Coward, (Sir) Noël
COWARD, (Sir) Noël
Producer, Writer, and Actor. Nationality: British. Born: Noël Pierce Coward in Teddington, Middlesex, England, 16 December 1899. Education: Attended Chapel Road School. Career: Child actor, writer for revues in late 1910s; 1924—first successful play, The Vortex, followed by a series of comedies, musicals (often writing the music and lyrics), and dramas; also a stage director of his own and other plays; 1942—first film as writer (also producer and co-director), In Which We Serve; cabaret entertainer from the 1950s. Awards: Special Academy Award for In Which We Serve, 1942. Knighted, 1970. Died: 26 March 1973.
Films as Producer:
In Which We Serve (+ co-d + sc + mus + ro)
This Happy Breed (Lean)
Blithe Spirit (Lean); Brief Encounter (Lean) (+ co-sc)
Films as Writer:
Journal de la résistance (Grémillon) (commentary, + narrator)
The Astonished Heart (Fisher and Darnborough) (+ mus + ro)
Meet Me Tonight (Pelissier) (+ mus)
Films as Actor:
Hearts of the World (Griffith)
The Scoundrel (Hecht and MacArthur)
Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson)
Our Man in Havana (Reed)
Surprise Package (Donen)
Paris When It Sizzles (Quine)
Bunny Lake Is Missing (Preminger)
The Italian Job (Collinson)
By COWARD: plays—
I'll Leave It to You, London, 1920.
The Young Idea, London, 1922
The Rat Trap, London, 1924.
The Vortex, London, 1925.
Hay Fever, London, 1925.
Fallen Angels, London, 1925.
Easy Virtue, London, 1926.
The Queen Was in the Parlour, London, 1926.
This Was a Man, London, 1926.
The Marquise, London, 1927.
Home Chat, London, 1927.
Sirocco, London, 1927.
Bitter-Sweet, London, 1929.
Private Lives, London, 1930.
Post-Mortem, London, 1931.
Cavalcade, London, 1932.
Design for Living, London, 1933.
Play Parade, 6 vols., London, 1933–62.
Conversation Piece, London, 1934.
Pointe Valaine, London, 1935.
Tonight at 8:30, 3 vols., London, 1936.
Operette, London, 1938.
Curtain Calls, New York, 1940.
Blithe Spirit, London, 1941.
Australian Broadcast, London, 1941.
Present Laughter, London, 1943.
This Happy Breed, London, 1943.
Peace in Our Time, London, 1947.
Quadrille, London, 1952.
South Sea Bubble, London, 1954.
Relative Values, London, 1954.
After the Ball, London, 1954.
Nude with Violin, London, 1957.
Look after Lulu, London, 1959.
Waiting in the Wings, London, 1960.
Suite in Three Keys, London, 1966.
Plays, 4 vols., London, 1979.
The Collected Stories of Noel Coward, New York, 1986.
Three Plays by Noel Coward, Garden City, 1997.
By COWARD: other books—
A Withered Nosegay (non-fiction), London, 1922.
Chelsea Buns (verse), London, 1925.
The Collected Sketches and Lyrics, London, 1931.
Spangled Unicorn (verse), London, 1932.
Present Indicative (autobiography), London, 1937.
To Step Aside (stories), London, 1939.
Middle East Diary (non-fiction), London, 1944.
Brief Encounter (script), in Three British Screen Plays, edited by Roger Manvell, London, 1950.
Star Quality (stories), London, 1951.
The Noel Coward Song-Book, London, 1953.
Future Indefinite (autobiography), London, 1954.
(Editor) The Last Bassoon, London, 1960.
Pomp and Circumstance (novel), London, 1960.
Collected Short Stories, London, 1962, augmented edition, 1969.
Pretty Polly Barlow (stories), London, 1964, as Polly Barlow, New York, 1965.
The Lyrics of Noël Coward, London, 1965.
Not Yet the Dodo, (verse), London, 1967.
Bon Voyage (stories), London, 1967.
Diaries, edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley, London, 1982.
Collected Verse, edited by Graham Payn and Martin Tickner, London, 1984.
The Complete Stories, London, 1985.
Autobiography, London, 1986.
By COWARD: articles—
Picturegoer (London), August 1927.
Picturegoer (London), 29 April 1933.
Photoplay (New York), February 1935.
The Listener (London), 7 April 1966.
Revue du Cinéma International, April 1971.
On COWARD: books—
Braybrooke, Patrick, The Amazing Mr. Noël Coward, London, 1933.
Graecen, Robert, The Art of Noël Coward, London, 1957.
Levin, Milton, Noël Coward, New York, 1968.
Morley, Sheridan, A Talent to Amuse: A Biography of Noël Coward, London, 1969.
Castle, Charles, Noël, London, 1972.
Merchant, William, Privilege of His Company: Noël Coward Remembered, London, 1975.
Lesley, Cole, The Life of Noël Coward, London, 1976, as Remembered Laughing, New York, 1976.
