“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.”“There is only one cure for gray hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.”“I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed I suppose.”–P.G. Wodehouse
“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.”
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born on this day in Guildford, Surrey, England in 1881. This is the 131st anniversary of his birth.
Wodehouse, called “Plum” as a child, spent much of his early life in the care of a gaggle of aunts and at boarding schools in England, while his parents lived in the Far East. Third of four boys, Wodehouse was close to his brothers. He went to The Chalet School, Elizabeth College in Guernsey, Malvern House (near Dover) and finally at Dulwich College with his older brother Armine. He flourished at Dulwich where he played sports (especially boxing, cricket and rugby), studied the classics, sang and acted in the school’s theatricals, and of course, wrote.)
Upon graduation in 1900 ailing family finances meant he couldn’t go on to Oxford like Armine. Instead, Plum’s father got him a job in the London branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. He wrote about his experiences at the bank in Psmith in the City, but he said he “never learned a thing about banking.” In 1902 he gave up the financial farce and dove into journalism with a job writing a comic column at The Globe newspaper. He moved to New York and published his first novel, The Pothunters the same year. A Prefect’s Uncle; Love Among the Chickens; The Swoop; Psmith In the City; Psmith, Journalist; The Prince and Betty; and Something New followed fairly quickly there after.
He also wrote for musicals. He penned the book for Cole Porter’s Anything Goes; the Gershwin’ s Oh Kay . He worked with Ira Gershwin on the lyrics for Rosalie. And he wrote dozens of musicals — generically called the Princess Theatre Musicals — with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern. [For a complete list of Wodehouse musicals go to The Playwrights Database at doolee.com] The Princess Theatre Musical are generally seen as a stepping stone that took the best of vaudeville and operetta and blended them into modern musical theatre. They transitioned
“… the haphazard musicals of the past to the newer, more methodical modern musical comedy … the libretto is remarkably pun-free and the plot is natural and unforced. Charm was uppermost in the creators’ minds … the audience could relax, have a few laughs, feel slightly superior to the silly undertakings on stage, and smile along with the simple, melodic, lyrically witty but undemanding songs” [Bloom and Vlastnic Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time]
Starting with My Man Jeeves in 1919 Wodehouse published the series of books for which is he best known, The Jeeves and Wooster books. Here’s a clip from the 1990 Granada Television production of Jeeves and Wooster starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry:
He also wrote the Blandings Castle series about a fictional castle with Lord Emsworth and his prize-winning pig, the “Empress of Blandings.”
Since he and his wife, Ethel Wayman, were officially residents of both England and the US they were being taxed by both countries. To alleviate the tax burden they moved to France in 1934. The Wodehouse’s remained in France when the Nazi troops moved in. Wodehouse was interned as an “enemy alien” eventually landing in Tost, Upper Silesia, Poland. He later quipped of his ‘lodgings’ “If this is Upper Silesia, what on earth must Lower Silesia be like?” He entertained his fellow prisoners with dialogues and wrote during his two-year internment (he completed one novel and started two more). He was released just prior to his 60th birthday when a German friend from his Hollywood days, Werner Plack, approached him about doing a broadcast for the Americans describing his life as an internee. America was not at war with Germany yet, and he had received many letters of encouragement from his fans in the US while in the camp. He saw this as a way to thank them. And, Wodehouse claimed, he was simply reflecting the “flippant, cheerful attitude of all British prisoners.” [the Guardian] in the broadcasts. But the British public didn’t see it that way, and neither did MI5. He was interrogated for suspected collaboration with the Germans — something that shocked the aging author. “I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions,” [ibid] Wodehouse maintained that he never had intended to aid the enemy. But the incident left a bad taste with both the Wodehouses and the British public. The author moved to the US in 1945, and never went back to England.
Wodehouse died in 1975.