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Category Archives: Noel Coward

She Was Oddly Beautiful: An Homage To Elaine Stritch

SHE WAS ODDLY BEAUTIFUL 

ELAINE STRITCH 15MILLION $ PHOTO

 ELAINE STRITCH

1925 – 2014

ELAINE STRITCH hit the Broadway lights in 1946 and has since been the toast of Broadway and the West End.

Albert Einstein once said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” So I’ve done just that; half of what I am now writing is from memory past and the rest I’ve just looked up!

 ELAINE STRITCH PHOTO 22

Elaine Stritch sings “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” Her unique singing voice was once affectionately compared to a car shifting gears without the clutch.

I was saddened by the news of the death of Elaine Stritch, a performer par excellence; and it brought back the memory of when I first saw her on stage in “The Time of the Barracudas” at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in 1963. This was prior to its opening in Los Angeles and then onto New York.  (Which, as fate would have it, never happened).

I hadn’t a clue who she was, the only name that meant anything to me was Laurence Harvey, her co-star, who I knew from London when I was 20. So I went to see the show with Ray and my cousin Adrienne, who happened to live in San Francisco.

I was looking forward to seeing the play because I hadn’t seen Larry for many years and now of course he was a big star. We had met originally at Roehampton Swimming Pool when he asked me whether he could take a shower with me? Enough said!

I used to go to Roehampton with my girl friend Pamela Bevan, who was in ‘Diamond Lil’ at the time, and so we became and stayed friends with Larry up until the time he was with Hermione Baddeley when she was performing in cabaret at Ciro’s Club, a chic nightclub in Leicester Square. He was introducing her act and doing the odd sketch with her. He was also living with her and ‘schtuping’ her at the same time. She was twice his age. As I said before, she liked young men.

Laurence Harvey was on his way up and I was still just a poor actor working in the West End and getting ready to do the No.1 tour of “Tobacco Road” playing Dude the lunatic son. Somehow I could never get away from playing lunatics! Do you think it was in my genes?

We met at the ‘White Room,’ a drinking club in Denman Street. W.1. for drinks and a chat. He introduced me to Hermione Baddeley, who I was thrilled to meet, and we talked about various things that we were doing; and that was last I saw of him!

Much later, I think it was in the early 70s in Los Angele, Ray and I were having dinner with Hermione Baddeley and Lady Mary (I haven’t a clue what her other name was). Avery Van Arthur and his mother Miss Dodie were our hosts. After looking at the menu, Hermione said, ”I think I shall risk the halibut. It can’t be too awful, can it? After you’ve lived with Laurence Harvey, nothing in life is ever really too awful again.” That’s enough said about Hermione Baddeley!

elaine strirch oddly beautiful 4. PROFILE 1

Elaine Stritch

The play “The Time of the Barracudas” was marvellous and Elaine Stritch was mind blowing. She had such comedy and such talent and looked so wonderful. As for Laurence Harvey he was really awful, his performance was a nothing!

One of the critics said in his review of the play;

‘The director has decided to direct most of the play with Elaine Stitch having to have her back to the audience. I can tell you that this critic would rather look at Elaine Stritch’s back than Laurence Harvey’s front!’

After a notice like that, what could she do? The leading lady quit and her complaint was her co-star. “If I told you some of the things that son of a bitch has done to me, you wouldn’t believe it!” she said. “This play has been the most horrible experience of my life.” Of course, Laurence Harvey hadn’t a kind word to say about Elaine.

The Time of the Barracudas

Elaine Stritch and Laurence Harvey

After walking out of “The Time of the Barracudas,” she tended bar for five months. Seven years later, she was nominated for a Tony for Company. “I’d just as soon not be nominated for awards,” she once said. “I want to win. If you can’t let me win, don’t nominate me.” 

Elaine was not the only person to regret working with Laurence Harvey. Jane Fonda said, “Acting with Harvey is like acting with yourself, only worse!” Lee Remick similarly regretted working with him, “The tales I can tell of working with him are too horrendous to repeat!” And so it went on. 

