Category Archives: Stephen Fry

Thought of the Day 10.15.12 P. G. Wodehouse

“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

P. G. Wodehouse, Bolton's friend and collaborator

“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.)

Psmith in the City

Psmith in the City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

The Prince and Betty

The Prince and Betty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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]

My Man Jeeves

My Man Jeeves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

books - wodehouse

books – wodehouse (Photo credit: rocketlass)


Thought of the Day 9.1.12 Edgar Rice Burroughs

“I write to escape…to escape poverty.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Русский: Эдгар Райс Берроуз

Edgar Rice Burroughs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born on this day in Chicago, Illinois in 1875. Today is the 137th anniversary of his birth.

He was the middle child Major George Burroughs and his wife Mary Evaline. His younger siblings died of childhood diseases, leaving him the baby of the family. He bounced around several different local schools. Whenever there was an outbreak of a disease his parents took him out of one school and put him in another.  Since schools taught Latin and Greek as well as English he later …

“his erratic schooling… resulted in his … learning little English while taking the same Greek and Latin courses over and over again. Despite his claims to the contrary, this early exposure to Classical literature and mythology would serve Burroughs well in his future writing career.” [The Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Mini-Bio]

When a flu epidemic swept through Chicago his parents sent a teenaged Edgar to his brothers’ cattle ranch in Idaho. He love the rough and tumble “wild west”  with its range wars and saloon shoot outs and he lived there for six months before his parents realized the danger of  frontier life was on par with the danger of getting influenza. They called him home and enrolled him in Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He didn’t last long there and was soon transferred to the more structured  Michigan Military Academy. He failed the West Point entrance exam  and signed up for the Army  as a private where he served with the 7th US Cavalry at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. He was discharged from the Army for a heart condition in 1897.

In 1899 he was back in Chicago working for his father ‘s company, and the next year he married his childhood sweetheart, Emma Hulbert. After a few years he and Emma travelled west to Idaho so he could try his luck with his brothers again, this time at gold mining. But that venture soon went bust and Burroughs went through a number of jobs from railway policeman to peddler for quack medicine.

One of his jobs was as a pencil sharpener wholesaler. He placed ads for the pencil sharpeners in pulp fiction magazines and he would read through the magazines to check the placement of the ads.

“After reading several thousand words of breathless pulp fiction Burroughs determined … that ‘if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.'” [The Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Mini-Bio]

Cover of "Under the Moons of Mars: A Prin...

Cover via Amazon

In fact he had already written stories, but his introduction into the pulp fiction market with Under the Moons of Mars,  for which he received a whopping $400 from All-Story magazine, was a turning point in his career. The story was serialized  in the magazine and produced as a novel under its original name of A Princess of Mars. By the time the last installment was published in July of 1912 Burroughs had completed two more novels. The Outlaw of Torn and Tarzan of the Apes. Outlaw was not picked up by the publisher, but Tarzan was an immediate hit. Burroughs got $700 for the book. He wrote a number of sequels for both Mars (11, including John Carter of Mars) and Tarzan (26).

Dustjacket by Armstrong Sperry for the first e...

Dustjacket by Armstrong Sperry for the first edition of Tarzan and the Lost Empire by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other book series by Burroughs includes:

  • The Pellucidar series, which takes place in the hollow shell of the Earth (7 books, including one featuring a cross over appearance from Tarzan).
  • The Venus series, where Carson Napier, who is attempting a solo flight to Mars, crash lands instead on the watery planet of Venus. — look for a film made from the series coming out next year. (5 books)
  • The Caspak series, a prehistoric series, including The Land That Time Forgot (3 books)

He crossed writing genres at will penning social realism, horror stories, and westerns (and more).

Burroughs was living in Honolulu,  Hawaii when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He volunteered  to serve the war effort as a war correspondent  (the oldest in the Pacific theatre).

He died on March 19, 1950.

English: Bookplate of American writer Edgar Ri...

English: Bookplate of American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) showing Tarzan holding the planet Mars, surrounded by other characters from Burroughs’ stories and symbols relating to the author’s personal interests and career. Associated media: File:Letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Ruthven Deane 1922.jpg explaining the design of his bookplate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thought of the Day 8.24.12 Stephen Fry

“It is a cliche that most cliches are true, but then like most cliches, that cliche is untrue”

Stephen Fry

Stephen John Fry was born on this day in Hampstead, London, England in 1957. He is 55 years old.

He grew up in Norfolk. He was expelled from several schools and got into trouble with the law as a teen. He served three months in Pucklechurch Prison after stealing a credit card from a family friend. But the stint in prison seemed enough to straighten him out. He went back to school, this time at City College of Norwith and promised to apply himself to his studies. He scored well enough in his Cambridge entrance exams to get a scholarship at Queens’ College in 1979. At Queens he joined the Cambridge Footlights Dramatic Club and met Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie. He won a Fringe First Award for  Latin! or Tobacco and Boys  a play he wrote for Footlights.

He teamed up with Laurie  to for the comedy act A Bit of Fry & Laurie. The Duo turned the act into a television sketch comedy series that premiered on December 26, 1987 with a 36 minute pilot. It ran for four seasons (1-3 on BBC2; season 4 on the more mainstream BBC1). The show’s combination of satire, wordplay and innuendo made it very popular. The complete series is available on DVD and selected sketches have been collected in book form.

In 1984  Fry adapted Noel Gay’s Me and My Gal. It had an eight year, 3,303 performance run at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End (with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson in the cast.)  It hopped the pond and opened at Broadway’s Marquis Theatre  in 1986 where it ran for 1,420 shows and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards. It also made him rich.

Fry considers himself a writer first and a  comedian/ actor second. He has published four novels: Liar (1991), The Hippopotamus (1994), Making History:  A Novel (1997) and The Stars’ Tennis Balls (200). His biography, Moab is My Washpot came out in 1997.

Other television work include Lord Melchett  in Black-Adder II and Reginald Jeeves in  Jeeves and Wooster. On the Radio he worked on Loose Ends, Delve Special, This is David Lander, Saturday Night Fry, Absolute Power and was the voice of Winnie the Pooh. He also presented The Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music, a 20 part review of music over the past millennium.

His film work goes back to 1985. He had was in the ensemble cast of Peter’s Friends (with Laurie and Thompson). He played Oscar Wilde in Wilde (1997). In Gosford Park he is the clueless Inspector Thompson. He’s the Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland. You can catch him as the Master of Laketown in the upcoming The Hobbit: There and Back Again and as Sir Simon De Canterville in The Canterville Ghost. [The list of Fry’s television and film roles is quite long.  See his IMBD site for a more comprehensive look at this side of his career.)

Fry also has lent his talents to audio books. He read the film tie-in version of  Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (he also dubbed the voice of the Book and was the narrator for the movie ) in 2005. He’s recorded his own novels and works by A.A. Milne, Anthony Buckeridge and Roald Dahl. Most famously he is the voice for the English audio books for the Harry Potter novels by J.K.Rowling.

He embraces technology with both hands, and has said he’s never met a smart phone he didn’t buy. He is “deeply dippy for all things digital” and says he bought the third Macintosh computer sold in the UK (Douglas Adams beat him to the first two.) His Twitter account has passed the four million mark .

He is actively involved in a number of social issue (often promoting them with his Twitter account and on his website.)

[All images courtesy Last.fm where you can find lots more great photos of Stephen Fry.]


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