Friday, April 1, 2011

"Noel Coward: A Life in Quotes", compiled and introduced by Barry Day

One of my heroes is Noel Coward, not just for his delicious bon mots, but because of how he carried himself throughout his life, a private gentleman with a brilliant mind.

"Noel Coward: A Life in Quotes" is yet another book I've checked out of the library repeatedly, but have never gotten to it until now. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I read it today because I've got other books on hold to check out tomorrow that I'm really anticipating, such as more of Sam Shepard's works, this time his plays, and Lisa Lampanelli's autobiography.

I still read the book of quotes in total reverence, and admired how Barry Day smoothly made transitions in each section. The side of the book looks like a crowded city of blue tape flag buildings, which indicate those quotes I've marked off to share. And here they are, with appropriate credit:

"It really is unbelievably difficult to act like a moron when one isn't a moron." - To a child actor colleague, Michael Mac Liammoir

"The theatre must be treated with respect. It is a house of strange enchantment, a temple of dreams. What it most emphatically is not and never will be is a scruffy, illiterate, drill hall serving as a temporary soap-box for propaganda." - 'A Warning to Actors' (1961)

"To believe that public taste can be accurately assessed, even for a short period, is a dangerous illusion. Times and politics and the circumstances of living change and with them changes the public attitude to entertainment." - Play Parade Volume 4 (1954)

"I know nothing so dreary as the feeling that you can't make the sounds or write the words that your whole creative being is yearning for." - Diaries (1945)

"It is true that a writer should try to hold the mirror up to nature, although there are aspects of nature that would be better unreflected." - 'A Warning to Pioneers' (1961)

"BRYAN (THE AUTHOR): Why can't people in the theatre behave like normal human beings?

TONY (DIRECTOR'S ASSISTANT): There wouldn't be a theatre if they did." - Star Quality (unproduced play - 1967)

"On Gladys Cooper's inability to remember hers [her lines] in Relative Values (1951): I did not expect word perfection at the first rehearsal but I had rather hoped for it on the first night."

"Poor darling glamorous stars everywhere, their lives are so lonely and wretched and frustrated. Nothing but applause, flowers, Rolls-Royces, expensive hotel suites, constant adulation. It's too pathetic and wrings the heart." - Diaries (1955)

This was of course back when newspapers were truly hefty: "I love the weight of American Sunday newspapers. Pulling them up off the floor is good for the figure."

"Without America we should have no Coca-Cola, no Marilyn Monroe and hardly any really good literature about sex." - Attributed

"American women mostly have their clothes arranged for them. And their faces, too, I think."

"MELODY: Americans have a passion for speed...and yet no idea of time whatsoever -- it's most extraordinary."

"JENNIFER: I have never been able to take anything seriously after eleven o'clock in the morning." - The Young Idea (1921) - I live this every day!

"Manners are the outward expression of expert interior decoration." - Long Island Sound (unproduced play - 1947)

On taste: "It can be vulgar, but it must never be embarrassing."

"I'm not very keen on Hollywood...I'd rather have a nice cup of cocoa, really." - Letter to his mother (1931)

"I love travelling, but I'm always too late or too early. I arrive in Japan when the cherry blossoms have fallen. I get to China too early for the next revolution. I reach Canada when the maple leaves have gone. People are always telling me about something I haven't seen. I find it very pleasant." - Diaries (1965)

"I have not, as yet, seen the Taj Mahal at all, but I feel that when I do it will probably lie down in a consciously alluring attitude and pretend to be asleep." - Present Indicative (1937)

"Reflecting on a 1944 African trip: "The Dinkas' claim to fame is that they are very tall, have the longest penises in the world and dye their hair with urine; doubtless cause and effect."

"On his travels Coward was increasingly appalled by the mind and manners of his fellow travellers. In Suite in Three Keys (1965) an American lady tourist is complaining to another about her husband's lack of enthusiasm for seeing the sights: I managed to drag him into Saint Peter's in Rome and all he did was stomp around humming 'I Like New York in June' under his breath. I was mortified."

"Love is a true understanding of just a few people for each other. Passionate love we will leave on one side for that rises, gets to its peak and dies away. True love is something much more akin to friendship and friendship, I suppose, is the greatest benison and compensation that Man has." - (1970)

"RUTH: Your view of women is academic to say the least of it -- just because you've always been dominated by them it doesn't necessarily follow that you know anything about them." - Blithe Spirit (1941)

"--I don't think my husband's been entirely faithful to me.

-- Whatever makes you think that?

--My last child doesn't resemble him in the slightest." - This Year of Grace! (1928)

"Garry Essendine on sex: To me the whole business is vastly overrated. I enjoy it for what it's worth and fully intend to go on doing so for as long as anybody's interested and when the time comes that they're not I shall be perfectly content to settle down with an apple and a good book!" - Present Laughter (1939)

"CHARLES: It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit." - Blithe Spirit (1941)

"MADAME ARCATI: Time is the reef upon which all our frail mystic ships are wrecked." - Blithe Spirit (1941)

"Cole (Lesley) [his personal aide] and I had a long and cosy talk about death the other evening... we came to the sensible conclusion that there was nothing to be done. We should have to get on with life until our time came. I said, 'After all, the day had to go on and breakfast had to be eaten', and he replied that if I died he might find it a little difficult to eat breakfast but would probably be peckish by lunch-time." - Diaries (1961)

"The human race is cruel, idiotic, sentimental, predatory, ungrateful, ugly, conceited and egocentric to the last ditch and the occasional discovery of an isolated exception is as deliciously surprising as finding a sudden Brazil nut in what you know to be five pounds of vanilla creams."

"I do not approve of mourning, I approve only of remembering."

"First I was the enfant terrible. Then the Bright Young Thing. Now I'm a tradition."

"Oh, how fortunate I was to be born poor. If mother had been able to afford to send me to private school, Eton and Oxford or Cambridge, it would probably have set me back years." - Diaries (1967)

"If I don't care for things I simply don't look at them."

"I've had a wonderful life. I've still got rhythm, I've got music, who could ask for anything more?" - Diaries (1961)

"People... have an insatiable passion for labelling everything with a motive. They search busily behind the simplest of my phrases, like old ladies peering under the bed for burglars, and are not content till they have unearthed some definite, and usually quite inaccurate, reason for my saying this or that."

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