Carroll was born to Dr. Herbert R. Ryman and Cora Belle (Norris) Ryman while her father was a medical student at Kansas State Medical College. Dr. Ryan died in France while a field surgeon during World War I when she was about twelve, and her mother Cora Belle, a schoolteacher, raised the children.
Lucille, as she was known, graduated from Decatur High School, Decatur, IL and went on to Millikin University, where she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and acted in plays. During the following five years, she taught at Assumption High School and Roosevelt Junior High, acting in plays staged by Decatur's Town and Gown Players, a community theater company. Moving to California to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1931, she won a $1,000 scholarship. She quit her teaching job in Decatur to act in and direct plays at the playhouse, where movie actors graced the stage and directors sought new talent.
Lucille's brother, Herbert Ryman was a prominent Disney imagineer.
Using the stage name Jane Starr, she worked with movie producer Louis O. Macloon at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, demonstrating how motion pictures were made. Macloon, who had recently given an actor named Clark Gable some of his first parts, chose her to star in the Broadway play It Pays to Sin. When the play received scathing reviews and closed, Carroll sought consolation by visiting backstage with Katharine Hepburn, then 26, who had also received terrible reviews while acting in a nearby theater. Instead Hepburn was characteristically blunt. "Then you're not an actress," Hepburn told Carroll. "I don't care what the critics say about me. I know what I am."
Carroll moved to San Francisco, where she and Macloon opened an experimental theater and produced several plays. She married Macloon in 1936. They divorced within a few years. During the 1930s, she traveled throughout the nation as talent scout for Universal Pictures, rising to become head of that studio's talent department in New York.
Carroll headed MGM's talent department from 1941 to 1954 and helped sign a young actress named Lana Turner, helped arrange a key screen test for Marilyn Monroe and played a role in bringing June Allyson and Janet Leigh to MGM. She was one of the few women to reach a position of executive power in the old Hollywood studio system.
At MGM she met John Carroll, a successful actor who had appeared in movies such as Flying Tigers with John Wayne and Go West with the Marx Brothers. They were married in 1947. He died in 1979. Movies made at MGM while Lucille Carroll ran its training department included Singin' in the Rain, Show Boat, Gaslight and Meet Me in St. Louis. While she was there, MGM garnered 16 Academy Award nominations for best picture, winning Oscars for An American in Paris and Mrs. Miniver. In 1942, Hepburn signed a contract with MGM to appear in a picture, Woman of the Year, the first of many in which she appeared with Spencer Tracy. One of Carroll's roles at MGM was as an advisor to established stars such as Hepburn, Tracy, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Greer Garson. She smoothed over differences that arose between the stars and the studio's business executives. In their later years they resided in Burbank with her brother. After Herb's death she produced a collection of his great works and many Disney conceptual works, that later became reality, as the hallmark of the Disney Theme Parks.
- Worldstream, AP (2002-11-02). "Lucille Carroll, woman who broke into old Hollywood to lead MGM talent department". AP Worldstream. Retrieved 2007-03-09.