Next month, on Saturday May 14th, we celebrate the 8th annual International Dylan Thomas Day. A day to celebrate the life, work and legacy of Dylan Thomas, held on the anniversary of the first ever cast performance of Under Milk Wood, which took place at the 92Y Poetry Center in New York in 1953.
We thought it would be interesting to share some lesser known trivia about the great poet with you.
“Fame, I’m gonna live forever!”
This well-known lyric is taken from the title song from the 1980 movie Fame. The song’s writer Dean Pitchford revealed that the line was inspired by a line from the play Dylan by Sidney Michaels, in which a fictional version of Dylan Thomas claimed he would live forever through his poetry.
His Family and other animals?
In November 1939 Dylan wrote to US poet Kenneth Patchen “But what I need right now is a lump of money to pay my fare and fares of my family to Corfu where we want to live for a while with the Durrells”. We can only wonder how that might have played out in Gerald Durrell’s books, or in the ITV’s The Durrells.
It’s well known that Dylan Thomas is one of the many famous faces to adorn the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album, but did you know he appears on another album cover, Clutching At Straws by Marillion. Dylan can be seen propping up the bar, hanging out with Lenny Bruce and Truman Capote among others.
Dylan’s classic villanelle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night has become a favourite source of quotations for numerous films and TV programmes. One of our favourites is its hilarious use in a sketch from Victoria Wood As Seen On TV, delivered by Academy Award winning actor Jim Broadbent. You can watch the sketch on Youtube.
Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel Girl, Woman, Other began as a narrative poem inspired by Under Milk Wood.
“In 2013 I was commissioned to write a short story for BBC Radio 3 inspired by Under Milk Wood in the centenary year of Dylan Thomas’s birth—a perfect project for me. Instead of a short story, however, I produced a narrative poem about four very different black women in London, one of whom was a transwoman. I called it LondonChoralCelestialJazz and recorded it live at a festival in Wales. As soon as I started writing the piece, I knew that I would expand it into a novel. Just as Thomas had honoured the inhabitants of a small Welsh fishing village in Wales, I decided that I would do so with black British women, who have been barely visible in fiction.”
Dead Poets Society
Fellow Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood included a story about visiting Dylan’s grave at Laugharne in her short-story collection Dancing Girls & Other Stories. Although Dylan is not named as the poet, the Laugharne setting is easily recognisable in Atwood’s story The Grave Of The Famous Poet.
Above Medium Height For Wales
Dylan Thomas comically made fun of his own height in his nostalgic radio broadcast Return Journey, when he described the younger self he was looking for as “…about medium height. Above medium height for Wales. I mean, he’s five foot six and a half.” Playwright Alan Bennett made more comic mileage out of Dylan’s physical stature, in comparison to that of Virginia Woolf, in his 1968 satirical play Forty Years On
“Of all the honours that fell upon Virginia’s head, none, I think, pleased her more than the Evening Standard Award for the Tallest Woman Writer of 1927, an award she took by a neck from Elizabeth Bowen. And rightly, I think, for she was in a very real sense the tallest writer I have ever known. Which is not to say that her stories were tall. They were not. They were short. But she did stand head and shoulders above her contemporaries, and sometimes of course, much more so. Dylan Thomas for instance, a man of great literary stature, only came up to her waist. And sometimes not even to there.”
On The World Stage
Dylan’s words made an appearance at the opening ceremony for the 2012 summer Olympic Games in London. Words from Do Not Go Gentle appeared on a newspaper covered stage.
The writer Laurie Lee, most famous for Cider With Rosie, was for a time a near neighbour of Dylan’s in Chelsea. He later recalled how “Halfway through the morning I’d see Dylan Thomas, like a plump, furry little mole, pop up from his basement opposite and go paddling off to the pub.”
Dylan in heaven
Ron Moody’s theatre revue For Adults Only, staged at the Strand Theatre in 1958, featured a sketch called Over Milk Wood. In it Moody appeared as an angelic Dylan Thomas on a celestial cloud, comparing notes with an angelic James Dean (played by Hugh Paddick).
Check out our post from 2022 when we shared 22 Things You Didn’t Know About Dylan Thomas
Saturday May 14th is International Dylan Thomas Day 2022
Andrew Dally (April 2022)