Guy Bolton: Laughs, Lights, Longevity

Broadway titan (playwright, lyricist, book-writer, screenwriter, author) Guy Bolton (1884-1979) deserves a shout out today. Bolton’s wit was sophisticated without being pretentious, perfectly in tune with the first third of the 20th century and yet also evergreen. Within the past five years there have been no less than two revivals of, or tributes to, his work on Broadway, just as there have been every few years. There is something about his comical concoctions that are the essence of what we think of as Broadway.

Bolton made his name contributing to the so-called Princess Theater Musicals (1915-1918), collaborations with P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome Kern that inched the Broadway musical away from the popular European operetta format which had gone before. Among these were Very Good, Eddie (1915-16 and revived 60 years later with James Harder, as we blogged here); and Oh, Boy! (1917-1918) with Marion Davies and Edna May Oliver, later made into a 1919 silent movie. With frequent collaborator Guy Middleton he devised the plot for Hit the Trail Holiday, which George M. Cohan adapted into a Broadway show in 1915, and then a (now lost) silent movie in 1918.

Other notable shows Bolton wrote or co-wrote included: Miss 1917, an all-star revue featuring Lew Fields, Ann Pennington, George White, Charles King, Bessie McCoy, Bert Savoy, Van and Schenck, Lilyan Tashman, Marion Davies, and Irene CastleSally (1920-1923) starring Marilyn Miller and Leon Errol, then made into a 1925 silent movie for Colleen Moore and Errol and later a 1929 talkie with Miller and Joe E. BrownLady Be Good (1924-25) with Fred and Adele Astaire, then made into movies in 1928 and 1941; Oh, Kay! (1926-1927) with Gertrude Lawrence, Victor Moore and Oscar Shaw, made into a 1928 film with Colleen Moore; The Ramblers (1927-1928) with Clark and McCullough and Richy Craig Jr, later made into the 1930 Wheeler and Woolsey movie The Cuckoos; Rio Rita (1927-28) with Wheeler and Woolsey, later the team’s 1929 cinematic debut, as well as a 1942 vehicle for Abbott and Costello; Rosalie (1928) with Marilyn Miller and Frank Morgan, made into a film in 1937 with Morgan and Eleanor Powell; Polly (1929) with Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, and Cary Grant; Top Speed (1929-1930) with Lester Allen and Ginger Rogers, later made into a 1930 movie for Joe E. Brown; Simple Simon (1930-31) with Ed Wynn; Girl Crazy (1930-1931) with Willie Howard, Ethel Merman, and Ginger Rogers, later made into a 1932 Wheeler and Woolsey movie and a 1943 Mickey and Judy vehicle; Anything Goes (1934-35) with Merman, William Gaxton and Victor Moore, made into movies in 1936 and 1956; and Hold on to your Hats (1940-41), with Martha Raye and Al Jolson (Jolson’s last show).

Bolton also wrote original screenplays like The Love Parade (1929), with Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane; and the spooky thriller Chandu the Magician with Edmund Lowe and Bela Lugosi (1932). He contributed to dozens more plays, musicals and screenplays besides these, and also wrote and co-wrote several books.

Some later theatrical projects include Come on Jeeves a.k.a. Ring for Jeeves (1952), an adaptation with frequent collaborator Wodehouse of his famous fiction character for the stage; Anastasia (1954-1955), a Broadway adaptation of a French historical drama, later turned into a 1956 film, then into the 1965 musical Anya, and then into a 1967 British telefilm; and Child of Fortune, a 1956 adaptation of Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove. In the end he had been turning out popular works for audiences and readers for over half a century.

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