Guy Bolton

An important librettist from the early part of the 20th century when the true American musical was born.
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Artist Biography

b. Guy Reginald Bolton, 23 November 1884, Broxbourne, England, d. 6 September 1979, London, England. An important librettist who was there in the early part of the century when the real American musical was born. Bolton was the son of an American father and an English mother, and, after the family had moved to the USA, he began his adult life as an architect and wrote in his spare time. Early on he discovered that he worked best with others, and throughout his long and distinguished career his list of co-authors included George Grossmith Snr. , Clifford Grey, Philip Bartholmae, George Middleton, W. Somerset Maugham and Eddie Davis. His two principal collaborators were Fred Thompson and P.G. Wodehouse, and, early on, Bolton teamed with Wodehouse and composer Jerome Kern for the famous Princess Theatre musicals which, with their smart and witty integrated books and lyrics, are considered to be a watershed in the evolution of the American musical. The best of these were Oh, Boy! (1917), Leave It To Jane (1917), and Oh, Lady! Lady!! (1918). From 1915 through to 1924, Bolton worked mostly with Kern and various lyricists on shows such as 90 In The Shade, Nobody Home, Very Good Eddie, Miss Springtime, Have A Hear t, The Riviera Girl, Miss 1917, Oh, My Dear!, Sally, Tangerine, The Hotel Mouse, Daffy Dill, Sitting Pretty, and Primrose (1924, London). By that time he had become a leading librettist, and so was the logical choice to write the book (with Thompson) for Lady, Be Good! (1924), the show that contained George and Ira Gershwin’s first complete score. It turned out to a be joyous affair and was a big hit on Broadway and in London, and confirmed Fred Astaire and his sister Adele Astaire as musical comedy’s premier dance team.

During the next six years Bolton worked at a tremendous rate on shows such as The Bamboula (London), Tip Toes, The Ramblers, Oh, Kay!, The Nightingale, Rio Rita, The Five O’clock Girl, She’s My Baby, Rosalie, Blue Eyes (London), Polly, Top Speed, Simple Simon, and Girl Crazy. The latter production, with its wonderful Gershwin score, was typical Bolton - beautifully constructed, and full of fun and excruciating puns. However, just like the rest of his work, it was never going to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama, and that was the direction in which the Gershwins were heading. Their next show, Of Thee I Sing, had a book by George S. Kaufman that satirized America’s social and political life and was quite different from the frothy confections that Bolton concocted. He seemed unable or unwilling to change his style, and, leaving Broadway to its own more serious devices, he moved to London, where, for the next decade, he collaborated mostly with Clifford Grey and Fred Thompson on a series of highly successful romps, many of which starred some of the London theatre’s top talent, such as Leslie Henson, Jack Buchanan, Elsie Randolph, Bobby Howes and Evelyn Laye. The shows included Song Of The Drum, Give Me A Ring, Seeing Stars, At The Silver Swan, Swing Along, This’ll Make You Whistle, Going Places, Going Greek, Hide And Seek, The Fleet’s Lit Up, Running Riot, Bobby Get Your Gun, and Magyar Melody (1939).

Bolton did not neglect Broadway entirely, and teamed up with his old friend P.G. Wodehouse in 1934 to write the book for the Cole Porter smash-hit Anything Goes, and returned to the USA again during World War II to provide the librettos for Walk With Music, Hold On To Your Hats, Jackpot, and Follow The Girls. In 1947, he revised the book for a revival of the 1909/10 hit, The Chocolate Soldier. In 1955, 50 years after his debut on Broadway with 90 In The Shade, Old Father Time caught up with him. While the latest of his archaic efforts, Ankles Aweigh, was playing at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, just around the corner at the Royale, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend was spoofing exactly that kind of thing. Bolton wrote only one more book for Broadway when he adapted his and Marcelle Maurete’s Anastasia for the 1967 musical production of Anya.