Remembering Robert Coates

Robert_Coates_(actor)If ever given the chance to sit down with an obscure person from history, I think I would choose Robert “Romeo” Coates, an amateur British actor from the early to mid-19th century.

I bet a few of you who know me are surprised that I wouldn’t choose President Chester A. Arthur, but I did say “obscure” and I firmly believe President Arthur is anything but. Now let me get back to Coates.

Why Romeo Coates? In short, he was my kind of crazy. He was either a fool with too much money or he was the Andy Kaufman of his day.

Sole heir to a wealthy West Indies sugar baron, Robert Coates was educated in England, but took an interest in acting upon returning to Antigua. At the age of 35, Coates received his inheritance and moved to Bath, England. Within a couple of years, he was on stage in minor roles at the Theatre Royal, Bath.

But small parts were not what the diamond-wearing eccentric envisioned for himself. Fortunately, what Coates lacked in talent, he made up for in bribery. Soon, he was touring as the lead in a number of plays.

News spread of “The Amateur”, as he was sometimes billed, and people attended his performances in droves to see if he was as ridiculously bad as they’d heard.

By all accounts, he was.

He provided his own outlandish costumes, glittering with diamonds and puffed up to excess. He forgot lines and made up scenes. He was quite fond of death scenes and liked to perform them multiple times in the course of a single play. Eventually, no female would agree to act opposite him on stage.

And yet, he put butts in the seats. He was supported by Baron Ferdinand de Geramb, and his plays were attended by royalty. Either he was deluded enough to think that his fame was because of his acting prowess, or he was intentionally making a farce of the theatrical establishment.

Dunce or genius. Is it possible he was both? And if so, is there hope for me? Is there genius simmering below my dunce facade?
I suppose only time will tell. Unless it doesn’t, as it didn’t with Robert Coates. Oh well.


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