Frank Sinatra’s nickname for Laurence Harvey, according to his valet George Jacobs, was “Ladyboy.” It was well known in the business that James Woolf, who co-owned Romulus Films with his brother Sir John Woolf, was in love with Harvey. He had put his protégé into film after film, all of which had flopped, until he bought the film rights to John Braine’s bestseller Room at the Top, contracted the great Simone Signoret to play opposite Harvey, and finally made his lover a star. But Harvey kept marrying to further his career. Larry’s whoredom was so blatant it was disarming. After living with Hermione Baddeley, he married Margaret Leighton who was six years his senior. When that marriage finished he married Joan Cohn, the widow of Harry Cohen, the managing director of Columbia Studios. Throughout all of these career marriages, he still strung Jimmy Woolf along. Noel Coward once commented on Harvey’s unhappy marriage to actress Margaret Leighton; “It really isn’t surprising that homosexuality is becoming as normal as blueberry pie”

Noel Coward and Elaine Stritch backstage after the Broadway opening of Sail Away.

Elaine Stritch and Noel Coward

In 1971, the film critic Alexander Walker wrote about James Woolf:

“He was a rarity in British Films at the time, and would still be so if he were alive today; a man of taste and judgement who loved craftsmanship and supported a director instead of suffocating him or using him as a surrogate talent for the film he himself would have liked to direct had he dared. He was an obsessional filmmaker, loving the wheeling and dealing, relishing the juggling with human talents that it involved, and taking pleasure in spotting youthful ‘proteges’ and promoting their careers, thereby gaining a vicarious satisfaction from their success that was lacking in his own basically lonely nature. James Woolf was gay and the lover of Laurence Harvey.”

I may lose the plot sometimes and wander off in a tangent as a name crops up and I remember an amusing story. Please forgive me dear reader, but I shall always return to the plot sooner or later.

 

ELAINESTRITCH oddly beautiful 4.MINK 1 COAT

Under the headline “Actress Elaine Stritch, ‘Her Own Greatest Character,’ Dies At 89,” National Public Radio journalist Elizabeth Blair wrote, “Elaine Stritch — one of Broadway’s boldest and brassiest performers — has died. With that gravelly voice — and those long legs — and the utter command of the stage, Stritch was a bona fide Broadway star. Not as a classic leading lady, necessarily, but as the hardened-yet-vulnerable performer audiences couldn’t forget. Stritch died of natural causes Thursday morning at her home in Birmingham, Mich. She was 89.”

In an interview with Stritch in March 2014, National Public Radio’s Scott Simon observed that the stage and screen legend “may be her own greatest character.”

In a career that stretched back to the 1940s, Stritch did it all: theater, TV, movies. She was nominated for several Tony Awards and won three Emmys. She starred in the 1961 Noel Coward musical Sail Away and the 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical Company. (With her performance of  “Ladies Who Lunch,” Sondheim said, Stritch turned what he thought was “just a simple saloon song” into a “piece of theater.”)

Stritch was born in Detroit, where her father was a rubber company executive. She was raised Roman Catholic and when she first moved to New York City, she went to a finishing school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Years later, Broadway producer Hal Prince said Stritch had “the guts of a jailbird” but “the convent girl is still there.”

It’s been said that Stritch could always play older than she really was. She was 20 when she sang Zip in Pal Joey, but Stritch herself said she looked 40. She had a terrific sense of humour about her looks — and her age. In 1988, Stritch told National Public Radio’s Susan Stamberg that she didn’t mind the word “aging” at all.

“It applies to everyone,” she said. “I saw a kid 16 on the street and he was aging. We’re all aging but somehow the press loves to say it when you’re over 40.”

Stritch was candid about everything — her age, her alcoholism, her diabetes. In her book Am I Blue?: Living with Diabetes and, Dammit, Having Fun! she wrote about being diagnosed with the disease at the peak of her career.

“More than with any other condition I know of,” she wrote, “the diabetic simply has to understand the nature of the illness and become intimately involved in treating it.” But with her trademark wit she also said: “Diabetes is great because I can say, ‘My blood sugar is off. I have to go.’ “

In 2002, when she was in her late 70s, she launched a Tony Award-winning, one-woman show called Elaine Stritch at Liberty. She continued performing well into her 80s. In 2008 Stritch won an Emmy — her third — for her role as character Jack Donaghy’s mother on NBC’s 30 Rock.

Stritch once said, “I just pray that I can be at least amusing.”

And was she ever. 

Tina Fey said of Elaine Stritch, “Elaine was a ‘tough old bird,’ but I suspect she may have been a ‘tough old bird’ since birth, I loved her voice, her timing, her stories and her natural elegance.”

