Noël Coward Poster


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Overview (5)

Born in Teddington, Middlesex, England, UK
Died in Blue Harbor, Jamaica  (heart attack)
Birth NameNoël Peirce Coward
Nickname The Master
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Noel Coward virtually invented the concept of Englishness for the 20th century. An astounding polymath - dramatist, actor, writer, composer, lyricist, painter, and wit -- he was defined by his Englishness as much as he defined it. He was indeed the first Brit pop star, the first ambassador of "cool Britannia." Even before his 1924 drugs-and-sex scandal of The Vortex, his fans were hanging out of their scarves over the theater balcony, imitating their idol's dress and repeating each "Noelism" with glee. Born in suburban Teddington on 16 December 1899, Coward was on stage by the age of six, and writing his first drama ten years later. A visit to New York in 1921 infused him with the pace of Broadway shows, and he injected its speed into staid British drama and music to create a high-octane rush for the jazz-mad, dance-crazy 1920s. Coward's style was imitated everywhere, as otherwise quite normal Englishmen donned dressing gowns, stuck cigarettes in long holders and called each other "dahling"; his revues propagated the message, with songs sentimental ("A Room With A View," "I'll See You Again") and satirical ("Mad Dogs and Englishmen," "Don't Put Your Daughter On the Stage, Mrs. Worthington"). His between-the-wars celebrity reached a peak in 1930 with "Private Lives," by which time he had become the highest earning author in the western world. With the onset of World War II he redefined the spirit of the country in films such as This Happy Breed (1944), In Which We Serve (1942), Blithe Spirit (1945) and, perhaps most memorably, Brief Encounter (1945). In the postwar period, Coward, the aging Bright Young Thing, seemed outmoded by the Angry Young Men, but, like any modern pop star, he reinvented himself, this time as a hip cabaret singer: "Las Vegas, Flipping, Shouts "More!" as Noel Coward Wows 'Em in Cafe Turn" enthused Variety. By the 1960s, his reappraisal was complete -- "Dad's Renaissance", called it -- and his "Hay Fever" was the first work by a living author to be produced at the National Theatre. He was knighted -- at last -- in 1970, and died in his beloved Jamaica on 26 March 1973. Since his death, his reputation has grown. There is never a point at which his plays are not being performed, or his songs being sung. A playwright, director, actor, songwriter, filmmaker, novelist, wit . . . was there nothing this man couldn't do? Born into a musical family he was soon treading the boards in various music hall shows where he met a young girl called Gertrude Lawrence, a friendship and working partnership that lasted until her death. His early writings were mainly short songs and sketches for the revue shows popular in the 1920s, but even his early works often contained touches of the genius to come ("Parisian Pierrot" 1923). He went on to write and star (with Gertie) in his own revues, but the whiff of scandal was never far away, such as that from the drug addict portrayed in "The Vortex." Despite his obvious homosexual lifestyle he was taken to the hearts of the people and soon grew into one of the most popular writer/performers of his time.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Crook <steve@brainstorm.co.uk>

Trivia (53)

HRH Prince Edward Wessex unveiled a statue of Coward at a gathering of the Broadway theatre community on Monday, 1 March 1999, at the Gershwin Theatre (221 West 51st St.). The ceremony was the first in a year-long series of events in New York celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the British playwright, songwriter, and performer.
He was created a Knight Bachelor in the 1970 Queen's New Year Honours List for his services to drama.
Godfather of actor Daniel Massey.
Mother named him Noel because his birthday arrived so close to Christmas.
Was performing onstage before he was 10.
Wrote some 140 plays, and hundreds of songs.
Turned down the role of Humbert in Lolita (1962).
Worked undercover for British Intellegence during WWII.
The character of Eric Dare in Cole Porter's musical "Jubilee" is based on Coward.
Turned down the role of the eponymous villain in the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962).
Friend and neighbor of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
Godfather of Juliet Mills.
Portrayed by Harry Groener in the short-lived Off-Broadway musical "If Love Were All" (1999).
He was director David Lean's original choice for the role of Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). The role was ultimately played by Alec Guinness, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.
Befriended the ten-year-old Peter Collinson, when he was the governor of the orphanage where Collinson lived. Collinson later directed him in The Italian Job (1969). He subsequently became Collinson's godfather.
Was the first "tax exile," a British subject living outside the UK in order not to incur the income tax, to be knighted.
Biography/bibliography in: "Contemporary Authors." New Revision Series, Vol. 132, pp. 107-114 (as David Cornwell). Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2005.
Won a Special Tony Award in 1970 "for his multiple and immortal contributions to the theatre." He also received two Tony nominations in 1964: as Best Director (Musical) for "High Spirits," which was based on his play "Blithe Spirit;" and as Best Author (Musical), along with collaborator Harry Kurnitz, for "The Girl Who Came to Supper," which was based on Terence Rattigan's "The Sleeping Prince."
