Mihura, Miguel 1905-1977 (El Conde de Pepe, Miguel Santos)
MIHURA, Miguel 1905-1977 (El Conde de Pepe, Miguel Santos)
PERSONAL: Born July 21, 1905, in Madrid, Spain; died, October 28, 1977; son of Miguel Mihura Álvarez (an actor and theater manager).
CAREER: Playwright, film dialogue writer, and editor. Founder and coeditor of La Ametralladora, 1937-38; founder and editor of La Codorniz, 1941-44.
AWARDS, HONORS: Premio Nacional de Teatro, 1953, for Tres sombreros de copa; Calderón de la Barca National Drama Prize, 1953, Tres sombreros de copa, 1956, for Mi adorado Juan, 1959, for Maribel y la extraña familia, 1964, for Ninette y un señor de Murcia.
(With Joaquín Calvo-Sotelo) ¡Viva lo imposible! o El contable de estrellas (title means "Long Live the Impossible" or "The Star Accountant"), produced at Madrid's Teatro Cómico, 1939.
(With Antonia de Lara) Ni pobre ni rico, sino todo lo contrario (title means "Neither Poor nor Rich but the Exact Reverse"), produced in Madrid, 1943.
Tres sombreros de copa (title means "Three Top Hats"; produced at Madrid's Teatro Espantilde;ol Universitario, 1952), Editoria Nacional (Madrid, Spain) 1947, Yago Enterprises (Baton Rouge, LA), 1974.
Mis memorias (title means "My Memoirs"), Taurus (Barcelona, Spain), 1948, second edition, Taurus (Madrid, Spain), 1957.
Mi adorado Juan (title means "My Beloved Juan"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1952, Ginn (Waltham, MA), 1964.
Una mujer cualquiera (title means "A No-account Woman"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1952.
(With Álvaro de Laiglesia) El caso de la mujer asesinadita (title means "The Case of the Slightly Murdered Woman"; produced in Madrid, 1952), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1955.
El caso de la señora estupenda (title means "The Case of the Stupendous Lady"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1953.
A media luz los tres (title means "Three in Dim Light"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1954.
¡Sublime decisión! (title means "Sublime Decision!"), 1954.
El case del señor vestido de violeta (title means "The Case of the Gentleman Dressed in Violet"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1955.
Carlota, Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1958, Odyssey Press (New York, NY), 1963.
Melocotón en almíbar (title means "Peaches and Syrup"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1959.
Maribel y la extraña familia (title means "Maribel and the Strange Family"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1960.
(With Juan Ignacio de Cárdenas) Madrid, EXCO (Madrid, Spain), 1961.
El chalet de madame Renard (title means "Madame Renard's Chalet") Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1962.
Obras completas, Editorial AHR (Barcelona, Spain), 1962.
Teatro, Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1962.
Las entretenidas (title means "Ladies of the Night"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1963.
La bella Dorotea (title means "The Lovely Dorotea"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1964.
Ninette y un señor de Murcia (title means "Ninette and a Gentleman from Murcia"), 1964.
Milagro en casa de los López (title means "Miracle at the López House"; produced in Barcelona, 1964), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1965.
De "La Codorniz": Tes sombreros de copa. La bellaDorotea. Ninette y un señor Murcia, Taurus (Madrid, Spain), 1965.
La tetera (title means "The Teapot"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1965.
La obre de Miguel Mihura, Taurus (Madrid, Spain), 1965.
Ninette, modas de París (title means "Ninette, Paris Fashions"), Alfil (Madrid, Spain), 1967.
Teatro selecto, Escelicer (Madrid, Spain), 1967.
Sólo el amor y la luna traen fortuna (title means "Only Love and the Moon Bring Good Fortune"), Escelicer (Madrid, Spain), 1969.
La decente (title means "The Decent Woman"), Escelicer (Madrid, Spain), 1969.
Obras selectas, AHR (Barcelona, Spain), 1971.
Mihura: Antología, 1927-1933, Editorial Prensa Española (Madrid, Spain), 1978.
The Independent Act: Two Plays by Miguel Mihura, with translations of the two plays, Sublime Decision and The Lovely Dorotea, by John H. Koppenhaver and Susan Nelson, Trinity University Press (San Antonio, TX), 1987.
El Negociado de incobrables, Ediciones de la Torre (Madrid, Spain), 1990.
Cuentos divertidos, Editorial Popular (Madrid, Spain), 1992.
La canasta: obra inédita, Ediciones Cardeñoso (Vigo, Spain), 1998.