“One day she was wearing a beautiful butterfly cocktail ring, and when I admired it, she gave it to me on the spot – like an Arab sheik in black pantyhose. I feel very lucky to have worked with her as much as I did.”

ELAINE STRITCH 3 SOME PLUS 2

Tina Fey, Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin

 Alec Baldwin said,  She was just the funniest damn woman you’d ever met in your lives. So, there you have it!” Baldwin, meanwhile, took to Twitter Thursday to remember Stritch – and hinted that things in heaven are about to get a whole lot more interesting. “I’m sure that even God is a bit nervous right now,” he wrote. “I love you, Elaine.”

Alec Baldwin on his friendship with Elaine Stritch: “No one was funnier and had better timing than Elaine. I just sent Tina [Fey] an email yesterday saying I’ll always be grateful to you for casting Elaine as my mom, because she would walk in there and we just had to stand back and get out of her way and the rest of it would take care of itself.”

ELAINE STRITCH LIGHTS

Performing Arts Elaine Stritch was an American actress and singer who had a net worth of $20 million dollars. Elaine Stritch was born in Detroit, Michigan, and went on to study theater at New School University. Some of her classmates at the theater school included future acting legends Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur. She made her professional acting debut on stage in the mid-1940s, and then made her Broadway debut in the 1946 production of “Loco”. She went on to appear in multiple Broadway and National touring productions, including “Call Me Madam”, “Pal Joey”, “Sail Away”, and “Company”. She began her film and television career in the late 1940s, and went on to appear in such projects as “The Scarlet Hour”, “A Farewell to Arms”, “The Spiral Staircase”, “Cadillac Man”, “Screwed”, “Autumn in New York”, and “Monster-in-Law”. She has been nominated for multiple awards, including five Tony Awards. She won one for her one-woman show, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty”. She has also been nominated for eight Emmy Awards, and has won three. To younger audiences, Elaine Stritch is probably most widely recognized for her Emmy-award winning recurring role as Jack Donaghy’s mother Colleen on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock”. Elaine died on July 17, 2014 at the age of 89

ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY NO.1

Now we see how At Liberty, the amazing one-woman show Stritch is moving to Broadway from the Public Theater this week, acquired the credit, “Constructed by John Lahr. Reconstructed by Elaine Stritch”. “The reconstruction means I had the last say”, she says. “Damn right I did.” … In case you didn’t notice, Stritch is not the kind of woman who goes in for the sappy self-indulgence that pollutes most one-person shows. In fact, At Liberty is in a class by itself, a biting, hilarious and even touching tour-de-force tour of Stritch’s career and life. Almost every nook and cranny of “At Liberty” holds a surprise. Turns out she dated Marlon Brando, Gig Young and Ben Gazzara, though she dropped Ben when Rock Hudson showed an interest in her. “And we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be”, she says. And then there were the shows. A British writer recently called Stritch “Broadway’s last first lady”, and when you see her performing her signature numbers from Company and Pal Joey and hear her tell tales of working with Merman, Coward, Gloria Swanson and the rest, it’s hard to argue. Especially since she does it all dressed in a long white shirt and form-fitting black tights. It’s both a metaphor for her soul-baring musical and a sartorial kiss-my-rear gesture to anyone who thinks there isn’t some life left in the 76-year-old diva. “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘Is this the last thing you’re going to do?'”, says Stritch. “In your dreams! I can’t wait to get back into an Yves Saint Laurent costume that isn’t mine – but will be when the show is over.”

In recent years, Stritch performed a regular cabaret act at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, where she was a longtime resident. The actress returned to live in her native Michigan in 2013, citing her health. Elaine died on July 17, 2014 at the age of 89.

Elaine Stritch An Appreciation

 by David Rooney 

The Hollywood Reporter’s leading Theatre Critic pays personal tribute to the legendary Broadway performer, whose exacting professional standards were as renowned as her tart tongue and eccentric style. Across the New York Theatre District, marquees will dim their lights on Friday evening in honour of one of the all-time greatest brassy broads of Broadway, Elaine Stritch. But a more fitting remembrance might be for the Theatre Lovers to take to the streets and accompany that symbolic ritual with the final roar of the Stephen Sondheim song most indelibly associated with the beloved performer, who died on Thursday at her home in Birmingham, Michigan, at 89.

Broadway to dim it’s lights in honour of Elaine Stritch.

 

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“Great Moments in the Theatre.” Continuation of the Second and Final Chapter: ‘World War II Years 1939-1945 and Beyond’.

