Date of Birth: 16 May 1937, Tayorville, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Yvonne Joyce Craig
Nicknames: Yvonne Craig
Dancer turned actress who brought a spirited grace to the high-kicking antics of the superheroine Batgirl
Yvonne Craig trained as a dancer and became the youngest-ever member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; but it was on television that her athletic grace won legions of fans, as Batgirl to Adam West’s Batman.
Now fondly remembered as an example of 1960s camp, Batman, made by the ABC television network, was steeped in the Pop Art sensibility of the era. The storylines were comic, the sets garish, and colourful bubble words like KAPOW!, BAM! and ZOK! livened up the fight sequences. When audience figures started to pall towards the end of the decade, the writers decided to freshen up the show by bringing in the character of Barbara Gordon, a good-looking librarian who pursues a second career as the crime-fighting Batgirl.
The producer, Howie Horwitz, was anxious to preserve the character’s femininity, so Batgirl was forbidden to punch her various on-screen nemeses, relying instead on high kicks and handily placed objects. While Adam West had his black Batcycle (with a detachable self-propelled sidecar for Robin), Yvonne Craig drove a purple version with a large yellow bow. She did most of her own stunts, which were made all the more uncomfortable by the bat wings that had replaced the motorcycle’s shock absorbers “like jumping off a table stiff-legged”, as she put it.
Such dedication could not halt the show’s decline, however, and after one more series it was cancelled in 1968. Looking back, Yvonne Craig expressed disappointment in the way the character was handled after her initial test screening. “When we did the pilot, Batgirl was supposed to be not only as good as the guys but better,” she recalled. “She ended up being this cute little bland character, when she could have been more in the style of Katharine Hepburn.”
None the less, her performance was eagerly taken up by feminist critics as a spirited example of the hard-working career girl an ally to the hero, rather than his dependant. In 1972 Yvonne Craig stepped into the role once more, this time on behalf of the US Department of Labor. A 30-second skit had Batgirl swinging to the rescue of a captive Batman and Robin but not before demanding equal pay.
Yvonne Joyce Craig was born on May 16 1937 in Taylorville, Illinois, and aspired to a career in dance from an early age. While attending the Edith James School of Ballet she was spotted by the Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova, who helped her win a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York. Aged 16 she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but left three years later and eventually fell into acting after a chance meeting with John Ford’s son Patrick. Her first starring role was as the beautiful yet spoiled Elena in The Young Land (1959), which the younger Ford produced.
By the mid-1960s she had moved away from temptress roles to play more traditional leading ladies, appearing alongside Elvis Presley in It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963) and Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The two of them hit it off and Yvonne Craig spent time with Presley at his home in Bel Air though, coming from the insulated life of the professional dancer, she had little idea of his rock-and-roll credentials. The reality was finally brought home to her when, trying to find the light-switch in his bedroom late one night, she accidentally hit a panic button and was greeted by several carloads of policemen at the front door.
On television she made a foray into the spy arena with a guest part in the original series of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1965), gave a passionate performance as the creatively named Ecstasy La Joie in The Wild Wild West (1966) and was painted green for a memorable turn as a psychotic alien in Star Trek (1969). In later life she swapped acting for a career in property, but continued to make regular appearances at comic and fantasy conventions in America.
Date of Birth: 17 December 1926, Poplar, London, UK
Birth Name: Stephen Lewis
Nicknames: Stephen Lewis, Stephen Cato
In 1960, he wrote Sparrers Can’t Sing, a play about life in the East End that relied heavily on actors’ improvisations. It was a success and was released as a film (Sparrows Can’t Sing) in 1963, with a cast that included Barbara Windsor and Roy Kinnear – although even their talents could not sell the social realist dialogue to a global audience.
The New York Times sniffed: “This isn’t a picture for anyone with a logical mind or an ear for language. The gabble of Cockney spoken here is as incomprehensible as the reasoning of those who speak it.” It was the first English-language film to be released in the US with subtitles.
As Lewis’s career illustrates, a great number of the comedy stars of the 1960s and 1970s came from serious theatre with proudly socialist roots, while television and film started to tap into a growing appetite for working-class drama and comedy. Throughout the 1960s, Lewis took a series of small roles culminating in a large part in the 1969 television play, Mrs Wilson’s Diary, alongside another Theatre Workshop regular called Bob Grant.
That same year, he landed a role in a new series called On the Buses, which also featured Grant as a lascivious bus ticket-collector teamed up with Reg Varney, his equally Dionysian mate.
Although the show was undoubtedly rude, crude and occasionally prejudiced, it offered genuinely witty reflections on the nature of 1970s class conflict. In the world of On the Buses, workers were constantly on strike and after more money; managerial characters such as Lewis’s Blakey were exploitative snobs who thought they had authority just because they wore a badge.
It was plain where the audience's sympathies were supposed to lie: many was the time that a bus “hilariously” ran over poor Blakey’s foot or a bucket of water was tipped over his head. The cry: “I ’ate you Butler” was born of impotent rage. Although Varney the actor was Lewis’s senior, it was still Varney’s character, Reg, that got all the “crumpet”. Lewis was only in his early forties when he took the role of Blakey, but playing ageing authority figures became his stock in trade. In the 1970s, he appeared in the television sequel to On The Buses, Don’t Drink the Water, three big-screen outings of On The Buses and two cinematic sex comedies (Adventures of a Taxi Driver, Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate). He later had parts in the films Personal Services (1987) and The Krays (1990).
In 1988, he played a new character in the long-running BBC series Last of the Summer Wine as the character Clem “Smiler” Hemmingway which he thoroughly enjoyed. “It’s got so much charm,” he said of the show. “I don’t think any other country in the world has comedy like that.” From 1995 to 1997, he appeared in the equally gentle sitcom Oh, Doctor Beeching! In 2007, he stepped down from Last of the Summer Wine because of ill health.
Stephen Lewis remained a committed socialist. In a stroke of irony, however, in 1981 he was hired to promote CH coaches, in the character of Blakey; it was the first private bus company to break the public transport monopoly of Cardiff city council. This was exactly the kind of Thatcherite revolution of which Blakey would probably have approved.
In his diaries, Tony Benn recalled campaigning with Lewis in 1984, describing him as “very direct” and “extremely amusing”.
Date of Birth: 9 May 1932, Old Windsor, Berkshire, UK
Birth Name: Geraldine McKeown
Nicknames: Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan, could purr like a kitten, snap like a viper and, like Shakespeare’s Bottom, roar you as gently as any sucking dove. She was a brilliant, distinctive and decisive performer with a particular expertise in high comedy whose career incorporated West End comedy, Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre, and a cult television following in EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia.
She was also notable on television as a controversial Miss Marple in a series of edgy, incongruously outspoken Agatha Christie adaptations (2004-09). Inheriting a role that had already been inhabited at least three times “definitively” by Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson she made of the deceptively cosy detective a character both steely and skittish, with a hint of lust about her, too.
This new Miss Marple was an open-minded woman of the world, with a back story that touched on a thwarted love affair with a married man who had been killed in the first world war. Familiar thrillers were given new plot twists, and there was even the odd sapphic embrace. For all her ingenuity and faun-like fluttering, McEwan was really no more successful in the part than was Julia McKenzie, her very different successor.
Although she was not easily confused with Maggie Smith, she often tracked her stylish contemporary, succeeding her in Peter Shaffer roles (in The Private Ear and The Public Eye in 1963, and in Lettice and Lovage in 1988) and rivalling Smith as both Millamant and Lady Wishfort in Congreve’s masterpiece The Way of the World in 1969 and 1995.
And a decade after Smith won her Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, McEwan scored a great success in the same role on television in 1978; Muriel Spark said that McEwan was her favourite Miss Brodie in a cluster that also included Vanessa Redgrave and Anna Massey.
McEwan was born in Old Windsor, where her father, Donald McKeown, was a printers’ compositor who ran the local branch of the Labour party in a Tory stronghold; her mother, Nora (nee Burns), was working-class Irish. Geraldine was always a shy and private girl who found her voice, she said, when she stood up in school and read a poem.
She had won a scholarship to Windsor county school, but she felt out of place until she found refuge in the Windsor Rep at the Theatre Royal, where she played an attendant fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1946. Leaving school, she joined the Windsor company for two years in 1949, meeting there her life-long companion, Hugh Cruttwell, a former teacher turned stage manager, 14 years her senior, whom she married in 1953, and who became a much-loved and influential principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1965.
Without any formal training, McEwan went straight from Windsor to the West End, making her debut at the Vaudeville theatre in 1951 in Who Goes There? by John Deighton, followed by an 18-month run in For Better, For Worse… at the Comedy in 1952 and with Dirk Bogarde in Summertime, a light comedy by Ugo Betti, at the Apollo in 1955.
Summertime was directed by Peter Hall and had a chaotic pre-West End tour, Bogarde’s fans mobbing the stage door every night and in effect driving him away from the theatre for good; McEwan told Bogarde’s biographer, John Coldstream, how he was both deeply encouraging to her and deeply conflicted over his heartthrob star status.
Within a year she made her Stratford debut as the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost and played opposite Olivier in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, replacing Joan Plowright as Jean Rice when the play moved from the Royal Court to the Palace. Like Ian Holm and Diana Rigg, she was a key agent of change in the transition from the summer Stratford festival playing Olivia, Marina and Hero in the 1958 season to Peter Hall’s new Royal Shakespeare Company; at Stratford in 1961, she played Beatrice to Christopher Plummer’s Benedick and Ophelia to Ian Bannen’s Hamlet.
