Sir Max Beerbohm



  • (1872 - 1956) British theater critic and playwright, thehalf-brother of the actor-manager Beerbohm Tree. In 1898he became drama critic of the Saturday Review, succeeding GeorgeBernard Shaw. In 1908 he reviewed a London performance by the US actressFlorence Kahn (1877 - 1951); they married later that year. Beerbohmalso wrote fiction, including the novel Zuleika Dobson (1911),and drew caricatures, including a famous one of Oscar Wilde.

    Beerbohm's one-act play A Social Success was producedin 1913 with George Alexander in the lead. He also turned one of hisown short stories into the one-act curtain-raiser TheHappy Hypocrite; this achieved great success at the royalty Theatrein 1900 with Mrs Patrick Campbell. On the opening night (which Beerbohmspent in hiding in the Metropole Hotel, Brighton), he confided toa friend that he did not "give a damn" if the criticsliked it or not because "the public, after all, is the finalcourt of appeal".

    A three-act version of The Happy Hypocrite by ClemenceDane was produced in 1936 at His Majesty's Theatre. This starred IvorNovello as a fat dissolute man who recovers his self-respectwhen he falls in love. It proved the handsome star's least successfulrole and the play closed in three months.

    Beerbohm's reviews often showed his Edwardian prejudices;for example, he wrote that Eleanora Duse had a "greategoistic force. In a man I should admire this tremendous egoism verymuch indeed. In a woman it only makes me uncomfortable. I dislikeit. I resent it. In the name of art, I protest against it."He preferred the gentle Ellen Terry (see Terry family)who "always reminds me of a Christmas-tree decorated by a Pre-Raphaelite."When Sarah Bernhardt played the role of Hamlet in 1899 inLondon, Beerbohm wrote: "The customs-house officials at CharingCross ought to have confiscated her sable doublet and hose."Writing about the Tivoli, he said "The aim of the music hallis, in fact, to cheer the lower classes up by showing them a lifeuglier and more sordid than their own."

    On one occasion the actor John Drew (see Drew family),who had shaved off his moustache for his current role, met Beerbohmin the lobby of a London theater but could not recall his name. Beerbohmrecognized him at once and commented: "Oh, Mr Drew, I'm afraidyou don't know me without your moustache."

    After World War I Beerbohm retired to Rapallo, in northernItaly, where he was often to be seen in the gardens of the VillinoChiaro in his white linen suit. His near neighbour was Rex Harrison,who once asked the critic for a suitable Italian name for his house.On Beerbohm's suggestion he called it 'Villa San Genesio', after thepatron saint of the theater.