Ivor Novello [David Ivor Davies] (1893-1951) b. Cardiff, Wales.
Before becoming a dazzling star of the silent screen, Ivor was first and foremost a composer. Ivor received musical training at the Magdalen College Choir School, Oxford, where he began to write songs under the name Ivor Novello. Soon after Ivor had left school he and his parents moved to London, and in 1914 he composed the most popular song of World War I, Keep the Home Fires Burning, which made him famous overnight. After entertaining the troops in war-torn France, in 1916 Ivor became a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service and survived two crash landings. In 1919 Ivor embarked on his career as a film actor when French director Louis Mercanton was in London looking for a leading man for his new film, Call of the Blood. The film, a tale of adultery and revenge, set in Sicily, was a success, largely due to Ivor’s sympathetic portrayal of the erring husband. Critics of the day called the film romantic and thrilling while accurately predicted stardom for young Ivor.
The Rat (1925), an adaptation of Ivor’s own play written in collaboration with Constance Collier, is a blatantly commercial melodrama, but a thoroughly enjoyable film. The Rat, the first of ten films Ivor made for Gainsborough Pictures, was enormously successful and inspired two sequels: The Triumph of the Rat (1926) and The Return of the Rat (1928). The Lodger (1926) was the first picture in which director Alfred Hitchcock exercised his true style. Downhill (1927) was Ivor’s second collaboration with Hitchcock, based on another Novello/Collier play written under the joint pseudonym David L’Estrange. Ivor Novello made 16 silent films in all and several early talkies. He reprised his role from The Lodger in the sound remake, The Phantom Fiend (1932), only in this version his character has mellowed and been changed to that of a Bosnian composer visiting London.
Though he had a fine voice and considerable acting talent, Ivor’s film career was cut short because it interfered with what he loved best – composing lush, romantic musicals. During the 1930′s and 1940′s he wrote elaborately staged hit shows, such as Glamorous Night (1935), The Dancing Years (1939) and Perchance to Dream (1945) – eight great musicals in all. He starred in six of these, all in non-singing roles. He composed over 250 songs. His lovely music did much to lift the spirits of his countrymen during the dark days of both World Wars and the bleak periods afterwards.
On March 6, 1951 Ivor Novello died in his London flat above the Strand Theatre just 4 hours after performing the lead in his own production, King’s Rhapsody.