He once encountered Edna Ferber, who was wearing a tailored suit. "You look almost like a man," said Coward. "So do you," replied Ferber.
Mentioned in the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart' song, "The Lady is a Tramp".
The character of Beverly Carlton in the Moss Hart/George S. Kaufman play "The Man Who Came to Dinner" was based on Coward.
Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988.
In 1920 he started the turtleneck fashion fad.
Enjoyed the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Attended The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. Other actors who also attended the academy include Kelly Brook, Richard Todd, Leslie Phillips, Emily Lloyd, Stephen Manwaring and Martine McCutcheon.
He developed his trademark clipped, staccato manner of speaking in order to mask a lisp and because it made it easier for his partially deaf mother to hear what he was saying.
Sir Winston Churchill personally blocked an awarding of the Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire to Coward, even though the playwright had spied for Britain during the war, according to never before seen letters. In 1942 Churchill urged King George VI to abandon his plans to bestow the honor on Coward, who was the King's personal friend.
Upon his death, his remains were interred at the Firefly Estate in Montego Bay, Saint James, Jamaica.
Coward and Gertrude Lawrence each began their British theatrical professional careers as children at ten years of age. They became acquainted in their early London stage appearances. In 1908 Lawrence was cast by director Basil Dean for the Liverpool Repertory Theatre production of Gerhart Hauptmann's "Hannele", where she met Coward. In 1923 he developed his first musical review, "London Calling!" specifically for his "best friend" Lawrence. Coward wrote his 1931 play "Private Lives" specifically for her. She, with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II while developing their musical "The King and I" asked Coward to perform the "King of Siam" role, but he refused. He subsequently told Mary Martin about the proposed role; she in turn suggested her former co-star in the Broadway musical "Lute Song", Yul Brynner, to Rodgers and Hammerstein. The rest, as they say, is history.
His nickname for Gertrude Lawrence was "Gertie".
On Sunday April 29, 1945, news that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had been captured by Italian partisans, executed, hung upside down from a street lamp and spat upon caused Coward to remark, "The Italians are a lovable race".
On September 13, 1945, the discovery of Adolf Hitler's secret plan for the extermination of certain prominent British figures once England was taken over was made public. Among the figures were Winston Churchill, Vic Oliver, Dame Sybil Thorndike, author and journalist Rebecca West and Coward himself. "What a cast!" he remarked. West, learning that she and Coward were on the list of those to be executed, sent Coward a postcard, saying "Just think who we'd have been seen dead with!".
Coward had done occasional troop concerts with French actor and singer Maurice Chevalier . Chevalier had been accused of collaboration with the Vichy French government and the German occupiers, and, his allegiance had been questionable. On 27 July 1944 he told Coward that he had appeared once in Germany, the only payment for which was the release of ten prisoners; that he had sung twice over the radio because he couldn't get out of it without getting into trouble with the Gestapo. Coward believed him.
Coward was not a great admirer of the Duke of Windsor, suggesting at the time of his abdication that statues of the Duchess of Windsor be erected throughout England for the blessing she had bestowed on the country.
Jules C. Stein was an American physician and businessman who co-founded Music Corporation of America (MCA). When Coward was visiting New York City in September 1947, Stein and his MCA associate Charles Miller made a fantastic proposition: if he would guarantee Paramount Pictures three commitments, either as an actor, author or director, they would pay him $500 a week for 23 years. He visualized British newspaper headlines back in England: "Coward signs up to American film company--another rat leaving the sinking ship". His instincts told him to refuse. He did and they were astounded. Coward valued his freedom more than the money they were going to pay him.
Jerome Kern was a close friend of Coward's and the two agreed to collaborate on a musical play project, but Kern's death on November 11, 1945, put an end to those plans.
