Photographer of the Week: Kurt Krueger

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Kurt Krueger began his long and successful career as a high-end commercial photographer in California, specializing in fashion and fine art nudes – though his first book, The Face of Hollywood, published in 1976, was a work of documentary photojournalism. Later he concentrated on the sort of witty, erotic imagery exemplified by the unexpected ‘x-ray’ properties he photoshops into the laptop screen in the photo at the head of the article. His portfolio is a never-ending fountain of clever. wry inventiveness with a touch of kink:

So it’s slightly out of kilter that, when it comes to spanking imagery, his work often draws on tropes from the ‘specialized’ end of the field, which are often defined by blind dogmas like (for instance) the insistence that panties must always be pulled down:

I’ve Waited a Long Time for This Moment

But what’s the point of removing that string when her bottom is effectively bare either way? I’m not sure whether the absurdity here reflects the limitations of a genre that’s not really to my taste or is Krueger’s self-conscious joke critiquing those limitations, but whatever the truth, it is undeniable that his photography typically rises above them. It’s not just that it shows a far higher level of technical accomplishment, but also because it has a humor and an eye for detail that also give it a foot in the mainstream (and so a place in this series).

Take, for example, the way some of his spanking photos are processed to suggest that they are survivals from an earlier time, like the wax pencil marks around the edge of this one, that suggest a newspaper picture editor has been at work on it, indicating where it is to be cropped:

Heather Has Been a Baaaad Girl

Or here, the damaged corners implying that the pictures have been mounted in an album and then torn out:

Sore

But Krueger’s work is not all witty retro: some of it is stylishly sharp and contemporary. Here’s one that I rate very highly, for its clever touches like the triple-exposed spanking hand, for its rational implied scenario, with both partipants (mostly) fully clothed, and for the general excellence of the pose and the pretty spanked girl’s panicked look to camera:

Bad Girl

If you are interested in Kurt Krueger’s work, brace yourself for imagery stronger than you would ever encounter here and then please visit his online portfolio.

Time-Honored?

In 1925, the Stanford Interior Journal ran a story about a court ruling in Moultrie, Georgia: a young farmer spanked his disobedient wife and she sued him for assault and battery. Judge Ogden Persons ruled:

‘a man has a right, under certain circumstances, to place his wife across his knees, in the time-honored position in which all sinners have been placed for that peculiar form of punishment from time immemorial, and administer to her a spanking.’

We have been thinking about exactly how ‘time-honored’ spanking really is as a punishment for young adult women, and so far we have seen that people were speaking of ‘an old-fashioned spanking’ as early as the middle of the 19th century, which arguably makes it pretty time-honored by the 1920s. Now it is time to laminate those dry semantics with a layer of the actual experience that words existed to enable people to represent, or perhaps to misrepresent or imagine.

Were there real cases of post-adolescent women being spanked before the media spanking boom that began at around the time Judge Persons was making his ruling in the mid-1920s? And whatever we may find, what are we to make of it?

It’s only fair to begin by lowering expectations: the cases are going to be few and far between. But that puts the problem of interpretation firmly at center stage. Most of what we know about the past, we know because direct evidence survives and is accessible; and since the quantity of evidence tends to lessen the further back we go, it’s at least possible that the reduction in the number of spanking incidents that we see prior to the 1920s is not an objective fact but to do with a change in the balance between what remains knowable and what is irretrievably forgotten. Are there few known examples because it is something that almost never happened, or because young women were spanked so routinely that it was commonplace and consequently not worth reporting? Was it frequent but not reported because deemed private or indelicate, or was it such a rare and remarkable event that, when it did happen, it was especially likely to be reported?

Perhaps it is best to leave those questions hanging, and make a start on our actual search for information. And before 1920, a good place to start is with the suffragettes.

We have seen elsewhere how the militant campaigners for the vote provoked the less enlightened elements in society into satirical suggestions that they ought to be given a good spanking. But it wasn’t all lampoonery. At an early stage of the movement, in the 1890s, Queen Victoria, no less, opined in all seriousness that suffragettes should be spanked. And in 1908, one of them was. And what’s more, it was the one the press characterised as ‘the youngest, pluckiest and handsomest’ of them all, none other than Miss Christabel Pankhurst herself.

