Ivor Novello


Actor, Singer

About

Also Known As
David Ivor Davies
Birth Place
United Kingdom
Born
January 15, 1893
Died
March 06, 1951
Cause of Death
Coronary Thrombosis

Biography

A matinee idol of the stage, Ivor Novello went on to duplicate that same success when he pursued a film career, becoming at one time Britain's most popular male movie star. Born in Cardiff, Wales as David Ivor Davies adopted his mother's maiden name as his stage name. (His mother, Clara Novello Davies, was a noted musician and singing teacher.) As early as age three, the youngster exhibi...

Family & Companions

Gladys Cooper
Companion
Actor. Reportedly had relationship in the early 1920s.
Bobbie Andrews
Companion
Enjoyed long-term artistic collaboration.
Christopher Hassall
Companion
Lyricist.
Siegfried Sassoon
Companion
Poet. Had brief relationship.

Bibliography

"Ivor Novello: A Biography"
James Harding

Notes

In 1956, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors instituted the annual Ivor Novello Award to be presented for outstanding contributions to British music.

Biography

A matinee idol of the stage, Ivor Novello went on to duplicate that same success when he pursued a film career, becoming at one time Britain's most popular male movie star. Born in Cardiff, Wales as David Ivor Davies adopted his mother's maiden name as his stage name. (His mother, Clara Novello Davies, was a noted musician and singing teacher.) As early as age three, the youngster exhibited his singing abilities and by age ten was attending Magdalen College at Oxford on a music scholarship. When he left Oxford at age 16, Novello briefly taught piano in London, but within a year enjoyed his first success as a songwriter. Over the next few years, he eked out a living penning ditties until the outbreak of World War I when his patriotic song "Keep the Home Fires Burning" became an overnight hit, earning its composer-lyricist a small fortune. During the War, Novello made his theatrical debut providing more than a dozen songs for the 1913 revue "Theodore & Co." (Jerome Kern contributed four additional numbers.)

Novello enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service and survived two near fatal crashes before being assigned to clerical duties. Late in the War, he was asked to serve as a sort of special entertainment ambassador for Britain. In 1919, Novello embarked on a trip to the USA and while en route home, he was approached about appearing as the romantic lead in a film to be directed by Louis Mercanton (who helmed the 1911 Sarah Bernhardt vehicle "Queen Elizabeth.") Impressed with the composer's raven hair, dark eyes and chiseled features, Mercanton reportedly decided the English songwriter was exactly what he wanted for "Call of the Blood/L'Appel du sang" (1919). Although he had never really acted before, he proved a natural with the camera enhancing his Byronic handsomeness. The French director was so impressed, he offered Novello a second film role in 1920's "Miraka." The following year, he made his first British film, "Carnival," about an actor cast as Othello who begins to live the character off stage. Novello was cast as the juvenile lead who seduces his co-star (Hilda Bayley). He solidified his standing as a romantic lead with the 1922 feature "The Bohemian Girl," co-starring Gladys Cooper, with whom he would co-star in 1923's "Bonnie Prince Charlie."

Having met the actor while visiting London, director D.W. Griffith offered Novello a contract to appear in seven films, the first of which was 1923's "The White Rose." Cast as a minister who seduces a waitress (Mae Marsh) and then is haunted by his actions, the actor delivered an excellent performance. Critics began to compare him with other great screen lovers like Valentino, Richard Barthelmess and Ramon Novarro. Griffith's fortunes, however, were on a downward spiral and the filmmaker canceled the actor's contract, thus ending a promising American career. Novello returned to England and co-wrote (with Constance Collier) and starred in "The Rat" (1924), the first in a series of popular films in which he portrayed a French underworld figure who falls in love with two women. He reprised the role in two sequels, "The Triumph of the Rat" (1926) and "The Return of the Rat" (1928).

In 1925, Novello contracted with Michael Balcon and Gainsborough Pictures and his third film for them proved one of his best. "The Lodger" (1926), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was based on a popular novel and offered a theory on the identity of the famous serial killer Jack the Ripper. Novello played a mysterious stranger who moves into a rooming house whose residents quickly suspect him of being the homicidal maniac terrorizing the neighborhood. Because of the actor's enormous popularity and the fear that the public would not accept him as a villain, the script was altered so that his character proved not to be the killer. The decision proved correct as "The Lodger" became a box-office hit. Novello and Hitchcock reunited on a second project, "Downhill" (1927) that was not a success in its release. "The Vortex" (1928), a screen adaptation of a Noel Coward play, was bowdlerized and as it was a silent, failed to utilized Coward's pointed dialogue. Novello was cast a wayward son threatening to consume drugs if his mother did not abandon her lover (whereas in the original play, the son is an addict.) Later that year, he enjoyed a more suitable role as a gifted but troubled composer in the film version of "The Constant Nymph."

