P.G. Wodehouse was often quoted as saying that his novels and stories were musical comedy without the music. Just how much this is true becomes apparent from reading his autobiographical book Bring on the Girls (co-written with his musical theater partner, Guy Bolton). Although Wodehouse is now known for the 80-plus novels he wrote over his life starring such wonderful characters as Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves, in the 1920s, Wodehouse was better known as a lyricist for a string of hit Broadway plays to which Bolton wrote the book (the play itself or the story) and Jerome Kern wrote the music. One New York critic thought so much of this trio that he wrote his own lyrics in praise:

This is the trio of musical fame,
Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern:
Better than anyone else you can name,
Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern.
Nobody knows what on earth they’be been bitten by:
All I can say is I mean to get lit an’ buy
Orchestra seats for the next one that’s written by
Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern.

It’s slightly difficult for us today to understand the Broadway of the 20s, because shows today take millions of dollars to stage and are usually remakes of movies. In the heyday of this trio, though, it only took $50k to stage one of their productions, and often this musical would move on to Hollywood or into one of Wodehouse’s novels after its run was done.

The book itself reads like one of Wodehouse’s best, as it focuses often on humorous anecdotes of the flamboyant characters of the time like Flo Ziegfield (he of Follies fame) and Col. Savage (who used to trick authors to work on his boat under the pretense of listening to their ideas for new plays). You can also get a glimpse into the stock market bubble of the time as Wodehouse and Bolton get all set to produce their own plays right before the crash. Of course, this is a Wodehouse book, so the text doesn’t linger on the tragedy but instead focuses on how Wodehouse and Bolton both move on to Hollywood from there, making a silk purse out of a pork belly.


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First Impressions Copyright © 2016 by Glen Engel-Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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