The Mikado Technicolor Film
Souvenir Programme — Melbourne, Australia
Table of Contents
Correspondent Robert Morrison provided the following background information on the Mikado souvenir programme quoted below:
Amongst my collection I have a souvenir programme for the 1939 film of The Mikado issued during its original season at Melbourne's Athenaeum Theatre, where it ran from Friday, 1st September through Thursday, 26th October 1939. (My mother saw it when it was revived in Melbourne two years later, as a twelve-year-old on a secondary school excursion to introduce the students to a bit of "culture," although she does not remember the film as originally screened in any great detail, beyond the fact that she was a big fan of Kenny Baker!)
The same programme was also issued for the Sydney season which played at the State Theatre, with the added bonus that Peter Dawson appeared live on stage before the screening to sing a program of songs which, naturally enough, included selections from Gilbert and Sullivan.
The program is lavishly illustrated with sepia-toned photographs of scenes from the film and the principal players, together with their biographical details and background notes on the film's production. A scan of the front cover appears at right, and the text of the program itself is printed verbatim below (with the omission only of potted biographies of Gilbert and Sullivan and the story of the opera by Evelyn Gatliff, the Australian author of The Savoy Stories.)
From Geoffrey Toye's comments it is evident that The Mikado was to be the first in a projected series of 'G. & S.' films — regrettably abandoned with the onset of World War II.
By Geoffrey Toye — The Producer
For years Hollywood producers tried in vain to secure the rights for performing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. It was too patent that they were liable to be spoilt by amendment, addition or alteration. And perhaps they would have remained unfilmed indefinitely had not the greatest authority of the day realised that a time had come when, all unspoiled, they could be produced in the new medium.
Geoffrey Toye is that man, and as he has a record of 400 appearances as orchestral conductor in the Gilbert and Sullivan Company, and is steeped in the traditions of the plays, it is not at all surprising that his representations have succeeded where others failed. Let him tell his story:
"Having secured the rights from Mr. D'Oyly Carte, I decided to make The Yeomen of the Guard my first production, and set off for Hollywood in search of technical experts. Once there, I soon became convinced of the advisability of colour, and furthermore, was enabled to study the complicated method used so outstandingly by Leopold Stokowski in recording the music in 100 Men and a Girl. Of some importance, too, was the fact that I became convinced that it would prove beneficial to change over to The Mikado. Before returning to England, I was fortunate in engaging the services of Victor Schertzinger, one of Hollywood's most competent directors, and a great G. & S. enthusiast.
"Schertzinger is an American of Viennese descent. He studied music from the leading masters. From a concert artist he inevitably graduated to a composer, and soon his aim in life became the desire to bring good music to films. He wrote the first musical score ever composed for a film production. More than thirty themes are conveyed in some of his films, and under his direction, orchestras have been increased four-fold. He wrote the first operetta for the screen, The Love Parade, which was directed by Ernst Lubitch, and starred Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier. Besides popularising opera on the screen, Victor Schertzinger has directed over a hundred feature films.
"Back in London, I decided, after agreeing with my director, that Kenny Baker would fill the part of Nanki-Poo admirably. I could do no better for my cast than with the members of the D'Oyly Carte Company, as I considered that it would be far more practical for stage actors and actresses to learn screen technique than to teach screen artists the art of Gilbert and Sullivan.
"Kenny Baker was chosen to play the part of Nanki-Poo and Jean Colin to interpret that of Yum-Yum. The role of the Mikado was, with the greatest confidence, entrusted to John Barclay, who besides having appeared in many leading parts of G. & S., has a great record of successes in productions as varied as The Mastersingers, Die Fledermaus, Hamlet, and The Seagull.
"The lot of Ko-Ko fell to Martyn Green, who was a celebrated Baron in pantomime before D'Oyly Carte claimed him for his company.
"Pooh Bah, too, is portrayed by one who has, in this and other leading roles, thousands of times delighted the audiences.
"Gregory Stroud again appears as Pish Tush. Before being invited, many years ago, to join the G. & S. company, he was much in demand in musical comedies such as Chu Chin Chow. Stroud, of course, has visited Australia with G. & S. companies. He is a great favourite there.
"Constance Willis repeats the performance of Katisha. She is more familiarly known as a noted concert and opera singer at Covent Garden.
"The two little maids, who are associated so lovingly in the story with Jean Colin, are Elizabeth Paynter and Kathleen Naylor, both of whom have sweet voices, charm of manner, and much experience in such roles.
"In adapting the story to the film, parts of the Gilbert dialogue and Sullivan music had to be transferred to a prologue. However there is no word sung or spoken in the film that Gilbert did not write, and not a note is played that Sullivan did not compose.
