Dodie Smith

Biography: Dodie Smith was the daughter of Ernest Smith (who died when she was less than two years old) and of his wife Ella Furber Smith. She took Dodie back to her parents' house in Manchester, England, where Dodie grew up and went to school. As well as the Furber parents, the household contained two of Ella's sisters, three of her brothers, plus servants, and they all doted on Dodie. Ella's brother Harold Furber was an amateur actor who became president of The Athenaeum, a Manchester dramatic society, and by the age of thirteen Dodie was on stage, playing boys' parts as well as girls. After leaving school she trained for an acting career at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (RADA), but (in her own words) she was "too short and not attractive enough" to succeed on the stage, so she gave up acting and took a job at Heal's, a London department store, becoming its toy buyer.

Turning to writing in her twenties, Dodie's first play, Autumn Crocus (1929), was a West End hit in
Dodie Smith was the daughter of Ernest Smith (who died when she was less than two years old) and of his wife Ella Furber Smith. She took Dodie back to her parents' house in Manchester, England, where Dodie grew up and went to school. As well as the Furber parents, the household contained two of Ella's sisters, three of her brothers, plus servants, and they all doted on Dodie. Ella's brother Harold Furber was an amateur actor who became president of The Athenaeum, a Manchester dramatic society, and by the age of thirteen Dodie was on stage, playing boys' parts as well as girls. After leaving school she trained for an acting career at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (RADA), but (in her own words) she was "too short and not attractive enough" to succeed on the stage, so she gave up acting and took a job at Heal's, a London department store, becoming its toy buyer.

Turning to writing in her twenties, Dodie's first play, Autumn Crocus (1929), was a West End hit in 1931 and was filmed as a movie in 1934. A later play, Dear Octopus (1938), turned into a longer-lasting success and is still sometimes revived today.

After several love affairs, Dodie fell for Alec Beesley, a younger man who became her manager, but for the first few years of their relationship they lived in separate London flats and shared a cottage in the country at week-ends. In 1939, with the onset of the Second World War, Dodie and Alec moved to the U.S., chiefly so that Alec, a pacifist, could avoid being conscripted into the British armed services. Dodie became a Hollywood scriptwriter for Paramount Pictures, and she and Alec got married the same year. They became close friends of the writer Christopher Isherwood and acquired a Dalmatian, the first of many. In 1945, Isherwood inscribed a copy of his book 'Prater Violet' to the Beesleys as follows: "For Dodie and Alec, those great philosophers, who have achieved the Truly Organized Life after extraordinary austerities in following the little-known path of Dalmatian Yoga, from their friend and worst disciple, Christopher..."
Even after they were married and living together, Dodie and Alec continued their London lifestyle by keeping separate bedrooms, and did so for the rest of their lives. She believed this was the main reason for their long and happy marriage.

Dodie's book I Capture the Castle (1949) was one of the greatest publishing sensations of its day, selling over one million copies. It is a comic novel about the Mortmains, a genteel but impoverished family living a bohemian life in a tumbledown house leaning against a ruined castle in the middle of nowhere. Cassandra Mortmain, aged seventeen, writes (in the form of a journal) about her glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her beautiful older sister, Rose, and her father, a failed writer, who belongs (in the words of Charles Taylor) to "that odd class of intelligent and cultured people who are also unskilled and unemployable". I Capture the Castle came back into the headlines in 2003 when it was turned into a hit movie starring Romola Garai and Bill Nighy.
Homesick, but reluctant to move because of the British quarantine regulations which would put their Dalmatians into secure kennels for six-months, Dodie and Alec finally came home to England in 1954, and The Hundred and One Dalmatians, for which Dodie is now best remembered, appeared in 1956. It was followed by a sequel, The Starlight Barking. Curiously, the filming of I Capture the Castle happened so late in the day because the movie rights to it had been with Disney for many years, after they abandoned plans to film the book, and Dodie's estate finally got the rights back in exchange for giving Disney permission to make a live-action version of 101 Dalmatians.

Dodie Smith lived to be ninety-four, and in her last few years produced four volumes of autobiography, Look Back with Love, Look Back with Mixed Feelings, Look Back with Astonishment and Look Back with Gratitude. On her death, she appointed the novelist Julian Barnes to be her literary executor. For more about her life, see Dear Dodie, a biography by Valerie Smith.

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Dodie Smith's Scores

  • Movies
Average career score: 49
Highest Metascore: 63 I Capture the Castle
Lowest Metascore: 35 102 Dalmatians
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 1 out of 3
  2. Negative: 1 out of 3
3 movie reviews
Title: Year: Credit: User score:
63 I Capture the Castle Jul 11, 2003 Writer / Writer tbd
35 102 Dalmatians Nov 22, 2000 Novel "The One Hundred And One Dalmatians" 4.9
49 101 Dalmatians Nov 27, 1996 Novel "The One Hundred And One Dalmations" / Novel "The One Hundred And One Dalmations" tbd