NO?âÔÇ?L COWARD Vol.4
I Wonder What Happened To Him
Original 1944-1951 Recordings
His triumph has been to unite two things ever disassociatedin the English mind: hard work and wit - Kenneth Tynan
No?â?½l Coward's polymathic activities as a performer -embracing straight theatre, cabaret revue and cinema - were matched only by hiscontributions as playwright and critic and as songsmith rivalled only by ColePorter. A kind of 20th century'Renaissance Man' he was also a highly skilled and successful theatricalentrepre-neur. Born No?â?½l PeirceCoward in Teddington into a comfortable, middle-class family, he grew up insuburban Surbiton in Surrey, receiving no formal musical training, albeitseveral of his antecedents were practising musicians. From the first his inclination veered unerringly towards thetheatre and, at Daly's and the Gaiety, he was fed on a diet of Edwardianmusical comedy and the lighter drama classics until he made his own first stageappearance in The Goldfish, at the London Little Theatre, in 1911.
By that time the self-taught Coward was also writing music(his earliest surviving song dates from 1915) and, under the tutelage ofCharles Hawtrey, he made a few other juvenile appearances as an actor prior toa brief stint in the British Army during WW1, during 1918, the year he alsomade his first film appearance, in D.W.Griffith's Hearts Of The World (aBritish-made silent starring Dorothy and Lillian Gish). In 1920 he starred in his first playI'll Leave It To You (which failed) and, less than a year later and againunsuccessfully, he made his New York stage debut. In London, in February 1923, he made less of an impressionin his next play The Young Idea than in the Andre Charlot revue London Calling,in which he danced with his co-star Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952) andcollaborated with writer Ronald Jeans on twelve numbers, of which the wistful\Parisian Pierrot" is best remembered.
Coward's parallel career as a playwright blossomedsimultaneously and his straight plays The Vortex (1923), Fallen Angels and HayFever (both 1925) won him early recognition. However, it was in hiscontributions to revues, first for Charlot then, more significantly, forC.B.Cochran (1872-1951), that his greater talent for musical comedy firstmanifested itself. In 1925 thefirst of these, On With The Dance (a star-studded show for which Coward wroteall twelve numbers, including the catchy "Poor Little Rich Girl", introduced bythe French-born Alice Delysia) made him his name in the genre and led to thebigger success, again for Cochran, of This Year Of Grace (1928). For this show (a virtual triumph with a316-performance London run complemented by 157 in a concurrent Broadwayproduction which netted him ?é?ú1000 per week in royalties and established hisAmerican reputation), Coward wrote all lyrics and songs, including thejazz-influenced "Dance, Little Lady" and "A Room With A View".
In 1929, inspired - he claimed - by Johann Strauss's DieFledermaus, Coward decided to try his hand at the Viennese 'operette' withBitter-Sweet. His stars of theoriginal London production (697 performances), the American soprano Peggy Woodand Rumanian high-baritone Georges Metaxa, regaled audiences with "Dear LittleCafe" and "I'll See You Again". The show also ran for 159 performances on Broadway and was the firstCoward musical to be filmed (in England, in 1933). In 1930, in London, in the 'comedy with music' PrivateLives, Coward next reaffirmed his stage partnership with Gertrude Lawrence (itsBroadway production the following year was also a significant hit) and inanother successful London revue, Cavalcade, for Cochran. This monumental paean to Edwardianlife, two years later, would land its author a $1million contract for anOscar-winning Fox films production.
Meanwhile, in London in 1932, Words And Music ran at theAdelphi for 164 performances. Produced for Cochran and featuring Ivy St.Helier, Effie Atherton and a very young John Mills, this contained eighteenCoward numbers, most notably "Mad Dogs And Englishmen" and "Mad About TheBoy". After the further successesof the non-musical Design For Living (1933) and the 1934 musical ConversationPiece, in 1936 Coward combined his talent for satire and musical comedy inTonight At 8.30, a series of nine one-acters of which three contained musicalinterludes. First presented at theLondon Phoenix and co-starring Coward and Lawrence, these also ran on Broadway.
In 1938, at His Majesty's Theatre, Operette proved acomparative failure for its author, despite some very plaintive tunes in thebest Coward tradition, notably "Dearest Love", "Where Are The Songs We Sung?"and the monumentally droll "Stately Homes Of England". It was to be his last British pre-warmusical, but the outbreak of the Second World War found Coward busy working forENSA and the war-effort. In 1942,in the propaganda film In Which We Serve (his first screen appearance for nineyears) he played a Mountbatten-like admiral and wartime inspired some of thefinest Coward 'occasionals', including "Don't Let's Be Beastly To The Germans"(wrongly interpreted as pro-Nazi, this was for a time banned by the BBC) and"Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun?" (a sort of Cowardian sequel to"The Washing On The Siegfried Line") and defiant morale-boosters, like ThereHave Been Songs In England and the more enduring "London Pride".
In the immediate postwar era Coward made a welcome return tothe musical theatre with the revue Sigh No More (Piccadilly Theatre, London,1945) and whereas his satire may have lost some of its former edge, this show,which ran for 213 performances and featured Cyril Ritchard, Graham Payn andJoyce Grenfell, included some fine numbers: "Du Maurier", Sigh No More, I Wonder What Happened To Him,Nina (a masterly Cole Porteresque skit on the vagaries of South America anddancing-girls), Matelot, Never Again, Wait A Bit, Joe and a new arrangement ofthe traditional Scots song Loch Lomond. His first full-scale postwar musical, Pacific 1860 (Drury Lane, 1946),which ran for only nine-months (129 performances) was a disaster. Starring MaryMartin (who 'never really felt comfortable as Mme. Salvador') and Graham Payn,and co-starring Daphne Anderson, Sylvia Cecil, Maria Perilli and Pat McGrathwith backing from the Mantovani Orchestra, its spectacle was misplaced in aworld of postwar austerity (a Changing World, indeed!) Drury Lane Theatre was cold andforbidding and several parts were miscast, although several of its wistfulnumbers are still remembered (in particular, "I Never Knew", Bright Was TheDay, Uncle Harry and His Excellency Regrets).
In July 1950, Ace Of Clubs opened at the Cambridge toanother meagre run of just 211 performances. Its cast included Sylvia Cecil, Raymond Young, Myles Eason,Jean Carson, Pat Kirkwood, Graham Payn, Peter Tuddenham and Norman Warwick andof its ten numbers "Three Juvenile Delinquents" (a re-writing of "Stately HomesOf England" for Teddy Boys in embryo), "I Like America", Josephine (a finecabaret-style number about Napoleon's consort) and Sail Away are still rated byCoward devotees among his best. The Lyric Revue, which opened at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in May 1951(featuring Graham Payn, Gerard Bryant, George Benson, Dora Bryan, Irlin Halland Joan Heal) enjoyed an altogether healthier total ru