The Truth About Blayds, 1922

The Truth About Blayds

a play in three acts by A.A. Milne
produced by Winthrop Ames
stage design by Norman Bell Geddes

Booth Theatre, New York
March 14, 1922

Cast of Characters

Oliver Blayds O.P. Heggie
Isobel Alexandra Carlisle
Marion Blayds-Conway Vane Featherston
William Blayds-Conway Ferdinand Gottschalk
Oliver Blayds-Conway Leslie Howard
Septima Blayds-Conway Frieda Inescort
A.L. Royce Gilbert Emery
Parsons Mary Gayley

Plot Summary

For seventy years Oliver Blayds has been worshipped by literary England as the last of the great Victorian poets. On his ninetieth birthday, after he has been reverently honored both by his family and by a famous critic who brings an address from the younger writers, Blayds confesses to his younger daughter that he is in fact an impostor. All the poetry he has ever published, except a single volume which was severely criticized, was written by a young genius who had died practically in his arms when they were lads together. A few days later Blayds dies, and the familys efforts to arrive at a decision as whether or not the truth about his life should be told furnish material for concluding two acts. A satisfactory compromise is finally settled upon.
A bit of romance circles about the youngest daughter, Isobel, who has given up her life and refused to marry the man she loved out of a sense of loyalty to the lovable old faker
(The Best Plays of 1921-1922)


“The Truth About Blayds” has more of irony and less of Milne’s buoyant vein of nonsense than any other of his plays that have passed this way. Its dominant figure–an overshadowing figure that is seen but briefly and that only in the first act–is the towering Oliver Blayds.  […] When Milne decided that his first act should usher Blayds out of the world and that the other two should watch the explosion of his confession in its effect on the Blayds household he boldly committed himself to a form which was bound to give his play a diminishing interest. It was inevitable that the first act should be the most telling of the three, and it must be admitted that after the grand old fraud has tottered off to his well-earned grave you miss him terribly about the play.
But there is no scene in all that remains which is not written with a keen humor and a sure dramatic instinct. “The Truth About Blayds” reinforces a dawning suspicion, that this young Mr. Milne is the happiest acquisition the English theatre has made since it captured Shaw and Barrie.
O.P. Heggie is Blayds, a vital and dominant performance. Alexandra Carlisle is excellent in the rôle that commands the play when Blayds ha made his magnificent withdrawal from the world. It is a long while since Ferdinand Gottschalk (who seems to have escaped from the cast of “Captain Applejeack”) has been so thoroughly at home as he is in the rôle of William Blayds-Conway, one of the great man’s most contented reflectors. And that whimsical young English comedian who overplayed so shockingly when he first ventured on our stage and who learned better so quickly, this Leslie Howard should be immediately placed under contract to play nothing but Milne plays as long as they both shall live. Howard and Milne look rather alike, by the way. To say nothing of the complete letter-writer, Gilbert Emery, who is also in the cast.
The one scene is the design of Norman Bel Geddes. It is a singularly beautiful decoration, and if it were to be used for all other stage drawing rooms for the next ten seasons, no one would have any right to complain, except, possibly, Robert Edmond Jones.
(Alexander Woollcott, The New York Times, March 15, 1922)

An interesting English play, which should appeal to the “Bill of Divorcement” lovers–which means much praise and not much profit–offered superior entertainment during almost its entire length, then piffled woefully in its last five minutes.
Seldom in history has a play been so interesting and yet so intrinsically lame. Not in years has there been such a deliberate paradox of theatrical usage and logic as in the main construction of this comedy by the delightful A.A. Milne, one of the cleverest stage craftsmen of the day, author of “The Dover Road” which is successfully playing across the street from the Booth, in the Bijou.
O.P. Heggie is featured first, with Alexandra Carlisle following. That proves that it is no surprise to the author or Winthrop Ames, the presenter, that Heggie is the leading figure.
Here we have, then, a star for half an act , and the other half of it and the next two acts spent entirely talking about him. Englishmen, apparently, write what first comes to their minds, whether it makes sense or not, whether it counts or not, whether it is reasonable of not. And the critics smack their lips and say “Charming! How natural!” So is the prattle of an infant charming and natural. “A Bill of Divorcement” had it to the nth degree, enough to make the Anglomaniac revieweres go into gasps of ecstasy, and it never hit a true note or dented an impression in the drama.
“The Truth About Blayds” is an infinitely smarter comedy and many times as good fun. But it gets nowhere, and its story is a nice, round zero surrounding a lot of air. […] If that is a play, a cucumber is a pineapple. But the Milne lines–the rejoinders, the observations, the character expositions–superb!
Miss Carlisle acted with force and suasion what might be classed fro professional purposes as a British Mary Ryan role. heggi was fine in his bit, with perhaps too sturdy a voice for his age. Gilbert Emery (author, by the way, of “The Hero) had nothing to do, and did it well, as the younger poet who comes back into Miss Carlisle’s unbelievable life. The acting honors, in all, went to a young British “flapper” named Frieda Inescourt who gave fully as brilliant a performance as the ingenue in “Divorcement,” over whom the town yawped and blurbed. Ferdinand Gottschalk, as the only sane person in the ensemble–Milne meant him to be spoofed at throughout–played with precision and decision and effectiveness an ungrateful role that gave the play its only common-sense moments–except when the youngsters spoke.
(Variety, March 17, 1922)

