Thursday, August 26, 2010


Born Melbourne 1913, Australian, but not always proud of it. Latterly added an e to her name( it helped her career somewhat). Brown was a frumpy Oz: Browne became an elegant, sophisticated lady. No Ozzie accent except when joking or swearing.

The word originally intended to describe copulating was never far from her lips. She was witty and is remembered as much for her foul-mouthing as for her supreme talent as an ACTRESS.

28 plays in Australia
41 in UK
7 in USA
31 films
15 TV
11 radio shows
7 full pages of bibliography

As likely as not her performances in comedies were more success than the plays she acted in. But when she played classics she scooped the plaudits, in Wilde, Maugham, Marlowe, Shaw or Shakespeare. “I have seen some good Macbeths but never a Lady Macbeth as memorable or magnificent as Coral Browne.”

Why did she collect awards and prizes but was never given an Honour? Was it because her reputation led the authorities to fear that she might say to the Monarch, “Thanks for the fucking medal?”

Play after play she showed her superiority on the stage; she was always inside the characters she portrayed, her acting was sparkling and in depth. Sometimes her entrance was applauded and she acknowledged that with a twitch of her left eyebrow. She was married twice: first to Philip Pearlman. Midway in her career, Coral joined the distinguished band of actors who suffered seriously from stage fright.

Asked about her later (rather unlikely) marriage with Vincent Price, the silken-voiced master of horror movies when they were both well over sixty, she explained to a friend that their opening night - was like squeezing a marshmallow into an old leather bag! They got on well, even though when they lived in the States she was Mrs Vincent Price rather than Miss Coral Browne. He was the big celebratory known nationally for his horror, locally for his personal appearances, TV shows, lectures on wine. Coral had her face lifted to the extent that when she smiled “it was a terrible effort to get the gum back over her teeth again. And there were endless dietary attempts to keep in shape” (Diana Rigg). Indeed there was a new diet every week. But the cracks were verbal as well as facial (to a dim would-be-writer) “you couldn’t write fuck on a dusty Venetian blind.”

She starred as herself in a TV film about Guy Burgess called An Englishman Abroad. It won awards for her and the author Alan Bennett. Dream Child was another success in TV ( script: Denis Potter). At 70, Coral was enjoying an Indian Summer. She thought Dream Child one of the three best things she had done, the others being Macbeth and Waltz of the Toreadors. “She was fun to work with” (Prunella Scales).

“I’ve got a hole under my arm from the last op and now another in my leg. And that’s in addition to the holes God gave me. I feel like a fucking sieve.” She referred often to joining the feathered choir.

Faith: She became a fervent Catholic. To a young author asking her for work after a service in Brompton Oratory “get anyway can’t you see I’m in a state of fucking grace.”

She married an actor (later agent) not of the first range, then latish in life Vincent Price. She was apparently a devoted wife, but if these two were the main courses, her starters, side orders and desserts were almost legion - and starstudded; Jack Buchanan, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr., Cecil Beaton, Michael Hordern, Paul Robeson for starters.

She had a lengthy affair with the impresario Firth Shephard; Coral used to say, “Firth is my Shephard; I shall not want; he leadeth me into green pastures; he maketh me to lie down in strange places.” she was his leading lady in many lucrative runs. But she also shephered him for she read plays for him often and persuaded him, to put on several plays that he had thumb-downed. (Like The Man who came to Dinner).

Sometimes she liked to discountenance dressing-room visitors by receiving them in the nude.

She was a good, caring, generous friend but that did not stop her spearing them with her caustic wit and naughty nicknames. Ralph Richardson became Sir Turnip, Laurence Olivier Lord Puddleduck and his wife Lady Blowright.

She said about her roles in films: “either a vamp, a sex-starved wife, a murder victim or somebody’s mother.”

Someone else (in the USA) said: “a talent which combined the impact of an Ethel Merman with the intensity of a Judith Anderson.” She worked at her life, her relationships, her friendships, and her marriages were as successful as her work in the theatre. Under her wicked sense of humour there lurked a great vulnerability.

She was blessed with great good looks rather than outstanding beauty and it is to be doubted that any actress in the long history of British theatre had the art of making more of the gifts she was given by God.

When Vincent Price was asked (memorial service) what were her favourite hymns he said there were too many to mention - and quite a few hers. He did not attend that service but a letter from him was read out:

“I find I miss every hour of Coral’s life – I miss her morning cloudiness, noon mellowness, evening brightness. I miss her in every corner of our house, every crevice of my life. In missing her, I feel I’m missing muh of life itself. Over her long illness, as I held her hand or stroked her brow, or just lay still beside her, it was not the affectionate contact we’d known as we wandered down the glamourous paths we’d been privileged to share in our few years together, we were marching toward the end of our time and we both knew it. But, in our looks, our smiles, the private, few, soft-spoken words, there was hope of other places, other ways, perhaps, to meet again.”

And some lines from a poem by Barry Humphries:

A Choral for Coral
Her beauty and her shining wit
Sparkle beyond the grave
The girl who didn’t give a shit
Preposterously brave....
Uniquely-minded Queen of Style
No counterfeit could coin you,
Long may you make the angels smile
Till we all fuck off to join you.

No comments: