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Novello, Ivor (1893-1951)

Actor, Writer, Composer, Producer

Main image of Novello, Ivor (1893-1951)

Writer, composer, manager, and playwright as well as actor, Ivor Novello (real name David Ivor Davies) was very much of his age.

"Dear Ivor", as his fans called him, produced a string of hit musicals, starring himself, and including Careless Rapture (1936), The Dancing Years (1939), and Perchance to Dream (1945), all of which attracted an audience of middle-aged females.

He was not a great actor on stage or screen, and his films, including The Lodger (d. Alfred Hitchcock, 1926) and The Rat (d. Graham Cutts, 1925) and its sequels were successful more because of a good director than Novello's heavily made-up presence.

Novello starred in the screen adaptation of Noël Coward's The Vortex (d. Adrian Brunel, 1927), and it was Coward who commented rightly that "Before a camera his face takes on a set look, his eyes become deceptively soulful, and frequently something dreadful happens to his mouth."

Novello's reputation was established with his writing of the World War I hit, "Keep the Homes Fires Burning". He began his screen career with a couple of films in France; was starred by D.W. Griffith in The White Rose (US, 1923); appeared in Hollywood opposite Ruth Chatterton in Once a Lady (US, d. Guthrie McClintic, 1931); and contributed dialogue to two 1932 Hollywood features, But the Flesh Is Weak (US, d. Jack Conway) and, astonishingly, Tarzan, the Ape Man (US, d. W.S. Van Dyke).

A number of Novello's musicals were filmed without him: Glamorous Night (d. Brian Desmond Hurst, 1937), The Dancing Years (d. Harold French, 1950), and King's Rhapsody (d. Herbert Wilcox, 1955). The annual awards of the Performing Rights Society are named in his honour.

Jeremy Northam played Novello in Robert Altman's Gosford Park (UK/Germany/US, 2001).

Books: Perchance to Dream by Richard Rose (1974); "The curious appeal of Ivor Novello" in British Stars and Stardom, edited by Bruce Babington (2001); "War-torn Dionysus: The Silent Passion of Ivor Novello" in Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain, 1896-1930 (2002).

Anthony Slide, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Carnival (1921)Carnival (1921)

A Venetian actor's life mirrors that of Othello in this silent melodrama

Thumbnail image of Constant Nymph, The (1928)Constant Nymph, The (1928)

Ivor Novello drama about a composer who leaves his wife for a schoolgirl

Thumbnail image of Downhill (1927)Downhill (1927)

Hitchcock melodrama: a boy's decline after expulsion from school

Thumbnail image of Lodger, The: A Story of the London Fog (1926)Lodger, The: A Story of the London Fog (1926)

Hitchcock's first thriller: a lodger is suspected of murder

Thumbnail image of Man Without Desire, The (1923)Man Without Desire, The (1923)

Fascinating time-travelling romantic fantasy starring Ivor Novello

Thumbnail image of Rat, The (1925)Rat, The (1925)

Atmospheric drama about a charismatic Parisian thief

Thumbnail image of Vortex, The (1927)Vortex, The (1927)

Controversial melodrama from Noel Coward's first play

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