Noel Coward

Noel Coward
"The Press fall over themselves to say nice things about me," British playwright Noel Coward once exulted after a Broadway opening, "and I'm altogether New York's white-haired boy." Coward was not only author but composer, lyricist, director, and star of many of his productions. His sparkling comedies, brimming with satire, witty repartee, and sexual tensions, represented for American audiences the modern, emancipated age.

The playwright's languid, polished urbanity, evoked by William Auerbach-Levy, set trends in New York, Hollywood, and European capitals, where chic circles imitated Coward's caustic criticisms and his use of "darling" as a form of address. Wherever he went, he gravitated toward other celebrity figures. But Coward, coping with periodic breakdowns, was keenly aware that his public persona was as artificial as his stage inventions. "It's all a question of masks, really," he wrote about celebrity like his own; "brittle, painted masks. We all wear them as a form of protection. . . . We must have some means of shielding our timid, shrinking souls from the glare of civilization."

Noel Coward 1899-1973
William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964)
Watercolor on paper, circa 1930
The Hampden-Booth Theatre Library at The Players,
New York City

BACK to "Personality, Celebrity and the Press"

Past Exhibitions | National Portrait Gallery Home