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Coral Browne > Memories > Queen of Style

Title: Queen of Style

Garry Gillard - July 31, 2006 08:21 AM (GMT)
Barry Humphries, My Life as Me, Viking/Penguin, Camberwell, 2002: 317-318.

During my time in Los Angeles at the beginning of the nineties, I was approached several times to do theatre on the West Coast, and actor friends out there, such as Coral Browne, Vincent Price and Roddy McDowall, gave much encouragement to this idea. But still I had cold feet. The networks were hesitant to offer me a series, in spite of the success of the 'specials' they had commissioned, and an Edna film with Disney collapsed after endless meetings, adaptations of tired old scripts, and constant declaration, of how, 'excited' they all were. I have learnt in Los Angeles that as soon as a film or television executive expresses 'excitement', the project is doomed.

Coral Browne was a Melbourne girl, and a friend of my mother's actress friend Thelma Scott: the only theatrical person of our family's acquaintance. Coral had come to England to further her theatrical career in the early fifties at much the same time as Peter Finch, and she was not only a marvellous actress but an infamous wit and the author of many legendary exchanges. Her vocabulary, was at once blunt and imaginative, and she was at the height of her celebrity when she married Vincent Price, the star of many horror movies.

Vincent, with his honeyed Missouri accent and his erudition about such varied subjects as art and gastronomy, was the perfect foil for Coral. Once, at a slightly embarrassing reception given for my wife Lizzie and me by Zsa Zsa Gabor - embarrassing because the photographers stationed expectantly at the entrance to Zsa Zsa's Bel Air mansion failed to recognise the guests of honour - Coral, bored and already seriously ill, begged permission to leave early.

Drawing me aside, she said somewhat loudly, hope you don't mind, Barry darling, but Vincent and I are fucking off!'

When she died in 1991 I wrote a scurrilous threnody in the style of which, I hoped, she might have approved. It ended:

Uniquely-minded Queen of Style,
No counterfeit could coin you,
Long may you make the angels smile
Till we all fuck off to join you.

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