The Fille Files (2: Nadia Nerina)

For this second installment of our series on La Fille Mal Gardée, the ballet with a spanking scene, we go back to the beginning. The first dancer to take the role of Lise in the Frederick Ashton choreography was Nadia Nerina: Ashton devised the part specifically for her.

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The ballet had its premiere on January 28, 1960, and the following year Nerina took it on a tour of Soviet Russia, with performances in Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg). Remembering these performances a decade and a half later, Natalya Roslaveva enthused that Ashton could not have achieved his masterpiece ‘without the brilliance of Nerina’s special talent’. It remained the role most associated with her. When she retired at the beginning of 1969, the Sunday Times ballet critic Richard Buckle wrote in tribute, ‘To have seen her mime and dance Lise is to have realized what joy ballet can give.’

nadia_nerina_la_boutique_fantastique Nerina & Nuryev

Nadia Nerina was a South African whose real name was Nadine Judd. (In creating her stage name, she Russianized her own first name and took her mother’s as a surname.) Ashton had spotted her talent early and began choreographing new roles for her, starting with the Spring Fairy in his Cinderella (1948). In the 1954 production of Coppélia, with Ashton himself as Dr Coppélius, she gave a standout performance as Swanilda, a part often thought similar to Lise, though not, as we shall see, by Nerina herself. And then, in the autumn of 1959, Ashton decided to do a new adaptation of La Fille Mal Gardée, and history was made.

The ballet took only six weeks to create, in a close collaboration between Ashton and his principal dancers. But there was one significant change during the rehearsal period. Ashton’s original casting for the role of Widow Simone was Robert Helpmann, whom we have already met spanking Katharine Hepburn in a 1955 production of The Taming of the Shrew. But Helpmann didn’t care for the role, and withdrew from the project: ‘It’s not really me,’ he said. ‘All I do is scold my daughter.’ So Ashton turned to a much younger dancer: Stanley Holden, nineteen years Helpmann’s junior and a man who could be relied upon not to ‘camp it up’.

For Nerina, the only misstep during rehearsals had to do with costume design: Osbert Lancaster originally presented her with stiff dresses colored in brilliant reds and greens, the type of costume often associated with Swanilda in Coppélia:


The designs brought Nerina to tears: ‘I felt I could not interpret the character of Lise in these very sharp colours – she should wear pastel shades, soft blues and pinks.’ So she sketched her own ideas for Lancaster to follow. And that means it’s probably because of Nerina that Lise is usually a white panty girl!

Ashton’s initial conception of Lise was very straightforward: at the first rehearsal, he told Nerina simply, ‘She’s a pretty village girl.’ After dancing her for years, Nerina herself had a very clear and precise understanding of the character:

‘I always thought of Lise as a girl with a distinct personality. She is most endearing, with a delicious and inventive sense of humour; she is immensely fond of her mother, but slightly independent; she is young, and perhaps child-like, yet there is an innate maturity and good sense about her. In her famous mime scene she dreams of the joy of having children and understands what marriage will mean. But her character is quite unlike Swanilda in Coppélia: she, too, has a sense of fun, but she is forward, mischievous, naughty, and although she has a brittle charm, she is heartless in her teasing of Dr Coppélius – she needs a good spanking. Lise is gentle in her fun, in a very feminine way. If you listen to the music for Fille, Lise’s melodies are just like her: light, lyrical, warm, tender.’

Not everyone would agree with this. For a start, as I’ve already mentioned, Lise and Swanilda are often thought to be very similar characters – and if Swanilda needs a good spanking, then so does Lise. The subject is directly addressed in this modern review by Rob Maynard:

‘There is some surprisingly effective acting going on, as well as the dancing. Nadia Nerina is very adept at conveying convincing emotions. Her interpretation of Lise – less sugary-sweet and more of a rather naughty, spoiled brat who’s deservedly spanked on several occasions during the course of the story – is a very compelling one.’

And the quality of the acting performance was central to her, and the ballet’s, enormous success. Writing in 1961, the Leningrad critic Vera Krasovskaya commented,

‘Her coquetry is so artlessly naive, her joy and sorrows so open-hearted. It looks as if the pranks of Lise-Nerina are born on the spot, and that the sun smiles through a cloud when Lise, who had just been spanked by her mother, plots new mischief, smiling through her tears.’

(Despite the English translation, I think this must actually refer to the smacking rather than the spanking.)

With this at the forefront, it is now worth addressing the delicate question of maturity: not Nerina’s technical maturity as a dancer, which the role requires, but her physical maturity as a woman. When she first danced the role of Lise she was 32 years old, already nearly two-thirds of the way through her 23-year career, and had herself been married since 1955; at the time of the surviving recording, from the end of 1962, she was 35.

‘The choreography demands that Lise should be very young,’ noted Ballet Today in 1963; ‘at times her mother even spanks her, as if she were a small child.’ (To which it is worth adding that the story demands that Lise is old enough to marry.) But nevertheless the role is often given to a younger principal dancer: the alternate Lise in the 1960 production, who danced (and was spanked) in the second performance and later took the role into the Royal Ballet touring company, was Doreen Wells, who was ten years younger than Nerina.

Doreen Wells

In contrast, Nerina was actually three months older than Stanley Holden, playing her mother. In the theater, that doesn’t matter: there have been productions of The Seagull where the actor playing Konstantin was older than Arkadina, his mother, just as there have been productions of Romeo and Juliet where, offstage, Romeo was much more interested in getting off with Mercutio than with Juliet, but skilled acting performances make such realities irrelevant. On the stage, Nerina’s Lise was young and coquettish, whatever her own age and personality off it. But it is something we need to bear in mind when we look at the surviving visual record of her performance: theater acting is seen at long range, but photography and television often work in close-up, and the camera’s eye may be less forgiving than a pair of opera glasses.

In January 1960, during the rehearsal period, Life magazine sent its photographer Gjon Mili to shoot a spread about the new Ashton ballet. What he shot was a staged selection of scenes rather than a full performance, so his pictures tell us what Ashton and his cast thought was important, rather than necessarily what happened in performance a few weeks later. And the first thing they tell us is easily overlooked. Mili took just 31 shots during the session, and two of them were of the spanking scene. This was evidently deemed to be a significant feature of the ballet, alongside the chickens, the ribbon dance, the pas de deux and the clog dance – not something to be ignored in apparent embarrassment as it is today by some ballet companies and their publicists.

Now let’s look at the two photographs themselves.

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Several things emerge from them. Firstly, Lise is actually being spanked. Simone’s hand is in motion. Lise is reacting: we can see her open-mouthed shock in the first photo, and her pained expression in the second. The ‘saved by the bell’ interpretation, where Simone aborts the spanking before the first smack lands, was not the original conception of the scene.