Kittenish and playful, with a wonderful gift for suggesting hurt innocence with an air of enchanted distraction, she was a superb Lady Teazle in a 1962 Haymarket production of The School for Scandal, also starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, that went to Broadway in early 1963, her New York debut.
She returned to tour in the first, disastrous, production of Joe Orton’s Loot, with Kenneth Williams, in 1965, and then joined Olivier’s National at the Old Vic, where parts over the next five years included Raymonde Chandebise in Jacques Charon’s landmark production of Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Alice in Strindberg’s Dance of Death (with Olivier and Robert Stephens), Queen Anne in Brecht’s Edward II, Victoria (“a needle-sharp gold digger” said one reviewer) in Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty, Millamant and Vittoria Corombona in The White Devil.
Back in the West End, she formed a classy quartet, alongside Pat Heywood, Albert Finney and Denholm Elliott, in Peter Nichols’s Chez Nous at the Globe (1974), and gave a delightful impression of a well-trained, coquettish poodle as the leisured whore in Noël Coward’s broken-backed adaptation of Feydeau, Look After Lulu, at Chichester and the Haymarket.
In the 1980s, she made sporadic appearances at the National, now on the South Bank, winning two Evening Standard awards for her fresh and youthful Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals (“Men are all Bavarians,” she exclaimed on exiting, creating a brand new malapropism for “barbarians”) and her hilariously acidulous Lady Wishfort; and was a founder member of Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury theatre.
In the latter part of her stage career, she seemed to cut loose in ever more adventurous directions, perhaps through her friendship with Kenneth Branagh, who had become very close to Cruttwell while studying at Rada. She was a surprise casting as the mother of a lycanthropic psychotic, played by Will Patton, in Sam Shepard’s merciless domestic drama, A Lie of the Mind, at the Royal Court in 1987. And in 1988 she directed As You Like It for Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company, Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian.
She then directed Christopher Hampton’s underrated Treats at the Hampstead theatre and, in 1998, formed a fantastical nonagenarian double act with Richard Briers in a Royal Court revival, directed by Simon McBurney, of Ionesco’s tragic farce, The Chairs, her grey hair bunched on one side like superannuated candy floss.
The following year, she was a brilliant but controversial Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, directed as a piece of Gothic absurdism at the Savoy by Declan Donnellan; McEwan tiptoed through the thunderclaps and lightning like a glinting harridan, a tipsy bacchanalian with a waspish lust and highly cultivated lack of concern (“My husband’s not dead; he’s upstairs.”)
Other television successes included playing Jeanette Winterson’s mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990) and Carrie’s War (2004), while her occasional movie appearances included Tony Richardson’s The Adventures of Tom Jones (1975), two of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations – Henry V (1989) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) – as well as Robin, Prince of Thieves (1991), Peter Mullan’s devastating critique of an Irish Catholic education, The Magdalene Sisters (2002), in which she played cruel, cold-hearted Sister Bridget, and Vanity Fair (2005).
She was rumoured to have turned down both the OBE and a damehood, but never confirmed this.
Date of Birth: 21 June 1954, Oldham, Lancashire, UK
Birth Name: Anne Kirkbride
Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre, the bespectacled, careworn femme fatale in ITV’s record-breaking soap opera Coronation Street for more than 40 years, and became renowned for her cracked, throaty voice, caused by chain-smoking in real life, and straining neck cords that were even more alarming than her enormous glasses.
In 1998, during a bitter ratings war with the BBC’s EastEnders, when Deirdre was wrongfully imprisoned after a relationship with a con-man called Jon Lindsay, the nation reacted with the “Free the Weatherfield One” campaign. In Parliament, even Tony Blair passed comment on her sentencing. It was not, commentators agreed, the prime minister’s finest hour. Producers at Granada Television decided to free Deirdre after three weeks.
Anne Kirkbride first came to Granada’s notice in 1972 in the ITV series Another Sunday and Sweet FA and was offered the bit part of the teenage dolly-bird Deirdre Hunt in Coronation Street later that year. When the character’s popularity grew after a few appearances, Anne Kirkbride signed a contract in 1974 and had been in the soap ever since.
With her distinctive owlish spectacles, she played Deirdre with a passion, steering the character through a calamitous tangle of marriages, broken engagements and affairs that produced an on-screen daughter Tracy in 1977, 20 years later the programme’s most notorious wild child and the Street’s spectacularly dull husband, Ken Barlow (William Roache). Dumped, divorced and widowed, Deirdre’s edgiest moment came with her affair with Mike Baldwin (played by Johnny Briggs) only two years after her wedding to Ken in 1981, and which started a feud between the two rivals that ended only with Baldwin’s death 25 years later.
Anne Kirkbride’s Deirdre was nearly written out of the series in 1978, three years after her screen marriage to Ray Langton (Neville Buswell). When Buswell decided to leave the programme, the producers believed there were already enough single women in the fictional Street. After Buswell intervened, however, the writers decided that Deirdre the single mother would be an interesting concept, and Anne Kirkbride was asked to stay.
One of the highlights of her career was her on-screen wedding to Ken Barlow in July 1981, on the day the Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer. But even this was eclipsed by Deirdre’s extra-marital affair with Baldwin in 1983. As Britain held its breath, a bishop in London warned Granada of the dangers of it all seeming too realistic; a woman in Halifax gave birth in an ambulance, having delayed her departure to hospital to witness the lovers’ first illicit kiss; and the Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, one of the Street’s greatest fans, declared that Ken Barlow deserved better.
The fling excited the divided consternation of Fleet Street’s finest, with Jean Rook of the Daily Express advising Deirdre to “stick with Ken” and her Daily Mail rival Lynda Lee Potter urging her to leave boring Ken for exciting Mike.
In the showdown between the two, Anne Kirkbride thought Bill Roache had gone mad when unrehearsed and unscripted he grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the Barlows’ front door as Baldwin stood on the step. “I was literally fighting to get away,” she remembered. Tracked by the cameras, she ran to an adjoining room and burst into tears.
When Deirdre and Barlow were reconciled in the next episode, the Daily Mail hired the electronic scoreboard at Old Trafford and, to the approving roar of 56,000 fans watching Manchester United play Arsenal, flashed up the news: “Deirdre and Ken united again!”
In 1987, when Deirdre by now working as a shop assistant became Councillor Barlow, Anne Kirkbride complained at this improbable turn of events, but soon realised that it got Deirdre out from behind the bacon slicer and into the swim of mainstream Street life. However, she remained upset at the decision to have Deirdre divorce Ken over his affair with his secretary.
Her character received a fresh lease of life in 1994 when Anne Kirkbride returned from a six months’ absence due to illness; at 39, she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but, after chemotherapy, recovered. On screen, however, a planned reconciliation with Ken Barlow had to be scrapped, and instead Deirdre embarked on a holiday romance with a 21-year-old toyboy, a Moroccan waiter, Samir Rachid (Al Nedjari), whom she later married.
“Anne Kirkbride is celebrating her return to health with a crackling storyline, a marvellous performance and a whole new vocabulary,” wrote Margaret Forwood in the Express.
The marriage was short-lived, however, and in 1995 Deirdre’s third husband died on his way to hospital to donate a kidney to Deirdre’s wayward daughter Tracy. She was reunited with Ken in 1999 and married him for a second time in 2005, despite Ken finding out that she had slept with the supersmooth corner shop owner Dev Alahan.
Anne Kirkbride was called as a character witness in Roache’s trial on sex assault charges in 2014 (he was found not guilty): she said her colleague was “always a perfect gentleman”.
As an actress, Anne Kirkbride possessed a photographic memory; she could read through a page of script and almost instantly know it by heart.
Anne Kirkbride was born on June 21 1954 at Oldham, Lancashire, the daughter of Jack Kirkbride, a painter and decorator who became a cartoonist for the Oldham Evening Chronicle. It was her father who encouraged her to go on the stage, having spotted her acting talent when she was only seven.
She developed it at Oldham Rep’s junior theatregoers’ club, and at the age of 11 joined the Saddleworth junior players and then the Oldham youth theatre. On leaving Count Hill grammar school she took a job at Oldham Rep as a student assistant stage manager at £1 a week, combining buying props and helping to build sets with several small acting parts.
When the company’s director, Carl Paulson, took her aside and told her she would be acting full-time on £18 a week, she said she ran through the streets “as if I’d just won the pools”. A Coronation Street talent scout saw her in a Jack Rosenthal play and she was asked to read for a walk-on part.
She hated her gravelly voice but revelled in the nine-to-five routine of a soap star, and never wanted to play Shakespeare or longed for the peripatetic life of a repertory actress. “Sometimes I think I should have made more of an effort to get out and do other stuff,” she admitted in 2001, “but then again I’ve never been terribly ambitious.” In a television confessional, Deirdre and Me (2001), Anne Kirkbride admitted to a compulsion to scrub and clean incessantly (even the lavatories at the Granada studios), and to the depression that in 1998 almost ruined her appearance on This Is Your Life, an ordeal she managed to survive only with the aid of Valium.
She took a leave of absence from Coronation Street in September 2014 and was written out of the script, but had been expected to return.
A lifelong heavy smoker, she also confessed to suicidal feelings and to a compulsion to iron her knickers.
In 1992 Anne Kirkbride married the actor David Beckett, whom she met on the Coronation Street set when he briefly played a handyman in the soap.
Date of Birth: 25 August 1939, Brentford, Middlesex, UK
Birth Name: John Michael Jones
Nicknames: John Bardon
When the actor John Bardon, who has died aged 75, took on the role of EastEnders' grumpy grandad Jim Branning, he succeeded in turning the figure of a lazy, selfish and bigoted Londoner into one of the BBC soap's most lovable characters. Jim was a regular in the Queen Vic pub, who had a weakness for gambling but married the fictional Albert Square's gossip and minder of morals, Dot Cotton, until ill-health saw her dispatch him to a care home.
