Dorothy Gladys "Dodie" Smith (3 May 1896 – 24 November 1990) was an English novelist and playwright. Smith is best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Her other works include I Capture the Castle and The Starlight Barking.
Dorothy was born on 3 May 1896 in Whitefield, near Bury in Lancashire. An only child, her parents were Ernest and Ella Smith (née Furber). Ernest was a bank manager; he died in 1898, when Dorothy was two years old. Dodie and her mother moved to Old Trafford to live with her grandparents, William and Margaret Furber. Dorothy's childhood home, known as Kingston House, was at 609 Stretford Road. It faced the Manchester Ship Canal, and she lived with her mother, maternal grandparents, two aunts, and three uncles. In her autobiography Look Back with Love (1974), she credits her grandfather William as one of three reasons she became a playwright. He was an avid theatergoer, and they had long talks about Shakespeare and melodrama. The second reason, her uncle Harold Furber, an amateur actor, read plays with her and introduced her to contemporary drama. Thirdly, her mother had wanted to be an actress, an ambition frustrated except for walk-on parts, one in the company of Sarah Bernhardt. She wrote her first play at the age of ten, and she began acting in bit roles in her teens at the Manchester Athenaeum Dramatic Society. Today there is a blue plaque on the building, commemorating where Dorothy grew up. The formative years of Dorothy's childhood were spent at this house.
Move to London
In 1910 Ella remarried and moved with her new husband and the 14 year old Dodie to London. She attended school in both Manchester and at St Paul's Girls' School. In 1914, Dodie entered the Academy of Dramatic Art. Her first role came in Arthur Wing Pinero's Playgoers. Other roles after leaving RADA include a Chinese girl in Mr. Wu, a parlor maid in Ye Gods, and a young mother in Niobe, which was directed by Basil Dean, who would go on to buy her play Autumn Crocus. She was also in the Portsmouth Repertory Theatre, traveled with a YMCA company to entertain the troops in France during World War I, toured with the French comedy French Leave, and appeared as Anne in Galsworthy's The Pigeon at the Everyman Theatre and at a festival in Zürich, Switzerland. During her mother's degeneration whilst dying of breast cancer, Dodie and her sister became followers of Christian Science.
Career after acting
Even though she had sold a film script, Schoolgirl Rebels under the pseudonym Charles Henry Percy, and written an one-act play, British Talent, that premiered at the Three Arts Club in 1924, she still had a hard time finding steady work. In 1923, she took a job in Heal and Son's furniture store in London and became the toy buyer (and a mistress of the chairman, Ambrose Heal). She authored her first play, Autumn Crocus, in 1931 under the pseudonym C.L. Anthony. Its success, and the discovery of her identity by journalists, inspired the newspaper headline, "Shopgirl Writes Play". The show starred Fay Compton and Francis Lederer.
Her fourth play, Call It A Day, was put on by the Theatre Guild on January 28, 1936, and ran for 194 performances. It ran in London for 509 performances, the longest run of any of Smith's play to date. It was compared favorably to George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's Dinner at Eight and Edward Knoblock's Grand Hotel by Joseph Wood Krutch. He also said of the production, that it "stays pretty consistently on the level of comedy and imposes upon its brittle structure no greater emotional weight than that structure is capable of bearing." 
After the success of Call It A Day, Smith was able to purchase the The Barretts, a cottage near the village of Finchingfield, Essex. Her next play, Bonnet over the Windmill (1937), was not as successful. It follows three aspiring young actresses and their landlady, a middle-aged former music-hall performer, and the young women's attempts to attract the attention of a play-wright and a theater producer with hopes of obtaining dramatic roles.
Her next show, Dear Octopus (1938), starred DBE Marie Tempest and Sir John Gielgud. The unusual title refers to a toast in the play: "To the family—that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to." Brooks Atkinson who called Smith a "domestic panoramatist" and compared her to a lot of English novelists, from Samuel Richardson to Archibald Marshall and called her the "appointed recorder" of the English family. The production in London ran for 376 performances, compared to that in New York of only 53.
When Smith came to America to cast Dear Octopus, she brought with her Alec Macbeth Beesley, who had worked like her at Heal's and had become her longtime friend and business manager. The two married in 1939. She would not have another play running in London until 1952, though Lovers and Friends did play at the Plymouth Theatre in 1943. The show starred Katharine Cornell and Raymond Massey.
Smith spent most of her years as a writer living in a townhouse in London, where a plaque now commemorates her occupation.