Secondly, Farmer Thomas and Alain are already there in the background, unbeknown to either Simone or Lise. They aren’t just there as a get-out clause to save the ballerina’s bottom: part of the core of Ashton’s idea is the embarrassment, for all concerned, of having the spanking witnessed.

We can get a fuller appreciation of the ballet in its early state from watching the surviving recording, which was broadcast by the BBC on December 27, 1962, and is now available on DVD. This features the original cast, including Nerina and Holden; but it is not just a film of what happened one night onstage at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Ashton and the cast worked with the director, former dancer Margaret Dale, to completely reimagine the performance for the medium of television, in the spirit of the theatrical original, and the performance was then broadcast live from Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Thankfully the BBC’s engineers had the good sense to make a recording as it went out, so we can now enjoy the whole performance, even though what was state of the art in 1962 is a very low definition picture by modern standards.

But of course, for our particular purposes we’re going to look at the two scenes that most interest us, starting with the smacking. It is striking how unlike most later interpretations this is. We’re used to seeing Lise react to each slap on her bottom by springing into the air, but Nerina and Holden do something rather different. Simone smacks her bottom once, and she jumps, but forwards rather than up. Her mother pulls her back, bends her forward, holding her by the shoulder, smacks her again, and she jumps again. And then the sequence is repeated for a third smack.

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This is a lot more precisely defined than the business later became. It is, in fact, a smacking that is already well on the way to achieving the formality and repetition of a spanking.

Now we turn to the spanking itself, which in this version lacks some of the exciting elaborations that would later be introduced to the buildup, but makes up for that in its complete clarity about the logic of the sequence of events, the way Lise’s every action closes the trap on her in ever more specific terms.

From the first it is explicitly established what is at risk. Lise has been set to churn the butter, and when her friends come to ask her to play, she does the ‘spanking mime’ also seen in the 2014 St Petersburg production, though often omitted by other Lises. She is telling them, ‘I can’t dance with you, my mother is in there and if she catches me slacking, she’ll spank me.’

In Nerina’s performance, the operative word is spank. Whereas in 2014 the Russian girls gave a series of little smacks to the side of their hips, the closest they could get to their bottoms whilst remaining seated, Nerina’s Lise sits as if she is her mother and spanks her invisible self across her own lap:

1962 Nerina 006

She knows that, if she leaves her task, she won’t get just a smack – it will be a full-scale OTK spanking. When her friends pull her from her work, she’s clearly reluctant and yet also unhappy not to be free to play because she’s desperately bored by the butter churning. And then she gets caught up in the gaiety of their dancing, and her fate is sealed…

Let’s re-emphasize it: Lise knows that getting caught will mean getting spanked. Now look at her face when she does get caught:

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Simone tries to pull her indoors, a moment whose significance won’t become clear until later. But she breaks away, only to get caught again:

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And as Simone shoos the friends out of the yard, she approaches the camera and we see the face of a girl who knows she’s doomed:

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One last effort to get away… but now her mother has her by the skirt.

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I mentioned before that, in this version, the buildup sequence is a lot briefer and simpler than it later became, as successive performances learned how to milk the situation for its tense anticipation and undignified comedy. Another reason is that Stanley Holden’s Simone is physically slighter than some of his successors: mother and daughter are about the same height as one another, so it’s understandable that Holden makes no attempt to carry Lise bodily over to the seat.

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For a moment, it almost looks as if she might be about to get away with just another smacking. But no, the one certainty through this whole sequence is that Lise is going to be spanked. There is one change of plan, though.

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Simone walks her backwards on pointe – away from the door to the house. Lise’s escape attempts and the widow’s physical limitations mean that the spanking won’t now happen behind closed doors – it will have to be done out here in the yard. And so, as the music builds up to a climax…

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… Simone whisks her daughter’s skirts out of the way…

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… and Lise gets what she’s been so desperately trying to avoid:

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A good spanking!

Now here’s a question: would Lise have been better off letting herself be taken indoors to be spanked? Leaving aside Simone’s additional exasperation because of the escape attempts, the fact that the spanking is now administered outside in the yard means that this can happen:

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For Lise, it’s a ‘swings and roundabouts’ situation: the spanking ends prematurely – but it is also seen by the neighbors. The cost of her hopeless attempt to avoid being spanked at all has been additional humiliation, but at least she only got three smacks before she is released, clearly pained and mortified…

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As the scene is played, there is no doubt that Farmer Thomas has seen what he has seen, and what follows is a polite, embarrassed pretence that it just didn’t happen. Simone is good at this social game, whereas Lise’s rueful look shows she is less so:

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But at least she can sit down – which wouldn’t have been the case if she had been taken inside and got the full-length spanking in private!

It’s a real privilege to be able to see and appreciate the attention to detail in this, the original version of Ashton’s great ballet. But the 1962 recording was not the only time Fille was broadcast. Regrettably the next one, from 1979 with Karen Kain in the National Ballet of Canada production, is not at present available, though presumably the television company has it in their archives, and a VHS recording is known to be in private hands. But subsequent broadcasts featuring Lesley Collier (Royal Ballet, 1981), Fiona Tonkin (Australian Ballet, 1989) and Marianela Nuñez (Royal Ballet, 2005) are all available on DVD. More recently, Roberta Marquez was filmed for live transmission to cinemas in 2012, and on May 5 this year there will be a similar broadcast featuring Natalia Osipova. Some of these productions will feature in future installments of this series.

In the Photographer’s Studio (37)

Today’s photographer is Marc Dubord, who is based in Lille, France, and whose portfolio shows a man with a keen appreciation of the feminine form, especially from behind. He specializes in digitally manipulating photos, including what he calls ‘viellisement’, retouching them to create an antique ‘deteriorated’ look. I find this produces a rather melancholy ambience, though he does say his work never takes itself seriously. I dare say some will like the faux-Edwardian quality of this spanking shot featuring the models Rita and Sarah.

Marc Dubord rita_et_sarah_1_by_mcdbrd-d4ql3zl

If you are interested in Marc Dubord’s work, please visit his website.

Spank the Mostess

Back in November 2005, the Sydney-based advertising agency Lowe Hunt launched a new campaign for the men’s deodorant Lynx. The concept: a fantasy airline with its own distinctive brand of service. Lynx Jet didn’t have air hostesses, but air mostesses, with the kind of uniform that launched a thousand fantasies:

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And the in-flight entertainment was original, too. You could watch the mostesses having a pillow fight:

lynx jet pillow

Or hula-hooping:


Oh, and also…


Two of the above featured in the airline’s first television commercial:

And to give it all that extra edge of authenticity, there was an online booking system, through which it was impossible to get a ticket – if you tried, the flights were all booked out! There was even, perhaps a little less tastefully, a mock recruitment drive for would-be mostesses on jobseekers’ websites.

