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George Grossmith


GROSSMITH, George (b London, 11 May 1874; d London, 6 June 1935).

The son of the elder George, Grossmith (at this stage labelled, like his father before him, as 'jr') appeared on the London musical stage for the first time aged 18, in a small comic role in his father's musical collaboration with W S Gilbert, Haste to the Wedding. He was seen in similarly foppish parts in The Baroness (1892) and in the variety musical Morocco Bound (1893), where he built up the small role of Sir Percy Pimpleton with endless ad-libbing until he was one of the most prominent performers in this most elastic of musical comedies. Similar, if slightly less elastic, roles followed in Go-Bang (Augustus Fitzpoop) and for George Edwardes in A Gaiety Girl (replacing Fred Kaye as Major Barclay), after which he was taken to the Gaiety Theatre to create the part of the gangling dude Bertie Boyd in The Shop Girl. The 21-year-old actor, equipped with a fine song for which he had himself supplied the lyrics, describing himself as 'Beautiful, bountiful Bertie', made a considerable hit in both London and New York.

Much of his time in the next years was spent in the straight theatre, but he returned in 1898 to take over in the musical Little Miss Nobody and the following year one of the producers of that piece, Yorke Stephens, staged the burlesque, Great Caesar, which Grossmith had written with Paul Rubens and in which he appeared as Mark Antony. The failure of that piece did not deter him, and in his next musical as an author, The Gay Pretenders (1900), he included roles for both himself and his famous father, with even less happy results.

Grossmith returned to Edwardes's management to succeed G P Huntley in the lead comedy role of Kitty Grey on the road, and then moved into town with a part built to his measures in the Gaiety Theatre's hit The Toreador (1901). Once again he supplied some of his own lyrics ('Archie'), but did best with Paul Rubens's song 'Everybody's Awfully Good to Me'. He again succeeded Huntley in the comedy role of The School Girl and subsequently toured America in the piece, but by and large he remained at the Gaiety Theatre, as part of the basic star team, through the last decade of Edwardes's management, starring in The Orchid (rewriting Blanche Ring's 'Bedelia' for himself), The Spring Chicken, The New Aladdin, The Girls of Gottenberg, Our Miss Gibbs (interpolating a revised 'Yip-Ay-Addy-I-Ay'), Peggy and The Sunshine Girl. While Havana, which he had co-written, was produced at the Gaiety in 1908, he moved to another parallel Edwardes production to play Count Lothar in A Waltz Dream.

Grossmith was credited with a hand in the authorship of some of the Gaiety pieces, but always, when it was not a case of a fairly straight adaptation from a French comedy, in collaboration, and it would seem his contribution was principally one of 'putting in the jokes'. He adapted Die Dollarprinzessin for America (but not London) and also co-authored some of London's earliest modern revues, being named in the credits for such pieces as the Empire Theatre's 1910 Hullo ... London! (music: Cuthbert Clarke, lyrics CH Bovill), Everybody's Doing It, Kill That Fly!, Eight-pence a Mile, Not Likely, The Bing Boys Are Here and The Bing Girls Are There, in the 1910s.

He moved from the Gaiety in 1913 to appear in London and America in The Girl on the Film (Die Kino-Königin) and, at the same time, went into partnership with Edward Laurillard, who had produced his musical The Love Birds many years earlier, to himself produce plays and musicals. The first of these latter was the Pink Dominos musical Tonight's the Night, which was staged in New York and then in London, where Grossmith moved back into 'his' Gaiety Theatre. The piece was a great success, and over the following years, at first with Laurillard and later with ex-Gaiety stage manager Pat Malone, Grossmith established himself as a major producing force in the London musical theatre.

He continued at the Gaiety Theatre with a second hit in Theodore & Co but, in the power struggles following Edwardes's death, found himself outmanoeuvred by Alfred Butt, and was forced to move his operations elsewhere. Of three subsequent Grossmith-mounted successes which the Gaiety could well have done with, Mr Manhattan was produced at the Prince of Wales, Arlette at the Shaftesbury and Yes, Uncle! again, initially, at the Prince of Wales, before waltzing through three different theatres during its run, whilst the less successful Oh! Joy (Oh, Boy!) split its run between the Kingsway and the Apollo, before Grossmith completed the construction of his own theatre, the Winter Garden, on the site of an old music-hall in Drury Lane.

