The Original Kiss Me Kate, Part 3: Remaking the Show

1951 Frances McCann and RObert Wright

Kiss Me Dupli-Kate, quipped playwright Russel Crouse, author of Red, Hot and Blue, when he heard of plans to set up a second, ‘national’ KMK company that would tour the show around America while the Broadway company continued its long and successful run. This was on the drawing board only weeks after the show opened in New York, and 75 performers auditioned for the leading roles. Unlike the Broadway version, it seems to have been a more straightforward matter to cast Lilli than Fred. After all, they had already seen a lot of hopefuls before settling on Patricia Morison, and for a while it looked as if that the touring Lilli was to be one of them, Frances McCann – until she discovered she was pregnant. No Kiss Me Kate spankings for her!

But another of the possible Broadway Lillis was also unexpectedly free: Anne Jeffreys had started the theater season in My Romance, but the show closed after 95 performances on January 8, 1949. The main problem was getting her out of her contract, which included an option on her services even after My Romance was defunct. The deal was done and Anne was hired by mid-February.

Now find your Fred…

He was under their very noses! Keith Andes, Alfred Drake’s understudy in the Broadway show, proved himself by going on for the star and giving 22 successful performances, and in May, he joined Anne Jeffreys at the head of the national company cast list. Rehearsals began in New York the following month, while Andes continued on stand-in stand-by for Alfred Drake, before going west to open in Los Angeles on July 11.

But this wasn’t the first Kiss Me Kate to be seen outside New York. That took place in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, from June 15 through 17, when the Margo Thomson School of Dancing produced the musical by special arrangement.

Joe Falcion was Fred and taking the spankings in the role of Lilli was the 24-year-old future civil rights activist June Wallace Thomson,

whose mother happened to be the director of both the school and the show.

The national company opened in Los Angeles just under a month later. At first, it didn’t do very much touring: for the first ten months, it played just three cities, four weeks in LA, six weeks in San Francisco from August 8, and 32 weeks in Chicago from September 22. To publicize the Chicago opening, Keith Andes and Anne Jeffreys also played a half-hour condensed version on the radio on September 20. This was evidently a successful, sought-after show: both runs in California sold out within a week, and although technical and transportation problems meant that the curtain went up an hour late on the first night in San Francisco, everyone was so keen to see Kiss Me Kate that they didn’t mind.

Contemporary reviewers tell us that this was a markedly different Kiss Me Kate from the Broadway original, though of course the script remained the same. Some of that difference must be attributable to the circumstances in which they saw the show: they were invited to attend the final rehearsal in New York, before the stage costumes were ready – so Lilli was spanked in contemporary dress, which happened to be Anne Jeffreys’ own clothes. And Anne herself was the other big difference. She had seen the Broadway production in January 1949, not knowing that the show wasn’t just a ‘might-have-been’ from her recent past but also a big part of her immediate future. But as soon as she was cast to play Lilli, she made a point of not seeing it again, because she wanted to develop her own unique interpretation of the role without any influence from what Patricia Morison was doing with it. The critics were more than satisfied: according to some, Anne’s Lilli was even better than Pat’s.

So when Patricia Morison and Alfred Drake left the Broadway production in June 1950, there was no question who should replace them. The show closed in Chicago on May 6, opened at the American Theater in St Louis two days later, and Anne Jeffreys and Keith Andes gave their last national company performances there on May 19 and headed for New York for two weeks’ rehearsal. But who should replace them in the national company?

There was talk of Paul Raymond as the replacement Fred (that’s Paul Raymond the minor American actor, not Paul Raymond the English pornographer); but in the event, Andes handed over to his understudy, Robert Wright, who thus began a long association with the part. As for Lilli, the management once again tried Frances McCann, who had turned down the role on Broadway in 1948 and couldn’t accept the national company in 1949, and this time she felt she had no option: ‘It is so seldom that opportunity knocks three times,’ she told the press. Her first appearance was in the last two performances in St Louis, the matinee and evening shows on May 20. When the audience was told that she would be going on in place of the advertised Anne Jeffreys, their disappointment was audible – but it quickly turned into enthusiasm when they saw her performance.

She soon learned that it didn’t pay to be overenthusiastic in the fight with Robert Wright’s Fred:

‘Most of my slaps may sound bad but they aren’t. I have to be gentle – otherwise Mr Wright can always get back at me in the spanking scene. Very often he has!’

After playing the role for just a few weeks, she had lost 12 pounds, particularly off her hips, and she attributed this directly to her nightly spankings. What’s more, she even advised lady slimmers that this was a sure-fire method of weight loss:

‘Just treat your husband like Kate treated Petruchio, and if he’s worth his salt he’ll bounce a few pounds off of you in short order.’

As the show tracked round the states, the spanking scene was touted as one of its spectacular highlights, and featured prominently in the advertising:

The harbinger was often a press publicity story about the downside of playing Lilli Vanessi, repeated word for word in the local press of wherever the show was going next:

‘The role of Katharine affords Miss McCann much satisfaction but she also pays a price for it. there are parts of her body that are black and blue and these marks have been acquired during the course of her emoting in Kiss Me Kate. For this you will have to take her word, since the bruises occur in the places of her anatomy which no lady can display in public and remain a lady. To drop a hint: she sometimes has difficulty in sitting down after a performance.

‘Mr Wright is young, strong and enthusiastic, and quite often his spanking is more vigorous than the make-believe action calls for. Hence Miss McCann’s bruises. But she does not complain: she takes them as part of her assignment.’

And on her dressing room table, she kept a supply of arnica and collodion, for regular application to her soundly spanked bottom.

She stayed with the company for a full year, from the run in Detroit that opened May 22, 1950, until a return visit to Detroit and a trip across the border to Montreal in May 1951. In the interim, the touring show took in much of the mid-west and south, including at Ford’s in Baltimore, the very theater in which the play is set. It continued to be sold on the basis of one scene:

Only twice did Frances miss a performance in all that time. The first, in Oklahoma City was an act of kindness to her understudy, Martha Burnett:

Martha had understudied the role of Lilli from the very start of the national company run in June 1949, and one of the first things she heard from a very determined Anne Jeffreys was that she would never get to go on, under any circumstances: no matter how incapacitated Anne might be, she would never allow her understudy to take her place, for the simple reason that ‘if I don’t go on, I don’t get paid’. So Martha waited in the wings and took her spankings at understudy rehearsals, all the while knowing it was a dead end job for her.

No actor wants not to be paid, but Frances McCann was a more generous star when the tour reached Oklahoma City. It happened to be Martha’s home town, so Frances allowed her to do the final show there. And then, in Dallas on December 27, she developed a throat infection, and Martha had to go on at 50 minutes’ notice to give what was said to be a ‘flawless’ performance, spanking scene and all.

After a year of spankings, Frances McCann left Kiss Me Kate at the start of June and went into a West Coast tour of the 1944 musical Bloomer Girl, to play Evalina – who is rebuked by her beau for appearing at a fashion show wearing only her bloomers, although he adds, ‘Well, I’ll admit it’s much handier for applying a hairbrush.’ Out of the frying pan, into the fire for Frances? And so the national company had to cast yet another new Lilli. But before we can go into the complexities of that, we must first follow Anne Jeffreys to Broadway, in the next part of this article.

Photographer of the Week: Manny Zervos

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Based in Sydney, Manny Zervos of Kounelli Photography has a real gift for capturing the feminine form.

He says he’s always on the lookout for new faces, though it’s clear he also strongly favors the other end.

The glorious thing about his work is how the pictures feel so warm – and not just because the models aren’t wearing much.

And of course, when Santa comes to call in Australia, it is warm – midsummer warm. And when Santa came to call on Danielle Treml in 2014, part of her also became warm:

Danielle, you have been warmed!

If you are interested in Manny’s work, please visit the Kounnelli Photography website.

Get Yourself Noticed – Get Yourself Spanked!

Let’s meet the Croatian pop singer Petra Kovacevic, seen here onstage,

and offstage:

At the end of 2014, she was getting ready to release her fifth single Buka, Galama (Noise), with a video featuring herself as a schoolgirl who prefers nightlife to studying. She needed some self-promotion, and to that end got together with photographer Sandra Mihaljevic to produce a set of photos that would get her into the press at the operative time. And since it was the very end of the year, they went for something seasonal, and brought in a certain jolly gentleman.

Shooting with Santa isn’t entirely risk-free, but there’s another factor that made this shoot even more dangerous for Petra. Take a closer look at her outfit:

Santa hat, black lingerie, plaid skirt… We’ve seen this somewhere else – being worn by Kendall Jenner in her Love Magazine shoot with Santa released on December 8, 2014 – exactly three weeks before Petra’s encounter hit the press. And Kendall got spanked

So what’s going to happen to copycat Petra?  Well, obviously…

Santa seems to be getting her skirt out of the way there, but apparently he changed his mind, and Petra’s peril did not involve Petra’s panties. But even so, it seems she suddenly realizes it’s not quite so amusing to  be across Santa’s knee!

If you are interested in Petra’s music, please visit her YouTube channel.

The Original Kiss Me Kate, Part 2: Making the Show

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To mount Kiss Me Kate on Broadway, producers Saint Subber and Lemuel Ayers needed the same two things that any theater production requires: cash and cast. The budget was set at $180,000, which had to be cajoled out of investors, known in the business as ‘angels’. It took over a year, and 76 ‘auditions’ of the show, to get the money together; in all, there were 78 backers, from tycoons and playboys to a farmer who sold a cow to buy his piece of the action.

But who in particular were they buying into?