N.B. “Please dear readers, forgive the quality of some of the photographs in this sequence. They are the best I can find and after all like me they are very old. 70 years to be precise.”

In 1942 I became a fan of the Ballet through a friend of mine who had just left school to become articled to an accountant in the West End of London. He introduced me to the world of the ballet. He was a classical music and ballet nut. Because of his job in the West End he was able to put out stools for the gallery at the New Theatre in St. Martins Lane in London whenever he was so inclined. That was where the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company would play a season or two every year in between touring round England. They would alternate between the Old Vic Company and the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, so the three different companies were in residence there whenever they were in London. The rest of the year they would tour, bringing happiness and joy to war-torn England. The ticket for a gallery stool cost 6 pence and I think around 50 tickets were sold daily, which meant that if you had a stool ticket then you were guaranteed a seat in the gallery of the theatre. I think that the gallery admittance was 2/6 pence. So when the gallery doors opened the stools would go flying and you paid your money at the gallery entrance and rushed like crazy up the stairs to grab the closest seats in the front row of the gallery. We were all Balletomanes. Really, I think that was the beginning of the Gallery First Nighters’ Club that carried a lot of sway in the Theatre in those days.

HELMANN AND FONTEYN

Robert Helpmann and Margot  Fonteyn

Hanging there up in the Gods, we anxiously waited with bated breath the appearance of the conductor. This was usually Constance Lambert who had his own following of fans, but my favourites were the performers, Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann.Then the lights would dim and the overture to whichever ballet which was being performed would begin. It was all so magical and to this day I still love the Ballet.

I saw “Swan Lake,” “Coppelia,” “Les Sylphides,” “Facade,” Sleeping Beauty,” “Nutcracker,” “Dante Sonata,” “Giselle” and many more. You name it, I saw it, their complete repertoire, but two ballets which stood out in my mind for drama and excitement were “The Rakes Progress” and “Hamlet.” “The Rakes progress” was  choreography by Ninette de Valois, who was the Artistic Director for the Sadlers Wells Ballet Company through the whole of World War II. The music was composed by Gavin Gordon and danced by Helpmann and Fonteyn. It was based on a series of pictures by the painter William Hogarth which he called “A Rakes Progress”. The whole production was quite brilliant.

ROBERT HELPMANN IN THE RAKES PROGRESS COLOUR PRINT

Helpmann in “The Rakes Progress”

ROBERT HELPMANN IN THE RAKE'S PROGRESS PLUS PRINT

Helpmann in “The Rakes Progress”

The other production was “Hamlet,” choreographed by Robert Helpmann, who also did the libretto, to the music of Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture.” Although based on the original Shakespearean tragedy, it doesn’t retell the plot from start to finish. It instead portrays the dying Hamlet reliving crucial moments of his life. The whole story was seen through the mind of the dying Hamlet.  It was a work of genius and brilliantly performed by Helpmann and Fonteyn.  A truly great moment in the Theatre.

ROBERT HELPMANN AS HAMLET with YORICK 2

 Helpmann as Hamlet with the skull of Yorick

ROBERT HELPMANN AS HAMLET PLUS 1

Helpmann as Hamlet and Margot Fonteyn as Ophelia

INTIMATE REVUE

On the lighter side, providing great, great moments over the years, was Intimate Revue. it provided the laughter that was needed so badly in this time of war. With its double entendres  and frothy songs, risqué jokes, blackout sketches and whimsical repartee, it was a tonic that was enjoyed by all and sundry, and in those days we needed it. The two great stars of the risqué repartee were Hermione Gingold and Hermione Baddley, who in 1941 were appearing in “Rise Above It” at the Comedy Theatre, which I was lucky enough to see. The more successful the show became, the bigger the rivalry became between Gingold and Baddley, until by the end of the run they swore they would never work together again. Maybe it was their joint penchant for the younger male that didn’t help.

HERMIONE B IN ARTISTIC POSEHermione Baddley in artistic pose in “Rise Above It”.

“Rise Above It” opened on June 5, 1941 at the Comedy Theatre. It went into a second edition in December, 1941. In 1942  Baddley  then went on to greener and greater roles in the legitimate theatre and films, whilst Gingold carried on in her favorite métier, revue.

HERMIONE GINGOLD FRAMED PRINT

 Gingold in pensive mood.

