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The Letters of Noel Coward Paperback – March 10, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0307391001 ISBN-10: 0307391000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 804 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307391000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307391001
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #603,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writers labor to come up with lines half as good as those Noël Coward dropped into the mailbox every day—I felt that some sort of scene was necessary to celebrate my first entrance into America, so I said, 'Little lamb, who made thee,' to a customs official. The playwright, actor and songwriter is in fine form in these missives, telegrams and poems (he would rhyme almost anything, even communications to his business manager), presented along with return mail from friends and luminaries. Day (Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward) arranges the well-chosen selections in roughly chronological order with some unobtrusive narrative context; at times he spotlights a lifelong correspondence with a single person to flesh out Coward's relationships, such as with Gertrude Lawrence. Coward's voice is charming, whimsical, sharp-eyed and canny, often alternating, in the showbiz way, between effusive warmth (letter to Tallulah Bankhead: Thank you very much, darling, for all your sweetness and your insane generosity) and cutting putdown (letter about Tallulah Bankhead: a conceited slut). A true intellectual of the stage, his comments on the nitty-gritty of writing, pacing, character and acting technique are incisive. Fans of Coward's plays and students of 20th-century theater will be fascinated, but casual readers will also find an entertaining browse. Photos. (Nov. 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Not your usual epistolary collection. . . . Day has woven Coward's letters into a beautifully rounded text that reads more like a life portrait." —Los Angeles Times"Glitters with the multi-gifted playwright's claws-out bitchiness, tremendous charm, and creative genius. . . . His letters are absolute knockouts." —Vanity Fair"Superb. . . . The portrait of a complex, charming, driven, serious and, frankly, courageous artist. . . . History of the most valuable kind." —The Wall Street Journal

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Customer Reviews

Enthralling bio of one of the English speaking theater's most interesting and influential characters.
Philip H. Grimes
This book of letters that Noel Coward wrote to people and letters that people wrote to Noel give you a great insight to his character and life.
Bradley Bennett
This is a good, long book - almost 800 pages - which gives the reader a chance to get to know Coward over half a century.
John Fitzpatrick

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Granted, some very fine biographies have been written, those that seem to paint seamless portraits. Yet, for this reader nothing can compare to someone's letters, written with no thought that they will ever be read by anyone save the recipient. These letters are mirrors, if you will, of a person's thoughts and emotions. They are in the person's own words - every adjective, nuance, inflection is his or her choice. And when the choices are Noel Coward's, it is pleasurable reading indeed.

Urbane, witty, snippy, multi-talented, observant, caring, Coward had talent to spare. He was a songwriter, playwright, actor, artist, bon vivant, advisor, trusted friend. And such friends they were - from Marlene Dietrich to the Queen Mother to Somerset Maugham to Liz Taylor (whom he once described as being "hung with rubies and diamonds and looking like a pregnant Pagoda."

His quick wit was always razor sharp, used both to bolster and skewer. When his old friend Clifton Webb lost his mother, Webb was evidently given to prolonged crying bouts which caused Coward to comment, "It must be rough to be orphaned at seventy-one."

His jests and jibes made him a wanted guest and sought after companion. Many of these witticisms are contained in this delightful compendium of letters both from and to Coward. Thoughtfully arranged by Barry Day they are a chronicle of Coward's life from his earliest days when at the age of two he had to be taken from church because he danced in the aisle to accompany the hymn being played. He faithfully sent a weekly missive to his mother, Violet. Thus, we're privy to what life was like for child actors at the turn of the century. During this period he met the 15-year-old Gertrude Lawrence who would play a large part in his professional life.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Mitra, mystery author on December 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If There Wasn't Death

Noel Coward was a genius. In 1925, he had four plays running in the West End. He was twenty-six years old. The first play that brought him success and recognition was The Vortex, about a middle aged woman who is sleeping around with younger men, and one day her young son comes home. The Lord Chancellor of London briefly thought about banning the play for reference to drug use (Coward had to appear in person and plead his case to the contrary)and for deep Freudian implications and someone said to ban the play was to ban Hamlet forever.
I am just mentioning this to show what kind a mature thinker Coward was at an early age. He wrote extensively, and he wrote verses which were funny, tart and at times poignant:
Cocktails and laughter
But what comes after?
Nobody knows.

He had a tendency to sign his epistles with terms like Poppa, Snoop, Master.
In case you did not know, he was gay.
But his inner circle consisted of three women, including Joyce Carey, daughter of Lillian Brathwaite who played the unhappy woman, mother to Coward in the Vortex. (Don't confuse her with him: Joyce Cary, the celebrated Irish novelist), Gladys Calthrop and the invaluable Lornie. So whatever he was, he was not flashing it around.
He helped Laurence Olivier's early career (Larry might not have agreed to that) and John Gielgud was his understudy in the Vortex.
This is an epistolary feast, spanning decades and stretching to 800 pages in the current tome.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rose Oatley on January 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I was surprised to receive this book as a gift -- why would I want to read the fatuities of a bygone wit? -- and began it with a sigh. But after the first chapter I was hooked, then entertained, then admiring and enthralled at the resilient, insightful, delightful and life-affirming personality of Noel Coward. The matter of his life is fascinating -- the world of the English theatre from the time he was a teenager and the next six decades, later encompassing the American musical theatre and Hollywood scenes, and ultimately the whole world, as he was a lifelong globetrotter for whom political difficulties and borders melted away. His letters (and many to him from a broad array of distinguished and eloquent correspondents) are fresh, and funny, and topical about the theatre, England, World War II, patriotism, the press, the royal family, romance vs. life vs. art. The book is wonderfully assembled, with many fascinating photographs, and unobtrusive but always apt commentary by editor Barry Day filling in facts and thoughtful analysis as to Coward's life and surrounding events. Day chooses and arranges his material brilliantly, interspersing a basic chronological approach with a few chapters (called "Intermissions") that interject a lifelong perspective on Coward's relationships with certain people. Editor Day wisely keeps the star -- Coward the letter-writer -- center-stage throughout, providing the set-dressing that allows the production to be a hit. The result is the conjuring up of Coward as a theatrical phenomenon who is shown also to be an insightful and sensitive human being who was quite determined that the generally indifferent state of the universe would not deter him from success and having a good time.
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