Arthur Jeffress spent most of the 1930s based in London, still at 30a Orchard Court. The latter end of the decade finds him residing at Marwell House, Owslebury – near Winchester.
He was still travelling regularly to Italy and America, sometimes in the company John Deakin, then just an aspiring photographer and not yet the terror of Soho bars and clubs that he would become in the 1950s. Even so, it still seems an unlikely alliance.By 1941 Jeffress is in Hollywood – at 1354 Miller Place – but not, as I’m afraid that I had first assumed, because he was running away from the conflict in Europe.
Anecdotes concerning Jeffress and the military are usually no more than a series of lewd references to his predilection for sailors.So it is worth noting that Jeffress’ war service was extensive and involved much danger and bravery. There was also an opportunity for creative expression, one example of which I find both revealing and amusing.
Jeffress volunteered for the American Field Service as an ambulance driver. This was prior to America’s entry into the war and in April 1941 he found himself on the Zamzam, bound for Egypt. The bulk of the passengers were American missionaries heading for Africa. On April the 17th the Zamzam was shelled by the German ship Atlantis (a mistake, apparently). The ship went down, the survivors were captured and a major diplomatic incident ensued. There is a website that tells the tale in some detail ( http://zamzamship.net/ ).
Some of the passengers spent the rest of the war in internment, but Jeffress managed to negotiate his way to freedom and was able to take up his duties and become part of the North Africa campaign.
“Art Jeffress”, seated on the left ,North Africa 1942/43
He became part of the North Africa campaign, rose in rank from second lieutenant to captain, and moved through Egypt into Libya and thence to his beloved Italy, where he was at the forefront of the Allied advance. Though a non-combatant, his was a vital and active role. He also maintained his reputation as a provider of fun by being involved with the AFS entertainment committee. He wrote and directed a musical comedy, for which the cast list survives
The Sixteenth Unit of the AFS presents:
An Original Musical Comedy
Written, Produced and Directed by
Edward Fenton and Arthur Jeffress
Characters in the order of their appearance:
|Telephone Girl||Caleb Mime|
|First Boy||William Wallace|
|Second Boy||Richard Barrett|
|Third Boy||LeMoyne Billings|
|Fourth Boy||Loftus Cuddy|
|Fifth Boy||Harry Blackwell|
|Sixth Boy||Dennis Weaver|
|Mr. Wallace||William Emslie|
|Grafton Cabot Lowell Lodge, III||Vincent Bowditch|
|Benny Benson||Percival Gilbert|
|Marine Major||John Hutchinson|
|Pepe Le Jerko||Howard Weisberg|
|Mother Spanish Fly||Arthur Jeffress|
|Feenamint .||James Atkins|
|Little Fatima||Nicholas Madeira|
|Veronica Shake||Richard Edwards|
|The Six Singing Musette Bags:|
|Peter Brooks||Richard Fallow|
|Newell Jenkins||Grima Johnson|
|Edward Seiber||Peter Van derVliet|
|ACT ONEScene 1. 60 Beaver Street (any day of the year)
Scene 2. On board S. S. PierceACT TWOScene 1. A Street in Cairo
Scene 2. The Parlour. The Establishment of Mother Spanish Fly.Book and Lyrics by Arthur Jeffress and Edward Fenton
Music by all the best Composers
Musical Arrangements by Edw. LeBoutillier and Newell Jenkins
Music Director — Newell Jenkins
Women’s costumes and wig designed and executed by Dana Richmond
Other Costumes and Accessories by Abercrombie & Fitch and Brooks Bros.
Dances arranged by James Atkins
Stage Manager — Lester Collins
Asst. Stage Manager — Carleton Richmond
Sets & Stage Properties planned & executed by Eccleston Johnston
Posters by Arthur Moffatt
Publicity & Prompting — Holbrooke Davis Synopsis of Musical Numbers Act 1. Scene 1.1. The Saga of Benny…..Benny & Ensemble
2. Buckle Down, Field Service. Grafton & “Act 1. Scene 2.3. Friendship…..Grafton & Benny
4. Tuckerman Forbid …..Six Musette Bags
5. Bored, Bothered & Bewildered…..Guitarist & Boys
6. Drink It Down…..EnsembleAct 2. Scene 2.
7. Everything I’ve Got…..Mother Span. Fly
The Management wishes to express its gratitude to Mrs. Vaering for the kind loan of valuable properties.
The choice of the soubriquet “Mother Spanish Fly” and the unmistakeably “camp” ambience 0f the piece serve as testimony to Jeffress’ humour and overall character. I doubt that the play aspired to anything that could be called Art – but a certain wit and erudition pervades even the playbill – and no doubt the play as well.
Edward Fenton is probably this chap, whose obituary appeared in the New York Times,1996 –
“Edward Fenton, whose books for young readers included “The Refugee Summer” and “The Phantom of Walkaway Hill,” died on Dec. 24 in Athens. He was 78 and had homes in Athens and in Galaxeidion in Greece.Mr. Fenton was born in New York City and attended Amherst College in Massachusetts. From 1951 to 1955 he was a curator in the prints department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He moved to Greece in 1963 after marrying Sophia Harvati, a Greek teacher and child psychologist. Initially Mr. Fenton wrote poetry, short stories and novels for adults. His adult works include the novel “The Double Darkness” (1947), a thriller set in Greece, and “She Waits” (1974). But the bulk of his work was written for children, beginning with “Us and the Duchess” (1947), about a lost English setter that takes over the life of a family in New York.”
Whether Jeffress met up with any of the old Chelsea set during the War, I can’t say. Eddie Gathorne-Hardy was in Egypt at the time and Jocelyn Brooke served in the medical corps in North Africa and Italy, so it is a possibility. If they did, the picture of these veterans of the Blue Lantern, swapping tales of former friends (perhaps including Elvira) over a gin and tonic or ten, while the war raged around them, is one I find quite alluring.
Because the AFS largely recruited from a pool of wealthy and very educated young American men, the wartime diaries and reminiscences are extensive and accomplished. They are often illustrated with drawings, photographs and poetry and are well worth a look (see http://www.ourstory.info/library/4-ww2/AFSletters/lettersTC.html ) . Tuckerman Forbid is mentioned a few times – as a ” risque musical extravaganza” and “A witty travesty”. Arthur would have been pleased.