“When Ms. Carroll makes her first entrance,” Frank Rich wrote in The Times, “a nervous silence falls over the audience at the Shakespeare Theater at the Folger here, as hundreds of eyes search for some trace of the woman they’ve seen in a thousand televisions reruns. What they find instead is a Falstaff who could have stepped out of a formal painted portrait: a balding, aged knight with scattered tufts of silver hair and whiskers, an enormous belly, pink cheeks and squinting, froggy eyes that peer out through boozy mists. The sight is so eerie you grab onto your seat.”
“One realizes,” Mr. Rich continued, “that it is Shakespeare’s character, and not a camp parody, that is being served.”
Patricia Ann Carroll was born on May 5, 1927, in Shreveport, La., and grew up in Los Angeles. Her father, Maurice, worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; her mother, Kathryn (Meagher) Carroll, worked in real estate and office management.
Mrs. Carroll attended Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles on an English scholarship but left before graduating. “I realized that what I was learning was not going to advance what I wished to do,” she said in 2011. “I always thought experience was the best preparation.”
In 1947, Ms. Carroll left Los Angeles for Plymouth, Mass., where she worked at the Priscilla Beach Theater and, she said, ate, drank and breathed the theater. She made her professional stage debut there that year in “A Goose for the Gander,” starring Gloria Swanson. Soon after, she made it to New York, where, among other odd jobs, she shined shoes.