During the 1940s, Smith and her husband moved to the United States due to legal difficulties with Beesley's stand as a conscientious objector. While living in the U.S. and feeling homesick for England, she wrote her first novel in Doylestown, Pennsylvania: I Capture the Castle (1948). She and Beesley also spent time in Beverly Hills, Malibu, and Wilton, Connecticut.
During their American interlude, the Beesleys became friends with writers Christopher Isherwood, Charles Brackett, and John Van Druten. In Smith's memoirs, she credits Alec with making the suggestion to Van Druten that he adapt Isherwood's Sally Bowles story Goodbye to Berlin into a play (the Van Druten play, I Am a Camera, later became the musical Cabaret). In her memoirs, Smith acknowledges having received writing advice from her friend, the novelist A. J. Cronin.
Her first play back in London, Letter from Paris, was an adaption of Henry James's short novel The Reverberator. She followed the adapting style of William Archibald's The Innocents (adapted from The Turn of the Screw) and Ruth and Augustus Goetz's The Heiress (adapted from Washington Square).
Beesly died in 1987 and Smith in 1990. She was cremated and her ashes scattered in the wind. She had named Julian Barnes as her literary executor, a job she felt would not be much work. Barnes writes of the complicated task in his essay "Literary Executions", revealing among other things how he secured the return of the film rights to I Capture the Castle, which had been held by Disney since 1949 Smith's personal papers are housed in Boston University's Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, and include manuscripts, photographs, artwork, and correspondence (including letters from Christopher Isherwood and John Gielgud).
Smith is best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) (which was adapted into the Disney animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians). Her novel I Capture the Castle also has a devoted following (a film version was released in 2003). I Capture the Castle was voted #82 as 'one of the nation's 100 best-loved novels' by the British public as part of the BBC's The Big Read (2003).
List of works
- Autumn Crocus (1931)
- Service (1932)
- Touch Wood (1934)
- Call It A Day (1935)
- Bonnet Over the Windmill (1937)
- Dear Octopus (1938)
- Lovers and Friends (1943)
- Letter from Paris (1952)
- I Capture the Castle (1954)
- These People, Those Books (1958)
- Amateur Means Lover (1961)
- Look Back with Love: a Manchester Childhood (1974)
- Look Back with Mixed Feelings (1978)
- Look Back with Astonishment (1979)
- Look Back with Gratitude (1985)
Movies adapted from her works
The Hundred and One Dalmatians
Pongo, the canine protagonist of The Hundred and One Dalmatians, was named after Smith's own pet Dalmatian, the first of nine. Smith got the idea for her novel when a friend remarked at her own dalmatians: “Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat!”
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hadsel 1982
- ^ a b Grove 2004
- ^ a b Scheerhout, John (12 September 2002), Honour for 'Dalmatians' Dodie, Manchester Evening News, http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/19/19193_honour_for_dalmatians_dodie.html, retrieved 2010-01-14
- ^ a b c Hile 2004
- ^ Smith 1974
- ^ Alan Crawford, "Heal, Sir Ambrose (1872–1959)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 12 Aug 2007
- ^ a b Smith 1979
- ^ Barnes 2003
- Barnes, Julian. (2003). Literary Executions. In: Arana, Marie The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work : A Collection from the Washington Post Book World. New York: PublicAffairs.
- Grove, Valerie (2004), "Smith [married name Beesley], Dorothy Gladys [Dodie] (1896–1990)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40481, retrieved 2010-01-14
- Hadsel, Martha (1982), Modern British Dramatists, 1900–1945, Detroit: Gale, ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1
- Hile, Kevin S. (2004), Contemporary Authors Online, Detroit: Gale, ISBN 978-0-7876-3995-2
- Smith, Dodie (1974), Look Back With Love: A Manchester Childhood, London: Heinemann, ISBN 0-434-71355-4
- Smith, Dodie (1979), Look Back With Astonishment, London: W.H. Allen, ISBN 0-491-02198-4
- Grove, Valerie (1996). Dear Dodie: the life of Dodie Smith. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-5753-4.
- Hadsel, Martha (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900–1945. Detroit: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1.
- Hile, Kevin S. (2004). Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. ISBN 978-0-7876-3995-2.
- Smith, Dodie (1985). Look Back With Gratitude. London: Muller, Blond & White. ISBN 0-584-11124-X.
- Smith, Dodie (1978). Look Back With Mixed Feelings. London: W.H. Allen. ISBN 0-491-02073-2.
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