"As the production progressed, the adoption of filming in colour became a matter for congratulation. At first it had seemed an immense additional expense, but the wisdom of the choice soon became apparent. "The policy of 'nothing but the best' led to the engagement of Marcel Vertes to design the settings and costumes. The world-renowned Vertes has made the utmost of the opportunities presented in this fantastic story for the exercise of his imaginative invention. Vast sets stretch out in scenes of gorgeous, yet harmonious, colour, but even in these, magnificent and dignified as they are, there is just evident that touch of humour that reflects the spirit of its origin.
"Of all the gorgeous spectacles, perhaps the most impressive is the Mikado's wonderful palace, the interior of which is one of great splendour: columns of gold, a marvellous throne, wide flights of marble steps, and dragons set in lavish, yet tasteful, colouring convey an air of sumptuousness. In contrast to all this substantiality are the frail, yet picturesque, dwellings and shops that line the narrow thoroughfares of the busy Japanese streets which throng with happy crowds."
Players of The Mikado
- KENNY BAKER
- One of the most popular radio singers in the United States, and a sensational success in the film, The Goldwyn Follies. Possessed of a fine presence, a magnificent lyric tenor voice, and outstanding in The Mikado as Nanki-Poo.
- JEAN COLIN
- Famous English stage and radio star, who fulfils a lifelong ambition by her success in The Mikado as Yum-Yum. Her delightful singing and acting ability have already won her widespread renown in all spheres of entertainment.
- MARTYN GREEN
- Made his first public appearance as the Baron in Cinderella. Studied at the Royal College of Music, appeared in revue, and then became a permanent star of the D'Oyly Carte Company. Is brilliant in The Mikado as Ko-Ko.
- GREGORY STROUD
- Plays the role of Pish-Tush. Has appeared in such musical productions as Chu Chin Chow and Katja, the Dancer, and on the concert platform. Served in the Navy during the War. Is widely popular with Australian audiences.
- SYDNEY GRANVILLE
- Joined the D'Oyly Carte Co. in 1907. Once toured Australia and New Zealand, and on his return to England, starred in The Beggar's Opera. Then rejoined D'Oyly Carte, and has been with it ever since. Is magnificent as Pooh-Bah.
- JOHN BARCLAY
- Studied for the church, but his popularity at impromptu concert parties in France shaped his career towards the stage. Has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, with Lawrence Tibbett. Plays the title role of The Mikado.
- CONSTANCE WILLIS
- Began her career in amateur theatricals. Then came the chorus, to be followed by seasons in Shakespearean productions, and eventually Grand Opera. For five years star of the Carl Rosa Company. As Katisha is outstanding.
- ELIZABETH PAYNTER
- Famous Gilbert and Sullivan artist, made her first public appearance on the concert platform in Bradford and Manchester. Is much at home as Pitti-Sing, which was her first Gilbert and Sullivan role. Is a qualified beauty specialist.
Elizabeth Paynter, Kathleen Naylor. and Jean Colin were chosen out of hundreds of young artistes as being ideally suited to play the roles of Pitti-Sing, Peep-Bo and Yum-Yum in the screen version of Gilbert and Sullivan's ever-popular opera, The Mikado.
All three are English and hail from Liverpool, Cardiff, and Sussex, and the foundations of their careers were built on the amateur stage.
The former two are long-standing members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Incidentally, Elizabeth Paynter has changed her name for the film version of this opera from Nickell-Lean to Paynter, a name so well-known to Gilbert and Sullivan audiences. The reason for the change is that if is much more simple and much easier to remember. When only a schoolgirl, the Liverpool Repertory Company offered her a contract at £5 a week, but Mother, "put her foot down" on this proposition, thinking Elizabeth too young. Elizabeth thought it was "much ado about nothing," but nevertheless, with much weeping, was packed back to school. Her part of Pitti-Sing is actually the first part she ever played on the stage, so imagine her joy when she was selected for the first film version of this great opera.
Last, but not least, Jean Colin. She, too, when a school-child had great ambitions to go on the stage. Her particular chum was Mary Lynn, niece of Ralph Lynn, who was also bitten with the acting bug. From those early days, Jean has built her stage career, and is now well-known in the film world also.
And so, artistic femininity is added to a colourful and musical masterpiece by three little maids, whose delightful singing and acting ability have won them widespread renown in all spheres of entertainment.
Surely the most important people in a play, or any novel worthy of the name, are the lovers, and by this measure are we bound, in this presentation, to consider first the artists who portray the characters of the delectable Yum Yum and her faithful swain. Yum Yum really needs to be so beautiful, so alluring, in a case like this that she must be capable of captivating not only one, but thousands. And the choice of this fair maiden (destined to be a brunette) proved no light responsibility for Messrs. Toye and Schertzinger. Eventually, after much searching, and many tests, they found their ideal in Jean Colin.
Jean is a Sussex girl, and at school with her friend Mary Lynn (and don't we all know her uncle, Ralph?), revealed theatrical ability. Leaving school, they launched their theatrical careers in a specialty dancing act in a pantomime. Later Jean had an important part in No, No, Nanette, and afterwards made her London debut in Many Happy Returns. This followed with star parts in such plays as Tulip Time, La Poupee, and San Toy. The films now began to claim her, and she appeared in He Loved An Actress, and Such is Life. She is certainly a charming Yum Yum.
