Born, raised and trained, at least in her early years, in Australia, Coral Browne was a woman of sides, opposite and in competition. She looked like an aristocrat, but she had the mouth of a sailor. Her acid wit could reduce her victims to tears, yet she was horrified at being the cause of their pain. She was a lover of men, and of women, yet her apparent worldliness hid insecurities that damaged her relationships.
Rose Collis's book is a treat. Meaty, sparky, littered with theatrical stories and witty asides, she writes with heart and a solid appreciation of her subject's impact on her profession. The sadness of no longer being able to experience the great stage performances of one of the most glamorous and affecting actresses of the twentieth century, is tempered by the litany of witness statements from those who acted with Coral, and clips from contemporary reviews. It seems there were few who had a bad word to say about her skill and talent. She was sometimes the only bright thing in a sea of gloom, and could make up for a production's multitude of disappointments just by being there.
Her idiosyncrasies are beautifully described: the athletic eyebrow, arching at a moment's notice to make camp comment; the litany of filthy phrases that would give her free entry to the most earthy haunts; the insistence on only the best couture, and hang the expense. Brittle sometimes, but big-hearted, an absolute professional, and uncommonly kind when it really mattered.
Read many biographies, and they leave you with a feeling that you might just as well have gone to Wikipedia, since some writers think a list of performances and bald facts make a biography. This is a red-blooded telling of a white-hot life, and stands a Cecil-Beaton-hat taller than the rest.