Grossmith and Laurillard opened the Winter Garden in 1919 with Grossmith and Leslie Henson starring in Kissing Time, and the theatre established itself as a major West End musical venue with the Grossmith/Malone productions of A Night Out, Sally, The Cabaret Girl, The Beauty Prize, a revival of Tonight's the Night, Primrose, Tell Me More and Kid Boots between 1920 and 1926, when the operation was dissolved. Eastward Ho! (1919, Alhambra), Baby Bunting (1919, Shaftesbury) and Faust on Toast (Gaiety, 1921) were amongst the Grossmith/Laurillard productions staged in other venues during this period.

Grossmith had, again, a hand in the writing of the new Winter Garden pieces, directed many of his own productions, and appeared in several, notably as Otis in Sally. His busy producing career in the early 1920s did not lessen his performing one and, whilst those shows in which he wasn't appearing were running, he played away from home in the London version of La Reine s 'amuse (The Naughty Princess) and with great success as Billy Early in Joe Waller and Herbert Clayton's original British production of No, No, Nanette.

After the end of his producing days he continued to perform, playing King Christian in Szirmai's Princess Charming (Alexandra) for Robert Courtneidge (a role he repeated several years later in New York) and appearing in the same composer's Lady Mary and in The Five o'Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome. In New York in 1930 he appeared in Ralph Benatzky's My Sister and I (aka Meet My Sister) which he persuaded his old partner, Laurillard, to bring to Britain. Grossmith directed and appeared in his New York role for a disastrous eight performances at the Shaftesbury, closing out his career on an unusual flop some 40 starry years after its beginning.

Grossmith's wife Adelaide Astor, one of the five sisters Rudge of whom the most celebrated was Letty Lind, had a good career in supporting roles in both new burlesque (Carmen Up-to-Data, Ruy Blas and the Blasi Roue, Cinder-Ellen Up-too-Late) and in musical comedy (The Lady Slavey, Go-Bang, The Shop Girl (UK and USA) etc).

1899 Great Caesar (Paul Rubens, Walter Rubens/w Paul Rubens) Comedy Theatre 29 April

1900 The Gay Pretenders (Claude Nugent) Globe Theatre 10 November

1904 The Lovebirds (Raymond Roze/Percy Greenbank) Savoy Theatre 10 February

1905 The Spring Chicken (Ivan Caryll, Lionel Monckton/Adrian Ross, P Greenbank) Gaiety Theatre 30 March

1906 Two Naughty Boys (Constance Tippett/P Greenbank) Gaiety Theatre 8 January

1907 The Girls of Gottenberg (Caryll, Monckton/Ross, Basil Hood/w L E Berman) Gaiety Theatre 15 May

1908 Havana (Leslie Stuart/Ross/w Graham Hill) Gaiety Theatre 25 April

1911 Peggy (Stuart/C H Bovill) Gaiety Theatre 4 March

1916 Theodore & Co (Jerome Kern, Ivor Novello/Ross, Clifford Grey/w H M Harwood) Gaiety Theatre 19 September

1920 A Night Out (Willie Redstone/Grey/w Arthur Miller) Winter Garden Theatre 18 September

1922 The Cabaret Girl (Kern/w P G Wodehouse) Winter Garden Theatre 19 September

1923 The Beauty Prize (Kern/w Wodehouse) Winter Garden Theatre 5 September

1924 Primrose (George Gershwin/Desmond Carter, Ira Gershwin/w Guy Bolton) Winter Garden Theatre 11 September

Autobiography: GG (Hutchinson, London, 1933), Biography: Naylor, S: Gaiety and George Grossmith (Stanley Paul, London, 1913)


Adapted from The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre by Kurt Gänzl.

Page created 29 August 2004