Bolton / Caldwell / Burnside / Thompson

Guy Bolton (1884-1979), a transplanted Englishman (center in the photo with Jerome Kern on the far right), brought a new freshness to the world of libretto writing, using a wider group of young Americans as characters.  Bolton worked with Jerome Kern on 90 in the Shade (1915.01) and Very Good Eddie (1915.30).  Then Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) worked with Kern on Have a Heart (1917.01), Oh, Boy! (1917.06), Leave it to Jane (1917.17) and Oh, Lady! Lady! (1918.03).  We are including a medley of songs from Have a Heart; even with the poor quality of the recording, the fresh nature of Kern’s music shines through.

Bolton then worked with Wodehouse on Louis Hirsch’s show, Oh, My Dear (1918.37), before Bolton went back alone to work with Kern on Sally (1920.44).  In their last collaboration with Kern, Bolton and Wodehouse combined on the libretto for Sitting Pretty (1924.08).

Bolton and Wodehouse then wrote the libretto for George Gershwin’s glorious score about British and American characters on Long Island during prohibition—Oh, Kay! (1926.36).  We are including a wonderful recording of the Overture to Oh, Kay! by Michael Tilson Thomas with the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Bolton then teamed up with Fred Thompson, another transplanted Englishman, to create the libretto for a Harry Tierney show, entitled Rio Rita (1927.08).  Next, Bolton and Thompson worked with the song-writing team of Burt Kalmar (1884-1947) and Harry Ruby (1895-1974) on The 5 O’Clock Girl (1927.52). In a reversal of sorts, Bolton worked with Kalmar and Ruby as collaborators on a libretto for the Rodgers and Hart show, She’s My Baby (1928.02).

Bolton then joined a Gershwin/Sigmund Romberg project, called Rosalie (1928.03) to help William A. McGuire with the book.  One of Bolton’s more interesting partners was actor Ed Wynn, as they collaborated on a book for the Rodgers and Hart show, Simple Simon (1930.08).  Bolton then worked with John McGowan on Gershwin’s gem, Girl Crazy (1930.31).

Bolton and Wodehouse reunited to write a libretto for a Cole Porter show about the survivors of a shipwrecked ocean liner.  However, when the newspapers reported that an ocean liner had been lost at sea, the producers of the show, Anything Goes (1934.36), decided to revise the script and brought in the team of Howard Lindsay (1889-1968) and Russel Crouse (1893-1966) to do the work.

Finally, as we look to the end of the pre-1943 period, we see Bolton working with Matt Brooks and Eddie Davison on the Burton Lane show, Hold On To Your Hats (1940.10).

Anne Caldwell in Theatre Magazine 1911

Anne Caldwell

Anne Caldwell (1868-1936) entered Kern’s life, just after Kern stopped working with Bolton and Wodehouse on the Princess Theatre shows. Caldwell wrote the book for three Kern shows, She’s a Good Fellow (1919.09), The Night Boat (1920.04) and Good Morning, Dearie (1921.36).  In 1922, Caldwell worked with Hugh Ford on the Kern show, The Bunch and Judy (1922.45), before collaborating with R.H. Burnside on the book for Kern’s Stepping Stones (1923.40).  She then worked with Otto Harbach on Kern’s Criss-Cross (1926.32).

Harbach and Caldwell continued their collaboration on a Vincent Youmans show, Oh, Please (1926.46).  Caldwell re-teamed with Burnside on a Ray Hubbell project, Three Cheers (1928.37).

R.H. Burnside (1873-1952), born in Glasgow, Scotland, emigrated to America in 1894, and is first credited with authoring a libretto for Sergeant Kitty (1904.05), a “Military Comic Opera” with a score by A. Baldwin Sloane.  Burnside went on to write a book for many shows, including another show with Sloane (The Three Romeo’s, 1911.42), two with Gustave Kerker  (The Tourists, 1906.26, and Fascinating Flora, 1907.18) and two with Ivan Caryll, an English composer (Chin-Chin, 1914.23, and Tip-Top, 1920.36).   Burnside worked with Caldwell for the first time on Tip-Top.  

Burnside had alone worked on a series of very popular Raymond Hubbell musicals, such as Hip-Hip-Hooray (1915.24), Happy Days (1919.22), Miss Millions (1919.41), Good Times (1920.26) and Better Times (1922.30).  In 1928, he again worked with Caldwell on Hubbell’s Three Cheers (1928.37).

Fred Thompson worked on West End Show, Alhambra, Englsih Librettist and Lyricist

Fred Thompson show

Fred Thompson (1884-1949) was another transplanted Englishman who worked alone or in collaboration with others.  On his own, Thompson wrote the first libretto for a Gershwin musical (La-La-Lucille, 1919.12), focusing on the modern, young Americans, who were growing up in the jazz age.  

Thompson and Bolton collaborated on the book for Gershwin’s Lady Be Good (1924.43), but Thompson worked with William K. Wells on Gershwin’s Tell Me More (1925.14), before returning to Bolton for the book supporting Gershwin’s Tip-Toes (1925.49).  A few years later, Thompson collaborated with Paul Gerard Smith on Gershwin’s Funny Face (1927.59), then with Vincent Lawrence on Gershwin’s Treasure Girl (1928.43) and finally with  McGuire on Gershwin’s Show Girl (1929.27).

Late in his career, Thompson collaborated with Dawn Powell on the Vernon Duke show, The Lady Comes Across (1942.01).

None of the Bolton or Thompson plots were much better than the ones that came before; however, the characters were drawn from people that one might actually meet in real life.