Thorne Smith (et al)
In the early 60s I read a book that I thought had the title The Twilight of the Gods. A recent discussion about the film One Touch of Venus set me on a web search for the book. I thought that the book and the film could be traced to the same author – I was wrong on all counts.
In literature and the arts ‘Twilight of the Gods’ often appears as a translation, as in the adventures of Ragnarök and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. There is a short science-fiction story by Richard Garnett with the title The Twilight of the Gods, a title also used for a Dr Who and an Inspector Morse episode, the latter probably being the cause of my confusion.
The film was based on the 1943 Broadway musical One Touch of Venus, which was itself an adaptation by Ogden Nash – in cooperation with S. J. Perelman, and Kurt Weill – of Thomas Anstey Guthrie’s novella The Tinted Venus. The 1948 film only had three musical numbers, with perhaps Kurt Weill’s melody ‘Speak Low’ being all that made the film memorable.
‘What is sin?’ Venus inquired.
‘Almost everything that is worth while doing,’ Mr Hawk answered.
‘Sin,’ came surprisingly from Mr Betts, ‘is forgetting to pull down the shades.’
‘Oh,’ said Mercury, ‘I understand. It’s not unlike leaving the door unlocked.’
‘Or grabbing the wrong sandals when you jump through the back window,’ Apollo added reminiscently.
‘So it’s that’, said Venus, her face clearing. ‘Well, if you ask me, I think sin is nice. I’d like to live in it.’
‘You’ve never lived out of it.’ Diana tossed at her.
Finding ‘The Night Life Of The Gods’ by Thorne Smith certainly made the search worthwhile, but what a pleasure it was to discover a hapless Naval recruit by the name of Biltmore Oswald. Following his enlistment into the US Navy in 1917, Thorne Smith worked on a US Naval Periodical called ‘The Broadside’, which led to his first success as a writer with a series of illustrated stories about the hapless recruit.
The Biltmore Oswald stories were popular among the US naval servicemen. So much so, that in 1918 he published them under the title Biltmore Oswald: The Diary of a Hapless Recruit. A year later, he published a sequel, Out o’ luck; Biltmore Oswald very much at sea.
It’s a great pity that Thorne Smith is largely forgotten as an author. If read – like me – many years ago, his book is remembered and his name forgotten. Several of his books have been made into films. “Turnabout,” “Topper,” “The Night Life of the Gods” and “I Married a Witch”, were all films made in the late 30’s and early 40’s. His books have provided the themes for many television and film productions. The film and television industry continue to be indebted to the works of Humourist and author Thorne Smith.
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