CYRIL RITCHARD (1898-1977)

Was ever a villain so beloved as Cyril Ritchard's CAPTAIN HOOK?  How slender and elegant he looked in his scarlet pirate coat, with ruffles at the throat and wrists; jeweled rings on his left hand (the right with that wicked hook).  Who else could dance so gracefully in those tight pants and be so light on his feet in those high topped boots?    "No little children love me," Hook laments during HOOK'S WALTZ on the pirate ship; how wrong he was!

Cyril Trimnell-Ritchard was born in Sydney, Australia in 1898 and achieved a 60-year long career as a singer, dancer, actor and director.  His career encompassed films, TV and the stage on three continents, Australia, England and the United States.  His range included revue, musical comedy, West End and Broadway long running comedies and opera.  He specialized in humorous villains and excelled at playing Restoration fops.  He was a Renaissance man of multiple talents.

The biographical info below is based partly on Ernest Thompson's article from the November 1976 issue of AFTER DARK magazine kindly copied for me by Christy Schurman, partly on information given to me by Ray Stanley in Australia, who remembers many of these shows when he lived in the U.K., partly from an interview conducted by Hazel deBerg for the Oral History Collection of the National Library of Australia; partly from material kindly photocopied for me by Paul Bentley from Dennis Wolanski Library of the Performing Arts; and partly from my own research.

Cyril was born on December 1, 1898 at Surry Hills in Sydney, Australia.  He had four brothers and a sister.  His first exposure to the theatre was a production of PETER PAN which he saw when he was 8.  He was educated at St. Aloysius College and Sydney University.  In college he had the title roles in productions of MACBETH and HAMLET and Sir Charles Surface in THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL. His parents wished him to study medicine but after a year he dropped out, unable to face the blood.  He started work as a $7 a week chorus boy with J.C. Williamson in the Royal Comic Opera Company where he stayed for two years, although he was out of the chorus in three months.  He made his theatrical debut at 19 in a revival of A WALTZ DREAM (1917) at Her Majesty's Theatre in Sydney, and before long became the juvenile lead in touring companies throughout Australia and New Zealand .  Eventually, he would team up with Madge Elliot, Australia's top musical star.  Their first appearance together was KATINKA (1918).  Their careers in Australia would continue to be a series of successful pairings.  Upon their triumphant return to Australia from their successes in England, Cyril and Madge were married September 16, 1935, fifteen years after they met, at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney; 50 police were required to control the crowd of some 5,000 outside the cathedral.  They were so famous and beloved in Australia that their first names alone were sufficient  in newspaper headlines about them.  I am indebted to the State Library of New South Wales for the photo of Cyril and Madge's wedding. (Madge's wedding gown was created by Peter Russell.)  They honeymooned in Honolulu and returned to England.   In April 1939 Madge gave birth to a son who died hours afterwards.

I am indebted to my friend Ray Stanley for ferreting out some information on Cyril's early Australian career based on a "diary" written by Madge Elliott for publication in the Melbourne STAR between March 16 and 26, 1935.
Madge was born Leah Madeleine Elliott in Kensington (London) on May 12, 1896 and emigrated to Toowoomba, Queensland while still a baby.  She attended Miss Minnie Hooper's School of Dancing and had her first professional engagement in the children's ballet of the Melba Grand Opera Co. in 1911.  She advanced from the ballet to principal dancer in the Exquisite Eight, which was her beginning in musical comedy.  As a member of the Exquisite Eight she toured Australia and New Zealand in SO LONG LETTY, YOU'RE IN LOVE and CANARY COTTAGE.  Her first real acting assignment was in A NIGHT OUT; thereafter she played Nichette in YES, UNCLE.  Her final stage appearance was in PRIVATE LIVES in Sydney in 1951.  She was ill for some years afterwards and was hospitalized in Los Angeles in August 1954.  She died a year later on August 8, 1955 in New York.

