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The musical comedy entitled The Girl Friend that was seen in the West End in 1927 and subsequently in Australia, as staged by J.C. Williamson Ltd., was very different from that performed on Broadway in 1926, as it merely took the title and the hit songs from the Rodgers and Hart score, and grafted them onto the plot and song score from the contemporary Broadway musical Kitty’s Kisses.

When The Girl Friend opened on Broadway in 1926, the musical partnership of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart was still in its infancy. The two men had first met in 1919, when Rodgers was just 17 and Hart was 25. The same year they achieved some small success when their song ‘Any Old Place with You’ was interpolated into the Lew Fields’ musical A Lonely Romeo midway through the New York season. Replacing ‘You Never Can Tell’ (by Robert B. Smith/Robert Hood Bowers), it was sung by Alan Hale, Eve Lynn and The Pen Four. It became Rodgers and Hart’s first published song.

Their first major collaboration was on the musical Fly with Me for which they wrote the score. At the time, Hart was studying at Columbia University where the musical was accepted for performance by the university’s acclaimed Varsity Show. Lew Fields attended one of the performances and immediately purchased three of the songs—‘You Can’t Fool Your Dreams’, ‘Love’s Intense in Tents’ and ‘Love Will Call’—for re-use in his new musical comedy Poor Little Ritz Girl. In addition, he commissioned twelve more songs—including ‘What Happened Nobody Knows’— though eight were cut during the show’s Boston tryout. The musical, which was by George Campbell and Lew Fields, with music by Sigmund Romberg, opened at the Central Theatre in New York during 1920 and ran 119 performances.

Over the next few years, the two partners continued their education, and in 1924 reunited, along with Herbert Fields (son of Lew Fields) to work on Lew Fields’ The Melody Man. A play about the music publishing industry, it included two songs by Rodgers and Hart: ‘Moonlight Mama’ and ‘I’d Like to Poison Ivy’, both sung by Sammy White and Eva Puck. Though the piece was not a success, it was instrumental in inaugurating the most celebrated musical comedy writing trio since Bolton, Wodehouse and Kern.

girl friend garrick gaieties 01Cartoon depicting characters from The Garrick Gaieties, New York, 1925. New York Public Library, New York.

During 1925, Rodgers, Hart and Fields had their first big triumph with the revue The Garrick Gaieties, produced by the Theatre Guild at the Garrick Theatre under the direction of Philip Loeb. Originally intended as a two-performance benefit for the Theatre Guild, it made such a stir, that it was put into full production the following year, running for 174 performances from 10 May 1926. The song ‘Manhattan’ was the hit of the first edition of the revue, while the second edition boasted ‘Mountain Greenery’. (The show spawned a third edition in 1930 that reused many of the songs from the two earlier revues.)

Between the production of the two editions of The Garrick Gaieties, the trio were involved in two new musicals. The first, Dearest Enemy was written in the comic opera style, with one critic describing it as an ‘operetta with more than a chance flavor of Gilbert and Sullivan’. (The New York Times, 19 September 1925) Set in the 1770s during the Revolutionary War, the musical, starring Helen Ford, ran for an impressive 286 performances at the Knickerbocker Theatre from 18 September 1925 to 22 May 1926.

While Dearest Enemy was still running, the trio’s second musical, The Girl Friend, opened at the Vanderbilt Theatre on 17 March 1926.

Richard Rodgers recalled the events surrounding the production of The Girl Friend in his autobiography Musical Stages (Random House, New York, 1975, pp.80-81):

The Girl Friend brought Rodgers and Hart right back to the man who had given them their start in the professional theatre. Lew Fields had lost money on The Melody Man and had been unimpressed with Dearest Enemy, but he liked our latest effort and agreed to produce it. For our leads, we had the husband-and-wife team of Sammy White and Eva Puck, two warm, gifted people who had the knack of being funny even when their material wasn’t side-splitting. We’d first met Sammy and Eva when they appeared in The Melody Man, and they'd impressed us so much that we promised that someday we'd write a show just for them. Unlike most such promises, this one was kept.

When The Girl Friend opened in March 1926, it looked as if we were in for our third Broadway success in a row. The first-night audience laughed and applauded with enthusiasm, and most of the reviews were highly favorable. But few things are predictable in show business. Perhaps theatregoers weren't attracted to a story about a six-day bicycle racer; whatever the reason, the show barely limped along for the first week or so, and it looked as if it would have to close. Drastic steps were needed and were taken. Herb, Larry and I agreed to a plan that I think was then unprecedented in the theatre: we offered to suspend our royalties if Lew Fields would keep the show running. Within weeks, word-of-mouth comments and the popularity of the songs “The Girl Friend” and “Blue Room” helped to build our audiences, and soon we were doing great business. The Girl Friend played until December, ending up with an even longer run than Dearest Enemy. All of which proves that temporary financial sacrifice can sometimes assure eventual financial success. But there are never any guarantees.

During this period I saw a good deal of Lew Fields. Despite that early unhappy experience when he brought in another composer to share the writing of my first Broadway score, our relationship had turned into one of genuine mutual affection. Lew—Mr. Fields to me—was about twenty-five years older than I, and possibly because he had given me my first break, always seemed to have a paternal feeling toward me. He had one habit I used to love. Instead of shaking hands, he would pat me on the cheek, a gesture I found especially endearing since it was so like the kind of thing my grandfather used to do. In all, we were associated in seven Broadway productions, and there was never a single harsh word between us.

Where Dearest Enemy evoked G&S and the world of light operetta, The Girl Friend was an explosion of jazz rhythms, syncopation and shimmying, firmly set in the contemporary world of the 1920s.

The plot however was rather thin. At the centre of the story is a six-day bicycle race, embellished with other elements, including burlesque, minstrelsy and grand opera, included to suit the talents of the show’s two leads, Eva Puck and Sammy White.

The musical opens in the backyard of the Silver Dairy on Long Island, where dairyman and amateur cyclist, Leonard Silver, is training on a wheel attached to a butter churn. Encouraged by his girlfriend, Mollie Farrell, who is also his trainer, manager and promoter, he is keen to take part in a six-day race competition. In short, despite the efforts of an unscrupulous cycling promoter (Arthur Spencer), aided and abetted by Leonard’s sister, Wynn, and the efforts of corrupt gamblers to nobble the race, Leonard is victorious and wins the contest—proving that honesty and true love win out in the end.

Eva Puck and Sammy White sang the show’s most popular tunes, ‘The Blue Room’ and ‘The Girl Friend’.

Though it was slow to catch on, The Girl Friend, which played for 301 performances, went on to become one of the hits of a season—a season that included Sunny (517 performances), The Vagabond King (511 performances), No, No, Nanette (321 performances) and The Cocoanuts (276 performances).

Kitty’s Kisses

Around the same time that The Girl Friend was pulling in audiences at the Vanderbilt, another musical, Kitty’s Kisses, was playing to good business at the Playhouse (6 May–2 October 1926, 170 performances).

Kitty’s Kisses featured lyrics by the more established musical comedy purveyors of Otto Harbach and Gus Kahn, however, it did not furnish any hit songs. Harbach had been the librettist for Rose Marie and No, No, Nanette, while Kahn (his first musical comedy) had achieved success with the songs ‘It Had to Be You’ and ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’. The composer, Con Conrad, a frequent contributor to the Ziegfeld Follies, had composed the music for the popular songs ‘Margie’ and ‘Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me’. Conrad, who co-wrote the score to Betty Lee (1923) and score and lyrics to Mercenary Mary (1924), would go on to achieve success in Hollywood movies (winning an Academy Award in 1934 for his song ‘The Continental’), but his early death in 1938, aged just 47, cut short a promising career.

Kitty’s Kisses tells of Kitty Brown, a young girl who is on a train headed to meet her mother. En route, she meets a young lawyer, Robert Mason, who falls in love with her, and when the train stalls he fails to reboard when he goes off to retrieve her purse. Alone and without any money, Kitty finds herself at the Hotel Wendel where a helpful telephone operator suggests that she pretends to be a newly wed and is shown to the bridal suite. During the night the man, Mr. Denniston, who has booked the room turns up, and the next morning his wife, who has arrived late, discovers that her husband had a girl in his room. She engages Robert to help her gain a divorce. Robert is delighted to find Kitty again and knows that the lady is mistaken about the situation, and later when the telephone operator outlines what happened, Robert and Kitty are reunited.



  • Broadway

      The Girl Friend Musical comedy in two acts by Herbert Fields, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and music by Richard Rodgers. First performed at the Apollo Theatre, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 8–13 March 1926. Transferred to Broadway’s Vanderbilt Theatre, 17 March–4 December 1926. 301 performances. Entire...
  • West End

    Louise Brown with the chorus singing ‘I’m in Love’ from Act 2, Scene 1. From Play Pictorial, no. 308, November 1927.   The Girl Friend Musical comedy in two acts by R.P. Weston & Bert Lee, adapted from Kitty’s Kisses by Philip Bartholomae & Otto Harbach; lyrics and music by Con Conrad, Gus Kahn,...
  • Australia

    The Girl Friend Musical comedy in two acts by R.P. Weston & Bert Lee, adapted from Kitty’s Kisses by Philip Bartholomae & Otto Harbach; lyrics and music by Con Conrad, Gus Kahn, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart. Presented by J.C. Williamson Ltd. (by arrangement with Herbert Clayton and Jack Waller...
  • Australia—Revivals

    Chorus in Act 2, Scene 1 of The Girl Friend performing ‘Mountain Greenery’, 1942. National Library of Australia, Canberra. The Girl Friend—1930 Revival From April to July 1930, the JCW Musical Comedy Company toured Tasmania (Hobart and Launceston), New South Wales (Newcastle and Wagga Wagga) and...

Additional Info

  • Further Resources

    Fred Murray and Joy Youlden in the 1942 revival of The Girl Friend. National Library of Australia, Canberra.   Further Reading Dan Dietz, The Complete Book of 1920s Broadway Musicals, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019 Stanley Green, The World of Musical Comedy, 4th edition, Da Capo Press, 1980 Dorothy Hart &...