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  • Shaw’s Children
  • Dan H. Laurence (bio)

You will say G.B.S. never had any children. True . . . but he appropriated everyone else's. Like the Pied Piper, he attracted them to him wherever he went. When he visited H. G. Wells at Sandgate, Wells's sons George ("Gip") and Frank took him in hand as a playmate in a new sort of croquet devised by their father, and in the evening enticed him into crawling over the parlor carpet, reconstructing with colorful lead soldiers the battle of Waterloo and exploring Wells's book of games, Little Wars. Later, when the boys enrolled at Oundle school, they contrived to schedule Arms and the Man and to play leads in it. Shaw was in the audience to applaud them.1 At Sydney Olivier's country house, when his children and friends staged The Admirable Bashville, Shaw was there too, graciously serving out advice, and teaching H. G. Wells's variant croquet to the guests.2

Shaw invariably accepted invitations from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to attend rehearsals of student productions of his plays, offering helpful notes. For the performers, it was a theater experience never to be forgotten—except in one instance, a twenty-year-old Charles Laughton refusing to accept Shaw's direction of the role of Henry Higgins. "Young man," Shaw snapped after the performance, "what-ever your name is, you were horrible as my Higgins. To you the play does not exist except as a personal stepping stone." Later Shaw would concede that Laughton was a born comedian, but he would never in his long lifetime permit Laughton to be cast in another of his plays.3

Oneof Shaw's most frequent dinner visits was not to his longtime and closest friend and colleague, William Archer, but to Archer's imaginative young son Tom (known to all as Tomarcher), who waited anxiously for the meal's end, when he would steer Shaw up the attic stairs to enter a mystic land that Tom identified as Piona. Except for Tom's father, Shaw alone was welcome to this private world. Tom's death in World War I devastated Shaw, according to Archer's niece Nancy, when interviewed telephonically in Australia.4 By good fortune for a Shavian scholar, many of Shaw's contemporaries were long-lived, including his three principal secretaries: Georgina [Gillmore] [End Page 22] Musters (1885–1974), Ann [Elder] Jackson (1890–1992), Blanche Patch (1879–1966), and all had extraordinarily good memories. Ann Elder, by chance, was present in Shaw's Adelphi Terrace flat in London when news came, in turn, of the deaths, of Tom Archer, of Carlos Blacker's son "Pip," and of Mrs. Patrick Campbell's son Alan ("Beo"). Shaw had been inordinately fond of all three, but with Pip's death coming so soon after Tom's one cannot possibly conceive the degree of pain felt by a man who had trained himself all his life to be prepared when the casualties hit home.5

Closest to Shaw on the distaff side was his teenage cousin Judy Gillmore, who resided with Shaw's mother in Fitzroy Square until his marriage, and was considered his adoptive daughter. He acquired a bicycle for her for attending school when she arrived from Ireland, then arranged to meet her after classes when he could, and they would ride home through the parks. He sent her to study shorthand and appointed her his secretary, taking her on many of his domestic auto trips along with Granville-Barker, the Webbs, and Shaw's wife, Charlotte.

There was no end to Shaw's affections where youngsters were concerned. The tiniest tots clung to him, seeking to play. Although he loathed getting soap on his face and beard, he patiently blew bubbles and pursued a rubber ball for Ellen Pollock's infant, Michael Hancock, on the sloping lawn of the Malvern Festival.6 When he met Sasha Kropotkin, whose anarchist father he had come to call on, Shaw allowed her to wheedle him into holding her Easter eggs as she decorated them. When she matured and married, she persuaded Shaw to authorize her on behalf of her husband to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 22-26
Launched on MUSE
2005-09-15
Open Access
No
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