Smith, Dodie (1896–1990)
Smith, Dodie (1896–1990)
English playwright and novelist who is best remembered for her play Dear Octopus and her children's book The Hundred and One Dalmations. Name variations: (pseudonyms) C.L. Anthony, Charles Henry Percy. Born Dorothy Gladys Smith on May 3, 1896, in Whitefield, Lancashire, England; died on November 24, 1990; daughter of Ernest Walter Smith and Ella (Furber) Smith; attended Manchester School and St. Paul's Girls' School, London; studied stage acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London; married Alec Macbeth Beesley (her business manager), in 1939 (died 1987).
Selected writings (as Dodie Smith, unless otherwise indicated):
British Talent (as C.L. Anthony, 1924); Autumn Crocus (as C.L. Anthony, 1931); Service (as C.L. Anthony, 1932); Touch Wood (as C.L. Anthony, 1934); Call It a Day (1935); Bonnet Over the Windmill (1937); Dear Octopus (and co-director, 1938); Lovers and Friends (1943); Letter from Paris (1952); I Capture the Castle (1952); These People, Those Books (1958); Amateur Means Lover (1961).
Schoolgirl Rebels (as Charles Henry Percy, 1915); The Uninvited (adaptation, with Frank Partos, 1944); Darling, How Could You! (adaptation, with Lesser Samuels, 1951).
I Capture the Castle (1948); The New Moon with the Old (1963); The Town in Bloom (1965); It Ends with Revelations (1967); A Tale of Two Families (1970); The Girl from the Candle-lit Bath (1978).
The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956); The Starlight Barking: More about the Hundred and One Dalmatians (1967); The Midnight Kittens (1978).
Look Back with Love: A Manchester Childhood (1974); Look Back with Mixed Feelings (1978); Look Back with Astonishment (1979); Look Back with Gratitude (1985).
A popular English playwright noted for her humorous insights into ordinary lives, Dodie Smith is probably best remembered as the author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians, made perpetually famous by Walt Disney Productions' animated and live-action film adaptations.
Born Dorothy Gladys Smith in 1896 and initially nicknamed "Dodo," which evolved into "Dodie," she grew up surrounded by artistic relatives who influenced her future career. Her father Ernest Smith died when she was a baby, and her mother Ella Furber Smith raised her in her maternal grandparents' home in Old Trafford, Manchester. Both her mother and grandmother wrote and composed in a house that reverberated with the sounds of musical instruments. Through assisting her uncle, an amateur actor, with his lines, Smith became interested in the theater, especially the art of playwriting. Although she had written her first play by the age of nine, she initially wanted to act.
When her mother remarried in 1910, Smith moved to London, where she attended St. Paul's Girls' School and later the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). While at the academy, she received slightly more than £3 for the screenplay Schoolgirl Rebels, which she sold to a silent film company. She also performed with other students and eventually joined the Portsmouth Repertory Theater, which took her to France to entertain the troops during World War I. Smith left her relatively unsuccessful acting career in 1923 to work for Heal & Son furniture store, where she remained for eight years, first as a buyer and then as a department head.
Although Smith's first one-act play, British Talent, was performed in 1924 at the Three Arts
Club, an amateur theater in London, she produced no other plays for several years. However, in 1931 her writing career brightened when she sold Autumn Crocus, a romantic comedy written under the pseudonym C.L. Anthony. Critically successful, the play was Smith's breakthrough work, and within two years she had achieved an astonishing popularity. Similar success followed with two other plays written under the C.L. Anthony pseudonym, Service and Touch Wood. In 1935, Smith's Call It a Day was the first play written under her real name and proved to be the most financially rewarding. It ran for almost 200 performances in New York and more than 500 performances in London, which allowed Smith to concentrate solely on her writing. Despite the failure of her 1937 play, Bonnet Over the Windmill, to achieve major success, Smith returned in 1938 with Dear Octopus, which became the best known of all her plays. The first production starred famed actors Dame Marie Tempest and John Gielgud.
In 1939, Smith married her longtime friend and colleague from Heal's, Alec Beesley. During World War II, they sailed, with their pets and Rolls-Royce in tow, to the United States, where they remained until the 1950s. While living in Los Angeles, she wrote the 1943 play Lovers and Friends as well as film scripts. In 1948, homesick for England, Smith published her first novel, I Capture the Castle, a bestseller about an adolescent girl's first experiences with love and maturity in a decrepit castle. Six years later, Smith adapted this work for the stage, where it met with audience approval but critical ambivalence.
Smith returned to England in 1953 and, in addition to her other writing, began to write several stories for children. She penned The Hundred and One Dalmatians in 1956, a popular book made even more so when Walt Disney Productions adapted it as an animated film in 1961. Walt Disney Studio's live-action version, 101 Dalmations (1996), and its live-action sequel, 102 Dalmations (2000), both starring Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil, continue to add to the book's success. A dog lover who owned several pet Dalmatians, Smith continued the canine caper in 1967 with a lesser-known sequel, The Starlight Barking: More about the Hundred and One Dalmatians. She made felines her main characters in 1978 with The Midnight Kittens.
Smith died in 1990, having devoted the last years of her life to working on a four-volume autobiography that spanned from childhood to her sojourn in the United States: Look Back with Love: A Manchester Childhood (1974), Look Back with Mixed Feelings (1978), Look Back with Astonishment (1979), and Look Back with Gratitude (1985). Not always a fervent favorite with critics, Smith once addressed that issue in an interview with Contemporary Authors. "I consider myself a lightweight author," she quipped, "but God knows I approach my work with as much seriousness as if it were Holy Writ."
Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.
Contemporary Authors. New Rev. Series. Vol. 37. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.
Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Grove, Valerie. Dear Dodie: The Life of Dodie Smith. London: Pimlico, 1997.
Dear Octopus (78 min. film), adapted from Smith's stage play by Esther McCracken , starring Margaret Lockwood , Michael Wilding, and Celia Johnson , directed by Harold French, produced by Gainsborough-EFI in England, 1945 (released in America under the title The Randolph Family).
The Hundred and One Dalmatians was filmed by Walt Disney Productions as One Hundred and One Dalmatians, 1961, and revived in 1996 with a live-action film starring Jeff Daniels, Glenn Close, and Joan Plowright , and with a sequel in 2000 starring Glenn Close and Gèrard Depardieu entitled 102 Dalmatians.
Looking Forward (76 min. film), based on the play Service, starring Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, and Benita Hume , directed by Clarence Brown, screenplay by Bess Meredyth and H.M. Harwood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1933.
Kimberly A. Burton , B.A., M.I.S., Ann Arbor, Michigan