Hermione Gingold, now working solo,from Baddley, appeared in “Sky High” at the Pheonix Theatre in June 10, 1942. La Gingold, as she became known, had undergone a vocal crisis sometime in the 1930s. She had hitherto described herself as a ‘soprano,’ but nodules on her vocal chords brought a drastic drop in her pitch, about which she once commented, “One morning it was a Mozart ‘Aria’ and the next ‘Old Man River’.” One critic described her voice as “Powdered glass in deep syrup.” Another said,”To watch Miss Gingold’s tongue roll around a familiar name or word and then quietly drop it off with the mud sticking on, is to watch art raising a foible to the stature of a humor.”  “No actress commands a more purposeful leer; and in nobody’s mouth do vowels more acidly curdle.” She could make quite the simplest word by the time she had finished with it sound obscene! 

GINGOLD COMEDY PRINT

Hermione in whimsical mood

Then came her Tour de Force as a solo comedienne when she opened on June 10, 1943 at the Ambassadors Theatre in “Sweet and Low.”  Hermione took the West End by storm in this sharp witted revue of the War Years. Hermione wrote two of her own sketches.

She followed up this success with “Sweeter and Lower,” which opened on February 17, 1944. This successor played to packed houses for two years, through to the end of the war, and earned Hermione the titles of “The Duchess” and The Queen of Comedy.”

GINGOLD SWEETER PRINT THIS ONE

Hermione Gingold and Henry Kendall in “Sweeter and Lower”

“Sweetest and Lowest” opened on May 9, 1946 at the Ambassadors Theatre and was the conclusion of the three “Sweet” revues. 

“Slings and Arrows” opened on  November 17, 1948, at the Comedy Theatre. Hermione was the co-author of the revue.

The piece de resistance came  when producers Charles Russell and Lance Hamilton persuaded Hermione Gingold and Hermione Baddley to work together again in a Noel Coward double-bill of his plays “Fumed Oak” and “Fallen Angels.” The two bitter rivals were going to work together again! Hermione Baddeley gladly accepted but Hermione Gingold took a lot more persuading.

As neither would take second billing, programmes were printed with the photos of one Hermione right-side-up and the other upside down, thus sharing 50-50 billing on posters, programmes, etc. etc. as shown.

HermioneGingoldHermioneBaddeley RIGHT AND LEFT

Programme 1

HermioneGingoldHermioneBaddeley LEFT AND RIGHT

Programme 2

In September 1948 Charles Russell and Lance Hamilton set up a management company to produce a touring revival of Noel Coward’s prewar hit of “Fallen Angels” as a two hander for Gingold and Baddeley playing a pair of jilted women taking uproarious refuge in drink. Coward was not happy with the idea as it was not to his taste or liking of the cast. The two Hermiones upstaged each other mercilessly, introducing all sorts of business, some of it almost obscene, which held up the action, making Coward furious.   

“I’ve never yet in my long experience in the Theatre, seen a more vulgar, silly, unfunny, disgraceful performance,” he wrote in his diary.                 

He demanded the London opening be cancelled – until Russell pointed out that it would cost him £9,000 to get out of the contract. “Fallen Angels” went on to run for nine months at the Ambassadors Theatre where it was an enormous financial success, much longer than the original version had ever run before. In those days, if a show ran for three months it was a hit!   Coward confided in his diary, “LIVID.”   But he took the money.

FALLEN ANGELS POSTER PRINT

Still on the lighter side, in 1942 Cole Porter’s “Dubarry was a Lady” opened at His Majesty’s Theatre. The leading lady was Frances Day, a beauty from America who lived and worked in England through the whole of World War II. The show was good, but she was stunning, glamorous, vivacious, a real star. When she was in her 60’s, Frances Day still looked stunning; and she would talk about Frances Day as though she was her mother; and she was her daughter Frankie; and believe me she got away with it! That is ‘Show Business’!