Christabel Pankhurst

It happened on March 4 when 27-year-old Christabel was attending a political meeting in Liverpool. After the speeches were over, she got caught up in what sounds like an early rag week prank by medical students, in which a group of ten young men separated her from her companions and somehow inveigled her into a private room. There they proceeded to give their captured prize a sound spanking, which was later described in the press as a ‘not serious, but humiliating’ indignity.

Released afterwards, the spanked Miss Pankhurst found her fellow suffragettes and fumed that she was going to call in the police. Her friends talked her out of it, arguing that the incident would only give the movement the wrong sort of publicity if it became widely known – so the medical students got away with it, and the suffragettes did their best to hush it all up, obviously with less than 100% success.

Equally obviously, this wasn’t a routine case of a young woman being spanked: Christabel was a celebrity, and she was part of a cause that had already occasioned a lot of spanking talk, so what happened was, in effect, that a group of frisky, humorous students got together to make it come true. From their point of view, it was primarily a piece of inventive playfulness, though obviously sore-bottomed Christabel didn’t agree.

In contrast, our next case concerns another celebrity, but it took place before he had achieved his fame, and was a far more quotidian domestic, or romantic, incident.

Houdini and wife

This is the stage magician and escape artist Harry Houdini and his wife Bess, who in the mid-1890s were touring with a circus troupe. They were both aged 18 when they married in 1894, but Houdini was evidently a masterful old-school husband, who on the occasion in question had forbidden her to see a show that was playing in town. When he learned that she had defied him, he went to the theater, pulled her out by force and spanked her, then pretended the marriage was over before staging a romantic reconciliation. It was their first major quarrel, and Bess remembered it all her life; she later told the story to Houdini’s first biographer, Harold Kellock, whose book was published in 1928, two years after the subject died.

The 1890s also brings us the case of Mrs Hollis Hunnewell (née Maud Jaffray), a statuesque society woman who was known as ‘the American Juno’, and was a keen athlete, adept in sports from polo to boxing.

She married Hunnewell in 1891 when she was 20, and the incident that concerns us occurred at some time between then and 1896, when it was reported as part of a general story about her in the Boston Globe. It had reached her attention that she had been discussed in insulting terms by another society woman, whom she proceeded to seek out, and the outcome was…

She rebuked her traducer, it is reported, by lifting her bodily, laying her face downward across her knees, and spanking her soundly.

These are all stories about relatively young people: medical students, men and women in their 20s, or maybe even their late teens in the case of the Houdinis. But none of the sources for the information, including the near-contemporary ones, treat spanking as a new-fangled practice. It seems it was ‘time-honored’ even then – and to prove it, we’ll go back to 1862.

In the summer of that year, Colonel Lewis P. Buckley of Akron (1804-68), the commanding officer of the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was part of the Union forces occupying the strategically important Confederate city of Winchester, Virginia. He was walking down the main street with some colleagues when he encountered what the press described as ‘a fashionably attired, rather good-looking young woman’. With the careful courtesy of occupier to occupied, he bowed politely to her. With the studied contempt of occupied for occupier, she spat in his face. And the contemporary reporter can tell us the rest:

This was more than the Colonel could endure. He caught her, put her across his knee, so arranged her garments as not to interfere with the operation, and there, in the presence of many spectators, gave her a good spanking with the flat side of his sword. The woman screamed loudly, kicked terrifically, and as soon as allowed to, skedaddled quickly.

And that tends to discredit the hypothesis that spankings were usually too indelicate to report, since this one was evidently administered on the young woman’s exposed bloomers!

A case from a decade earlier, 1852, brings us back to the theater. It concerns the dancers George Washington Smith and 31-year-old Lola Montez, who were touring the eastern US.

Lola Montez

On July 2, the last night of their engagement in New Orleans, Lola quarreled with Smith backstage and threatened to hit him. He told her, ‘Madam, if you smack me in the face, I shall certainly smack you.’ And the Times-Picayune of New Orleans takes up the story:

He had scarcely uttered the words before she struck him with her little fist on the cheek, when Smith proceeded to carry out his threat, and had her laying across his knee ready to perform the operation, when the carpenter and prompter rushed to her rescue and separated the combatants.

