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The Letters of Noel Coward Paperback – March 10, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 804 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307391000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307391001
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,629,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
Read more ›
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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Content, wise, it's not much more than that. Maybe "letters" don't lend themselves to e-books. Photos certainly don't.
Beyond that, whoever or whatever "transcribed" this book to kindle is incompetent. It is shockingly badly done: misspellings, fractured French, letters out of order in words. It's as if there was no editor.
Some kindle books have a few transcribing mistakes. This one is egregious.
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Format: Hardcover
I've spent a month slow-reading these letters, which taught me more than I thought I'd care to know about the periods Coward "ruled." My feeling is, anyone who wants to know what it's like to be able to paint/draw/write poetry/write novels/write plays/write films/ direct all the above/sing/act/cavort/and be completely focused while still being a party animal.....all using the same brain, needs to read these letters. The poor marketing job done on this book does not point out how it's not just what HE wrote, but what GB Shaw, Churchill, the Roosevelts, Garbo, Dietrich and like a hundred more, wrote back to the man himself...and nothing is censored. I learned tons -- for instance, did you know there was a total U.S. embargo against Great Britain before we joined WW II??
And oh yeah, Coward's true love was his Mother - gross but true. And finally, what is inside this great one's head as he puts forth a career that is beyond belief what one man can accomplish. I am reviewing this because, except for Amazon, this book, reviewed wholeheartedly on the front page of the NYT, was unavailable that same week--in any store I tried to pick it up from. But alas, you could buy a Paris Hilton bio in the front of said store. Enough shouted. Get this - before it goes out of print like all of Coward's bios. And oh yeah, Diary of Noel Coward from X years ago is an unfettered (though sexually in-explicit) muttering of someone who knew damn well we'd read his thoughts one day. Go for it.
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