Happy 117th Birthday, Noël Coward!

Sir Noël Coward was born 117 years ago today in Teddington, a suburb of London. He gained fame as a playwright, director, composer, singer, actor and wit. Here are 10 NC Did-You-Knows:

  • Coward’s father was a piano salesman of limited ambition, so Noël grew up in modest circumstances. He took to performing early, performing on an amateur basis at the age of seven.
  • Coward’s mother chose his first name because he was born so close to Christmas.
  • Coward’s mother sent him to a dance academy in London, and Coward made his professional debut at age 11 in a children’s play called The Goldfish. Within months, he was appearing in Where the Rainbow Ends at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End.
  • At 14, he became the protege of society painter Philip Streatfeild, and when Streatfield died, his friend, wealthy socialite Mrs. Astley Cooper, took Coward under her wing and helped to promote his career.
  • Coward was drafted to serve in the Army during World War I, but was considered likely to contract tuberculosis and was given a medical discharge after nine months. Thereafter he began writing and selling short stories to help support his family and he made his initial stabs at writing plays—first in conjunction with other playwrights and finally, in 1918, completing his first solo effort, The Rat Trap.
  • In 1920, Coward wrote and starred in the light comedy I’ll Leave It to You. It debuted in Manchester before opening in the West End at the New Theatre (renamed the Noël Coward Theatre in 2006).
  • In 1921, Coward traveled for the first time to the United States, hoping to interest New York producers in his plays. He had little luck initially, but was greatly influenced by the shows he attended on Broadway. He tried to bring some of the youthful verve those shows exhibited to his own plays, and he made a success of it.
  • Coward wrote dozens of works for the theatre, amassed more than 100 writing credits in movies and television, and composed more than 300 songs.
  • Coward, a friend and neighbor of author Ian Fleming, was offered the title role in the James Bond film Dr. No (1962). His response: “No, no, no, a thousand times no!” That same year, he was also offered (but declined) the role of Humbert in Lolita.
  • During World War II, while Coward toured extensively to entertain the troops, he was also secretly working for British intelligence.

Happy birthday, Noël Coward, wherever you may be!

Noël Coward

Happy 112th Birthday, Constance Bennett!

Actress Constance Bennett was born 112 years ago today in New York City. Here are 10 CB Did-You-Knows:

  • Bennett was born into a theatrical family. Both her parents, Richard Bennett and Adrienne Morrison, were actors, as was her maternal grandparents, Rose Wood and Lewis Morrison.
  • Bennett’s two sisters, Joan and Barbara, were also actresses (though Barbara’s career was brief), but it was Constance who was the first to enter motion pictures, appearing in silent pictures filmed in and around NYC and making her Hollywood debut in Cytherea (1924).
  • After giving up films upon marrying Philip Plant in 1925, Bennett, after divorcing Plant, returned to her film career just as talking pictures were taking off.
  • Bennett was, for a brief time in the early 1930s, the highest paid actress in Hollywood.
  • Like Kay Francis, Bennett’s ability to wear fine clothes well played a big role in her success.
  • Bennett Was cast in the role of Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night but withdrew when Columbia Pictures declined to allow her to serve as producer of the film. Claudette Colbert, who took over the role, won the Best Actress Oscar for her work in the picture.
  • Bennett starred in the Janet Gaynor/Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand role in What Price Hollywood (1932), which was a clear inspiration for the A Star Is Born pictures.
  • Less in demand in pictures by the 1940s, Bennett began working in radio and in the theatre. Her stage debut came in 1940 in Noël Coward‘s Easy Virtue.
  • Bennett Was married five times; the final marriage, to US Air Force Colonel (later Brigadier General) John Theron Coulter, lasted by far the longest—from June 1946 until Bennett’s death in July 1965.
  • Because of her marriage to Coulter and in recognition of her efforts in providing relief entertainment to US troops stationed in Europe during and after World War II, Bennett was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Happy birthday, Constance Bennett, wherever you may be!

Constance Bennett