After the Broadway closing of the musical "One Touch of Venus", 10 February 1945, Richard Halliday and Mary Martin were in negotiations with Coward for Mary to appear in "Pacific 1860", reopening of the Drury Lane theatre after the war. Coward was author, composer, lyricist, producer and director of the project, the first post-war pleasant and old fashioned lavish musical produced by Coward. The story is set in a fictional Pacific British Colony during the reign of 'Queen Victoria'. The operetta involves a romantic and sentimental story about a visiting prima donna and her conflict between love and her career. There is also the theme of snobbishness from the island's establishment. In New York, Coward's friend Jack Wilson had done everything to dissuade Martin and Halliday from going to London. "Pacific 1860" was the first show to play at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane after World War II. Coward, who had the very successful--and profitable--production "Calvacade" at the Drury Lane in the 1930s, paid for the ambitious restoration of the theatre after the war's end. Building permits to repair bomb damage at the Lane were remarkably hard to come by and much of his year was spent cutting through reams of red tape before rehearsals could start in late autumn. In March Coward had cabled Martin--a Texas singer who had first made her name in such Hollywood musicals as The Great Victor Herbert (1939) and with the song "My Heart Belongs To Daddy"--that rehearsals were to start on November 1946. The London production premiered on 19 December 1946, starring Martin as "Elena Salvador" opposite Graham Payn--who was also Coward's lover--as Kerry Stirling. Other players were Sylvia Cecil as "Rosa Cariatanza" and Winifred Ingram as "Trudi". Sets and costumes were designed by Coward's friend and regular designer G.E. Calthrop. The show, unfortunately, was not a success and ran for only four months, closing on 12 April 1947. Martin and Halliday departed London April 18, 1947. Coward's initial reaction to Martin's singing was favorable, citing her projection technique with stage personality. During rehearsals she and Halliday presented problems, however. She approached the role of Elena with great earnestness, and Coward instructing her to lighten her character with more comedy. After the closing of the operetta he came to the sad conclusion that the fundamental problem with "Pacific" is that Martin, sweet and charming as she was, knew nothing about Elena, never had and never would. He noted that although she has a delicious personality, she could not sing. He believed her to be "crammed" with talent but was too "little" to play sophisticated parts.
He and Marlene Dietrich had become, and remained, close friends since their first conversation--by transatlantic telephone--in 1935.
The Theatre Guild, on 28 July 1952, offered Coward the dubious task of doing the music, book and lyrics for "Pygmalion" with Mary Martin. He decided against the project, which four years later Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe turned into "My Fair Lady".
In July 1951 his pianist and accompanist Norman Hackforth encouraged him to appear in cabaret at London's Café de Paris for a four-week engagement opening on 29 October 1951. Beatrice Lillie--whom coward called "Beattie"--and his close friend Marlene Dietrich were already veteran performers on the Café de Paris cabaret. The cabaret concert engagement, honed during his wartime tour entertaining the troops, was a triumphant supreme success--"tore the place up. Glittering audience headed by Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent." The cabaret was packed every night, jammed full and wildly enthusiastic. Subsequent bookings because of his popularity became special cabaret appearances with his audience. Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein II's musical "South Pacific" opened in the fall of 1951 at the Drury Lane with Mary Martin in her original role. She and Coward agreed to perform with an orchestra in a charity event at the Café cabaret on 13 January 1952. A second Café de Paris four-week engagement opened on 16 June 1952, closing 11 July 1952, "a glamorous farewell performance, rapturous reception--the place was crammed with stars: the Lunts, Claudette Colbert, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, etc.". On 26 May 1953 a third four-week concert engagement opened with Coward performing night. It was again a major success, with Coward controlling his nerves and his material. During the engagement he appeared on 11 June at 'Stars at Midnight at the Palladium" charity event, going on at 3:20 a.m., and off in nine minutes, singing "Uncle Harry," "Mad Dogs" and "Bad Times." During his cabaret late night 12:15 a.m. appearances, he was starring in George Bernard Shaw's "The Apple Cart." On Coronation Day, 9 June 1953, after the Café de Paris cabaret appearance, he faced two more shows at the Savoy Hotel, appearing the same night in the Savoy's cabaret. A fourth four-week Café cabaret engagement was scheduled opening 18 October 1954, closing 13 November 1954. During the engagement he appeared on 1 November for an Orphanage Charity Gala. During the engagement's last week, Joe Glasser, a New York theatrical agent, offered to arrange a season in Las Vegas in return for two concerts a night, with Coward picking up $35,000 a week playing to what he was later to call Nescafé Society. The offer proved irresistible.
In March of 1955, prior to Coward's appearance during the month of June at Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn Casino and Hotel, Joe Glasser arranged a deal for him to star in a Paramount film of Terence Rattigan's play "The Sleeping Prince" to film in Hollywood with Judy Holliday. A second Paramount film with Danny Kaye was also part of the film deal. MGM wanted him to play the Prince in the film version of Ferenc Molnar's play "The Swan." Twentieth-Century Fox offered Coward additional film deals, anything of his choice. The "Sleeping Prince" was eventually made in England with Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe as The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).
