I haven’t read her unauthorized biography—This Effing Lady—yet, but it sounds as though Coral Browne was a pip. A Catholic as devout as only a convert can be, she was nonetheless a potty mouth and a sinner. There was definitely fornication. Sounds like wrath was not unfamiliar, come to that. She sounds like a delight to spend time around, if you kept on her good side. How you’d do that, I can’t say; presumably I’d know more about it if I actually read the book. At very least, she was clearly well cast in the role I think of her in.
Really, she seems to have been well cast as Vera Charles of Auntie Mame; Vera was snooty and snobbish and hiding a lower-class background. Browne wasn’t hiding hers, but I’m not sure most people who saw her knew she was from Australia. And we’re not talking those enclaves of pure British aristocracy you still got in Australia in those days. She presented a dignified, classy face in most of her movies, and the rest of the time she was such a sneak that she convinced second husband Vincent Price that she was broke and got him to pay for everything.
Rather interesting is that she played herself in the British TV production An Englishman Abroad, about defected double agent Guy Burgess. In the film, he’s played by Alan Bates; the story is the fictionalized telling of Browne’s visit to Moscow with a touring Shakespeare company. While there, she met with Burgess. In point of fact, he seems to have pretty well broken into her dressing room. He threw up in Michael Redgrave’s dressing room. All in all, an interesting trip for her, I’m sure, and her performance is lauded, but I’m curious as to why given, again, playing herself. I need to see it to know.
Indeed, she seems to have mostly done the stage, which is why I’m not familiar with most of her work, I suppose. I’d really like to see her as “Belle Elmore,” the victim, in Dr. Crippen, because that feels like the sort of role she’d really have excelled in, and I should track that down. I’m familiar with the historical case it’s based on; she was a woman with great dreams of fame, dreams that seem to have been far beyond her talent. I feel as though Charles probably played her with flair and panache, and I really need to find out.
And, yes, Vera. All of Auntie Mame is a delight; it’s one of my favourite movies. Part of it is how beautifully cast it is, not least with Coral Browne as Vera Charles. Her chemistry with Rosalind Russell sells it. Her grace and snark and flair are what the role needs. And, no, I don’t remember her from Theater of Blood, where she met Vincent Price, but I’m quite sure she’s equally wonderful in that. But I only saw it once, some twenty years ago, projected on the side of a tent at the Ren faire. Not exactly what Coral Browne would’ve wanted, I think, but it might well have amused her.