Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Some actors' biographies ...

I had not realised that actor James Fox had written an autobiography, back in 1983, until a friend, Colin, mentioned it. I got a cheap copy from Amazon and what a fascinating read it is, a short 150 pages, with a 4 page introduction by Dirk Bogarde, who claimed he saw Fox on tv and decided he would be perfect for the role of Tony in THE SERVANT ... (Sarah Miles also claims that she was cast first and demanded that her then boyfriend, Fox, be tested as he would be ideal for Tony!). 

As I saw James, with Sarah and their co-star Wendy Craig in person about a month ago at a Q&A to promote the Blu-ray 50th Anniversary release of THE SERVANT (as per posts below, Fox label) this is all fascinating stuff - for me, anyway. Fox was the typical '60s golden boy, from a privileged, theatrical background - his father a well-known agent, his brother Edward also an actor. He had quite a fascinating life before THE SERVANT - some child actor roles,  a Harrow schoolboy, military national service in Kenya, a coldstream guard (with his bearskin) and stepping out with the young Sarah Miles. In the age of angry young men (or 'the Uglies' as Bogarde called them) he stood out and was soon in Hollywood (KING RAT, THE CHASE etc - as per reviews at Fox label). We loved his Jimmy Smith in THOROUGH MODERN MILLIE doing The Tapioca with Millie Dillmount and her pals. He then did the hippie route in Morocco (like in his film DUFFY). He describes the troubled shoot on PERFORMANCE (below) too ... as the book blurb puts it:
"Unexpected change came in 1969, when James converted to Christianity. For 10 years he worked among students for a Christian organisation The Navigators. Then came the momentous decision to return to acting. Film and television roles quickly re-established his reputation and made his comeback a triumph". 
Bogarde says it is a "moving and searingly honest" biography. James has continued acting and is still working now in his '70s in parts big and small, its a fascinating career. 

John Fraser was perhaps the Jude Law of '50s and early '60s British cinema until that new crop came along ... he is a terrific Bosie (as petulant as Jude in the Stephen Fry film) opposite Peter Finch's Oscar in the 1960 THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE, and was one of the warring princes in EL CID, among other career highlights. His book is a fascinating read, particularly on how an actor keeps going once the intitial 10 years success has receded .... I saw the openly-gay Fraser at the National Theatre promoting this book when it was first published in 2006, and it was certainly an interesting evening. There is also a very different Dirk Bogarde on view here, as Fraser co-starred with him in 1959's THE WIND CANNOT READ, and he was a visitor at the Bogarde-Forwood residence, which makes for a fascinating chapter. There is also a hilarious mad night out John describes, in the mid-'60s when he was summoned by his pal, capricious actress Jill Bennett, to join her and her co-star Bette Davis (THE NANNY) for a night on the town. This catches Davis at her most malevolent and makes for a nightmare night, culminating when they met The Beatles!  A brilliant read ...

Tom Courtenay has also done a terrific memoir DEAR TOM, now in paperback - comprising in part of letters written by his mother to him when he was a student at RADA in London, fresh down from Hull. Its a marvellous read of an actor's development as well as a testament to the love he shared with his parents, and particularly his mother. One cannot recommend this too much. 

There are also of course the Dirk Bogarde memoirs - all 8 or 9 of them, covering aspects of his life and career. I particuarly like SNAKES AND LADDERS on his Rank and international years, and A SHORT WALK FROM HARRODS on their (his and Tony Forwood's) final years in France before age and ill-health forced a return to London .... Apart from claiming he discovered James Fox, Dirk also claimed credit for discovering Brigitte Bardot, in a magazine feature, where he said he was testing young French actresses (for DOCTOR AT SEA in '56) ... whether this is true or not -
BB had already been in films before that, as in HELEN OF TROY in '55,  its certainly a good story. 

