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Present Indicative (1937)

de Noël Coward

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"I was photographed naked on a cushion very early in life, an insane, toothless smile slitting my face and pleats of fat overlapping me like an ill-fitting overcoat. Later, at the age of two, I was photographed again. This time in a lace dress, leaning against a garden roller and laughing hysterically. If these photographs can be found they will adorn this book." Thus begins the life story of one of the most celebrated characters in British theatrical history, in the first of Coward's autobiographies, first published in 1937. Displaying an early dedication to the theatre, Present Indicative hints at the success that would come to Coward as actor, playwright, novelist and performer. Each line is punctuated with his trademark effervescent wit, making this book a comic tour de force in it's own right, as well as a "must read" for anyone with an interest in the British stage. "He is simply a phenomenon, and one that is unlikely to occur ever again in theatre history" Terence Rattigan… (més)
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Prior to starting this book, I could not have told you anything about Coward beyond, oh yeah, I think I've heard of the name? In fact, my mind actually conflated him with Noam Chomsky when I first picked up the book.

But never mind that now. He's now slowly morphing in my imagination into a combination of Ron Howard (in the sense of the child actor who pivoted to more behind-the-scenes work, and also their similar names) and Niall Delaney from du Maurier's The Parasites.

This is - I think - my first celebrity autobiography. Well-written, in what I assume is the catchy Coward style. Peppered with anecdotes and other cultural celebrities - writers and actors - of the day. Coward catalogues the ups and downs of his career (up to his mid-thirties at time of publication) starting as a boy in plays to the varying reception of his works as a playwright. Perhaps it is really all self-hagiography but I admire his work-ethic as well as his honesty in admitting his fascination and desire to be part of the decadence of the fancy elites and his single-mindedness in achieving it!

He does downplay a lot of his downs - tuberculosis scares and flops in his plays and depression - though. And his lack of care of the historical events of his day, I found interesting. His experiences during the years of WWI were still acting-focused. In fact, WWI featured so little in his background of the times that, if he hadn't turned eighteen in 1918, I doubt it would've even rated a mention in his autobiography. And even when drafted, his experience was luckily very minimal.

Then because we are living in these times, I also found it interesting the lack of mention to the influenza epidemic. He did get influenza at about the same timeframe but the event was - as with all the down-events - glossed over quickly.

Most of all, what I enjoyed in reading this book was due to imagining the lives of the previous owners - Fred and Geo - of this book, whose lovely bookplate and inscription adorn the inside front cover. How did Fred like the book? Did they discuss bits of the book like, "Noel wrote about the play in so-and-so place, remember when we saw that there"? Coward never referred to nor acknowledged his sexual orientation but how many gay men in the 30s perhaps suspected and took comfort in his successes? Did Fred and Geo as they opened the Max Factor shop in Her Majesty's Arcade, now Sydney's Centrepoint Tower? So many questions.

Anyway, if there's ever a revival of Coward plays where I am, I'd love to see one, preferably one mentioned in this book so I can go back and read about its origins. ( )
  kitzyl | Aug 6, 2020 |
he certainly was busy--writing, acting, travelling. an enjoyable read if you know his work. ( )
  mahallett | Jun 11, 2020 |
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I was photographed naked on a cushion very early in life, an insane, toothless smile slitting my face and pleats of fat overlapping me like an ill-fitting overcoat.
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"I was photographed naked on a cushion very early in life, an insane, toothless smile slitting my face and pleats of fat overlapping me like an ill-fitting overcoat. Later, at the age of two, I was photographed again. This time in a lace dress, leaning against a garden roller and laughing hysterically. If these photographs can be found they will adorn this book." Thus begins the life story of one of the most celebrated characters in British theatrical history, in the first of Coward's autobiographies, first published in 1937. Displaying an early dedication to the theatre, Present Indicative hints at the success that would come to Coward as actor, playwright, novelist and performer. Each line is punctuated with his trademark effervescent wit, making this book a comic tour de force in it's own right, as well as a "must read" for anyone with an interest in the British stage. "He is simply a phenomenon, and one that is unlikely to occur ever again in theatre history" Terence Rattigan

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