Monday, November 28, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Late last year and the earlier part of this year I posted a series of caricatures by the Swedish artist Einmar Nerman lining famous performers from New York, Hollywood and the West End. Many of them were well-known on both continents from their appearances on stage and screen but just many were artists who's fame rested solely in their work in England and Europe. Many of them were the stars of the hundreds of revues that filled West End theatres between the wars - shows produced by C.B. Cochrane or André Charlot with wonderful title like "London Calling", "Rats", "On With the Dance", "Queen High", "Bow Bells" or "Wake Up and Dream". Many of them features full scale production numbers with beautiful chorus girls and elaborate effects while others were small scaled and built on the abilities of multi-talented artists like Cicely Courtneidge and her husband Jack Hulbert.

Cicely was one those performers who was born in a trunk - her father Robert was a producer of theatricals from musical comedies to revivals of Shakespeare and in 1901 the 8 year old Cicely made her debut in 1901 as Peaseblossom in her father's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Manchester. By 16 she was playing leading roles in her father's musicals though there was some indication that her "star" status was dependent on paternal nepotism. When financial difficulties put an end to her father's days as a producer the young Cicily turned to playing the "Halls" realizing she could not be an "ingenue" forever.  And that experience with the raucous often unforgiving Music Hall audiences honed her craft as a comedienne, singers and dancer.  Her professional partnership with Jack Hulbert began in 1913 and led to a series of hit West End revues, many written by and produced by Hulbert. 

It was in one of their revues, Clowns in Clover, that she first ordered "A Dozen Double Damask Dinner Napkins" and

She first appeared on stage with Hulbert in 1913 and they married - despite her father's warning of dire things to come if she married an actor - in 1916. They were to appear on stage together until 1976 and that "undesirable" marriage was to last until Hulbert's death in 1978. Though known chiefly for her stage work Cicely appeared in several successful movies in the 1930s and 40s as a comedienne.   In this clip from Soldiers of the King, a 1933 musical,  she fills in for the missing member of an Adagio act in a - you'll never guess what??? - West End revue.  I may be missing something but I can't see where any stunt double takes over for her - the acrobatics seem to be solely Courtnedige at her comedic best.

Though she was to make marvellous cameo appearances in movies until she retired in 1977  her most memorable performance was as the elderly Lesbian actress in The L-Shaped Room in 1962.  She continued preforming  on stage and in 1971 during the run of Move Over, Mrs Markham celebrated her 70th year as a performer.  She toured this quintessential British farce throughout England and as far afield as Toronto's O'Keefe Centre.  It was the only time I saw her on stage and to be quite honest little about the play sticks in my memory.  However what happened afterwards is one of those small moments I cherish.  I went backstage afterwards clutching a copy of Robert Baral's Revue which I had bought a few weeks before.  He devoted several pages to London revues and included a picture of Cecily Courtneidge  and Jack Hulbert amongst the illustrations.  Dame Cecily - an honour she received in 1972 -  seemed a bit nonplused by this kid from the suburbs standing in the doorway of her dressing room - I'm sure there had been very few autograph seekers during the run -  but graciously invited me in.  She introduced me to an elegant gentleman who was seated in the corner but I didn't quite catch his name.  She signed my book and showed him the photo and they both chuckled.  He asked if I wanted his autograph too?  Stupidly I said no, as to be honest I've always been awkward at being an autograph hound and after mumbling my thanks I  beat an embarrassed retreat.  It was only later that I realized it was Hulbert and I missed my chance to get the two of them to sign the photo.  And am not at all sure to this day that I may not have offended his professional pride just a bit.

As a way to make up for it, here's a wonderful clip of the two of them together throughout their professional and private lives with Jack singing a song that could have been their theme:  Where There's You  There's Me.

I will always regret only getting Cecily Courtneidge's autograph when I had Jack Hulbert sitting - unrecognized - right in front of me.  Oh the foolishness of youth!

28 novembre/November - San Giacomo della Marca

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