Sunday, July 25, 2010

my humphrey bogart stumbling into a bookshop moment

I've been trying not to stray down memory lane quite as often, lest I get lost there, but this posting by Kendra reminded me of the rather wonderful, rainy afternoon I spent in this very same shop on her recommendation.

It's the sort of place that's disappearing, sadly. Small and rather cramped, but lived in and comfortable in its own way, filled with books and playbills and postcards and other theatrical ephemera that aren't really shelved by category and certainly not scanned. It all seems to tower over you, like Alice having lost her sense of proportion.

I sat in a corner looking through shoe boxes labeled Laurence Olivier and Alec Guinness, eventually striking up a conversation with the proprietor, one of those older gentlemen who also seem to be disappearing. He told me about various theatrical scandals of times gone by that I wish I remembered, how Kevin Spacey, then starring in Inherit The Wind at the Old Vic (which I was lucky enough to attend), would visit as an avid collector of Olivier memorabilia, how John Gielgud and Guinness would drop by looking for a certain book or piece of information in their time. We spoke quite a bit about Olivier and Vivien Leigh (at one point 'sharing digs' with the actor who played Stanley to her Blanche in the stage production), he having seen them both on stage and greatly admiring Olivier especially.

I asked him about different performers to determine if he had any items pertaining to said person, which led to some interesting recollections

At one point I asked about Deborah Kerr, whom he saw in The Corn is Green. He said she was 'all over the place' and 'went dry' every night. One of his friends in the production claimed that she was a gracious and wonderful lady, but he often had to prompt her with a well placed don't you agree? or other suggestive remark.

"But I can see you're a fan, so I'll stop. It happens to all actors."

"What about Olivier?"

"Never," he said. "Never."

Though I cannot replicate his very British and very eloquent use of the English language, the swiftness of and assurance in that last remark I will never forget.


  1. I'm making a mental not to stop in that store when I'm over there this next year (who am I kidding? of course I'll stop by! He apparently has some folders of rare Vivien candids that he couldn't seem to find last time).

    It's remarkable not only talking to older people about this sort of thing, but the fact that these older people seem surprised that us younger people are interested. When I was doing my summer abroad in Brighton, I would strike up conversations with random people. For example, this lady on the train to London recalled that she used to see Larry at the old playground in Brighton with his kids back in the 60s, and a lady at Windsor Castle had a story about seeing him at the airport once, and how he came over and thanked her for processing his ticket.

    I loved this guy's stories especially. He had a good one about seeing Larry and Vivien in Titus Andronicus at the St James in the late 50s, and how afterword Larry was walking through the aisles chatting with people, and Vivien was up on stage yelling at Larry. He said Vivien was a strange lady but very beautiful. Everyone in the theatrical world seems to admire Larry.

    Great post!! I'm so glad you had a chance to stop in!

  2. i hope he finds them this time! :) it seems that there's always something amazing to be found there. i hope i get to go back and explore more someday.

    what wonderful stories. how fun it must have been to glance over and see one of the greatest actors of all time pushing a swing or at a ticket counter or something so ordinary. that almost seems more special then seeing some of these legendary actors perform on stage. more personal.

  3. oh, i love those kind of conversations with the people who still remember those days and actually saw the greats in action. sooo lucky! must've been a wonderful experience to see Larry and Vivien on stage.

    it's always kinda sad to hear this kind of things about Deborah's later stage performances. obviously her health was declining pretty fast at that point. she was still wonderful on screen in the 1980s but apparently theatre was already a too difficult task. it must've be really hard on her as she loved doing theatre.. sad ;(

  4. err.. *"must've been" that was

  5. olga- it would've been quite an experience! ah, if only.

    it really is very sad. I wonder if the public knew about her health issues at that point? I was just reading about how at the bath premier of the play she'd been sick and as such gave a poor performance which she was booed for. D: That's hard for anyone to take, especially when you're starting to lose control.

  6. they really should invent that time machine like NOW! there are soooo many actors - Russian, British, American, French, etc. - i would've loved to see perform on stage. so yeah, they should stop harassing those poor bacteria and get to that inventing business asap LOL

    yeah, i've read about that premier too :*( i'm pretty sure nobody knew except for the family and close friends probably. and not only in the 80s but later too. i remember reading some interview from the 90s where she told a story about suddenly feeling really bad on a plane so she couldn't get off it by herself and they had to get a wheelchair for her. and somebody recognized her or smth like that. and she said with her usual sense of humour (though it's quite a bitter remark if you think about it): "oh my, now they'll be saying Deborah Kerr was seen drunk again" or smth of the sort. and i assume by that "again" that it had happened previously. and that probably general public wasn't aware of her health issues.

  7. haha exactly! ;)

    i recall reading that story too though not where I read it. Poor Deborah. :( That shows some real devotion to her own privacy to let that sort of story go around, which I have great respect for.

  8. oh yes, looks like most Libras are quite private :) and i totally respect her privacy too even if it's really sad reading stories like that.. people can be so mean at times.

  9. Meredith:

    Memories evoke memories. I wonder if this was David Drummond of Pleasures of Past Times who is at 11 Cecil Court, right off Charing Cross Road. (I think he might still be there.) Your description of the proprietor and his stock matches my remembrance.

    I had him once (around 2004-2005) on the trail of some artwork pertaining to the spectacle “Khartoum” that was staged in London at Astley’s in 1885. According to George Sanger it ran “for two hundred and eighty consecutive performances (and) put on nightly three hundred men of the Guards, four hundred supers, one hundred camels, two hundred real Arab horses, the fifes and drums of the Grenadiers, and the pipers of the Scots Guards.” Mr. Drummond thought he had some artwork, but it never surfaced.

    Drummond was one of those men who knew much about theatre and the Olivier/Kerr anecdotes ring true. Best.


  10. Gordon--that's the guy/place!

  11. This is a very beautiful memory and a wonderful conversation to have. I too wonder where all of the old gentlemen have gone. Good to know I'm not alone.

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  13. Gerald-As kendra has noted we are indeed speaking of the same man! And at least as of last december he was still doing what he does so well and I do hope will continue on. That is absolutely fascinating, how fun it must have been to see that on stage!

    Heather-Thank you for the kind comment. It's rather sad, I hope they're all just hiding on some secret island that I haven't discovered.

    Clara- Neat! Thanks Clara. :D