The campaign attracted predictable controversy (well, it was ‘sexist’, after all), and when the agency arranged to have one of Jetstar’s fleet of planes painted in yellow Lynxjet colors, the female cabin crew threatened to walk out … whereupon Jetstar canceled the deal!

But sales of Lynx jumped sky high, and in 2006 the campaign won an award at Cannes.

No plane? No problem!

Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening, a study of emergent adolescent sexuality and a critique of sexual repression and ignorance, was the first play to be written by the German dramatist Frank Wedekind (1864-1918).


He described it as a kinderstragödie (tragedy of children), so let’s not have any illusions about its tone. The character who most interests us, Wendla Bergmann, is eventually raped by her boyfriend Melchior and becomes pregnant. This comes as a great surprise to her because, although she no longer believes that babies are brought by the stork, her mother has recently explained to her that conception is only biologically possible within marriage and when the woman truly loves her husband. She later dies after a botched attempt at an abortion, and Melchior ends up in prison. But before all that, Wendla has a little sexual experimentation of her own, and of an unconventional kind that will interest us.

Before we think about this, there’s one thing we need to establish straight away. The German language doesn’t have the same clear distinction that English does between ‘spanking’ and ‘beating’: the words available to German authors comprehend both senses within their lexical range. So, faced with Wedekind’s use of the word schlägen, the play’s translators have to decide between two English words with slightly different connotations. Generally they opt for ‘beating’, but I’m going to refer to ‘spanking’ where appropriate: I’d argue that it’s just as relevant, if not more so, because the play’s interest lies on the boundary between childhood and sexual maturity.

It is established in the first scene that Wendla is exactly on this borderline: she has just reached the age where she needs to start wearing long skirts, though she succeeds in persuading her mother to let her continue with the short skirt for a few months more. In her next scene, however, we see definite signs of her sexual awakening as she chats with her school friends. She is especially interested in the fact that Martha is regularly spanked at home, and there’s a peculiar persistence with one rather specific question: she wants to know what implement Martha’s parents spank her with. We leave the scene with the strong impression that Wendla is a teenager who is uncommonly interested in spanking in all its details.

And we’re right, of course: Wendla later acknowledges it during a meeting with Melchior in the woods. She maneuvers the conversation round to the fact that Martha gets spanked almost every day, often very severely. This fascinates her, because she herself has never been spanked in her life. She really wants to know what it feels like, and has even tried spanking herself by way of experiment. So, she asks, would Melchior be able to oblige? She even pulls a switch from one of the trees for him to use…

As with Le Médecin Malgré Lui, much depends on precisely how the scene is staged from production to production: sometimes Wendla gets an indiscriminate beating, sometimes one more precisely targeted on her bottom; sometimes she is standing erect, sometimes lying prone on the stage, sometimes kneeling down or bending over. In general, as we’ll see from the selection of performances below, it is a scene that is more likely to appeal to those who like caning…

02 Spring Awakening 2014

… but I believe that the sexual psychology would come across most clearly to a modern audience if it were done as a proper spanking across Melchior’s knee.

I hope that’s not just me imposing my own preferences on the play. What the scene has to do is take Wendla all the way through the different shades of meaning in the word schlägen, from nursery punishment to sex play to brutal thrashing. But to most modern eyes a caning already looks brutal, and the challenge to the actors is to make the connection with the less extreme end of the spectrum. But the scene is going in the opposite direction: it’s about how Wendla’s fascination with the way other children are punished has turned sexual, so in English-language terms, it starts with spanking and graduates to beating at the end when Melchior loses control of himself.

It begins with a very gentle swipe from Melchior, whose lack of enthusiasm often draws a laugh from the audience. She complains she can’t feel it, and he’s not surprised because her dress is in the way, absorbing the impact. In Wedekind’s script, she suggests that he should whack her on the legs instead – for she is still wearing the child’s short skirt she was allowed to keep in the first scene. But some productions have her lift her skirt out of the way to take the next strokes across the seat of her bloomers:

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(University of Maryland, 2014, with Megan Morse Jans and Zac Brightbill)

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(Olney Theatre Center, Maryland, 2013, with Alyse Alan Louis and Matthew Kacergis)

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(Theatre 360, Pasadena, 2013, with Cristian Guerrero and Sarah Colt)

Also see here for a video (not on Youtube) of a 2009-10 Czech production which takes a similar approach.

She says she still can’t feel it, and pleads with him to hit harder. But pleading makes him lose his temper, and she gets more than she bargained for…

Wedekind wrote the play in the six months between October 1890 and Easter 1891. He later explained,

‘I began writing without any plan, intending to write what gave me pleasure. The plan came into being after the third scene and consisted of my own experiences or those of my school fellows. Almost every scene corresponds to an actual incident.’

Which means that there must have been a real girl who got a whacking in the woods!

The play was published by a Swiss vanity press at the author’s own expense, and for nearly ten years, says Wedekind, it ‘was generally regarded as unheard-of filth’. It was eventually staged in 1906, in a production directed by Max Reinhardt at his Berlin studio theater, the Kammerspiele, with Wedekind himself in the cast as the masked man who reveals cryptic truths to the characters at the end. It was a phenomenal success, running for a total of 321 performances before it was banned in 1908, but the actress who first played the role of Wendla, the sailor-suited Camilla Eibenschutz…

07 Spring Awakening Camilla Eibenschuetz

… had only her virtue to worry about, not her bottom: the ‘beating’ was one of the many episodes that were cut to satisfy the censor.

Further productions followed, in St Petersburg in 1907 and, in 1917, in New York, where the play was banned by the Supreme Court after just a single matinee. There were a couple of private performances at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1963, but Kenneth Tynan’s efforts to get it staged by the National Theatre, which involved much negotiation with the Lord Chamberlain (including over the ‘beating’ scene), came to nothing when the company’s own board intervened to ban it. After Britain abolished theater censorship in 1968, however, the play made its way back to the short-list, and in 1974 it was finally produced by the National in a version by Edward Bond, starring Peter Firth as Melchior and 18-year-old Irish actress Veronica Quilligan as Wendla. Here they are:

07a Spring Awakening Quilligan and Firth

Veronica was the first Wendla who is known to have actually got the ‘beating’, at least in the English-speaking world, though we don’t know whether Peter targeted his stick anywhere interesting.

Since then, the play has gone on to be acknowledged as a classic. Britain’s other national subsidized theater, the Royal Shakespeare Company, produced it in 1995 with a teenage cast, and it is now staged by universities and even high schools across Europe and America. Now we’re going to look at some recent examples, including one by a director who seems to agree with me about what sort of schlägen it should be.

In Pforzheim, 2010:

A  2013 student production by the Black Tie Theatre Company, with Tim Wagner as Melchior and Allison Andreas as Wendla:

A production at Stuttgart in 2014:

And a student production at Sarajevo, played as an OTK spanking. The camera movement is a bit slow, but thankfully it gets there before it’s too late:

More like this, please!

In 2006, the play was made into a rock musical, which won a Tony Award the following year. In some respects, Stephen Sater’s book sanitizes the play: in particular, Wendla is not raped, a change that was perhaps not made primarily for the benefit of the small minority of morons in America who believe that rape cannot result in pregnancy. But the ‘beating scene’ is extended with pertinent dialogue in which Wendla tells how she dreams of being a naughty little girl, how she envies Martha her beatings and describes more specifically how it happens to Martha: with a strap. Here are some examples of this version.

The original 2006 off-Broadway production with Lea Michele as Wendla:

The 2011 production by Cultural Arts Playhouse with Ashley Nicastro as Wendla:

A 2012 performance with Avigail Tlalim as Wendla:

A 2012 production at Orlando, Florida, with Eliza Solomon as an especially cute Wendla:

A 2014 production in which McKenna Poe plays Wendla with what sounds like a great deal of padding in the seat of her bloomers:

A 2014 showreel performance by Nina Attinello:

And a brief flash in the trailer for an Italian version:

In 2007, quite separately from the musical, Spring Awakening was also adapted as an opera by the Belgian composer Benoit Mernier. Here’s the relevant scene:

It won’t appeal to all tastes, not least because the beating is staged in a wholly stylized manner, with Melchior and Wendla on different sides of the stage. But what’s noteworthy about it is the fact that, when she wants Melchior to hit harder, Wendla pulls down her own pantyhose. Yes, she’s wearing pantyhose, not bloomers and stockings. Check it out from around 9 minutes 20 seconds: she  winds up with them shackling her ankles together. As you may already have noticed, European stagings are often not very interested in period authenticity!

The ‘beating scene’ is  now one of the things Spring Awakening  is famous for. In June 2014, Cornelia Bernoulli and Bruno Hertzendorfer staged a two-handed show, Frank Wedekind und die Frauen (… and the Women), that was publicized in the press using this image:

08 Cornelia Bernoulli

But Bernoulli’s show should remind us that there is more to Wedekind than just Spring Awakening. So we mustn’t leave him before noting that he went on to write two more famous and controversial plays, Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora’s Box (1904), both about a promiscuous dancer named Lulu. Neither of them includes a spanking scene. They inspired the 1929 silent film, Pandora’s Box, starring Louise Brooks. It does not include a spanking scene. They also inspired Alban Berg’s 1937 opera Lulu. It too does not include a spanking scene. But when it was produced by the English National Opera in 2002… guess what? The title role is taken by the diminutive soprano Lisa Saffer…

09 lisa SafferLisa Saffer as Lulu, in 'Lulu', with the English National Opera directed by Richard Jones, conducted by Paul Daniel.  Coliseum,  London, 18 April 2005.Lulu - Opera by Alban Berg, with Lisa Saffer. English National Opera at the Coliseum, London.

… and though the period setting was updated to the 1960s, the first scene saw the stage mysteriously covered with stuffed jungle animals. Lulu tempts a painter (Richard Coxon) away from his easel for a quickie on a crocodile…

Lulu - Opera by Alban Berg, with Lisa Saffer and Richard Coxon, English National Opera at the Coliseum, London.Lulu - scene from opera by Alban Berg, with Lisa Saffer and Richard Coxon by English National Opera, at the Coliseum, London. Opened 18 April 2005.13 Lulu ENO 2002

… and she also finds herself face down over a tiger getting her bottom smacked:

14 Lulu (Berg) English National Opera 2002 Lisa Saffer as Lulu

And what’s more, Kenneth Tynan also has a little something for us. He was obsessed with Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu, which led him to pay the ageing actress a visit when he was in New York in 1978. The meeting was later dramatized in the play Smoking with Lulu … and, since it is well known that Tynan was also obsessed with spanking, it may not be altogether a surprise to learn that this is a play we shall encounter properly in a future installment of this series.

In the Photographer’s Studio (36)

Call Me Creative Web Design is a Baltimore-based photographic firm that in 2004 used its considerable talents to create an online comic strip entitled Perfection City.

The premise of the series is simple. Perfection City was an ordinary town until, one night, a mysterious comet passed across the sky. It had a strange effect on the women of the city: they became ungovernable villainesses!

The city found an unlikely defender of justice when an everyday masked man living in his mom’s basement found his entire collection of comic books had been stolen. In his quest to get them back, he adopted a secret identity and called himself the Hero ‘until I think of something better’ (but he never did). His encounters with the villainesses are often accidental, but they always end with him dispensing summary justice – which usually means a good spanking!


Full of mock-heroic humor and visual inventiveness, Perfection City ran for 31 episodes, 26 of them featuring no fewer than 30 spankings. It folded in 2008, with several further episodes shot but unedited and unpublished. Call Me Creative continues to shoot new episodes in the hope of an eventual relaunch. May it be soon…

The villainesses were created using talent from the worlds of modeling, female wrestling and cosplay, among others. Let’s meet some of them…

Simply Magic


Simply’s true identity is Kristy Kopperfield, a magician’s assistant who has been fired and who takes her revenge on the world by becoming a mistress of magic in her own right. She’s based visually on the DC comics heroine Zatanna.


To play her, CMC engaged the cosplayer Lindze. Here she is:

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Simply was the villainess in the very first episode of Perfection City, in which she robbed the proceeds of an annual charity benefit for the local hospital. But when the Hero confronted her, she dropped her magic wand in the fight, whereupon…

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Dr Prankster


Patricia Prankster is a top scientist who attempts to take over the city by introducing a mind control drug into the water supply. She is one of a minority of the villainesses who don’t get spanked in their first episodes (her initial comeuppance involved mousetraps), but she did make a comeback…

She’s played by the wrestler Becky Bayless.

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And she later tried to get her revenge on the Hero by lacing his drink with poison. He survived the murder attempt by switching the drinks, and…


No, she didn’t die – she didn’t drink enough. And Becky Bayless returned in two holiday cards from Perfection City to its fans, first for Christmas…


… and then, perhaps less impressively, Valentine’s Day…




She’s played by ‘Penny Dreadful’, who in real life was also the graphic designer who helped to achieve the series’ ‘comic strip’ look.

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And when the Hero catches her trying to rob the toy store…


As you can see, she’s not unduly cowed by spanking; as she explains, her mom did it all the time and it never had any effect on her behavior, only her bottom…

Helena Hypno


Psychiatrist Helena is played by model Liana Diaz.

17 Liana Diaz

The Hero encounters her when he has a crisis of confidence, and she uses hypno-therapy on him. Her evil plan is to connect a mind control device to the city’s news broadcasting system, but when he catches her at it, he discovers that their therapy session included something he didn’t ask for: she has implanted a hypnotic suggestion that makes it impossible for him to hit her. She escapes after a failed spanking attempt, but he does his research, overcomes the fluence and visits her in her office to give her something that’s long overdue…


And so, in a first for Perfection City, she gets spanked with her skirt up, on her white panties! The story ends with her resolving to start coming to work in pantsuits, which means that, in a later episode, her attempted revenge goes better for her, albeit only in one respect:


Nurse Evel


‘Bad attitude and complete lack of people skills’ were Melanie Evel’s fatal weakness at nursing school. But like Dr Prankster, her first encounter with the Hero didn’t end with a spanking: instead she got a syringe full of sleeping drug in her behind. She too had a return engagement…

She is played by Paige, who is better known as a graphic artist, and whose work includes this poster for a 2012 burlesque show:

22 Krampus by Paige Pumphrey

And here she is herself:

23 Paige Pumphrey

Her revenge plot entails summoning the Hero for a medical checkup. The outcome is as expected…


You may have spotted where Paige got the pose for her Krampus spanking toon!

Jordy Ash


Fashionista Jordy is played by Jenn Sparks. Her first encounter with the Hero came about because he was assigned to handle security at the press conference to unveil her new range of clothes. But he discovered her plan to use a ‘nude spray’ that dissolved all fabrics except those used in her own clothes, which would give her control of the fashion market. After a spanking, the Hero used the nude spray on her – whereupon it emerged that she was only wearing one garment made by herself, and she had to give the press conference in her panties.

For her revenge visit, she’s equipped with the ‘wedgie ray’, capable of reducing undergarments to half their original size. In the course of the fight, the weapon is turned against her, before…


Her panties weren’t large beforehand, she helpfully tells us, so we can be sure she’s feeling the Hero’s palm through only one layer!

Daniella Diva


Daniella isn’t a resident of Perfection City but a touring pop princess, so her problem is sheer inherent naughtiness rather than comet influence. The name of the model who plays her was never disclosed, but the character is evidently based on…

29 Britney Spears30 Britney Spears

Britney Spears!

The Hero is assigned to handle the security for her visit, which is a real responsibility in view of some recent kidnapping threats. But Daniella isn’t interested in his precautions: she just wants to go out partying. As expected, she gets abducted, but the Hero rescues her, then puts her in another kind of peril from which there is no rescue…


Hit her, Hero, one more time!

Vikki the Virus


Victoria is majoring in computer science at Perfection University, but by night she’s Vikki the Virus, a hacker who steals from online accounts and has bankrupted companies in the process.

She’s played by model Christy Lenore.

34 Christy Lenore 35 Christy Lenore 36 Christy Lenore OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a chance you might have encountered Christy before – and being spanked. Under her surname alone, she also appeared on the website Bun Beating Fun, in which models with good attitude play the roles of models with bad attitude, and wind up having their bare bottoms very soundly spanked. ‘Lenore’ shows her bad attitude by asking for more money…

39 Lenore

… so naturally she gets something else entirely:

40 Lenore41 Lenore42 Lenore43 Lenore

It’s all a matter of taste, but personally I prefer what she got when she took money without asking, by hacking into the Hero’s account:




And the last of our selection is an evil thespian (a word that, as you can see, somebody couldn’t spell) who’s playing her one-woman version of Hamlet at the Perfection City Theater. All she craves is audience appreciation.

She’s played by a lady who has had a lot of audience appreciation in her own person, the Pennsylvania singer-songwriter and recording artist Tiffany Apan.

46Tiffany Apan47 Tiffany Apan48 Tiffany Apan49 tiffany apan50 tiffany apan

Unfortunately Ophelia is trying to force appreciation on her audience by introducing a mind-altering gas into the theater’s ventilation system. The Hero’s response is to change to a different Shakespeare play…


Yes, he’s another one who doesn’t know there isn’t a spanking scene in The Taming of the Shrew – but who’s complaining?

There – and I haven’t even introduced you to Undercover Connie the reporter, or Kathy Klepto the Mayor’s thieving daughter, or Princess Jasmine the evil royal, or Natasha the spy, or Harley Davis the biker, let alone GI Jodie the army brat and Lady Midnight the evil spellcaster, whose episodes were shot but never published. This post has been compiled using images that were to be found on free online sites (many of them now defunct), but Perfection City itself was a copyrighted paysite, and may be again in the future. So if you have enjoyed what I have been able to show you of it, consider your appetite whetted!

Enjoy Your Movie, You Perverts

Last month, award-winning Utah-based cartoonist Henry N. Smith celebrated the Valentine’s Day release of Fifty Shades of Grey in the way only a cartoonist would… by drawing a cartoon. He wryly called it … well, look up to the heading of this post. Who said Americans have no sense of irony – even in Utah!

And here it is:

Henry Smith 10946560_800964729977906_89769574_n

Maybe I’m not enough of a pervert, because I actually enjoyed that a lot more than the movie. Even if the composition does have a certain coffee-flavored familiarity to it…


If you are interested in Henry Smith’s work, please visit his website.

There Isn’t a Spanking Scene in… The Taming of the Shrew

Our recent exploration of the spanking stage history of Shakespeare deliberately excluded the richest source of material: of all Shakespeare’s plays, and perhaps of all the plays ever written in the history of mankind, none has had an unscripted spanking scene put in more often than The Taming of the Shrew. There is even an academic doctoral dissertation on the subject by Jennifer S. Horn (now a dramaturg for the Tennessee Stage Company), which you can download here if you’re interested in reading it. You will, however, get more hard information and spanking pictures if you carry on reading here…


This post inaugurates two new strands in our ongoing theater series, one dealing with different kinds of Shrew spankings and the other with plays that don’t include spanking scenes as scripted but have sometimes acquired them in production.

The point where directors most often put a spanking into The Shrew is the wooing scene, Act 2, Scene 1, when Petruchio is left alone on stage with Kate. (We’ll leave other options mainly for future installments.) The scene sets itself up nicely with a lot of sexual innuendo:

PETRUCHIO: Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.

KATHARINA: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

PETRUCHIO: My remedy is, then, to pluck it out.

KATHARINA: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.

PETRUCHIO: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.

‘Tail’ here meaning waspish Kate’s bottom – which Petruchio sometimes smacks at this point, giving her another sort of sting in the tail.

