28 October 2012

A.W. Baskcomb

A.W. Baskcomb (1880-1939) is best remembered for his creation of the part of ‘Slightly’ in the very first stage production of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904). He created a major character out of an underwritten part and went on to play it for seven years. At the end of his career he became briefly a popular film star.

A.W. Baskcomb
British postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph, no. 20-S. Photo: Gaumont-British. Publicity shot for The Midshipmaid (1932).

Peter Pan

A.W. ‘Archie’ Baskcomb was born in London, UK, in 1880. His father had been chief clerk to King Edward, when he was Prince of Wales. His brother was the actor Laurence Baskcomb. Archie began his stage career as a dumb negro in The Octoroon in 1890. His appearances since then were many and varied. He played in comedies, musicals, revues and pantomime. His most famous part was ‘Slightly’ in the very first stage production of J.M.Barrie's Peter Pan in 1904. He created a major character out of an underwritten part and went on to play it for seven years. In 1913 he made his film debut for the Urban Trading Company in The Staff Dinner. In this short silent comedy he played a clerk who gets drunk at the annual office dinner and comes home late. The wife was played by his real wife, Ninon Dudley. Baskcomb is also credited as the writer of the film. Among his later West End productions were Mayfair and Montmartre (1922) by John Hastings Turner at the New Oxford Theatre, the musical Lilac Time (1922-1923) at the Lyric Theatre, The Street Singer (1924) with Phyllis Dare at the Lyric Theatre, and the musical Queen High (1926) with Sonnie Hale at the Queen's Theatre.

A.W. Baskcomb, John Gielgud, Jessie Matthews, The Good Companions
British postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons in the Real Photograph Series, no. 27-B. Photo: Gaumont-British. Publicity still for The Good Companions (1933, Victor Saville) with a.o. John Gielgud (third from left), A.W. Baskcomb (fifth from left) and Jessie Matthews (third from right).

A.W. Baskcomb
British postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph, no. 29-S. Photo: Gaumont-British.

The Lodger

After the introduction of sound film, A.W. Baskcomb made his come-back in the cinema. First he played the lead in the short comedy A Safe Proposition (1932, Leslie S. Hiscott). Then he supported Ivo Novello and Elizabeth Allen in The Lodger (1932, Maurice Elvey) . This was the first sound remake of the silent classic of 1926 directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which was inspired by the Jack the Ripper legend. Novello, who played the title role and headed the team writing the script, was in the original as well. He plays Michael Angeloff, a Hungarian musician, who takes lodgings with the Bunting family. Baskcomb played the head of the family. A romance develops between his daughter Daisy (Allen) and Angeloff. In the meanwhile a maniac stalks and murders street-women at night and circumstances gradually point the finger of suspicion at Angeloff, as the only clue the police have is that the killer is a foreign musician. Hal Erickson at AllMovie: “In Belloc-Lowndes' original novel The Lodger, the reclusive young man suspected of being Jack the Ripper turns out to be exactly who he's assumed to be. When Alfred Hitchcock directed the 1926 film version of The Lodger, he was advised that the public would never accept the popular star Ivo Novello as a serial killer, thus the film was given a happy ending. Novello himself wrote the screenplay for the 1932 non-Hitchcock talkie version of The Lodger, which, though updated from the novel's 19th century setting, retains its original shocker climax. Well received at the time of its release but rarely seen in recent years, the 1932 Lodger can be regarded as a serviceable bridge between the 1926 Hitchcock silent and the definitive 1944 20th Century-Fox remake starring Laird Cregar.”

A.W. Baskcomb
British postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph, no. 42-S. Photo: Gaumont-British. Publicity shot for The Midshipmaid (1932).

The Good Companions

Next A.W. Baskcomb played in the comedy The Midshipmaid (1932, Albert de Courville) starring Jessie Matthews. The following year, he supported Matthews again in the charming musical The Good Companions (1933, Victor Saville). The story was taken from J.B. Priestley's novel about three musicians joining together to save a failing concert party, the Dinky Doos. Craig Butler reviews at AllMovie: “Although a big success when originally released (and remade several times), The Good Companions has not held up particularly well over the years and is of primary interest for its cast. One of the cinema's many backstage musicals, Companions has a plot the elements that have been used time and again, from a chorus girl determined to be a star to a nascent songwriter who falls for her. The screenplay does win a few points, however, for the manner in which it introduces its characters, and the result is that the true star of the picture is not obvious for quite some time. The musical numbers (...) are pleasant and diverting, but hardly striking or original. Fortunately, Jessie Matthews figures prominently in many of the songs, giving them a great boost. Although never a great star abroad, Matthews was beloved by the British public, and it's easy to see why. She positively sparkles, and even when her acting comes across as rather broad, she manages to be appealing. The chance to see a very young John Gielgud in a musical is another drawing card; although he's not exactly at ease in the role, he actually handles it quite well. Even better is the delightful Edmund Gwenn, whose gentle portrayal gathers in strength and helps to anchor the film. These and the other members of the cast make Companions worth catching.” The Good Companions was a smash hit and it made Baskcomb a star. The postcards in this post and other collector’s cards were produced at the time. However, it was to be his last film. A.W. Baskcomb died in 1939 in London.

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Craig Butler (AllMovie), Collector’s Card (NYPL Digital Gallery), Charles Lee (IMDb) and IMDb.

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