On the Great Knights of the Theatre:
Whereas EVERYTHING about Ralph Richardson is quaint and adorable and a thing of wonderment, the main attractive quality of John Gielgud’s personality, to me, is his habit of putting his foot in it. It clashes marvellously with his slightly dessicated air of dignity.
John Gielgud went to see a play with a friend. His friend was not taken with the lead actress. “She’s terrible, isn’t she?”
Gielgud whispered back, “Oh, dreadful. Even worse than Margaret Leighton.”
Then he realised that Margaret Leighton was sitting right next to his friend, and could not possibly have failed to hear.
“Oh, I didn’t mean YOU. I meant the OTHER Margaret Leighton.”
Richard Burton went to the theatre to see the play his friend, fellow drunkard Wilfred Lawson, was acting in. Lawson insisted on accompanying Burton to his seat and watching the start of the play with him.
“Shouldn’t you be going backstage and getting ready?” wondered the Burton.
“No, no, plenty of time,” said Lawson, who had had a few ales.
The play wore on. Burton would occasionally nudge Lawson and suggest that maybe he should head for his dressing room, but the older man was unconcerned.
Some time into the play, Lawson gripped Burton’s arm and whispered, “Ah, now, watch here. This is where I come in.”
When you’re depending on Burton for your reality checks, you know you’re in trouble. Sue Lyon reported that he was unpleasant to be near on NIGHT OF THE IGUANA because he sweated booze. Later he had an operation to remove crystallized alcohol from his spine, which left him with curiously weak arms. On 1984 his arms had to be operated from below by a stagehand. A classically-trained actor reduced to the status of a muppet.
I love drunken actor stories. I don’t know what they’re supposed to prove, but I can consume an unlimited number of them at one sitting. I myself drink only rarely, of course. I remember getting very tipsy at a Film Festival party held in a funfair (Mark Cousins was running the fest and he threw the best parties) and, after a game of long-distance-arm-wrestling with a mime artist (real), I staggered off through scenes that looked, to me, like something out of MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, and was adopted by a tribe of fire-eaters.
But I think it’s safer and preferable to enter states of altered consciousness by an act of will, and inspiration, and possibly with the aid of some art (music is good). With the aid of a particularly windy Genesis concept album on my Sony Walkman, I was once able to half-convince myself that I WAS GOD which, surprisingly enough, felt quite nice.