|Pseudonym||Smith, Dorothy Gladys|
|Born / Died||1896–1990|
The Dodie Smith collection consists of manuscripts, correspondence, printed material, journals and diaries, photographs, artwork, and other items.
Manuscripts by Dodie Smith in the collection are extensive, and includes book-length fiction, autobiography, stage plays, and a bound volume of poetry.
Books by Smith in the collection include I Capture the Castle (Little, Brown, 1948); 101 Dalmatians (Heinemann, 1956); New Moon With the Old (Atlantic / Little, Brown, 1965); The Starlight Barking: More about the Hundred and One Dalmatians (Heinemann, 1967); It Ends With Revelations (Atlantic / Little, Brown, 1967); A Tale of Two Families (Walker, 1970); The Midnight Kittens (W. H. Allen, 1978); and The Girl From the Candle-Lit Bath (W. H. Allen, 1978).
Autobiographical works by Smith include A Look Back with Mixed Feelings (W. H. Allen 1978); A Look Back with Astonishment (W. H. Allen, 1979); A Look Back in Gratitude (Muller Blond and White, 1985); and several pages of notes.
Stage plays by Smith include Service (1932); Call It a Day (1935); Bonnet Over the Windmill (1937); Autumn Crocus (1939); also present in novel and screenplay versions; Dear Octopus (1938); Lovers and Friends (Samuel French, 1944); I Capture the Castle (Samuel French, 1952); and These People, Those Books (1958).
Correspondence in the collection consists of both personal and professional letters dating from the 1930s to the 1980s. Some are arranged alphabetically by correspondent; others are grouped by subject. Topics include 101 Dalmatians ; fan mail; charity and non-profit organizations; “aspiring playwrights”; theatre companies; and insurance companies. Notable correspondents include Hugh Beaumont, Christopher Isherwood, Ambrose Heal, John Gielgud, and Esme Wynn-Tyson.
Printed material in the collection primarily consists of scrapbooks containing clippings of reviews and articles about Smith’s plays, including Autumn Crocus, Call It A Day, Dear Octopus, I Capture the Castle, Bonnet Over the Windmill, and Touch Wood, as well as Smith’s autobiographies. Also present are issues of magazines with published items by or about Smith.
Journals and diaries in the collection consist of several items dating from ca. 1917 to 1979. They contain personal reflections and autobiographical notes.
Photographs in the collection consist of images of Smith and her family, as well as photos from her travels and performances of her plays.
Artwork in the collection includes some of the original ink drawings by Janet and Anne Graham-Johnstone for 101 Dalmatians, as well as original drawings for The Starlight Barking .
Other material in the collection includes insurance forms, tax and investment documents, various receipts, documents regarding play and theater accounts, and the will of Smith’s husband, Alec Beesley.
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An actress and playwright, Dodie Smith (1896-1990) also worked as a screenwriter before enjoying success as a novelist. Her first fiction, I Capture the Castle (Little Brown, 1948), was her most successful book, although she later came to be known for her writings for children, thanks to the Disney animated (and years later live-action remake) of The Hundred and One Dalmatians (Heinemann, 1956). Smith also produced four volumes of memoirs.
Born Dorothy Gladys Smith on May 3, 1896 at Stonycroft, Whitefield, Lancashire, England, she was the only child of bank manager Ernest W. Smith and his wife, the former Ella Furber. Within two years of her birth, her father died of cancer and her mother moved to Manchester, England to live with relatives. Several of her uncles were involved in the Atheneum, a local amateur theatrical society. At age eight, Smith made her stage acting debut and she continued to perform for the next six years until her mother married Alec Seton-Chisholm.
Smith moved to London with her mother and stepfather where she was enrolled at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in 1910. Two years later, determined to pursue an acting career, she auditioned for and was accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Her mother’s death from breast cancer during her first year there was a blow, but Smith persevered. Not considered particularly talented or conventionally attractive, she managed to eke out a living for several years, appearing in whatever venue she could, entertaining troops stationed in France during World War I, and engaging in various romantic attachments (including an affair with Norman MacDermott, the founder of the Everyman Theatre). She also briefly tried her hand at writing film scenarios while attending RADA using the pen name “Charles Henry Percy” on Schoolgirl Rebels (1915).