Writings appear in Teatro español, edited by Federico Carlos Sainz de Robles, 1952-1953, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1958; Teatro español, 1954-55, second edition, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1959; Teatro español, 1956-57, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1958; Teatro español, 1959-1960, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1961; Teatro español, 1963-1964, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1965; Teatro hispánico, edited by Mary Jackson and Edenia Guillermo, National Textbook Co. (Lincolnwood, IL), 1985; Historias de la gente, Editorial Popular (Madrid, Spain), 1989. Has published works under the pseudonyms Miguel Santos and El Conde de Pepe.
Works have been translated into French, Portuguese, Japanese, Czech, English, and Italian.
ADAPTATIONS: Motion picture adaptations include Tres sombreros de copa, Radiotelevisíon Española, 1994; Maribel y la extraña familia, Radiotelevisión Española, 1996; and El Chalet de Madame Renard, 2000.
SIDELIGHTS: A single play dominates the literary legacy of Spanish writer Miguel Mihura. His comic play Tres sombreros de copa was written twenty years before its first production in 1952, an event which transformed Mihura from an unknown film dialogue writer into a popular playwright. However, his subsequent dramatic works were not all of the same high quality. The remarkable, absurd characteristics of Tres sombreros de copa were never repeated in full strength because Mihura sought to please a general audience and make a comfortable living. Summing up the writer's overall style in the biographical and critical study Miguel Mihura, Douglas R. McKay commented, "All Mihura's plays embody a distinctly intellectual humor that is at once tender, poetic, enigmatic, and satiric. They reveal a singular attention to subjects of absorbing human concern, to the illusions and the delusions behind authentic aspirations, often viewed with a charitable degree of irony and cynicism." Mihura continues to be studied and read largely because of the strength of four early plays and the fact that his use of absurdist techniques paralleled the creation of betterknown French dramas by adherents of the Theater of the Absurd.
Because his father was an actor, author, and theater manager, Mihura was immersed in all aspects of the theater as a child and worked for his father in the box office at an early age. He did not initially show an interest in writing for the stage, but began doing cartoons for newspapers, which eventually led to his first writing assignments, using the pseudonyms Miguel Santos and El Conde de Pepe. When his father's professional interests shifted to writing, he began to have contact with professional dramatists, and started writing regularly for newspapers. He also began writing dialogue for film scripts, work that was much more financially rewarding. As a result, Mihura worked as a dubber and dialogue writer from 1934 to 1952, contributing to a total of twenty-five films. At the same time, he founded and edited two journals, La Ametralladora and La Codorniz. The first was a short-lived humor publication designed to appeal to soldiers in the Nationalist trenches during the civil war. The second magazine's popularity was bolstered by Mihura's satirical contributions, including one-act farces, jokes, short stories, fictional letters, dialogues, and fillers that he often signed as El Conde de Pepe. He served as director of La Codorniz from 1941 to 1944.
Beginning in 1939, Mihura collaborated on three plays before becoming discouraged by his lack of success. Three were done with friends from literary gatherings in San Sebastián. ¡Viva lo imposible! o El contable de estrellas was written with Joaquín Calvo-Sotelo. The central character is an old man who rejects his inactive, tedious existence and tries to convince his family to do the same. At the same time, even writing at tables side-by-side, he wrote Ni pobre ni rico, sino todo lo contrario with Antonio de Lara. This play is about a rich young man named Abelardo who is spurned by a poor woman who doesn't want to be seen as marrying him for his money. Abelardo goes to strange lengths to give up his wealth, only to be rejected again because he is now poor. In the end Abelardo happily adopts the life of a vagabond. The third collaboration, El caso de la mujer asesinadita, was written seven years later with Alvaro de Laiglesia. Departing from the verbal tricks and frequent humor of the previous plays, it begins with a dream sequence and introduces a murder that has not yet happened using two characters that prove to be ghosts.
With the dominant influence that Mihura had on each of these plays, McKay found a consistent tone and considerable combined impact. "Each contains, with varying degrees of effectiveness, a humor that is at once provocative, alluring, and bizarre," explained McKay. "They inaugurate . . . a special sense of the absurd on the Spanish stage, an absurdity of language founded on the fusion of playful extravagance and a profound sense of humanity."
Mihura had already completed Tres sombreros de copa in 1932. The play remained unknown until an amateur production by the Teatro Español Universitario brought it into the public eye in 1952. The company gave only one performance of Tres sombreros de copa, but, remarkably, succeeded in creating enormous commercial interest in the play. The action takes place in a provincial hotel, where a young man named Dionisio is spending the night before his wedding. He is about to commit himself to a conservative family and a restricted life, and looks on this as his last night of freedom. When a troupe of circus performers comes into his room, he happily pretends to be one of them. He has been trying on three top hats and is asked if he is a juggler, a role that he immediately accepts. Among the performers is a beautiful young girl named Paula, with whom he falls in love. The night is a brief, joyful experience for Dionisio, but both he and Paula go back to their established lives when it is over.
