Today in Theatre History: BEFORE POOH, MILNE HIT THE DOVER ROAD–December 23, 1921

A.A. Milne, understandably pooped after writing so many plays.

A.A. Milne, understandably pooped after writing so many plays, took a short break to publish a couple of children’s stories.

On this day in theatre history–December 23, 1921–the author of Winnie-the-Pooh, the great A. A. Milne, saw the opening of his first major success on the Broadway stage, a lighthearted romp called The Dover Road.  Despite the popularity of the Pooh stories, Milne was not principally a children’s author.  He only wrote two Pooh books (in 1926 and 1928) while penning some 34 plays and screenplays during his prolific career.

The Dover Road was typical of the sort of mild sex farces that found their way onto the English and American stages in the post-WWI era.  Much like his chief theatrical rivals, Noel Coward and J. M. Barrie, Milne was known for writing clever and witty works about the foibles of British upper crust society.  In this piece, a pair of lovers are escaping to France via Dover but are waylaid by a faulty automobile and end up as guests of an eccentric estate owner who requires them to remain for a full seven days to see if they are genuinely in love and suitable for marriage.  Inevitably, things go wrong almost immediately and the happy couple soon learn that lust and love are two very different things.  The play was a raging success, running for over 200 performances at the Bijou Theatre on West 45th Street.  The New York Times called it, “one of the best examples of fine-textured high comedy to come out of England in the last ten years.”  The New York Tribune was a little less enthused, describing the play as a “quiet, intelligent diversion… a charming trifle…[but] one that you will enjoy.”  That the creator of Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, and Christopher Robin, could also write such adult fare may come as a surprise to many.  But that’s how Milne made his living.  In fact, he was somewhat annoyed by the overwhelming success of his two children’s books, since he was rightly concerned that his reputation as a multi-genre writer would be subsumed by the popularity of the 100 Aker Wood.  For Milne, children’s books were a temporary digression.  While playwriting was clearly nothing to pooh-pooh.

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