We also like and recommend Sarah Miles' volumes of autobiography, SERVES ME RIGHT, being the best and again full of marvellous stories on Olivier, Signoret, Bogarde, Laurence Harvey and others. Sarah was "Dainty Miles" as per Bogarde's nickname for her.  
Left: Sarah's recent interview for THE SERVANT re-release.
Terence Stamp's "Waterloo Sunset"?
Then for more '60s memoirs, there's Terence Stamp's trio, including STAMP ALBUM and DOUBLE FEATURE.  
Terence features in a terrific read "DON'T LET THE BASTARDS GRIND YOU DOWN" by Robert Sellers, chronicling the rise of that new acting generation: or as the cover puts it: "How One Generation of British Actors Changed the World" - a sweeping statement if ever I heard one! (well, they certainly changed their bank balances...).
"It brings alive the trailblazing period of theatre and film from 1956-1964 through the vibrant energy and exploits of this revolutionary generation of stars who bulldozed over austerity Britain and paved the way for the swinging sixties. They are the most formidable acting generation ever to tread the boards or stare into a camera, whose anti-establishment attitude changed the cultural landscape of Britain. Their drinking and revelling was a two-fingered salute to the middle-class acting hierarchy that had always dominated British film and theatre".
They are Albert Finney, Peter O'Toole, Robert Shaw, Richard Harris, Tom Courtenay, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, Michael Caine et al .... they may have started out as hellraisers on the stage, but soon though some like Caine had settled down very nicely in the movies and began making lots of money - replacing the old guard (Todd, Mills, More and Bogarde...). Others, like Shaw, who had a rivalry with Connery, died too young or burned out too quickly ....  others like Finney, O'Toole (who somehow made it to his 80s), Courtenay, Stamp are still here and working when it (or a project) suits them ... Bates had to keep his bisexuality under wraps while the others defined rampant heterosexuality! A surprising fact is that Sam Spiegel was going to replace the ailing Monty Clift in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER in 1959 with the young O'Toole - who had to wait a few more years for his breakthrough role .... We have done quite a bit on David Hemmings here too, and his fascinating memoir on the making of BLOW-UP etc, a '60s essential - Hemmings label.

Veteran British actress Virginia McKenna has also penned an enchanging memoir THE LIFE IN MY YEARS, on her years in movies and theatre, her marriage to Bill Travers and their work with wildlife, from when they made BORN FREE, RING OF BRIGHT WATER and others. Its a marvellous, delightful story  of a life well lived. I passed Virginia in the street once - she was a very striking lady - she toured with Yul Brynner in THE KING AND I, played Desiree in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC in London (after Jean Simmons) and of course those films like A TOWN LIKE ALICE and CARVE HER NAME WITH PRIDE. Her one with Bogarde though (SIMBA) does not get a mention .... of course that was not really made in Africa, but safely at Pinewood!  She is still involved with her charities in her 80s. I shall shortly be catching up with her 1957 THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH. Her book has a nice introduction by Joanna Lumley with just the right amount of gush.

English actor Michael Craig (see Craig label) busy in the '50s, a Rank replacement for Dirk Bogarde, co-starring with favourites like Dirk, Susan Hayward (STOLEN HOURS), Monica Vitti, and in films like THE ANGRY SILENCE and Visconti's SANDRA with Clauda Cardinale, and popping up in Losey's MODESTY BLAISE, also played Streisand's Nicky Arnstein (left) in the 1966 London production of FUNNY GIRL which I saw, has also written an engaging memoir on being a young actor and on his long career - he is now in his 80s and retired in Australia - he writes interestingly on working with both Streisand and Julie Andrews (he was her beau in STAR!) and their very different working methods.

Other worthwhile biographiies include those by James Mason (BEFORE I FORGET), Stewart Granger (SPARKS FLY UPWARD) and Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer (CHANGE LOBSTERS AND DANCE) giving their separate views on those Kay Kendall year; plus Bacall's, Ingrid Bergman's - touching on her last night in the theatre (The Haymarket, London) and before the camera (GOLDA), and Simone Signoret's wise and witty NOSTALGIA ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE (Simone by the way was a friend of Dirk Bogarde's as well, though like Ingrid, they never worked together. He used to meet her at the Colombe D'or at St Paul de Vence, and she went to see the farmhouse he was going to buy, which she approved.).... Victor Spinetti's was a joyous read too, not only on his terrific life but his work and play with The Beatles, Marlene, The Burtons and others (he died last year, as per my RIP).
Memoirs we would have liked, if they had been written: Lee Remick's, Deborah Kerr's, Stephen Boyd's ...

No comments:

Post a Comment