You are here: Archive Home > Sullivan > Interviews > "Interviewed" of Course
 
   
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Sullivan Interviews

“INTERVIEWED” OF COURSE.

Under one of the customary New York sensational headings, we read that Messrs Sullivan and Gilbert were interviewed by a representative of the New York World, even on the deck and in the state-room of the Bothnia.     

“The authors of ‘Pinafore’ — librettist Gilbert and composer Sullivan arrive brimful of plans and expectations — an interview with them on board the Bothnia — how the author of the Bab Ballads talks. 

And here is the “interview,” with which, doubtless, the readers of the Musical World will be both amused and edified.

“Come and be interviewed, Mr. Sullivan; here’s a reporter from the New York World who wants to see you.”  “Oh, I say, Gilbert, we’ve had your chaff for ten days, you know.”  “Oh, but this is a very personal matter, you know, and we will both have to do it together.”

The speakers were the writer and composer of H. M. S. Pinafore, and the place was on board of Her Majesty’s mail-ship Bothnia.  Shortly before, in the gray-tinged dawn of yesterday morning, a World reporter had put off in search of the two gentlemen.  On entering the saloon of the steamer the broad back of Mr Gilbert was first spied at the breakfast table; next him was a young lady, and next her Mr Arthur Sullivan, Mus Doc., Oxon., Mr Gilbert’s co-worker.  After the putting away of what seemed to the breakfastless reporter an unconscionable amount of substantial nourishment, the disposal of which was varied by continual bursts of laughter from charming, smiling faces, Mr Gilbert arose and was spoken to, and the preceding dialogue was the prologue to a perfect flow of good-natured and witty talk on the part of both gentlemen.  Both spoke at once, and both spoke of the anticipatory pleasure they had of the kind of reception they would meet with.  Mr. Gilbert loomed up first on the scene.  He was dressed in a reddish gray tweed cutaway suit, and wore a plain purple silk tie held by a plain gold ring.  Over six feet tall and finely formed; weighing apparently about 225 pounds; with a full forehead and clear, round, frank, deep-set, gray eyes and almost massive features; his half-smiling, half-serious mouth almost concealed by a thick military moustache; his brownish gray hair smooth, wavy and side parted; in age apparently about forty — he appeared to be a bright, frank, English gentleman, and there was in his personal appearance a strong suggestion of Thackeray, which was heightened perhaps by a half-hesitating manner and a slight reserve, the idea of which was dissipated when, just as one would think he was about to say something severe, he would make a joking remark, laugh a pleasant half-chuckle and resume his quiet manner.  When Mr Sullivan’s name was spoken, up hopped a natty, vivacious gentleman, dressed in neat gray roundabout suit and wearing a plain black tie, using an Oxford monocle, which was continually bobbing to and from his eyes.  He is just a trifle below the American medium height, and has a round, dapper, well set figure.  His head is well-developed, especially over the prominent and well curved eyebrows.  He has large, deep, brown eyes, which are continually varying in expression and whose corners are wrinkled and continually twinkling with good humour.  He has a prominent and slightly cleft chin; shiny, jet-black, curly hair, just streaked here and there with gray and smoothly parted in the middle.  He has closely trimmed, curly, brownish-black whiskers meeting a moustache.  Mr Sullivan’s manner and method of speech are hardly to be described.  Quick, nervous; now talking seriously and with sympathetically dilating eyes, now breaking into a ripple of laughter.  Both of the writers of Pinafore are great smokers, and consumed a small factory full of cigarettes coming up the bay, and both have apparently a slight smoker’s nervousness.  Contrary to what has been said of them, they both have an exquisite charm of manner and abound in clever talk.  “If you will come into the stateroom you will be more comfortable,” said Mr Sullivan; and to the room the party adjourned, Mr Sullivan seating himself on one of many boxes and beginning to bob his eye-glass, while Mr Gilbert sat half in, half out of his berth and looked as if on the anxious seat.  “Edmund Yates told me we would be interviewed long before we got ashore, but I didn’t think it would be so agreeable as this, and if you don’t look out we shall do the interviewing, so you had better begin,” said Mr Sullivan; and in reply to questions he continued: “Passage?  Never was such a passage; delightful every way except that she did pitch for three or four days.  I came aboard prepared to be sea sick all the way, but I wasn’t sick a bit.  You were told I was sick?  I never dreamt of such a thing all the voyage.  We had a perfectly delightful time.  I went on board the tender at Liverpool feeling dismal and blue, and I came across some friends whom I did not know were coming, which was very pleasant.  Then Mr Gilbert kept us roaring with his chaff and fun all the way over.  The captain was a good fellow and the chief engineer a perfect character.  We used to go in his room and smoke and sing while he played the Scotch fiddle.  There were nine of us, and we were a ‘larky’ party, the envy of the ship, I think, for good health and spirits, and I am almost sorry to leave her, only I am so anxious to see America.”