Her luck didn’t hold, as we learn from Lillian Moore’s 1945 biography of Smith, which describes what happened at a rehearsal in Philadelphia:

Lola was a temperamental creature, and when irritated it was by no means unusual for her to administer a few well-directed lashes with a horse-whip which she carried with her constantly. When, in Philadelphia, she flew into one of her tantrums, Smith amazed the trembling company by turning her over his knee and administering a sound spanking! The gay and gallant lady was too astonished to do anything but submit to her punishment like a spoiled child.

And from there we might go onwards into the 18th century to find a handful of documented cases that I have discussed elsewhere: in old Orleans in 1783, the onstage spanking of the actresses in The Game of Love and Chance by disgruntled audience members; in Venice in 1775, Dr Giuseppe Mussolo getting the last word in his quarrel with Matilde Cassinis by spanking her, an incident said to have inspired the Zerlina sequence in Don Giovanni; in London in 1746, the outrage of the composer Thomas Arne that motivated the backstage spanking of actress Kitty Clive (who may also have been spanked onstage eleven years later in The Taming of the Shrew).

But we can’t venture back too far, because we haven’t quite finished with Lola Montez yet. She introduces a complication into our history, which we shall have to deal with next tme.

Affair of Honor

It is September 1777, in the midst of the American War of Independence, and the British army is advancing on Saratoga. In upstate New York, near the Vermont border, a patriot township decides to take a hand, and assigns its only barrel of gunpowder to blow up a bridge and slow the enemy advance. To lay the explosives, they choose James Mackenzie, whose father died a coward ten years earlier: the heroic mission will allow him to redeem the family honor. But like father, like son: the boy’s courage fails him, and his barmaid sister Sally dons boy’s clothes to undertake the job in his place. She is captured by the British, who also round up seven conspirators, including not only James but also Sally’s fiancé, Captain Tom Cochran. They are all brought before the British commander, Major ‘Mad Dog’ Rogers, said to be ‘one that campaigns against men in the daytime and women at night’. He quickly sees that Sally is a girl, but sentences the other seven to death. However, he offers Sally the chance to save them – and so one affair of honor turns into another, concerning honor of a different kind.

That is the basic situation of television writer Bill Hoffman’s 1956 stage play Affair of Honor, an ‘anti-romantic comedy’ which starred the seasoned Broadway actor Dennis King as Major Rogers. One reviewer described it as ‘an attempt to combine Bernard Shaw with sex’, alluding to Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, also set in the Revolutionary War; King had played the British general in the 1950 Broadway production. But for the sex side of it, Hoffman owes at least as much to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, in which a corrupt deputy sentences a young woman’s brother to death and offers to spare him in return for her sexual favors. Her response is substantially the same as Sally’s in Hoffman’s play: ‘Go ahead, string ’em up!’

The original hope was to cast Betty Garrett, then best known for On the Town (1949), in the role of Sally.

But in the event, the part went instead to Betsy Palmer.

Here she is with her antagonist in the play:

Affair of Honor was hotly anticipated before it opened. Orson Welles sought the rights to produce it in London, and Gregory Peck paid a $75,000 deposit for the screen rights, intending to play Rogers in a movie for United Artists. The world premiere took place on February 23 at the Shubert Theater, New Haven, directed by Norman Felton (who later originated The Man from UNCLE). The play then took a short trip around the east before its arrival on Broadway, starting with a fortnight at the Walnut Street Theater, Philadelphia, from February 27. But the reaction of the Philly critics showed that something was wrong. When it moved to the Shubert, Washington, there had been some cast changes in the minor roles and a new director was installed, Robert Douglas. Plans to open on Broadway March 28 were changed, ostensibly because no suitable theater was available, and the show instead moved into Cleveland for a week, before canceling a Cincinnati date in order to get into the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York on April 6.

And then the critical mauling began. It was a ‘talky and pompous little comedy’, wrote one reviewer; it was full of witty epigrams, a few of which were even good, even though the play wasn’t. Dennis King emerged with honor, and most also had a good word for Betsy Palmer, but the consensus was with the veteran theater critic George Jean Nathan when he wrote to Sean O’Casey that the play was ‘a complete dud in every respect’. The production closed on April 28 after 27 Broadway performances. Unsurprisingly, there was no London production and no Gregory Peck film.