Tres sombreros de copa earned immediate as well as sustained praise. In 1953 it was awarded the Premio Nacional de Teatro. Nearly thirty years later, John E. Dial was able to write in Hispania, "The appeal of the play would seem to be persistent and, judging by the number of translations, universal." Dial observed that Mihura's use of apparent chaos was "always controlled, never formless." He went on to find sound footing for the play's longevity, "what gives it its enduring significance is Mihura's bizarre humor and the manner in which he uses this humor to make a series of poignant statements about middle class society, about people cast adrift in a world that is rigid and limiting."
Critic Anthony M. Pasquariello also spoke of the lasting importance of Tres sombreros de copa in an article for Symposium. Writing a few years before the author's death, he judged that Mihura "has no equal in Spain today as a writer of absurd comedies." Pasquariello went on to describe the effects of the play's absurdist techniques. "It is offered on its own terms as an uproarious theatrical prank," said Pasquariello. "The purpose of the play is to exhilarate us. It does so, but sometimes,—and this is true of all good farce,—it is terribly sad." Regarding the play's philosophical underpinnings, he wrote, "the new reality which gradually unfolds for Dionisio suggests that we are nothing but the focus of our environment. We are not what we are, but what happens to us. We are not what we think, but what people think about us."
The play's absurd qualities have drawn comparisons to the French Theater of the Absurd, particularly to the plays of Eugene Ionesco. John London explored this link in an article for Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporanea, where he noted that Mihura's first four works led to his being called "a precursor of the Theater of the Absurd." After reviewing these plays, London decided that "Mihura's absurd remains largely theatrical and any philosophical content is reduced to the conclusions one must force oneself to draw, rather than the simultaneous poetical communication of metaphysical anguish which characterizes the Theater of the Absurd. That is why Mihura has been eclipsed by more serious European theater." The critic also questioned whether censorship had affected Mihura's approach to writing plays, beyond his stated desire to please a general audience.
While none of Mihura's plays after Tres sombreros de copa met with the same high level of critical success, some of his work has been noticed for its satirical targets. When two translated plays were published as The Independent Act: Two Plays by Miguel Mihura, Martha T. Halsey remarked in Hispania that in these works Mihura "skillfully satirizes social conventions and values of the turn of the century in his country." Both plays, Sublime Decisión! and The Lovely Dorotea, deal with a traditional approach to marriage, one that is dominated by financial considerations and treats the woman as an object displayed for sale. Sublime Decision! is set in 1895, but features a heroine with ideas ahead of her time. Instead of following the usual practice of presenting herself to prospective suitors on the balcony or street, Florita decides to take a job in a new government office for women. The title character in The Lovely Dorotea also makes an unconventional choice when she is left alone at the altar. Dorotea vows to continue wearing her wedding dress until she finds a new mate. When this does not happen quickly, she unhappily continues her protest and the townspeople treat her as insane. When she does marry, Dorotea is surprised to find that her husband is actually in love with her. Halsey noted that these situations were somewhat antiquated, but wrote, "Nevertheless, the pieces certainly have their charm."
In an essay for Romance Notes, Phyllis Zatlin Boring cited these two plays as proof that Mihura had rejected the tradition of using stock female characters. Within his "avowed purpose of replacing the hackneyed by the unexpected," Boring found Mihura's interest extended to "the debunking of myths about women and the ridiculing of the traditional feminine roles." Boring said of Dorotea that her "anti-social behavior is an open rebellion against the passive role that women are expected to play; with this character Mihura effectively destroys the stereotyped image of the jilted woman."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
McKay, Douglas R. Miguel Mihura, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1977.
Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporanea, 1989, John London, "Miguel Mihura's Place in the Theater of the Absurd: Possible Reasons for and Objections to a Generic Approach," pp. 79-95.
Hispania, March, 1981, John E. Dial, review of Tres sombreros de copa, p. 156; March, 1988, Martha T. Halsey, review of The Independent Act: Two Plays by Miguel Mihura, p. 103.
Romance Notes, spring, 1973, Phyllis Zatlin Boring, "Feminine Roles and Attitudes toward Marriage in the Comedies of Miguel Mihura," pp. 445-449.
Symposium, spring, 1972, Anthony M. Pasquariello, "Miguel Mihura's Tres sombreros de copa: A Farce to Make You Sad," pp. 57-66.*