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Gertrude Lawrence

From Academic Kids

Gertrude Lawrence (4 June 1898 - 6 September 1952) was an actress and musical performer popular in the 1930s and 1940s, appearing on stage in London and on Broadway, and in several films. She is particularly associated with the light comedy of Noel Coward.

She was born Gertrude Alexandria Dagmar Lawrence-Klasen in London and was a professional performer by the age of ten. She understudied Beatrice Lillie in the Andre Charlot London revues in the 1920s and became the star when the revues were brought to Broadway in 1924 and 1926. She was one of the foremost comedians of her time, capable of playing both slapstick clowns and elegant ladies. Her great charisma is attested to by those who saw her on stage, but her films struggle to convey her charm.

She married Francis Gordon-Howley, a director, in 1924. They divorced in 1927. Lawrence had a daughter, Pamela, during this marriage. Lawrence then married Richard Stoddard Aldrich, an American theatre owner from a blueblood family, in 1940. In addition to an affair with film star Douglas Fairbanks Jr., she also had lesbian affairs, including a much-rumored relationship with the British novelist Daphne du Maurier. Passionate letters written between the two women were published in a 1993 biography of du Maurier. Lawrence appears to have had a much earlier affair with du Maurier's father, Sir Gerald du Maurier; in fact, Daphne du Maurier referred to Lawrence as "the last of Daddy's actress loves".

Lawrence's onstage persona inspired composers and writers. George and Ira Gershwin wrote the play Oh, Kay! for her, with the well-loved song "Someone to Watch Over Me". She was the first British actress to have a lead role on Broadway. Cole Porter wrote Nymph Errant for her to star in, and it opened in London in 1929. Noel Coward wrote Private Lives and Tonight at 8:30 (a cycle of nine one-act musicals and plays) for her. She starred as Liza Elliot in Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's psychoanalytic musical Lady in the Dark, and was a popular entertainer of the troops in World War II.

She won the 1952 Tony Award for Best Actress for her role as Anna Leonowens in The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Lawrence died of cervical cancer in New York, New York and was buried in her pink "Shall We Dance?" gown from the second act of The King and I, in Lakeview Cemetery, in Upton, Massachusetts.

In the 1968 film, Star!, based on her life, Gertrude Lawrence was played by Julie Andrews.

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