Eric Maschwitz

Active - 1932 - 1946  |   Born - Jun 10, 1901   |   Died - Oct 27, 1969   |   Genres - Drama, Musical, Spy Film, Romance, Comedy

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Eric Maschwitz was a quadruple-threat writer -- of plays, operettas, songs, and film scripts -- garnering an Oscar nomination in the latter category, despite an active screenwriting career that ran only intermittently across ten years, from the mid-'30s into the 1940s. Born in Edgbaston near Birmingham, England, in 1901 to a Lithuanian immigrant family, he attended the Repton School, Gonville, where he began writing full-length plays in his early teens, and later studied at Caius College, Cambridge. He embarked on a writing career in the early '20s, authoring short fiction, and he worked as a ghost writer, redoing the work of less competent authors. Maschwitz also published several novels, including The Passionate Clowns: The Story of a Modern Witch, often using the less ethnic-sounding pseudonym of Holt Marvell. He joined the BBC as an executive in 1926 and also began writing operettas, usually in association with composer George Posford for radio broadcast. One of these, "Good Night Vienna," became a film vehicle for Anna Neagle and Jack Buchanan in 1932, and made the further leap to a full-blown theatrical production in 1946.

Maschwitz's first major stage success was The Gay Hussar (1933), which went to London's West End under the title Balalaika in 1936, and which, in turn, became an MGM musical under director Reinhold Schünzel in 1939, starring Nelson Eddy and Ilona Massey. Meanwhile, in 1936, Maschwitz collaborated with composers Jack Strachey and Harry Link on what became one of the most successful songs of his career, "These Foolish Things," which debuted as part of the show Spread It Abroad. Maschwitz received an OBE from the king that same year. Maschwitz had dabbled in screenwriting since 1932, and wrote his first screenplay (in collaboration with Val Gielgud) for the 1937 espionage story and romance Cafe Colette. Writing as Holt Marvell, he also collaborated with Gielgud on mystery novels, among them Death at Broadcasting House, which was adapted into a film in 1934.

In 1939, he received the most impressive screenwriting credit of his career when he collaborated with R.C. Sherriff and Claudine West on the screenplay for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, one of the most prestigious films of the year, which earned its authors an Academy Award nomination. Due to the outbreak of WWII, it was another six years before he wrote another film script. Maschwitz served in intelligence but was able to keep authorizing songs and plays. Indeed, in 1940, he wrote one of the two most famous songs of his career, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," in collaboration with Strachey and Manning Sherwin, which became one of the songs that defined the sentimental side of the war years for generations of listeners on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1941, he debuted the Chopin pastiche Waltz Without End, which wasn't a huge success in London but kept Maschwitz busy collecting royalties from regional theater performances for decades to come. In 1946 he finally returned to screenwriting, co-authoring the melodrama Carnival, though the results were less impressive than his work on Mr. Chips.

Maschwitz endured a string of flops until 1948 when Carissima, co-authored with Hans May, ran for 466 performances in London and was later brought to British television twice. He also enjoyed modest success the following year with Belinda Fair, a pleasant comedy about a woman who joins the army disguised as a man. His biggest stage success, however, was Zip Goes a Million, a vehicle written specifically for entertainer George Formby, which enjoyed a run of over 500 performances in London from 1951-1953. After 1948, his main contribution to movies was as a songwriter, along with authoring the original BBC serial story that became the thriller Little Red Monkey (1955). In 1956, his musical pastiche Summer Song, based on the life of Antonin Dvorak, was a critical success, but that production marked the tail end of Maschwitz's involvement with the theater. In 1963, he produced the BBC television series Our Man at St. Mark's. He passed away in 1969, but his songs -- especially "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "These Foolish Things" -- have continued to receive new recordings.

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