The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it...I can resist everything but temptation.
– Oscar Wilde

Don't have sex, man. It leads to kissing and pretty soon you have to start talking to them.
– Steve Martin

All a girl really wants is for one guy to prove to her that they are not all the same.
– Marilyn Monroe

By the time you swear you’re his
Shivering and sighing
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.
– Dorothy Parker

Some people claim that marriage interferes with romance. There is no doubt about it. Anytime you have a romance, your wife is bound to interfere.
– Groucho Marx

*****
About the Playwright:
Noël Coward was an English playwright and composer whose cool and witty sophistication came to define English high society between the World Wars. An extravagantly successful playwright with forty plays to his name, many enduringly popular, he also composed hundreds of songs and over a dozen musicals and revues. Not only did Coward write many well-loved works of theatre and music, but he was also a director and a consummate performer, acting for six decades both on the stage and in film —  including starring in several of his own works and performing his own songs.

Coward was born in 1899 in the London suburb of Teddington. His first professional engagement came when he was eleven years old and responded to an advertisement seeking a “talented boy of attractive appearance” for a children’s play. He would say afterwards, “I was a talented boy, God knows, and, when washed and smarmed down a bit, passably attractive.” This play brought him to the notice of actor-manager Charles Hawtrey, who became Coward’s early mentor in comic acting. Coward followed Hawtrey around to watch him perform and beg for autographs. These early observances of Hawtrey’s technique, including onstage laughter and hand gestures, later appeared in Coward’s own plays.

Coward’s first success as a playwright was The Vortex (1924), a controversial play about drug abuse and nymphomania in polite society. Fallen Angels (1925), anecdotally inspired by a true story of Coward and a female friend awaiting a mutual ex-lover, premiered the following year. Tallulah Bankhead starred as Julia, replacing the original lead actress less than a week before opening. The play was attacked by theatre critics and morality campaigners for its frank depiction of women who had had premarital sex, got drunk, and were prepared to commit adultery —  but the scandal was good for the box office. Coward commented on the conservative public attitude: “Rocks are infinitely more dangerous when they are submerged, and the sluggish waves of false sentiment and hypocrisy have been washing over reality far too long already in the art of this country. Sex being the most important factor of human nature is naturally, and always will be, the fundamental root of good drama…” In June of 1925, Coward had four plays running simultaneously in the West End, an achievement previously reached only by W. Somerset Maugham and since equaled only by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The 1930s and 1940s would see Coward write his most famous works: Private Lives (1930), Design for Living (1933), Blithe Spirit (1941), and the film Brief Encounter (1945, an adaptation of a 1936 play), as well as songs like “Mad About the Boy” (1932). Coward himself starred in several of his plays, along with the actor friends he had written the roles for: Gertrude Lawrence, Alfred Lunt, and Lynn Fontanne. During the Second World War, he served as an intelligence agent, using his position as an entertainer and socialite to carry messages, talk to Allied contacts, and collect information about Nazi sympathizers. His later plays were less popular, but he acted in feature films including Our Man in Havana (1959) and The Italian Job (1969).

Like Oscar Wilde before him, Coward was perhaps known as much for his public persona —  “the elegant silk dressing gown, the cigarette holder, charm, wit, clipped phrases, upper-class accents, and sex appeal”* – as for his plays. This image was constructed by Coward to hide his sexual orientation from the public. More or less open about his homosexuality in his private life, Coward experienced firsthand the effect of the societal double standards that formed the basis for his biting comedies of manners: the struggle between upper-class restraint and the passions of anger or lust.

Coward was knighted in 1970 by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to theatre and the arts. He died in 1973 in Jamaica.

*essayist Sarah Duerden