Novello made his first talking picture in 1930, "Symphony in Two Flats," in he essayed the role of a young composer slowing going blind. In a rare move, the actor went to New York to recreate the role in the stage original on Broadway. Opening in late summer of 1930, the show earned good notices but the economic conditions forced its early closure. While he was in NYC, Novello convinced the Shubert brothers to produce his stage musical "The Truth Game" in which he starred opposite Billie Burke. That production's success caught the attention of Hollywood and the composer-actor was soon being wooed by motion picture studios. Novello signed a three-year contract with MGM (which optioned the rights to "The Truth Game"). His first assignment was to work on the screenplay for that musical, now called "But the Flesh Is Weak" (1932). Although he had hoped to be able to recreate the role he created on screen, he was replaced by studio star Robert Montgomery. Novello went on to work on the screenplay for "Tarzan, the Ape Man" (also 1932) and was one of the myriad of writers on the Greta Garbo vehicle "Mata Hari." Since MGM failed to provide a starring vehicle, Novello asked to be released from his contract and promptly returned to London.

Following his sojourn in Hollywood, Novello reprised his role in a remake of "The Lodger" but the film proved less successful than the original. The following year, he starred opposite Madeleine Carroll in the romantic comedy "Sleeping Car" and then went on to appear in only two more movies, "I Lived With You" (1933) and his swan song, "Autumn Crocus" (1934).

While he opted not to grace the silver screen, Novello did enjoy his greatest career success over the remaining two decades of his life. Turning to the theater, he went on to compose and star in many popular hits of the era, including "Proscenium" (1933), "Murder in Mayfair" (1934), "Full House" (1935) and "We Proudly Present" (1947). As a performer, he undertook the title role in Shakespeare's "Henry V" in 1938 and "Love From a Stranger" (1944), based on an Agatha Christie story. His last stage vehicle was "King's Rhapsody," in which he was performing at the time of his death on March 6, 1951.

Life Events

1903

Enrolled at Oxford on music scholarship

1909

Worked briefly as a piano teacher

1910

Had first song published

1914

Composed one of the most popular songs of WWI, "Keep the Home Fires Burning"

1916

Enlisted as a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service

1919

Film acting debut in "Call of the Blood/L'Appel du sang", directed by Louis Mercanton

1921

First English film, "Carnival"

1922

Starred in "The Bohemian Girl" which catapulted him to prominence as a matinee idol

1923

Cast opposite Mae Marsh in "The White Rose", helmed by D.W. Griffith

1924

With Constance Collier, wrote the play "The Rat"

1924

Produced the film "Lovers in Araby"

1925

Adapted play "The Rat" into feature film; first of ten movies with Gainsborough Pictures

1926

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock in "The Lodger"

1927

Starred on stage in the Noel Coward play "Sirocco"

1927

Second film with Hitchcock, "Downhill"

1928

Play "The Truth Game" produced

1928

Had starring role in "The Constant Nymph"

1930

Wrote lyrics for the feature "Elstree Calling"

1932

Co-wrote the screenplay of "Tarzan, the Ape Man"

1933

Starred in and wrote "I Lived with You"

1935

Starred in and wrote the stage musical "Glamorous Night"

1937

Reprised stage role in film version of "Glamorous Night"

1939

Wrote the stage musical "The Dancing Years"

1941

Penned the screenplay for "Free and Easy"

1945

Did the libretto for the stage musical "Perchance to Dream"

1948

Wrote script and composed score for the film version "The Dancing Years"

1950

Last stage musical, "Gay's the Word"

Family

David Davies
Father
Tax collector.
Clara Novello Davies
Mother
Singing instructor. Italian; born in 1861; died in 1943.

Companions

Gladys Cooper
Companion
Actor. Reportedly had relationship in the early 1920s.
Bobbie Andrews
Companion
Enjoyed long-term artistic collaboration.
Christopher Hassall
Companion
Lyricist.
Siegfried Sassoon
Companion
Poet. Had brief relationship.
J R Ackerley
Companion
Author.

Bibliography

"Ivor Novello: A Biography"
James Harding

Notes

In 1956, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors instituted the annual Ivor Novello Award to be presented for outstanding contributions to British music.