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Wednesday, 15 December, 1999, 08:56 GMT
Celebrating Coward's centenary

A year of celebration culminates on Coward's 100th birthday

A year of celebrations to mark the centenary of the birth of the British playwright Noel Coward reach a climax on Thursday.

The last 12 months have seen the largest and most diverse commemoration of Coward's life and work since his death in 1973 at the age of 74.

Famous Coward comedies
Blithe Spirit
Family Values
Design For Living
Hay Fever
Present Laughter

Although principally revered as a playwright - he was responsible for more than 60 productions - Coward was also an actor, composer and songwriter.

In recognition of Coward's legendary status, events as diverse as his talents have been held, including play revivals, record launches and exhibitions. Films have gone into production and books have been written.

Lauren Bacall was a friend of the playwright
Most have taken place in his homeland but many others have also been held in the US.

One of the highlights of 16 December - Coward's birthday - will take place in New York.

Screen legend Lauren Bacall will star in the Broadway opening of his play Waiting in the Wings.

Friends pay tribute

The action takes place in a retirement home for actresses. Bacall plays a new resident coming face to face with a longtime rival, played by Rosemary Harris.

"It was produced in England in 1960, but never in America," said 75-year-old Bacall.

Vanessa Redgrave stars in revival on the London stage

"I was told that he didn't quite polish it because the thought of retiring actresses upset him a little bit. He was getting close to that age himself, although he never really retired."

Having been away from the theatre for a while, Bacall was interested in appearing in Waiting in the Wings because she had been involved in a Coward production when he was alive.

"Noel Coward was a friend, and I had worked with him in Blithe Spirit which we shot live on television," she explained.

The Queen Mother knew Coward well
Back in the UK, Vanessa Redgrave, another acclaimed actress and Coward admirer, will also be paying tribute to his talents.

Redgrave, who is appearing in the centenary London revival of Coward's last play Song at Twilight - one of his triology Suite in Three Keys - will be laying flowers by his statue at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

The statue was unveiled last December by the Queen Mother. But Thursday will see the unveiling of a new bronze bust of Coward in Teddington Library, west London, as well as a portrait at the Teddington Theatre Club.

Prolific talent

Coward was born in Teddington in 1899 and became one of the most successful, wittiest and prolific of British playwrights.

His family was musical and he was soon treading the boards in various music hall shows. His first writings were mainly short songs and sketches for revue shows.

Coward film credits
Italian Job
In Which We Serve
Our Man in Havana
Around the World in 80 days
The Scoundrel

But even these early works, such as the 1923 Parisian Pierrot, showed touches of the genius to come.

He went on to write and star in his own revues before creating the first of his best-loved comedies Private Lives in 1929.

Other humorous classics followed including, Blithe Spirit, Present Laughter and Hay Fever. Another was Relative Values and a film version of the play is to be released in early 2000 as part of the centenary events.

Stephen Fry is a star of the Relative Values movie
It stars Julie Andrews, Stephen Fry, Colin Firth and Denise Richards - latterly of 007's The World Is Not Enough.

Throughout the year, the National Film Theatre in London has also been showing a series of films either based on Coward's plays or starring the man himself.

Though Coward was a master of pithy social observation, many of his works also tackled serious and controversial issues - particularly those which dealt with the issue of his own homosexuality.

The centenary revival of Song at Twilight has been one such play. Vanessa Redgrave has been starring alongside her brother Corin in the story of an ageing gay writer who has paid a price for concealing his sexuality from his prurient public.

As for recognising Coward's songwriting skills, Twentieth Century Blues was released earlier in the year.

Coward was devoted to his Jamaican retreat
The record features cover versions of Coward compositions sung by contemporary pop and entertainment stars including Robbie Williams, Damon Albarn, Sir Paul McCartney and Vic Reeves.

In 1970, Coward was knighted for his achievements. Three years later, after a career spanning more than 50 years he died at Firefly, his beloved Jamaican home.

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See also:
16 Dec 99 |  Entertainment
Noel Coward: 20th century icon
07 Oct 99 |  Entertainment
Madonna takes Coward role
08 Dec 98 |  Entertainment
Coward statue unveiled
15 Jan 98 |  UK
Stars gather to remember the Master
06 Oct 98 |  Entertainment
Saved: Coward's room with a view

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