Cyril appeared in the following shows in Australia or New Zealand:

In 1924, Cyril came to New York for a time and shared an apartment with Walter Pidgeon.  He made his New York debut in the Dillingham revue PUZZLES OF 1925 with Elsie Janis, Helen Broderick, Borrah Minnevitch and Pidgeon.  Madge called it "a typically frothy little show, all color and movement."  This ran for 104 performances at the Fulton Theatre.  Eventually, Madge would join him in Manhattan where he was now under contract to Florenz Ziegfeld.   The sketches Cyril participated in, included:

Cyril came to London in 1925 where he made his West End debut in Andre Charlot's revival of BUBBLY.  After appearing in the following string of musicals, including four years of Stanley Lupino musicals, Noel Coward dubbed Cyril and Madge "the musical Lunts".  I am grateful to my friend Ray Stanley for details of some of these London stage appearances:

Among the London revues Cyril appeared in are:

I was able to acquire on eBay a programme from HIGH SPIRITS with photos from some of the revue numbers.  The 1588 sketch, A STATELY GAVOTTE, contains the satiric lyric:  "First thou puts thy two knees right up tight", a reference to BALLIN' THE JACK.

In the 1778 sketch, A SMILE, A SONG AND A LEXICON, the photo shows Cyril with a false red upturned nose and a wig that ends in a pigtail.  He and Ian Carmichael played Boswell and Johnson and perform a "cross-talk" act (rapid and witty talk or conversation).


Cyril was mainly a stage and later TV actor, but he did appear in Britain's last silent film, PICCADILLY (1929) as well as its first talkie, Hitchcock's BLACKMAIL (1929).  His last major film appearance was costarring with Tommy Steele in the musical HALF A SIXPENCE (1967).  Click here for details of his other films.  Click here for a clip from PICCADILLY of Cyril dancing with Gilda Gray.

Cyril also staged or appeared in a number of operas, including LA PERICHOLE (1956), THE GYPSY BARON (1960), THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (1961), THE BARBER OF SEVILLE (1961), THE TALES OF HOFFMAN (1962), NAUGHTY MARIETTA and ROSALINDA.  He played the Mikado in an updated version written by Alan Melville for the BBC called TITIPU opposite Hattie Jacques as Katisha.  He also toured in roles that other actors originated, including NO, NO, NANETTE and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.

According to an April 25, 1951 article in the Australian magazine PEOPLE, Cyril  made his U.S. television bow with Madge in a quiz program.  He followed it up two weeks later by doing a brief sketch on THE BILLY ROSE SHOW.  He was a semiregular on the TV series MR. PEEPERS, starring Wally Cox and Tony Randall in 1955.  Over the years he participated in television as an actor, singer and director:

Cyril also appeared on variety shows hosted by PERRY COMO, RED SKELTON, and THE BELL TELEPHONE HOUR, provided voices for several animated TV specials and appeared as a guest on talk shows.

Among his credits in American theatre are:
1925 PUZZLES OF 1925 This review opened February 2, 1925 and closed the following May.
1947 LOVE FOR LOVE By William Congreve; costarring were John Gielgud, Pamela Brown, Robert Flemyng and Sebastian Cabot. Opened May 26, 1947 at the Royale Theatre. Cyril played Tattle.  This was his Broadway debut.
1947 IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST By Oscar Wilde.  Cyril recreated his role of Algernon with John Gielgud, Margaret Rutherford, Pamela Brown, Richard Wordsworth and Robert Flemying at the Royale Theatre.
1948 MAKE WAY FOR LUCIA 12/22/48-1/15/49 at the Cort Theatre.  Cyril played George Pillson, whom TIME magazine's reviewer called "a dilettantish, old-maidish male."  Costarring were Isabel Jeans and Kurt Kazner.  Written by John Van Druten, based on novels of E.F. Benson.  About the amusing rivalry between two clever, designing women for social leadership in a small English town of 1912.  The action takes place in the drawing room of a house in Tilling, in the South of England, during the summer months.  The novel was later adapted in more detail for TV as MAPP AND LUCIA.
1950 THE RELAPSE Opened November 22, 1950 at the Morosco Theatre.  This Restoration comedy by John Vanbrugh was first performed around 1697.  It deals with a narcissistic dandy who has recently purchased a peerage.  His idea of entertainment is to look at himself in the mirror.  The plot involves mistaken identity and betrothal and all ends happily.  Cyril co-starred as Sir Novelty Fashion/Lord Foppington both on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre (with wife Madge Elliott, John Emery and Ruth Matteson) and in a 1947 British production directed by Anthony Quayle at the Phoenix Theatre. Some of the other delightful character names are Sir Tunbelly Clumsey, Miss Hoyden and Syringe (a surgeon).   Click here for a photo of Cyril from the Playbill.
1951 BUY ME BLUE RIBBONS Cyril directed this play by Sumner Locke-Elliott which starred Audrey Christie and Enid Markey which opened October 17, 1951 at the Empire Theatre and closed 10 days later.
1952 JANE Opened February 1, 1952 at the Morosco Theatre, by S.N. Behrman based on a Somerset Maugham short story.  Cyril directed Edna Best, Basil Rathbone and Adrienne Corri.
1952 THE MILLIONAIRESS Opened October 17, 1952 at the Shubert Theatre, by Bernard Shaw.  Cyril costarred with Katherine Hepburn, Campbell Cotts, Peter Dyneley, Vernon Greeves, Bertram Shuttleworth, Nora Nicholson, Genine Graham and Robert Helpmann.  In the earlier version playing at the Hippodrome, Coventry, Kenneth Tynan noted "Cyril Ritchard had lent a flustered dignity, like that of a goosed hen, to the nonentity Blenderbland", the title character's gentleman friend whom she tosses down a flight of stairs when he dares to express a negative opinion about her late father
1953 MISALLIANCE By George Bernard Shaw.  Opened February 18, 1953 at City Center.  Cyril directed a cast which included Barry Jones, Tamara Geva, Roddy McDowall (in his Broadway debut), Richard Kiley, Bramwell Fletcher, Dorothy Sands and William Redfield.
1953 JOHN MURRAY ANDERSON'S ALMANAC Opened at the Imperial Theatre December 10, 1953  and ran for 229 performances.  Cyril staged the sketches which starred Hermione Gingold, Billy DeWolfe and others.  See http://www.bestweb.net/~foosie/almanac.htm
1954 PETER PAN Opened October 20, 1954 at the Winter Garden Theatre and ran for 149 performances.  Cyril played Captain Hook and Mr. Darling to Mary Martin's Peter Pan.  This was his first musical on Broadway.  He won the Donaldson and Tony Awards.  An abbreviated version was later shown on American TV on March 7, 1955 and repeated January 9, 1956 and in color on December 8, 1960.   After the TV broadcast, Cyril was a national celebrity.
1955 THE HEAVENLY TWINS Opened November 4, 1955 at the Booth Theatre.  Cyril directed a cast which included Jean Pierre Aumont, Faye Emerson and Marcel Hilaire.  The show ran only 35 performances.
1956 THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE 10/10/56-2/2/57 at the Henry Miller Theatre.  Cyril directed.  Written by William Douglas Home and starring Wilfred Hyde-White and the 19-year old Anna Massey.
1957 A VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET Cyril created the role of Kreton for the TV special in 1955.  Gore Vidal then adapted the TV version for the stage and it opened 2/7/57 at the Booth Theatre.  After the Broadway run, Cyril toured the U.S. until 6/28/58.  In this stage version, Cyril directed and played Kreton, an alien from another dimension who arrives in Virginia in a UFO.  He can read minds and levitate objects and threatens to take over the Earth.
1959 LOOK AFTER LULU Cyril directed with Noel Coward adapting the George Feydeau farce OCCUPE-TOI D'AMELIE. Opened at the Henry Miller Theatre on March 3, 1959 with a cast of 25 including Tammy Grimes (as Lulu), Roddy McDowall, Kurt Kaznar, George Baker, Rory Harrity, Craig Huebling, Bill Berger, Barbara Loden and Eric Christmas.  Ran 39 performances.
1959 THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY 11/22/59-5/28/60 Longacre Theatre. Cyril directed and played Biddeford Poole. Written by Samuel Taylor with Cornelia Otis Skinner. Costarring were Cornelia Otis Skinner, Charles Ruggles, Walter Abel, Delores Hart and George Peppard. Cyril also toured in this in his homeland of Australia from June through December 1960; in the U.S. he toured opposite Maureen O'Sullivan. Cyril played "Pogo" Poole, world athlete and big game hunter. He shows up for the marriage of his only daughter, having not seen her for decades since his first marriage broke up. He charms his daughter so much she agrees to call off the wedding and see the world with him for a year.