“As Mr Sullivan was not sick, how were you, Mr Gilbert?”

"Oh, dear me” — (Why, he is a famous yachtsman,” interjected Mr Sullivan) — “I suppose I ought to have been, but you see I’ve been over before, and I am on the water a good deal, and have the best of health, except a touch of gout once in a while.  There wasn’t anything the matter with me, only I played clown in the circus coming over.”

“What are you going to do when you get in New York?”

"Well,” said Mr Sullivan; “you see, we have come over here partly for pleasure and partly for business, and we shall stay three months in any case.” — “If you will keep us here and send us all back again,” added Mr Gilbert, to whom the arrival and departure of some of Mr Mapleson’s people had been told.  Then Mr Sullivan continued:  “I am going to keep dark and stay with some friends of mine until the 23rd of this month, when I go to Boston to superintend the rehearsals and direct the production of my oratorio, the Prodigal Son, by the Handel and Haydn Society.  I am coming back to New York then, and on the 1st of December we are going to bring out Pinafore at the Fifth Avenue Theatre.”

“Will you conduct?”

“Yes, at first; and then my dear friend, old schoolfellow, and a capital musician, Alfred Cellier, will lead.”

“After that — what?”

“We shall go to Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, St Louis, and last to Boston.”

“What will you produce while here?”

"Pinafore first, and if that succeeds, we will do The Sorcerer, Trial by Jury, and a new piece.”

“What do you propose to do with ‘Pinafore’ — that is, what special feature will you have?”

“Of course we have never seen how it has been done here, and can’t tell exactly; but I have brought the complete score with me as it was written.  What you have had has simply been somebody else’s orchestration of the piano score, and must have been very different from what I wrote.  Then the play will have the advantage of being produced precisely as the authors intended it to be, and there will be considerable novelty, I think.”

“What company have you brought with you?”

“Only Mr. Collier and Miss Blanche Tucker Roosevelt — Mdlle Rosavella, as she has been known — the rest follow, and are Mr Clifton, the original Boatswain; Miss Jessie Bond, the original Hebe; Signor Broccolini, the baritone, as Captain, and really I don’t remember who the others are at the moment, though I ought.  The chorus we will get here.  All of the characters have been taught by Mr Gilbert and myself precisely what we want done.”

“Have you ever seen ‘Pinafore,’ Mr Sullivan?”

“No,  never.”

“What never?”

“Well, as Mr Gilbert said once when I asked the questions and he did not see what I was laughing at — ‘Very seldom.’”

“Is ‘Pinafore’ as much of a success in England as here?”

“Quite so; it’s been running over four hundred and eighty nights at one place now, and is at three other theatres in London, besides several in the provinces; and of course others would use it, only they have to pay for the right there.”

"What is the name of the new play?”

“We haven’t named it yet.  We never do that till the last minute.  Pinafore, for example, was only named when the printer was waiting for copy for posters.”

“Will you tell me the plot?”

“Mr Gilbert can do that better.”

“If you please, Mr Gilbert.”

“Well,” said Mr Gilbert, “I can hardly tell you the plot, for I am going to rewrite an act, but the idea is pure melodrama taken seriously.  That is to say, instead of taking melodramatic characters speaking and dressed as they would 200 years ago, they are in the manner of the day, which I think makes it ludicrous.  The music is perfectly serious too.  The nearest thing I can compare it to is Zampa divested of its costumes and dialogues and transformed to today.  There are no burglars in it as reported, but there are pirates, who rush in and attempt to carry off the daughter of a regular officer from her father’s castle.  It’s a sort of reductio ad absurdum of melodrama — that is what it is.”

“What about a new American opera for us; will you do one?  You know we’ve had ‘La Spia,’ an Italian opera based on Cooper’s ‘Spy,’ with G. Washington as ‘primo basso’ and a chorus of Hessian soldiers.”

