Life and career
Pinero was born in London, the son of Lucy (née Daines) and John Daniel Pinero, a solicitor. His paternal grandfather was from a Sephardic Jewish family, while his other grandparents were from a Christian English background. He studied law at Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution before going on the stage.
In 1874 he joined R. H. Wyndham's company at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh. After also acting in Liverpool, Pinero joined Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre company in London in 1876, where he acted in supporting roles for five years, and later played under the Bancrofts' management at the Haymarket Theatre. He received good notice in Sheridan's The Rivals, in 1884, which he had revised himself.
Pinero began writing plays in the late 1870s while at the Lyceum, including Daisy's Escape in 1879 and Bygones in 1880. He became a prolific and successful playwright, authoring fifty-nine plays. These include serious social dramas, some dealing with social hypocrisy surrounding attitudes to women in second marriages, including:His House in Order (play) and
The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1893)
The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith (1895)
He is best known for his comedies, of which the most notable are:The Magistrate (1885)
The Schoolmistress (1886)
Dandy Dick (1887)
The Cabinet Minister (1890)
The Amazons (1893)
The Princess and the Butterfly (1897)
Trelawny of the 'Wells' (1898)
The Gay Lord Quex (1899)
The Squire (1905)
The "Mind the Paint" Girl (1912)
His farce The Amazons was adapted into the 1917 film of the same name, starring Marguerite Clark. His 1923 romance The Enchanted Cottage was successfully filmed in 1924 and 1945. His House in Order was made into a 1928 silent film starring Tallulah Bankhead, but the film is lost. Both The Magistrate and Dandy Dick were made into films starring Will Hay.
His opera in the style of a medieval morality play, The Beauty Stone, (with Arthur Sullivan and J. Comyns Carr) has grown somewhat in popularity in recent years, having gained a recording, but the dialogue is often heavily abridged. In Pinero's 1888 play Sweet Lavender, which was so popular that it ran for an extraordinary (for the time), 683 performances, the character Horace utters the famous line, "While there is tea, there is hope."
Pinero was knighted in 1909, becoming the second man to be knighted for services to drama alone after W.S. Gilbert. While tremendously popular in his day, his plays are rarely revived. Even in his final years he saw his work starting to go out of style. He died in London in 1934, aged 79.
However, The Magistrate was newly produced by the Royal National Theatre and ran from November 2012 – January 2013, in the Olivier Theatre starting John Lithgow and Nancy Carroll among others.
Pinero was one of the few dramatists of his time, apart from William Gillette and Oscar Wilde, who wrote strong parts for leading ladies, but many powerful actresses had their own ideas about how to play certain scenes, quite differently from how he had visualised them. After much trial and error, he eventually hit on a solution to this recurring problem. At rehearsal, he would explain loudly and clearly how he wanted the scene played. Then he would take his place in the stalls, to watch the woman playing it her own way, not his. Immediately he would rush up and shout, "Perfect, perfect! Play it exactly like that on the night!" And for some reason, on the night, they would play it his way, not theirs.
Following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by German U-boat on 7 May 1915, Pinero wrote to The Times calling on naturalised British citizens of German origin to make public statements of their loyalty to the King and reject Germany's methods of warfare:
"Sir—The sinking of the Lusitania, involving the cruel murder of hundreds of helpless and innocent non-combatants, affords those Germans who are naturalised British citizens holding prominent positions in this country an opportunity of performing an act which, even in the opinion of many who bear them no particular ill-will, is long overdue. We are in the tenth month on a war which has from the beginning been carried on by Germany with almost unspeakable treachery and vileness; but up to the present time not a single one of the distinguished Germans in our midst has thought fit to make a public avowal of his disagreement with the deliberate policy of barbarism pursued by the German Powers or to utter a word of indignation and disclaimer. Surely the moment has arrived when these gentlemen, in their own interests, if for no higher reason, should break silence and individually or collectively raise their voices against the infamous deeds which are being perpetrated by Germany. I venture to suggest that they might with propriety band together and present a loyal address to the King embracing an expression of their detestation of Germany's methods of warfare; but perhaps this may be better left to their own discretion and good feeling. What I would emphasise, however, is that continued silence on their part lays them open to the supposition that, thinking that the fate of England is hanging in the balance, they are—to use the common phrase—sitting on the gate. A word of warning, therefore, is neither gratuitous nor unfriendly. The temper of this country, slow to rouse, is becoming an ugly one. The gate may fall from its hinges.
Your obedient servant,
In the following days, numerous letters were received by the newspaper from naturalised Britons stating individually or collectively their loyalty including public figures Sir Ernest Cassel, Sir George Henschel, Sir Carl Meyer and Sir Felix Schuster.