Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith was a British playwright and novelist and the author of The hundred and one dalmatians.

Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith

Dorothy Gladys Smith (known as Dodie) was born in Whitefield, Lancashire on 3 May 1896, the only child of Ernest and Ella Smith. Dodie spent the early part of her life in the home of her maternal grandparents following her father’s death when she was two. She was introduced to the theatre by her mother and uncles, who were involved with amateur dramatics societies in Manchester, and after making her stage debut at the age of eight she decided to become an actress.

Her mother remarried in 1910 and moved to London with her new husband. Dodie continued her education at St Paul’s Girls’ School and was awarded a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 1912. Two years later her mother died from cancer.

After leaving RADA, Dodie worked for several years as an actress but in 1923 she decided that a job outside the theatre would provide more security. She took a position at Heal and Son’s furniture store in London but continued her interest in the theatre. In 1929, she wrote her first play, Autumn crocus, under the pseudonym C.L. Anthony and sold it in 1931 for £100. The play was staged in the West End and ran for a year.

Several more plays followed between 1931 and 1938 including Touch wood, the first to be written under her own name, Call it a day and Dear octopus. Then, at the start of the Second World War in 1939, Dodie moved to America with her future husband Alec Beesley. Beesley had been an advertising manager at Heal and Son but left his job to become Smith’s business manager. The couple married in Philadelphia in 1940.

During her fourteen years in America, Dodie rewrote many screenplays for Hollywood studios but only completed one play, Lovers and friends, which appeared on Broadway in 1942. She also wrote her first novel, I capture the castle, in 1949. Dodie started writing plays again after returning to the UK with her husband in 1953, but after two failures, including an adaptation of her own I capture the castle, she wrote the children’s novel for which she is best known.

The hundred and one dalmatians was published in 1956. Dodie had owned several dalmatians since Alec bought a dog called Pongo for her thirty-eighth birthday, after whom the lead character in the book was named. The inspiration for the story came from a comment made by a friend that Pongo “would make a nice fur coat”. The book was adapted into an animated Disney film in 1961 and later became a live action film in 1996.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a further seven novels, including two children’s books (The starlight barking and The midnight kittens), but no more plays. In the 1970s and 1980s, Dodie wrote four volumes of autobiography: Look back with love, Look back with mixed feelings, Look back with astonishment and Look back with gratitude.

Dodie Smith died on 24 November 1990 at the age of 94, four years after the death of her husband. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered.

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