Noel, Tallulah, Cole, and Me: A Memoir of Broadway's Golden Age –The Book You Need to Read
Those of us who love musical theatre are always looking for that next amazing book that offers us a special look into the making of Broadway musicals and the exciting lives that help create them. An unlikely book has emerged that I am confident that many of you are going to want to read. Noel, Tallulah, Cole, and Me: A Memoir of Broadway's Golden Age by John C. Wilson, edited with commentary by Thomas S. Hischak and Jack Macauley is the intriguing autobiography of a man that you might not know much about, but who helped shape classic musicals of the Golden Age of Broadway.
John C. Wilson was the director of the original productions of Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Kiss Me, Kate, as well as the producer of the musical Bloomer Girl. He moved in interesting circles, his star-studded encounters facilitated by his romance with playwright and actor Noel Coward. Before his death in 1961, Wilson decided to write his autobiography and it has laid dormant for over fifty years. His nephew Jack Macauley dusted off the tome and, together with theatre historian Thomas S. Hischak, the two have lovingly brought the book to fruition. Back in the early summer, I was approached by Hischak to read the book and write a blurb for the back cover. I am here to tell you that this book should be on your essential reading list if you are interested in hearing many an untold story about theatre past.
The stories told in Noel, Tallulah, Cole, and Me: A Memoir of Broadway's Golden Age are both fun and full of insight. The book opens with a particularly amusing set of anecdotes about the auditioning of actresses to play the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, followed by an account of the tumultuous rehearsal period where Director Wilson had to play peacemaker between its two book writers Joseph Fields and Anita Loos who found little to agree on in creating the piece. What is particularly wonderful about his storytelling is that he seldom treats the players with contempt or scorn, but lovingly captures their individuality in spite of the feud.
Wilson was lovers with Noel Coward early on his career, having met the master of charm, sarcasm and wit after seeing him in a London production of The Vortex. Coward moved in unparalleled circles which exposed Wilson to a vast parade of colorful characters. It is particularly amusing how Wilson understatedly acknowledges how the likes of Tallulah Bankhead, The Lunts, Alfred Drake, Carol Channing, and Cole Porter breezed in and out of his world. It reminds you of Alice in Wonderland, how this essentially gentle and understated man happens upon adventure after adventure in the Wonderland of Theatre, wending through its eccentricities, its brazen personalities, and the challenges of the field itself.
Macauley and Hischak have done a wonderful job with their commentary, guiding us through a world of people who were stars 60 or 70 years ago, but who have become, with each passing generation, a foggy memory. They provide information about dozens of players, rightfully restoring their coatings of sparkle, glamour and personality. The book reads like an annotated biography, with Messieurs Macauley and Hischak filling in gaps and helping to draw connections.
The holidays are just around the corner, and Noel, Tallulah, Cole, and Me: A Memoir of Broadway's Golden Age is the perfect gift for the theatre aficionado who has everything. Rowan & Littlefield Publishers should be congratulated for their courage to bring a book of this caliber to print, especially considering that John C. Wilson is not exactly a household name. One might balk at the $62 price, but because of its niche subject matter, it is not likely to sell millions of copies. That, unfortunately, is how pricing works. The book has to pay for itself. Please let me assure you, however, that I found the book to be a fascinating read, augmented by some particularly wonderful, never-before-seen, pictures that will make you feel like you spending some magical, candid moments with some of the greatest stars of theatre and film past. It is worth every dime for the enjoyment you will find within its pages.