Monday, 17 June 2019

I have been a bit of a girl

Remarkably, today marks the centenary of the birth of one of Britain's most beloved comedienne-actresses (and Patron Saint here at Dolores Delargo Towers), Miss Beryl Reid!

From the BFI website:
Producers, like critics, are strange people: once they have pigeonholed an artist, nothing they do later can alter their status. Thus, Beryl Reid is categorised as a merry, apple-cheeked comedienne, despite the fact that her non-comic performances displayed an uneven, yet indisputable, talent for powerful characterisation.
From variety shows and stage revues, to the early days of radio, to television, to award-winning actress, Miss Reid covered the full gamut. Although revered as the "funny lady", full of instantly-quotable characters (such as "Marlene" and "Monica") and always in demand for guest appearances on light entertainment shows, she proved her true mettle by tackling the ground-breaking role of the troubled lesbian actress in The Killing of Sister George, and followed it soon after with another lead role in a camp black comedy (and another house fave), that of "Kath" in Entertaining Mr Sloane. She jumped from sitcom to Shakespeare to Sheridan to Smiley's People, and won awards for all of them, culminating in an OBE in the New Year's Honours list in 1985 and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Comedy at the 1991 British Comedy Awards.

She also liked to be a bit mischievous, apparently...

From her obituary in the Herald Scotland:
She thought nothing of shocking people with her remarks on sex. She admitted to numerous affairs. She also claimed to wear specially made perfume called Easy Virtue...

On one occasion when friends called unexpectedly at her home and she did not feel like being sociable, she sent them quickly on their way by telling them: "Oh, I'm terribly sorry I can't ask you in because I'm in bed with someone I don't know terribly well."

..."I have been a bit of a girl," she liked to say.

Reid believed life was for living and loved to quaff champagne, which she called "Toff's Lemonade".

Her passion in life was making people laugh, a profession she described as "the longest apprenticeship in the world".
We adored her.

Here is the great lady herself, talking about her life:

Beryl Elizabeth Reid, OBE (17th June 1919 – 13th October 1996)

More Beryl here and here.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

The maestro departs

"I have always believed that opera is a planet where the muses work together, join hands and celebrate all the arts."

"All the problems of the world are caused by people who do not listen."

Allora addio, Signor Franco Zeffirelli...

One of the greatest artistic talents of the theatrical and cinematic world to emerge from Italy [he began as an assistant - and lover - of the legendary Luchino Visconti], in his long career he won awards for his direction (and stage set designs) in numerous operatic productions across the world (including at La Scala Milan, New York Met and the Royal Opera House), and was lauded for his cinematic adaptations of operas and, especially, the works of Shakespeare.

Zeffirelli became world-famous for his version of The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was nominated for an Oscar for Romeo and Juliet, and went on to produce Hamlet with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close. In between, he also made the memorable TV series Jesus of Nazareth and Brother Sun, Sister Moon (about the life of St Francis of Assisi) - and turned his hand to more "mainstream" films such as The Champ and Endless Love (that spawned the Lionel Richie/Diana Ross mega-hit of the same name), and also the faboo Tea With Mussolini.

Another towering artistic genius has left the building.

"His take on Shakespeare’s tragedy tapped the zeitgeist, but Zeffirelli’s whole body of work pulsated with an irresistible camp..." - Peter Bradshaw

He will be missed.

RIP, Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli KBE, Grande Ufficiale OMRI (12th February 1923 – 15th June 2019)

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Be extraordinary!

"If you want a bourgeois existence, you shouldn't be an actor. You're in the wrong profession."

“More than in any other performing arts the lack of respect for acting seems to spring from the fact that every layman considers himself a valid critic.”

“We must overcome the notion that we must be regular... it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre.”

It's the centenary today of the estimable actress, drama teacher and author of the thespian "bible" Respect for Acting, Fraulein Uta Hagen.

Friday, 7 June 2019

All natural

"I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it."

"You've got to give people something to take away with them. I like a show that lives with me for a long time, not something gossamer that's gone when you get up from your seat."

"The theatre was really all I ever knew. It was my life. It's wonderful to be remembered."

"What I have is all natural."

Miss Dolores Gray (born Sylvia Dolores Finkelstein, 7th June 1924 – 26th June 2002)

More Dolores Gray here and here.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

House of Alla

"We must always judge an art by its best examples, not by its worst, not even its second best."

From an essay by her biographer Martin Turnbull:
[Alla] Nazimova took charge of every aspect of her career, much in the same way as Fairbanks, Pickford, Chaplin, and Griffith did in 1919 when they formed United Artists.

Her first independent feature was a film of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1922), released through United Artists. Although it was a critical hit, it was far from a commercial success. However, Nazimova had tasted independence and wanted more of it, and set her sights on making what she wanted to be her greatest achievement: a film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (1923).

Inspired by the artwork of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, Nazimova and [Natacha] Rambova [a friend of Nazimova and future wife of Rudolph Valentino] set about making a version of Salomé such as 1920s filmgoers had never seen. Even by today’s standards, the film’s art direction reached for the outer limits of avant-garde.

Nothing on screen is designed to suggest first century Roman Empire. Instead, Nazimova sought to recast Wilde’s one-act play in a world where the ruling aesthetic is Art Nouveau meets searing minimalism meets Hollywood decadence. This is a world where wigs come fitted with glowing baubles, actors wear stockings patterned in palm-sized fish scales, and king’s yes-men don headdresses that resemble giant, glittering conches.

Although it had its supporters — in its review, Photoplay Magazine said, “A hothouse orchid of decadent passion... You have your warning: this is bizarre stuff” - it’s not hard to see why movie-goers barely knew what to make of this astonishing spectacle. After all, this was 1923, and people wanted The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Chaney, Zaza with Gloria Swanson, and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

In Salomé what they got was a 42-year-old lead actress playing a teenager sporting cinema’s first micro-mini skirt as she performed a dance of the seven veils accompanied by chorus girls decked out in two-foot shoulder pads.

The world wasn’t ready for Nazimova’s inspired vision for Salomé and the film flopped badly. Consequently, Nazimova lost the ton of money she sunk into the film. She made a couple more movies, but was unable to recover financially, and left the movie industry in 1925, returning to the theatre until the 1940s when she experienced a minor career second wind before her premature death in 1945.

However, when seen through 21st century eyes, Salomé is a phantasmagoria of striking images, unbridled sensuality, and fearless storytelling. It also leaves the viewer with the lingering sense that if Alla Nazimova had the good fortune to come along a hundred years later than she did, she’d have found a world with its arms thrust wide open to embrace the groundbreaking artist that she was.

Alla Nazimova (born Marem-Ides Leventon, 22nd May 1879 – 13th July 1945)