In early May of 1955, while in New York prior to his Las Vegas concert engagement, he learned that his English piano accompanist, Norman Hackforth, had been refused a work permit to work in the US. Peter Matz, on his arrival in New York City in 1954 from his two-year sojourn in Paris, France, returned to New York to study music theory and piano. Matz gained a job as rehearsal pianist for Harold Arlen's Broadway musical "House of Flowers", based on the celebrated Truman Capote novella about love in a brothel in the West Indies, opening 30 December 1954 and running 165 performances. Matz provided the vocal and dance arrangements for the musical. His varied musical skills were obvious, as the job expanded to writing orchestrations and vocal arrangements for Arlen's next musical, "Jamaica", starring Lena Horne. It was Arlen who introduced Matz to Marlene Dietrich, who needed someone to help construct and accompany her cabaret concert act. Frantic, running out of prep time for the Las Vegas casino engagement, Coward confided to Dietrich about his long time collaborator-pianist's work permit denial by the State Department. Matz had been introduced to Coward by Marlene. She urged him to grab Matz at all costs. At Idlewild Airport (renamed John F. Kennedy Airport in 1963), after seeing Dietrich off, Coward was desperate to find a replacement for Hackforth. Coward called Matz from the airport and went to his apartment to audition him. The test came when Coward asked Matz to play the "Trolley Song". "I had no idea with his songs or the style of that English Music Hall comedy thing", Matz recalled. Coward asked, "Can you be in Los Angeles tomorrow?" Matz replied that he could, and rehearsals for Las Vegas started just three weeks before Coward was to open there. What followed at Clifton Webb's residence in Beverly Hills over the next ten days was that they worked on the Las Vegas material all day every day. Matz learned from Coward not only the songs but a whole new style of performance. "He made me learn, very forcefully, that this was about comedy. A couple of times he screamed, 'Don't play when I am making a joke', [and] I gradually learned that this was a whole other kind of music". Matz was writing the orchestral arrangements for 'Carlton Hayes''' band, a typical Las Vegas dance band with saxophones and many trumpets and trombones that needed finesse and much discretion if Coward's lyrics were to be clearly heard. The results were impressive: Coward wrote in his diaries that Matz's "orchestral arrangements and variations are incredible--vital and imaginative. Sometimes they go too far for my personal taste, but I cannot fail to be impressed by the expert knowledge of instrumentation. Peter Matz, at the age of 26, knows more about the range of various instruments and the potentialities of different combinations than anyone of any age I have ever met in England . . . very exciting and stimulating".
Coward, his secretary-manager Cole Lesley and Peter Matz departed Clifton Webb's residence in Beverly Hills and arrived in Las Vegas, NV, on June 1, 1955, to prepare for Coward's four-week engagement at Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn Hotel and Casino. Frank Sennes (the booking agent for the Desert Inn) negotiated a deal with Coward in which he was to perform a supper club concert and a second concert every night, during the month of June through July 4, 1955. Opening night produced rave notices and, from a social-theatrical point of view, was sensational. Frank Sinatra chartered a special plane and brought Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall), David Niven and his wife, Hjördis Genberg, Gordon MacRae and Sheila MacRae, and Jane Powell, Joan Fontaine, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joseph Cotten and his wife, English stage and film director Peter Glenville, Laurence Harvey, Rosemary Clooney and Sammy Davis Jr. also attended. After opening night, the following Friday Coward was driven out into the Nevada desert, photographed by "Life" Magazine in his black dinner-jacket, black bow tie, red carnation in his lapel, sipping a cup of tea, the temperature at 118 degrees (Life Magazine, June 20, page 20). During the sold-out engagement, the Desert Inn was flooded by a torrential desert rainstorm, causing $3 million of damage in repairs. The four-week engagement paid Coward $35,000 per week, out of which he paid his own expenses and Cole's, Peter Matz's and Joe Glasser's commissions. In addition, the Desert Inn paid $60,000 for an option and some shares of Coward's TV company, formed to benefit from his new CBS deal for three television specials, tax-free as it is capital gain. Near the end of the Las Vegas engagement, on June 27 and 28, Columbia Records chief Goddard Lieberson had four performances of Coward's show recorded for album release, eventually called "Noël Coward at Las Vegas". Coward added Matelot" and "A Room with a View" to the repertoire, and also "Alice is at it Again" for the recording concert performance session.
The 1955 Columbia Records live album LP "Noël Coward in Las Vegas" is regarded by many as a vocal masterpiece and Coward's finest appearance on record, accompanied by Peter Matz. The tracks are as follows: (1) "Noël Coward Medley" - 5:19; (2) "Uncle Harry" - 3:45; (3) "Loch Lomond" (traditional) - 2:28; (4) "A Bar on the Piccola Marina" - 4:48; (5) "World Weary" - 3:11 (used in Cockran's revue "This Year of Grace"); (6) Nina" (Coward, Cole Porter) - 4:22 (for the revue "Sigh No More"); (7) "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" - 3:14 (used in Cockran's revue "Words and Music"); (8) "Matelot" - 4:35; (9) "Alice is At it Again" - 3:33; (10) "A Room with a View" - 3:04 (used in Cockran's revue "This Year of Grace"); (11) "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" (Cole Porter) - 4:30 (from Cole Porter's "Paris"); (12) "The Party's Over Now" - 1:44 (used in Cockran's revue "Words and Music". What amazed many about Coward's Desert Inn Casino lounge show was his ability to convey with no detectable effort all of the nimble diction and convivial grace necessary to perform these intricate songs in a live setting--not a syllable out of place, not a line delivered but with ease and precision. He did in fact share much with his live audience; he leaves them absolutely crackling in glee at the English stuffed shirts who populate his comic pieces "Uncle Harry," "A Bar on the Piccola Marina" and his classic "Mad Dogs and Englishmen"--a vocal masterpiece.