By her mid-twenties, though, Smith was becoming discouraged by her lack of success as a performer and she joined the work force, running an art gallery housed at a furniture store. Ever enterprising, she became one of the mistresses of the establishment’s owner, Ambrose Heal, who presented her with a typewriter. She made her debut as a playwright with the one-act British Talent in 1924, but her first real success came seven years later with Autumn Crocus written under the pseudonym C. L. Anthony. Reportedly, she hit on the idea for that work – about a spinster schoolteacher who engages in a love affair with a married innkeeper – while on a business trip to Germany. After a somewhat shaky start, the London production became a bona fide hit and ran for more than a year as well as spawning a 1934 film adaptation.
Smith drew on her experiences working at Heal and Son for her second work, the drama Service (1932), also produced under the pen name C. L. Anthony. Her third play, Touch Wood (1934) about a middle-aged architect drawn to a young woman who reminds him of his wife, drew comparisons to the works of Ibsen. For her fourth stage work, she abandoned the pen name. Call It a Day (1935) was a comedy about a middle-class family and it was successfully staged on both sides of the Atlantic; the London production ran longer than any of her other produced works. She also enjoyed acclaim for Dear Octopus (1938), which co-starred John Gielgud and Marie Tempest, although the Broadway production (with Jack Hawkins and Lillian Gish) was not as well-received.
When Smith visited the United States in 1938 to work on the New York staging of Dear Octopus, she was accompanied by her longtime companion Alec M. Beesley. Beesley had also been employed at Heal and Son and he and Smith had begun a relationship around 1931. By the time she enjoyed success as a playwright, he had become her business manager. Beesley was a pacifist and because war in Europe seemed imminent, he and Smith decided to remain in the United States. On February 21, 1939, they married in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the couple spent the next fifteen years living in America, mostly in Southern California where Smith worked as a screenwriter.
Only two films, both adaptations, actually carry a credit for Smith as a writer, 1944’s The Uninvited (which she co-authored with Frank Partos) and Darling, How Could You! (1951), written with Lesser Samuels. But Smith proved to be an expert script doctor and she worked on numerous projects uncredited, including the Olivia de Havilland vehicle To Each His Own (1946). She and her husband were part of a social circle that included writers like John Van Druten, Christopher Isherwood and Charles Brackett, among others.
Smith kept busy with other writings as well. An inveterate journal keeper, she also wrote a play that was produced on Broadway (Lovers and Friends 1942, produced by and starring Katharine Cornell) and the nostalgic novel I Capture the Castle, which proved to be a success and has one of the most memorable opening lines in fiction: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
In 1951, the author returned to Great Britain, leaving her husband and their pets in America, to consult on the production of her first play in close to a decade, Letter from Paris, adapted from Henry James’ 1888 novel The Reverberator). That production and her stage adaptation of I Capture the Castle (1954) both were unsuccessful. In the intervening years, popular taste had changed and Smith was returning to the London stage as a writer when the naturalistic “kitchen-sink” dramas of John Osborne were becoming the rage.
Beesley joined his wife in England in 1953 and within a few years Smith was moved to work on a piece that was near to her heart. Back in 1934, Beesley had presented her with a gift – a Dalmatian puppy which she named Pongo. Upon seeing the new addition, Smith’s friend actress Joyce Kennedy reportedly quipped “He would make a nice fur coat,” unwittingly serving as the inspiration for Cruella De Vil. The dog traveled to the United States and remained with them until its death in 1940. Three years later, Smith and Beesley acquired two more Dalmatians, a male and a female, who mated and had a litter of some fifteen puppies. Smith drew on all these recollection when she wrote the children’s book The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which found new audiences thanks to Disney’s 1961 animated feature and the 1996 live-action movie. Although Smith actually wrote a sequel, The Starlight Barking (Heinemann, 1967), her book was not used for the Disney-produced 102 Dalmatians (2000).
Smith continued to turn out plays, two of which, These People, Those Books (1958) and Amateur Means Lover (1961), were produced without much fanfare. She also left a number of unproduced manuscripts. Additionally, Smith published five more novels, although none achieved the level of success that her first one had, and four volumes of memoirs (Look Back with Love, Heinemann 1974; Look Back with Mixed Feelings, W.H. Allen, 1978; Look Back with Astonishment, W.H. Allen, 1979; and Look Back with Gratitude, Muller Blond and White, 1985). Following her husband’s death in 1987, she become reclusive, seeing only a select group of friends, including author Julian Barnes whom she would appoint as her literary executor.
On November 24, 1990, Dorothy ‘Dodie’ Smith died at Finchingfield in Essex, England at the age of 94.
|Library of Congress Subject Headings|