Inventors of Gay: Coral Browne

By: Christopher Harrity

Coral Browne

This bisexual actress’s screen credits alone define her as a gay icon: Auntie Mame, The Killing of Sister George, The Legend of Lylah Clare, and Xanadu, among others.

The Australian actress’ first husband, Philip Pearman, was gay. When friends interceded, Browne retorted, "Philip's gay? Have you met his brother?"

While married to Vincent Price (a camp icon in his own right) her stepdaughter Victoria came out, so Coral gave her a box of men’s ties as a gift.

CoralBrowne Vincent Price In 1958, she met British-born intelligence officer and double agent Guy Burgess while on a theatrical tour. Burgess was gay and worked for the Soviet Union. This meeting became the basis of Alan Bennett's script for the television movie An Englishman Abroad (1983) in which Browne played herself 25 years earlier (!).

Friends with: John Schlesinger — Openly gay film director who won an Oscar for the Jon Voight / Dustin Hoffman X-rated hustler film, Midnight Cowboy
Cecil Beaton — Gay photographer/costume designer with whom she also had an affair
Joe Orton — Notorious gay British playwright

Why we care: Playing Vera Charles, Mame’s nymphomaniac, alcoholic sidekick in Auntie Mame gives her enough street cred, but her excruciatingly detailed seduction scene in the lesbian pot-boiler The Killing of Sister George puts her on goddess level. The frosting on the campy cake is her role as Vivien Leigh’s friend and companion in Tennessee Williams’s gigolo drama, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.

Auntiemame Quotes: "Listen, dear, you couldn't write 'fuck' on a dusty Venetian blind."
-To a Hollywood writer who had criticized the work of her friend, writer Alan Bennett.

On visiting backstage at the National Theatre was asked for her comments on the set for Oedipus Rex, which mainly consisted of an 18ft golden phallus:
"Well, Dear," said Coral, "It's no one I know."

Link of interest:
Coral Browne: This Effing Lady by Rose Collis
A great bio that tells the lurid truth and reveals the mere apocrypha.

Photos from The Killing of Sister George







"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people and cultural influences in LGBT history that helped create the culture we enjoy today.