1961 THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD Opened 4/3/61 at the Martin Beck Theatre.  Cyril directed and played multiple roles, including Chief of State, Pluto, a Heckler, a Gay Blade, a Wine Smuggler, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a Playwright and an Ambassador.  Written by Fred Saidy and Henry Myers; story and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg written to music by Jacques Offenbach.  Costarring were Bruce Yarnell and Janice Rule. Writing in AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE (Oxford University Press 1992) Gerald Boardman called Cyril "the best of all British fop portrayers".  A contemporary review in THEATRE WORLD was impressed with the scenic effects and lighting by William and Jean Eckart, which included "rising through the sky to come across a group of gods and goddesses holding a conference while reclining on clouds."
1961 EVERYBODY LOVES OPAL Opened at the Longacre October 10, 1961.  Cyril directed this comedy by John Patrick which starred Eileen Heckert, Stubby Kaye, Brenda Vacarro, John Napier and James Coco.
1962 ROMULUS Opened 1/1/62 at the Music Box Theatre.  Adapted by Gore Vidal from a play of Friedrich Duerrenmatt.  Cyril costarred with Cathleen Nesbitt, George S. Irving and Howard Da Silva.  A comedy set in 476 A.D. Tivoli, near Rome.  (A tailor volunteers to lend the Emperor 10 million if he will endorse trousers instead of togas!)
1963 TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD Opened March 12, 1963 at the 54th Street Theatre, Cyril costarred as Col. Tallboys with Lillian Gish, Cedric Hardwicke, Eileen Heckart, Glynis Johns, Ray Middleton, Robert Preston and David Wayne.  Written by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Albert Marre.
1963 THE IRREGULAR VERB TO LOVE Opened September 18, 1963 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  A comedy by Hugh and Margaret Williams.  Cyril directed and co-starred as Felix Rankin with Claudette Colbert.  She portrayed a London matron who has recently been released from jail after bombing 2 fur stores.  Cyril played her husband and father of a daughter who is about to become an unmarried mother and a hippie son who has returned from Europe with a Greek girl who doesn't speak English.
1964 ROAR LIKE A DOVE Opened May 22, 1964 at the Booth Theatre.  A comedy by Leslie Storm.  Cyril directed Betsy Palmer, Roderick Cook, Jessie Royce Landis and Charles Ruggles.
1965 THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, THE SMELL OF THE CROWD 5/16/65-12/4/65 at the Shubert Theatre.  Cyril played Sir.  Anthony Newley costarred, directed and wrote the music.  Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.  See http://www.bestweb.net/~foosie/gpaint.htm   Writing in his autobiography, THE MUSIC MAN (Metro Publishing Ltd. 2006), Leslie Bricusse says of Cyril in the role, that he "brought to the character of Sir his many years of experience, wit and revue performer style.  He was splendidly arrogant and outrageously camp.  He got all the laughs that were there to be got, totally missing in the English production, and delivered his songs with a fine edge and a high polish".
1967 A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Cyril directed and alternated the roles of Bottom, Oberon and Pyramus in this American Shakespeare Theatre production. in Stratford, Connecticut  Carrie Nye played Titania and Jerry Dodge was Puck.
1969 PETER AND THE WOLF 3/31/69-4/15/69 at the New York City Center.  Cyril was narrator.  According to an article in the November 1976 issue of AFTER DARK, this was his favorite concert.
1970 THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE 6/6/70-9/6/70 at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT by George Bernard Shaw.  Cyril directed and played General Burgoyne.  Costarring were Jill Clayburgh, David Selby and Margaret Hamilton.
1972 SUGAR 4/9/72-6/23/73.  Cyril played Osgood Fielding, Jr.  Written by Peter Stone based on the 1959 film SOME LIKE IT HOT.  Music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Bob Merrill; the team who did FUNNY GIRL.  Costarring were Robert Morse, Elaine Joyce and Tony Roberts.  This is the story of two jazz musicians who accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day massacre and decide to disguise themselves as women and hide out in an all girl band in order to escape from the mobsters who want to kill them.  Cyril plays an eccentric playboy who falls for Bobby Morse in female form. When the show went on its post-Broadway tour, Gale Gordon took over Cyril's role and Cyril directed the touring company.
1973 JOCKEY CLUB STAKES 1/24/73-3/24/73. Cyril directed.  Written by William Douglas Home and starring Wilfred Hyde-White, Robert Coote and Thayer David.
1975 A MUSICAL JUBILEE 11/13/75-1/1/76.  Written by Max Wilk.  Costarring were Tammy Grimes, John Raitt, Dick Shawn and Lillian Gish.  Among other numbers in this revue, Cyril sang AND HER MOTHER CAME TOO, long associated with him, which is on the ALMANAC CD, VIOLETTA from SWINGING THE GATE (1940), IF YOU KNEW SUSIE, GILBERT THE FILBERT, I'VE GOT SOMETHING and SOMETHING SEEMS TINGLE-INGLEING.  He recreated his heckler character from the UP AND DOING revue of 1940, only this time he heckled Dick Shawn instead of Stanley Holloway, as Shawn tried to recite THE GREEN EYE OF THE LITTLE GOLDEN GOD.  Additionally, Cyril sang MADEMOISELLE FROM ARMENTIERES and WE'RE BLASÉ.

