‘A nice, healthy play’ was the judgement of the Lord Chamberlain’s reader when Claudia was submitted for licensing in June 1942. Not, therefore, a play likely to make a natural subject for this series. But read on…
The title character is Claudia Naughton, an unworldly, unsophisticated young woman whose relationship with her husband David is failing because, in essence, she is unwilling to grow up. She is completely devoted to her mother, unable to take financial responsibility and effectively asexual, at least until another man starts taking an interest in her. David sees him off, and by the end of the play Claudia is pregnant and fulfilled in her marriage.
The story began life as a novel, Claudia: The Story of a Marriage (1939), which was then adapted for the stage by its author, Rose Franken (1895-1988). The play opened on Broadway in February 1941, with the title role taken by Dorothy McGuire, who had previously played the eldest daughter (rather than the spanked one) in My Dear Children.
Here she is in the play itself:
It was still running in New York when the London production opened at St Martin’s Theatre, later the long-term home of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and, in the interim, the venue for a run of famously hard onstage spankings that we’ll come to another time in this series. There was nothing like that to trouble the Lord Chamberlain in the script of Claudia: the censor required two minor amendments (‘Jesus’ used as profanity and a reference to Claudia ‘feeling life’ in her womb); perhaps surprisingly, he let pass some discussion about how one of Claudia’s friends has given up wearing panties. (‘I’m simplifying my life.’)
But when the St Martin’s management publicized their production, with Pamela Brown in the role of Claudia…
… they took a leaf out of Hollywood’s book. A spread of photos was specially shot for Picture Post magazine, including one showing Claudia with her mother, played by Mary Hinton. It was captioned: ‘The Girl Who Needs Spanking’. It’s quite uncommon to find a spanking publicity still for a non-spanking stage play – but here it is!
The play was popular on both sides of the Atlantic: it ran for nearly two years on Broadway, closing in January 1943, and the London run of more than eighteen months was followed by a provincial tour in 1944. Little of this success is likely to be attributable to anyone’s expectation of seeing the heroine get spanked… but when the film version was released in 1946, again with Dorothy Maguire as Claudia, the studio publicists were thinking along the same lines as their London colleagues four years earlier:
Regrettably this time the thought didn’t translate into a publicity photograph, but here’s Dorothy in the movie itself, with Robert Young as David:
Don’t you get the impression that, somewhere down the line, somebody got the wrong end of the stick?
Anyone nursing disappointment about all this may like to fast-forward to the late 1950s, when nemesis finally caught up with Pamela Brown in her early 40s. During a visit to New York, she received a gentleman caller in her hotel suite: one Kenneth Tynan, who would no doubt be of this parish if he were still alive. Years later, Tynan confided to his diary what had happened: they got talking about sex, he admitted his secret desires, she agreed to indulge them… and so he spanked her!