18 June 2014

Seymour Hicks

Suave Seymour Hicks (1871-1949) was a successful British actor, music hall performer, playwright, screenwriter, actor-manager and producer. He became known, early in his career, for writing, starring in and producing several Edwardian musical comedies, often together with his famous wife, Ellaline Terriss. His most popular role was that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. He repeated this role on screen in a silent and a sound version.

Seymour Hicks
British postcard, no. 112.

Seymour Hicks
British postcard in the Philco Series, no. 3201 F.

An Unaccustomed Light-hearted Air

Edward Seymour Hicks was born in St. Hélier on the Isle of Jersey, Great-Britain in 1871. He made his stage début at the age of nine. He appeared as Little Buttercup in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore at his school in Bath. After that, he was determined to be an actor.

Hicks first appeared professionally on stage at the age of sixteen in a production of In the Ranks at the Grand, Islington. In 1889, he joined the theatrical company of Mr. and Mrs. Kendal for an American tour where they presented a repertory of contemporary plays.

Hicks starred as Dr. Watson in a parody of Sherlock Holmes, Under the Clock (1893) at the Royal Court Theatre. It was written by Hicks with Charles Brookfield, who played Holmes, and it was the first musical revue ever staged in London. That same year, he married Ellaline Terriss.

Then he starred in a revival of Little Jack Sheppard at the Gaiety Theatre, London which brought him to the attention of impresario George Edwardes. Edwardes cast Hicks in his next show, The Shop Girl (1894) opposite Ada Reeve. Kurt Gänzl in The Encyclopaedia of Musical Theatre: “The pair, comedy players both, gave an unaccustomed light-hearted air to the show's juvenile roles for, until that time, sentimentality rather than fun had been de rigueur in such parts, and Hicks scored a hit with the first of the many borrowed songs he would perform in shows over the years, Felix McGlennon's Her Golden Hair Was Hanging Down Her Back.

The emphasis on charming light comedy was increased when Hicks's wife, Ellaline Terriss, took over as 'the shop girl', and together this attractive, bright pair of young performers helped materially to seal the fate of the drooping/sighing, tenor/soprano lovers in London musical plays.” The Shop Girl played for 546 performances, and its success led to his participation in two more of Edwardes's hit ‘girl’ musicals, The Circus Girl (1896) and A Runaway Girl (1898), both starring Terriss.

In 1901, Hicks first played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and eventually played it thousands of times onstage. Hicks, along with his wife, joined the producer Charles Frohman in his theatre company and wrote and starred in a series of extraordinarily successful musicals, including Bluebell in Fairyland (1901), Quality Street (1902), The Earl and the Girl (1903) and The Catch of the Season (1904).

Hicks used his fortune from these shows to commission the building of the Aldwych Theatre in 1905 and the Hicks Theatre in 1906 (renamed as the Globe Theatre in 1909 and since 1994 known as the Gielgud Theatre). He opened the Hicks Theatre with a new hit show, The Beauty of Bath (1906).

Kurt Gänzl: “Hicks and Miss Terriss established themselves, during this period, not only as the town's favourite musical comedy hero and heroine, but also as the theatre's 'ideal couple'. As with most such couples, the ideal was a pretty fictional one, but Miss Terriss tactfully ignored Hicks's repeated trips to the ladies' chorus, and their charming public image lasted happily, to the great good of their popularity.”

Hicks’ stage performances were less successful in later years, and he opted instead to star in music hall tours, including Pebbles on the Beach (1912).

Seymour Hicks and Ellaline Terriss
British postcard by Rotary, no. 1277 F. Photo: Foulsham & Bansfield. Publicity still for the play Bluebell in Fairyland (1901) with Ellaline Terriss.

Seymour Hicks, Ellaline Terriss, Baby Betty
With Ellaline Terriss and Baby Betty. British postcard by Rotary, no. 4051 A. Photo: Foulsham & Bansfield.

Seymour Hicks and Zena Dare
British postcard by Rotary, no. 1229 C F. With Zena Dare.

A Tour to France

After the outbreak of World War I, Seymour Hicks was the first British actor to bring a tour to France (with Terriss), giving concerts to British troops at the front. Because of this, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

He continued to write light comedies, the most popular of which was The Happy Day (1916).

On film, he first appeared in the silent films Scrooge (Leedham Bantock, 1913), David Garrick (Leedham Bantock, 1913) and A Prehistoric Love Story (Leedham Bantock, 1915) with Isobel Elsom.

In 1923, he decided to produce his own films. His first film, in which he also starred, was Always Tell Your Wife (1923), which was based on one of his plays. While making that film, director Hugh Croise fell ill (or walked off the set or was fired; the sources differ) and Hicks hired an unknown young director to make his debut: Alfred Hitchcock.

Hicks directed Sleeping Partners (1930) and Glamour (1931). In addition, over a dozen films were made either from his plays or his scripts, and he starred in about twenty films, many with his wife.

In 1931, he was awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour (Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur) for his promotion of French drama on the English stage.

In 1934, he had taken over Daly's Theatre in London, where he produced and appeared in a series of successful plays including Vintage Wine that he and Ashley Dukes adapted from a novel.

In 1935, he played his most famous stage role, Ebenezer Scrooge for a second time on film in Scrooge (Henry Edwards, 1935), produced in England The film has been praised for its vivid atmosphere, but most of the ghosts in the film are not seen onscreen, except for the Ghost of Christmas Present (Oscar Asche). Donald Calthrop portrays Bob Cratchit, and Maurice Evans has a bit part as one of Scrooge's debtors.

Later notable film roles included Sir John Tremayne in The Lambeth Walk (Albert de Courville, 1939) and Bunter in Busman's Honeymoon (Arthur B. Woods, Richard Thorpe, 1940).

Hicks published several autobiographies: Seymour Hicks: 24 Years of an Actor's Life (1910), Between Ourselves (1930), Me and My Missus (1939) etc.

Seymour Hicks continued to appear on stage and in films until a year before his death of influenza in 1949 in Hampshire, England, at the age of 78. He was the father of actress, Betty Hicks.

Seymour Hicks
British postcard by Rotary Photo E.C., no. 112 D. Photo: Biograph.

Seymour Hicks
British postcard in the Philco Series, no. 3268 C.

Sources: Kurt Gänzl (The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre), Wikipedia, and IMDb.
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