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Gertrude Lawrence was a star of stage and screen in both England and America, revered by audiences and colleagues alike. She was born in London and made her stage debut at age twelve. She studied acting and performed around England, making her American debut with Beatrice Lillie in 1924, where she introduced “Limehouse Blues”.

She had known Noel Coward since childhood and starred in his first hit, London’s Calling! and in his later success, Private Lives. She was an actress of extreme talents who could play dramatic roles and musical comedy. She was a graceful dancer, and a singer, who, although everyone agreed sang off-key, put over a song so well that the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hammerstein were eager to have her perform their work.

Lawrence introduced “Someone to Watch Over Me” in the Gershwins’ 1926 production of Oh, Kay! And, although not a cast member of Coward’s 1932 revue, it was her recording of “Mad About the Boy” that popularized the song. In 1941 she starred in Lady in the Dark, introducing another fine song, “My Ship” by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin. During WWII she toured Europe entertaining troops. After the war she returned to the States with her American husband and continued her Broadway career, playing Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmalion. In 1949 she brought the book Anna and the King of Siam to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and they wrote The King and I for her which opened in 1951 with Gertrude as Anna.

Lawrence appeared in a number of films including Mimi (1935, as Mimi), opposite Charles Laughton in Rembrandt (1936), as herself in Stage Door Canteen (1943), and as Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (1950). A movie of her life, starring Julie Andrews (Star!), was made in 1968 and eventually released as Those Were the Happy Times.

- Sandra Burlingame

Courtesy of JazzStandards.com

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