Ivor Novello

Definition

Theater

  • (David Ivor Davies; 1893 - 1951) British actor-manager,playwright, and composer, whose light musical plays dominated theWest End stage in the 1930s. In 2005 the Strand Theatre inLondon was renamed the Novello Theatre in his honour.

    Novello was born in Cardiff, the son of musical parents; bythe age of 10 he had won a prize at the National Eisteddfod. In 1914he was provoked into writing 'Keep the Home fires Burning' by hismother, who had composed a dreadful patriotic song that she threatenedto sing in public unless he wrote a better one. It was to be the mostpopular song of World War I and earned Novello £15,000 in itsfirst five years. During the war, Novello served in the Air Ministryand wrote Theodore and Co., which opened in 1916 for an 18-monthrun at the Gaiety Theatre, London.

    Novello made his acting debut in 1921 in Sacha Guitry's Deburauat the Ambassadors Theatre. The following year he left for Americato become a silent film actor. Hollywood made much of his famous profileand he became an international star; however, he was to return tothe London stage declaring, "I want to show them that thereis an art beyond the reach of mechanical devices of black and whiteshadows chasing each other round a white screen."

    In 1924 Novello co-wrote and starred in The Rat, whichopened in Brighton (where he took 39 curtain calls on the first night)before transferring to the Prince of Wales's Theatre, London. In 1929,a year in which Novello was Britain's top cinema attraction, his Symphonyin Two Flats opened at the New Theatre. The following year Novellomade his New York debut in the play at the Shubert Theatre. In America,however, Symphony in Two Flats ran for only seven weeks, promptingNovello to say "we opened in a heat wave and closed in a heatwave...unfortunately it was the same heat wave."

    He then wrote the script for MGM's Tarzan, the Ape Manbefore returning to London to stage his Party (1932) at theStrand Theatre. This play about two theatrical rivals featured charactersbased on Tallulah Bankhead and Mrs Patrick Campbell;the latter played the character based on herself in a New York productionin 1933. Fresh Fields also opened that year at the CriterionTheatre, its run overlapping with those of Sunshine Sistersat the Queen's Theatre and Proscenium, a sentimental comedyabout the theater, at the Globe.

    Novello's romantic musicals, all staged at Drury Lane, includedGlamorous Night (1935), Careless Rapture (1936), whichNovello liked to call "Careless Rupture", Crest ofthe Wave (1937), and The Dancing Years (1939), in whichhe played a Viennese composer. In 1949 Novello enjoyed a final successwith King's Rhapsody, in which he was starring at the timeof his death.

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