Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Coward Goes West

Noel Coward in the Nevada desert

In 1954, Noel Coward was 19,000 pounds overdrawn, his life insurance pledged against the debt, when the offer came to appear in a place called Las Vegas at $35,000 a week. As the date approached, CBS managed to sweeten things by offering him $450,000 for three television specials.
“All this money, plus Las Vegas, would mean that at last he could have some capital in the bank,” wrote Cole Lesley in his The Life of Noel Coward — money for his old age “…which, as he put it, was due to begin next Tuesday.”
Just before Vegas, crisis — Coward’s accompanist couldn’t get a work permit.
“He interviewed eight people, none of whom were good enough, and then one evening the telephone rang. This time his savior was Marlene (Dietrich), who had been loyally working away on his behalf. She was calling from the airport and her plane for London was already boarding; had he got a pencil, ready, quick, Pete Matz, this is his number, ring him at once and grab him.
“Pete came round next day. He seemed absurdly young, only 26, dark and intelligent, with a great sense of dehydrated humor, and Noel knew in his bones that he was exactly what was needed. When Noel showed him the old arrangements he had been using at the Café, Pete said, not contemptuously but matter-of-factly, ‘You’re not going to use these, are you?’ Noel lied quickly, ‘Of course not, but who can make me new ones in the time?’ Quite calmly Pete said, ‘I will.’
“Noel had no way of knowing as yet how brilliant a musician Pete was. Later we discovered from experience that for instance there was no need for labored conversation at the breakfast table; instead of Agatha Christie, Pete read from a Mozart score propped against the toast rack.”

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