It must have been a somewhat undecided A.A. Milne who wrote “The Truth About Blayds,” the play which Winthrop Ames presented at the Booth Theater last evening. He didn’t quite have the courage of his point of view. […] It touches on a serious topic, but the author has muddled the touch by being unwilling to hurt his people. And he has marred his play, which might have been very sound and penetrating human comedy by giving it a sub-plot of rather sickish middle-aged love.
[…] O.P. Heggie is the poet and gives a fine 20-minute characterization. Vane Featherstone and Ferdinand Gottschalk are the married daughter and the pompous son-in-law. They are excellent, though Mr. Gottschalk is obvious now and then. Leslie Howard, the best actor in the cast, is easy and fluent and gracious as the granson, and Frieda Inescourt makes his sister a fetching, hard-headed young lady. As the self-sacrificing daughter Isobel, Alexandre Carlisle is as lugubrious as usual, giving an imitation of an actress eager to sing “I Got the Cry-Babt Blues.” And Gilbert Emery, author of “The Hero,” is sweet as the critic who loves her, lost her once and wins her again in act three. He is oppressively suave.
(Arthur Pollock, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 15, 1922)

The qualities one recognizes most quickly in the plays of A.A. Milne–a newcomer even among our newest playwrights–is the charm, distinction, and subtle humor of this author’s dialogue, the whimsicality of his themes and the dexterity with which–in common with his fellow countryman and craftsman, sir James M. Barrie–he manages to string out a whole evening’s entertainment with almost no plot at all.[…]
In his latest play, “The Truth About Blayds,” Mr. Milne has sought to produce a work of greater substance with characters more real and life-like, developing out of the varied circumstances of a genuine human problem, and the result is an exceedingly clever comedy, brilliant in characterization, interesting in its complications, charming in sentiment, amusing and mirth-compelling in its caustic satire– in short a play that everyone must see, and which at once places its author conspicuous among the most successful dramatists now writing for the English speaking stage.[…]
The acting is of the highest order. O.P. Heggie presents a remarkable stage portrait of the feeble, but still intellectually alert, nonagenarian. Alexandra Carlisle is forceful, and at the same time, womanly and sympathetic as Isabel. Ferdinand Gottschalk, as the son-in-law, has one of the best comedy roles of his long and distinguished career. Frieda Inescourt is charmingly girlish as the granddaughter, and Gilbert Emery makes a gallant and discreet lover. Vera Featherstone is satisfactory as the elder daughter, and Leslie Howard is particularly good as the grandson. Mr Ames has given the play an unusually handsome setting.
(Theatre Magazine, May 1922)

Leslie Howard in The Truth About Blayds

Leslie Howard in The Truth About Blayds

O.P. Heggie in The Truth About Blayds

O.P.Heggie in The Truth About Blayds

O.P. Heggie and Alexandra Carlisle in The Truth About Blayds

O.P. Heggie and Alexandra Carlisle in The Truth About Blayds

Leslie Howard in The Truth About Blayds

Leslie Howard and the cast of The Truth About Blayds

Frieda Inescourt and Leslie Howard in The Truth About Blayds

Frieda Inescourt and Leslie Howard in The Truth About Blayds

Leslie Howard in The Truth About Blayds, 1922

Frieda Inescourt and Leslie Howard in The Truth About Blayds