Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

ErN 2, entry Mar 2008
completely rewritten in March 2022 

I Dreamt that I Dwelt in Marble Halls  and  (2) the strange case of The Bohemian Girl

contains audio                             

I didn't set out to do this; it just dropped into my lap. I was not searching for evidence that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Naples or anything like that. (They are still all over the place.) I was merely idling my search engine on St. Patrick's Day and came across a list of Irish flautist James Galway's Five Favorites for the Day. My eye ran down the list —with me struggling to keep up— and saw the song "I dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls." Hah, I thought, I know that song!—or at least used to. I had stored it many years ago way back on a dusty memory shelf reserved for sentimental 19th-century songs on the order of Believe Me, if all those endearing young charms and Drink to me only with thine eyes. But I had really known nothing about the song, itself. I clicked on the link and heard a lovely rendition by Irish singer, Enya. (Audio link, below.)

(So far, nothing, but then the chain of pseudo-connectivity for which I hope to become infamous started to link together like all those bits and pieces of liquid metal that make up bad-guy cyborg, Robert Patrick, in Terminator 2.)

(Rewrite starts here)
When I first started to work this item up (14 years ago!) I had heard of the song and I knew about where Bohemia was or at least used to be. It is in the modern-day Czech Republic, the capital of which is Prague. I was happy to see that the song was from a well-known opera, light-hearted, so lets says 'operetta' or 'light opera'. I wrote then:

"I dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls" is an aria from the opera The Bohemian Girl composed in 1844 by Irish composer Michael William Balfe (1808-1870). (Lyrics/libretto by Alfred Bunn, 1796-1860.) Balfe was a prolific composer, writing the music for over 20 operas. The Bohemian Girl is the one work he is remembered for; it has been translated into other languages and is loosely based on a tale by Cervantes, La Gitanilla. (The Bohemian Girl is also the source of the 1936 Laurel & Hardy film of that name. Image film poster, insert, top, of which more, below.)        

Link to an an audio segment performed by Enya.

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches too great to count,
Could boast of a high ancestral name;
But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
That you lov'd me still the same...

(Bunn, the lyricist, was an English theatrical manager. In his successful career he ran both Drury Lane and Covent Gardens. He had a knack for lyrics, as well, and his lyrics here are skillful.) Balfe  (rhymes with "Ralph") travelled widely and worked in Italy and France. In the late 1820s, he went to Paris, where he met Rossini, who by that time in his life had moved to France. Now —link, link, link— Balfe also had a pleasant baritone voice and a modest career on the operatic stage. Somehow —maybe he and Rossini went out drinking together— Balfe wound up singing the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville, presented at the Italian Opera in Paris in 1827. The Barber of Seville, of course, was composed by Rossini in 1816 in Naples. Everything is related to Naples. I rest my case!"

                    If you just dropped in to this entry at this point, it helps to read the top half of this page first.

entry 2 added Match 19, 2022 and rewritten on March 30

The Strange Case of The Bohemian Girl
   I was happy to find the movie poster (displayed at the top of this page). It made everything seem simple. Had
the poster, saw Stan and Ollie and saw the little blonde girl on the poster. She was obviously "the Bohemian Girl",
so... wait, there's a note here about the star of the film (after Stan and Ollie), Thelma Todd, dying, possibly murdered, during filming and.... And what.... so this little blonde kid, the Bohemian Girl... is Thelma Todd and she
gets killed while they're shooting the film? Wait a minute ... something's not right. In fact, most of it is wrong.

   I should have paid closer attention to the film poster and to similar ones, such as this one (image, right). First, Hal Roach, producer. That one I knew. Look at the rest. "90 Mad, Merry, Musical Moments." OK, a comedy, even though the original was not. In the film, the opening credits say "A Comedy Version of The Bohemian Girl. Opera by Balfe." Fine. Roach wanted a comedy and used the most reliable money-making comedy duo in the world, Laurel and Hardy. Check further down the credits, Antonio Moreno, Jacquelyn Wells... Who's that? She is 'The Bohemian Girl', the woman who sings I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls almost at the end of the film.
(Further research reveals that Wells, herself, was dubbed by Rosina Lawrence. Both women were part of the stock Hal Roach stable, always on-call. Roach was the most successful producer of film comedies in the 1930s and 40s.