The balding, crumple-faced actor, often seen wearing a cloth cap, first appeared in the serial in 1996, when Jim arrived in Walford for his daughter April's wedding. When she was jilted at the altar, his other daughter, Carol, and her boyfriend, Alan Jackson, got married in their place, but Jim stormed out because he disapproved of her marrying a black man.
Three years later, Bardon returned in the role as a regular. Jim worked in the Queen Vic as a potman and mellowed after meeting the Bible-thumping Dot. He proposed to her on the London Eye and the couple married on Valentine's Day 2002. He nursed Dot when she had kidney cancer, but himself became the patient after suffering a stroke in 2007. The storyline was written into the soap after Bardon himself had a stroke. The actor was unable to walk for six months, but returned to EastEnders for a short run in 2008 and permanently the following year. However, he was written out in 2011 as his health deteriorated.
Bardon was born John Michael Jones in Brentford, Middlesex, a week before the outbreak of the second world war, and brought up in Chelsea. His father became a shipping clerk for an insurance company after his building business went bust. On leaving school, Bardon had various jobs, including working at Austin Reed in Regent Street, London, before becoming an industrial designer. However, his ambition was to act and, after performing in pubs with an amateur group, The Taverners, and touring Germany and Austria with a civil service drama company, he turned professional at the age of 30. He adopted his grandmother's maiden name, Bardon, and his first work was with a repertory company in Exeter.
He progressed to small roles in Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon (1972) before playing Demetrius in its production of Antony and Cleopatra (Stratford, 1972, and Aldwych theatre, 1973). He also acted the spiv Private Walker in the stage version of Dad's Army (1975-76).
After appearing as Sgt Comrie Milbrau in the musical The Good Companions (1974), based on JB Priestley's novel a role played by the music-hall comedian Max Miller in an earlier film version Bardon had the idea of playing the Cheeky Chappie himself in a one-man show. The result was his tour de force, Here's a Funny Thing, written by RW Shakespeare, which Bardon performed at the Liverpool Playhouse and Edinburgh festival, then in the West End of London (1982). The stage show was also broadcast by Channel 4.
Further recognition came when he jointly won (with his fellow cast member Emil Wolk) the Olivier Award for outstanding performance by an actor in a musical for his role as the gangster Max O'Hagan in an RSC production of Kiss Me Kate (1987).
After making his television debut in the play A Man Against His Age (1970), Bardon took one-off character roles in dozens of dramas and comedies. He was a regular as the comedian Jim Davidson's father in the sitcom Up the Elephant and Round the Castle (1983-85) and Bernie Sweet Ray Winstone and Larry Lamb's father in the first series (1992) of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran's recession comedy Get Back. He also appeared four times (1987-92) as the villain Fred Timson in Rumpole of the Bailey.
Bardon's films included One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975), Clockwise (1986), 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), Fierce Creatures (1997) and East Is East (1999).
Following decades of battling to keep in work before joining EastEnders, the actor was modest about his achievements. "I don't regard myself as a soap star there is no such bleedin' thing," he said in 2003. "I'm an actor who is appearing in a soap. They all think they are bleedin' stars, but they ain't when they leave here. More often than not they disappear."
Date of Birth: 9 October 1923, St. Budeaux, Plymouth, UK
Birth Name: Donald Alfred Sinden
Nicknames: Donald Sinden
Sir Donald Sinden was variously described as “orotund and declamatory”, “magnificently resonant” and “a complete ham”; his talents, admittedly, owed little to method acting, but made him one of the best and most recognisable comedy actors on the circuit.
In a career which spanned 50 years of film and theatre Sinden, to his lasting irritation, became best-known for his work in television, a medium he deplored. But his establishment English demeanour provided perfect casting for comedies exploiting cultural or class differences.
He became a household name when he starred with Elaine Stritch in the LWT sitcom Two’s Company (1975-79), in which he played the feisty American grande dame’s inept English butler. He later repeated his success in the Thames Television sitcom Never the Twain (1981-91), in which he played an upper-crust antique dealer forced into business with a downmarket rival (played by Windsor Davies).
His success on television meant that Sinden’s other achievements, in the film and theatre world, were often overlooked.
During the 1950s, he immersed himself in cinema work, appearing in more than 20 films, including The Cruel Sea (1953), in which he shared top-billing with Jack Hawkins, and Mogambo (1954), a huge safari epic in which Sinden received fourth billing after Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, as Kelly’s cuckolded gorilla-hunting husband.
When the British film industry stalled in the 1960s, Sinden’s film career stalled with it. By the end of that decade, however, he had secured a place for himself at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gave critically acclaimed performances in leading roles including as the Duke of York in The Wars of the Roses (1963), opposite Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Margaret; Lord Foppington in The Relapse (1967); and as King Lear (for which he won the 1977 Evening Standard Award for Best Actor). In 1979 he played the title role in Othello, directed by Ronald Eyre, becoming the last “blacked-up” white actor to play the role for the RSC.
The theatre was always Sinden’s true home, and in the 1980s his passionate interest in its history led to the establishment of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. Another great passion was English church architecture, his encyclopedic knowledge of which led to both a television series, The English Country Church, in 1988, and a book on the subject. “My grandfather was an architect,” Sinden explained, “and it was he who told me always to look up. That’s where all the best things are in churches.”
By the 1980s Sinden was firmly established as a television celebrity, a position consolidated by the regular appearances of a Sinden puppet on ITV’s satirical Spitting Image. The puppet represented Sinden as a grotesque parody of “the actor’s actor” posturing theatrically and endlessly pleading for a knighthood.
Sinden was not amused by the caricature. “When have I ever suggested I wanted a knighthood?” he asked. “I don’t watch the programme because I don’t find it in the least funny.” He would accept a well-deserved knighthood in 1997.
Donald Sinden was born in Plymouth on October 9 1923. He suffered constantly from asthma as a child and as a result missed most of his schooling. “I not only did not pass an examination,” he recalled, “I never took one.” At 16 he became an apprentice joiner to a Hove firm which manufactured revolving doors. “I earned 6s 6d a week,” he said, “and enjoyed it enormously.”
Sinden claimed that he had no aspirations towards acting until he was 18. “My cousin Frank was called up for the RAF,” he remembered. “He asked me if I’d do his part in an amateur production at Brighton Little Theatre.” Donald was talent-spotted by Charles Smith, who organised the Mobile Entertainments Southern Area company (known as MESA), a local version of the wartime entertainments service Ensa. “Of course I thought he wanted me because I was miraculous,” Sinden remembered, “but I know now it was because it was wartime and he couldn’t get anyone else.”
Rejected by the Navy because of his poor health, Sinden joined Charles Smith’s company in 1941. “I stayed an actor because I was awfully interested in girls,” Sinden explained. “Actresses were a lot better looking than joiners.” After four years with MESA he spent six months in Leicester with a repertory company and two terms at the Webber Douglas School of Dramatic Art.
Donald Sinden joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon for the 1946-47 season. In October 1947 he made his West End debut as Aumerle in Richard II, and in 1948 joined the Bristol Old Vic. He left Bristol to appear as Arthur Townsend in The Heiress, an adaptation of Henry James’s Washington Square. Sinden had nine lines and appeared in all 644 performances of the show.
In 1952 he was noticed by the film director Charles Frend while playing the Brazilian Manuel Del Vega in Red Letter Day. “Charles Frend spotted me,” Sinden remembered. “He said he’d always wanted to meet a blue-eyed Brazilian.”
The following year Sinden joined the Rank Organisation and was offered the part of Lieutenant Lockhart in The Cruel Sea, for which he had to spend an uncomfortable 12 weeks filming at sea.
He recalled his time in Africa filming Mogambo as the least enjoyable of his career, largely because of its director, John Ford, whom Sinden described as “the most dislikable man I ever met”. He was particularly irritated by Ford’s peremptory direction techniques: “On one occasion he had Clark Gable backing towards a cliff. Ford kept shouting 'Further back!’ and Gable just disappeared over the edge. We found him stuck in a tree 15ft below.”
After playing Tony Benskin, a womanising medical student in Doctor in the House (1954), Sinden began to find himself being typecast in comic roles. He played Benskin and characters like him for the next eight years.
When the British film industry began to falter in the early Sixties, Sinden’s film career ended. “It was a bad time for me,” he said. “I was 40, married with two children and no work at all.” His first attempts at a return to the theatre were unsuccessful. He was turned down after Peter Hall had made him audition for the RSC. Sinden later described Hall as a “pipsqueak”.
However, after their initial differences Sinden joined the company and appeared in The Wars of the Roses, an epic amalgam of the relevant Shakespeare history plays, put together by Hall and John Barton, which lasted more than 10 hours and won ecstatic reviews.
Sinden went on to make a name for himself as a comedian and farceur. He appeared as Robert Danvers in There’s a Girl in My Soup at the Aldwych in 1966, and won Best Actor awards for his appearances in the Ray Cooney farces Not Now, Darling (1967), Two into One (1984) and Out of Order (1990). In 1976 he was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award for his performance on Broadway as Arthur Wicksteed in Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus.
In 1989 Sinden was offered the opportunity to play his long-time hero Oscar Wilde, whose work had always fascinated him, in John Gay’s one-man show Diversions and Delights. In 1942, at a poetry club reading, Sinden had met Lord Alfred Douglas and had been one of the few mourners at his funeral. Thirty years later, when Wilde’s London home was being demolished, Sinden bought the fireplace for his own house in Hampstead.