Flops are unhelpful to historians, whether of theater or anything else: the plays go into oblivion, the scripts disappear and we are left to piece together information from contemporary reviews, which helpfully tell us that Sally succeeds in both preserving her virginity and saving the condemned men. What they do not help us with is the precise circumstances in which she gets the following treatment from Major Rogers:

But at least we have the drawing to show for it!

Photographer of the Week: Tony Beckinger

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Tony Beckinger’s pin-up photography could be described as good… good to the bone. And that’s why the name of his Sacramento-based firm is technically a misnomer: Bad Bones Photography.

It’s actually a personal nickname from days of old; a more recent one is ‘Rockin Rigatony’.

He makes many of his own props, and shoots mainly at home, including in a retro-1950s style kitchen:

Well, that’s the sets and props accounted for, but what about the models?

According to Tony, ‘Everyone should have a picture taken, to see what the camera brings out in them.’ And, yes, that includes Rockin Rigatony himself:

(He wasn’t the photographer for that one, though!)

He often shoots with groups dedicated to retro imagery, performance and lifestyle, such as Drop Dead Burlesque here:

And he has done a lot of fruitful work with members of the Luscious Ladies, a retro and pin-up club with chapters all over the US and beyond.

You can really see him developing his art, and his feel for spanking imagery, in successive shoots with the Ladies. His first attempt, shot in 2012 with fairly overt BDSM markers, featured Heather Doss and redheaded Brittany Jane, proving that there are two sides to a fetish shoot:

But in life, ultimately only one side gets to sit down and administer the spanking. Bad luck, Heather!

Perhaps that shows there’s still something yet to be learnt about effective positioning of models in a spanking shot. Let’s see the lesson being learnt in a shoot of July 24, 2014, while Miss Sneaky Tiki teaches another kind of lesson to Miss Pretty Pistol:

What a marked improvement! And the game was upped again in the next shoot, on January 19, 2015, when Tony shot with this lady:

That’s Daisy Day from the Florida chapter of the Luscious Ladies, in case you’re interested. For Tony’s shoot she was partnered with dark-haired Scarlette Saintclair:

This was another case of a double-sided spanking shoot:

But Scarlette got her own back, and Daisy got her bottom… well, scarlet, I suppose!

This kind of setup always raises the tricky question of how one already spanked model can sit down to spank the other… but when we’re seeing work which has achieved such mastery of the ‘Bettie Page’ spanking genre, such pedantry is well worth forgetting!

If you are interested in Bad Bones Photography, please visit Tony’s Instagram account.

How Old-Fashioned was an Old-Fashioned Spanking?

‘You know what you need?’ says Chad Gates (Elvis Presley) to Ellie Corbett (Jenny Maxwell) after fishing her out of the sea in Blue Hawaii (1961). ‘A good old-fashioned spanking!’ Which, of course, is what she gets:

It isn’t really all that surprising that spanking was considered to be ‘old-fashioned’ by the 1960s.

It was old-fashioned in the 1950s, too:

And in the 1940s:

What about the 1930s? Yes, it was ‘old-fashioned’ then, too!

And the 1920s? You guessed it!

So was a good spanking ever contemporary – or even new-fangled? Let’s take a giant leap back to the very start of the last century, to the year 1901:

I once encountered a distinguished academic scholar who had a passing interest in spanking, albeit as a historian rather than an enthusiast. He was mildly intrigued by the claim that it was an ‘old-fashioned’ practice, long established in dealing with troublesome young women (as distinct from young children), because, having spent much of his career thoroughly immersed in the writing and culture of the 1700s, he had never come across anything of the kind. In an effort to reconcile the contradiction, he came up with an ingenious hypothesis.

Spanking young women actually was new around the start of the 20th century, he proposed. Back in High Victorian days, when women were on a pedestal, no man would ever have thought of subjecting his fragile feminine flower to such an indelicate indignity. But towards the fin de siecle, the rise of the ‘New Woman’ with her aspirations to emancipation, and the start of organized agitation for women’s suffrage, provoked a backlash – albeit aimed a little lower than the back, and administered with something less barbarous than a lash. Women began to be spanked in fiction because in life they were claiming their independence, runs the argument, a familiar one that is also sometimes advanced to explain the noticeable spanking spike of the late 1940s.