Yaraventilimath, C. R., Jesting Jeremiah: A Study of Noël Coward's Comic Vision, Dharwad, 1978.
Lesley, Cole, Noël Coward and His Friends, London, 1979. Lahr, John, Coward the Playwright, London, 1982.
Fisher, Clive, Noël Coward, London, 1992.
Cole, Stephen, Noël Coward: A Bio-bibliography, Westport, Connecticut, London, 1993.
Payn, Graham, My Life with Noël Coward, New York, 1994.
Hoare, Philip, Noël Coward, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995.
Morella, Joseph, and George Mazzei, Genius and Lust: The Creative and Sexual Lives of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, New York, 1995.
Browne, Phyllis, Thanks for the Tea, Mrs. Browne: My Life with Noel, Dublin, 1998.
Hoare, Philip, Noel Coward, Chicago, 1998.
Mander, Raymond, Theatrical Companion to Coward, New York, 1999.
On COWARD: articles—
Picturegoer (London), 27 April 1935.
Photoplay (New York), June 1935.
Picturegoer (London), 15 February 1947.
Obituary in Cinéma (Paris), May 1973.
Films in Review (New York), March 1975.
Lahr, John, in Automatic Vaudeville, New York, 1984.
Baker, Bob, "In Which He Served," in Sight & Sound (London), Summer 1990.
Stillwater, Marianne, "Noël Coward et David Lean," in Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1991.
Gottlieb, S., "Kissing and Telling in Hitchcock's Easy Virtue," in Hitchcock Annual (Gambier), no. 1, 1992.
* * *
Noël Coward, bright young man of the 1920s and 1930s and darling of cafe society for over five decades, wore many creative caps in addition to his chief vocation as playwright. Likewise his ventures into films were under a number of guises—actor, screenwriter, producer, and director.
As a playwright he saw most of his plays adapted for the screen but with little actual involvement on his part—Bitter Sweet, Private Lives, Design for Living, and Blithe Spirit. In 1933, the American production of his play, Cavalcade—the saga of a British family between the Boer War and the First World War—won the Academy Award as Best Picture of the Year. As an actor, he did two bit parts in 1918 in D. W. Griffith's Heart of the World. Later acting roles included Around the World in Eighty Days, Bunny Lake Is Missing, and Boom! As a screenwriter he was less prolific, but his output includes two hallmark films—In Which We Serve, based upon his original screenplay, and Brief Encounter, which he adapted from his one-act play Still Life. Curiously, neither of these films rely on the flippant, sometimes sarcastic, and often effete subject matter of many of his famous plays. Instead they were inspiring, realistic depictions of the English during the Second World War.
In Which We Serve was Coward's admirable effort to boost British wartime morale, a propaganda film with lasting value. The germination for the film began with Louis Mountbatten's description of life aboard the HMS Kelly prior to its sinking during the Battle of Crete. Coward developed the screenplay, and also produced the film, wrote the music, co-directed with David Lean, and acted the role of the ship's captain. Told in sober, documentary style with the use of flashbacks, it is flagwaver of considerable merit which earned Coward a special Academy Award.
Brief Encounter remains one of the screen's most durable romantic films. For all its simplicity—the story of an extramarital affair between two happily married, middle-class people—the film is a moving and convincing account of basic human emotions. Coward wrote the screenplay with David Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allan; Coward produced and Lean directed. The complete opposite of Hollywood's glossy women's pictures, Brief Encounter is sparingly directed by Lean, and beautifully acted by Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.
Born: December 16, 1899
Teddingham, Middlesex, England
Died: March 26, 1973
English playwright, composer, and actor
The English playwright, actor, and composer Noel Coward was known for his likable sophistication and sharp sense of humor. Although he wrote some of the most popular plays of his time, he was also known for his entertaining personality and his abilities as a witty storyteller.
Early acting and plays
Noel Coward was born on December 16, 1899, in Teddingham, Middlesex, a suburb of London, England. He studied at the Royal Chapel School in London. He came from a musical family, with parents who sang in a choir. A restless and outgoing youth, Coward soon found his way to the stage. At age twelve he made his first appearance on stage in a children's play. A year later he won praise for his portrayal of "Slightly," a character in Peter Pan.
Coward's first effort as a playwright, Rat Trap, was a realistic study of its characters' emotions. It was written in 1917 but was not published until 1926. In 1918 he played the leading role in his next play, The Last Track. The first drama to receive critical attention was The Vortex (1924), a serious play about drug addiction. During this period he was regarded as the spokesman for the younger generation, although his works were often criticized for being immoral.
In 1929 Coward starred in a Broadway (the New York City theater district) production of his play Bitter Sweet. Bitter Sweet was a romantic musical (a play featuring songs) that was popular in both Great Britain and the United States. This play's popular song, "I'll See You Again," is regarded as Coward's best-known effort as a composer. His other songs include the witty "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and "I'll Follow My Secret Heart."
A flourishing career
Coward's important plays throughout the next ten years included Private Lives (1930), a sophisticated comedy about a married couple; Cavalcade (1931), a patriotic depiction of British tradition; Design for Living (1937), a stylish comedy; and Blithe Spirit (1941), a fantasy concerning spiritualism (the practice of trying to communicate with the dead, such as in a séance).
During World War II (1939–45)—a war in which Great Britain, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and other allies fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan, who were attempting to conquer large portions of Europe, Africa, and Asia—Coward performed for troops on the major battlefronts. He later wrote about his experiences in Middle East Diary (1945). In 1942 he wrote, acted, and codirected with David Lean in the movie In Which We Serve, which showed life aboard a British destroyer (a small, highly armed warship). He continued to work with Lean on the film version of Blithe Spirit (1945) and on the script for Brief Encounter (1946), one of movie screen's most tender love stories.
Coward's dramas in following years—including Peace in Our Time (1947), Quadrille (1952), Nude with Violin (1956), and Sail Away (1961)—were not as fresh as his earlier works. However, he made up for his declining writing ability by starting a new career as an entertainer and raconteur (someone who tells stories or relates incidents with an amusing style and skill). In 1960 he gave his finest acting performance as a spy in the film Our Man in Havana, directed by Carol Reed and written by the English novelist and screen-writer Graham Greene (1904–1991). Coward also wrote two volumes of autobiographical recollections, titled Present Indicative (1937) and Future Indefinite (1954). His other fictional works include two collections of short stories, To Step Aside (1939) and Star Quality (1951), and a novel, Pomp and Circumstance (1960), which portrayed British life on a South Seas island.
Coward was honored in recognition of his talents and service to his country when he was made a knight by England's Queen Elizabeth (1926–) in 1970. He died on March 26, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica.
For More Information
Coward, Noel. The Noël Coward Diaries. Edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley. Boston: Little, Brown, 1982.
Hoare, Philip. Noel Coward: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Payn, Graham, and Sheridan Morley. The Noel Coward Diaries. New York: Da Capo Press, 2000.
The English playwright, actor, and composer Noel Coward (1899-1973) was known for his genial urbanity and frequently acerbic wit.
Noel Coward was born on December 16, 1899, in Teddingham, Middlesex, and studied intermittently at the Royal Chapel School in London. A restless and extroverted youth, he made his acting debut at the age of 12 and a year later won praise for his portrayal of Slightly in Peter Pan.
Coward's first play, Rat Trap, an exercise in psychological realism, was written in 1917 but not published until 1926. He played the leading role in his next play, The Last Track (1918). His first drama to be noted by the critics was The Vortex (1924), a serious play about narcotics addiction. During this period he was regarded as the spokesman for the younger generation, although his works were often condemned as immoral.
In 1929 Coward starred in the Broadway production of his Bitter Sweet, a romantic musical that was popular in both Great Britain and the United States. This play's popular song, "I'll See You Again," is one of his notable efforts as a composer; among his other songs are "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and "I'll Follow My Secret Heart."
Coward's important plays of the next decade or so included Private Lives (1930), a sophisticated marital comedy; Cavalcade (1931), a patriotic depiction of British Victorian tradition; Design for Living (1937), a stylish comedy; and Blithe Spirit (1941), a fantasy concerning spiritualism. During World War II Coward entertained troops on the major battlefronts and later detailed his experiences in Middle East Diary (1945). In 1942 he wrote, codirected with David Lean, and acted in the motion picture In Which We Serve, which presented life aboard a British naval destroyer. He continued his collaboration with Lean on the filming of Blithe Spirit (1945) and on the scenario for Brief Encounter (1946), one of the screen's most tender love stories.
Although Coward's dramas of succeeding years—Peace in Our Time (1947), Quadrille (1952), Nude with Violin (1956), and Sail Away (1961)—lacked the freshness of his earlier works, he compensated for his eclipse as a writer by embarking on a career as an entertainer and raconteur. In 1960 he gave his finest performance as the secret agent in the Carol Reed-Graham Greene film, Our Man in Havana. Coward also wrote two volumes of autobiographical reminiscences, Present Indicative (1937) and Future Indefinite (1954); two collections of short stories, To Step Aside (1939) and Star Quality (1951); and a novel, Pompand Circumstance (1960), portraying British life on a South Seas island. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1970. Noel Coward died on March 26, 1973 in Kingston, Jamaica.
In addition to Coward's autobiographical works, see Hoare, Philip, Noel Coward: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 1996); Payn, Graham (with Barry Day), My Life With Noel Coward (Applause, 1994); and Fisher, Clive, Noel Coward (St. Martin's Press, 1992). For previous biographical material, see Robert Greacen, The Art of Noël Coward (1953), a brief biographical and critical study; James Agee, Agee on Film (1958); and Kenneth Tynan, Curtains: Selections from Drama Criticism and Related Writings (1961) and Tynan Right and Left: Plays, Films, People, Places and Events (1967). □