Lets Face It 8

By the time that the show commenced its Melbourne season there had been a number of cast changes (with Marjorie Gordon replacing Yvonne Banvard, Douglas Stark replacing Ron Beck and Natalie Raine substituting for Joy Youlden for the first few performances; and although Frank Martin and Percy Martin remained in the cast, they both played different characters from those that they had enacted in Sydney, and were joined by Charles Albert and Frank Bradley as two of the three husbands) plus the interpolation of a new (uncredited) song for Don Nicol in the second Act—‘Black-Out Baby’, as noted in the subsequent newspaper reviews, which also revealed that the local theatre critics were less easily pleased than their Sydney counterparts.



By J.E. Tremearne

Cole Porter's music is distinctly superior to the ‘wit’ of Let’s Face It, a hotch-potch musical comedy, which, judging by the Melbourne premiere at His Majesty’s on Saturday night, depends largely on stupid indelicacies, smart dressing and much dancing. The ballets are numerous, but unlike the costumes, need more contrast in style.

Don Nicol was the outstanding figure in the performance, and at times carried the show, but even this comedian seemed unhappy occasionally, particularly when he did the street woman characterisation in ‘Black Out Baby.’ Mr Nicol had Fred Murray, a good step dancer, and Douglas Stark as his companions in the United States Army, and the three made a great hit with the friendly first-night audience in a statuary act, which was very funny for a while, but was unduly prolonged and ended In custard pie buffoonery.

The plot of an old farcical comedy was twisted about to do service for Let’s Face It, and much silly dialogue incorporated. Those responsible for the ‘book’ apparently found it much easier to be suggestive than subtle. Some of the company spoke their lines so weakly that they could not be heard throughout the theatre, but it is safe to say that no wit was missed.

Marjorie Gordon had some bright moments, but was not infrequently too demonstrative as the leader of the three women who decided that their philandering husbands should not be the only ones to have fun with the young people, and she had as adequate support as the play allowed from Marie La Varre, much more subdued than usual, and Lily Moore. It was unfortunate to find an actor like Frank Bradley wasted in the part of one of the ridiculous husbands.

The company was distinctly weak in singing, but Marie Ryan’s tones were pleasing In ‘Someone’s Rocking My Dream Boat,’ while clever Natalie Raine’s bright and friendly manner aided her in putting over other already popular numbers. But Cole Porter has to thank Gabriel Joffe, the conductor, most for whatever success was achieved with his music.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 22 November 1943, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245801152

22 Lets Face ItAct 1 Scene 3: A part of the Parade Grounds at Camp Roosevelt The boys pose as statues to hide from their C.O., who is busy flirting with Winnie. Ron Beck (Frankie), Don Nicol (Jerry) and Fred Murray (Eddie); Bobby Mack (Lieut. Wiggins) and Joy Youlden (Winnie). Scenery by Dres Hardingham and George Upward from original designs by Harry Horner. Sam Hood collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.


His Majesty’s—“Let’s Face It”

With the straight comedy, or farce, Cradle Snatchers, as a base, and built up with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (whose contributions are frequently presented on the radio), and with pantomime and revue-like items interspersed, the new production, Let’s Face It, at His Majesty’s Theatre is somewhat difficult to classify.

If not strictly a musical comedy, it could perhaps be termed a play with music. It is a boisterous affair, and on Saturday night it created considerable hilarity, with the comedians, male and female, displaying great zest. The Pygmalion adjective bobbed up again, and some of the script could do with a little pruning.

The story revolves around the decision of three married women to get ‘even’ with their philandering husbands by inviting three servicemen from Camp Roosevelt, USA, to the summer house of one of the womenfolk. There are, of course, the usual complications.

The chief fun makers were Don Nicol, very amusing as one of the servicemen, and Marjorie Gordon, who was very cordially received on her return from ‘straight’ plays, and maintained her reputation as an excellent comedienne.

They were well supported by Lily Moore, Marie la Varre, Fred Murray and Douglas Stark. An amusing telephone sketch was given by Ron Shand. Features of the performance were the skilful specialty dancing and the delightful ballet numbers. The chorus was satisfactory, but with an occasional exception the solo singing was far from adequate.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 22 November 1943, p.4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206362233

[N.B. In 1914 George Bernard Shaw scandalised London audiences with his inclusion of the vulgar term ‘bloody’, spoken by Mrs. Patrick Campbell as the cockney flower-seller, Eliza Doolittle in his play Pygmalion (which later became the basis for the musical My Fair Lady.) Thereafter the ‘Pygmalion adjective’ was used as shorthand for the offending word in polite society, as in: ‘Not Pygmalion likely!’, etc.]

23 Lets Face ItAct 1 Scene 4: Mrs. Watson’s Summer Home at Southampton, Long Island. Lily Moore (as Nancy Collister). Scenery by Dres Hardingham and George Upward from original designs by Harry Horner. Sam Hood collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.