“How absurd.  Well, of course, we can’t tell what we’ll do.  You see, as Mr Gilbert said, we’ll stay here just as long as you’ll keep us, and we may stay long enough to write something.”

“Have you any idea what it will be?”

“Not the slightest!”

“I suppose, of course, you know, Mr Sullivan, that your music other than ‘Pinafore’ is well known here.  In the hymn books of most our churches you’ll find Sullivan a common name, and the Tennyson songs you will hear all over the country.”

“What, those old songs of the ‘Window’ and the rest?  I had an odd time getting them.  I went down to the Isle of Wight and to Hazlemere, where he has another place.  He is a crotchety old fellow — stiff as could be at first.  He used to take me out on the downs, when the wind would blow your teeth down your throat, and he’d talk and talk, and get off some philosophical remark, and you’d shout in his ear, ‘What did you say?’’ and he would look as though to say, ‘What a fool you are.’  Then towards night he would unbend and become gracious” —

“Excuse me; does he smoke the ‘churchwardens’ as hard as he is said to?”

“I should say he did; hw would sit up till three o’clock in the morning smoking; by that time he would be good-natured, and he then would suddenly say in his gruff tones, ‘I—think—it—is—time—to—go—to—bed—now.’  But the worst of it was I couldn’t get the songs out of him.  Finally, one day he said, ‘You don’t want these songs, really, do you?’  I said, ‘That’s what I’ve been down here all this time for’ — and, finally, I got them from him.  But to be serious, it is really touching and gratifying in the extreme to find one’s offspring so well known in a foreign land.  But you Americans aren’t foreigners to me.  Some of the dearest friends I have are Americans, and I know the too hospitable manner in which you treat every one who comes over here.  Your press too — you know how that is yourself.  You take up the Times in London and you find some ten-line paragraph that Mr. Secretary Evarts has made a long speech, or something of the sort.  Now I don’t care anything about Mr Secretary Evarts’s long speeches, but I want to know what’s going on.  You take up your paper here and there’s a column of interesting personal information and letters and long cable despatches about everything and everybody in Europe.  The same space is taken up with us in long stupid essays and political leaders that no one ever reads.”

“Will you tell me how the ‘Pinafore’ was composed?”

“I had an awful time; I was very ill, you know.  I used to get up and jot down ideas and go to bed; get up again and put down more ideas, and so on, and so it was done.  Of course you know that’s been the way with many compositions which have not the appearance of being anything else but happy-go-lucky work.”

“How do you compose readily; that is, do you just sit down and write off the music, so to speak?”

“Any composer will tell you you can’t do much either way.  Composing is like working a coal mine; if you wait for the coal to come up to you you can wait for ever; but if you want to get any results you have to go down into the mine and work each vein out very carefully.”

“Mr. Gilbert, I suppose you know that you are coming from a ‘Wicked World in an Island Home to a Palace of Truth in a Happy Arcadia, where the bosun tight and the midshipmite and the crew of the Nancy brig’ [sic] are well known, and will you kindly tell me what your plans are?”

“I shall stay in New York, with a very close friend of mine, Mr Fred. Clay, the composer, and there I shall work.”

“What at?”

“Oh, preparatory to the production of Pinafore.”

“What part do you take?”

“I pay the strictest attention to every detail, and shall be stage manager.”  “The best in the world,” remarked Mr Sullivan.

“Do you have any difficulty in getting your people to do what you want?”

“Not the slightest; that is, I tell them exactly what I want, and then if they wont do what I want, and the part fails, I lay the blame to them.   Mr Coghlan in the Sweetheart [sic] wanted to dress and act the part according to the idea of a Bond Street swell of 1842, and I told him that was not my idea, but he wouldn’t mind, and I think the piece failed through him.”

“How do you like ‘Pinafore’?”

“I haven’t seen it; that is, from the front of the house.  In fact, I haven’t seen any of my pieces since, seven years ago, I saw Pygmalion and Galatea, and I don’t expect to again.  I seldom think a play is written or acted as well as it ought to be, and I am very sensitive about it.  Vanity, I suppose it is.”

“If you have time, shall you go much to the theatre, Mr Gilbert?”

“Yes.  I expect to go for about seven hours a day for some time; more perhaps.  I shall be busy, of course, at rehearsals.”

“What is your ‘favourite child’?”

