A Glimpse of Harry Lauder
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
A Glimpse of Harry Lauder
It is the human touch — that is the secret of the man's immense popularity, and universal appeal.
As he says: "The more people get to know and love each other, the more they get out of life." It is typical of his experience. He is cosmopolitan, and as he puts it "happy in Boston, Wyoming, Omaha, as in England — happy wherever there are true men."
I found him marching up and down his dressing room at the Palace Theater. Kindly, but "nervy" like stage folks are.
"You want to talk to me? Well you sit down and fire off your questions see...."
I sat down, but no firing for me. I'd come for a talk, which is not a verbal bombardment.
He soon got interested as we chatted over mutual impressions in America. I asked him what he thought of the audiences over there. "I tell you they're gr-rr-and!" he exclaimed. Enthusiasm always affects him strongly, and he drops into the broad Scotch brogue of his youth. He says that anything really good of its kind finds an audience in America. A humourist may be Irish, Scotch or Lancashire, provided he's got the personality and is really funny, he will make a hit, and the greater the contrast to the American style, the fresher is the novelty.
"No" he broke out, "I didn't get the chewing habit out there, nasty, filthy stuff gum... what do I think of American women? Oh! you're all growing very much alike you know!"
As he talked he continued walking up and down full of restless energy and nerve.
There is a certain parallel between Lauder and Charlie Chaplin — what one might term a mental likeness. Both have a certain whimsical sadness about their expression, and both are very earnest, deep thinkers — anything but funny off the stage.
He spoke on the Irish question, and said he considered it was not influencing American opinion against us. I said, "There has been considerable misunderstanding has there not?" His reply was, "It's all misunderstanding with the Irish, but murder and outrage is not going to do any good." The Press according to him, is the chief culprit. It is responsible for nine-tenths of the trouble and every little rub is exaggerated to make an effective head-line! "Take it from me, they want to sell their papers."
There is a certain simplicity about Lauder's whole personality — the sort of dear big child feeling which is very winning.
He was recently knighted, and a story is told of him that he expected to receive the honor alone. He turned up in kilts for the ceremony and then found he had to line up and wait. "Fancy being knighted in a margarine queue!... they were an awful solemn lot of men too.... and I did so wish someone would make a joke!" However it passed off quite successfully, and the king shook hands with Lauder and told him what a good fellow he thought him!
It was deserved, too — for if ever there was a hero, this little man with the bald head and the spectacles is one. He lost his only beloved boy in the War, and the evening the news came through it was as if he heard the lad's voice ringing out, "Carry on, Dad..." He did. He went on with the job, and continued to make people rock with laughter and forget their own troubles in his mirth.
It was a hero's act.
The strain at the time nearly broke him, but he came through, and the sorrow has deepened his art as sorrow alone can. It is the essence of this human touch, so simple yet so elusive.
He told me, "the older I get, the more convinced I feel that this life is but the beginning of things — that sympathy, attraction, appreciation — every form of expression will endure."
One feels the quality of this thought about his work, for Harry Lauder is not one of these comedians who vary their style according to their audience. He is always clean and healthy, and his humor has a touch or idealism about it, which somehow doesn't detract from it, as one might imagine idealism would!
When he sings "I love a Lassie" and "Roaming in the Gloaming" he gets a whiff of the moorland air across the footlights. It is something too, to get a comedian with a real voice. The average humorist's organ seems to be conspicuous for its absence, and because there is a crack where the note ought to be, people are amused — and the amusement endures! It seems to be part of the stock in trade!
Stage people love to tell stories about each other, and whether they are true or not is of no consequence provided they raise a laugh. There is one told against Lauder, which pleases him as well as anyone! He was appearing in a small provincial town, and at the close of the show he presented the members of the orchestra with a picture post card of himself. Twelve months later he returned to the name town and before leaving the theater, offered to autograph those photos for them!
The tale is supposed to illustrate the "canniness" of the "Scot."
There is something meteoric about Lauder's career. It reads like a romance — or the story of an American millionaire. To start life as a "hand" working at the mining pits — and to end up a "laird," the owner of a big estate in Scotland and a Knight!
It's one of these refreshing incidents that makes fairy stories seem credible, and leads one to say — "nothing is impossible!" It isn't either — provided a man's mind goes on expanding with his bank balance; that money alone can do it, is a fallacy rapidly being found out. The surest test is, whether, having attained greatness, a man is ashamed of his origin or not. Lauder certainly isn't. In 1912 his kindness of heart came out in an appeal for better treatment of the ponies working in the pits, based on his own experience of their sufferings.
Lauder has got a universal sympathy, and a very wide understanding of all sorts of conditions of men. It has given him his "grip" as an artist, and his wonderful ability for character work. He has the peculiar pathos that is typical of all really great humorists. Mark Twain and Jerome K. Jerome strike the same note — also the immortal Charlie Chaplin. Many think that Lauder should have been a great light on the regular stage. He might have been, but on the whole the halls give more scope to the individual — and its only by reducing everything to the personality that one can shed convention, and get at the new idea.
We all do homage to Lauder's genius, and recognize in him a priceless humourist — and a great little man.