Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re celebrating the most well-known musical of the 1930s, Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, which opened on Broadway 85 years ago tomorrow, on November 21st, 1934… Now, we honored this show once before here — six years ago — but I think it’s been long enough to re-share a few rarities, like radio performances by the original cast, including William Gaxton with “You’re The Top.”
And Victor Moore’s “Be Like The Bluebird”…
And, of course, Ethel Merman’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You.”
But, I’ve got something new to share, too! Hows’about a transcription of P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton’s initial treatment, then called Bon Voyage? That’s right; you’ve heard about the initial version of Anything Goes, back before it got that title and before director Howard Lindsay stepped in with Russel Crouse to revise the story and write a whole new script, with little time to spare before the early November Boston tryout. Well, now’s your chance to read the old plot for yourself… that is, if you’re a subscriber who comments below to alert me of your interest!
This copy I have — and, again, this is a transcription of that copy — is undated and simply titled “Scenario,” but it came with a handwritten preface from November 1966 by Lindsay that puts the document into context. A transcription of his introduction follows.
I was engaged by Vinton Freedley in London in the spring of 1934 to stage a musical comedy called “Bon Voyage” to be written by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. Mr. Freedley planned to produce the play in New York and since neither author was free to come to New York I was also to edit the script as a play doctor. Their original story is enclosed entitled “Scenario.” Their script when it arrived was rejected by Mr. Freedley and I was asked to do an entirely new version. I consented only if he would find me a collaborator. He suggested many names which I would not accept. I did welcome the idea of Russel Crouse. He and I wrote what was practically an entirely new show, “Anything Goes.” This was the beginning of our collaboration.
The story’s basic spine was already established by Wodehouse and Bolton: Merman loves Gaxton, who loves the ingenue, whose wedding to an Englishman is impending; therefore Gaxton stows away on a transatlantic cruise and schemes to split up the engaged pair with help from Moore, a gangster dressed as a minister. But you’ll notice a lot of obvious differences. In the original version, the Hope character — here called “Barbara” — is the daughter of Billy’s boss and it’s Billy’s job to split up her marriage. Furthermore, Babs has a brother, Ted, a motion picture screenwriter who fakes a bomb threat aboard the ship as an experiment to see how the plot might play in a movie. This is the infamous detail that allegedly forced the major rewrite, following the September 1934 sinking of the SS Morro Castle, where 137 people perished.
Yet, even if that myth is to be believed, the elimination of both Ted and this story-driven device improved the narrative tenfold, for then the drama could better hinge around the choices — and lies — of the main characters. In fact, the Lindsay/Crouse rewrite links the plot and the characters much better — eliminating clutter, like the familial bond between Hope and Billy’s boss, thereby keeping the hero’s motivation for pursuing the ingenue strictly romantic, and building up the Ethel Merman part by allowing her to participate in Billy’s scheme via an attempted, and ultimately successful, seduction of the Englishman.
Furthermore, Lindsay and Crouse made the Merman character a celebrity — an Aimee Semple McPherson lampoon, an evangelist who’s parlayed her fame into nightclubs, and this makes everything click, for now the musical can be thematically about something: the culture’s worship of notoriety… sex-selling singers, profit-minded preachers, and gun-toting crooks, the latter of which Billy pretends to be in a plot device that earns him celebrity status at the end of Act One, in place of his heroism when throwing over a bomb (as in the Wodehouse/Bolton scenario).
So, the rewrite was more than astute. But this is still a fascinating document — here’s a sample.
Happy 85th Birthday, Anything Goes!
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Will & Grace!