Sinden continued to perform well into his eighties. From 2001 to 2007 he played Sir Joseph Channing in BBC Television’s legal drama Judge John Deed (starring Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove), and he recently appeared in the Gideon Fell mysteries on Radio 4.
Donald Sinden published two volumes of autobiography, A Touch of the Memoirs (1982) and Laughter in the Second Act (1985).
He was appointed CBE in 1979.
Date of Birth: 16 September 1924, The Bronx, New York, US
Birth Name: Betty Joan Perske
Nicknames: Lauren Bacall
Tall, slim and sultry, with a hoarse voice and a cryptic personality, Miss Bacall was the perfect match for Bogart’s rugged cynicism, “a leggy, blonde huntress,” as one critic noted, “whose cat’s eyes never blinked before Bogart’s scowls”. In each film they created a special atmosphere of dry, terse comedy and tough-guy talk which masked their underlying affection for one another and seemed unique in popular cinema for the balance of power their roles created between the sexes.
Sensual but never sentimental, insolent, sharp-witted, laconic, cool and above all sophisticated, they seemed, as another observer put it, even to kiss out of the corners of their mouths.
Higher brows were moved to compare the tone of these mating games with that of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, though the style owed more to Raymond Chandler or Hemingway than to Shakespeare. At all events, they brought a new and personal chemistry to the screen which made the partnership refreshingly equal at every level.
Although Lauren Bacall was an actress of accomplishment in her own right, it was her acting in only four films with Bogart and their enduring marriage that turned them as a couple into the stuff of legend, and enhanced her own dramatic reputation more than any anything she did elsewhere in films or on stage.
One of her most famous lines was in To Have And Have Not when they were about to go their separate ways after bidding each other goodnight. At the door she turned and said: “You know how to whistle? You put your lips together and… blow.”
As the American critic James Agee wrote: “Whether or not you like the film will depend almost entirely on whether you like Miss Bacall. I am no judge... It has been years since I have seen such amusing pseudo-toughness on the screen.”
Lauren Bacall, who was born in New York City as Betty Joan Perske on September 16 1924, was the only child of William Perske, a salesman of medical instruments from Alsace, and his wife Natalia, of Romanian and German-Jewish extraction. They divorced when their daughter was six. The mother adopted the name Bacal; the daughter added an “l” to stop it rhyming with “crackle”. She always disliked “Lauren”, the name bestowed on her by Hollywood, preferring to be known as Betty.
Educated at the expense of wealthy uncles at a private boarding school, Highland Manor, Tarrytown, New York, and at the Julia Richman High School, Manhattan, Betty intended to be a dancer, having attended ballet classes since infancy. But in adolescence she was drawn to acting.
Inspired by Bette Davis films, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts when she was 15, dating Kirk Douglas, who was there on a scholarship; but as the academy precluded scholarships for girls, she was obliged to leave after a year before bluffing her way into a job modelling sportswear.
Sacked for being Jewish, or flat-chested (or both), she took another job modelling gowns for a Jewish dress shop and in the evenings worked as an usherette. In 1942 she made her stage debut at the Longacre Theatre, New York, as a walk-on in a melodrama called Johnny 2 X 4, and played the ingénue in a pre-Broadway tour later that year. Then she took a job modelling for Harper’s Bazaar.
Leafing through the magazine in 1943, Mrs Howard Hawks, wife of the Hollywood director, drew her husband’s attention to the girl on the cover. Hawks cabled the magazine asking if she was free; she subsequently turned up on their doorstep.
After a screen test she signed a seven-year contract with Hawks and the producer Jack Warner for $250 a week, changing her name from Betty to Lauren. Hawks went to work on her voice. Taking her to some waste ground, he made her shout Shakespeare and other writers for hours every day in order to lower the tone of what he called her high nasal pipe.
After the daily exercises in the open air her voice became for him (and for the rest of the world) what he called “a satisfactorily low guttural wheeze”. He then insisted that in future she should always speak naturally and softly. Above all, she should ignore suggestions for “cultivating” her voice.
Within a year of her discovery on the front of Harper’s, Hawks had cast her with Bogart in To Have And To Have Not and directed her in such a way that her acting, with its insinuating sexuality and offhand independence, caused a sensation.
Hawks had urged her to play each scene exactly as she felt her character would behave: to act as if she were living the part. If she were true to her own feelings, she would be true to the film.
One scene sprang entirely from her imagination. After an emotional episode in a hotel room with Bogart’s Harry Morgan, Bacall’s Marie left him, according to the scenario, and returned to her own room. Between takes, Bacall grumbled to Hawks: “God, I’m dumb.”
“Why?” he asked. “Well”, she replied, “if I had any sense I’d go back after that guy.” So she did.
At 19 she had become, in her first film, one of Hollywood’s most sensational, relaxed and dominating newcomers: husky-voiced, aloof and shrewdly impervious to insult. This was Bogart’s most interesting screen partner for years, in an otherwise hazy melodrama about the French Resistance at Martinique with Bogart as a sea skipper, edgy, grey-voiced, unsure of this strange girl called Marie.
Some of her lines entered film mythology, such as (after Bogart has kissed her for the second tentative time), “It’s even better when you help.” To everyone’s astonishment, she also sang (or rather croaked and growled, like a trombone) a suggestive song in a seamen’s bar.
She was promoted by Warner Brothers, her studio, as “The Look” because of her way of looking up suggestively with her lynx-eyes from under a high forehead (and through a haze of cigarette smoke) at the rugged, appreciative Bogart.
In 1945 she became his fourth wife; she was 25 years his junior, and the partnership endured until his death nearly 12 years later. Along with her husband, she actively campaigned for the Democrats and protested against Hollywood’s blacklist of suspected Communists.
Lauren Bacall was miscast in Confidential Agent (1945), a thriller derived from Graham Greene’s novel about the Spanish Civil War with Charles Boyer as a Spanish agent; she was, as one critic put it, about as English as Pocahontas, although her “very individual vitality made up for her deficiencies”. The following year, Hawks brought her back with Bogart in The Big Sleep.
The level-pegging of their partnership was curious, unusual and, in those days unexpected in films. One theory was that Hawks’s dislike of Bogart was behind it. Before The Big Sleep, the director was reputed to have said to Bogart: “You are about the most insolent man on the screen and I’m going to make the girl a little more insolent.”
And so it proved. In their second film together, in which she played the rich antagonistic daughter of Bogart’s employer, in a fine adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, she proved every bit as cool and independent as she had been in To Have And Have Not.
Neither of their other two films together was a patch on their predecessors. In Dark Passage (1947), Lauren Bacall sheltered a heavily-bandaged Bogart in his attempt, as an escaped convict, to prove that he had not murdered his wife. All that Delmer Daves’s screenplay proved was that without sharp dialogue, an element of sexual rivalry or a more intelligent scenario, Bogart and Bacall were not themselves.
John Huston’s Key Largo (1948) was a far better film, but it still failed to find any of the old style of banter for them to exchange in its tense tale of a bunch of gangsters who invade a hotel run by Miss Bacall, a war widow.
It was as if, having awakened public interest in the pair as a screen partnership, Warner Brothers could not find material to keep their characters effectively together. This was the film in which, to get the right facial expression from Lauren Bacall, Huston twisted her arm. He got the right expression but he never got her into another of his films. Key Largo was also her last film with Bogart who, unlike Lauren Bacall, went on to make some of the finest films of his career.
In 1950 she was the socialite who married Bix Beiderbecke (Kirk Douglas) in Young Man With A Horn, and appeared with Gary Cooper in Bright Leaf. Her gift for acid comedy came out nicely in Jean Negulesco’s How To Marry A Millionaire (1953), with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and in the same director’s A Woman’s World (1954).
As an occupational therapist and Richard Widmark’s mistress in Vincente Minnelli’s Designing Woman (1957), she was miscast as a scatterbrained fashion queen opposite Gregory Peck.
In Douglas Sirk’s Written On The Wind (1957) she was supposed to have been swept off her feet by an oil millionaire. Was the baby his (Robert Stack’s) or his best friend’s (Rock Hudson’s)? Nobody much cared, least of all Miss Bacall, for Bogart died that year .
Two years later, after playing a tough-talking American governess in the British melodrama North-West Frontier, with Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall decided to return to the stage after an absence of 17 years. As Charlie in Goodbye Charlie (Lyceum, 1959), the story of a man’s return to earth after death as a woman, she played with considerable success opposite Sidney Chaplin.
In 1961 Lauren Bacall married the actor Jason Robards. (There had been earlier talk of marriage to Frank Sinatra, “but Frank just couldn’t cope with the idea” she said years later).
In the 1960s her films became less reliable . In Shock Treatment (1964) she played a batty psychiatrist; in Sex and the Single Girl (1965) a squabbling neighbour (with Henry Fonda); and in Jack Smight’s Harper (1966) a vindictive wife in a film which paid homage to Bogart, with Paul Newman as a private detective.
After that she worked mostly on Broadway. Apart from more than a year’s run as Stephanie, the nurse, in Abe Burrows’s comedy Cactus Flower (Royale, 1965), which some admirers considered the best role of her career, she spent three years as Margo Channing, a stage star threatened by a young rival, in the musical Applause, first in New York (Palace, 1970), for which she received a Tony award, then in Toronto, Chicago and on tour, before making her London debut in the same part at Her Majesty’s (1972).
Her role in Applause was the one Bette Davis had filled more flamboyantly in the film All About Eve. Lauren Bacall’s stage acting showed the same agreeable insouciance as her film acting .
