The Letters of Nol Coward

Noel Coward, Author, Barry Day, Editor . Knopf $37.50 (780p) ISBN 978-0-375-42303-1

Writers labor to come up with lines half as good as those Noël Coward dropped into the mailbox every day—“I felt that some sort of scene was necessary to celebrate my first entrance into America, so I said, 'Little lamb, who made thee,' to a customs official.” The playwright, actor and songwriter is in fine form in these missives, telegrams and poems (he would rhyme almost anything, even communications to his business manager), presented along with return mail from friends and luminaries. Day (Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward ) arranges the well-chosen selections in roughly chronological order with some unobtrusive narrative context; at times he spotlights a lifelong correspondence with a single person to flesh out Coward's relationships, such as with Gertrude Lawrence. Coward's voice is charming, whimsical, sharp-eyed and canny, often alternating, in the showbiz way, between effusive warmth (letter to Tallulah Bankhead: “Thank you very much, darling, for all your sweetness and your insane generosity”) and cutting putdown (letter about Tallulah Bankhead: “a conceited slut”). A true intellectual of the stage, his comments on the nitty-gritty of writing, pacing, character and acting technique are incisive. Fans of Coward's plays and students of 20th-century theater will be fascinated, but casual readers will also find an entertaining browse. Photos. (Nov. 16)

Reviewed on: 09/24/2007
Release date: 11/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 798 pages - 978-1-4081-0675-4
Paperback - 780 pages - 978-0-307-39100-1
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