The business of casting the leading roles of Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi got underway in the summer of 1948. Fred was the easier part to fill; Alfred Drake signed in August. He had made his name as the original Curly in Oklahoma! (1943), in which among many other things he threatened to spank his girlfriend, played by Joan Roberts (who did get spanked onstage a few years later in Marinka). Drake was admirably qualified, but he wasn’t entirely a foregone conclusion; on July 12, for example, they auditioned John Howard (who had been the cinema’s Bulldog Drummond in seven films before the War and was trying to relaunch his career). But the tricky casting was Lilli: at least ten stars were considered for the part, and seven of them managed to escape totally unspanked…

The producers approached the 1930s Hollywood singing star Jeanette MacDonald, now in her mid-40s.

But MGM had just promised her a picture with her long-term screen partner Nelson Eddy, and she wanted to do that more than she wanted to be spanked every night on Broadway. She ended up doing neither: the MGM project fell through.

Mary Martin did want to be in a hit Broadway show.

But not one with a spanking scene: she turned down Lilli Vanessi and headed for the safety of South Pacific, the other great musical success story of 1949, in which she created the role of Nellie Forbush.

So how about Kitty Carlisle, opera singer and future television game show panelist?

She opted instead for the title role in a show that opened the night before KMK and was praised by theater critics as artistically the more important of the two: Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia.

Then there was Dorothy Sandlin, noted for her leading role in the 1946 Broadway production of The Desert Song, but not destined to be notable for Kiss Me Kate:

Over on the west coast, Cole Porter had a few ideas of his own. He hoped to cast his friend the Czech soprano Jarmila Novotna to play Lilli.

She wasn’t available, so he tried the radio soprano Lily Pons, now fifty years old.

She couldn’t do it either, so he approached Dorothy Kirsten, lead singer of the Metropolitan Opera.

She might have been free, but she simply wasn’t interested.

There’s a running theme here: what Cole Porter particularly wanted was for Lilli to be played by an experienced opera singer. But he changed his mind after hearing a striking, long-haired movie actress singing a Rodgers and Hammerstein number at a party.

She hadn’t been on Broadway for ten years, and her screen career had been disappointing – but her voice entranced Porter. He gave her the score for Kiss Me Kate, told her to learn it and auditioned her at his home, accompanying her on the piano himself. Her name was Patricia Morison.

But there was a fly in the ointment. Porter talked the producers into giving her a hearing; but they were in New York and she was in Hollywood, and she couldn’t afford the air fare to travel east. Her big break began to slip away as Cole Porter considered other options, and went so far as to offer Miss Vanessi to the 25-year-old singer and former model Anne Jeffreys.

Anne, the youngest actress to be considered for the role, was trying to break into Broadway, but opted to do it in My Romance, which opened in mid-October, rather than waiting the extra ten weeks for Kiss Me Kate. So, back to the drawing board again for Cole Porter. How about red-haired, green-eyed soprano Frances McCann?

She had a radio show in California, and decided it wasn’t worth her while going east for the audition. But we haven’t heard the last of her, nor of Anne Jeffreys, nor indeed of Patricia Morison…

For Patricia, luck struck in the form of a broken arm for Diana Lynn, the former child prodigy singer who featured in the mass spanking scene in And the Angels Sing (1944):

She wasn’t under consideration to play Lilli – she was three years younger even than Anne Jeffreys and still playing juves – but her injury left her unable to fulfil her engagement to appear in an armed services show in Madison Square Garden. Her manager promptly recommended another of his clients, none other than Patricia Morison, who found herself whisked off to New York courtesy of the US air force. To cut a long story short, the audition went well, and in early October she was duly signed to play Lilli.

By then, pre-production work was well underway. Eleven seamstresses had begun putting the costumes together at the end of the summer, four months before the show was scheduled to open. The buzz began to build: this was a lavish, spectacular hit in the making. One sign of this early confidence is that, weeks before opening night, the management approached the ‘angels’ with an offer to buy back their shares for twice the original investment. Any who accepted the deal would surely have regretted it later…

Rehearsals began on November 1, four weeks before the first try-out in Philadelphia on December 2. At Cole Porter’s suggestion, Patricia Morison got some coaching for the Shakespearean elements of her role, from the distinguished British actress Constance Collier (1878-1955). She also got spanked – a lot, and very loudly. The noise could be heard all over the streets around the theater!

KMKstage

After spending most of December in Philadelphia winning some approving notices, Kiss Me Kate finally opened at the New Century Theatre on December 30, 1948, and a Broadway phenomenon was born.

‘Occasionally by some baffling miracle, everything seems to drop gracefully into its appointed place in the composition of a song show, and that is the case here.’

