Ivor NovelloWhen most people think of opulent stage productions and theatrical entertainment, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name is invariably at the forefront. However, rarely has anyone heard of Ivor Novello. Often heralded as the twentieth century’s greatest musical composer, Novello was also a playwright, actor, and a star. It is rare to find an individual that encompasses enormous talent as an actor and a songwriter all at the same time. Ivor Novello, a famous British entertainer in the early twentieth century, graced the world with his talent and left behind a remarkable legacy. He is known as the “Master of the Musical”.

The Rise of a Star
Though the word would come to know this great talent as Ivor Novello, his parents bestowed upon him a different name. On January 15, 1893, David Ivor Davies was born in Cardiff, Wales. His father collected rent for the city councilor, his mother was a world renowned singing teacher and choral conductor. It was her influence that started him on the road to success; she had dreamed he would one day write operas. Even at a young age, he showed remarkable talent, publishing his first song at the age of fifteen. He won a scholarship to the Magdalen College School in Oxford, where he sang as a treble in the choir. While he was in college, he adopted his mother’s maiden name and became a songwriter under the name of Ivor Novello.

In 1913, he moved to London to continue his career as a songwriter and composer. In 1914, he composed Keep the Home Fires Burning; a British patriotic song with music that rallied a nation. The popularity of the song brought Ivor Novello fame and wealth at the age of twenty-one.

Avoiding enlistment until 1916, he performed his patriotic duty and reported to the Royal Naval Air Service where he was a probationary flight sub-lieutenant. Subsequently, after crashing two airplanes, he was assigned desk duty and continued to write music.

The Actor
After he was released from the Royal Naval Air Service, he turned his eye toward being an actor. With his smoldering good looks, he had no trouble landing roles and making his mark on the entertainment industry. First, Novello starred in a French Film. The silent movie called The Call of the Blood was a melodrama in which his performance earned him notice. He wrote and appeared in a play called The Rat in 1924. It was so successful, the play was turned into a movie which later inspired two sequels: The Triumph of the Rat and The Return of the Rat.
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He also acted in two Alfred Hitchcock movies; the first one was called The Lodger, in which his character was a sinister serial killer. In the second film, Downhill, his character was an expelled schoolboy whose misadventure befalls him. Overall, Novello performed in over 22 films between 1919 and 1934.

The Musicals
In 1935, he returned to his first love, composing musicals. His first score after his return was titled Glamorous Night. The Dancing Years, 1939, and Perchance to Dream in 1945 soon followed. His productions were romantic and opulent that set precedence for the composers of today’s theatrical productions. They required a large budget to accommodate the flamboyant, larger than life acts such as a skating scene glamorousnighton board a ship or a huge, gypsy wedding. He was a master of scene changes and often required multiple extras and dancers. He composed eight musicals and personally appeared in six of them. He did not have a singing part in any of his productions. Even though he sang in the choir in his youth, his adult voice was not quite sufficient for these kinds of productions.

In 1944, his life took a dramatic change. He was sent to prison for misusing petrol coupons and trying to bribe the arresting officer. Because of the rationing laws during World War II, this was a serious offense. In turn, he served four of the eight week sentence. Even though his time in jail was mentally and physically depleting, and he lost support, he rebounded in the play The Dancing Years. Once again beloved by fans, Novello received a standing ovation when he walked out onto the stage.

Sadly, after his performance in the wildly successful score King’s Rhapsody, on March 6, 1951, while in London, he died suddenly of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 58. He was known in Great Britain as one of the most handsome men. With his sense of romance, kind heart, and sentimentality, Ivor Novello was beloved by all.

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