Described by Alan Bates as ‘mischievous, alarming, unpredictable and outrageous’, and by Tyrone Guthrie as ‘the most degenerate woman I ever met in my life’, the indomitable Coral Browne towered over the British and American stages for nearly half a century. Remarkable for her mesmerising character performances, her glamour, her liberated attitude to sex and the quickness of her often-savage wit, Coral, a 21-year old from Australia, arrived in the UK in 1934, armed with an eccentric personality, and ‘a mouth like a docker.’
Over the next forty years Coral would forge a reputation as a great wit and a brilliant actress on both sides of the Atlantic, starring in the premiere of Joe Orton’s notorious What The Butler Saw in her Balmain underwear, and making a series of iconic performances in films such as The Killing of Sister George, Auntie Mame and The Ruling Class.
Her unashamed appetite for men (and women) led her into countless affairs; her famous lovers included Maurice Chevalier, Paul Robeson, Cecil Beaton, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. She was also renowned for her commitment to her friends, who included Alec Guinness, John Schlesinger, Barry Humphries, Alan Bennett, and Vivien Leigh. Famously, she even befriended the exiled spy Guy Burgess whilst on tour in Russia, berating him for his treachery whilst undertaking to send pyjamas from his Jermyn Street tailor. This episode would later provide the basis for Alan Bennett’s drama An Englishman Abroad, for which Coral won the BAFTA for Best Actress. Later in life she would meet and marry the horror film star, Vincent Price, and together they would become the most celebrated and least probable Hollywood celebrity couple of the day.
This Effing Lady draws upon interviews with friends and family of Coral Browne, and a wealth of previously unpublished correspondence between Coral and Alec Guinness, Vincent Price, Guy Burgess, John Schlesinger, Alan Bates, Alan Bennett and many others, to produce an immaculately researched and correspondingly witty account of the life of a remarkable and truly original star.