KATHARINA: In his tongue.

PETRUCHIO: Whose tongue?

KATHARINA: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.

PETRUCHIO: What, with my tongue in your tail?

‘Tail’ here meaning something a lot ruder than ‘bottom’!

Nay, come again, good Kate; I am a gentleman.

KATHARINA: That I’ll try.

She strikes him

PETRUCHIO: I swear I’ll cuff you, if you strike again.

And that’s the point where seasoned Kiss Me Kate viewers are used to hearing Lilli get threatened with the paddling of her life, and on stage. But even without Fred Graham’s help, the line is a direct threat to slap her, though Petruchio doesn’t specify whether he’ll aim for anywhere in particular!

More banter follows, after which he explains the situation explicitly:

And therefore, setting all this chat aside,
Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry ’greed on,
And, will you, nill you, I will marry you.
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn;
For, by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,
Thy beauty, that doth make me like thee well,
Thou must be married to no man but me;
For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.

During the wooing there are many opportunities for a spanking, and arguably many provocations, but the one most often taken up is towards the end of this  speech at or around ‘I am he am born to tame you’ – just moments before her father returns.

Now we’re going to follow the Shrew spanking backwards through time, a bit like trying to find the source of the Nile by sailing upstream. We’re not just looking at a series of spankings – though naturally we shall see and enjoy some on our way – so much as at successive illustrations of the idea that the play includes a spanking. And of course, we can’t do it comprehensively, so we’ll leap from year to year like stepping stones into the past, until the evidence runs out on us.


Just to orient ourselves, let’s start in very recent history, by revisiting last year’s Independent Shakespeare Company production at Los Angeles, in which Melissa Chalsma’s Kate did this to Luis Galindo’s Petruchio…


… and earned herself this ultra-dynamic spanking:

shrew 2014 4


The Shrew staged by Plaza Theatrical Productions, a touring group based in Lynbrook, New York, was not a major event in the play’s stage history, but it does have the advantage of giving us a bit of incontrovertible video evidence:


This isn’t a significant moment either, but a revealing one. The February issue of the British journal Amateur Stage included an article by the playwright and amdram guru, Albert Jeanes, in which he remarked on the popularity of The Taming of the Shrew among amateur actresses, who would regularly lobby him to select the play as the opening Shakespearean production in a season. The problem with doing so, he explained, was one of casting:

‘In these days of the liberated woman, it says something that so many of them can’t wait to be beaten up on stage, and after having been duly tamed, deliver a final speech which extols the virtues of female subservience to male domination! But if I have 15 potential Kates, what choice of actors do I have who might play Petruchio? Two, perhaps three? And none of them prepared to do battle with the other for the privilege of giving a lady a good spanking, however well-deserved it might be.’

So Jeanes made the working assumption that Petruchio will spank Kate – no matter what it doesn’t say in the script. Amateur productions, when they could be cast at all, must have been worth keeping an eye on!


This year saw the publication of Luella E. McMahon’s adaptation of Shrew as a one-act play. In this version, the wooing scene includes a stage direction, after Kate hits Petruchio, that perhaps puts the title of this article into the category ‘moot’: ‘He turns her over his knee, gives her a couple of slaps.’ There wasn’t a scripted spanking in The Taming of the Shrew – until 1969!

Here’s an example from 1969 of a high school one-act version of the play, performed at Arlington High School, Texas. It’s a rehearsal shot, out of costume, with Debbie Duket as Kate and Bob English as Petruchio. The guy watching them, John Nedderman, is playing Kate’s father, and he clearly approves of what he’s seeing!

Shrew 1969 Arlington HS

Incidentally, Debbie was named Best Actress in the one-act play competition for her portrayal of Kate, while Bob was runner-up for Best Actor.


Dateline: Finland, where Maikki Lansio is having her bottom spanked by Heikki Savolainen.

1963 Shrew Heikki Savolainen spanks Maikki Lansio

The point they’re illustrating is that Shrew spanking isn’t just an Anglo-American cultural tradition: it happens the world over. And that inevitably complicates any search for its point of origin. The more universal a phenomenon turns out to be, the farther back it is likely to go. So we could be here for a while…


Even before Luella E. McMahon gave written instructions, there had been a great deal of Shrew spanking in American high schools, a tradition that continued well into the present century. It’s a subject that merits separate treatment, but for now we’ll note that the earliest I’ve traced so far was at Van High School, Texas, in the school year 1956-57, and was administered by Ronald Tankersley to Carolyn Hamman (whose inscription says she thinks  she looks stupid):

Shrew 1957 Van HS Texas

Any claim of an ‘earliest’ record is always susceptible to being disproven by the happy discovery of an even earlier example, so this is necessarily a provisional date. But it is still striking that typical school yearbook spreads on Shrew productions before this do not show a spanking, even though photographers and yearbook editors of the 1940s and early to mid-’50s were not reticent about presenting the spanking scenes in Men are Like Streetcars or many another comedy. So there is just a chance that this really was a newish phenomenon in the late ’50s. If so, perhaps one aspect of Ronald’s performance might be a clue. Does anything strike you as familiar about the way he has Carolyn over his knee, or indeed about the way she’s holding her left arm?


It’s the same pose that was used in the original production of Kiss Me Kate! Could it be, could it possibly be, that it was the example of KMK that put spanking into the Shrew? (Leap-frog to 1948 for the answer to that one.)


It’s often assumed that Shrew spanking is the result of a vulgarly mistaken interpretation of the play by provincial theater companies that might be unkindly caricatured as the Hicksville Players. But that is itself a mistake.

In the 1950s, the Old Vic Company was regarded as Britain’s unofficial national theater, and it later became the basis of the official National Theatre when it was founded in 1963. In 1954 they were engaged in one of the decade’s most significant projects in Shakespearean production, the ‘Five-Year First Folio Plan’ to produce all of Shakespeare’s plays. And on November 30, they opened Denis Carey’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.

Carey is probably now best known for his acting roles in Doctor Who at the very end of his career, but in the ’50s he was a highly respected stage director. His Petruchio was the distinguished classical actor Paul Rogers and his Kate, film star Ann Todd…

Shrew 1954 Todd

… who may be best known for her bravura performance in The Seventh Veil, in which she gets her hands whacked by James Mason. But this time it wasn’t her hands…

This production is easy to document, for two reasons. Firstly, the promptbook still exists in the Old Vic’s archives. This is the copy of the script, marked up with the stage business, that was open in front of the prompter as the performance itself took place. Here’s a page from the wooing scene, with the business noted on the left as numbered items keyed to lines in the script on the right.