She returned to the screen in 1974 in the Agatha Christie derivation, Murder On The Orient Express; and two years later faced, with admirable and stylish antagonism, John Wayne in Don Siegel’s The Shootist. This brought together one tough hombre and one tough cookie, and was the sharpest match since Bacall had first met Bogart.
As an indefatigable journalist in the musical Woman of the Year on Broadway in 1981, she took a slight story, according to the The Daily Telegraph’s John Barber, and injected into it “all the dynamism of a fascinating personality”.
In 1985 she was back in the West End in Harold Pinter’s revival of Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth (Haymarket).
The Fan (1981) brought her back to the screen as a successful actress entangled with a young man in her first Broadway musical, and seven years later she contributed to another all-star Agatha Christie film, Appointment With Death. She also stole a child in a psychological film thriller, Tree of Hands (1989).
Of her many television appearances the most notable included Blithe Spirit and The Petrified Forest in 1956 and a role in the Frederick Forsyth Presents drama series.
Lauren Bacall was, perhaps, an actress more famous for whom she was thought to be than for what she actually did. “It was those pale eyes framed by a tawny mane, a way of walking that suggested a panther in her family tree, and a husky voice that could set a spinal column aquiver,” noted one reviewer.
She kept up the image of a sharp-tongued, no-nonsense feminist in interview after interview down the years. Journalists were slightly scared of her. But in truth — and unlike, say, Katharine Hepburn — she did not go on to create a substantial body of work. Her fame continued to rest largely on the early films with Bogart.
Her memoir, By Myself, appeared in 1978, followed in 2005 by And Then Some by way of an addendum. In this she described working visits to Paris making Robert Altman’s satirical Prêt à Porter (1994) and to Britain, where she starred in The Visit at the Chichester Festival in 1995.
Lauren Bacall received a Golden Globe and an honorary Oscar. In 1996 she was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Barbra Streisand’s mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces. She continued to make occasional appearances on screen, including, in 2006, appearing as herself in an episode of The Sopranos. In 2004 she had a supporting role alongside Nicole Kidman in Birth, a psychological drama directed by Jonathan Glazer.
Date of Birth: 2 February 2 1925, Detroit, Michigan, US
Birth Name: Elaine Stritch
Elaine Stritch, the American actress, who has died aged 89, was the femme formidable of Broadway, famous for her foghorn voice and deadpan comic timing, and notorious for her filthy temper and “cut-the-crap” frankness; but like many who adopt an abrasive outer shell, underneath there beat a softer heart.
Brassy, skyscraper tall and with a voice once described as “like a corncrake wading through Bourbon on the rocks”, Elaine Stritch was a natural scene-stealer. Not strikingly beautiful, though with wondrously long and shapely legs, there was no one quite like her in showbusiness.
In Britain, where she scored an instant hit as Mimi Paragon, the cruise ship hostess in Noël Coward’s Sail Away, she became everyone’s favourite American actress. She will be best remembered for the long-running 1970s BBC sitcom, Two’s Company, in which she played a rich, demanding American in London, opposite Donald Sinden as Robert, her plummy-voiced butler.
But it was on the Broadway stage that she began her career and where she continued to perform on and off for six decades in comedies and musical drama. She understudied Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam; and brought the house down in Pal Joey singing Zip in the famous 1946 revival. Stephen Sondheim gave her one of his greatest songs, Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch, in Company, in which she played beady-eyed lush Joanne in the original 1970 production. One reviewer noted that “she can race through the gears from a savage purr to an air-raid siren howl in five seconds without ever losing a note of the melody”.
Elaine Stritch partied with as much energy as she performed. She knocked it back with such dedicated topers as Judy Garland and Jackie Gleason. “Elaine, I never thought I’d say this, but goodnight!” said Judy Garland as she made an 8am exit from one marathon session. She dated John F Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and even Rock Hudson, for whom she ditched Ben Gazzara a “bum rap”, she confessed.
The diva of the put-down, Elaine Stritch never learned the art of turning the other cheek. She always had the last word. “I’m sorry about what I said to you earlier today,” an interviewer heard her tell an assistant. “I meant every word.”
Yet underneath this spiky carapace there lurked a more fragile personality, at once addicted to, yet terrified of, performing a woman who fought a long-running battle with the bottle which nearly destroyed her altogether.
The youngest of three daughters, Elaine Stritch was born on February 2 1925 into an upper-middle-class Roman Catholic family in suburban Detroit. Her uncle Samuel was Cardinal Stritch of Chicago; her father a senior executive in Ford Motors. She was educated at a convent where “you daren’t speak in the lavatory and you bathed in your nightgown”.
Her more conventional elder sisters left school and got married, but Elaine’s tastes tended towards the bohemian. As a teenager she accompanied the family’s black maid, Carrie, to “Black and Tan” clubs, where she became familiar with “down and dirty” blues such as I Want a Long Time Daddy, which she sang without understanding the lyrics. She tasted her first whisky sour aged 13 and wanted more.
Her father sent her, aged 17, to New York, where she lived in a convent and studied acting at the New School in Manhattan. A contemporary of Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis and Marlon Brando, she made her student stage debut as a tiger. She “dated” Brando nothing more. When, after a night on the town, he took her back to his place, went to the bathroom, and reappeared in his pyjamas, the teenage Elaine Stritch shot straight back to the convent. “I kissed like a crazy woman,” she recalled. “But I was a virgin until I was 30. Somebody’d touch my breast, and I’d think I was pregnant.”
She was immediately successful. In 1945 she played the parlourmaid in The Private Life of the Master Race and, in 1946, Pamela Brewster in Loco and Miss Crowder in Made in Heaven. After Three Indelicate Ladies and The Little Foxes, she appeared in the review Angel in the Wings singing “Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo...”. In 1949 she played the part of Joan Farrell in Yes, M’Lord. Having kicked her heels as an understudy to Ethel Merman in the Broadway production of Call Me Madam, she left a show-stopping role in Pal Joey to do the Merman part on tour to enthusiastic reviews.
After that she starred in shows by Irving Berlin, Noël Coward, Stephen Sondheim and Edward Albee, and was directed by such figures as Erwin Piscator, George Abbott, Harold Clurman and Hal Prince. Coward called her “Stritchie” and, after rescuing her from the flop musical Goldilocks (1958), gave her the lead in Sail Away, in which she sang Why Do the Wrong People Travel?
In his diaries, Coward saw her more vulnerable side: “Poor darling Stritch with all her talents is almost completely confused about everything. She is an ardent Catholic and never stops saying f*** and Jesus Christ. She is also kind, touching and loyal and, fortunately, devoted to me.” After “the Master’s” death, she attended his memorial service wearing a bright red blazer, and mistook Yehudi Menuhin for a busker friend of Coward’s.
Elaine Stritch began her film career inauspiciously with Scarlet Hour (1956). After attending a matinee, Richard Burton told her: “Halfway through your last number I almost had an orgasm.” “Almost?” she shrieked reprovingly. She contributed compelling performances to the 1957 remake of A Farewell to Arms, and Providence (1970). In 1971 she was offered a contract by 20th Century Fox but turned it down, not wishing to be typecast as the new Eve Arden the wisecracking girlfriend who never gets her man. Later she appeared in such films as September (1988) and Cocoon (1990),
On television, Elaine Stritch starred in the 1948 domestic comedy Growing Paynes, the short-lived 1960 sitcom My Sister Eileen, and co-starred as the star’s mother in The Ellen Burstyn Show (1986). She was a member of the supporting comedy troupe on the 1949 show Jack Carter and Company, a comic switchboard operator on the 1956 variety series Washington Square, and Peter Falk’s secretary in The Trials of O’Brien (1965).
Coward brought her to London in 1962 in Sail Away, and she returned in 1972 with Sondheim’s Company, winning more ecstatic reviews. She remained in London for several years, making her second home in the Savoy Hotel. Of her barnstorming performance in Tennessee Williams’s Small Craft Warnings, one reviewer described her “bashing through the play like a truck driver in a garage full of Minis”. “I love asking the way in London,” she told an interviewer. “A man actually left his shop to show me where to go. I thought 'I’m not that attractive and I don’t look like a hooker, so what’s in it for him?’ I finally realised he was simply good-mannered.”
By now she had triumphantly shed the title of the “oldest virgin on Broadway”, having lost her virginity aged 30 to the Fifties film star Gig Young, to whom she was briefly engaged before ditching him for Ben Gazzara. This was fortunate, as Young went on to experiment with LSD and ended up shooting his fourth wife and himself. Less percipient was her decision to get rid of Gazzara when she unwisely fell in love with Rock Hudson well known in green room circles as a rampant homosexual.
Eventually, in 1973 and aged 47, she met and married John Bay, her co-star in Small Craft Warnings. When they got engaged, Elaine Stritch called home to ask her father whether she should bring her fiancé home to see if he approved of him. “No, just marry him,” came the reply. “Don’t let him get away.” The marriage lasted a happy 10 years, until Bay died of cancer.
Since her early years Elaine Stritch had suffered from stage fright and, when prayers did not do the trick, she quelled her nerves with alcohol. By the late 1970s her opening gambit at every watering hole was “I’d like four martinis and a floor plan”. Sacked from shows and thrown out of clubs, she failed to stop drinking even after she became diabetic. But after suffering a severe attack in the hallway of a New York hotel (from which she was saved only because a passing waiter happened to be carrying a Pepsi), she went on the wagon and never touched another drop.