After conversations over transatlantic telephone lines, Joe Glasser--a New York City theatrical agent--flew into London to meet Coward in mid-November of 1954. Discussions ensued for a Las Vegas casino lounge concert engagement contingent on whether or not Coward liked the Las Vegas scenery. Plans were made for Glasser to meet Noël in December, in New York, then escort Coward around Las Vegas for a couple of days so that he could case the various hotel-casinos and decide which one, if any, he preferred to appear in. Glasser had seen his concert performance at London's Café de Paris and was bewildered why the audience liked it so much. He and Coward arrived in Las Vegas on 3 December 1954, and Coward's conclusion about Las Vegas was that every instinct and desire is concentrated on money, a curious product of a most curious adolescent country, and finding that their morals were bizarre in the extreme. He took a great shine to Joe Glasser, however, who at 58 years of age didn't drink, smoke and adored his mother, who was ecstatic about her son getting to put Noel Coward under his wing--having a client with the reputation of Noel Coward was a huge coup for someone who up until that time had booked mainly black acts and promoted prizefights. The following week Glasser and Coward descended on Hollywood and Beverly Hills for the next five days, connecting with movie and television network moguls and partying with transplanted thespians.
Between December 1954 through March 1955, William S. Paley's Columbia Broadcasting System television network negotiated to inaugurate a new spectacular color television live special program series to counter National Broadcasting Company Color Television network's live "Producers' Showcase". NBC inaugurated the live series-program on 18 October 1954, a dramatic color broadcast production of "Tonight at 8:30" electronically transmitted from NBC Television's New York City studio. Both NBC and CBS networks scheduled these 90 minute color specials once a month. During the early 1950's not all of NBC's television product was broadcast in color, NBC becoming a full color network in the late 1950s. Bill Paley approached Noël Coward about starring in three of these CBS Spectacular Specials. Noël's London theatrical managers Lance Hamilton and Charles Russell negotiated $600,000 for Noël Coward's production company to produce the three television commitments; all scheduled after Noël's Las Vegas Desert Inn (3 June-4 July, 1955) cabaret concert appearance. Noël's first American television commitment would coincide with the inaugural new CBS-TV "Ford Star Jubilee" special live television series. Noël Coward had also been approached by Chrysler and General Motors offering him more money to perform on television. Noël, hesitant, decided on the lesser fee since he was more comfortable with the CBS offer. Paley insisted that Noël's first television appearance be based upon his Las Vegas Desert Inn Hotel and Casino concert act material. Noël agreed proposing his close friend Mary Martin appear in the 90 minute musical special with him. Mary delighted with the proposition, agreeing to share the CBS stage. After Las Vegas, Noël returned to Jamaica with Peter Matz arriving later, followed by Mary Martin and her husband/manager Richard Halliday, to develop, write, compose, arrange and orchestrate the television show material content. Upon first hearing the newly composed songs "Together with Music" and "Ninety minutes is a long, long time", Mary objected to the opening first number. Noël, during the night, rewrote the music and lyrics for "Together with Music". Noël scripted the entire 90 minute musical concert-play. With Noël staging, directing, rehearsing, memorizing the script with Mary; pianist-arranger-orchestrator Peter Matz rehearsed, accompanying Noël and Mary with all the musical material for the television special. The last Saturday night, 24 Sept 1955 in Jamaica, before Mary and Richard returned to the mainland, Noël and Mary performed the show at their cocktail party so that they could get some sort of audience reaction. After the cocktail party guests departed, Noël remarked "Mary was magical; she gave out as if she were doing a command performance". Noël arrived in New York on Wednesday evening 5 October to begin rehearsals and camera blocking. The first "Ford Star Jubilee" special featured (#1.#1) "The Judy Garland Show" broadcast 24 September 1955 from CBS Television City, Studio 43, Hollywood, California. (#1.#2)"Together with Music" starring Noël Coward and Mary Martin was broadcast the next month on 22 October 1955 from CBS New York City-Studio 72, Broadway and 81st Street. This color television program broadcast was the first color show transmitted from the CBS network in New York City. This telecast copied during the electronic transmission process in black and white kine-scope is the only example of Noël Coward and Mary Martin performing his famous cabaret concert material on film. In New York studio rehearsals, Noël blocked and rehearsed every technical aspect of the camera positions related to Noël's staging and blocking of their concert act. The two camera dress rehearsal in front of a live studio invited audience on Thursday night (22 October), and Friday night was recorded on B&W kine-scope; processed during the night; reviewed the following day; early Saturday morning with Mary and the entire technical crew. Noël gave the crew his notes. The studio booth camera-director Jerry Shaw accepted Noël's pick-up shot notes. After resting in their hotel rooms that afternoon, Mary and Noël returned to the CBS studio stage, performing their concert act in front of a completely new invited live studio audience. Afterwards, one of the first telephone calls came from Marlene Dietrich, in Las Vegas, ecstatic and praising the performance.
