Sunday, 12 February 2012

Treading The Boards: John Laurie In "The Improper Duchess" (1932)

Two programmes from the 
production of The Improper
in Liverpool 

and London performed 
only weeks
of each other in early 1932.

Production: The Improper Duchess by James B Fagan
Venues: The Globe Theatre, The Liverpool Empire
Date: Jan - Feb 1932
Starring: Yvonne Arnaud, Harold Thorley, Maxwell Lowe, John M Moore, Torin Thatcher, Zena Howard, Sam Livesey, Annie Esmond, Peggy Livesy, John Laurie, Hartley Power, Annie Esmond, Winifred Oughton.

By the time John Laurie joined Dad's Army in 1968,  he already had a spectacular CV behind him on stage and screen. John's career on stage went right back to the early years of the 20th Century where he had played many strong support roles to great actors of the day.

One major success was James B Fagan's modern comedy The Improper Duchess of which John toured extensively during 1931 and 1932.

The Improper Duchess starred French actress Yvonne Arnaud and Hartley Power (who would later go on to feature in many movies). John Laurie played the role of the Rev. Adam P. McAdam.
A page from the Liverpool Empire programme
for The Improper Duchess
The Improper Duchess was a well received production with Yvonne Arnaud receiving much praise and critic James Agate describing both John and Hartley Power's presentations : "As the egregious senator and pastor, Messrs Hartley Power and John Laurie do excellently." Another reviewer described John's performance : "Mr. John Laurie makes a grim ascetic of the pastor..." Shades of Private Frazer to come no doubt!

Yvonne Arnaud pictured in The Globe Theatre
programme for The Improper Duchess
John Laurie remembered the play well himself, recalling on Desert Island Discs in 1976 that one performance had coincided with him going to the races and getting "tight" and particularly remembering Arnaud's kindness to him when turning up for a performance not the best for wear.
The cast for The Improper Duchess
as featured in the Liverpool Empire programme
Described as an American skit The Improper Duchess  toured the UK in early 1932. Two venues  it was performed at were The Globe Theatre in London in January (which featured at least one performance of the role of The Duchess played by Zena Howard as opposed to Arnaud)  and The Liverpool Empire from 1st February.

Yvonne Arnaud later starred in a 1936 film adaptation, although John did not appear in this. John himself was already in demand featuring in films like The Edge Of The World and The Lady Vanishes.

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