Noël Coward standing in a dry lake bed, Nevada, 1955.
Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
By Ben Cosgrove
August 18, 2014

The greatest portraits of stars are often those that surprise us, or feature famous people in unexpected surroundings. A naked John Lennon hugging and kissing Yoko Ono just hours before he was gunned down by a deranged fan; James Dean posing with a pig—these and other photos of showbiz legends endure because they capture a side of celebrities that’s occasionally obscured by fame. Namely, the playfulness that probably drew them to performing in the first place.

Case in point: Loomis Dean’s 1955 portrait of the inimitable composer, actor, singer and playwright Noël Coward, dressed in a tux, standing in the broiling Nevada sun and looking for all the world like a man waiting for someone to bring him a cocktail at a dinner party. As Dean explained in a 1993 interview with John Loengard, published in Loengard’s book, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, the picture came about like this:

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