Now for the interesting and counter-intuitive part of the theory: what was actually new was said to be ‘old-fashioned’, and was thereby ‘backdated’ to give it the legitimacy of a claimed tradition – meaning there wouldn’t have been any spanking for our interested historian to find back in his period of expertise, the 18th century.

Sixty years or so earlier, the same thought had occurred to the veteran American journalist E. V. Durling (1893-1957), who in the very last week of his life wrote a syndicated column observing that several recent movies had featured husband-and-wife spanking scenes, and that this was said to be ‘an old-fashioned type of husbandly punishment’. What movies these might be he doesn’t say, and I can’t think of any from the mid-1950s that fit, but the question is less immediately important here than the fact that he ventured to disagree:

‘I doubt that this sort of thing was very prevalent in the yesteryear. Did your grandpa spank your grandma when she got out of line?’

Well, maybe occasionally he did. From Cedar County, Nebraska, in 1876 comes the documented case of a husband visiting a school, who, ‘thinking his wife was a naughty pupil, pulled her through the window and gave her an old-fashioned spanking’. Yes, it was a matter of mistaken identity rather than a customary marital sanction; but it shows that even back then, spanking was old-fashioned!

And, of course, that must at least complicate any claim for its novelty later on in the 19th century. The earliest I have encountered the phrase ‘old-fashioned spanking’ is 1866 (in a Brooklyn newspaper). Just a little earlier are ‘old-fashioned whipping’ (Anglesey, North Wales, 1864) and ‘old-fashioned walloping’ (Pennsylvania, 1861), and earlier still are ‘old-fashioned caning’ (Washington, 1856), ‘old-fashioned thrashing’ (Wisconsin, 1853) and ‘old-fashioned beating’ (Tennessee, 1847).

So even if there was, as seems plausible, an upsurge of spanking in the 1890s and 1900s in response to a new climate of gender tension, this didn’t involve any disingenuous misdescription of it as ‘old-fashioned’, because it had already been old-fashioned half a century earlier. And that’s where it will become useful to start looking at some actual history, over and above semantics and phraseology – which is a matter for next time.

Perchance to Dream

Many people have, without knowing it, heard part of Ivor Novello’s romantic musical Perchance to Dream (1945): the show’s stand-out song, ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again’, was released as a standalone early in the original run, and was later covered by singers from Bing Crosby to Frank Sinatra to Julie Andrews. The play itself was sniffily dismissed by the London Times as ‘probably good enough for those who like an evening of pleasant songs’, but it ran in the West End for two-and-a-half years and then enjoyed a long, sustained afterlife until at least 1990, followed by occasional revivals on both sides of the Atlantic during the second decade of the present century. But the relevant question here is whether the show was also good enough for those who like a spanking scene.

‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’, with its anticipation of a joyous homecoming and the renewal of romantic love, perfectly evokes the precise moment of its composition, a few months before the end of the Second World War; but Perchance to Dream as a whole plays out on a much larger historical canvas, from the Regency through to what was then ‘the present day’. It draws on a fashion of the period for serious plays about time and the working out of destiny (the most famous examples were written by J.B. Priestley, and are directly referenced in the final scene); but Novello deftly presses the genre into the service of a generation-crossing love story.

In the first act, set in 1818, the country house of Huntersmoon, ‘full of old masters and young mistresses’, is a center of disreputable Regency hijinks surrounding its owner, the rakish but impoverished Sir Graham Rodney. He customarily goes out riding late at night, defying the risk of attack by a notorious highwayman known only as ‘Frenchy’. In Sir Graham’s case, the danger is non-existent, for reasons that will emerge soon enough if you can’t guess, but a group of his uninvited guests are robbed of their jewels on the way to Huntersmoon, including a priceless family heirloom, a pearl necklace.

This unfortunate party of unwanted visitors is led by Sir Graham’s aunt, Lady Charlotte Fayre, who is always on at him to mend his ways and always offering to buy Huntersmoon from him for a handsome price. She is accompanied by her priggish son William, who will inherit the house if Sir Graham doesn’t get on with marrying and producing an heir, and whose own contribution to the family lineage is pending: he expects to become a father next Valentine’s Day. The final member of the group is William’s sister, Melinda Fayre, a week off her 21st birthday and still achingly innocent. Sir Graham wagers his friends that he will seduce her before the week is out.

