Beatrice Lillie, who was billed as "the funniest woman in the world" during a long theatrical career in Britain and the United States, died Friday at her home in Henley-on-Thames, London, her conservator said. She was 94.
Lillie was a master of elegant double entendres and sharp ripostes delivered with a flourish of an enormously long cigarette-holder. She was, in the title of her 1973 autobiography, "Every Other Inch a Lady."In 1928, she appeared in New York in Noel Coward's "This Year of Grace," which had a long run. In 1932, Lillie took a dramatic role as the nurse in the New York premiere of George Bernard Shaw's "Too True to be Good" but then returned to working in reviews.
She had married Sir Robert Peel, a descendant of the 19th-century prime minister, in 1920. Peel died in 1934 and their only child, also named Robert, was killed during military service in 1942.
From 1952 to 1956, she toured the world in a one-woman act, "An Evening with Beatrice Lillie," which won a Tony Award in 1953.
In 1958 she starred in London in "Auntie Mame" and made her last stage appearance in New York in 1964-65 in "High Spirits," a musical version of Coward's "Blithe Spirits."