Wodehouse in Hollywood by Tony Staveacre

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BBC Radio 4, 14 December 2010
Wodehouse in Hollywood recounted the author's experiences in Tinseltown during 1929-30, when he signed a contract to work as a scriptwriter at MGM and received over $100,000 for doing virtually nothing. He worked desultorily on two scripts - a farce called Three French Girls and an adaptation of his own Broadway hit Rosalie, which was planned as a vehicle for Marion Davies. Neither film was eventually produced.
While Wodehouse (Tim McInnerny) enjoys a relaxed lifestyle, with a large house, swimming-pool and a seemingly endless round of parties, he finds himself hemmed in by the studio. He is forced to work in the writers' block, a rabbit-hutch like structure with little or no ventilation, and has to act according to the wishes of production chief Irving Thalberg (Paul Ryder), which change almost daily. This experience is anathema to Wodehouse's preferred way of working. He believes in a solitary existence, writing in the open air, with the finished product being evaluated by one, perhaps two other people. In Hollywood he has to cope with a vertically integrated structure in which teams of people are responsible for every aspect of the screenwriting process - ideas, gags, script development and polishing. Scripts are highly likely to be shelved or changed at will, depending on Thalberg's whims.
Needless to say Wodehouse objects to this way of working; he confides in a Los Angeles Times reporter (Fiona Clarke) that Hollywood is definitely not for him. The ensuing article causes such a rumpus that Wodehouse's contract is abruptly cancelled, leaving him full of bitterness at the way the studio has treated him.
Wodehouse in Hollywood depends for much of its comic effect on stereotypes: the bumbling Englishman and his ever-practical spouse Ethel (Fenella Woolgar); the brash, fast-talking studio executive; the journalist with a New York accent; the harassed minion (Rowe David McClelland) trying to placate Wodehouse and Thalberg at the same time. For a good depiction of Hollywood during the early studio period, it's best to turn to writers much better than Wodehouse; Nathaniel West and Garson Kanin are two good examples. Nonetheless, Wodehouse's experiences - as represented in Staveacre's work - should satisfy those who believe there is something attractive about the culturally ignorant yet endlessly polite Englishman abroad.