I am indebted to Roger Neill who contacted me in 2007 with details of Cyril's opera connection with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.  He made his debut there in director there on February 19, 1954 with BARBIERE DI SEVIGLIA.  That production ran for over 20 years, replaced in 1982! He also sang a minor role in the early performances.  His later productions at the Met were: CONTES D'HOFFMAN (debut 11/14/55); LA PERICHOLE (12/21/56) - he also performed in it; NOZZE DI FIGARO (10/30/59); and DER ZIGEUNERBARON (11/25/59).

I was also able to acquire on eBay an audio tape of a December 24, 1950 radio broadcast from the Belasco Theatre of a Theatre Guild production of DAVID COPPERFIELD in which Cyril played Mr. Macawber (opposite Richard Burton as the titular narrator, Boris Karloff as Uriah Heep and Flora Robson as Betsy Trotwood).  This 60-minute production was apparently done before a live audience which I did not realize until Cyril got several laughs from his droll line readings.

Another eBay acquisition was an audio tape entitled MOTHER GOOSE (1958) on which Cyril, Boris Karloff and Celeste Holm sing and recite over 70 nursery rhymes. One particular tongue twister which which I had been unfamiliar Cyril pulls off with perfection:

Betty Botter bought some butter,
But, she said, the butter's bitter.
If I put it in my batter,
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit of better butter
Is sure to make my batter better.
So she bought a bit of butter
Better than her bitter butter,
And she put it in her batter
And the batter was not bitter.
So 'twas better Betty Botter
Bought a bit of better butter.

I found in the New York Public Library system a 60-minute Caedmon audio tape (#51444) of four humorous fairy tales by Godfried Bomans narrated by Cyril.  These were very enjoyable, with Cyril putting on different voices and sounding a bit like Hermione Gingold as one of the witches.  The four stories were MARABOE AND MORSEGAT, THE LAST BALLOON, THE WILY WIZARD AND THE WITCH IN THE HOLLOW TREE and THE PRINCESS WITH FRECKLES.

Sound bytes of Cyril singing :

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, with Cyril singing the Duchess' Lullaby

Cyril was a devoted fan of the performing arts.  He was known to run to a new opera, to the ballet, to the theatre.  He suffered a heart attack on November 25, 1977  while appearing as the narrator in the Chicago touring company of SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM, and died a month later in Chicago.   He was 79 years old; he was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Ridgefield, Connecticut.  His wife had died on August 8, 1955, stricken with bone cancer, although she lived to see him win the Tony Award and direct his first opera.

Researched by Judy Harris

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