The opening credits of the film, after L & H, are, in order: Thelma Todd, Antonio Moreno, Darla Hood (a child actress in part 1 of the film, who then becomes Jacqueline Wells 12 years later in order to sing "I Dreamt..." in part 2), Mae Busch, William Carleton, James Finlayson.  I don't see an obvious "pecking order" in the list other than importance in this film. I recognized Finlayson because he's in every Laurel and Hardy film I have ever seen. The entire cast are Hal Roach regulars. So who is Thelma Todd? (She was warmly called "Hot Toddy" by colleagues!) She was best known for her comedic roles from 1926 -1935 with the likes of the Marx Bros., Charley Chase, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, and Laurel & Hardy. She is in the film and is possibly listed first because of the notoriety and mystery attached to her death.
Todd died on 16 December 1935 at age 29. She was found in the garage of her home, poisoned by the fumes of her own car. That's either suicide or murder or accidental death from CO poisoning. They didn't know then and they still don't. The coroner left it there no bruises, so no violence, but no suicide note, and she wasn't depressed, so maybe she just got cold and curled up for a snooze in her car. Stan Laurel later received a Christmas present Todd had sent him. A jury issued a verdict of suicide, but many skeptics remain. Three films starring Todd were released after her death. In The Bohemian Girl, she was the Gypsy Queen, a solid role, which included her singing. All of her scenes were re-shot. One scene of Todd's was kept in as a tribute: a musical number where she sings "Heart of a Gypsy" (not in the original Balfe opera) by Nathaniel Shilkert and Robert Shayon. Other credits of interest: Stan Laurel is credited as co-producer (with Hal Roach) on this film and many other L&H films; both Stan and Oliver, as well as Todd are listed as writers.

The Bohemian Girl child-star, Darla Hood, with
Stan and Ollie on the set.
Public taste changes and Hal Roach (1892-1992!) knew how to keep up. It's not a sentimental business and when he saw the Laurel & Hardy were through (1945-50) he kept them under contract but stopped making L&H comedies (after first cutting their films into bite-sized 15-minute  pieces for later TV releases (for which L&H were not paid). The only stupid thing Hal Roach did in the film business was try to bust up the team of Laurel and Hardy! They were under separate contracts (which Stan Laurel did not like) so Roach could do with them individually what he liked. He teamed Oliver with Harry Langdon (clearly thinking of a new team) in 1939 for a film called Zenobia. It was a flop, a total disaster. Stan Laurel was the businessman of Laurel and Hardy and a shrewd one. I can't imagine there was any love lost been Stan Laurel and Hal Roach.

So, all this happened in 1936. For a good intro to that year, see The King's Speech, the 2010 British historical drama film about how the future King George VI has to cope with a terrible stammer as Britain prepares for WWII. Along the way you will meet references to every person who made 1936 such a watershed in history, a year like all other years, except they make you sick in different ways, so pay attention. OK, 1936, a few highlights:

Douglas Aircraft starts to make the DC-3 (aka C-47). Pilots say, "pound for pound the best plane ever built";

Jesse Owens wins 4 Gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Berlin; Gone With The Wind is published;

the Spanish Civil War begins and Francisco Franco is named the Head of State;

the Crystal Palace in London is destroyed in a huge fire;

the British king abdicates and, well, it's messy, but the current queen, Elizabeth II, liked The King's Speech.

    That's about it. The Great Depression? Still going. Wow, is it ever! If you have an average job you make about $1,600 a year. Not a lot, but a gallon of gas is only 10 cents. Your monthly rent is $22, and you can splurge on the movies. A ticket cost 25 cents. What's on? Two words. Shirley Temple. Seven years old and she outgrosses Clark Gable, Fred & Ginger, and Joan Crawford. All together. Comedians are popular because they help you forget you can barely afford that 25 cents (5 bucks today) to see what Laurel and Hardy are up to. As noted, they were on a roll for Max Roach that went from the late 1920s into WWII. Always solid box-office. Thus, there should have been nothing remarkable about cranking out the The Bohemian Girl, except that one of the stars died. 

The film, itself, is here. It's good. If you liked "the Boys" (like most of the world) you'll like this one, and hear the song that highlights the whole operetta (at 47 min into the running time of 1 hr 9 min: "I Dreamt that I Dwelt in Marble Halls". It's what Jacquelyn Wells looks like she's singing in this screen-grab. (She, too, as noted, was dubbed.) (Spoiler: Oliver Hardy is on the left.)
I don't know if movies are magic, but they sure are complicated.

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