There is a complication: Sir Graham and Melinda fall in love at first sight, and he makes her a promise that is seemingly as rash as his roué bet: he will see to it that she gets back the stolen necklace in time for her to wear it on her birthday. The night before that, a masked figure steals into the sleeping Melinda’s bedroom and puts the pearls under her pillow. It is ‘Frenchy’ the highwayman.

Or, to say the same thing differently, it is Sir Graham Rodney in his customary nocturnal guise, as Melinda realizes almost as soon as she is properly awake.

Afterwards, ‘Frenchy’ goes out and robs a royal mail coach, but is injured doing so, and the trail of his blood leads the Bow Street Runners directly to Huntersmoon. William smugly looks forward to seeing his cousin on the gallows. Melinda offers an alibi, which would also mean that Sir Graham won his seduction wager; but before dying of his wounds, the noble highwayman gallantly declines to accept the generous lie. His last words are about their doomed love:

‘Listen, Melinda, do not grieve for me. It wasn’t meant to be – we found each other too late. Some day perhaps, in another time, we shall find each other again. Look for me, my sweet – as I shall look for you – always – always.’

And that sets up the working out of the rest of the love story through future generations. The second act moves on to the year 1843, bringing straight-laced Victorian values to Huntersmoon, and with them a wonderful euphemism for a lady’s bottom, which we’ll come to in due course. Queen Victoria herself nearly came too, but the play proved overlong during rehearsals and the royal sequence had to be cut out.

We quickly learn that Melinda pined to death for love of Sir Graham, while his mistress bore him a posthumous, illegitimate daughter, Veronica, who comes to Huntersmoon in the hope of joining the choir run by the composer Valentine Fayre. He is the son born to William, as scheduled, on February 14, 1819, though he bears a remarkable resemblance to Sir Graham. (The parts are written to be doubled.) This has nothing to do with paternity, but may have a bearing on reincarnation…

Now Valentine is the lawful owner of Huntersmoon, and in line for royal patronage (hence the intended sequence with the Queen). Very soon he is Veronica’s husband. And then the action moves on to 1846, when someone else is about to enter his life: Sir Graham’s niece Melanie, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Melinda (because, again, the parts are to be doubled).

19-year-old Melanie has just been expelled from her convent school in Paris, and is established immediately as something of a coquette: almost the first thing she says onstage is that she has been showing her friends her ‘lovely French underwear’, which causes one of the friends to declare,

‘They’re shocking. I wouldn’t wear such things.’

(The mismatch of singular and plural there effortlessly implies which particular article of underwear is being talked about.) She then proceeds to describe some of her convent exploits (she was clearly the naughtiest girl) and does a sexy French dance which so outrages her elders and the vicar that Veronica has to restore decorum by singing ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’.

During the song, Valentine enters and his eyes meet Melanie’s. She had expected to be unimpressed by him (‘No Englishman is romantic’), but this is the play’s second moment of love at first sight. As she puts it herself in the next scene, three weeks later, ‘If only he’d seen me first.’

Valentine is busy composing a cantata for the choir’s royal command performance at Windsor Castle. He stays behind at Huntersmoon to work while Veronica goes to see her physician in London and Melanie attends an overnight house party. But she returns late that night, claiming to have been bored, and attempts to flirt with him, mocking his fidelity to his work and wife. Provoked beyond reason, he spanks her (we’ll come back to that in detail later) and admits,

‘I’ve wanted you and hated you and loved you and cursed you, and it all added up to one thing, I adore you. I knew from the very first second I saw you. I knew that everything up to that moment had been empty and meaningless. As I watched you I heard an echo from the past – a dying man’s whisper, “Look for me, my sweet, as I shall look for you, always.”’

Just spanked…

But if they do anything about it, the scandal would finish his career. And when Veronica returns from London, it is with the news that her bouts of early morning sickness mean there is going to be an addition to the family. There is no way now that Valentine can honorably elope with Melanie, and they part, looking forward to their next meeting. ‘Oh, God, let it be soon,’ hopes Melanie.

She does not get her wish: with the royal performance omitted, the action moves straight on to present-day Huntersmoon, when we learn that she became the family scandal by drowning herself that very night. But the scene is little more than a coda establishing that Valentine’s grandson Bay Fayre has just brought his bride Melody back to Huntersmoon after their honeymoon. In the original production, the audience was helped out with the display of the family tree on a dropcloth. And, yes, the remarkable resemblances to previous generations continue, which means the actors have to do a nifty quick change for the final moment as we see the ghosts of Melinda and Sir Graham, finally at peace now that, in their new persons, they have found one another in time.

