Sir Charles B(lake) Cochran



  • (1872 - 1951). The leading British impresario of his dayand the most famous producer of revues between the wars. His showsranged from boxing to the Diaghilev ballet. He advanced the careersof Noël Coward, Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, and JackBuchanan, and introduced Londoners to Houdini, ElisabethBergner, Sarah Bernhardt, and Eleonora Duse, amongst others. He wasknighted in 1948.

    Cochran, universally known as Cockie, enjoyed takinga high profile. His rival impresario, Binkie Beaumont, once said,"I love anonymity. I haven't the temperament to be a Cochran."The 1973 musical comedy Cockie by Peter Saunders was basedon Cochran's life and opened in London at the Vaudeville Theatre.The impresario was played by Max Wall.

    Cochran made his stage debut at the Royal Clarence Music Hall,Dover, at the age of 16; his one song was so bad that the managerrefused to pay him. Two years later he went to New York and wore thesole off a boot seeking work. His first US job was playing seven partsin the revue Round the World in Eighty Days. In 1897 he producedIbsen's John Gabriel Borkman on Broadway. He returned to Londonin 1902.

    Cochran's first revue was the intimate Odds and Ends(1914) at the Ambassadors Theatre. After the war he mounted a seriesof lavish productions at the London Pavilion with his chorus of 'YoungLadies'; these included As You Were (1918) and London, Parisand New York (1920). His revues emphasized wit as well as dancingand spectacle; Noël Coward wrote three pieces for him, includingCochran's 1931 Revue.

    More high-brow productions included London's first EugeneO'Neill play, Anna Christie (1925). This led to hisbankruptcy, but Cochran bounced back by producing seven of Coward'smost successful plays, including Private Lives (1930) and Cavalcade(1931). After World War II Cochran had a hit with the musical comedyBless the Bride (1947) but otherwise failed to keep up withchanges in public taste. He published several volumes of memoirs includingCock-a-Doodle-Do in 1941.

    Cochran was generous to his actors. When Elisabeth Bergnerbecame ill during her London debut in 1933, he closed Escape MeNever for three weeks and paid the company throughout. When PrivateLives moved from Edinburgh to its London opening, the trip was"swathed in luxury" by Cochran, with first-class railwaycarriages and hotels for the company.

    Cochran's attitude to young actresses supposedly created theterm 'casting-couch'. Young girls who attracted him would be givena 'special audition' in his office where he had installed a largecomfortable sofa behind his desk.

    When things were good, he resembled a rooster; when bad,a benign bishop.
    Vivian Ellis