In 2002 she made a triumphant return on Broadway in her one-woman retrospective of her career, Elaine Stritch At Liberty, co-written with John Lahr, which played to sell-out audiences at London’s Old Vic the following year. “There’s good news and bad news,” she told her audience. “The good: I have a sensational acceptance speech for a Tony. The bad: I’ve had it for 45 years.” In a typical Stritchian postscript, when she really did make the speech after being awarded a Tony for her performance, it was so long that the orchestra cut her off in mid-flow. Afterwards she gave an angry, tearful press conference. The show also won her the Drama Desk award for best solo performance and a nomination for the Olivier Award for her performance at the Old Vic.
In 2003 she was made a “Living Landmark” of New York City for her contributions to Broadway, and in 2010-11 she appeared in a Broadway revival of A Little Light Music. She was the subject of a documentary film, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, released earlier this year.
Date of Birth: 8 September 1922, Yonkers, New York, US
Birth Name: Isaac Sidney Ceasar
Nicknames: Sid Ceasar
Sid Caesar became the best-known comedian on American television in the 1950s; but while his innovative and influential Your Show Of Shows was credited with accelerating indeed arguably creating the postwar surge in sales of television sets in the United States, he subsequently spent two decades battling drink and drug addiction.
First broadcast in February 1950, Caesar’s live Saturday night variety series was an enormous hit with the American viewing public. At first blush the smorgasbord of ingredients seemed an unlikely mix: comic sketches, ballet, modern dance, popular music and even operatic numbers. Caesar would appear as an “interviewing reporter” in comedy skits with his co-star Imogene Coca, and alone in "double-talk" monologues or pantomime.
When Caesar made his breakthrough, television comedy as an art form was still in its infancy. A New York-based concept, the genre featured (mostly Jewish) comedians and writers whose edgy, urban sophistication did not always chime with the plainer fare preferred by the American mid-West, where many were only just starting to trade in their radios for television sets. With Caesar’s 90-minute weekly Saturday night show, small-screen comedy came of age.
Using mostly his own material, Caesar drew on his observations of everyday life, making use of the comedy of situation or character rather than the gag or wisecrack, so prefiguring the emergence of the sitcom. By modern lights, the humour lacked edge. “There were so many things we couldn’t do,” Caesar later recalled. “It was the 1950s. Everything had to be squeaky clean. So it made us work harder and made us think deeper.”
A talented cast of comedy writers, including Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, also contributed, cutting their teeth before setting the comic agenda for American popular culture for two decades to come. So did the playwright Neil Simon, and the authors of the two longest-running 1960s Broadway musicals, Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof) and Michael Stewart (Hello, Dolly!). Between 1954 and 1958 Caesar also starred in his own domestic comedy series Caesar’s Hour, the prototype of countless imitations, with his “wives” including Nanette Fabray and Janet Blair.
But then he vanished almost entirely into what he called his “20-year blackout” while he struggled with addiction. It turned out that (unbeknown to even his closest colleagues) Caesar was already an alcoholic when he burst through to television stardom. Earning $1 million a year at the age of 30, he later admitted to destroying himself with two bottles of Scotch a night, followed later by an addiction to barbiturates and tranquillisers.
As he battled his demons, an ordeal later chronicled in his memoir Where Have I Been? (1983), Caesar would tear basins out of the bathrooms in his mansion on Long Island. In 1978 he spent four months in bed, secretly ordering beer whenever his wife turned her back.
From time to time he would emerge to make a guest appearance on other people’s television shows and he remained a close friend of Mel Brooks, appearing in his films Silent Movie (1976) and History Of The World Part One (1981).
Isaac Sidney Caesar was born on September 8 1922 in Yonkers, New York, where his Austrian-born father, Max, owned a 24-hour diner. From his Riussian mother and the Italian and Polish building workers who patronised the restaurant, the youngster developed a good comedian’s ear for dialect. He learned his trademark “double-talk”, a stream of nonsense sounding plausibly like a foreign language, from listening to his parents’ immigrant clientèle.
Enrolling at the Franklin and Hawthorne junior high schools, he worked after classes to pay for lessons on the saxophone at the Juilliard School of Music. As a Yonkers high school student, he played at school dances and, in 1939, on graduating, went in search of work as a musician.
In 1942 he enlisted in the US Coastguard and was assigned to pier duty in Brooklyn where he wrote sketches for Six On, Twelve Off, a musical later produced as a coastguard show. He got a part in another successful coastguard musical, Tars And Spars, and was the only member of the cast to be used when Columbia made a film of it in 1946.
In 1945 he made his first nightclub appearance at the Copacabana in New York playing saxophone in a swing band. When he started adding jokes to his music-making, he became a regular cabaret fixture in the so-called Borscht Belt, the tourist area in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York where the resort hotels booked Jewish comedians like Jackie Mason and Jerry Lewis to entertain some of the toughest audiences in America.
Caesar appeared in the 1948 revue Make Mine Manhattan and won the Donaldson award for the best debut performance in a Broadway musical.
His television debut as a relative unknown in the 1949 hour-long weekly Admiral Broadway Revue, which included Imogene Coca, was abruptly cancelled after 19 weeks when the sponsors, the Admiral electronics firm, complained that they were having to retool their factory to meet the surge in demand for television sets 10,000 a week instead of the 500 they were geared up to produce on account of the show’s success.
But within a year this backhanded triumph had led directly to Your Show Of Shows. As the series grew in popularity, Caesar mentored many younger American comedy writers; Neil Simon later based his 1993 play Laughter on the 23rd Floor on his experiences. When Caesar took on the unknown Mel Brooks, and paid him $5,000 a week, the future star comedy writer introduced himself as a Jewish pirate: “You know how much they’re charging for sailcloth these days?… I can’t afford to pillage and rape anymore.”
Caesar’s Your Show of Shows ran for four years (1950-54), and was also the inspiration for the Peter O’Toole film My Favourite Year (1982). For Caesar’s Hour, the staff writers were augmented by, among others, Neil Simon’s elder brother Danny, and Larry Gelbart, who would later create the hit television show M*A*S*H.
Caesar’s other film appearances included Tars and Spars (1946); The Guilt Of Janet Ames (1947); It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); A Guide For The Married Man and The Busy Body (both 1967); Ten From Your Show Of Shows (1973), Airport 75, Grease and The Cheap Detective (1978), and The Fiendish Plot Of Dr Fu Manchu (1980) in which he played an FBI agent trying to track down the Chinese arch-villain.
Caesar eventually overcame his addictions, thanks to a self-help regime he loosely described as “spontaneous Jungian analysis”. In a second volume of memoirs, Caesar’s Hours (2003), he admired the way his heroes, great comedians of the silent film era like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Date of Birth: 23 April 1928, Santa Monica, California, US
Birth Name: Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple was the screen’s most popular child star of the 1930s, receiving at the age of eight 135,000 birthday gifts from fans the world over.
Throughout the Depression years, her sunny disposition helped audiences forget their woes and a special Oscar was presented to her for “bringing more happiness to millions of children and millions of grown-ups than any other child of her years in the history of the world”. It might have turned many a tiny tot’s head, but Shirley had her mother constantly at her side to ensure she was kept on an even keel.
Gertrude Temple was the architect of Shirley’s career, masterminding every aspect, every contract, what she ate, when she slept. Before each take, she would coach her, ignoring the director, and give her last-minute instructions. “Sparkle, Shirley,” she would say. A shrewd businesswoman, she knew instinctively how to manipulate the studios and their publicity machines to her daughter’s advantage. For good or ill, she turned little Shirley into a phenomenon. Everything she did was news. In October 1936, the world gasped as a bulletin flashed over the Reuter wires: “Shirley Temple has been sent to bed with a slight fever resulting from a cold.”
She was acting in pictures from the age of four and rapidly captivated filmgoers with her blond ringlets and dimpled charm. Dolls, books and games were named after her in a merchandising campaign matched only by Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Yet her talent was modest. She sang off-key and cynics dismissed her dancing as “mere jigging up and down”. She liked to do impersonations but her acting was generally regarded as cute rather than compelling.
She had the child star’s built-in self-destruct mechanism what had seemed peachy in a moppet became arch in adolescence. Attempts to extend her career into young womanhood were unsuccessful and she made her last film in 1949 washed up in Hollywood at 21.
Yet that was not the end of the Shirley Temple story. Against all sceptics’ expectations, the little girl who had never had a normal childhood matured into a distinguished politician and diplomat. She stood (unsuccessfully) for Congress before representing America at the United Nations and serving as US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia under her married name of Shirley Temple Black.
She was born on April 23 1928 in Santa Monica, California, the daughter of a bank teller. Like many a proud mother, Gertrude Temple enrolled her child in dancing classes at the age of three and promoted her vigorously. A talent scout from Educational Pictures, a small company specialising in shorts, spotted Shirley and invited her for a screen test, which led to her appearance in 1932-33 in a string of film spoofs known as Baby Burlesks. Among them were The Incomparable More Legs Sweetrick (as Marlene Dietrich), The Pie-Covered Wagon and Polly-Tix in Washington.
She alternated these performances with small parts in now forgotten feature movies such as The Red-Haired Alibi (1932) and To the Last Man (1933), opposite Randolph Scott. While filming a second series of shorts for Educational under the title Frolics of Youth, she and her mother were approached by the much bigger Fox Film Corporation (later Twentieth Century-Fox) with a view to Shirley featuring in the film Stand Up and Cheer (1934). She passed the audition and was signed up for $150 a week. When the film opened, she stole the show with the song and dance routine Baby Take a Bow.
Recognising her star potential, Fox swung its publicity department into action. But it did not have her under exclusive contract. Earlier in the year, the astute Mrs Temple had forged a two-picture deal with Paramount and it was that studio that initially reaped the benefit of her sudden fame. It rushed her into two pictures in 1934 to fulfil the contract Little Miss Marker, based on a Damon Runyan story, and Now and Forever, in which she was the go-between who reunites an estranged couple played by Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard.
