The Working Theater
THERE WAS A picture of Noel Coward emerging from Buckingham Palace immediately after receiving his knighthood. He wore the proper morning-suit and, with gloved hands, leaned with the right amount of restrained aplomb upon a walking stick. The face, though it seemed to express a life sustained almost entirely on champagne and cigarettes, gave forth a grave smile, the pleased yet reflective grimace of a man whose life had just been dubbed worthwhile. In all, the official portrait of achievement-except for one thing. Except for the hat- the top hat that perched at a very unsolemn angle and crowned the photograph with an old-fashioned, bohemian wink at the seriousness of it all. When I saw the picture, another scene came instantly to mind, one described more than a half-century ago by Max Beerbohm. It was a similar occasion: a man of the theater was about to be knighted. Max caught a glimpse of him on his way to the ceremony and noticed how, smothered in correct attire, the man’s gypsy element still peeked through, especially in the hat tilt- ed audaciously on one side of his head. Max was describing Henry Irving, an actor and manager adored in his time but for whom Max the critic had never been able to work up more than an amused indulgence.
About the Author