W(illiam) Somerset Maugham



  • (1874 - 1965) British playwright, novelist, and short-storywriter, who in 1908 had four plays running simultaneously in the WestEnd, a record at that time. The plays were Lady Frederick atthe Court Theatre, Jack Straw at the Vaudeville Theatre, MrsDot at the Comedy Theatre, and The Explorer at the LyricTheatre. His work was noted for its clear style, solid construction,and shrewd perception of human nature.

    Between 1898 and 1933 Maugham wrote 27 plays; the first tobe produced was Man of Honour in 1904. His successes includedOur Betters (1917), a satire on US social-climbers, Homeand Beauty (1919), The Circle (1921), Eastof Suez (1922), The Constant Wife (1926), and theanti-war play For Services Rendered (1932). After the comparativefailure of Sheppey, directed by Gielgud in 1933, Maugham decidedthat he had lost touch with public taste and gave up writing for thetheater. Several of his short stories have been adapted by othersfor the stage, notably Miss Thompson, dramatized as Rain(1922) by John Colton and Clemence Randolph.

    Maugham once complimented Noël Coward on hisdialogue but added:

    Good dialogue is like the most charming interior decorationof a house, but it is of little use if the foundations are insecureand the drains don't work.
    Coward later wrote A Song at Twilight (1966), a playabout an embittered homosexual writer, who was clearly based on Maugham.Fears of a possible libel suit evaporated when Maugham, who was 91,obligingly died just before the play opened. Coward, who had visitedhim three months before, remarked:
    Poor, miserable old man. Not very sadly mourned, I fear.