NPG x32919; Frances Day (Frances Victoria Schenk) as May Daly in 'DuBarry Was a Lady' by Frederick William ('Fred') Daniels

 Frances Day in  “Dubarry was a Lady”

frances day dubarry poster 1

 Dubarry was a Lady

NPG P917; Frances Day (Frances Victoria Schenk) by Angus McBean

 Frances Day

 THE OLD VIC COMPANY

Throughout the war Tyrone Guthrie had striven to keep the Old Vic Company going, even after German bombing in 1942 left the Theatre a near ruin. By 1944, with the tide of war turning, Guthrie felt it time to re-establish the company in a London base, and invited Ralph Richardson to head it. Richardson made two stipulations; first, as he was unwilling to seek his own release from the forces, the governing board of the Old Vic should explain to the authorities why it should be granted; secondly that he should share the acting and management in a triumvirate. Initially he proposed John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier as his colleagues, but the former declined, saying, It would be a disaster, “You would have to spend your whole time as referee between Larry and me.” It was finally agreed that the third member would be stage director John Burrell.  The Old Vic governors approached the Royal Navy to secure the release of Richardson and Olivier. The Sea Lords consented, with, as Olivier put it, “a speediness and lack of reluctance which was positively hurtful!”

OLD VIC BOMBED PRINT

 The Old Vic Theatre bombed 1942.

            A small troupe toured the provinces, with Sybil Thorndike at its head.

Old_Vic_SYBIL MAKE-UP   1941

Sybil Thorndike and young actress.

The triumvirate secured the New Theatre for their first season and recruited a company. Sybil Thorndike was joined by, among others, Harcourt Williams, Joyce Redman and Margaret Leighton. It was agreed to open with a repertory of four plays:  Peer Gynt, Arms and the Man, Richard III and Uncle Vanya. ( I was lucky enough to see each production – from the gallery, of course!). The first three productions met with acclaim from reviewers and audiences, but Uncle Vanya had a mixed reception.

RALPH RICHARDSON AS FALSTAFF PRINT1

Ralph Richardson as Falstaff

In 1945, when I was 15, I saw the second season, which featured two double-bills. The first consisted of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Olivier played the warrior Hotspur in the first and the doddering Justice Shallow in the second. He received good notices, but by general consent the evening belonged to Richardson as Falstaff. Agate wrote, “He had everything the part wants- the exuberance, the mischief, the gusto……Here is something better than virtuosity in character-acting- the spirit of the part shining through the actor.” In the second double bill it was Olivier who dominated, in the title roles of “Oedipus Rex” and “The Critic.”

LAURENCE OLIVIER AS OEDIPUS   PROFILE

Laurence Olivier as Oedipus Rex

Richardson took the supporting role of Tiresias the blind prophet or seer, who knows that the terrible prophecy of Oedipus has already come true. He leaves Oedipus with a riddle that implies, plainly enough for the audience to understand, that Oedipus has killed his own father and married his mother. The young boy who led the blind Tiresias on stage was called Ray Jackson.

RAY IN OEDIPUS REX PRINT

Ray Jackson, Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier in Oedipus Rex

Little did I know sitting in the gallery that night, that Ray Jackson would become my life partner for 40 years until his death in 1989. That, when I think about it, was the “Greatest Moment for me in the Theatre”.

 

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Epigram

As Noel Coward once said and I agree:

“I  have  a  memory  like  an  elephant.  In  fact,  elephants  often  consult  me.”

Sir Noël Peirce Coward (16 December 1899 – 26 March 1973) was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise”.

Born in Teddington, a suburb of London, Coward attended a Italia Conti dance academy in London as a child, making his professional stage début at the age of eleven. As a teenager he was introduced into the high society in which most of his plays would be set. Coward achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as “Hay Fever”, “Private Lives”, “Design for Living”, “Present Laughter” and “Blithe Spirit”, have remained in the regular theatre repertoire. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works (including the operetta “Bitter Sweet” and comic revues, poetry, several volumes of short stories, the novel Pomp and Circumstance, and a three-volume autobiography. Coward’s stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works.

At the outbreak of World War II, Coward volunteered for war work, running the British propaganda office in Paris. He also worked with the Secret Service, seeking to use his influence to persuade the American public and government to help Britain. Coward won an Academy Honorary Award in 1943 for his naval film drama, “In Which We Serve” and was knighted in 1969. In the 1950s he achieved fresh success as a cabaret performer, performing his own songs, such as “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, “London Pride” and “I Went to a Marvelous Party”.

His plays and songs achieved new popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, and his work and style continue to influence popular culture. Coward did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, but it was discussed candidly after his death by biographers including Graham Payn, his long-time partner, and in Coward’s diaries and letters, published posthumously. The former Albery Theatre (originally the New Theatre) in London was renamed the Noel Coward Theatre in his honour in 2006.

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Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Eric Lindsay, Noel Coward

 

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