“When I’m out on a quiet spree/Fighting vainly the old ennui”*

*from I Get a Kick Out of You” (1934) by Cole Porter and John McGlinn.

From the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum:

“…Charles B. Cochran was last in a great line of showmen (he never called himself a producer or impresario) guided by their instincts rather than their wallets. Cochran shows brought together the most talented performers, designers, composers and writers. He promoted wild west shows, wrestling and boxing with as much enthusiasm as theatre. His shows could be opulent, extravagant and expensive or he could just promote a solo dancer. Not surprisingly, Cochran was bankrupted on more than one occasion.

Affectionately known as Cockie, he was stage struck from an early age. He wanted to act but realised he didn’t have the talent and so went into theatrical management. His clients included Houdini the great escapologist and the wrestler Hackenschmidt. He presented fun fairs, circuses and rodeos and introduced roller-skating to France and Germany.

In 1911 Cochran presented ‘The Miracle’, a huge spectacular pageant, in the vast space of Olympia, London’s major exhibition hall. In 1932 he mounted a new production at the Lyceum.

Cochran made no snobbish distinctions between culture and popular entertainment. As manager of several London theatres, he produced plays by Pirandello, Eugene O’Neill and Sean O’Casey. He established cabaret at the Trocadero. He loved Spanish dance and brought the great Argentina to London. He backed Diaghilev’s 1920 London season and lost a fortune. He was a governor and member of the council of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. His press-cutting books, in the V&A collections, run to over 140 volumes and even so do not cover every one of his productions.

Cochran revues

The famous Cochran revues were annual events at the London Pavilion in the 1920s and 1930s. To work for Cochran was a great honour. The shows included numbers by the exciting young American songwriters like Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart as well as English composers like Noël Coward and Vivian Ellis.

Cochran didn’t care whether a person was famous or not so long as they had talent. Leonide Massine had been star dancer-choreographer with Diaghilev, but Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor were unknown when they made ballets for Cochran in the 1920s. So were many of his designers, like Rex Whistler and Cecil Beaton.

A great feature of the revues were the ‘Cochran Young Ladies’. They were pretty, could sing and dance in an elegant manner and epitomised the ‘ideal’ British girl of the time. One, Marjorie Robertson, later changed her name and became famous as the actress Anna Neagle.

Cochran’s association with Noël Coward started with the revue ‘On With the Dance’ in 1925 and lasted ten years. He produced Coward’s greatest musical successes, ‘Bitter Sweet’ and ‘Cavalcade’. An association with Vivian Ellis started in 1930 and Ellis gave Cochran his greatest musical success with ‘Bless the Bride’ in 1947. It was so successful that Cochran became bored with it and shut it down while it was still playing to full houses!…”

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

(1928) Noel liked the idea, and he and Cochran set off on the Mauretania for a reconnaissance expedition…Manhattan provided one of the ‘richest two weeks’, from a theatrical point of view, he had ever spent; and all on an expense account. However, he and Cochran failed to find suitable performers for This Year of Grace!, so they took the boat home. The Berengaria was crowded, and they had to share a cabin: ‘Although we both viewed this prospect with slight apprehension,’ noted Coward, ‘it turned out to be extremely cosy.’ The enforced intimacy gave them ample opportunity for chats after lights-out, and Noel, who was working on the first act of Bitter Sweet, read it to Cochran, whetting the showman’s appetite to stage the operetta.”

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