Coral Browne

Coral Browne
Coral Browne
Born Coral Edith Brown
23 July 1913(1913-07-23)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died 29 May 1991(1991-05-29) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1933–85
Spouse Philip Pearman (1950–64)
Vincent Price (1974–91)

Coral Browne (23 July 1913 – 29 May 1991) was an Australian-American stage and screen actress.



Coral Edith Brown was the only daughter of a restaurant-owner. She and her two brothers were raised in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, where she studied at the National Gallery Art School. Her amateur debut was as Gloria in Shaw's You Never Can Tell, directed by Frank Clewlow. Gregan McMahon snapped her up for her professional debut as "Margaret Orme" in Loyalties at Melbourne's Comedy Theatre on 2 May 1931 (she was still billed as "Brown", the "e" being added in 1936), aged 17.[1]

At the age of 21, with just £50 and an introduction to famed actress Marie Tempest from Gregan McMahon,[2] she emigrated to England where she became established as a stage actress, notably as leading lady to Jack Buchanan in Frederick Lonsdale's The Last of Mrs Cheyney, W Somerset Maugham's Lady Frederick[2] and Alan Melville's Castle in the Air. She was a regular performer in productions at The Savoy Theatre and was resident in the hotel for many years, including throughout World War II. When the original British touring production of The Man Who Came To Dinner ran into financial difficulty and could not be produced in London, Browne borrowed money from her dentist and bought the rights to the play, successfully staging it at The Savoy Theatre in London.[3] She received royalties from the play from all future productions. She began film acting in 1936, with her more famous roles being Vera Charles in Auntie Mame (1958), Mercy Croft in The Killing of Sister George (1968), and Lady Claire Gurney in The Ruling Class (1972).

In 1969, Browne appeared in the poorly received original production of Joe Orton's controversial farce What the Butler Saw in the West End at the Queen's Theatre with Sir Ralph Richardson, Stanley Baxter, and Hayward Morse.

While touring the Soviet Union in a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (later the Royal Shakespeare Company) production of Hamlet in 1958, she met spy Guy Burgess.[4] This meeting became the basis of Alan Bennett's script for the television movie An Englishman Abroad (1983) in which Browne played herself, apparently including some of her conversations with Burgess. Burgess who had found solace in his exile by continually playing the music of Jack Buchanan, asked Browne if she had known him. "I suppose so", the actress replied, "we nearly got married". Her other notable film of this period, Dreamchild (1986) concerned the author Lewis Carroll. In the film, Browne gave an affecting account of the later life of Alice Liddell who had inspired the tale Alice in Wonderland.

Personal life

She married actor Philip Pearman in 1950; a bisexual, he died in 1964.[5] While making the film Theatre of Blood (1973), she met actor Vincent Price; they married on 24 October 1974. They appeared together in the short lived CBS TV series Time Express in 1979.

She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1987 as a gift to Price; he later converted to Roman Catholicism for her (she had converted many years previously).

She died in Los Angeles, California from breast cancer, aged 77; she had no children.


Browne was awarded the BAFTA Television Award for Best Actress in 1984 for her role in An Englishman Abroad. She later received the London Evening Standard's British Film Award for Best Actress in 1986 for Dreamchild. In 1976, the Los Angeles Theatre Critics named her Best Actress for her role in Travesties, at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles.


Browne's outrageous razor wit was renowned, and endless anecdotes of her circulated in theatrical circles. At the first night of Peter Brook's production of Oedipus during which a giant golden phallus was unveiled onstage, Browne turned to her companion Val Gielgud in the stalls and said loudly: "Well, it's nobody we know, darling." Theatre critic Ned Sherrin was once asked to meet a young friend of his parents who was visiting London from South Africa and took him to a restaurant. Browne was at a nearby table. As she left she greeted Ned and then, looking at the very good-looking young man, said "Had the trip wires out at Euston [station] again have we darling?" When told by the Royal Shakespeare Company that there was no suitable role in their upcoming production of King Lear for her husband, Philip Pearman, she demanded a script and running through it she found the page she was looking for. "There you are", she said, "the perfect part. A small camp near Dover."[6]

Browne's language was colourful, and an unauthorized biography of her, This Effing Lady, was published. She was a devout Catholic (by conversion). The two aspects came together in a story of her standing outside Brompton Oratory after Sunday mass when an actor came up to her with gossip about who was sleeping with someone else's wife. She stopped him in his tracks with: "I don't want to hear this filth. Not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace." Fellow Australian performer Barry Humphries paid tribute to Browne at her memorial service with an appropriate rhyming couplet: "She left behind an emptiness/A gap, a void, a trough/The world is quite a good deal less/Since Coral Browne fucked off."[7]


  • Browne was the subject of a biography, The Coral Browne Story: Theatrical Life and Times of a Lustrous Australian, by Barbara Angell.[8] This was published May 2007 and launched at the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, on 14 June of that year.
  • Coral Browne: 'This Effing Lady', by Rose Collis, published by Oberon Books, was launched at the Royal National Theatre, 4 October 2007.[9]

