Today is the birthday of the great British songwriter, playwright and actor Ivor Novello (David Ivor Davies, 1893-1951). Novello was the son of a high end Welsh singing instructor; he was already singing and studying music seriously from early boyhood.
He first achieved widespread public notice when he composed the WWI song “Keep the Home Fires Burning” in 1914.
A huge success, the song paved the way for Novello’s continued fortune as a composer over the coming decades. While never in music hall or American vaudeville, Novello did come close, for he wrote tunes for dozens of West End revues (including several editions of Charlot’s Revues) as well as book musicals.
At the same time, he became an actor on both stage and screen. Notable films he appeared in included D.W. Griffith’s The White Rose (1923); Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger and Downhill (both 1927), and the 1932 sound remake of The Lodger, for which he also wrote the screenplay.
Other scripts by Novello included The Rat (1924), four full length west end book musicals throughout the 1930s, and the screenplay for Tarzan the Apeman (1932). His last project was the musical King’s Rhapsody (1949).
You can hear several of Novello’s tunes in the Robert Altman film Gosford Park, in which Jeremy Northam, as a fictional Novello tickles the ivory as a typically Altmanian chorus commenting on the action.
To find out more about the variety arts, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc