Noel Coward: A Biography / Edition 1

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Overview

To several generations, actor, playwright, songwriter, and filmmaker, Noël Coward (1899-1973) was the very personification of wit, glamour, and elegance. His biographer, Philip Hoare, given unprecedented access to the private papers and correspondence of Coward family members, compatriots, and numerous lovers, has produced the definitive biography of one of the twentieth century's most celebrated and controversial figures.

"Philip Hoare's careful research and lucid presentation in his Noël Coward: A Biography adds depth to the picture."-New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating, in-depth biography."—Library Journal

"Hoare has profiled vividly and in-depth a complex legend who had a talent for creating and recreating both himself and his works."—Publishers Weekly

"In the thicket of books about the life and work of Coward, Philip Hoare's stands out as the most well-documented and objective."—Los Angeles Times

"[Hoare's] book, like its subject, strives for effortless sophistication, and succeeds."—Newsday

"Hoare's retelling of Coward's story [is] the most vivid, insightful, and fascinating so far."—John Lahr, The New Yorker

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like his life of Stephen Tennant, Serious Pleasures, Hoare's substantial biography of Coward is fastidiously researched and documented. The author traces Coward's colorful family history back to the early 17th century and shows how his middle-class upbringing only fueled his passion for success, a yearning that remained with Coward throughout his life. In painstaking detail, Hoare chronicles Coward's devotion to his mother, his homosexual affairs and his travels within the beau monde. Particularly insightful are the accounts of how, in bursts of creativity, Coward translated real-life encounters and experiences into written art, though often to the extreme displeasure of the friends he wrote about, like Edith Sitwell. While Hoare pays homage to Coward's numerous plays, revues, songs and stories, he doesn't ignore the failures. Nor does Hoare hide Coward's personal shortcomings, his financial mismanagement, temper and quarrels with England, which show the ring around his Eton-collared image. The author's prose can be stilted, and his prolix plot summaries of Coward's plays could be tighter. Nonetheless, Hoare has profiled vividly and in depth a complex legend who had a talent for creating and re-creating both himself and his works.
Library Journal
Hoare has written a fascinating, in-depth biography of the great English playwright and songwriter. While earlier biographies (and Coward's own autobiographies) only hint at the darker side of Coward's personality and life, Hoare, perhaps given greater freedom as well as greater access to previously unavailable material, shows Coward as not only the witty charmer but also the ruthless self-made man. Coward craved success and lets little stand in his way, rising out of genteel poverty to become a style icon of the Twenties and Thirties. Hoare also provides details of the sex lives of the rich and famous in Coward's circle of friends and acquaintances, as well as his longer-lasting personal and professional relationships. The behind-the-scenes look at each of Coward's theatrical productions is invaluable.-- Susan L. Peters, Emory Univ., Atlanta
Library Journal
Hoare has written a fascinating, in-depth biography of the great English playwright and songwriter. While earlier biographies (and Coward's own autobiographies) only hint at the darker side of Coward's personality and life, Hoare, perhaps given greater freedom as well as greater access to previously unavailable material, shows Coward as not only the witty charmer but also the ruthless self-made man. Coward craved success and lets little stand in his way, rising out of genteel poverty to become a style icon of the Twenties and Thirties. Hoare also provides details of the sex lives of the rich and famous in Coward's circle of friends and acquaintances, as well as his longer-lasting personal and professional relationships. The behind-the-scenes look at each of Coward's theatrical productions is invaluable.-- Susan L. Peters, Emory Univ., Atlanta
Kirkus Reviews
A full-scale life of the towering English songwriter and playwright. Writing about Coward in 1977, Kenneth Tynan wrote, "The successful homosexual is answerable to nobody," and this could serve as the epigraph for this biography. Sprung from a suburban British background of lapsed wealth (his family tree includes ambassadors, professors, and composers), Coward invented his own self-contained reality from an early age. He knew he was gay at the age of 12—although, as Hoare delicately but definitively points out, he shied away from penetrative sex all his life. A perpetual outsider, Coward wouldn't be a member of any club but his own: He shunned his Catholic upbringing (he belonged to a circle of gay aesthetes who wrestled with their Catholicism, including Proust translator C.K. Scott Moncrieff), highbrow culture, and Hollywood alike. But money started talking, and by 1930, when he was declared the world's highest paid writer, his absolutist stance softened. He knew that his marketable strength was a cool xenophobia, and he laced it through such successful stage plays and films as 'Present Laughter', 'Blithe Spirit', and 'Fallen Angels.' But Hoare (whose 1990 book, "Serious Pleasures", was a life of the superdandy Stephen Tennant) paints Coward not so much as a crowd-pleaser as a gay subversive, insinuating homosexual notions into the mainstream. Because Hoare talked to Coward's friends and lovers, and shores up speculation with detailed sources, this is a believable position. The final stages of Coward's life seem especially sad: The '60s had no use for his mannered vitriol, reducing him to his most hateful tendencies ("Why should we keep inferior beings in the world?" hetold a reporter, asked for his views on the death penalty). Seems too often to scavenge for any stories remotely scandalous or naughty—but for all that, sharp and credible. Serious scholarship also serves here as an act of cultural restitution for a gay hero.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226345123
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 622
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations Coward Family Tree Veitch Family Tree
1. Family Album
2. A Talented Boy
3. Podge and Stodge
4. Rising Star
5. The Young Idea
6. Lord of a Day
7. Bright Young Thing
8. The Vortex
9. Society's Hero
10. On with the Dance
11. Home Chat
12. Bitter Sweet
13. Private Lives
14. Cavalcade
15. Design for Living
16. Tonight at 8.30
17. To Step Aside
18. Present Laughter
19. Could You Please Oblige Us with a Bren Gun?
20. Play Parade
21. Don't Let's Be Beastly
22. Peace in Our Time
23. Island Fling
24. A Bouquet of Violets
25. Live in Las Vegas
26. Pomp and Circumstance
27. Prisoner of a Legend
28. Sail Away
29. Dad's Renaissance
30. A Song at Twilight
31. The Party's Over Now Acknowledgments Source Notes Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 3, 2010

    A Glowing Recounting of a Brilliant Life

    Noel Coward is much loved and lauded for his plays but as a person his charm and wit cast its glow on all who know him. Most of what we know of him comes from his very entertaining memoirs. Now, Phillip Hoare has done a marvelous job of bringing Coward into perspective. This is the most
    indepth overview of his life thus presented and it brings to light Coward's professionalism and discipline. From his struggles as a child to his triumphs as a man, Hoare's research and his lucid presentation give us the whole man. This is by no means a dry, scholarly read. There are charming and hilarious anecdotes aplenty to inform you of Coward's light-heartedness and his towering wit. This is a book to savor and to share.

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