Arriving in Los Angeles on December 16, 1955, celebrating his 56th birthday, Coward was Clifton Webb's house guest. Webb had been touring the US in "Blithe Spirit" and "Present Laughter" with immense success; he and Coward had first met on a Davos, Switzerland, skiing holiday in 1924. Coward would begin rehearsing his second CBS Ford Star Jubilee (1955) 90-minute production of his play "Blithe Spirit". Using Webb's residence as both a social and business operation base, Coward turned Webb's living room into a rehearsal stage-setting, directing and blocking his cast until the sets were finished and decorated on stage 43 at CBS Television City. A successful first cast reading of the play on 18 December at the home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall pleased Coward, and he noted that Betty Bacall, playing "Elvira" opposite Coward's "Charles",was "word perfect considering she was shooting a film". Claudette Colbert played "Ruth". Coward commented that neither woman was easy to work with; Colbert was "extremely tiresome", and Bacall was "no comedienne". Colbert complained that Coward "was unremittingly difficult". When she apologized for fluffing her lines by saying, "I knew them backwards last night", Coward retorted, "Yes, and that's the way you're saying them this morning". Colbert had always regretted the fact that the distance between her nape and shoulders was short: "he thing Noël said that hurt me most--but funny it was--he said, 'If she had a neck, I'd wring it'." Preparations followed the usual precise requirements: Coward demanded rehearsals on a fully furnished studio stage set (in the poltergeist scenes of the play, even the furniture had to be rehearsed), and all but essential personnel were barred ("That's so the men spending their money won't bother their ulcers", he told a journalist). He also requested a studio audience for an early rehearsal so that he could judge their reactions. These were unprecedented demands for a medium used to casual drama production methods. However, just as camera rehearsals began, an abscess was discovered on Coward's sciatic nerve in his right leg. A doctor was sent for "and injected the damn thing eight times with the thickest needle I have ever seen". Numbed with Novocaine, Coward continued, although he seemed bad-tempered for much of the rehearsals, but the 90-minute show was "played without nerves and on nerves . . . the result was that the performance went like a bomb". The studio invited audience was described as "very hep" by the New York Herald-Tribune, which likened it to "a smart Broadway opening with a terribly fashionable cast, in front of an upper-drawer audience".
Upon completion in January of 1956 of Ford Star Jubilee: Blithe Spirit (1956), Coward he narrowed down prospective plays considered for his third CBS special. In Jamaica he sprang at his play "Present Laughter", cutting the script down for TV, planning for camera shots, angles and close-ups from the very beginning. CBS chief William Paley was anxious for him not to do "Present Laughter", instead proposing his 1942 London success "This Happy Breed". The play was written in 1939 but, because of the outbreak of World War II, was not staged until 1942, when it was performed on alternating nights with his play, "Present Laughter." The two plays later alternated with Coward's "Blithe Spirit." The title, a reference to the English people, is a phrase from John of Gaunt's monologue in Act II, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's "Richard II". "This Happy Breed" had been made into a very successful 1944 British feature film (This Happy Breed (1944)) directed by David Lean. In early March, Ford Motor Co. announced in the press without warning that Coward's third television appearance was canceled because the ratings on "Together with Music" and "Blithe Spirit" had not been high enough. He flew to New York on 13 March 1956, arriving at 9:45 p.m. in a snowstorm. Meeting Paley the next morning at 11:00, he combined stately reticence with outraged dignity. Paley received him, and his agents "Russel and Ham", with twitching apprehension. After the meeting CBS issued a press release announcing Coward's next CBS appearance had been postponed until October, when he would CBS' new Playhouse 90 (1956) series with him starring in his play "This Happy Breed". Ford and the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency had made their announcement to the press without consulting CBS, but had not taken into account the fact that Coward's previous CBS appearances had been triumphant successes. As it turned out, the reason for Ford's anger against Coward was his ridiculing it in press interviews for trying to censor some of his risqué lyrics in "Together with Music" and also certain specific risqué dialogue lines in "Blithe Spirit"; TV audiences in the Midwest were considered eminently shockable and likely to express their outrage by refusing to buy Ford cars. Paley declared Ford's press release about ratings for Coward's television special ratings being inadequate to be untrue. By the end of March, all was changed again--Coward was now to do "This Happy Breed" on May 5th per the original network contract. To add to its discomfiture, Ford realized that it had nothing prepared for the May 5th broadcast schedule and that it was, as the saying went, "up the creek without a paddle".
Remaining in New York City, Coward--overruling CBS and Ford--determined not to return to Hollywood's CBS Television City facility. This caused a sensation in television circles. He began editing the script for television, planning camera shots, angles and close-ups, as he had prepared "Present Laughter"; casting, in production meetings, directing and rehearsing the television play "This Happy Breed" with CBS-assigned director Ralph Nelson. He cast stage actress Edna Best as "Ethel", despite the fact that she had recently had a mental breakdown several months previously; her doctors promised that she would be all right for her appearance and that it would be therapeutically the best thing in the world for her. There was much controversy over whether Kay Kendall should play "Queenie". Kendall was coming to New York City to stay with her secret lover Rex Harrison, the knowledge of which would have seriously damaged her career. Coward managed to get Harrison to agree to her playing the role, but "then the silly bitch refused", so Coward engaged Patricia Cutts. Rehearsals began on 16 April 1956, Everyone was word-perfect in rehearsals, with a week to go before airtime. Coward was playing his role better than he performed originally, probably because he was older, knew more, and seemed to feel right as Frank Gibbons the moment he entered the first scene. Best gave an exquisite performance as Ethel--true, uncompromising and infinitely touching. Coward noted that she was a fine actress and gave no trouble at all. When he reflected back on the hell that Colbert put him through, he could hardly believe his good fortune in having a leading lady who goes through her business calmly and methodically and concentrates on getting every ounce of reality out of the character rather than fussing about her angles, her clothes, and not troubling to learn her lines. The Thursday and Friday night camera dress rehearsals, with an invited studio audience at CBS' Studio 72, were kinescope-copied and reviewed the next morning. Coward did a successful Person to Person (1953) impromptu interview with Edward R. Murrow from Charles and Ham's apartment on Friday night prior to the Saturday-night live broadcast. By May 6 it was all over and, it appeared, a much greater triumph than either of the other two television productions. Saturday night, before the credits were over on the screen, CBS had over 1000 telephone calls. CBS chairman William Paley called Coward immediately, telling him "it was the greatest thing . . . ever seen on television". From Hollywood, Marlene Dietrich called. Coward also received calls from Clifton Webb, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, stage star Katharine Cornell and director Guthrie McClintic, who had been friends of his since the early 1920s. The notices for "This Happy Breed" were fabulous, the New York ones soberly enthusiastic and most heart-warming but nothing compared with the raves from Philadelphis, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, etc. The general consensus of opinion was that "This Happy Breed" was the finest telecast ever broadcast, with Coward's performance the best of all. Edna Best rightly shared all honors and the entire cast received good notices and immediate offers for jobs from all over. The one discordant note in all of this was that the ratings were lower than either of the previous two broadcasts.
He first saw Elaine Stritch featured in the much vaunted 1958 musical "Goldilocks", written and directed by New York theater critic Walter Kerr and his wife Jean Kerr. Coward's opinion of the musical: "How does an eminent New York critic of his calibre have the bloody impertinence to dish out such inept, amateurish, nonsense? Elaine Stritch saved that show!" Remembering her performance, Coward cast her as "Mimi" in his 1961 Broadway musical "Sail Away"--"an excellent comedienne", he called her, "wildly enthusiastic and very funny. An ardent Catholic, has been in analysis for five years! A girl with a problem." Stritch had a reputation for being tiresome, complicated and difficult; not bitchy and vile like some. As he suspected, she began by being tiresome, full of suggestions and not knowing a word, but after a few rehearsal days she saw the light. "She was never, I hasten to add, beastly in any way; just fluffy and nervous inside, sure, authoritative and a real deliverer!" After Broadway, "Sail Away" opened 21 June 1962 at London's Savoy Theatre, produced by Harold Fielding--a London theatrical impresario specializing in musicals--after a 2-1/2-week tryout in Bristol. Coward had Stritch for five days of rehearsal. His assistant Coley was wonderful with Stritch and had given her a list of five words which must never again cross her lips--"guilt", "problem", "scared", "frightened", "insecurity". Coward observed that she was completely confused about everything: "She is an ardent Catholic and never stops saying 'fuck' and 'Jesus Christ'. Like most Americans, dreadfully noisy!".
Edward Albee's dramatic original Broadway play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" opened on October 13, 1962, starring Uta Hagen as Martha, Arthur Hill as George, Melinda Dillon as Honey and George Grizzard as Nick. From July 1963 through the 1964 closing performance, Elaine Stritch played Martha, although only in matinee performances. Coward went to see her in the show, and raved about her--"She was absolutely magnificent. A truly great performance. If only she could play it in London. She is really a fine actress".
His play, "The Vortex" in the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson/Josephine Hart and Stagescreen productions at the (University of California) James A. Doolittle Theatre in Los Angeles, California was awarded the 1991 Drama-Logue Award for Production.

Personal Quotes (35)

Having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.
[About Oscar Wilde] It is extraordinary indeed that such a posing, artificial old queen should have written one of the greatest comedies in the English language!
[To Peter O'Toole] If you'd been any prettier, it would have been "Florence of Arabia".
Comedies of manners swiftly become obsolete when there are no longer any manners.
Everybody worships me, it's nauseating.
Extraordinary how potent cheap music is
Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.
I never care who scored the goal, or which side won the silver cup--I never learned to bat or bowl--But I heard the curtain going up.
[asked what he thought about his Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) co-star Keir Dullea] Keir today, gone tomorrow.
Wit is like caviar - it should be served in small portions and not spread about like marmalade.
Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.
My importance to the world is relatively small. On the other hand, my importance to myself is tremendous. I am all I have to work with, to play with, to suffer and to enjoy. It is not the eyes of others that I am wary of, but of my own. I do not intend to let myself down more than I can possibly help, and I find that the fewer illusions I have about myself or the world around me, the better company I am for myself.
[In a telegram to Gertrude Lawrence upon her marriage to Richard Aldrich] Dear Mrs. A: Hooray! Hooray! You finally are de-flowered. I love you now and every day. Sincerely, Noel Coward.
[His last words] Good night my darlings. I'll see you in the morning.
I don't much care for Hollywood, I'd rather have a nice cup of cocoa.
My life really has been one long extravaganza.
The day when I shall begin to worry is when the critics declare: 'This is Noël Coward's greatest play.' But I know they bloody well won't.
I can accept anything in the theatre provided it amuses me or moves me. But if it does neither, I want to go home.
[MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer] ordered Nelson Eddy to marry. Eddy agreed, but he didn't want a virgin bride or some insatiable creature, and Mayer understood. Sometimes the least sexual marriages last the longest, so long as it's mutual . . . Mayer found him an older divorcée who'd been married to a movie director--she was wise to the ways of Tinseltown, she was not sexually demanding or needful, and she was well-pleased to live the comfortable life of a movie star's wife.
[on Sophia Loren] She should have been sculpted in chocolate truffles so that the world could devour her.
[on A.E. Matthews] He bumbled through the play like a charming retriever who has buried a bone and can't quite remember where.
[talking about the diaeresis (two dots) over the "e" in his first name] I didn't put the dots over the "e" in Noël. The language did. Otherwise it's not Noël but Nool!
[on one of his most famous love songs, "I'll See You Again"] I have heard it played in all parts of the world. Brass bands have blared it, string orchestras have swooned it, Palm Court quartets have murdered it, barrel organs have ground it out in London squares, and swing bands have tortured it beyond recognition. I am still fond of it and very proud of it.
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
[on the Duke of Windsor's abdication to in order to marry a divorced woman] A statue should be erected to Mrs. Simpson in every town in England for the blessing she has bestowed upon the country.
[In 1940, on coping with air raids] When the warning sounds I gather up some pillows, a pack of cards and a bottle of gin, tuck myself beneath the stairs and do very nicely with the consolations of a drink and solitaire until "all clear" sounds.
A bout of influenza laid me low in Shanghai, and I lay, sweating gloomily, in my bedroom in the Cathay Hotel for several days. The ensuing convalescence, however, was productive, for I utilized it by writing 'Private Lives'. The idea by now seemed ripe enough to have a shot at it, so I started it, propped up in bed with a writing-block and an Eversharp pencil, and completed it, roughly, in four days. It came easily, and with the exception of a few of the usual 'blood and tears' moments, I enjoyed writing it. I thought it a shrewd and witty comedy, well constructed on the whole, but psychologically unstable.
I have a slight reforming urge, but have rather cunningly kept it down.
I was a brazen, odious little prodigy, over-pleased with myself and precocious to a degree. I was a talented boy, God knows, and when washed and smarmed down a bit, passably attractive.
The world has treated me very well. But then I haven't treated it so badly, either.
I behaved through most of the [Second World] war with gallantry tinged, I suspect, by a strong urge to show off.
[on Method actors who believed they needed to know a character's motivation to portray a role] If you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday.
[on the first of the Ian Fleming novels to be filmed; Ian had asked Noël to play "Dr. No"] No, no, no, a thousand times no!
[on Arthur Miller] The cruelest blow life has dealt him is that he hasn't a grain of humour.
The modern actress needs only to look good and master three essential skills, to cry, scream and fake orgasm on demand.

Salary (5)

Ford Star Jubilee (1955) $250,000
Around the World in 80 Days (1956) A painting by Édouard Vuillard
Surprise Package (1960) £35,000
Paris - When It Sizzles (1964) $10,000
The Italian Job (1969) £25,000

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