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If ever there was a woman who was a chameleon, it was Gertrude.Coward, who met her when she was 14, describes her face as 'far from pretty, but tremendously alive'.Either way, her maternal abilities proved inadequate.'It wasn't that my mother ever really intended to be unkind,' says Pamela.In 1935, with assets of only £1,879 and debts of £50,000, her apartment, cars, clothing and jewellery were seized by the Official Receiver and she was declared bankrupt. Coward disliked him, but cabled with his customary wit: 'Dear Mrs A, Hooray Hooray. 'She quizzed me about certain good-looking young soldiers and whether I thought they were up for sex,' says Norden. I knew she was married, but that didn't seem to deter her at all.' Gertie's last play in London was September Tide in 1948. She repeatedly shouted: 'I haven't come 5,000 miles to work with a crowd of f***ing amateurs.' She seemed to resent that Anne Leon, who was playing her daughter, was having an affair with Michael Gough, her leading man.Five years later, to the amazement of her friends, she married the wealthy U. 'Once she hit me quite hard on the neck with a hairbrush,' says Leon.By the peak of her fame in the mid-Thirties, Lawrence was massively in debt. Also on that tour was the future British screen sex symbol Christine Norden.
Those who never saw her magic light up a stage are left with only the recordings of her haunting and occasionally precarious singing voice as a testament to her greatness. This month, a new stage musical, G & I, has opened in London, in which the glorious Gertie is sparklingly recreated by another showbusiness legend, Sixties pop icon-turned-actress Anita Harris, who starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, Cats.As a 17-year-old understudy in a West End revue, Gertie became briefly engaged to a boy serving in the barrage balloon corps protecting London, but broke it off to marry Francis Gordon-Howley, a Blackpool dance director 20 years her senior.She was never certain whether her only child, Pamela, was fathered by the barrage balloon boy or Gordon-Howley.Years later, quizzed by Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, why he didn't marry Lawrence, he replied chillingly: 'Because she was pure Clapham.' Another love affair that failed to end at the altar was with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.He said of her: 'She was very temperamental, very jealous, could be exhausting, moody, difficult - but also enchanting and alive and very funny.' infuriated his mother, Queen Mary, who disapproved of Lawrence for ever after. Navy and Lawrence embarked on an ENSA tour of Normandy, the point at which the Anita Harris musical opens.