Coral Browne – Australian-American Stage and Screen Actress

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“Coral Browne”


Coral Browne (23 July 1913 – 29 May 1991) was an Australian stage and screen actress



Browne was the only daughter of a restaurant-owner. She was raised in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, where she studied at the National Gallery Art School. Her amateur debut was as Gloria in Shaw’s You Never Can Tell directed by Frank D Clewlow. Gregan McMahon snapped her up for her professional debut as Margaret Orme in Loyalties at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre on 2 May 1931 (she was still billed as “Brown”, the “e” being added in 1936).[1] She had two brothers, Deneen and David.

At the age of 21, with just £50 and an introduction to Marie Tempest from Gregan McMahon,[2] she migrated to England where she became established as a stage actress, notably as leading lady to Jack Buchanan in Frederick Lonsdale’s The Last of Mrs Cheyney, W Somerset Maugham’s Lady Frederick[2] and Alan Melville’s Castle in the Air. She began film acting in 1936, with her more famous roles being Vera Charles in Auntie Mame (1958), Mercy Croft in The Killing of Sister George (1968), and Lady Claire Gurney in The Ruling Class (1972).

In 1969, Browne appeared in the poorly received original production of Joe Orton’s controversial farce What the Butler Saw in the West End at the Queen’s Theatre with Sir Ralph Richardson, Stanley Baxter, and Hayward Morse.

While touring the Soviet Union in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet in 1958, she met spy Guy Burgess.[3] This meeting became the basis of Alan Bennett’s script for the television movie An Englishman Abroad (1983) in which Browne played herself, apparently including some of her conversations with Burgess. Burgess who had found solace in his exile by continually playing the music of Jack Buchanan, asked Coral Browne if she had known him. “I suppose so”, the actress replied, “we nearly got married”. Her other notable film of this period, Dreamchild (1986) concerned the author Lewis Carroll. In the film, Browne gave an affecting account of the later life of Alice Liddell who had inspired the tale Alice in Wonderland.


Personal life

She married actor Philip Pearman in 1950; a bisexual, he died in 1964.[4] She also allegedly conducted affairs with Firth Shephard, Jack Buchanan, Maurice Chevalier, Paul Robeson, Michael Hordern, and costume designer Cecil Beaton, as well as affairs with women.[5] While making the film Theatre of Blood (1973), she met actor Vincent Price, and they married on 24 October 1974. They appeared together in the short lived CBS TV series Time Express in 1979.

She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1987 as a gift to Price, in exchange for which he converted to Roman Catholicism as a gift to her (she had converted many years previously).

She died in Los Angeles, California of breast cancer at the age of 77. There were no children from either marriage.



Browne was awarded the BAFTA Television Award for Best Actress in 1984 for her role in An Englishman Abroad. She later received the London Evening Standard’s British Film Award for Best Actress in 1986 for Dreamchild. In 1976, the Los Angeles Theatre Critics named her Best Actress for her role in Travesties, at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles.



She is the subject of a biography The Coral Browne Story: Theatrical Life and Times of a Lustrous Australian by Barbara Angell.[6] This was published May 2007 and launched at the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, on 14 June of that year. Coral Browne: ‘This Effing Lady’, by Rose Collis, published by Oberon Books, was launched at the Royal National Theatre, 4 October 2007

Video Clip



Selected filmography

Charing Cross Road 1935

Line Engaged 1935

The Amateur Gentleman 1936

Guilty Melody 1936

Black Limelight 1938

We’re Going to Be Rich 1938

Yellow Sands 1938

The Nursemaid Who Disappeared 1939

Let George Do It 1940

Piccadilly Incident 1946

Courtney Affair/Courtneys of Curzon St. 1947

Twist of Fate/The Beautiful Stranger 1954

Auntie Mame 1958

Go to Blazes 1961

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone 1961

Dr. Crippen 1962

Tamahine 1962

Night of the Generals 1967

The Killing of Sister George 1968

The Legend of Lylah Clare 1968

The Ruling Class 1972

Theatre of Blood 1973

The Drowning Pool 1975

Xanadu 1980 (Voice only)

Sparky’s Magic Piano 1982 (Voice only)