So said the New York Times, heading up its rave review with a photograph of a scene from the play. Yes, the spanking scene, of course…

1948 New York Times

This was also the scene the Times had chosen to caricature in its Boxing Day preview, drawn by Don Freeman:

KMK 1948 NYT

Kiss Me Kate was already a success before opening night. For a start, the production wound up $30,000 under budget – in other words, it cost $150,000 instead of the projected $180,000. And advance ticket orders exceeded anything known on Broadway in the past ten years; by the first days of 1949, it was booked out for months to come. It and Death of a Salesman were the two hot tickets on Broadway that year, and inevitably a lot of scalping went on: ‘To see Kate kissed – and spanked – in Kiss Me Kate, unless you know your way around, you can pay as much as 15 bucks a seat,’ said the newspapers in April 1949. Some tickets were going for a $100 asking price, and eventually the theater’s head of box office was subpoenaed in an investigation of the scam. And if you bought your tickets by mail order, you stood a good chance of having them stolen! Everyone wanted to see the show: the first six months’ box office amounted to $1.4 million, and nine months into its run it was raking in $47,200 every week. The 78 ‘angels’ recouped their investment in just sixteen weeks; everything from then on, for decades to come, was clear profit.

And the success was more than financial. In March, Kiss Me Kate won the ‘Page 1’ Award presented by the Newspaper Guild of New York for best musical comedy; the following month it won the Antoinette Perry Award for its ‘notable contribution to theater’; and later in the year it won a Tony Award in the new category of Best Musical. It had celebrity fans: Greta Garbo saw it three times, and Margaret Truman, the President’s daughter, four times. And, let’s not forget, this was, as one newspaper put it later in the run, ‘a show about a girl who gets spanked’.

Success breeds spin-offs. On May 9, 1949, a radio program dramatized the story of how Kiss Me Kate came to be written and produced: a backstage musical about a backstage musical! It starred the singer Gordon MacRae, who was also busy making Look for the Silver Lining, in which he spanks June Haver, and would later make On Moonlight Bay (1951), in which he spanks Doris Day. It’s not known whether the program called for him to administer a sound-only spanking to his co-star Lucille Norman,

but one thing is certain: whether or not the spanking scene was included, this was the first time any of Kiss Me Kate was heard on the radio. Success doesn’t only breed spin-offs, but protectionism too, and there was a general ban on radio stations playing the songs.

So if you wanted to hear Cole Porter’s lyrics and melodies outside of the New Century Theatre, you had one option: buy the soundtrack album!

Columbia Records snapped up the recording rights for a reported $30,000, and for a week in February 1949, the cast left the theater after their evening performance and rushed over to the recording studio, still in costume and make-up, for a series of late-night sessions to make the LP. Some of the songs were considered too raunchy, so the lyrics were sanitized. What’s more, Patricia Morison had to adjust her performance: what was appropriate onstage was too big for the studio. But she also found that there was an advantage to performing KMK in this medium, as the press pointed out: ‘no spanking’!

Kiss Me Kate without spanking scarcely bears thinking about. It was the one piece of imagery that most defined the show, from publicity pictures right down to advertisements in the program:

So it was a publicity opportunity not to be missed when, in the fall of 1949, the Margaret Webster Shakespeare Company began a tour of The Taming of the Shrew and billed it as ‘the original Kiss Me Kate’. Since it was partly an educational concern, the advertising also borrowed a tagline from Cole Porter: ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’! Even more serendipitously, it was to be one of those Shrew productions in which Kate (Louisa Horton) is spanked – and what’s more, she insisted that her Petruchio (Kendall Clark) should spank her for real! Here they are in costume for what many reviewers described as a ‘rollicking’ production:

And before the Shrew company left New York, they seized the chance of some mutual publicity with the KMK company, and staged a press photocall with the four principal cast members giving a side-by-side rendition of the two productions’ most iconic scene:

Except the Petruchios swapped Kates, so Louisa Horton is being spanked by Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison by Kendall Clark!

He wasn’t the only other actor to have Patricia over his knee in the course of her Kiss Me Kate duties. Right from the start, Alfred Drake’s health was a little dicey: even during the preliminary run in Philadelphia, he caught a throat infection that looked as if it might prevent him from opening on Broadway. It then developed into full-blown flu, but ‘Doctor Theater’ worked the usual magic and he made the premiere. But three months in, the common cold got its revenge, and Patricia Morison had to be spanked by his understudy, Keith Andes. Drake’s troubles continued the following year: he was injured in an auto accident in May 1950 and had to have his head shaved, and, since the wound also prevented him from wearing a wig, he was temporarily out of the show again. In all, Andes took his place for 22 performances (and spankings) before leaving the production in June 1950 – and that’s not the last we’ll hear of him. His place was taken by Ted Scott, and he also got a turn spanking Patricia when Drake was off again in September. They were memorable spankings for her – because, she told the newspapers, Scott spanked a lot harder than Drake!

Front row: Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison. Back row: Ted Scott and Peggy Ferris.

In contrast, Peggy Ferris didn’t get to go on even once in place of Patricia Morison: her KMK spankings were limited to the unapplauded context of understudy rehearsals.

In other words, Patricia didn’t miss a single performance, something the press called ‘a minor miracle’:

‘she got mauled, slapped, spanked, yanked and dragged around by her hair for two back-breaking years.’

If she took pride in this achievement, she also felt bad for Peggy Ferris, and tried to get her a movie contract by way of compensation; it never happened, and Peggy eventually quit the show in October 1950 to get married.

