In 2019, Amanda Muggleton packed her bags for the UK to star in the London premiere season of the outrageously titled play Coral Browne: This F**king Lady!
It was a journey that the subject of this play had herself made 85 years before. In 1934, 21 year-old actress Coral Browne arrived in London from Australia with £50 in her pocket, stars in her eyes, a deliciously bawdy wit and a driving ambition in her heart. She would become famous for her glamorous lifestyle and award-winning performances (Auntie Mame, The Killing of Sister George, Dennis Potter’s Dreamchild and Alan Bennett’s An Englishman Abroad), and infamous for her sharp tongue and long list of lovers which included Hollywood director Vincent Price.
A delightful, surprising show – a must see! Miriam Margoyles
Born in West Footscray in 1913, Coral Browne studied at the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne and became an actor by chance. While working backstage as scenery painter on Gregan McMahon’s production of John Galsworthy’s The Roof the then Brown (the “e” would not be added until 1936) was asked to join the cast after the leading actress fell ill. Not long after her amateur debut, Browne signed with J.C. Williamson sealing her fate as a professional stage performer.
On arrival in London, Browne quickly established a career both on stage and in film and by the late 1940s she was the third highest paid actress on the West End Stage. A sexually adventurous woman, Browne enjoyed affairs with a number of prominent actors including (Sir) Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Jack Buchanan, (Sir) Cecil Beaton, and Paul Robeson, before marrying the openly gay actor and theatrical agent Philip Westrope Pearman (d.1964).
In 1958, while visiting Moscow with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company Browne met British spy Guy Burgess, who had defected to the Soviet Union. This encounter would form the basis of Alan Bennett’s telemovie An Englishman Abroad (1983), in which Browne played herself. Browne also starred in a number of well-known films, including Auntie Mame (1958) and the notorious drama The Killing of Sister George (1968).
Browne met Hollywood star Vincent Price in in 1972 on the set of the horror film Theatre of Blood and shortly thereafter moved to the United States. The couple married in 1974 and remained together until Browne died in 1991 after battling cancer for several years.
She left behind an emptiness, a gap, a void, a trough, the world is quite a good deal less, since Coral Browne f***ed off. Barry Humphries
Celebrated as an actress (though she received few official honours) Browne was renowned for her sharp wit, elegant demeanour, passion for designer clothes, and talent for profanity. In 1961 she was nominated as one of the world’s most beautiful women but ever fearful of losing her looks, she was a plastic surgery enthusiast and an obsessive weight-watcher.