Arthur

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Since this week’s Hitchcock is SECRET AGENT, a quick story about it’s star, Sir John Gielgud. I never knew until after his death why it took him so long to get a knighthood. Olivier and Richardson got theirs’ much earlier, yet Gielgud was compelled to live to an absurdly old age before he qualified. It turned out he’d been arrested for soliciting in a gentleman’s lavatory, at the height of theatrical success, and it had been felt that he could not be honoured until this event was completely forgotten.

The story combines pathos and farce. Gielgud, a famously unworldly sort of chap, had been advised by friends what to do if he was ever caught “toilet-trading” (a practice basically enforced upon gay men if they wanted any sex life at all during the dark days of the “blackmailer’s charter”). “Don’t give your right name,” was the advice: you would be held in the cells overnight, fined in the morning, and released without damaging publicity.

There were reporters, but they were sitting outside the courtroom, listening half-heartedly. They heard the accused asked his name. And then they heard a very famous theatrical voice reply:

“Arthur Gielgud.”

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15 Responses to “Arthur”

  1. There’s a very funny but unprintable (and, really and truly, unbloggable) story told by Antony Andrews about walking unannounced into Gielgud’s dressing-room during the Brideshead shoot and finding him in a compromising position with a young chap. Write to me under separate cover if you want to know the details.

    Meanwhile, my favourite toilet-trading story involves the unfortunate undoing of the great Peter Wyngarde who famously approached an undercover policeman and paid for it with his career. The details of the arrest, though, as told to me by Mark Paytress who interviewed the great man when doing the sleeve notes for the reissue of his demented record When Sex Rears Its Inquisitive Head, involve Wyngarde passing the cop a note under the toilet door that read “Are you handy?”

  2. “Handy”? I LOVE IT!!!!

    Gielgud of course triumphed in the end, being the owner and operator of one of the most perfect voices of all-time. I treasure beyond measure his perfomance in Providence and was ever-so-glad to see him enjoy mass popular success with Arthur, in which he and Dudley Moore made a sublime postmodern Jeeves and Bertie.

  3. Arthur S. Says:

    Thanks for paying tribute to me, Herr Cairns.

    Gielgud is a great artist of course. PROVIDENCE is his finest work however for me, his appearance as HAMLET in Jennings’ DIARY FOR TIMOTHY is one of my all-time favourite moments in film history. So young and handsome.

    I also love his turn in SAINT JOAN(an unheralded masterpiece) where he’s so delightfully cruel wielding Shavian text.

  4. Re Wyngarde: a friend of David Wingrove’s was kissing his bf in a gay bar when Wyngarde oozed by and murmured, “Can I have him when you’re finished?”

    The line he was born to say!

    Love Gielgud in Chimes at Midnight, where his potential failing as an actor – a reluctance to have anything to do with anyone else onscreen – becomes a virtue, aided by Welles’ tendency to film everybody seperately (days and weeks apart, in many cases). In fact, Gielgud was able to use his isolationist approach in an amazing range of ways.

    Heard another Wyngarde story from SOMEBODY about meeting him by appointment in a hotel, shortly after his arrest, when he was hiding out from the press. Registered under a false name. The guy went in and softly asked for Wyngarde’s nom-de-guerre. The receptionist looked bemused. A sudden cry of “Dear boy!” and there was the incognito thespian at the top of the stairs, in cape, wide collar, and wielding a silver-tipped cane.

  5. david wingrove Says:

    My favourite tidbit about the Gielgud cottaging incident is the story of WHO exactly was responsible for bailing him out and hushing up the scandal.

    It was, allegedly…are you ready for this, folks?…Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – affectionately known to camp royalists like myself as Our Own Dear Queen Mum (Gawd Bless ‘Er!)

    Gielgud was, apparently, the Queen Mother’s favourite actor – and she was quite happy to exert her considerable influence to “help that nice Mister Gielgud” out of his “spot of bother.”

    Nor was this anything unusual for Her Majesty. Her all-gay staff used to get arrested for sexual misconduct with alarming regularity. Invariably, she would get them released, pay off their fines and send round her chauffeur-driven Bentley to pick them up from prison. Most often with a big bunch of flowers and a hand-written card inscribed – NAUGHTY BOY!

    Let’s just hope that John (Arthur) Gielgud got the same royal treatment.

  6. Sweet. Bucks Palace appears to be, in Edward Fox’s words, “an absoulte hotbed of berties,” to this very day. I guess I can see the attraction of queens for queens, but I’m not sure why it works the other way around. Oh dear, that makes little sense.

  7. Since you bring the subject of royally-granted honours, I always thought that the shocking lack of them given to Charles Laughton was because he became American citizen (Otherwise I couldn’t explain it, since Charles’ younger brother Tom got no less than an OBE and a CBE for just being one helluva hotel manager).

    Though there could be another reason: his career could have been knocked out by scandal in 1931 when a fellow-for-hire attempted to blackmail Laughton: the case made it to court, though, fortunately, not into the press. However, the self-appointed guardians of morale must have taken note of the incident.