Selected filmography

Key TV

Notable Stage

  • A Warm Corner Comedy Theatre, Mebourne c. 1930
  • The Roof Comedy Theatre, Mebourne 1931
  • Loyalties Comedy Theatre, Mebourne May 1931
  • Hay Fever
  • The Quaker Girl
  • The Apple Cart
  • Dear Brutus
  • Hedda Gabler
  • Children in Uniform Melbourne
  • Command to Love Melbourne
  • Mated 1934 or 1935
  • Lover's Leap, Vaudeville Theatre London 1935
  • Basalik, London Arts Theatre Club 1935
  • Desirable Residence, Embassy Theatre London 1935
  • Heroes Don't Care, St. Martin's Theatre, London 10 June 1936
  • The Taming of the Shrew, New London Theatre 1936–1937
  • The Great Romancer, New London Theatre 1937
  • The Gusher, Prince's Theatre, London 1937
  • Believe It Or Not, New Theatre, London March 1940
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner, Theatre Royal, Birmingham, England, 17 November 1941
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner, Savoy Theatre, London, 4 December 1941–42
  • My Sister Eileen, Savoy Theatre, London, 1943
  • The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, Savoy Theatre, London 1943–44
  • Lady Frederick, Savoy Theatre, London, November 1946
  • Lady Frederick, Grand Theatre, Blackpool, 21 April 1947
  • Lady Frederick, Theatre Royal, Brighton, 16 June 1947
  • Canaries Sometimes Sing, Grand Theatre, Blackpool, 3 November 1947
  • Castle in the Air, Adelphi Theatre, London, 1949–50
  • Othello, Old Vic Theatre, London, 31 October 1951
  • King Lear, Old Vic, London, 3 March 1952
  • Affairs of State, Theatre Royal, Brighton, 28 July 1952
  • Affairs of State, Cambridge Theatre, Cambridge Circus, 21 August 1952
  • Affairs of State, Hippodrome, Bristol, 1953–54
  • Simon And Laura, Strand Theatre, London, 1954
  • Nina Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 27 July 1955
  • Macbeth Old Vic, London, 1955–56
  • Macbeth Hippodrome, Bristol, 1955–56
  • Tamburlaine the Greatm Playbill Winter Garden Theatre, New York, 19 January - 4 February 1956
  • Tamburlaine the Great, Stratford, Ontario, Canada
  • Macbeth, Winter Garden Theatre, New York, 29 October 1956 – 12 January 1957
  • Troilus and Cressida, Winter Garden Theatre, New York, 26 December 1956 – 12 January 1957
  • Hamlet, Old Vic, London, 1957–58
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream, Old Vic, London, 1957–58
  • The Pleasure of His Company, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 1957–58
  • Toys In The Attic, Piccadilly Theatre, London, 10 November 1960
  • Bonne Soupe, The Comedy Theatre London, 1960
  • Bonne Soupe, New Theatre, Oxford, 26 September 1961
  • Bonne Soupe, Wyndham's Theatre London, 13 February 1962
  • The Rehearsal, Royale Theatre, New York, 23 September - 28 December 1963
  • The Right Honourable Gentleman, Billy Rose Theatre, New York, 19 October 1965 – 22 January 1966
  • Lady Windermere's Fan, Phoenix Theatre, London, 1966
  • Lady Windermere's Fan, Theatre Royal, Brighton, 23 August 1966
  • What the Butler Saw, Queen's Theatre, London, 1969
  • My Darling Daisy, Lyric Theatre, London, 1970
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession, Old Vic, London, 1970–71
  • The Sea, Royal Court, London, 1973–74
  • The Waltz of the Toreadors Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 1974
  • Ardèle, Queen's Theatre, London, 1975
  • Charley's Aunt, Cirque Dinner Theatre, Seattle, 12 August 1975
  • Charley's Aunt Granny's Dinner Theatre, Dallas, 16 March – 10 April 1976
  • Charley's Aunt, National U.S. tour, 10 May – 26 June 1976
  • The Importance of Being Earnest, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1976
  • Travesties, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1976


  1. ^ Stars of Australian Stage and Screen Hal Porter, Rigby Ltd. Adelaide 1965
  2. ^ a b The Argus 3 April 1948
  3. ^ ISBN-13: 978-0312267896. St. Martin's Griffin (15 October 2000)
  4. ^ Alan Bennett gives the date of her meeting with Burgess as 1958 in the introduction to his Single Spies, which contains the text of An Englishman Abroad as a stage play and the text of A Question of Attribution about Anthony Blunt. Single Spies, London, Faber, 1989, ISBN 0-571-14105-6.
  5. ^ Book review, Sydney Morning Herald (22 June 2007)
  6. ^ Sherrin, Ned (1991), Ned Sherrin's theatrical anecdotes: a connoisseur's collection of legends, stories, and gossip., London: Virgin
  7. ^ Obituary in The Independent
  8. ^ Barbara Angell at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Daily Telegraph review of This Effing Lady, 1 December 2007


External links

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