WHO THE F*** WAS CORAL BROWNE
Grande dame, adventuress, beauty, wit – the flamboyant Coral Browne travelled a long way from her West Footscray beginnings to end up as the queen bee of the West End stage.
After playing leading roles in Melbourne theatre, Coral left Australia aged 20 in 1934 and only returned twice: in 1948 to attend her grandmother’s wedding and in 1980 accompanying her second husband Vincent Price during a tour of his one-man play about Oscar Wilde, ‘Diversions and Delights’.
She had a sparkling career – on the West End she was virtually in residence at the Savoy Theatre during the 1940’s and starred in box office hits My Sister Eileen, The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Last of Mrs Cheney. In the 1950’s she toured with the Old Vic and The National, wowing Broadway with her Lady Macbeth and Moscow with her Gertrude. The hit West End play Simon & Laura was written especially for her by Alan Melville. In the ‘60s she starred in the original production of What the Butler Saw and reinvented Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession onstage and on the BBC.
On screen she appeared in many forgettable English films and it wasn’t until the ‘50s that she really hit her stride, stealing the show as Vera Charles in the Rosalind Russell movie Auntie Mame. She caused a stir with The Killing of Sister George, starred with Vivien Leigh & Warren Beaty in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, and won awards for her final two movies An Englishman Abroad and Dreamchild.
For nearly 50 years smart London dinner parties were not complete without repeating the latest hilarious Coral Browne ‘bon and four letter mots!’ Coral is almost forgotten now in Australia, but thanks to the Performing Arts Collection in Melbourne her letters, scrapbooks and memorabilia survive to tell the tale of her remarkable life.