Other Literary Forms
Frederick Lonsdale’s success as a librettist for musical comedies and operettas was equal to his success as a playwright. His libretto for The King of Cadonia was clearly inspired by Anthony Hope’s novel The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and in its turn influenced Ivor Novello’s operetta King’s Rhapsody (pr. 1950). Lonsdale’s most popular work in this vein was The Maid of the Mountains, which ran at Daly’s Theatre, London, for a total of 1,352 performances. Lonsdale collaborated with other leading musical theater composers of the early twentieth century English stage, including Paul Rubens, who did the music for The Balkan Princess (written with Frank Curzon) and Betty (written with Gladys Unger). He also had a hand in a number of adaptations of European successes, such as The Lady of the Rose and Katja the Dancer, both with music by the German composer Jean Gilbert (pseudonym of Max Winterfield); High Jinks, with a score by the Hungarian-born Rudolf Friml; and Monsieur Beaucaire, with music composed by André Messager, the last major writer of French operetta. Lonsdale’s last effort as a librettist was Lady Mary, which he coauthored with John Hastings Turner to a score by Albert Sirmay and Philip Craig.
Generally, Lonsdale seems to have been sought out by the impresarios of musical theater for his ability to supply sprightly, well-constructed books that blended wit and sentimentality. The most convincing testimony to his skill in this area is The Maid of the Mountains, which was second only to Oscar Asche and Frederic Norton’s Chu Chin Chow (pr. 1916) as the major musical success of London’s West End theater during World War I.
After his major drawing-room comedies had achieved success in New York, Lonsdale’s talents were also recognized and recruited by the film industry. He wrote, or had a hand in, several screenplays, including Alexander Korda’s vehicle for Douglas Fairbanks, The Private Life of Don Juan (1934; with Lajos Biro), and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s episodic World War II tribute to British patriotism, Forever and a Day (1943; with Charles Bennett, C. S. Forester, John Van Druten, Christopher Isherwood, R. C. Sherriff, and many others too numerous to mention). That he wrote so little for the screen can be attributed partly to his dislike of Hollywood (“I could never live in a film city because there is no conversation”) and partly to his habit of breaking contracts.