“Of course it’s a failure — Broken Hearts.  I always liked it, but the public didn’t seem to.  Perhaps the educated part of the public liked it, but you know a dramatist has to write for the general public.  At home the cultivated man goes to the theatre and pays half-a-guinea, and the costermonger pays sixpence.  Now, if I don’t please the costermonger he says, ‘’Ere, I’m blowed if I’ve ‘ad my money’s worth!’ and so he hisses his money’s worth.”

“Will you do any American Bab Ballads?”

“I am afraid not.  I think the vein’s worked out.  Yates wanted me to do something for his new magazine, Time.  I tried some more, but they were failures.”

“I don’t think your readers thought so.  ‘Time’s’ Bab Ballads were re-published here in the ‘World,’ and were very much liked.  Besides, this is a new field for you.”

“I’m sure I would be glad to have the subject if I had the inspiration too.”

“You have been here before, I believe.  What year was it, may I ask?”

“Oh, yes, I know all about you.  I was here eight years ago.  I came over to make some arrangements, and I settled them down at Quarantine, and I needn’t have landed, but I took a flying trip of five days, went to Boston, had a delightful time.  I went to Wallack’s Theatre and wanted to go in.  I told the man I was ‘Mr. Gilbert.’  ‘No, you ain’t,’ he said.  ‘I guess not much.’  You see he thought I was pretending to be John Gilbert, the actor.  There was something said about my having had trouble there, but I hadn’t the slightest, and that is the whole of the story.  Perhaps I oughtn’t to say I know all about you, having only been here five days, but you know some of our fellows come down here, stay about so long, then go back and write  book in three volumes about you, and such a man ought to know all about you, oughtn’t he?”

“How do you work best, Mr. Gilbert?”

“Always from 11 at night to 2 or 3 a.m.  I can’t work in the day, and I smoke cigars and have a ‘peg’ or two, and always in my own room.  If I work anywhere else, pictures and things distract my attention when I look up.”

“How do you work with Mr. Sullivan?”

“Oh, we agree splendidly together, perfectly so.  He writes a bit and I write a bit, and we both fit to each other.  If I have a suggestion to make he always gives in.”  (“And if I have a suggestion to make you always give in,” added Sullivan.)  “We can’t either of us write in cold blood to somebody else’s work, and we just happen to match.  But really, I am delighted to get here.  I never saw anything so beautiful as the harbour this morning.  Especially do I think this the land of immense promise, and will look upon it as a dramatic Canaan if we can induce managers to deal directly with us.  I haven’t anything to say against the managers, but simply against the laws.”

The speakers had long since come on deck, and the steamer was far up the harbour.  “Which is Jersey? which is Brooklyn? — and oh, there’s New York.  What a lovely, perfect day!” were some of the exclamations.  “By the way,” said Mr Sullivan, “I got the best of one of your young ladies this morning.  She said she would arrive in the most beautiful Indian summer, and when we came up this morning I fell on the icy deck and told her that her Indian summer was more familiar than I thought, for it was just like an English winter.”

By this time the boat was nearly in dock.  Mr Gilbert put on a high-caped ulster, and Mr Sullivan a huge blue and fur-trimmed coat.  Some friends came off to bid the visitors welcome, and as they came shouted, “Did you meet any Cyclones?”  “We don’t move in those circles,” promptly replied Mr Gilbert.  Soon they were landed, and the miseries of examination had to be undergone.  Mr Sullivan sat quietly on a box smiling and talking.  “How picturesque and pleasant everything is,” said he, “but by Jove if I sit here much longer I shall take back what I have said about America.”  Time still passed on and — “This is horrible,” said he.  “I never saw such disorder.  They pitch your things everywhere and you can’t find anything; why can’t they do as we do.”  Soon came the disagreeable task of exposing the Pinafore score.  Finally the examination ended and Mr Sullivan went off with his friends.

Mr Gilbert had a worse time with his luggage, masses in four different piles, and he was kept busy running to and fro.  Patience is evidently a strong element in his character, for he did not swear when the few hundred cigars he had conscientiously disclosed were seized and carried off.  He quietly whispered to the reporter, “Can’t I tip him?”  But Customs House examinations, like everything else, come to an end.  His boxes were strapped, his duty paid, and he was allowed to go away with a single bunch of cigars in his pocket to his comfortable quarters near the New York Hotel.  Both of the gentlemen were at the Union Club in the evening, and they will dine at the Lotos Club on Saturday night.



Archive Home  |  Sullivan  |  Interviews

   Page modified 8 May, 2013 Copyright © 2013 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.