By The Chiel

Like the cactus, the rabbit, and some other importations that have found Australia congenial habitat, American plays and musical comedies seem to have taken an ineradicable hold on the country. Though there are other sources of production, at present it would appear that the cachet of Broadway is the only passport to the Australian stage. As with others, Let's Face It, Cole Porter’s musical comedy, based on The Cradle Snatchers, is redolent of the land of its birth.

The comedy originates in the determination of 3 neglected wives, Maggie, Nancy, and Cornelia, who are old enough to know better, to punish their erring spouses by paying them back in their own coin. At Maggie’s instigation, they visit a service camp and induce 3 young soldiers, at $100 an inducement, to be their weekend guests at a country house. Although engaged to marry damsels of appropriate years, impecuniosity impels the 3 musketeers to accept an otherwise distasteful contract. The country party does not run smoothly owing to the arrival of the 3 husbands and the 3 fiancees on the scene, and the 3 wives and the 3 soldiers are left with a good deal of explanation to make. The wives, at any rate, face it with courage worthy of a better cause.

The several ballets are a pleasing feature, especially that which closes the first act. Of the long list of characters, the 3 wives, played by Marjorie Gordon, Marie La Varre, and Lily Moore, claim the higher honours, which they share with Don Nicol, who as Jerry, Maggie’s partner in iniquity, is an inspired fun-maker. Marie Ryan, as Jean, one of the deserted fiancees, is at her best in ‘Somebody's Rocking My Dream Boat.’ [sic]

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday 22 November 1943, p.6 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11785290


Sydney 1 Act 1 Scene 4: Mrs. Watson’s Summer Home at Southampton, Long Island. The Act One finale with the chorus, wives, husbands, fiancées and Don Nicol with sousaphone and busby. Scenery by Dres Hardingham and George Upward from original designs by Harry Horner. Photo by Sam Hood. National Library of Australia, Canberra.


By Gregory Parable

“Let's Face It”

Music by Cole Porter lifts Let's Face It, on the musical side of the production, to a higher level than any of the weakly musical comedies seen here in recent times. Porter’s work is competent within its class and, orchestrally, can be listened to; some of the accompaniments in the present show are more than ordinarily pleasing and, at times, ingenious.

Unfortunately, Let’s Face It, is not all Cole Porter, though he writes neat lyrics for his music. The rest of the book, by Dorothy and Herbert Fields, while it has the merit of attempting continuity and some measure of relevancy, is disfigured by objectionable lines; added to these, certain interpolations, notably the ‘Black-Out Baby’ number imposed upon the unfortunate Don Nicol, suggest that Let’s Efface It would be a better title for the piece. The management would be well advised to prune the show of its indelicacies; good taste always pays. The production is worth presenting well, for otherwise it is bright, exquisitely dressed and amusing—for adults.

The principals are an uneven team; some can scarcely be heard. Don Nicol, Fred Murray and Douglas Stark are a strong trio and Nicol, when opportunity presents itself, proves his worth as a comedian. Marjorie Gordon, Lily Moore and Marie La Varre are a riotous team that provides plenty of amusement, except when they suffer from the vulgarities provided them.

Marie Ryan has not much to do. Her ‘Somebody's Rocking My Dream Boat’ [sic] loses effect for lack of accompaniment; it has not enough substance to stand by itself.

The dancing is colourful and pleasing, particularly the specialty numbers; the ballet, though sprightly, could do with more variety in its routine.

Gabriel Joffe, appreciative of the possibilities of Porter’s score, conducts with characteristic good judgment. (His Majesty’s.)

The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), Thursday, 25 November 1943, p.18, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172210285

Sydney 1(left) Ron Beck (Frankie), Don Nicol (Jerry) and Fred Murray (Eddie). Sam Hood collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. (right) South African actress, Marjorie Gordon who took over the role of Maggie Watson for the Melbourne season. Author’s collection.

An interesting insight was provided by The Australasian columnist ‘Felicity’ on how JCW still managed to provide glamour in its productions when hampered by a wartime economy and the rationing system.

Services on Leave Frequent Ballet, Concerts, and Plays

DEAR PHILLIDA: This last week has seen the opening of new seasons of concerts, ballet, and revue. All of them, it would seem, are intended first and foremost to entertain men and women of the services, who form a large part of the audience at all the shows.

Our Allies, too, have been remembered, and the new revue [sic] will provide humour more familiar to many of them than to us, for Let’s Face It at His Majesty's deals with some strange but amusing adventures of 3 United States Army men.

As part of their frolics the 3 service men hire themselves as guests at the home of a rather elderly charmer, Mrs. Watson (Marjorie Gordon), who, with her 2 still-more-elderly friends, determine in this way to take revenge on their philandering husbands. The fun is fast and furious, as the servicemen naturally have sweethearts of their own, and one of these gets herself engaged as a chaperon to the 3 elderly ladies.