On the strength of these pictures, Shirley’s Fox contract was renegotiated to $1,250 a week. She was cast in Bright Eyes, where she sang one of the songs indelibly associated with her, On the Good Ship Lollipop, and from then on vehicles were written especially for her. By the end of 1934, aged six, she was the eighth biggest draw in America.
A year later, she was number one and held that position four years in a row, attracting more fan mail than Greta Garbo and being photographed more often than the President himself. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” she volunteered brightly.
She churned out pictures at a tremendous lick sometimes five a year through the late-1930s and the public clamoured for more. Features included, in 1935, The Little Colonel, Curly Top, a remake of Daddy Long Legs, and The Littlest Rebel, in which she told Abraham Lincoln that he was almost nice enough to be a Confederate. The 1936 clutch had Captain January, Dimples and Poor Little Rich Girl, while in 1937, the title role in an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Wee Willie Winkie was changed from boy to girl especially to accommodate her.
Her work in this film led to a notorious libel suit involving the future novelist Graham Greene, then employed as a film critic by the magazine Night and Day. At a cocktail party, after what he later described as “a dangerous third Martini” Greene dreamt up the idea of deflating the Temple balloon, but he peppered his review of her performance in Wee Willie Winkie with such litigious terms as “bilious coquetry”, “dimpled depravity” and “mature suggestiveness”.
Shirley and Twentieth Century-Fox sued. In court in March, 1938, Sir Patrick Hastings, counsel for the plaintiffs, was too mortified to bring himself to utter Greene’s words. “In my view”, he said, “it is one of the most horrible libels that one can imagine about a child. I shall not read it is better I should not but a glance at the statement of claim ... is sufficient to show the nature of the libel. This beastly publication appeared but it is right to say that every respectable news distributor in London refused to be party to its sale.”
The plaintiffs won; $5,250 punitive damages were awarded to Fox, $7,000 to the actress and Night and Day folded. But as a postscript to the episode, the mature Shirley Temple bore the novelist no grudge. In 1989, she sent him an inscribed copy of her autobiography, Child Star, and invited him to tea.
The year 1938 marked the high-water mark of her popularity. She appeared in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (without ringlets for the first time), in Little Miss Broadway and Just around the Corner at a fee of $100,000 a picture, which made her Hollywood’s highest-paid earner after Louis B Mayer. By 1939 he fee had jumped to $300,000, but public taste was changing. Susannah and the Mounties was disappointing and The Blue Bird was, by common consent, a “turkey”.
MGM had wanted to borrow her for The Wizard of Oz, but Fox refused, casting her instead in what it hoped would be a rival children’s attraction . But Maeterlinck’s arty symbolism in The Blue Bird found no favour with the public. It opened in selected cinemas a few days before Christmas 1939, but proved such a dud that it had to be withdrawn after only a few days and replaced by a Sonja Henie ice-skating musical. When generally released in 1940, The Blue Bird met with no warmer response, becoming Shirley’s first unmitigated flop.
Gertrude Temple blamed Fox and offered to buy out the remainder of Shirley’s contract. Fox raised no objections and, at the age of 11, she took a “sabbatical” from the cinema, ostensibly to repair gaps in her patchy education. Though her vocabulary was officially said to be 750 words, “all of which she can write”, she had trouble with numbers over 50. According to her teacher, she still thought 47 cents was more than 55 cents.
In fact, Shirley’s absence from the screen was an opportunity for her mother to negotiate a fresh contract with another studio. She picked MGM, but it was not a happy choice. The studio was grooming its own child prodigy in Judy Garland and found only one vehicle for Shirley, the lacklustre Kathleen (1941). Roger Edens, who was Garland’s coach, let it be known that Shirley would have to put in a lot of singing and dancing practice if she hoped to be worthy of the studio. Mrs Temple took umbrage and took off.
After a remake of a Mary Pickford picture, Miss Annie Rooney (1942) at United Artists, Shirley gravitated to David O Selznick, who signed her to a seven-year contract, but as a teenager she could no longer command lead roles. Selznick cast her only in supporting parts in Since You Went Away (1944) and I’ll Be Seeing You (1945). In that year, aged 17, she also completed her interrupted education by graduating from Westlake High School for Girls in Los Angeles. She then published her first autobiography, My Young Life, and was married to army sergeant-turned actor John Agar.
The last four years of her screen career were an anticlimax. Her infant precocity gave way to mere pertness (of which there is no shortage in Hollywood) in such films as The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947), That Hagen Girl (1947), with Ronald Reagan, and A Kiss for Corliss (1949), her screen swansong, opposite David Niven. This period also included the first film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, Fort Apache (1948), in which she co-starred, aged 20, with her husband.
When the marriage failed, she was married again (in 1950) to a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Charles Black. She largely retired from acting to concentrate on social work, though from 1957 to 1959 she narrated and appeared in a television series entitled Shirley Temple’s Storybook. This was followed in 1960 by Shirley Temple Presents Young America, a programme about the problems of high-school dropouts.
From 1960 she played a leading role in developing the San Francisco film festival, resigning in 1966 only over the decision to screen the Swedish film Night Games, which she denounced as “pornography for profit”. In 1967 she ran for Congress to fill a dead man’s shoes (Republican J Arthur Younger). Though her recording of On the Good Ship Lollipop was used as a theme song at rallies, she insisted that “Little Shirley Temple is not running. If someone insists on pinning me with a label, let it read Shirley Temple Black, Republican independent.” But in the era of Lyndon Johnson, her conservative stance on taxes, law and order and drug addiction lost her the seat.
After her election defeat, she continued to work for the Republican party, raising funds and urging Americans overseas to back Richard Nixon in the forthcoming presidential campaign. When elected, Nixon named her one of the five-member American delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In this capacity she served in 1969 on the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee. Her subsequent diplomatic career included US ambassador to Ghana (1974-76), sparking a trend for Ghanaian children to be named Shirley (including boys), and to the former Czechoslovakia, to which she was appointed by President Bush in 1989.
Date of Birth: 23 July 1967, Fairport, US
Birth Name: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Nicknames: Philip Hoffman
In a little over two decades Hoffman carved out a reputation for delivering strident performances that led to the New York Times describing him as the “greatest character actor of our time”. For many years he stood out in supporting roles from a louche playboy in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley to a lovesick high school teacher in Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour.
In 2005, however, he took the title role in Bennett Miller’s Capote, a biopic of the waspish author Truman Capote. As the notoriously tart chronicler of high rollers and transient killers, Hoffman caught the writer’s murky DNA, showcasing his talent for manipulation but also his latent insecurity. “Playing Capote took a lot of concentration,” Hoffman stated, “I prepared for four and a half months. I read and listened to his voice and watched videos of him on TV. Sometimes being an actor is like being some kind of detective where you’re on the search for a secret that will unlock the character. With Capote, the part required me to be a little unbalanced.” The performance was to win him that year’s Academy Award for Best Actor.
His appearance and in particular his weight remained a fall-back feature of most journalistic profiles. Hoffman’s wry approach to the veiled criticisms was reminscent of Cyrano de Bergerac’s parry to nasal put-downs. “A lot of people describe me as chubby, which seems so easy, so first-choice,” he said. “Or stocky. Fair-skinned. Tow-headed. There are so many other choices. How about dense? I mean, I’m a thick kind of guy. But I’m never described in attractive ways. I’m waiting for somebody to say I’m at least cute. But nobody has.”
He was instictively comfortable working with many of America’s cinematic auteurs. In particular, his collaborations with the director Paul Thomas Anderson provided many of his most distinctive roles. In Magnolia (1999) he provided warmth and heart as a kindly male nurse tending to a dying millionnaire to an otherwise bleak palette of human disarray and in The Master (2012) he held forth as a magnetically-charasmatic leader of a quasi-religious cult (a figure loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard). Likewise Spike Lee, the Coen Brothers, Charlie Kauffman and David Mamet all drew idiosyncratic and memorable performances.
A dedication to the art of acting was to remain the one constant in a career that otherwise defied categorisation (he embraced drama, comedy and thrillers with equal zeal). “Acting is so difficult for me that, unless the work is of a certain stature in my mind, unless I reach the expectations I have of myself, I’m unhappy,” he said. “If you’re doing it well, if you’re concentrating the way you need to, if your will and your concentration and imagination and emotional life are all in tune, concentrated and working together in that role, that is just like lugging weights upstairs with your head. And I don’t think that should get any easier.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman was born on July 23 1967 in Fairport, a picturesque town on the Erie Canal in New York state. His mother, the former Marilyn Loucks, was a lawyer and civil rights activist and his father, Gordon, was a businessman.
Philip was first drawn to drama at Fairport High School, and when he was 17 attended a state-run summer school for the arts. After graduating he moved to New York City to pursue professional training, attending classes at a summer programme run by the Manhattan theatre, Circle in the Square, and finally graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Drama.
While at NYU, Hoffman teamed up for the first time with Bennett Miller, who would later direct him in Capote, to launch a drama company, the Bullstoi Ensemble. Though its principals were undoubtedly talented, the Ensemble was notoriously short-lived, and after leaving NYU Hoffman entered rehab to tackle alcohol and drug problems. He then embarked on the classic career path of the hopeful actor, taking odd jobs, such as stacking supermarket shelves, while auditioning and hoping for his big break.
That break took some years to arrive. However, in 1992 he won his first major role in Scent of a Woman, which starred Al Pacino as a blind man whose lust for life (and the opposite sex), is only heightened by his “disability”. Hoffman played a boorish, treacherous friend of the student who is recruited to assist Pacino’s character.