Eleanor, First Lady of the World 1982

An Englishman Abroad, Screenonline 1983

American Dreamer 1984

Dreamchild 1985


Key TV

The Guv’nor 1955

Charley’s Aunt 1969

Mrs. Warren’s Profession 1972

Lady Windermere’s Fan 1972

Time Express 1979

Caviar To The General 1990


Notable Stage

A Warm Corner Comedy Theatre, Mebourne c. 1930

The Roof Comedy Theatre, Mebourne 1931

Loyalties Comedy Theatre, Mebourne May 1931

Hay Fever

The Quaker Girl

The Apple Cart

Dear Brutus

Hedda Gabler

Children in Uniform Melbourne

Command to Love Melbourne

Mated 1934 or 1935

Lover’s Leap, Vaudeville Theatre London 1935

Basalik, London Arts Theatre Club 1935

Desirable Residence, Embassy Theatre London 1935

Heroes Don’t Care, St. Martin’s Theatre, London June 10, 1936

The Taming of the Shrew, New London Theatre 1936–1937

The Great Romancer, New London Theatre 1937

The Gusher, Prince’s Theatre, London 1937

Believe It Or Not, New Theatre, London March 1940

The Man Who Came to Dinner, Theatre Royal, Birmingham, England November 17, 1941

The Man Who Came to Dinner, Savoy Theatre, London December 4, 1941–1942

My Sister Eileen, Savoy Theatre, London 1943

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, Savoy Theatre, London 1943–1944

Lady Frederick, Savoy Theatre, London November 1946

Lady Frederick, Grand Theatre, Blackpool April 21, 1947

Lady Frederick, Theatre Royal, Brighton June 16, 1947

Canaries Sometimes Sing, Grand Theatre, Blackpool November 3, 1947

Castle in the Air, Adelphi Theatre, London 1949–1950

Othello, Old Vic Theatre, London October 31, 1951

King Lear, Old Vic, London March 3, 1952

Affairs of State, Theatre Royal, Brighton July 28, 1952

Affairs of State, Cambridge Theatre, Cambridge Circus August 21, 1952

Affairs of State, Hippodrome, Bristol 1953–1954

Simon And Laura, Strand Theatre, London 1954

Nina Theatre Royal Haymarket, London July 27, 1955

Macbeth Old Vic, London 1955–1956

Macbeth Hippodrome, Bristol 1955–1956

Tamburlaine the Greatm Playbill Winter Garden Theatre, New York Jan. 19-Feb. 4, 1956

Tamburlaine the Great, Stratford, Ontario, Canada

Macbeth, Winter Garden Theatre, New York Oct. 29, 1956-Jan. 12, 1957

Troilus and Cressida, Winter Garden Theatre, New York Dec. 26, 1956-Jan. 12, 1957

Hamlet, Old Vic, London 1957–1958

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Old Vic, London 1957–1958

The Pleasure of His Company, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London 1957–1958

Toys In The Attic, Piccadilly Theatre, London November 10, 1960

Bonne Soupe, The Comedy Theatre London 1960

Bonne Soupe, New Theatre, Oxford September 26, 1961

Bonne Soupe, Wyndham’s Theatre London, February 13, 1962

The Rehearsal, Royale Theatre, New York Sept. 23-Dec. 28, 1963

The Right Honourable Gentleman, Billy Rose Theatre, New York Oct. 19, 1965-Jan. 22, 1966

Lady Windermere’s Fan, Phoenix Theatre, London 1966

Lady Windermere’s Fan, Theatre Royal, Brighton August 23, 1966

What the Butler Saw, Queen’s Theatre, London 1969

My Darling Daisy, Lyric Theatre, London 1970

Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Old Vic, London 1970–1971

The Sea, Royal Court, London 1973–1974

The Waltz of the Toreadors Theatre Royal Haymarket, London 1974

Ardèle, Queen’s Theatre, London 1975

Charley’s Aunt, Cirque Dinner Theatre, Seattle August 12, 1975

Charley’s Aunt Granny’s Dinner Theatre, Dallas March 16 – April 10, 1976

Charley’s Aunt, National U.S. Tour May 10 – June 26, 1976

The Importance of Being Earnest, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles 1976

Travesties, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles 1976



  1. Stars of Australian Stage and Screen Hal Porter, Rigby Ltd. Adelaide 1965
  2. The Argus 3 April 1948
  3. Alan Bennett gives the date of her meeting with Burgess as 1958 in the introduction to his Single Spies, which contains the text of An Englishman Abroad as a stage play and the text of A Question of Attribution about Anthony Blunt. Single Spies, London, Faber, 1989, ISBN 0-571-14105-6.
  4. Book review, Sydney Morning Herald (June 22, 2007)
  5. Bi Community News online
  6. Barbara Angell at the Internet Movie Database
  7. Daily Telegraph review of This Effing Lady, 1 December 2007



  • Coral Browne: ‘This Effing Lady’, by Rose Collis, Oberon Books, ISBN 9781840027648
  • The Coral Browne Story by Barbara Angell, ISBN 978-0-646-47322-2.[1]
  • Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography by Victoria Price, ISBN 0-312-26789-4.
  • Who’s Who, 1991, St. Martin’s Press, 1991, p. 241.
  • Variety, 3 June 1991, p. 69.
  • The Daily Telegraph – Obituaries (31 May 1991)



External links