She was born Coralie Edith Brown in Melbourne, Australia, where she began her stage career. At the age of 21 she migrated to England, where she became established as a stage actress. She began film acting in 1936, with her more famous roles being Vera Charles in Auntie Mame (1958), Mercy Croft in The Killing of Sister George (1968), and Lady Claire Gurney in The Ruling Class (1972).
In 1969, Browne appeared in the original production of Joe Orton's controversial farce What the Butler Saw in the West End at the Queen's Theatre with Sir Ralph Richardson, Stanley Baxter, and Hayward Morse.
While touring the Soviet Union in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet in 1958, she met spy Guy Burgess. This meeting became the basis for the television movie An Englishman Abroad in which Browne played herself.
She will be remembered especially for two of her films. In her real life, whilst on tour in Moscow, she had met the spy Guy Burgess and in Alan Bennett's brilliant treatment An Englishman Abroad 1983, she recreated this incident - including some of their original dialogue. Burgess who had found solace in his exile by continually playing the music of Jack Buchanan, asked Coral Browne if she had known him. "I suppose so", the actress replied, "I almost married him". Her other particularly notable film, Dreamchild 1986 was about the author Lewis Carroll. In the film Browne gave an affecting account of the later life of Alice Liddell who had inspired the novel Alice in Wonderland.
She married actor Philip Pearman in 1950; he died in 1964. While making the film Theatre of Blood (1973), she met actor Vincent Price, and they married on October 24, 1974. She also allegedly conducted affairs with Firth Shephard, Jack Buchanan, Maurice Chevalier, Michael Hordern, and costume designer Cecil Beaton, as well as affairs with women.
She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1987 as a gift to Price, in exchange for which he converted to Roman Catholicism as a gift to her (she had converted many years previously).
She is the subject of a biography The Coral Browne Story: Theatrical Life and Times of a Lustrous Australian by Barbara Angell. This was published May 2007 and launched at the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, on June 14 of that year. Coral Browne: 'This Effing Lady', by Rose Collis, published by Oberon Books, was launched at the Royal National Theatre, 4 October 2007.
- Alan Bennett gives the date of her meeting with Burgess as 1958 in the introduction to his Single Spies, which contains the text of An Englishman Abroad as a stage play and the text of A Question of Attribution about Anthony Blunt. Single Spies, London, Faber, 1989, ISBN 0-571-14105-6.
- Coral Browne: 'This Effing Lady', by Rose Collis, Oberon Books, ISBN 9781840027648
- The Coral Browne Story by Barbara Angell, ISBN 978 0 646 47322 2.
- Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography by Victoria Price, ISBN 0-312-26789-4.
- Who's Who, 1991, St. Martin's Press, 1991, p. 241.
- Variety, June 3, 1991, p. 69.
- The Daily Telegraph - Obituaries (31 May 1991)
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- www.coralbrowne.com Coral Browne website
- garrygillard.net/CoralBrowne Coral Browne scrapbook
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