Patricia herself was getting antsy, too. The leading actors were contracted to the show until June 1950, but in the summer of 1949 she asked her agent to explore the possibility of leaving early that December, after the show had run for a year. ‘I see no need of remaining in Kiss Me Kate indefinitely,’ she told the press – ironically, since it was a show she kept doing for thirty years, giving her last performance as Lilli in 1978. One of the issues was money: the actors were poorly paid across the board, so much so that some junior cast members had to take Christmas relief work at the post office to make ends meet. Eventually Patricia agreed to stay on in return for a large salary hike, but only until June 1950, not June 1951 as Cole Porter had hoped. And with that resolved, she set about planning her next project.

Her ambition was to become an opera singer, but what initially came her way was the prospect of more film work – only not film work in Hollywood, where her talents had never really been appreciated since she capriciously turned down the role of the spanked heroine in the Gene Autry Western The Singing Hill (1941). In February 1950, the Mexican production company Azteca approached her with a proposal for a movie alongside Pedro Armendariz, to be made in both Spanish and English for release on both sides of the border. The project arose out of a collocation of the two stars’ recent work: Kiss Me Kate for Patricia, while Armendariz had recently made the 1949 comedy Western, El Charro y la Dama, in which…

So what more natural than to put them together in a film version of The Taming of the Shrew? Unfazed by the prospect of another spanking scene, Patricia agreed, but the script proved unsatisfactory and the movie was never made. But that didn’t mean that leaving KMK put spanking out of her immediate professional future, because it turned out that her next major job would be… Kiss Me Kate again, this time in London!

But the Kiss Me Kate diaspora had begun well before the New York production lost Patricia Morison, and on the home side of the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll find out more in the next part of this article.

Photographer of the Week: Robbert Thoen

Robbert Thoen is an imaginative commercial photographer based in Nieuwegein in the Netherlands. His firm, Chickflits, caters for all photographic needs, and he brings a fresh feel to every subject, whether it be singles…

couples…

or spanking!

Here’s the lady who’s going to be spanked, Miranda van Goethem, posing for another photographer:

And since it’s still Christmas, just about, who better to spank her than…

If you are interested in Robbert Thoen’s work, please visit the Chickflits website.

The Historic Journeys of Santa Claus: 2017

Naughty girls of the world, beware: Santa Claus is coming to spank you!

The naughty list had a large Australian section in 2017, so Santa began by visiting Melbourne:

Next up was Adelaide, though there may be some doubts about whether that’s really Santa…

Not least because the real Santa was headed the other way, to Sydney:

Still in Sydney, he had to deal with model Ami Abstruse:

Then up to Queensland:

After that, Santa had to return to the northern hemisphere. There was a quick stopover in Abu Dhabi:

Up to Ukraine for a call in Kryvyi Rih, where a certain young lady seems to have been overdoing the Christmas cheer:

And she wasn’t the only one doing that in Ukraine, as Santa discovered in Lviv:

And so to Saratov in Russia:

And before leaving Russia:

Next up was a smacking in Latvia:

Things were too serious for Santa at Vimperk in the Czech Republic: his only option was to unleash the Krampus!

On to Germany now:

There was a session in Strausberg – with another case of doubtful identity:

Nordhorn next, to deal with a very, very bad girl:

German model Denise Duck also had a place on the naughty list:

And then it was on to Scheveningen in the Netherlands:

Norway had its share of naughtiness, too:

As did London, England:

And just to the south of London, Joanna works as a stripper in Croydon. It appears that Santa has views about that:

Santa’s point of USA arrival this year was Florida, where he had an appointment with the cosplayer Genevra:

(This superb picture was actually shot for a husband-and-wife holiday card.)

Florida was making a bid for Naughtiest State of the Union, so Santa will be there for a while. In Wellington:

In Lakeland:

In Jacksonville:

And still more in Florida,

though I have a sneaking suspicion that the next one might be yet another fake Santa:

And bad luck, Florida: the Naughtiest State award will be going elsewhere this year, so those girls will have to console themselves with their lumps of coal.

Next stop, Atlanta, Georgia:

It was Krampus time in Alabama:

And also in Knoxville, Tennessee:

Santa himself was busy in Nashville:

Then it was on to Richmond, Kentucky, visiting the Paddy Wagon Irish Pub. His task: to administer some paddy-whackins!

On up the east side of the country, to Virginia Beach:

Then Charleston, West Virginia:

Then Maryland:

And Philadelphia, where there was yet another identity issue:

In New York, Inked Magazine offered Santa a good deal at its shop. (He may have enjoyed the discount, too.)

