Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Marvelous Party in Jamaica

Noel Coward's statue, sculpted by Angela Connors, still looks out over the Jamaican coast from Firefly.

The playwright, actor, singer and author Noel Coward is buried not in England but at Firefly, the mountaintop oceanfront home he built in Jamaica. It was where Coward had been happiest.
“Running though this year of 1951, and for many years to come, was the happy fact that Ian (Fleming) and Ann, soon to be joined by James Bond, were just along the coast at Goldeneye,” recalled Coward’s friend and aide Cole Lesley in his The Life of Noel Coward.
“Jamaica was booming. It had become ‘the’ place to holiday in the winter — Noel, Ian and Ann and their friends heading the post-war pioneers — and hotels began to spring up all along the North Coast.”
Interior of the spartan Firefly, now open to the public
“Agnes de Mille was among Noel’s troop of fascinating visitors, and we saw a great deal of Roald Dahl, accompanied the following year by the ravishing Patricia Neal, soon to become his wife. Pat taught us to cut off the top quarter of green coconuts, fill the rest of the nut and its soft white flesh with lamb, prawn or chicken curry, seal the top on again with a paste of flour and water and stick the whole thing in the oven for as long as you like. Marvelous for picnics; when the top is removed, even after several hours, the delicious inside has retained its piping heat. We became so mad about this dramatic-looking dish that Noel named it Cocomania.
“Errol Flynn, his lovely young wife Patrice Wymore and his yacht — he called her a schooner — the Zaca, were along the coast in the other direction at Port Antonio. Joycie and (Baron Nicolas) Niki de Gunzburg were staying at Blue Harbour; Niki and Errol were playmates of old and we were all asked over.
“First of all, drinks under striped awnings on the deck of the Zaca, beautiful in the evening light. Then we went ashore to feast on one of the corral beaches of Errol’s own island; the table covered with jade-green banana leaves, decorated with scarlet hibiscus, gleaming with candles and silver and crystal, and a baby suckling-pig slowly roasting over a pit in the sand a few yards away. When an enormous moon came up out of the sea, everything seemed too much: it was piling Pelléas on Mélisande, Noel said (referring to Debussy’s five-act opera).”
“Joyce and I had not met Errol before and I don’t know what we had expected, but all four of us agreed on the way home that, in spite of all we had read, he was one of the most charming, kind and courteous hosts we had ever known. If only he had lived longer; the kind, civilized man is revealed in parts of the autobiography, but he was no longer with us to receive the praise.
“All this gaiety notwithstanding, Noel worked away every morning like a beaver. He wrote the verses which make the links between the songs on the album of Conversation Piece and flew up to New York for a few days to record them. Lily Pons sang Melanie’s songs and arias, and the part of the young leading man was spoken by Richard Burton.
“Even as long ago as 1951, $200 was a pittance to Richard and he told his agent to refuse it. His telephone rang — Noel was always one for the direct approach — and he heard the firm tone in the well-known voice: ‘You will do it for $200 and like it,’ and Richard did it. Whether he liked it or not I don’t know, but Noel was very fond of Richard, and admired him as an actor from the beginning, and his voice on the record remained for Noel a source of pleasure.”

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