I feel heavy hearted that the baby queers & even the Gen Xers don't know about, or care about many of the personalities that engaged the gay people that came before them. I recently mentioned Mae West & Raquel Welch in the same sentence & a small group of 20-something gay boys looked at me with totally blank faces. It was as if I had been speaking in Hebrew.
Beatrice Lillie was an incomparable artist: comedienne, actress, & known in the 1920s- 1950s as "the funniest woman in the world. " She was born Constance Sylvia Gladys Munston, in Canada. She began her stage career in London in 1914 & she became famous for her performances in music hall & in intimate revues.
Lillie made her American debut in 1932 where she developed her own TV series during the 1950s. She appeared in films including On Approval (1944) & Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), although she worked primarily on the stage. In 1952, she created her own show; incorporating her greatest bits in An Evening with Beatrice Lillie which opened on Broadway. This show received rave reviews & she toured with it across the globe 3 times. She won a Special Tony Award for her performance in 1953. She starred on Broadway in High Spirits & replaced Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame. Lillie wrote her autobiography Every Other Inch a Lady in 1972 before a suffering stroke in 1974.
After her death, Sir John Gielgud stated: "She was The Mistress of the Absurd, I remember Bea standing dramatically against a pillar dressed in a flowing gown which she lifted suddenly to reveal her feet shod in roller skates on which she gravely skidded across the stage".
With her trademark cropped hair style with a smart hat, holding a long cigarette holder, she was a true original, an enemy of pomposity, & the sentimental. Fortunately, many of her satirical & surrealistic comic songs: There Are Fairies At The Bottom Of My Garden, Weary Of It All, Wind Round My Heart, & my favorite- This Is My First Affair ("so please be kind & please be quick"), are preserved on record.
In the first half of the 20th century, Lillie was one of the most sought after celebrities, the darling of the social set, & the toast of two continents. Cole Porter wrote his "story of a nightmare weekend"- Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby, for her, & Noel Coward wrote the delightfully gossipy I've Been To A Marvellous Party just or her. She gave the first public performance of Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
In 1920 she was married to Sir Robert Peel, making her Lady Peel, a name she used at social affairs. She eventually separated from her husband (but never divorced him). Lillie had love affairs with many women, including actresses: Tallulah Bankhead, Eva Le Gallienne, Gertrude Lawrence & Judith Anderson.
"Did I ever give you a lift after a party at Joan Crawford's?"