In Meriden, Connecticut, it seems a naughty girl wasn’t expecting what she got:

In Newport, Rhode Island:

And into Canada. Santa’s first date there was at a pole-dancing studio in Toronto:

In Hamilton, Ontario:

Santa’s trip now dipped back into the US, fortunately with no trumped-up border wall to impede the sleigh. A family visit to the Factory of Terror Haunted House in Canton, Ohio, saw Rani facing this particular terror:

In Cleveland, the Krampus was deployed:

Santa sleighed on to Fort Wayne, Indiana:

And still in Indiana, Washington:

And Belleville, Illinois:

It was Krampus time again in Spring Park, Minnesota:

Back up to Saskatoon:

While there, Santa also had a job at the Pink Lounge gay bar:

And across to Vancouver:

Now Santa faced the long journey down the incessantly naughty west coast, starting at Bellingham in Washington:

Down to Portland:

Still in Portland, model Megham Meyhem told Santa exactly what she wanted for Christmas, and Santa gave it to her:

And there was one last, rather splendid job in Portland:

And before leaving Oregon:

And so he arrives at the other, successful contender for the Naughtiest State of the Union award: California.

The overture played in Cool, where somebody’s bottom didn’t stay cool:

He opened in San Francisco:

He next played Hollywood:

Then on to Los Angeles,

where one name on the naughty list was that of punk actress Erin Micklow:

Another naughty girl in Santa Monica:

His next stop was Lennox – or was it another imposter?

Then Santa Ana:

Then Encinitas:

And the Krampus opened again – where? In San Diego:

So well done, California, and let’s hope Santa had some soft pillows to distribute as well as lumps of coal, or a lot of girls will have eaten their Christmas dinners off the mantlepiece!

Nevada couldn’t field nearly as many candidates, but Las Vegas had a jolly good try:

In Arizona, a small-scale problem needed a full-scale spanking solution, so Santa deputed an elf…

and went right on to Denver, where there was only one girl to spank – but a very, very naughty one, to the extent that Santa needed some elf assistance here too:

Oklahoma was next on the itinerary:

Down to Houston, Texas:

And finally to Mexico:

Finally? Well, there is still the little matter of the unauthorized Santa impersonators, or at least the ones who got caught.

There was one in Vancouver:

Another in Saskatoon:

And quite a few in Arlington, Virginia:

The South African singer Danica Bezuidenhout attempted a more effective disguise, but to no avail:

But the naughtiest Fake Santa of them all was found in Taiwan, where it took several attempts before justice was successfully meted out:

Not making much of an impression, are they? So let’s dispense with the inflatable lollipop and try the flat of the hand:

Still not very successful – so shall we make it the right hand?

That did the trick!

The Original Kiss Me Kate, Part 1: Writing the Show

1948

The first idea was simply to do a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. The second thought was to do a musical about a troupe of actors putting on a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Somewhere down the line, a spanking scene was thrown into the mix… and Kiss Me Kate was born.

Success has many parents. It’s certain that the first discussions took place between the theatrical producers Saint Subber (1918-94) and Lemuel Ayers (1915-55), probably some time in 1947. It’s pretty certain that what they were talking about, initially, was just a straight Shrew musical. It’s entirely certain that they wanted the book to be written by the Hungarian-American playwright Bella Spewack (1899-1990), who had twenty years’ experience writing comedy and usually worked with her Ukrainian-American husband Samuel (1899-1971). They set about the task at Wingover, their house in Blue Bell, Philadelphia, apparently in early 1948, while Cole Porter (1891-1964) wrote the songs in California. That much we know. About almost everything else, there are multiple, mutually incompatible stories.

For example, who brought in Cole Porter? Subber and Ayers took the credit, but Bella Spewack said that the original suggestion came from her. As she told the story, Porter wasn’t all that interested in a Shrew musical, until she put a spin on the idea and turned it into a backstage musical about a feuding pair of leading actors. So in effect, Bella claimed ultimate responsibility for both the key elements of Kiss Me Kate’s long-term success: the music of Cole Porter and the core show-within-a-show concept.

The Spewacks had collaborated with Porter before on the musical Leave It To Me! (1938), and that lends credence to that part of the story. But the backstage dimension is more likely to have originated with Saint Subber. He had worked as a stage hand on the touring Taming of the Shrew production starring the husband and wife team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, which opened in 1935 and played on and off for five years. One thing he noticed was that they quarreled offstage in much the same way as Kate and Petruchio do in the play.

This was surely something he brought to those early meetings, even though it was then down to Bella to pick up the idea and make it work.

But the influence of the Lunt/Fontanne Shrew tends to be overstated. For one thing, the famously devoted Broadway couple were not going through major marital difficulties during the production: they were just fighting, as husbands and wives often do. But there was some connubial strife behind the scenes during the writing of Kiss Me Kate, when Samuel Spewack ran off with a ballerina. In retaliation, Bella decided to minimize his contribution, which happened to be the gangland subplot – so it didn’t help that Cole Porter had written the second-act show-stopper, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’, for the gangsters. In the course of pre-production, Sam’s credit was dropped and reinstated several times, depending on the current state of the marriage, before Bella finally made her mind up on the eve of the New York opening, and her errant husband was irrevocably ‘in’. Convention even dictated that his name should go first, but Bella indicated the true state of things in the dedication: ‘To W.S. from B.S. and S.S.’

