Saturday, December 16, 2017

Born Today in 1899: Playwright, Performer Noël Coward

Sir Noël Coward was born today, December 16, in 1899. He 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, south-west London, Coward attended a dance academy in London as a child, making his professional stage début at the age of 11. 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 onward. 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, screenplays, 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 6 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 Marvellous 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 in 1973 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 Noël Coward Theatre in his honour in 2006. 

1 comment:

Raybeard said...

A significant body of opinion here still sees Coward as 'Jack of all trades, master of none' (despite his nickname of being 'The Master') - I suppose meaning that even at his best his creations in so many genres tended to fall as being rather less than the masterpieces other contemporaries were coming out with. There may be a slight element of truth in that but I'd still go out of my way to read, listen to or see virtually anything of his. A 'niche' artist, certainly, but what a niche!