Shrew 1954 Promptbook

If you click through to read it, you’re looking for no. 6: ‘PET slap KAT on bottom’. It happens, unsurprisingly enough, at the moment when Petruchio refers to Kate, like the wasp, having her sting in her tail. And we know exactly how it was done because we also have a series of photographs showing the scene being performed:

Shrew 1954 Todd Rogers 1 Shrew 1954 Todd Rogers 2 Shrew 1954 Todd Rogers 3

So Kate wasn’t just slapped: she was spanked. Ann Todd got 44 such spankings before the show closed on March 14, 1955.

And that wasn’t the last Shrew spanking to be produced by the company, either. From May 23 the same year, 1955, another Old Vic Shrew began touring Australia, this time directed by Michael Benthall, who went on to direct the 1957 Old Vic Midsummer Night’s Dream with a spanking, and who had already both directed Shrew (at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1948) and appeared in it (at the Old Vic in 1939, a production of which we shall hear more later). Robert Helpmann was Petruchio, best known outside ballet circles for his chilling performance as the Child-Catcher in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, and Kate was…

katharine hepburn

Katharine Hepburn!

She was already no stranger to a smacked bottom, thanks to Spencer Tracy. First there was State of the Union (1948), in which Tracy plays a would-be political candidate on the campaign trail, with Hepburn as his semi-estranged wife. She remembers how he used to hate to hear her swear, and how, when he did, he would ‘smack me on my sitter hard’. And she tells Adolphe Menjou,

State of the Union 1

‘It’s a small request, but I’d give anything for one good smack on the south end.’ Menjou says he’d like to be able to do something about that. And at the end of the movie, she forgets herself and swears during a live radio broadcast, albeit mildly, for the sake of the Hays Office. One good smack on the south end coming up:

State of the Union 2

They followed this up the next year with the famous bottom-smacking massage scene in Adam’s Rib (1949):

Adam's Rib

And now, here she is risking similar treatment at the hands of Helpmann:

Shrew 1955 Hepburn & Helpmann

There’s no photo showing her getting it, but one review mentions that she was turned upside down so that her bloomers showed and spanked with a slipper, though a regard for strict historical accuracy requires us to mention that it’s unclear whether this refers to two separate pieces of stage business or, as we’d all like to think, two successive stages of the same piece of business!

So what all this tells us is that Shrew spanking wasn’t only the province of two-bit outfits doing work of marginal cultural importance. This was one of the most important theater companies in the world, and these were top-line actors who could pick and choose their roles. In the mid-’50s, Shrew spanking couldn’t have been more mainstream!

And what’s more, don’t think you’ve heard the last of the Old Vic Company – nor of the slipper…


KMK 1948  NYT

December 30 saw the premiere of Kiss Me Kate at New York’s New Century Theatre, after a three-week tryout in Philadelphia. Patricia Morison was Lilli and Alfred Drake was Fred, captured above by the New York Times cartoonist. Another time there’ll be much more to say about this production in its own right; here we’re interested in it as a piece of evidence in the history of Shrew spanking.

The really clever thing about KMK in this connection is that it pulls off a conjuring trick whereby it shows, simultaneously, that Shrew both does and doesn’t include a spanking scene.

Fred and Lilli are opening in Baltimore in a musical adaptation of Shrew. As we all know, when Lilli’s onstage behavior gets out of hand, Fred also takes some liberties with the show and gives her a spanking: ‘You asked for it, and now you’re going to get it.’

KMK 1969 Canterbury

(Pat Michon gets it from Ian White at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury in July 1969)

What that means is that there is no spanking in the script for their version of Shrew: it’s business added on the spur of the moment by the sorely provoked Fred.

KMK 2006 1KMK 2006 2

(Henryk Böhm is provoked by, and takes reprisals upon, Sarah Schütz at the Brunswick Staatstheater in 2006)

But what it also means is that Shrew already had the reputation for including a spanking: otherwise, why would anyone have thought of this, either Fred Graham looking for a way to take his revenge without breaking character, or the KMK authors themselves, Sam and Bella Spewack, as a clever twist in their plot?

And that means we’re going to have to go back further!


This is another date which may only stand for an example rather than an epoch; but it is quite a good example, and may turn out to be an epoch after all. We turn to another Old Vic Shrew, this time with John Burrell directing Trevor Howard as Petruchio and Patricia Burke as Kate.

Shrew 1947

The production opened on August 26 at the Edinburgh Festival and toured to Brussels and the English provinces before coming to London in November. Patricia Burke’s 2003 obituary in The Independent remarked that it ‘was charged with an unusually high voltage of sexual chemistry and, for the time, an unexpectedly thrilling athletic vigour in their fight scenes’.

But, mixed metaphors aside, what exactly does that mean? Early theater reviewers are often coy about inserted spankings, when they are not silent altogether, perhaps because such business was considered commonplace and so not worth mentioning, but perhaps also out of a misplaced sense of delicacy about such undignified domestic matters. For instance, from The Stage we hear that the 1939 Old Vic production of Shrew, with Roger Livesey as Petruchio and Ursula Jeans as Kate …

Ursula Jeans 1933

… featured ‘a regular battery of slapping’, but we don’t know if it was Ursula’s Kate who got slapped or, if so, on what part of her body.

Livesey And Leaus

(Ursula Jeans, possibly earning herself a spanking from Roger Livesey in the 1939 Shrew)

Even so, perhaps we can hazard a guess. The production’s director was Tyrone Guthrie, and he later directed an Edwardian dress Shrew at the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival, a production now best known for featuring the future captain of the Starship Enterprise in the role of Lucentio.


(William Shatner is seated on the left; Kate stands at the center)

One reviewer helpfully noted that this production’s Kate, Barbara Chilcott, was ‘slapped on the seat’, but if that delicate phrasing tells us that Guthrie wasn’t averse to the slap of masculine hand on feminine bottom, what it doesn’t help us do is know whether Kate got spanked or just smacked!

So what we have to do, short of finding a spanking photograph or a helpfully specific review, is piece together information about what actually happened on stage from sources that aren’t telling us directly what we want to know. And the striking thing about the 1947 Old Vic Shrew is just how much we can work out from the little that is available to us.