But perhaps that ongoing episode contributed more to the development of philandering Bill Calhoun than the musical’s central couple, the narcissistic actor-producer Fred Graham and his co-star and ex-wife, movie star Lilli Vanessi, celebrating the first anniversary of their divorce. We first meet them on the stage of Ford’s Theatre, Baltimore, at the final rehearsal for a tryout of The Shrew. Tensions are running high: bookers from New York are coming tonight, there’s a totally inexperienced actress playing Bianca and, being June, it’s just too darn hot. The first thing Fred says to Lilli is an order to join the company for the opening call. The first thing she says to him is, ‘You bastard!’, a line that often serves as a bellwether for how the audience is going to take the show. (If they laugh, it will go well; a shocked intake of breath means trouble.) And in those two moments, the essence of the relationship is laid down: Fred’s drive to control and dominate versus Lilli’s recalcitrance, her resentment against him and the hint that there’s a lot to resent.

Part of the problem between them is that she’s had a more successful career, making money in Hollywood while Fred was busy losing it backing no-hope productions in the theater. For him, this musical Shrew is make-or-break, whereas for her it’s almost a pastime while she awaits the fruition of her new romantic liaison with the senior Republican politician Harrison Howell; he’s one of the show’s backers and is obviously the reason she’s there in the first place. Fred is, correspondingly, skirt-chasing: that’s why, despite the show’s vital importance for his whole future, he has hired nightclub singer Lois Lane as the aforementioned unsuitable casting for Bianca. But the other part of the problem is that Fred and Lilli also still love one another – so when a bouquet from Fred arrives at Miss Vanessi’s dressing room, containing the very same flowers she carried at their wedding, the inference is obvious and she expresses her ongoing feelings in the musical’s first solo number, ‘So in Love’.

The inference may be obvious, but it is also wrong: the flowers were for Lois. Fred manages to talk Lilli into not reading the note that came with them, by telling her the substance of what it says, but is unable to retrieve the note itself, which she sentimentally puts into the front of her dress, right next to her heart. And with that ticking time bomb down her decolletage, the show starts.

At first, all seems to go well, up to and including Kate’s shrew anthem, ‘I Hate Men’ (a number everyone except Cole Porter detested and wanted to cut – and which was later recognized as a bravura highlight of the show). Things begin to go wrong when Kate comes onstage before her cue to enter, wielding the bouquet ‘as if it were a stiletto’. She has found out it wasn’t intended for her, and now pulls the card out of her bosom, rips it to pieces and throws them in his face. In the course of the wooing scene that follows, she hits Fred in the stomach, bites him and slaps him twice. Fred’s response, timed to coincide with Petruchio’s threat, ‘I swear I’ll cuff you if you strike again’, is:

You keep on acting just the way you’ve been doing, Miss Vanessi, and I will give you the paddling of your life and right on stage.

‘You wouldn’t dare,’ is Lilli’s predictable retort, allowing her to slide effortlessly back into Kate’s ‘If you strike me, you are no gentleman.’ As the scene goes on, she raises her hand to hit him again, but he grabs her by the wrist and, as the stage direction specifies, ‘slaps her behind’ to propel her over to the table. The scene proceeds, with more violence from Kate, starting with a kick (‘I’m warning you!’), and then:

PETRUCHIO: Kiss me, Kate.

(She slaps him.)

PETRUCHIO: All right Miss Vanessi – you asked for this and you’re going to get it.

(He takes her across his knee. He begins paddling her.)

KATHARINE: Oh!

(He paddles her harder.)

KATHARINE: Fred, what are you doing? Oh! … Oh! … Oh!

(She screams. He paddles her harder. Screams from crowd.)

And thereupon the action shifts to backstage. ‘That’s the last time you’ll ever lay hands on me, Mr Graham,’ says the angry Lilli, to which Fred replies, ‘You asked for it. may I remind you, Miss Vanessi, the name of this piece is The Taming of the Shrew, not He Who Gets Slapped.’ (That’s a 1924 Lon Chaney movie about a circus clown.) ‘I am a realistic actress,’ she insists, then goes off to her dressing room to summon Harrison Howell and pack her things: she’s walking out of the show halfway through the performance!

This wasn’t inspired by the Lunt/Fontanne Shrew, a production that was noted for its rough and tumble, and featured ‘plenty of bustle-smacking’ business but, as its promptbook makes clear, did not include a formal spanking scene. Lynn Fontanne did in fact sustain a knee injury in 1935 after some rough handling onstage by Lunt, but, in complete contrast to Lilli, she went on in subsequent performances with a bandaged leg. But there was a celebrated theatrical incident in which a leading lady walked out of a play after the star, who happened to be her husband, had spanked her too hard onstage. By coincidence, it not only had Shakespearean connections but was running on Broadway in 1940 at the very same time as the final run of the Lunt/Fontanne Shrew. It was the play that marked the end of John Barrymore’s stage career, My Dear Children:

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In short, Bella Spewack drew inspiration for the Kiss Me Kate spanking scene, and its consequences, from the serious, terminal marital troubles of the Barrymores, rather than the everyday spatting of the Lunts.

