Coral Browne

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Coral Browne
Coral Browne (1989 Academy Awards).jpg
BornCoral Edith Brown
(1913-07-23)23 July 1913
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died29 May 1991(1991-05-29) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActress
Years active1933–85
Spouse(s)Philip Pearman (1950–64)
Vincent Price (1974–91)
 
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Coral Browne
Coral Browne (1989 Academy Awards).jpg
BornCoral Edith Brown
(1913-07-23)23 July 1913
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died29 May 1991(1991-05-29) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActress
Years active1933–85
Spouse(s)Philip Pearman (1950–64)
Vincent Price (1974–91)

Coral Browne (23 July 1913 – 29 May 1991) was an Australian-American stage and screen actress.

Career[edit]

Coral Edith Brown was the only daughter of a restaurant owner. She and her two brothers were raised in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, where she studied at the National Gallery Art School. Her amateur debut was as Gloria in Shaw's You Never Can Tell, directed by Frank Clewlow. Gregan McMahon snapped her up for her professional debut as "Margaret Orme" in Loyalties at Melbourne's Comedy Theatre on 2 May 1931 (she was still billed as "Brown", the "e" being added in 1936), aged 17.[1]

At the age of 21, with just £50 and an introduction to famed actress Marie Tempest from Gregan McMahon,[2] she emigrated to England where she became established as a stage actress, notably as leading lady to Jack Buchanan in Frederick Lonsdale's The Last of Mrs Cheyney, W Somerset Maugham's Lady Frederick[2] and Alan Melville's Castle in the Air. She was a regular performer in productions at The Savoy Theatre and was resident in the hotel for many years, including throughout World War II. When the original British touring production of The Man Who Came To Dinner ran into financial difficulty and could not be produced in London, Browne borrowed money from her dentist and bought the rights to the play, successfully staging it at The Savoy Theatre in London.[3] She received royalties from the play from all future productions. She began film acting in 1936, with her more famous roles being Vera Charles in Auntie Mame (1958), Mercy Croft in The Killing of Sister George (1968), and Lady Claire Gurney in The Ruling Class (1972).

In 1969, Browne appeared in the poorly received original production of Joe Orton's controversial farce What the Butler Saw in the West End at the Queen's Theatre with Sir Ralph Richardson, Stanley Baxter, and Hayward Morse.

While touring the Soviet Union in a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (later the Royal Shakespeare Company) production of Hamlet in 1958, she met spy Guy Burgess.[4] This meeting became the basis of Alan Bennett's script for the television movie An Englishman Abroad (1983) in which Browne played herself, apparently including some of her conversations with Burgess. Burgess who had found solace in his exile by continually playing the music of Jack Buchanan, asked Browne if she had known him. "I suppose so", the actress replied, "we nearly got married". Her other notable film of this period, Dreamchild (1986) concerned the author Lewis Carroll. In the film, Browne gave an affecting account of the later life of Alice Liddell who had inspired the tale Alice in Wonderland.

Personal life[edit]

Browne married actor Philip Pearman in 1950 and remained married to him until his death in 1964.[5] While making the film, Theatre of Blood (1973), she met actor Vincent Price; they married on 24 October 1974. They appeared together in the short-lived 1979 CBS TV series, Time Express.

She became a naturalized United States citizen in 1987 as a gift to Price who later converted to Catholicism for her (she had converted many years previously).

Browne died on 29 May 1991 in Los Angeles, California, from breast cancer; she was 77. She had no children from her marriages.

Awards[edit]

Browne was awarded the BAFTA Television Award for Best Actress in 1984 for her role in An Englishman Abroad. She later received the London Evening Standard British Film Awards for Best Actress in 1986 for Dreamchild. In 1976, the Los Angeles Theatre Critics named her Best Actress for her role in Travesties, at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles.

Personality[edit]

Browne's outrageous razor wit was renowned, and endless anecdotes of her circulated in theatrical circles. At the first night of Peter Brook's production of Oedipus during which a giant golden phallus was unveiled onstage meeting stunned theatrical silence, Browne, centre stalls, turned to her companion and apparently surreptitiously, but in a skilled stage whisper reverberating throughout the house, projected confidentially to her companion, Charles Gray's ear, " . . No-one we know !"

Theatre critic Ned Sherrin was once asked to meet a young friend of his parents who was visiting London from South Africa and took him to a restaurant. Browne was at a nearby table. As she left she greeted Ned and then, looking at the very good-looking young man, said "Had the trip wires out at Waterloo again have we darling?" [Waterloo Station receives the trains from Southampton, the port of entry for most overseas visitors to Britain.]

When told by the Royal Shakespeare Company that there was no suitable role in their upcoming production of King Lear for her husband, Philip Pearman, she demanded a script and running through it she found the page she was looking for. "There you are", she said, "the perfect part. A small camp near Dover."[6]

Browne's language was colourful, and an unauthorized biography of her, This Effing Lady, was published. She was a devout Catholic (by conversion). The two aspects came together in a story of her standing outside Brompton Oratory after Sunday mass when an actor came up to her with gossip about who was sleeping with someone else's wife. She stopped him in his tracks with: "I don't want to hear this filth. Not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace." The younger Australian performer Barry Humphries paid tribute to Browne at her memorial service with an appropriate poem: "She left behind an emptiness/A gap, a void, a trough/The world is quite a good deal less/Since Coral Browne fucked off."[7]

Tributes[edit]

Selected filmography[edit]

Key TV[edit]

Notable Stage[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Stars of Australian Stage and Screen Hal Porter, Rigby Ltd. Adelaide 1965
  2. ^ a b The Argus 3 April 1948
  3. ^ ISBN 978-0-312-26789-6. St. Martin's Griffin (15 October 2000)
  4. ^ Alan Bennett gives the date of her meeting with Burgess as 1958 in the introduction to his Single Spies, which contains the text of An Englishman Abroad as a stage play and the text of A Question of Attribution about Anthony Blunt. Single Spies, London, Faber, 1989, ISBN 0-571-14105-6.
  5. ^ Book review, Sydney Morning Herald (22 June 2007)
  6. ^ Ned Sherrin, Ned Sherrin's theatrical anecdotes: a connoisseur's collection of legends, stories, and gossip (London: Virgin, 1991)
  7. ^ Obituary in The Independent
  8. ^ Barbara Angell at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Daily Telegraph review of This Effing Lady, 1 December 2007

References[edit]

External links[edit]