Noël Coward

A multi-talented Renaissance man of the 20th century, Noël Coward worked primarily as a playwright, actor, songwriter, and singer, but his creative activities also included the writing of fiction and poetry; producing and directing for the stage, film, and television; and nightclub entertaining and recording. Across a career spanning six decades, he was remarkably successful at these various pursuits, moving from one to the other with seeming ease, even when he was wearing several different hats at the same time, e.g., writing, directing, and starring in the same show. As a writer and as a performer, he maintained a consistent persona, that of a witty, sophisticated British subject, always ready to deliver a devastating and hilarious observation, often at the expense of his own kind, as he did, for instance, in his most famous song, "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." He was also, however, intensely patriotic, as he demonstrated in his World War II-era song "London Pride" and the film In Which We Serve (which, characteristically, he wrote, co-directed, starred in, and composed the background score for). And his sophistication could be used in the service of plaintive sentiment, as it was in such ballads as "If Love Were All." Especially later in his career, Coward put his persona on display in nightclubs and film appearances, but his reputation rests more on his writing; he was one of the major British playwrights of the century and, arguably, also the greatest creator of musical theater works among his countrymen in the same period, with 13 stage musicals to his credit between 1923 and 1963.