Beatrice Lillie was an elegant clown whose zany characterizations brought laughter to countless millions through much of the 20th century.
Angular of feature with eyes that seemed to express amusing secrets known only to her, Miss Lillie probably would have been forced by her demeanor to become a comedian had she not chosen that role for herself.
Born into a musical family, she maintained that she had gotten her first stage laugh as a girl of 3, when she was standing in the wings playing with a toy broom as her mother, a singer, was performing.
Her mother's derriere grew visible through a backdrop and young Beatrice swung at it with her broom. Her mother's shriek produced a laugh that subsequently became a muse for the young girl, who pursued its spirit for the next 70 years.
She left school at 15 to become a member of a singing trio with her mother and sister.
Some theatrical books list her date of birth as 1898 but her conservator, Huck, told the Associated Press that was a mistake caused by the loss of some records in Toronto during a fire.
She first appeared on a British stage in 1914 and made her American debut in 1924 in a revue produced by Andre Charlot, and for two years she alternated between London and New York in his shows.
In 1928, she appeared in New York in Noel Coward's "This Year of Grace," which had a long run.
In 1932, Miss 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 revues. Those included "At Home Abroad" in 1935, "The Show Is On" in 1936 and Coward's "Set to Music" in 1939.
In 1939, she also appeared in London in "All Clear."
During the war she was a tireless entertainer of troops with sketches and Coward's one-act play, "Tonight at 8:30."
She had married Sir Robert Peel in 1920. He died in 1934 and their only child, also named Robert, was killed during military service in 1942.
In 1973, she wrote an autobiography, "Every Other Inch a Lady."
Asked as long ago as 1939 how she managed to be so funny while apparently doing so little, the mistress of the sharp riposte was modest in her reply: "I don't know. I don't dance and I don't sing (well). Maybe it's a matter of timing. I do give myself credit for that."