The show abounds with gay dancing by the far-famed JCW chorus, and there are quite a few good specialty dancers, among them being tap-dancing Fred Murray, Nicholas Ivangine, and Phyllis Kennedy, and of course our own Roy Currie. I really wondered, at times, how the ballet had managed to look so luxurious—pink satin and brocade and velvet Turkish trousers for the men in the Persian rug dance.

I heard from a member of the JCW organisation, however, that the clothes collected over the years have all been kept and thoroughly overhauled for this show; hence the chorus in all its glory!

Another little titbit I heard from the same source was that the custard pie which Jerry (Don Nicol) hurls at his officer, whom he sees making love to his sweetheart, Natalie Raine, has to be renewed every night—it’s not one of those of which you can pick up the bits.

The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), (extract), Saturday, 27 November 1943, p.18, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142147851

The Christmas-New Year pantomime season at His Majesty’s (which commenced on 27 December) saw the versatile Don Nicol do double duty at the theatre, playing the Dame as ‘Widow Twankey’ in Aladdin at the matinees and reverting to American serviceman, Jerry Walker in the evenings. While Nicol’s fiancée in Let’s Face It!—Joy Youlden, became his ‘son’ Aladdin in the afternoons and other cast members to draw a double pay-cheque at the time included Fred Murray and Douglas Stark as the Chinese Policemen, Ron Shand as ‘Wishe-Washee’ and Marie Ryan as the Princess. Although a routine recycled from the evening’s entertainment (as seen in Les Thorp’s film footage) was evidently considered unsuitable for the pantomime’s audience of children by The Herald critic, who commented that: ‘The ballet of faces painted on men's torsos, which are wiggled about to represent human grimaces, could well be omitted.’ The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Tuesday, 28 December 1943, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245800813

Despite the perceived public demand for ‘new musicals’ during the war years, it would appear that audiences still preferred their old favourites, as White Horse Inn and The Girl Friend had both out-run Let’s Face It!, which closed its Melbourne season on Thursday, 13 January 1944 after only eight weeks (three weeks shorter than its Sydney run) and subsequently disappeared from the JCW touring repertoire. An additional reason that the show did not go on to tour Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth or New Zealand was due to the fact that the Paramount film version of Let’s Face It, starring Bob Hope and Betty Hutton (with Eve Arden reprising her original stage role of Maggie Watson) opened around Australia from late January of 1944 onwards making the stage version ‘old news’ and JCW evidently didn’t see any point in spending additional money to launch a legal action to seek an embargo on the film’s release at that time. (Ironically, in typical Hollywood fashion of the 1940s, most of Cole Porter’s original stage score had been jettisoned for the film, and additional songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn substituted instead.)


  • Broadway

    Composer/ lyricist Cole Porter (Library of Congress, Washington, DC) (left) and Broadway producer Vinton Freedley (private collection) (right) Tthe genesis of Let’s Face It!, under veteran Broadway producer, Vinton Freedley, had actually preceded America’s involvement in the war, having been set...
  • Sydney

    Notwithstanding the fact that the Broadway production of Let’s Face It! had succeeded chiefly on the strength of its star-making lead performance by Danny Kaye (his successor in the role, José Ferrer, only managed to keep the show open for an additional month to see out its total New York run of...
  • Melbourne

    By the time that the show commenced its Melbourne season there had been a number of cast changes (with Marjorie Gordon replacing Yvonne Banvard, Douglas Stark replacing Ron Beck and Natalie Raine substituting for Joy Youlden for the first few performances; and although Frank Martin and Percy...
  • London

    Let’s Face It! enjoyed a far more successful career in Britain than it had in Australia. Following a five month pre-London tour, which commenced at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, on 22 June 1942, the musical played for a further seven months at the London Hippodrome, after opening there on 19...

Additional Info

  • Discography

    Discography Original Broadway cast recordings Let’s Not Talk About Love—Danny Kaye (with orchestra under the direction of Johnny Green)—(cat. no.) Columbia 36582 Farming—Danny Kaye (with Vocal Quartet and orchestra under the direction of Johnny Green)—Columbia 36583 Melody in 4-F—Danny Kaye (with...
  • Filmography

    Filmography: Let’s Face It (1943)—Paramount Pictures—Directed by Sidney Lanfield; Screenplay by Harry Tugend; Songs by Cole Porter; additional songs by Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn. Cast included Bob Hope, Betty Hutton, Dona Drake, Cully Richards, Eve Arden, Zasu Pitts, Marjorie Weaver and Raymond...
  • Picture References

    Additional picture references from the J.C. Williamson collection Broadway cast: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-154726965/ (Act I Scene 1—The Alicia Allen Milk Farm on Long Island) https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148755268/ (Act I Finale) https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148798974/ (Act II Scene 2—The Boathouse of...
  • Additional sources

    Additional sources Stanley Green, The World of Musical Comedy, 4th Edition, Da Capo Press, New York, 1980 Robert Kimball (ed.), Cole, Holt, Reinhart & Winston, New York, 1971 Frank Van Straten, Hanky-Panky: The Theatrical Escapades of Ernest C. Rolls, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North...