On this Day:
In 1917, Guy Bolton & PG Wodehouse’s “Have a Heart” premiered in New York.
Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. His creations include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster and his sagacious valet, Jeeves; the immaculate and loquacious Psmith; Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle set; the Oldest Member, with stories about golf; and Mr Mulliner, with tall tales on subjects ranging from bibulous bishops to megalomaniac movie moguls.
Born in Guildford, the third son of a British magistrate based in Hong Kong, Wodehouse spent happy teenage years at Dulwich College, to which he remained devoted all his life. After leaving school he was employed by a bank but disliked the work and turned to writing in his spare time. His early novels were mostly school stories, but he later switched to comic fiction. Most of Wodehouse’s fiction is set in his native United Kingdom, although he spent much of his life in the US and used New York and Hollywood as settings for some of his novels and short stories. He wrote a series of Broadway musical comedies during and after the First World War, together with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern, that played an important part in the development of the American musical. He began the 1930s writing for MGM in Hollywood. In a 1931 interview, his naive revelations of incompetence and extravagance in the studios caused a furore. In the same decade, his literary career reached a new peak.
In 1934 Wodehouse moved to France for tax reasons; in 1940 he was taken prisoner at Le Touquet by the invading Germans and interned for nearly a year. After his release he made six broadcasts from German radio in Berlin to the US, which had not yet entered the war. The talks were comic and apolitical, but his broadcasting over enemy radio prompted anger and strident controversy in Britain, and a threat of prosecution. Wodehouse never returned to England. From 1947 until his death he lived in the US, taking dual British-American citizenship in 1955. He died in 1975, at the age of 93, in Southampton, New York.
Wodehouse was a prolific writer throughout his life, publishing more than ninety books, forty plays, two hundred short stories and other writings between 1902 and 1974. He worked extensively on his books, sometimes having two or more in preparation simultaneously. He would take up to two years to build a plot and write a scenario of about thirty thousand words. After the scenario was complete he would write the story. Early in his career Wodehouse would produce a novel in about three months, but he slowed in old age to around six months. He used a mixture of Edwardian slang, quotations from and allusions to numerous poets, and several literary techniques to produce a prose style that has been compared to comic poetry and musical comedy. Some critics of Wodehouse have considered his work flippant, but among his fans are former British prime ministers and many of his fellow writers.
The proposed nominations of Wodehouse for a knighthood in 1967 and 1971 were blocked for fear that such an award would “revive the controversy of his wartime behaviour and give currency to a Bertie Wooster image of the British character which the embassy was doing its best to eradicate”. When Wodehouse was awarded the knighthood, only four years later, the journalist Dennis Barker wrote in The Guardian that the writer was “the solitary surviving English literary comic genius”. After his death six weeks later, the journalist Michael Davie, writing in the same paper, observed that “Many people regarded … [Wodehouse] as he regarded Beachcomber, as ‘one, if not more than one, of England’s greatest men’ ”, while in the view of the obituarist for The Times Wodehouse “was a comic genius recognized in his lifetime as a classic and an old master of farce”. In September 2019 Wodehouse was commemorated with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey; the dedication was held two days after it was installed.
Since Wodehouse’s death there have been numerous adaptations and dramatizations of his work on television and film; Wodehouse himself has been portrayed on radio and screen numerous times. There are several literary societies dedicated to Wodehouse. The P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK) was founded in 1997 and has over 1,000 members as at 2015. The president of the society as at 2017 is Alexander Armstrong; past presidents have included Terry Wogan and Richard Briers. There are also other groups of Wodehouse fans in Australia, Belgium, France, Finland, India, Italy, Russia, Sweden and the US. As at 2015 the Oxford English Dictionary contains over 1,750 quotations from Wodehouse, illustrating terms from crispish to zippiness. Voorhees, while acknowledging that Wodehouse’s antecedents in literature range from Ben Jonson to Oscar Wilde, writes:
[I]t is now abundantly clear that Wodehouse is one of the funniest and most productive men who ever wrote in English. He is far from being a mere jokesmith: he is an authentic craftsman, a wit and humorist of the first water, the inventor of a prose style which is a kind of comic poetry (per Wikipedia).
“Have a Heart” was based on the Book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse; Music by Jerome Kern; Lyrics by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse; Musical Director: Gus Salzer; Music orchestrated by Frank Saddler; Additional lyrics by Schuyler Greene, James Kendis, Charles Bayha and Jerome Kern; Additional music by James Kendis and Charles Bayha (per ibdb.com)
First, a Story:
Bertie Wooster was travelling through the deepest darkest jungles of Africa with his trusty servant Jeeves by his side….
They broke through the dense undergrowth into a small clearing. There were eggs everywhere. Bertie turned to Jeeves and said: “This is obviously the work of poachers”…
Second, a Song:
Courtesy of BarCode and YouTube.com, here is a summary of the entire “Jeeves & Wooster” series in roughly 6 minutes.
P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves (played by Stephen Fry) and Bertie Wooster (Hugh Laurie) have been lauded as one of the greatest comic double acts of all time. Set in the late 1920s-1930s, “Jeeves and Wooster” (1990-1993) follows the hilarious misadventures of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster — a young, affable English gentleman of the idle rich — and Jeeves — Bertie’s omniscient and resourceful valet. Jeeves discreetly takes control of his “mentally negligible” employer’s life, while Bertie Wooster finds himself pushed and reeled into countless imbroglios, fiascoes, and romantic entanglements led by his hapless friends and imperious aunts. But each disaster is drawn to its own satisfactory conclusion through a concatenation of intriguing coincidences…. or so they would seem. Until, that is, the silent force behind every “coincidence” is revealed to be none other than the brilliant and inimitable Jeeves.
Here is PG Wodehouse’s Bertie and Jeeves in 6 minutes. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Intoxicated? The word did not express it by a mile. He was oiled, boiled, fried, plastered, whiffled, sozzled, and blotto.” Meet Mr. Mulliner. P.G. Wodehouse.
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky