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Remembered Laughter: The Life of Noel Coward. Orig Pub in Great Britain Under Title: Life of Noel Coward Hardcover – November, 1976
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The question is, how much more do we get from this fat book? If Lesley wrote with all the advantages of having been extremely close to his subject in life, he's also hobbled by all the disadvantages of such a situation. You could say he carries English reticence to an extreme. He also quotes Coward as having joked that any biography of his ought to be called "Name Dropping," in recognition of the troops of Names that marched through his life. And oh my, troops of Names do march through this book. Furthermore, unfortunately for us Americans, the Gertrude Lawrences, Kate Hepburns,Irene Mayer Selznicks and Marlene Dietrichs are few in proportion to all those now-obscure, at least to us, English society figures and theatrical stars of the Teens, Twenties and Thirties. Finally, it gets a little tiring trying to remember who mouthed which witticism to who, and where. Maybe wit should not be served cold; maybe we don't have as much time for it as we once did. Or maybe it's Lesley's annoying cutesy amateur writing style.
More irritating yet is Lesley's poor judgement as to what we might want to know. We get pages and pages of houseparty chat, but are told in single, bald sentences of Coward's periodic breakdowns. We are quoted scores of clever transatlantic telegrams to an American, Jack, clearly one of Coward's great loves. Next thing we know, Coward's attending Jack's wedding, to an actual Princess Natasha, at the Connecticut home of Jack's parents. No idea of Coward's feelings on the matter, though I suppose we can guess.
But we are told that he sailed across the seas on September 1 for this event; that he quoted Dorothy Parker's line about the wedding's representing "the twenty-first fine careless rapture," for bride and groom, and that Coward and the elegant Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg marked the occasion by writing naughty verses, in French, celebrating the erotic properties of Vaseline, to be sung to the tune of "La Petite Tonkinoise."
Well, if you're a Noel Coward fan, and admire his wit, there's lots of it to be had here, and we won't soon be getting any more vintage Noel Coward. If you haven't the patience for this kind of thing, this isn't going to be for you.