Clifford Grey (5 January 1887 – 25 September 1941) was an English songwriter, librettist, actor and screenwriter. His birth name was Percival Davis, and he was also known as Clifford Gray.
Grey contributed prolifically to West End and Broadway shows, as librettist and lyricist for composers including Ivor Novello, Jerome Kern, Howard Talbot, Ivan Caryll and George Gershwin. Among his best-remembered songs are two from early in his career, in 1916: "If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)" and "Another Little Drink Wouldn't Do Us Any Harm". His later hits include "Got a Date with an Angel" and "Spread a Little Happiness".
For 35 years after 1979 it was widely believed that Grey secretly competed as an American bobsleigher, under the name Clifford "Tippy" Gray, in two Winter Olympics, in 1928 and 1932, winning gold medals, but it was finally shown that the sportsman was a different person.
Grey was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, the son of George Davis, a whip manufacturer, and his wife Emma, née Lowe. He was educated at the Camp Hill Boys School and the King Edward VI School.On leaving school in 1903 he had a variety of office jobs, in none of which he had any success. He became a pierrot with a local concert party, and adopted the stage name Clifford Grey, performing in pubs, piers and music halls. By the time he married in 1912 he had reduced his stage performing in favour of writing lyrics for West End shows. His wife was Dorothy Maud Mary Gould (1890 or 1891–1940), a fellow member of the concert party. They had two daughters, June and Dorothy; Grey also adopted Gould's daughter. Their marriage lasted until Dorothy's death.
In 1916 Grey had his big breakthrough as a writer, collaborating with the American composer Nat Ayer on The Bing Boys Are Here , a long-running revue that opened in London in April, and contained two of Grey's early successes, "If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)" and "Another Little Drink Wouldn't Do Us Any Harm". He collaborated with Ayer on Pell-Mell, The Bing Girls Are There, The Other Bing Boys, The Bing Brothers on Broadway, and Yes, Uncle! and with Herman Finck in Hallo, America!, Ivor Novello and Jerome Kern in Theodore & Co , Howard Talbot and Novello in Who's Hooper?, Novello in Arlette (1917) and Ivan Caryll in Kissing Time .On the last show he collaborated with P.G. Wodehouse, who was privately lukewarm about Grey's talent, regarding him as a specialist in adapting other people's work rather than as an original talent. At the same time, he acted in a dozen silent films, including The Crucible (1914), The Weakness of Strength (1916), Madame Cubist (1916), The Best Man (1917), Carnival (1921) and The Man from Home (1922).
In 1920 Grey was invited to New York by Kern to renew their collaboration, writing Florenz Ziegfeld's Sally .Grey remained in the US for most of the decade, with occasional sorties back to London for Phi-Phi with Henri Christiné (1922), The Smith Family with Ayer (1922), and The Rainbow with George Gershwin (1923). For Broadway, he provided a regular stream of lyrics – and some libretti – for musical comedies and revues. His collaborators included Sigmund Romberg and Melville Gideon on some of the less-remembered shows, Ivan Caryll and Guy Bolton on The Hotel Mouse (1922), Vincent Youmans on Hit the Deck (1927), and Rudolph Friml and Wodehouse on The Three Musketeers (1928) and Ups-A-Daisy with Robert A. Simon for the Shubert Theatre (1928).
The introduction of talking pictures attracted Grey to Hollywood. He collaborated with Victor Schertzinger on the 1929 Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald film, The Love Parade , and with Oscar Straus on The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), and contributed to films with a range of stars from Ramon Novarro to Lawrence Tibbett to Marion Davies.His songs and lyrics from shows were used in many films, and he wrote screenplays and lyrics for fourteen new Hollywood films between 1929 and 1931, including The Vagabond Lover (1929), In Gay Madrid (1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931). After his death Grey's songs continued to be used in films and television productions. His best known song, "If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)", appeared in such films as Lilacs in the Spring (1954), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Cat's Meow (2001), and some films, such as Hit the Deck (1955), were adaptations of his shows. In 1929, he returned temporarily to London, where he collaborated with Vivian Ellis on the musical Mr Cinders , which had a long West End run and featured one of Grey's best-remembered songs, "Spread a Little Happiness".
