"She left behind an emptiness
A gap, a void, a trough.
The world is quite a good deal less
Since Coral Browne fucked off.
Her beauty and her shining wit
Sparkle beyond the grave
The girl who didn’t give a shit
Uniquely-minded Queen of Style
No counterfeit could coin you,
Long may you make the angels smile
Till we all fuck off to join you."
- Barry Humphries' rhyming tribute to Coral Browne at her memorial service.
For 50 years the presiding doyenne of waspish put-downs in theatrical circles in the West End, and a long-time icon of gay people everywhere, Miss Coral Browne's centenary passed relatively unnoticed yesterday amidst the hysteria surrounding the Royal birth.
Suffice to say, the notoriously foul-mouthed Aussie diva would have had a few choice words to say on the matter.
- "If you really fucking want to know, I feel as if I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole." (On being asked by Tony Guthrie if she was happy with her wig for a production of Tamburlaine in New York.)
- "The quality of the writing? You couldn’t write 'fuck' in the dust on a Venetian blind!" (To an unknown writer at a Hollywood party who questioned the quality of Alan Bennett’s writing.)
- "I could never understand what Godfrey Tearle saw in Jill Bennett, until I saw her at the Caprice eating corn-on-the-cob."
- "My God! My fucking eyelashes have dropped off!" (While filming An Englishman Abroad in freezing Moscow)
- "Nobody we know, dear." (On seeing the giant phallus used on the set of Peter Brook‘s production of Oedipus for the National Theatre in 1968.)
- "Like acting with two and half tons of condemned veal." (Her verdict on one of her leading men.)
- "I don't want to hear such filth. Not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace." (On being collared by a queeny actor friend eager to share a piece of gossip, while leaving Brompton Oratory after mass)
- "Women feel very comfortable with homosexuals. There is a certain delicacy. We don't want to be pounced on every 30 seconds by some hairy ape."
She even purportedly - amongst a line-up of lovers that included Rex Harrison, Douglas Fairbanks, Maurice Chevalier, Jack Buchanan, Michael Hordern, Paul Robeson and Christopher Cazenove - bedded the extravagantly gay Cecil Beaton. She apparently put men aside altogether during several years of a lesbian affair, perhaps with Mary Morris, who into her seventies sported full leathers while motorcycling.
After she took up with the producer Firth Shephard during the Second World War, Browne was inevitably called "Shephard's Bush". As she herself said: "Firth is my Shephard, I shall not want. His rod and staff comfort me. Though he makes me lie down in strange places..."
Summing up her camp credentials quite neatly, the last word goes to the Village Voice:
She was the larger-than-life actress Vera Charles in the ultimate campfest, Auntie Mame, opposite bosom buddy Roz Russell.Coral Edith Brown (later Browne, 23rd July 1913 – 29th May 1991)
She wore fabulous outfits as Vivien Leigh's gabby confidante in Tenessee Williams's overheated gigolo drama The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.
She was a vicious gossip columnist in a wheelchair in Robert Aldrich's bizarre tale of switching identities, The Legend of Lylah Claire.
She was a predatory lesbian in the Sapphic melodrama about emotional sadomasochists, The Killing of Sister George.
She was a "female heavenly voice" in the ancient-Greece-meets-Malibu musical Xanadu.
And she was married to Vincent Price.
Our previous entry for Miss Browne