Old Sam And Young Albert Original 1930-1940 Recordings
To his many fans in the United Kingdom, Stanley Holloway wasthe epitome of the garrulous British music hall comedian. Brash and hearty as English roast beef,Holloway enjoyed seven decades as an entertainer, which began before World WarI and continued almost up until the day he died at the age of 91. By the end of his career, Holloway hadconquered all facets of show business: the music hall, radio, motion pictures,phonograph records, and finally, America's Broadway stage. Those who became familiar with himthrough his memorable portrayal of the carefree dustman Alfred P. Doolittle inMy Fair Lady were probably unaware that Holloway's career as an entertainerdated back to the turn of the century.
Stanley Holloway was born on 1 October 1890, the son of aLondon law clerk. His career in show business began at the age of ten when hebegan performing in seaside resorts and town halls as a boy soprano. In an interview he gave to The NewYorker, Holloway recalled, \I earned two pounds a week and felt extremelyindependent. Once I'd grown up andbecome a baritone, I started singing in what we call concert parties, which arerather like revues." When he wastwelve, his school closed down and young Stanley got a job working as an officeboy at Billingsgate, the centuries-old London fish market.
Holloway fancied himself a budding opera star and saved upenough money to travel to Milan to study to be an opera singer. However, WorldWar I broke out and Holloway spent four years in what he called the "P.B.I."(Poor Bloody Infantry).
After the armistice, Holloway abandoned his operaticendeavours and returned to the stage, starring in and co-writing TheCo-Optimists, a revue that ran for six years. When it ended, he went back to the music hall, performing rhymingmonologues, and introduced a new piece of material he had written called Sam,Pick Oop Tha' Musket, about a recalcitrant soldier who refuses to pick up hisgun. Watching in the wings was George Marriott Edgar (1880-1951), a writer whohad been in the cast of The Co-Optimists. After the curtain fell one night, Edgar asked Holloway if he had heardof a story about a couple who had taken their young son to the zoo, only to seethe lad eaten by a lion. Hollowayhad indeed heard the story and in a short time, Evans had supplied Hollowaywith a script. The Lion and Albertbecame one of Holloway's most popular monologues, one of many he recorded forColumbia beginning in 1930.
Holloway's style is in the understatedlook-on-the-bright-side world of the cockney working class. In the ensuing years, Holloway createda stable of lovable characters, the most famous being Sam Small and the membersof the cantankerous Ramsbottom family, including the mischievous Albert. Holloway's characters are stubborn,obstinate, and hilariously clueless. He often told his stories in costume; sporting outrageous attire andbushy moustaches.
Also recorded at the same session as The Lion and Albert wasthe second monologue written by Edgar for Holloway, Three Ha'pence Per Foot, inwhich Edgar took the Biblical story of Noah and "translated it" into Lancashiredialect (a sequel, The 'Ole in the Ark, was recorded in 1937). This device was later used for othercomic works, including Steve Allen's series of "Bebop's Fables," in whichfamiliar fairy tales were told in hipsters' lingo, and Andy Griffith's "Romeo& Juliet," where the Shakespearean tragedy was told from the point of aview of a congenial country bumpkin.
Holloway and Edgar collaborated on many stories featuringyoung Albert Ramsbottom, but Holloway also procured additional songs andstories from other sources. Onewas the songwriting team of Bob Weston and Bert Lee, who would pitch newmaterial to Holloway when they came up with something they thought would suithim. One of the first they wrotefor him was With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm, a macabre but hilarioussong dealing with the ghost of the decapitated former English queen, AnneBoleyn. In a 1971 interview,Holloway chuckled when recalling the stolid executives at the B.B.C. gaspingwhen Holloway made reference in the song to "the bloody tower." "You can't say 'bloody' over the air!"they shrieked and recommended Holloway change the phrase to "the ruddy tower." Holloway refused, explaining that the termwas a noun and not an adjective and was perfectly acceptable. The B.B.C. recanted and allowedHolloway to perform the piece as written. Weston and Lee would provide Holloway with other numbers he incorporatedinto his act, including Beat the Retreat on Thy Drum and Brown Boots.
By the mid-1930s, Stanley Holloway's recordings had made himone of the most popular comic entertainers in England. His film career, which had begun backin 1921, brought him further fame. He would make movies constantly, never missing more than two yearswithout an appearance, until the mid-1970s. Highlights of his film career include the comedy classic,The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and acting alongside Laurence Olivier in Hamlet(1948), in which Holloway played the first gravedigger, a role Shakespeare isreputed to have played. Hollowayalso appeared in Brief Encounter (1945), Nicholas Nickleby (1946), and Jumpingfor Joy (1956).
Holloway became familiar to American audiences when hisfilms began to be shown on television in the 1950s. In 1956, at the age of 65, he created the plum role of hiscareer: cast as the amoral yet amiable dustman Alfred P. Doolittle in Lernerand Loewe's fantastically successful Broadway musical, My Fair Lady.Ironically, Holloway was no stranger to the two leading players in theshow. In 1941, while working onthe film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara, he met RexHarrison, who would go on to play the priggish Professor Henry Higgins. And after World War II, while performingon radio, he worked with a young child singer named Julie Andrews, who wouldbecome the linguistic changeling (and his stage daughter) Eliza Doolittle.
The role of Doolittle would become, in Holloway's words,"the wonderful Indian summer" of his long career. In 1964, he repeated the role in the popular film version ofMy Fair Lady (after James Cagney had turned it down). He also starred as the namesake of a short-lived Americansituation comedy, Our Man Higgins, which had the misfortune of being scheduledagainst the hit comedy The Beverly Hillbillies and was quickly cancelled.
One music hall song that Holloway had performed was HarryChampion's "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am," whose refrain was turned into a pophit by the British Invasion group Herman's Hermits. This prompted Holloway's starring role in the film Mrs.Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter (1968), which was based on another Hermitshit.
After My Fair Lady, Holloway continued performing on theBritish stage, making guest appearances on American television, recording newversions of classic songs from the golden age of the music hall for Columbiaand Vanguard, and, in 1981, writing his autobiography, Wiv a Little Bit ofLuck, named for one of the two songs he sang in My Fair Lady. In his later years, Holloway became anational institution, performing into his 90s. One of his last appearances wasat a Royal Command Performance in 1980. Ten days after entering a nursing home in Sussex, on 30January 1982,Stanley Holloway passed away