Most stories with spanking scenes move onward through the emotional effects of the spanking, giving their main attention to the way it changes the relationship between the participants. That’s part of the Kiss Me Kate scenario, too: being spanked onstage is the indignity that creates the crisis of the play, as Lilli decides to leave and has to be kept in the show by the forcible intervention of the gangsters. But with the action played in a much tighter timescale, during the performance of Mr Graham’s Shrew musical, there is also a greater than usual emphasis on the physical effects.

When the lights come up on Lilli’s dressing room, she is speaking to Howell, ‘holding phone in one hand and rubbing her posterior with the other’.

Harrison, I’ll marry you tonight. You don’t know what that villain’s done to me. I can’t sit down. I said, ‘I can’t sit down.’ I’m through with the theater. Send a car for me. Better still, send an ambulance! I want to go where no one will ever find me. I’ll go to Washington!

Howell seems slow on the uptake, so she spells it out: ‘He beat me. I’m black and blue!’ Enter Fred on cue, echoing her own earlier words: ‘I’m a realistic actor!’

Having to play a spanking scene with a ‘realistic actor’ was such a regular hazard in both the American theater and in Hollywood that the joke can’t be pinned down to any particular source of inspiration. But what’s new in Kiss Me Kate is the amount of attention given to Lilli’s bottom, before and after the spanking, but especially after. Early on, she boasts to Fred that rolling in money every day is good for her hips, and rubs one to emphasize her point. In the second half, when she has a different reason to be rubbing the same area, there’s a moment when Fred comes onstage to announce that a scene is being cut: Kate was to have fallen off a mule into the mud, but, owing to unforeseen circumstances, Miss Vanessi is unable to ride the mule. She can’t avoid sitting down in the next scene, when the dinner is served at Petruchio’s house and then whisked away, and there is additional slapstick business when Petruchio (or is it Fred?) supplies a much-needed cushion, but then at the last moment whisks it too away, making her yelp as her bottom comes into direct contact with the chair.

Never before had so much comedy been extracted from a sore bottom, in line with the risqué way Kiss Me Kate handles all sorts of indelicate subject matter. Elsewhere, a girl who is angry at having been spanked may threaten to go to the police, only to be told that modesty will stop her from showing evidence of the assault. (See here for an example in a play that Bella Spewack almost certainly didn’t know.) Lilli takes a completely opposite line when threatened with union reprisals for walking out:

FRED: I’ll have you up on charges at Equity!

LILLI: Hah! I’ll be glad – glad to appear before Equity. I shall bring photographs (indicates backside) of what you have done to me. In Technicolor!

This was another moment where Bella Spewack drew inspiration from a spanking cause célèbre of a decade earlier, this one involving the 21-year-old Hungarian actress Vilma Hertha Holenia:

In 1936, she took passage to America aboard a German cargo ship, the Elbe, and encouraged the amorous attentions of its captain, Herr Vogt. As the end of the voyage approached, he wanted things to take their natural course, at which point Vilma spurned him. Realizing he’d been led on by a flirt who only wanted a nice time on voyage and now had no further use for him, Vogt put her across his knee and spanked her, hard. Vilma disembarked with a sore bottom, and immediately brought charges against the captain. Faced with the issue of evidence, her attorney took the unusual steps which are illustrated in this contemporary cartoon:

But probably, unlike Lilli Vanessi, not in Technicolor!

The spanking gets this much attention simply because it’s important: for the rest of her life, Bella Spewack stressed that it was the key, pivotal event in the story. Its complexity as a moment is often simplified by write-ups that describe it as (from one point of view) ‘well-deserved’ and (from the other) ‘abusive’. In fact, there is right and wrong on both sides. Lilli acts up onstage, which is not only unprofessional but also a case of double standards: she can’t reasonably object to Fred’s carrying on with Lois when she is doing the same with Harrison Howell. But Fred is also being unprofessional when he steps outside the script to take the reprisals she has provoked: he’s not ‘forced to spank her’, as the standard modern synopsis puts it, he chooses to do it, and it’s a clever choice in the Shrew context, but not necessarily right or unavoidable. Another gross simplification is the kind of summary (not so often seen nowadays) that says Lilli falls back in love with Fred because he spanks her: the way forward isn’t nearly so straightforward. It works more like the romantic spanking trope that I’ve discussed elsewhere: an action that is simultaneously an outrage that propels Lilli away from Fred and a sublimated sexual act that reveals the continuing strength of his passion for her – something Lilli then comes to realize and reciprocate in the course of the second act. It is a moment that can be played with various different emphases, but it can’t and shouldn’t be cut out altogether to comply with modern sensibilities and anxieties.

By the middle of 1948, Kiss Me Kate had a script, and it had songs (including another incidental spanking reference in a second-act number, which you can read about here). It was ready to go into pre-production – which is where the second part of this article will begin.