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review 2018-01-23 22:29
Richard Burton: Prince of Players (Munn)
Richard Burton: Prince of Players - Michael Munn

This biography of Richard Burton is, I would guess, highly unreliable as to details. Although Michael Munn, the author, was indeed in the entertainment business in minor capacities, I very much doubt he had the kind of access to Burton himself (or to his circle) that would allow him to quote, apparently verbatim, whole stretches of actual conversation so very focused and illuminating about Burton's life. My suspicion that in fact Munn was paraphrasing cribbed versions of secondary sources was confirmed when I compared his account of an incident involving John Gielgud with Sheridan Morley's Gielgud biography, and discovered word-for word-borrowings but written as if told to the author directly by Burton (the tip-off was the idiosyncratic phrase "idiot boards"). That said, Munn does seem to have had some access to Burton (though not perhaps in the chummy way he claims), as well as to some of the more notorious gossips in Hollywood like Roddy McDowall. He also actually gives us a bibliography of sorts, though only a "selected" one; so I suspect he did his reading.

 

This, then, was a quick read with a hefty dose of salt, reliable for at least the bare outlines of Burton's career, and likely also a pretty good reflection of the gossip about Burton over the years. It's not a very happy tale. Indeed, given whatever illness of the mind (or brain) he was suffering from, as well as his lifelong alcoholism, what strikes me about Burton is not the brevity of his working life but the fact that he managed to get as much good work done as he did.

 

I was relieved to read that despite his reputation of having slept with every leading lady he had, Julie Andrews (who shared the stage with him in "Camelot") was notoriously proof against his boozy charms.

 

There's got to be at least one better biography out there, and I remember hearing that Burton's own diaries have been published, so I may come back to him at some point. I'm really far more interested in Peter O'Toole (upon the subject of whom this particular book was pretty light, though apparently they were quite good friends), but reading this book has at least revived in me the desire to go back and watch "Becket" again.

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review 2018-01-11 22:46
So, Anyway... (Cleese)
So, Anyway... - John Cleese

As part of his narrative schtick in this memoir, John Cleese occasionally engages in exasperated expostulations to his imagined readers, in response to imaginary comments or criticisms from them. In one of those passages, he accuses us of not really being interested in the serious passages of his life, but instead wanting just to have a good laugh. Guilty as charged, Mr. Cleese, guilty as charged. And I'm happy to say that Cleese's whimsical prose and tongue-in-cheek exaggeration frequently delivers that good laugh.

 

Cleese concentrates almost entirely on his childhood, his school and university days, and his early career in stage and TV comedy, culminating with the coming together of the Monty Python troupe. There is one additional chapter about the reunion stage show decades later (apparently a highly gratifying experience). This imbalance implies either that he considers the later part of his life (including the Fawlty Towers period) not worth chronicling, or else that he thinks there's another book in it.

 

Cleese comes across as extremely, almost painfully self-aware, but of course he deflects from anything really painful with humour. He is very careful not to criticize those around him. Some of the tensions come through anyway; he admits that the Python group was essentially two entirely separate writing teams - Cleese & Chapman on the one hand, and Idle, Jones & Palin on the other. Other than a fairly mild description of arguing with Terry Jones (accompanied by protestations that it was all beneficial creative tension), Cleese does not dwell on any discord, far less sling mud. One suspects the same is true of his descriptions of family.

 

I very much enjoyed this, and suspect that most other John Cleese aficionados will too unless they have unrealistic expectations for lots of depth or lots of dirt. I hope he writes volume 2.

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text 2017-10-08 03:53
Produce your own Theatre - Free Scripts and Production rights

This time of year is when theatre groups, big and small, amateur and professional, experimental or conventional unveil their new season.

 

I love live theatre. I was even a member of the Vancouver Playwrights Theatre Centre and under their mentorship wrote two plays.

 

One of the biggest thrills I ever experienced was to have professional actors perform a reading of my one-act play, Harry’s Truth. It was truly mind-blowing to witness other people interpreting my work in ways I never imagined while still staying true to the script.

 

To celebrate live theatre I’m offering the scripts of Harry’s Truth and End of the Rope free until December 31, 2017 to any individual, drama class, amateur or professional theatre group to read, workshop or produce. Here’s what one reviewer had to say about Harry’s Truth.

