Ivor Novello was full of contradictions. He was the star of musicals who rarely sang in public, the matinee idol who was as gay as a goose, and the star of silent films who made the transition to talkies with his heavy regional accent intact.
David Ivor Davies was born in Cardiff. His father worked in the council rates office, but it was his mother that was the main influence on his life. Clara Davies was a singing teacher who ran the Welsh Ladies Choir. She put her darling son onto the Eisteddfod circuit from an early age, and when he was ten put him up for a scholarship at Magdalen College Choir School in Oxford. He stayed there until he was sixteen.
He was already getting some success as a songwriter when World War One broke out. He was conscripted into the Royal Navel Air Services, but his ineptitude as a pilot soon kept him grounded. The massive success of his song "Keep The Home Fires Burning" meant he was of more use to the War Office as a propaganda tool than as a soldier so he saw no active service.
By the time the war was over his career as a songwriter was well established, but he couldn't get his acting career off the ground until he was cast in a couple of French films. They were successful enough in Britain to get him started in the West End. They also lead to British films and even The White Rose directed by D.W. Griffiths in America.
The White Rose flopped, and he failed to get his next film project, The Rat, off the ground. So he turned it into a stage play and had a huge hit. The film version turned him into British cinema's biggest idol. This tale of Parisian low life spawned two sequels.
The Lodger wasn't quite such a big hit, but since it's now regarded as "the first Hitchcock film" it's Novello's most revived film and probably the most revived British silent.
He passed the talkie test without any bother, and had a stab at Hollywood in the early thirties. He only had one acting role there, and his best credit is for the dialogue on Tarzan the Ape Man. He returned to Britain and continued as before: West End productions turned into cinema productions, with a remake of The Rat thrown in for good measure. Then came Glamorous Night.
The success of this extravagant musical finished his film career. He continued to compose and star in similar Ruritanian soufflés until the end of his life. The only real interruption to these successes was a month spent in prison for fiddling his petrol ration during the war.
|1919||L'Appel du Sang (Fr.)|
|1920||Miarka, fille a l'ours (Fr.)|
|1922||The Bohemian Girl|
|1923||The Man Without Desire|
|1923||Bonnie Prince Charlie|
|1923||The White Rose (U.S.)|
|1927||The Triumph of the Rat|
|1927||South Sea Bubble|
|1928||The Gallant Hussar|
|1928||The Constant Nymph|
|1929||The Return of the Rat|
|1930||Symphony in Two Flats|
|1931||Once a Lady (U.S.)|
|1933||I Lived With You|
Ivor Novello at Amazon UK
Ivor Novello at Amazon US