Beatrice Lillie

Definition

Theater

  • (Constance Sylvia Munston, Lady Peel; 1898 - 1989) Canadian-bornactress and singer, who became a star of sophisticated revues in Britainand America. She made her debut in 1914 in London as a ballad singerand later that year appeared in Not Likely, a revue by AndréCharlot. The following year she starred in another Charlot revue,5064 Gerrard, in which she dressed in farmer's overalls andsang 'Take Me Back to Michigan'. Her co-star, Jack Buchanan, was especiallyamused to see her walking about in men's clothing. "Tell me,Beattie," he asked one day "how do you dress, left orright?" Lillie, having no idea that he was referring to theold-fashioned bespoke tailors' question relating to the preferredposition of his customer's genitals, replied "In Number Five,stage left." Buchanan roared with laughter and, as Lillie recalledlater, "thought I was brilliant."

    In 1922 Lillie appeared in The Nine O'Clock Revue (withmusic written by her sister), which ran for a year in London. Shethen made her New York debut in André Charlot's Revue of1924 with Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan. She was also afavourite of Noël Coward's, playing in his This Year of Gracein New York in 1928.

    Her first serious part came in 1932, when she played Sweetiethe Nurse in the New York premiere of Shaw's Too True to Be Good.During World War II she appeared in sketches and short plays for ENSA.In 1952 she toured the world with her acclaimed one-woman show, AnEvening with Beatrice Lillie. Her performance prompted BrooksAtkinson to write in the New York Times "Lillie is thefunniest woman in the world". In 1964 the 68-year-old Lillieplayed in New York in High Spirits, a musical adaptation ofCoward's Blithe Spirit.

    Lillie acquired the title Lady Peel by marrying a descendantof the British prime minister Sir Robert Peel in 1925. She publishedan autobiography entitled Every Other Inch a Lady in 1973.

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