 

“You show the interactions between the five of them and let us have a glance at everybody’s past. A lot gets revealed in every scene. I like the detailed stage instructions and the symbolism in the last scene. One can read Harry’s Truth as if it were a short story. I’d really like to see this play on a stage someday…”

 

Often theatre groups are inhibited by the price of mounting a production. I will sign off on all production rights during that period and also authorize you to reproduce the copies of the script.

 

As the reviewer I quoted pointed out, these plays also make entertaining reading even if you’re not a theatre buff.

 

If you send me an email I’ll forward the website address and the coupon codes so you can download your free e-book scripts of Harry’s Truth and End of the Rope.

 

rod_raglin@yahoo.com

 

If anyone would like to take advantage of this offer I’d love to be involved as a script consultant or in any other aspect (no, I won’t pay to produce the production). Who knows maybe I’ll even come and see it.

 

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs.

30

 

Website:   http://www.rodraglin/com

Amazon Author Page:   https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00SD6LEU

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/Rod-Raglin-337865049886964/

 

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review 2017-08-07 00:22
And Furthermore (Dench)
And Furthermore - Judi Dench

"Do not consider this an autobiography. I have neither the time nor the skill to write one," warns Dame Judi right at the beginning of her introductory remarks. She points to the 1998 biography by John Miller, and it is that same John Miller who has the "as told to" credit on this book. That said, "And Furthermore" is chatty and not obviously ghost-written in tone, and the assistance to its celebrated author seems to have been chiefly rendered in keeping names, dates and projects straight. Unlike a later-in-life memoir with a similar title, Lauren Bacall's "And Then Some," this book does not confine itself just to the years since the last biographical outing, but instead covers off, in an orderly and comprehensive, if fairly superficial way, all of Judi Dench's long life. There is a solid emphasis on her performing rather than her personal or emotional life, though of course she talks a bit about major events like the passing of her much-loved husband, Michael Williams. The narrative is mostly anecdotal, sometimes funny but not exclusively so, and very generous to her co-workers in theatre, film and television. She also reveals a somewhat surprising penchant for misbehaving on stage or set - practical jokes and the like.

Dench, if she is generally apt to suppress criticism of other people, makes no secret of her dislike for certain material. She loathes "The Merchant of Venice," for instance. And even at the distance of more than 40 years, she has no hesitation in pronouncing a minor play from French, "Content to Whisper," "the most terrible play known to man."

The names are not so much dropped as just wonderfully, gloriously omnipresent. Judi Dench has worked with everyone from Gielgud onwards. She can say of two productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "What was so uncanny for me was hearing Rachael Stirling as Helena, the part her mother Diana Rigg had played with the RSC when we did it before." She knows and has worked with all the British classical actors who have crossed over to Hollywood celebrity - Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Craig, you name 'em. A little to my surprise, she also has a solid resume in musicals; she was only prevented by a rehearsal injury from being in the original London cast of "Cats" and she played big houses in "Cabaret" and "A Little Night Music."

Judi's right though, in a way. This is an autobiographical work, but it's not "the autobiography" or "the biography." Like many actors, she shies away from analyzing or even watching her own work. And, likeably enough, she doesn't indulge in a lot of introspection, at least not for public consumption. I shall probably end up trying Miller's 1998 biography in hopes for more insights to add on top of this entirely amiable work.

Oh yes, there's a decent collection of photos from her collection too, including some in colour. Definitely a keeper.

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review 2017-05-12 21:52
This Time Together (Burnett)
This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection - Carol Burnett

I haven't read the various other books by "serial autobiographer" Burnett. This one I would describe as light and, without the slightest snarkiness, "heart-warming." It consists of anecdotes of a page or two each about various people in Burnett's life, mostly celebrated people, and mostly funny anecdotes. She has anchored it with some stories about family as well, but there is no prolonged anlysis of the career, let alone psychological navel-gazing. This is Carol Burnett sitting at dinner or at a party, telling her best stories. I have no doubt that many of them have been polished or even improved a little over time. It doesn't matter. Throughout the book she exposes what seems to be a very real gift for appreciating those around her and, more unusually it seems to me, a strong gift for forming mutually respectful working creative partnerships with other very talented women (Lucille Ball, Julie Andrews, Beverly Sills).

 

One of the delights of the internet age is to read an anecdote about a particular TV episode or special, and then be able to go online and find it, however fuzzy, to watch and appreciate as if for the first time. It slows up the reading, but most enjoyably so. In the case of this book, a two-page anecdote turned into an hour of media-watching several times over!

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