Mr. Schertzinger, the director who, in One Night of Love, brought Grace Moore to the height of film fame, has now provided the lovely Jean with an opportunity to soar as a star of the first magnitude. She is beautiful, petite, and artful or artless as needs be, the part befits her to perfection, and as in any mood her voice is one of sweetness, there remains not a doubt but that her impression will be one of the happiest ever affected in the history of the screen.
With fine impartiality Gilbert, in all his stories, distributes the spotlight equally amongst the notabilities of the moment.
The Mighty Mikado. Who more important than he? Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner — the very name's enough! And as for Pooh Bah, there's never been his equal in his or any land! And yet, by the rules laid down, the Wandering Minstrel must come first. Not, be it noted, because his singing and his twanging produce such melody; and not because he is the heir-apparent. The real and only reason is that he alone is The Lover — and a lover in excelsis at that.
Now the choice of such regulars as John Barclay for the Mikado, Martyn Green as Ko-Ko, and Sydney Granville as Pooh Bah, can readily be understood. Gregory Stroud, so favourably known here, was certain of the warmest approval. Stroud, of course, was in Australia with the last Gilbert and Sullivan company. But Nanki Poo, the Minstrel, what of him? Mr. Schertzinger considered this the most difficult of parts to cast, as it requires first-rate singing, and also must be presented by one possessing youth and persuasion: somebody who would not appear ridiculous absconding from the Royal Court, and then later, falling for a simple school-girl.
After hundreds of trials the final choice was the American, Kenny Baker. His is one of the few really fine youthful tenor voices in the present day. He is most widely known as a singer of popular songs, and the pictures in which he has appeared demanded singing of this description. Not so many, perhaps, are aware that he delights to sing from Bach and Handel, and that he often turns to the old English folk-songs. With the exception of a school appearance in The Pirates of Penzance, he has never before performed in G. & S.; but when at length he received a definite offer of the part of Nanki Poo, he cancelled his radio and other engagements, and joyfully hastened to cross the Atlantic, for, says he, "I like all this pantomime, all these grand gestures and this new kind of comic acting."
Kenny Baker won great popularity on the screen in The Goldwyn Follies. He is a great American favourite.
Now, following the remarkable success of The Mikado, and his great personal triumph, his name is a household word.
The most mature of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, The Mikado, will make an appeal here to a vast new public through the most modern means of film presentation, and lovers of G. & S. will be delighted at this prospect of sharing their love with all the world.
Unlike most of the Savoy Operas, The Mikado had no ancestry in the Bab Ballads. Fairly well known is the genesis of this unique tale. In the study of Sir William Gilbert once hung an ancient sword, which impressed an air of dignity until the day it clattered to the floor. Doubtless its owner restored the blade to its position with all the deference due to its honourable association and must have imagined how incongruous would such a masterful sabre appear in the hands of an upstart.
The story-teller needed no other start than this, and soon he and his colleague were wrapt in all the fascinating details of an experiment of considerable magnitude. The company, under the direct supervision of Sir William, went into rehearsal with the closest secrecy, while Mr. D'Oyly Carte had another band in hand for the 'storming' of New York.
When the opera was produced in London, it was immediately greeted with an enthusiasm that launched it upon an uninterrupted run of 672 days — a run which, indeed, terminated only because Ruddigore was ready for presentation. Experience with other Savoy operas had demonstrated the need for the greatest circumspection in the approach to the American public, for they had received the previous works so cordially that unauthorised producers, often exhibiting the utmost levity and license, were eager to gratify them at the expense of the proper interests.
In this instance, although Sir William had adopted strong measures to protect his play, Mr. Carte, on his arrival in New York, found himself faced with a rival company which was about to open. Then began a race by the two managers, each at successive stages announcing that he would open a day before the other. After much anxiety, the legitimate man won, and his company met with the applause of New York and its support for a sustained run.
The daring of this innovation, an English play in Eastern garb, has been duplicated in the present day with the momentous decision to introduce the masterpiece to the screen, but it is certain that its jealous guardians must have had the most convincing assurance that the means to hand were fully adequate to the purpose. Such indeed has proved the case. It has achieved a complete artistic success.
[Editor's Note: The old story that Gilbert was inspired to write The Mikado when a Japanese sword fell from the wall in his study is now known to be a myth, despite its repetition in many of the older history books. I elected to reproduce this section of the program anyway, so that readers could read the same text that was presented to the Australian audiences in 1939. The mere fact that such a program existed is, of course, remarkable: cinema audiences do not expect to receive programs today.
I have re-arranged the order of some of the sections. For example, the biographies were originally spread throughout the program, instead of being printed contiguously. This would not have disturbed readers, as no one reads a program in order from cover to cover anyway. But, in the web context, I thought it advisable to re-arrange the sections in what seemed to me the most logical order for continuous reading.]