After an article written in 1979 by an American journalist, Tim Clark, in Yankee Magazine , it was believed for more than three decades that Grey had competed, secretly, for the US Olympic bobsleigh team in 1928 and 1932 under the name Clifford "Tippy" (or "Tippi") Gray. Many news sources and biographers accepted this idea, based on circumstantial evidence that Clark had found. The evidence also persuaded Grey's daughters that their late father was not only the peripatetic writer that they remembered, but also a secret world-class sportsman who had been too modest to boast of his Olympic success.The press thereafter widely reported that Grey the librettist had also won a gold medal in the five-man bobsleigh race at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, another at the following Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, this time in the four-man event, and a bronze medal in the four-man race at the 1937 FIBT World Championships in St. Moritz. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography the historian James Ross Moore concluded that during Grey's New York years:
Grey made many theatrical and sporting friends. Much later, the secret life of this quiet, retiring, and serious-looking man, so supposedly sedentary and shy behind his horn-rimmed glasses, was revealed. With considerable skill, Grey had invented an American persona, Tippi Gray, and it was under this name that he joined three bobsleighing friends and won gold medals in both the 1928 and the 1932 winter Olympic games.
There were a few who did not accept that "Tippi" Gray was the same person as Clifford Grey the writer. The Olympic historian David Wallechinsky was one, and John Cross, a researcher from Bowdoin College, was another.Finally, around 2013, Andy Bull, a sportswriter for The Guardian , was writing a book about the 1932 gold medal-winning bobsleigh team that was published in 2015 under the title Speed Kings. Although Bull had earlier accepted the story, as he looked closer, he became suspicious. He found an interview with "Tippy" Gray from 1948 in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune , seven years after Grey's death. "Tippy" Gray, the Olympic champion, died in April 1968 in San Diego, California. Bull wrote:
There are so many odd coincidences in the lives of the two men, it's easy to see now how their tales became tangled. ... [T]here was the physical resemblance, close enough for the two of them to be confused with each other in the grainy old black-and-white photos. Then ... "Tippy" Gray was a song-writer too. He had a short career in the movies, but killed his career when he was arrested in possession of an opium pipe and a pistol. After that, he moved to Paris and started writing jazz tunes for the revue at the Moulin Rouge.
Returning to England in 1932, although apparently spending time in California,Grey concentrated thereafter on the West End stage and British films. His screenplay for Rome Express (1932), a spy story, was "extremely popular in its day and virtually created a subgenre". He wrote more than twenty screenplays for British films, usually for the popular comedians of the day, but also including My Song Goes Round the World (1934), Mimi (1935), an adaptation of La Bohème , for Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Yes, Madam? (1940).
Throughout the decade Grey had shows running in the West End, written in collaboration with previous collaborators and new ones including Oscar Levant, Johnny Green and Noel Gay.Grey wrote more than 3,000 songs.
When the Second World War began, Grey joined the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), which took shows round the country and overseas to provide relief for serving members of the armed forces. In 1941 he was presenting a concert party in Ipswich, Suffolk, when the town was heavily bombed. Grey died two days later, aged 54, as a result of a heart attack, brought on by the bombing, and exacerbated by asthma. He is buried in Ipswich cemetery.
Grey acted in a dozen silent films from 1914 to 1922, and later his lyrics, songs or screenplays were used in nearly 60 talking films:
Jerome David Kern was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music. One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "A Fine Romance", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "The Song Is You", "All the Things You Are", "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Long Ago ". He collaborated with many of the leading librettists and lyricists of his era, including George Grossmith Jr., Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg.
Ivor Novello was a Welsh actor, dramatist, singer and composer who became one of the most popular British entertainers of the first half of the 20th century.
Vincent Millie Youmans was an American Broadway composer and producer.
Charles Rudolf Friml was a Czech-born composer of operettas, musicals, songs and piano pieces, as well as a pianist. After musical training and a brief performing career in his native Prague, Friml moved to the United States, where he became a composer. His best-known works are Rose-Marie and The Vagabond King, each of which enjoyed success on Broadway and in London and were adapted for film.
Guy Reginald Bolton was an Anglo-American playwright and writer of musical comedies. Born in England and educated in France and the US, he trained as an architect but turned to writing. Bolton preferred working in collaboration with others, principally the English writers P. G. Wodehouse and Fred Thompson, with whom he wrote 21 and 14 shows respectively, and the American playwright George Middleton, with whom he wrote ten shows. Among his other collaborators in Britain were George Grossmith Jr., Ian Hay and Weston and Lee. In the US, he worked with George and Ira Gershwin, Kalmar and Ruby and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Russel Crouse was an American playwright and librettist, best known for his work in the Broadway writing partnership of Lindsay and Crouse.
Sally is a musical comedy with music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Clifford Grey and book by Guy Bolton, with additional lyrics by Buddy De Sylva, Anne Caldwell and P. G. Wodehouse. The plot hinges on a mistaken-identity: Sally, a waif, is a dishwasher at the Alley Inn. She poses as a famous foreign ballerina and rises to fame through joining the Ziegfeld Follies. There is a rags to riches story, a ballet as a centrepiece, and a wedding as a finale. "Look for the Silver Lining" continues to be one of Kern's most familiar songs. The song is lampooned by another song, "Look for a Sky of Blue," in Rick Besoyan's satirical 1959 musical Little Mary Sunshine.
"Ol' Man River" is a show tune from the 1927 musical Show Boat that contrasts the struggles and hardships of African Americans with the endless, uncaring flow of the Mississippi River. It is sung from the point of view of a black stevedore on a showboat, and is the most famous song from the show. The song is meant to be performed in a slow tempo; it is sung complete once in the musical's lengthy first scene by the stevedore "Joe" who travels with the boat, and, in the stage version, is heard four more times in brief reprises. Joe serves as a sort of musical one-man Greek chorus, and the song, when reprised, comments on the action, as if saying, "This has happened, but the river keeps rolling on anyway."
Félix Marie Henri Tilkin, better known by his pen name Ivan Caryll, was a Belgian-born composer of operettas and Edwardian musical comedies in the English language, who made his career in London and later New York. He composed some forty musical comedies and operettas.
A Damsel in Distress is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published in the United States on 4 October 1919 by George H. Doran, New York, and in the United Kingdom by Herbert Jenkins, London, on 15 October 1919. It had previously been serialised in The Saturday Evening Post, between May and June of that year.
Martin Edward Fallas Shaw was an English composer, conductor, and theatre producer. His over 300 published works include songs, hymns, carols, oratorios, several instrumental works, a congregational mass setting, and four operas including a ballad opera.
George Grossmith Jr. was an English actor, theatre producer and manager, director, playwright and songwriter, best remembered for his work in and with Edwardian musical comedies. Grossmith was also an important innovator in bringing "cabaret" and "revues" to the London stage. Born in London, he took his first role on the musical stage at the age of 18 in Haste to the Wedding (1892), a West End collaboration between his famous songwriter and actor father and W. S. Gilbert.
Theodore & Co is an English musical comedy in two acts with a book by H. M. Harwood and George Grossmith Jr. based on the French comedy Théodore et Cie by Paul Armont and Nicolas Nancey, with music by Ivor Novello and Jerome Kern and lyrics by Adrian Ross and Clifford Grey. It was produced by Grossmith and Edward Laurillard and directed by Austen Hurgon, opening at the Gaiety Theatre on 19 September 1916 and running for 503 performances. It starred Grossmith, Fred Leslie and Leslie Henson.
The Three Musketeers is a musical with a book by William Anthony McGuire, lyrics by Clifford Grey and P. G. Wodehouse, and music by Rudolf Friml. It is based on the classic 1844 novel by Alexandre Dumas, père. Set in France and England in 1626, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d'Artagnan after he leaves home to become a Musketeer of the Guard. The three men of the title are his friends Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
Frederick A. Thompson, usually credited as Fred Thompson was an English writer, best known as a librettist for about fifty British and American musical comedies in the first half of the 20th century. Among the writers with whom he collaborated were George Grossmith Jr., P. G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton and Ira Gershwin. Composers with whom he worked included Lionel Monckton, Ivor Novello and George Gershwin.
Kissing Time, and an earlier version titled The Girl Behind the Gun, are musical comedies with music by Ivan Caryll, book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, and additional lyrics by Clifford Grey. The story is based on the 1910 play, Madame et son Filleul by Maurice Hennequin, Pierre Véber and Henry de Gorsse. The story is set in contemporary France, with a glamorous actress at the centre of a farcical plot of imposture, intrigue and mistaken identity.
Clifford Barton "Tippi" Gray was an American bobsledder, songwriter and actor, who competed in the late 1920s and 1930s. He won two medals at the Winter Olympics, a gold in the four-man event at Lake Placid, New York in 1932 and a gold in the five-man event at St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1928, as well as a bronze in the four-man event at the 1937 FIBT World Championships in St. Moritz.
The Hotel Mouse is a musical comedy with music by Armand Vecsey and Ivan Caryll lyrics by Clifford Grey, and book by Guy Bolton, with additional music by Bert Hanlon, and additional lyrics by Alfred Bryan. The book is based on the French comedy Le souris d'hôtel by Marcel Gerbidon and Paul Armont and concerns a female cat burglar in Monte Carlo given the nickname "the hotel mouse" by the local police; one of her marks falls in love with her.
Billy Caryll and Hilda Mundy were a British husband-and-wife comedy duo who performed in variety shows and films, and on BBC radio, between the early 1920s and late 1940s.