    Anyway, since knighthoods may arrive by very odd ways, I’m not particularly concerned about actors who are not honoured (I’m far more worried if they are not good)

    Off-Topic: did you get “Olive Oil” item all right? the attachments’ were maybe a bit weighty, I’m afraid

  8. Thanks for the Olive Oyles, sorry I failed to reply. Would love to post them in future. Wish I could identify the mystery figures — I was looking for Freddie Young, whom I’d recognise, but no luck.

    Hitchcock became an American but still got plenty of honours, although it did take a very long time to happen. So the idea that Laughton was disbarred because of a whiff of scandal is not unlikely.

  9. david wingrove Says:

    It never even occurred to me that Charles Laughton HADN’T been knighted. What, not even posthumously? Ironic, considering he was to outward appearances ‘happily married’ to Elsa Lanchester – unlike Gielgud, Coward and Bogarde, who were all openly ‘gay bachelors’ so to speak.

    One of my favourite stories is how Bogarde inherited his role in VICTIM from another well-known actor (who has never been named, to my knowledge) who feared that playing a homosexual ‘might prejudice his chances of a knighthood.’

    What I’m really waiting for, of course, is Sir Rupert Everett!

  10. I wonder if playing Henry VIII harmed Chas’s chances? I’ve heard that the royals weren’t too keen on that movie, or on being reminded of Henry at all.

    RE will have to stop making humorous remarks about British troops if he wants a title! Since Sir Ian McKellen’s gay friends call him “Serena”, maybe Sir Rupert would be known as “Syrup”?

  11. David W., not even posthumously. BTW, when someone in a blog referred to him as “Sir Charles”, and I let her now (for accuracy’s sake) that he had not been knighted, she answered “O, Well…What does it matter if he wasn’t officially honoured, he’s ‘Sir Charles’ as far as I am concerned” ;D

    His marriage with EL was… How to put it? More than a mere “front”. He raelly was huge fan of hers since youth (plus she was redheaded like his mom…never underestimate Oedipus!), and Elsa said that somehow together they shielded each other from the (hostile) outer world. They had quite a number of things in common beyond the sexual divergence… And, hum, too long to explain: I was thinking to write about it and maybe I’ll do it sometime soon.

    Incidentally, in spite of the marriage thing, Charles never strived to act “macho” for the press (as in “our leading men that enjoy rough outdoor lives” Clark Gable fashion): he loved flowers, poetry & Home design, didn’t shy from crying in public and read Walt Whitman on American radio (to mention a few items)

    David C., I’m at a loss myself about the other people, some might be cast members, and I think it’s quite likely that Freddie Young might be among the posers, though I don’t have images of him to check.

    I had not considered the influence of “Henry VIII”, but it might be another factor: his performance is an utterly desacralization of monarchy!

    Probably being a chum of Bertie Brecht, or reading “The rights of Man and the Citizen” in “This Land is Mine” -1943- (“from those Frenchies who chopped their king’s head!”) didn’t improve matters either.

    (P.S.: I just got Elsa co-starring at the blog)

  12. The moment when Laughton, as Henry, wipes his chicken-greased hands in his own hair is the moment when he ascends into my personal pantheon.

    I actually sort of met Freddie Young — he presented me with a prize for my first film. Of course, he was almost sixty years older then. But there are images of him online, and none of them resembles the folks in your stills whatsoever.

    I always felt the Laughtons’ was more than just a “lavender marriage” — the way she would often co-star in his films, and the way they were so good together, plus how off-centre they both were, it seemed like a love match only without the sex. And while se can be amazingly important, it can also be amazingly unimportant.

  13. Re chicken Grease: it just flashed through my mind a musical version of “henry”, with J. Travolta singing around…

    Re the marriage thing: Darn! You put it better than myself! may I ask your permission to quote those lines when I do a post on the subject? Elsa, though, seemed to resent Charles having a sex life of his own (or so she states in her memoirs), CL on the other hand, seemed quite open to her own affairs (Elsa only mentions a jealous episode from Charles very early in their marriage: it was before she discovered he was gay, so there was possibly something more complicated… maybe pretending he was a hot-blooded, macho husband, so she wouldn’t suspect?)

  14. Travolta is about the right shape for it now.

    I’m always happy to be quoted! Thanks for the compliment.

    I guess if it wasn’t yet open that Charles was seeing other people, he would feel aggrieved that Elsa was doing the same. But once she knew he had a love life away from the marriage, he would then consider her entitled to do likewise. Complicated is right!

  15. david wingrove Says:

    The ‘lavender marriages’ of showbiz folk are queer and complicated affairs. The other day, I was thumbing through Robert Wagner’s memoirs. To my amazement, he had a chapter about his passionate liaison with – of all people – Barbara Stanwyck!

    Now I had always assumed that Babs was not greatly interested in men. Perhaps I was wrong? I have even wondered about RW himself. When his poor wife Natalie Wood drowned off Catalina Island, on a yacht with him and Christopher Walken, there was some cruel speculation about who was sleeping with whom.

    For all I know, Hollywood is a vastly more heterosexual place than its gay fans (and I include myself in this) ever imagine it to be. Or maybe Jeanne Moreau is right: “Words like heterosexual and homosexual mean nothing. Either you’re sexual or you’re not!”

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