Laurette Taylor (1884-1946)

Noel Coward and His Muse by Celise Kalke

Lauretter Taylor was one of the foremost actresses of the early twentieth century and one of the American theatre's most memorable personalities. She also inspired playwright Noel Coward to create one of his most memorable stage characters, Judith Bliss in HAY FEVER.

Laurette Taylor . . . spent most of her time as a child weaving luminous lies around her everyday life. She did so, by her own statement, because her life bored her . . . [Her] fancy—gossamer and born of nothing—was to press itself upon the lives of those around her, changing them and disrupting them. The why of it, like the why of magic, cannot be known. (Marguerite Courtney, Laurette Taylor's daughter and biographer)

In 1901 Laurette met her first husband, Charles Taylor, and starred in his melodrama, The Child Wife. On January 1, 1902, she gave birth to her son, Dwight. The Taylors also had a daughter, Marguerite, in 1904. Although a successful playwright, Charles Taylor failed to match his wife's success as an actress. After many stormy years, they divorced in 1910.

Later in 1910, Laurette Taylor met English playwright Hartley Manners. He was forty and she was twenty-six. After a courtship of two years, in 1912 he presented her with both an engagement ring and the manuscript of a play, Peg O' My Heart. The play was a huge success for them both, showing off Laurette's talent as a sentimental comedienne.

In 1922, the entire family moved into 50 Riverside Drive in New York City. That winter, they played host to the world of American Theatre, taking in actors and directors. One of their favorite "strays" was young playwright and actor Noel Coward.

The sound of the piano bewitched into melody meant that Noel was in the living room whiling away an hour or so until someone came home. . . Each [family member] in turn would stop on the way upstairs, lean over the balcony, and invite him to stay for dinner. "Thank you, darling, I'd love to," Noel would reply, smiling up at each. (Marguerite Courtney)

The family was very kind, generous, and eccentric. Every Sunday Laurette gave a dinner party, which she sometimes failed to attend. When the family members played host they would instigate complicated and intricate party games.

It was inevitable that someone should eventually utilize portions of this eccentricity in a play, and I am only grateful to Fate that no guest of the Hartley Manners thought of writing Hay Fever before I did. (Noel Coward)

Later when . . . word drifted across the Atlantic that [Coward's] new play "Hay Fever" was supposed to be an intimate picture of the Manners family, Laurette was hurt. After seeing the play in New York she found it hard to forgive him; the addlepated group of rugged individualists whom he depicted were not her family at all. "None of us," she declared emphatically, "is ever unintentionally rude." (Marguerite Courtney)

Laurette Taylor's career flourished throughout the 20s. Although very happily married, she engaged in a passionate dalliance with the film star John Gilbert. She also began to drink heavily as her relationship to "real life" continued to be problematic.

In 1928, Hartley Manners died of cancer. His death was a tremendous blow, and Laurette went into a period of retirement. In 1945, she gave her last performance in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Managerie, which won her great acclaim and the playwright's life-long admiration. She died in New York City in 1946.

Having created the part of Amanda Wingfield for Laurette Taylor is sufficient reward for all the effort that went before and a lot that has come after. (Tennessee Williams)

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Copyright - The Noel Coward Society - May 2001