management, where he was intially Personal Assistant to his boss Hugh 'Binkie' Beaumont. Stoll Moss owned the theatres in which their productions were presented. Then in 1953, sponsored by Prince Littler and the Moss Empire world of West End theatres, he became an individual producer, setting up Toby Rowland Ltd, presenting 36 productions in London, many of them of exceptional merit.

Rowland's first London production was The Desperate Hours at the London Hippodrome, in 1955. In the same year he presented Hugo Betti's Summertime, with Dirk Bogarde and Geraldine McEwan, Robert Ardrey's Shadow of Heroes, starring Peggy Ashcroft and Emlyn Williams, at the Piccadilly Theatre, directed by Peter Hall, and Brouhaha, with Peter Sellers, both in 1958. Rowland had good taste in finding and choosing talented people, and a great belief in the young Peter Hall whom he promoted for the job of running the Arts Theatre, in 1955, which made Hall's reputation.

Rowland personally discovered Alan Bennett as a writer for the theatre. For Stoll Productions he presented Bennett's original and hilarious Forty Years On (1968), starring John Gielgud as the Headmaster, and Getting On (1971), with Kenneth More, at the Apollo Theatre, and also co-produced, with Michael Codron, Bennett's third West End play, Habeas Corpus (1973), at the Lyric, starring Alec Guinness.

Rowland's production of the musical revue Wait a Minim] played for two years in at the Fortune from 1964, with Leon Gluckman as co-producer, a year in New York, with Frank Loeser as co-producer, and a year in Australia.

Latterly, Rowland's productions included the amusing comedy Moving, with Penelope Keith, in 1981, and the musical Windy City, in 1982, as a co-production with Louis Benjamin.

For all the artistic and commercial success of his own productions, Rowland's main contribution to the West End was probably in the help he gave to other producers. He represented Stoll Moss, the biggest theatre-owners, but always gave the impression that he was on the producer's side and was even known to reduce the rent of a theatre or make other economies in its running costs to help a production through a difficult patch. In 1970 he became president of the Society of West End Theatre Managers, in which role he was generous and fair-minded, always prepared to stand up for the producer managers rather than the theatres' landlords. He was also a generous host and first-class cook.

(Photograph omitted)

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