Celebrated songwriter, playwright, actor, and singer
Knighted in 1969
Noel Coward was born in Teddington, Middlesex, England on December 16, 1899 into what he referred to as “genteel poverty”. Principally a playwright, Coward also wrote a whole catalog of hit popular songs with an elegant, sophisticated style. As a young child, Coward would give little performances in front of his family and was encouraged onto the stage by his mother. His career started with an advertisement in the Daily Mirror his mother saw and answered and auditioned by Lilla Field for whom he sang the song "Liza".
By age 11, Noel was already on the stage acting in minor roles. He worked with actor Claude Hawtrey who Noel would later say had an enormous effect upon his grasp of acting. In 1913, he met and worked with Gertrude Lawrence and in 1915, he appeared in his first adult role in Charley's Aunt. This same year, Coward also composed his first song "Forbidden Fruit".
In 1916, he had his first cabaret appearance and in 1917, in collaboration with Esme Wynne, he wrote his first play entitled Ida Collaborates. In 1918, Coward produced Women and Whiskey, joined the British Army, wrote another play The Rat Trap, and made his first film appearance (as an extra). In 1919, "The Baseball Rag", with music by Doris Joel became Noel's first published tune and in 1921, he his play I'll Leave It To You starring the playwright himself, premiered in London's West End.
In 1921, Coward traveled to America and in 1922, his novel The Withered Nosegay was published. 1923 saw Noel's first musical Revue London Calling in which he appeared with Gertrude Lawrence. Throughout the 1920’s he continued writing plays and produced, among others, The Vortex, Hay Fever, Bitter Sweet, Design For Living and Private Lives.
Through the 1930’s, Coward produced several other plays for the West End and Broadway. He split his time between London, New York and Paris, France. By 1940, he had written 32 plays and perhaps 140 tunes, yet he never learned to read or write music. Among the songs he had composed included the hits "Mad Dogs And Englishmen”, “Go Out In The Midday Sun", "Zigeuna", "Bittersweet", "Don't Lets Be Beastly To The Germans”, "I Travel Alone", "You've Got That Thing" and many more. Among his films were Cavalcade, In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter.
In the mid-1940’s Coward settled in Jamaica, BWI. A reporter once asked him why he chose to live in Jamaica rather than in Britain, and Noel is reported to have replied "I can answer that in just two words - Income Tax." He built a home in Jamaica, which he called 'Firefly', and entertained lavishly. During the 1950's, he wrote seven new plays, none of which were successful. After the London opening of his play Sirocco, he went on stage and was greeted by boos from the audience. When his plays could no longer find a public, he turned more and more to writing songs, all of which were well received in America. In 1965, he opened as an act in a Las Vegas casino where he was a huge hit. Also in 1965, he had an appeared with Mary Martin on a television show. In the late 1960’s, Coward’s play Hay Fever was revived and opened to critical acclaim and success.
Coward was knighted in 1970, which was soon followed by a secession of illnesses. Noel Coward died on March 29, 1973, at his home “Firefly” in Jamaica. In 1984, a stone commemorating his life was placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.