Sir Noel Peirce Coward (spelling his forename Noël with the diaeresis was an affectation of later life, and "Peirce" is the correct spelling) (December 16, 1899 - March 26, 1973) was an English actor, playwright, and composer of popular music.
Born at Teddington, Middlesex, he began performing in the West End at an early age.
Coward’s first professional engagement, and that which launched his long career, was on 27 January 1911 in a children’s play, The Goldfish. After this appearance, he was sought after for children’s roles by other professional theatres. He was featured in several productions with Sir Charles Hawtrey, a Victorian actor and comedian, whom Coward idolized and to whom he virtually apprenticed himself until he was twenty. It was from Hawtrey that Coward learned comic acting techniques and playwriting
He starred in one of his first full-length plays, the inheritance comedy I'll Leave It To You, in 1920 at the age of twenty. After enjoying some moderate success with the Shaw-esque The Young Idea in 1923, the controversy surrounding his play The Vortex (1924) - which contains many veiled references to both drug abuse and homosexuality - made him an overnight sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Coward followed this success with three more major hits, Hay Fever, Fallen Angels (both 1925) and Easy Virtue (1926).
Much of Coward's best work came in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Enormous (and enormously popular) productions such as the full-length operetta Bitter Sweet (1929) and Las Vegas (recorded for posterity and still available on CD), and starring in films such as Bunny Lake is Missing, Around the World in 60 Days and The Italian Job. After starring in a number of American TV specials in the late 50s, Coward left the U.K. for tax reasons in the 1950s and moved to the Caribbean, first to Bermuda and then to Jamaica, where he remained for the rest of his life. The late 1960s saw a revival in his popularity, with several new productions of his 1920s plays and a number of revues celebrating his music. He was knighted in 1970 and died in 1973. He is buried in Firefly Hill, Jamaica.
Coward, who was homosexual, never married but he did have a 19-year affair with Prince George, Duke of Kent, a younger brother of the Duke of Windsor. Love letters between Coward and Duke of Kent were stolen from Coward's apartment in 1942.
As well as over fifty published plays and many albums' worth of original songs, Coward also wrote comic revues, poetry, several excellent volumes of short stories, a novel (Pomp and Circumstance, 1960), and three volumes of autobiography. Books of his song lyrics, diaries and letters have also been published.
Parodies of him and his style include:
Last updated: 10-11-2005 20:42:00