Sir Noël Coward



  • (1899 - 1973) British playwright, composer, producer, andactor, who began his theatrical career at the age of 11, when hisambitious mother answered an advertisement for child actors in theDaily Mirror. The result was that Noël, so called becausehe was born just before Christmas, appeared in The Goldfishat Crystal Palace's Little Theatre. Thereafter, he became a successfulchild actor, although in his own view he was:
    ...when washed and smarmed down a bit passably attractive,but one of the worst boy actors ever inflicted on the paying public.
    After World War I he began to write his own plays while continuingto appear in revues and comedies. His first major success as bothactor and author came with The Vortex (1924), a domesticdrama reflecting some of the desperation of postwar London society.It was, however, with Hay Fever (1925) that Coward discoveredhis talent for writing and performing sharp social comedies. PrivateLives (1930; filmed 1931), Design for Living (1933;filmed 1933), Blithe Spirit (1941; filmed 1945), and PresentLaughter (1943) followed in this vein. Meanwhile Coward was alsowriting musicals, including Bitter Sweet (1929; filmed 1933)and the patriotic Cavalcade (1931; filmed 1932). During the1930s Coward performed on both sides of the Atlantic, appearing withsuch stars as Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and GertrudeLawrence, usually in his own plays. After World War II, whilemuch in demand as a cabaret star, he never managed to achieve hisformer eminence as a writer: Relative Values (1951), Nudewith Violin (1956), and Suite in Three Keys (1946), inwhich he made his farewell appearance, have not entered the repertory.

    Coward, often referred to as the Master, was a prominentpersonality on the theatrical scene for over 50 years. His image - the dressing gown, silk scarf, and long cigarette holder - nowseems to epitomize Europe's last attempt at frivolous sophisticationbefore the onslaught of World War II.

    Many anecdotes are told of him, most reflecting his skillat repartee. On one occasion Laurence Olivier's young son was accompanyingthe two theatrical giants on a walk along the front at Brighton, notfar from St Dunstan's, the home for the blind. Noticing two dogs copulating,the young Olivier asked what they were doing. Coward replied:

    It's like this, dear boy, the poor little dog in front isblind and the kind one behind is pushing him all the way to St Dunstan's.