On This Gay Day: So many things happened

Playwright and songwriter Noel Coward died on this day in 1973

British playwright and songwriter Noel Coward died in Jamaica on this day in 1973.

A multi-faceted entertainer whose wit and whimsy have influenced theatre, music and film for over a century, the man who would one day become Sir Noël Peirce Coward was born in the London suburb of Middlesex in 1899 to parents Violet and Arthur.

Coward wrote, directed and starred in dozens of plays, musicals and films throughout the 1900s, working with a young Laurence Olivier on stage in Private Lives and performing cabaret with Elaine Stritch in Las Vegas.

Many of Coward’s plays including Blythe Spirit, Private Lives, Hay Fever, Present Laughter and Design for Living have become theatrical staples and have been turned into films – some of them several times.

Coward was never open about his homosexuality, though his works often explored themes of sexuality both obviously and allegorically. During World War II, Coward was to receive a knighthood for his efforts in the name of British intelligence, though was denied by Winston Churchill, tentatively due to his flamboyant nature.

In the 1950’s he scored many hit songs with his cabaret act. Mad Dogs and Englishman, London Pride, I Went to a Marvelous Party and Don’t Put YOur Daughter o nthe Stage Mrs Worthington are some of his well known compositions.

Coward was eventually knighted in 1969, as well as becoming a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and receiving a lifetime achievement Tony.

Noël Coward was one of very few entertainers to visit Western Australia during wartime. In 1940, Coward arrived at Maylands Aerodrome to a barrage of questions from starving journalists who hadn’t seen an international celebrity for months. Coward was questioned about his opinion of Australian theatre and its role in the war, as well as more probing inquiries regarding his long-standing bachelorhood.

The playwright was treated to the crème-de-la-crème of Perth high society, featuring as guest of honour for Lord Mayor T. W. Meagher at Perth Council Chambers, a garden party at Government House and dinner with Lieutenant-Governor Sir James Mitchell and Lady Mitchell. He also performed his cabaret show at Capitol Theatre on William St, and later at Hoyts Theatre in Fremantle, though to how many people remains unknown to this day.

Of his whirlwind tour of the West, Coward wrote to his dear friend “…here where everything is so tremendously English. You have no idea what they feel about the home country and I am most deeply impressed by it”.

Soon after his departure and arrival back on the east coast, Sir Noël Coward spoke on radio of his time in Perth;

“I was told publicly by an eminent gentleman in Perth that it was a great privilege for me to visit Western Australia. This was absolutely true, but it seemed strange to hear it said with such sublime complacency – rather like arriving at somebody’s house and being told by the host how fortunate you are to be eating such delicious food in such distinguished company.”

Coward was in a relationship with South African actor Graham Payn from the 1940’s until Coward’s death in 1973 at the age of 74. In 1988, Firefly, Coward’s Jamaican Estate, was given to the Jamaican National Heritage Trust.

Payn retained the couple’s estate in Switzerland where he lived until his death in 2005, aged 87. Goldenhurst Farm, Coward’s English home, is now owned by entertainer Julian Clary.

Image: Noel Coward rehearsing in Perth 1940, Photo courtesy of Harry Bluck Estate / Museum of Performing Arts His Majesty’s Theatre.

PFLAG had their first ever meeting in 1973

The Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays held their first ever meeting on this day, meeting at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church in Greenwich Village, New York City. Approximately 20 people attended including founder Jeanne Manford, her husband Jules and son Morty. Today the organisation that supports parents, friends and family members of the LGBTIQ+ communities is found around the globe.

The first Australian branch came together in Perth in 1989 and was founded by John and Margaret Pugh, alongside June Smythe – who sadly passed away earlier this week.

Tennessee Williams was born in 1911

American playwright Tennessee Williams was born in this day in 1911. He authored some of the most performed plays of the 20th century including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Glass Menagerie and The Night of the Iguana.

Williams found success as a writer from the 1950’s through to the late 1960’s. Most of his plays were also adapted into feature films.During his career he authored over 30 plays and screenplays, as well as short stories, poems and memoirs.

In the 1970’s his work was less popular and the author struggled with drugs and alcohol. In 1983 he was found dead aged 71 in a suite at the Hotel Elysée in New York. He died of an overdose of barbiturates.

Common Threads wins the Oscar for Best Documentary

In 1990 the documentary Common Threads, which tells the story of the AIDS crisis through the creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, was named Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. Director Rob Epstein won the same award back 1984 for his documentary The Times of Harvey Milk.

Hillary Swank wins an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena

Hillary Swank was named Best Actress at the Academy Awards in 2000 for her portrayal of transgender man Brandon Teena in the film Boys Don’t Cry. In 1993 Teena, and two others, were murdered by John Lotter and Marvin Nissen. The pair had discovered Teena’s gender status a few days earlier and sexually assaulted him.

Due to Nissen’s testimony, Lotter received the death penalty. Nissen was sentenced to life in prison, but later recanted his testimony saying he was responsible for the murders. Lotter remains on death row having been denied an appeal by the US Supreme Court on multiple occasions.

The film was a breakout role for Swank, who had previously starred in the fourth Karate Kid movie and had a role on teen TV fave Beverly Hills 90210. She’d later win a second Oscar for her role in the film Million Dollar Baby.

Fashion Designer Halston died on this day in 1990

Roy Halston Frowick went from being born in Iowa during The Great Depression to designing hats for Hollywood’s most famous actresses in the 1950’s before launching his full fashion range and becoming an internationally famous designer in the 1970s. One of his most famous designers was the Pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband’s Presidential inauguration.

The designer is synonymous with the wild New York nightlife of the 1970’s, where he was a regular at nightclub Studio 54, and hung out with Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli.

He made millions of dollars as a designer, and also created uniforms for Olympic teams and airline crew. By the late 1980’s he had stopped designing and eventually lost control of the company that bore his name.

In 1988 he was diagnosed with HIV and he passed away in 1990 from Kaposi Sarcoma, an AIDS defining illness. He was 57 years old when he passed away. The Halston company continues to make designer clothes today.

His life was brought to the screen in the TV series Halston with Ewan McGregor playing the designer.

Also on this day

Singer Diana Ross celebrates her 78th birthday. It was recently revealed that when Ross recorded her 1981 hit I’m Coming Out she didn’t realise it’s queer subtext. Nile Rodgers wrote the tune for Ross after seeing drag queens performs as the former Supremes leader. Actor T.R Knight is turning 49, he’s best known for playing Dr George O’Malley on TB series Grey’s Anatomy. He also appeared in the queer miniseries When We Rise, as well as spots on Will & Grace and The Good Wife. Jonathan Groff from Glee, Looking and Mindhunter is celebrating his 37th birthday. Poet Walt Whitman passed away on this date in 1892.

OIP Staff


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