Unusually, there are two reviews of the production that mention spanking more or less directly. One came from Kenneth Tynan, who saw a performance at Oxford as part of the pre-London tour, and who was interested in both the principal ladies in the show. He enjoyed the spectacle of Kate slung over Petruchio’s shoulder…

Shrew 1947 Trevor Howard Patricia Burke

… and praised Patricia Burke’s ‘fine looks, malign lips, arching eyebrows, sinewy forearms and quivering rats’ tails of black hair, coiling in sinister disorder’. Meanwhile, Kate’s sister Bianca was played by Renee Asherson as ‘a syrupy puss’…

Shrew 1947 Bianca

… and Tynan recounted with characteristic relish the fact that she ‘gets her little behind well slippered’. So in this production it seems that it was actually Bianca who got spanked – a phenomenon we’ll return to in a later entry in this series. But that’s not the import of the News Chronicle review of the London premiere, which found Patricia Burke’s Kate to be already ever so slightly domesticated: ‘even her tantrums are of the sort to vanish at the touch of a well-applied slipper’. The specific mention of the slipper in both reviews means that each authenticates the other, and there’s an obvious way of explaining the apparent contradiction about who got it applied to her behind.

What happened, by the sound of it, was this. In their first scene, Kate’s mistreatment of Bianca included, uncommonly, the application of slipper to bottom. There’s an interesting and perhaps revealing detail in a surviving photograph of the scene:

Shrew 1947 Kate Bianca

The chair! A vital stage property if Kate put Bianca across her knee for the slippering, but a damn nuisance if she didn’t. But later on, Kate found herself getting the very same treatment from Petruchio, probably with the very same slipper, and hopefully in a different position relative to his lap than the one we see in this photo…

Shrew 1947 2

We don’t actually know this is what happened in the production: knowledge is only available when there is a photograph or a review or a promptbook to tell us. But it’s a hypothesis consistent with all the evidence: the 1947 Old Vic Shrew featured two spanking scenes, first Kate/Bianca and then Petruchio/Kate. The fact that it has been quite a struggle to get there might also be relevant…


This year saw the release of Ernst Lubitsch’s screwball comedy, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, with Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper.

Bluebeard Poster

She is Nicole de Loiselle: old, impoverished French aristocracy. He is Michael Brandon: new American money, a playboy with seven broken marriages behind him. The key to her financial problems is to become his eighth wife – and that’s the start of his problems!

The marriage does not go well, and they find themselves living in separate rooms. At a loss for how to deal with her, he looks for literary precedent. And the book he gets down from his shelves is…

Bluebeard 0

We next see him marching forcefully up the corridor to her room, breaking a vase as he goes. He unceremoniously walks in and slaps her face.

Bluebeard 1a

So she slaps him back.

Bluebeard 2

Back to the book to check what to do next! And then back to Nicole’s room, and… Well the trailer caption tells you what she gets:

Bluebeard 3

‘Shakespeare!’ he says, and lays on the aforementioned Cooper touch. Just like this…

Bluebeard 3aBluebeard 4Bluebeard 5

Shakespeare – really?

Obviously, somebody behind the camera was very keen to see Claudette Colbert get spanked…

Bluebeard bts

… but no copy of The Taming of the Shrew that was in existence in 1938 could possibly have suggested that particular course of action to Michael Brandon!

But it looks as if the idea also didn’t come directly from the play on the stage, either. One production of The Taming of the Shrew dominated America in the late 1930s, with the leading roles taken by the battling ‘Lunts’, the feuding married couple Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne.

Shrew 1935 lunts

The production opened in 1935 and toured America intermittently until 1940. The surviving promptbook enables us to say for sure that Lynne Fontanne’s Kate was not spanked, only smacked. (To be precise, it was in the wooing scene, when Petruchio tells Kate, ‘Take this of me’. As Lunt played the line,‘this’ was a smacked bottom. The promptbook even specifies, ‘hard’.) But no doubt there were other minor Shrew productions in America, and perhaps some of them may have been spanking productions, but information about them has not come down to us.

It’s almost as if, looking for Shrew spanking, we’re chasing an urban legend…


In 1920, Mary Pickford, ‘America’s Sweetheart’, was spanked twice by Katherine Griffith in the silent film version of Pollyanna, though neither sequence made the final cut of the picture:


Nine years later, she was not spanked by her husband Douglas Fairbanks when they played the leads in their film version of The Taming of the Shrew.

1929 poster

What’s interesting is how the movie was publicized:


Take a good look at that drawing. Is it or isn’t it? It’s obviously meant to suggest that Petruchio is taking Kate across his knee to spank her – but the suggestion is also deniable. His hand isn’t raised above her rear, and it might just as well be representing a bit of rough-house. In fact, it’s doing what Kiss Me Kate managed more comprehensively nineteen years later: having it both ways. It’s exploiting the idea that Shrew features a spanking scene whilst stopping just short of actually portraying one.

As we go farther and farther back into history, we are finding ourselves dealing more and more with Shrew spanking as a phenomenon of belief rather than of actuality: we can show that people thought Petruchio spanked Kate, but we haven’t found a single securely documented instance of him actually doing any such thing in any production before the Second World War. So was it something that people who had never read or seen the play mistakenly believed was in the script, as the authors of Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife evidently did? Or was it a traditional feature of Shrew staging that never got directly on the record, leaving us with the difficulties of interpretation that we faced in relation to the 1947 Old Vic production?

It looks as if the evidence is fast running out. But before the mists of time close over us completely, let’s take one last giant leap backwards, to arrive in the year…


Well, actually, we’re first going to take a detour to January 1746. The reason? Let me introduce you to Mrs Kitty Clive…


One of Kitty Clive’s more invidious claims to fame is that she was the recipient of the earliest known backstage spanking. It happened at Drury Lane during a 1746 production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which she was playing the spirit Ariel, and had new songs written for her by Thomas Arne, the composer of ‘Rule Britannia’. But she made a mess of one of them, and blamed the musicians for her own shortcomings: ‘Why don’t the fellows mind what they are about?’ she called to them, which gave offense. When the interval came, Arne sprang into action on their behalf, as Charles Burney later recorded in his memoirs:

‘At the end of the act, Arne went upstairs to remonstrate against her insolence, when the only satisfaction he obtained was a slap on the face. In return, he literally turned her over his knee and gave her such a manual flagellation as she probably had not received since she quitted the nursery. But as a proof that she had made a good defense, he came back without his wig, all over blood from her scratches, and his long point ruffles dangling over his nails.’

She then refused to sing his songs and effectively had him fired from the production.

After recounting the affray, Arne’s biographer Todd Gilman adds in a footnote, ‘This was not the only spanking Mrs Clive received.’ And he quotes a theatrical historian’s account of how Kitty and Henry Woodward were the first pair of feuding actors to bring their offstage animosities into their onstage performances in Shrew: ‘When Petruchio whacked this Catherine, he did it with a good will’ – yes, just like in Kiss Me Kate!

The earliest known backstage spanking… and then the earliest known Shrew spanking. Take a bow, Kitty Clive! We promise not to think you’re bending over for any other purpose…

Kitty Clive 1

So that’s 260 years of spanking stage history for The Taming of the Shrew – not bad for a play that doesn’t have a spanking scene in it!


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