Nationality: British. Born: David Ivor Davies in Cardiff, Wales, 15 January 1893. Education: Attended Magdalen College Choir School, Oxford, and chorister of Magdalen College, 1905–11; studied composition with Dr. Brewer, Gloucester. Career: Published his first song at age 17; his World War I song "Keep the Home Fires Burning" made him famous; wrote songs for revues; 1920—film debut in L'Appel du sang ; 1921—stage debut as actor; 1923—wrote successful play The Rat with Constance Collier; made U.S. film The White Rose for D. W. Griffith, but international career did not materialize; 1924—actor-manager, sometimes in collaboration; 1930–31—contract screenwriter for MGM; 1935—beginning of a series of stage musicals written, composed, and acted by Novello. Died: 6 March 1951.
L'Appel du sang ( The Call of the Blood ) (Mercanton) (as Maurice Delarey); Miarka, fille l'ours ( Miarka, Daughter of the Bear ) (Mercanton) (as Ivor)
Carnival (Knoles) (as Count Andrea Scipione)
The Bohemian Girl (Knoles) (as Thaddeus)
The White Rose (Griffith) (as Joseph Beaugarde); Bonnie Prince Charlie (Calvert) (title role)
The Rat (Cutts) (as Pierre Boucheron)
The Triumph of the Rat (Cutts) (as Pierre Boucheron); The Lodger ( The Case of Jonathan Drew ) (Hitchcock) (as Jonathan Drew)
Downhill ( When Boys Leave Home ) (Hitchcock) (as Roddy Berwick); The Vortex (Brunel) (as Nicky Lancaster)
The Constant Nymph (Brunel) (as Lewis Dodd); A South Sea Bubble (Hunter) (as Vernon Wilson); The Gallant Hussar (von Bolvary) (as Lt. Alrik); The Return of the Rat (Cutts) (as Pierre Boucheron)
Symphony in Two Flats (Gundry) (as David Kennard)
Once a Lady (McLintic) (as Bennett Cloud)
The Lodger ( The Phantom Fiend ) (Elvey) (as Angeloff, + co-sc)
Sleeping Car (Litvak) (as Gaston)
Autumn Crocus (Dean) (as Andreas Steiner)
The Man without Desire ( The Man without a Soul ) (Brunel) (+ ro as Vittorio Dandolo)
I Lived with You (Elvey) (+ ro as Prince Felix Lenieff)
The Truth Game , London, 1929.
I Lived with You, Party, Symphony in Two Flats , London, 1932.
Proscenium , London, 1934.
Fresh Fields , New York, 1936.
Careless Rapture , London, 1936.
Full House , London, 1936.
Comedienne , London, 1938.
Glamorous Night , London, 1939.
We Proudly Present , London, 1947.
The Dancing Years , London, 1953.
Perchance to Dream , London, 1953.
King's Rhapsody , London, 1955.
Noble, Peter, Ivor Novello, Man of the Theatre , London, 1951.
Macqueen-Pope, W. J., Ivor, The Story of an Achievement , London, 1951, rev. ed., 1954.
Rose, Richard, Perchance to Dream: The World of Ivor Novello , London, 1974.
Wilson, Sandy, Ivor , London, 1975.
Harding, James, Ivor Novello , London, 1987.
National Film Theatre Booklet (London), August 1982.
Braun, Eric, "Ivor Novello: The Spirit of Romanticism," in Films (London), December 1982.
Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July 1984.
Film Dope (Nottingham), July 1992.
"Noël Coward and Ivor Who?," in Economist (London), 27 November 1993.
* * *
Comparisons between Ivor Novello and Noël Coward are inevitable. Both were virtual one-man shows, equally adept at writing, composing, acting, and directing. Indeed, the story is told of Coward's asking for complimentary tickets at a suburban theater box office, explaining that he had written, composed, and directed the production currently playing there, and the woman in the box office responding with "A regular little Ivor Novello, aren't we." Of the two, Coward was unquestionably the better composer and writer; his dialogue could be brittle and witty while Novello's was basically sentimental. Novello was the more handsome, but he was a little too beautiful and fey, almost too handsome to be taken seriously as an actor. The major difference is in the two men's film careers. While Coward made an easy transition to films as actor, writer, and director, Novello was only a leading man on screen, immensely popular in Britain, but only moderately so in the United States.
Novello's attitude towards all aspects of show business was very straightforward and unadventurous. In 1949 he commented, "I'm no highbrow. The theater is a place of entertainment, and I'm an entertainer. I don't believe in using the theater for moralizing lectures on social behavior." After appearances in a few minor British and French features, Novello made his first major screen appearance under the direction of D. W. Griffith in The White Rose . He was well cast as the weak clergyman who impregnates and then betrays the heroine, Mae Marsh. Perhaps without intending, Novello plays the role with a total lack of spirit, and thus makes the part believable. Aside from his performance in The White Rose , Novello is best remembered as a screen actor for his title role in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger . He gives an extraordinarily languid performance but is not helped by what appears to be an overuse of heavy white makeup. Novello fares worse in the remake, with dialogue making the characterization ludicrous.
In Britain, Novello became a popular matinee idol with a series of films built around a French apache, the Rat, who steals from the rich. His love is a homely working-class girl who protects him from harm and is even willing to die for him when he is accused of murder. Novello provided the script for the first film, The Rat , which is notable for Graham Cutts's direction and Hal Young's fluid camerawork. In later "Rat" films Novello was paired with Mabel Poulton and Ruth Chatterton, but none of his leading ladies looked as beautiful as the hero.
Novello tried once again for Hollywood stardom in 1931 with Once a Lady , but his part opposite Ruth Chatterton was small and made no impact. He starred in a half-dozen more British features, but decided he was better off in the theater where his fans were unable to come too close to their effete idol.