Perchance to Dream was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain on April 21, 1945, and opened at the London Hippodrome that same evening, with Valentine and Melanie (and their various alter-egos) played by Ivor Novello and Roma Beaumont, seen here together half a decade earlier in Novello’s The Dancing Years.

There are minor discrepancies between sources as to how long the production ran (the most authoritative, J.P. Wearing’s The London Stage, gives the figure as 1,018 performances) but whatever the exact number, it’s certain that this was the longest unbroken run that a Novello play ever had. The Hippodrome production closed on October 11, 1947; many sources wrongly give the same date in 1948, but they must all go back to a slip of somebody’s finger on the keyboard somewhere. (A play wouldn’t usually close on a Monday, and one that opened in April 1945 and closed in October 1948 would have notched up 400-odd more performances than any of the figures given.) And after that, the show went on a provincial tour until the end of the decade, with the Novello and Beaumont roles taken over by Geoffrey Toone and Hilary de Chaville. When the tour eventually ended in 1950, Hilary then went straight on to play a dancing teacher in Novello’s last musical, the aptly titled Gay’s the Word.

I have never seen Perchance to Dream, and when I first read the script many years ago, I wasn’t even sure that it was properly a spanking, as distinct from an abortive attempt that’s halted before the first slap lands on target. If we look at it in detail, you’ll hopefully see what I mean.

Actually there are two versions of the key moment: the original, as presented to the Lord Chamberlain for licensing, and a slightly amended one that wound up in the published script. In the typescript seen and approved by his lordship, Valentine responds to Melanie’s needling wth:

‘If you don’t shut up I’ll put you across my knee and give you a good spanking.’

The published version is a little more sinuous in its expression:

VALENTINE: What you need, you ridiculous child, is for somebody to put you across his knee and give you a good spanking, and I’ve a good mind to do it.

MELANIE: But, darling, I’d adore it. Look, there’s your knee, and here’s my spanking place.

And there’s that lovely euphemism: unable to mention the body part directly, Melanie has to refer to her bottom as her ‘spanking place’. But even that is too much for Victorian Valentine:

VALENTINE: You’re shameless!

MELANIE: I know, and I don’t care. Go on, spank me. Pooh! You haven’t the strength!

VALENTINE (crossing to her): I haven’t the strength…

MELANIE (retreating): You wouldn’t dare – don’t you come near me.

(Valentine crosses quickly to Melanie, and after a struggle holds her by the wrist.)

VALENTINE: You’ll see whether I’ve got the strength or not. Ridiculous child – setting us all by the ears –

(He drags her to the settee, sits and puts her over his knee)

– thinking of nothing but yourself.

(Melanie screams, laughs and then bursts into tears.)

Ever since you came here you have been utterly selfish and ruthless.

(He suddenly realises that Melanie is crying, turns her over and savagely kisses her.)

As I said, what that read like to me was a ‘near miss’ spanking attempt that doesn’t get as far as any actual spanking. But shortly afterwards I had the good fortune to discuss the play with someone who saw the original production in the late 1940s, and so was able to put me right: Valentine certainly did spank Melanie, he told me, tricky though the operation was through a heavy Victorian dress. (Evidently that shocking French underwear didn’t get an onstage airing!) Novello had simply left his stage directions just ambiguous enough to avoid ringing any alarm bells in the Lord Chamberlain’s office – and the case of Tomorrow’s Child later in 1945 shows how prudent that was.

But while that meant Roma Beaumont, and then Hilary de Chaville, did get spanked in the 1940s, it raises the question of what happened in the play’s subsequent stage life: it’s always possible that later producers were as misled as I initially was, and that later Melanies got away with it!

Photographer of the Week: Maja Štasni

Maja Štasni is an art and fashion photographer based in Zagreb, who particularly enjoys celebrating feminine beauty in her work.

As always, the burning question is, who’s going to be spanked, and the answer is…

She is!

She’s the redheaded model known as Venus Mantrap, often photographed by Maja, even in the most trying of circumstances:

If you are interested in Maja’s work, please visit her website.