More often, however, his pudgy frame seemed to recommend him to casting directors for roles that required self-doubt, self-loathing even. It was with just such a part that he made his leap into the big time.
Paul Thomas Anderson, the director, who had spotted Hoffman in Scent of a Woman, cast him as a boom operator, Scotty, in his epic recounting of pornographic film making in the 1970s, Boogie Nights (1997). The part marked Hoffman out as an actor of range but, typically, his reward was to be cast in formulaic fayre, such as Flawless (1999) a buddy movie with Robert De Niro.
Hoffman flourished in such illustrious company, and repeated the trick of stealing scenes from more established actors in The Talented Mr Ripley. Meryl Streep was among a gathering band of admirers, describing his performance as “fearless”.
Long a favourite of indie directors, Hoffman's rising star was confirmed in such films as The Big Lebowski (1998) and Almost Famous (2000). But the next five years, while providing steady work, did not see him find many great roles. It was with Capote (2005) that his mesmeric ability to metamorphise began to emerge. He lost weight and shifted the timbre of his voice, inhabiting the part completely without descending to simple mimicry.
He next shone in an unlikely role in Doubt (2008), that of a Catholic priest who may, or may not, have abused one of his pupils. The whole conceit of the film demanded that the audience remain undecided, and thus rested on the strength of Hoffman’s performance.
His ability to turn his hand to almost any role was displayed again in Jack Goes Boating (2010), his directorial debut, and also his first romantic role.
A long, inventive and daring career seemed to stretch before him, but in what turned out to be his last years he mostly starred in the mainstream features such as the Hunger Games series that he had always dotted between the expressive, idea-driven parts in which he truly excelled.
Other films included: Cold Mountain (2003); Mission Impossible III (2006); Charlie Wilson’s War (2007); Synecdoche, New York (2008); Moneyball (2011) and, most recently, A Most Wanted Man (2014).
It was a sign of his talent, however, that many viewed Hoffman as an even better actor on stage than on screen. Perhaps his best performance came in 2012, in the Broadway revival of Death of A Salesman, for which he received his third Tony award nomination.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who announced last year that he was once again struggling with addiction, is reported to have been found dead in his apartment, possibly of a drug overdose.
Date of Birth: 2 August 1932, Connemara, Ireland
Birth Name: Seamus Peter O’Toole
Nicknames: Peter O’Toole
Peter O'Toole, the Irish-born actor was one of the most charismatic, unpredictable, eccentric and individualistic players of his generation.
Hailed both as a classicist and as an exponent of post-war realism in the new British drama, he seemed destined for greatness on the stage until David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) turned him into a film star.
It was one of the most spectacular screen breakthroughs of the post-war years. Though his screen debut was in Kidnapped (1960), he had till Lawrence made little impression. Although Lawrence was presented as an heroic figure, Robert Bolt’s screenplay did not avoid the more debatable aspects of his life, including his sexuality. There is a revealing moment when he first dons Arab clothes and performs a little dance almost as if he were a woman in disguise. Moviegoers twigged instantly that this would be no ordinary portrayal.
Tall, lean, blue-eyed, watchful, whimsical and by middle age, so emaciated that his friends feared for his health O’Toole seemed regularly to veer close to self destruction. A self-confessed lover of sleaze, he once said: “I can’t stand light; I hate weather; my idea of heaven is moving from one smoke-filled room to another.”
When Laurence Olivier chose him in 1973 to inaugurate the National Theatre at the Old Vic in the title role of Hamlet, it was because O’Toole seemed like Britain’s next great actor. But the status of an Olivier, a Redgrave or a Gielgud always eluded him or perhaps he it.
Though he became a greatly popular player, he did not stay with Olivier’s new National Theatre Company and went on to divide his career between stage and screen. The success of Lawrence of Arabia led to a flood of screen offers in meaty parts that contemporary actors envied. These included two aspects of King Henry II, first in Becket (1964), based on Jean Anouilh’s account of his troubled relations with Thomas à Becket, and secondly in The Lion in Winter (1968), James Goldman’s play about the ageing king’s dispute with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Though Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar as Eleanor, the conflict was even-handed and the two performers were equally riveting.
His acting ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. It could be subtle, reserved, sensitive and deeply affecting. It could also be loud, self-regarding, mannered and imitative of the worst of the 19th-century barnstormers.
Among the more ridiculous was the Macbeth he played at the Old Vic in 1980. It was an attempt to restore the fortunes of that playhouse after the National Theatre had left it in 1976. Contradicting the advice he had given as Hamlet to the players at the same theatre under Olivier’s direction 17 years earlier, he sawed the air with his hands, tore passions to tatters, and ranted until the audience laughed in his face.
Undismayed, he joined in, especially when he heard one night, as he descended the staircase after dispatching Duncan, the siren of an ambulance passing the theatre. “I was dripping with blood. The ambulance howled as it went up the Waterloo Road. I got the giggles. So did the audience. It was bloody marvellous.”
Nonetheless, the production, disowned by fellow members of the Old Vic board, broke records in London and in the provinces. “I just wanted a crack at Macbeth on the principle of getting the worst over first. In the history of the British theatre, only three actors have pulled it off: Macready, Garrick, and Wolfit and now me. I enjoyed every second.”
Among his more sublime performances was that of the dazed and lonely protagonist journalist in Keith Waterhouse’s Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (Apollo, 1989; revived 1999), reminiscing, ruminating, urinating, swaying, and stranded overnight in a London pub with a plastic carrier bag of liquor.O’Toole, himself an experienced alcoholic, long since reformed, brought so much authenticity, poise and painful sincerity to the performance that many play-goers could not believe he was acting.
He loved the excitement and uncertainty of the theatre. “If I hadn’t become an actor I probably would have become a criminal,” he said once. “I’m a very physical actor. I use everything toes, teeth, ears, everything. I don’t simply mean physical in the sense of movement and vigour. I find myself remembering the shape of a scene by how I’m standing, what I’m doing.”
Having achieved immediate recognition as TE Lawrence, the desert adventurer opposite Omar Sharif, he observed: “Stardom is insidious. It creeps up through the toes. You don’t realise what’s happening until it reaches your nut. That’s when it becomes dangerous.”
His scores of screen roles at this time included Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1965), an angel in John Huston’s The Bible (1966), and a musical remake of Goodbye, Mr Chips (1969) opposite Petula Clark. Though he was Oscar-nominated for that role, the film as a whole was an embarrassment, and he should have taken note that Rex Harrison and Richard Burton had turned it down before him.
In 1972 he appeared in another musical, Man of La Mancha, opposite Sophia Loren, in which he played Don Quixote. These two films were temporary diversions he was wise not to repeat. Fortunately, in the same year (1972) he gave one of his best performances in the lead role in Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class, as a berserk British baronet who imagines himself to be Jesus Christ one minute and Jack the Ripper the next.
The son of an Irish bookmaker, Seamus Peter O’Toole was born at Connemara, Co Galway, on August 2 1932. The family moved to England when O’Toole was a boy. The young Peter left school at 14, and moved with his parents to Yorkshire.
He worked variously as a copy boy and reporter on the Yorkshire Evening News, as a jazz band drummer, and as a vacuum cleaner salesman. He first acted professionally at the Civic Theatre, Leeds, in 1949.
After National Service as a signalman in the Royal Navy, he saw Michael Redgrave’s King Lear at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1953; it was this that resolved him to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He hitch-hiked to London and won an audition and a scholarship.
He joined the Bristol Old Vic, where between 1955 and 1958 he acted 73 parts, notably Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger (1957), John Tanner in Man and Superman, the title part in Hamlet and Peter Shirley in Shaw’s Major Barbara, in which he made his first London appearance (Old Vic, 1956).
His first West End part came in another Bristol transfer, this time as Uncle Gustave in the Swiss musical comedy Oh, My Papa! (Garrick, 1957).
It was, however, as the cynical Cockney Pete Bamforth, who befriended a Japanese captive in Willis Hall’s wartime jungle drama The Long and the Short and the Tall (Royal Court, 1959, and New, now Albery), that O’Toole first won wide critical acclaim.
Of that performance Kenneth Tynan wrote: “To convey violence beneath banter, and a soured embarrassed goodness beneath both, is not the simplest task for a young player, yet Mr O’Toole achieved it without sweating a drop.”
At Stratford-upon-Avon in The Merchant of Venice his dashing young Shylock, a nouveau riche mercantile adventurer with social pretensions, was much admired, as were his playful Petruchio (opposite the 52-year-old Peggy Ashcroft) in The Taming of the Shrew and his powerful and thrilling Thersites in Troilus and Cressida.
Back in the West End in the title part of Brecht’s Baal (Phoenix, 1963) his acting soared above the play so impressively that one of Brecht’s biographers, Martin Esslin, dubbed O’Toole “the greatest potential force among all English-speaking actors”.
After the disappointment of his acceptable but uninspiring Hamlet at the launch of the National Theatre Company, he played one of his favourite types of character, the self-destructive hero, in David Mercer’s Ride a Cock Horse (Piccadilly, 1965), agonising over relationships with three women.
The following year, back in Ireland, he played Capt Boyle in O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, and three years after that he was back in Dublin again as John Tanner in Shaw’s Man and Superman, one of his favourite parts which he had played at Bristol 11 years earlier and which he played yet again in the West End (Haymarket, 1982).
At Dublin’s Abbey in 1969 his scarecrow Vladimir in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot came in what The Daily Telegraph at the time called “the Chaplin tradition: baggy trousers, battered bowler, clownish, absentmindedly surveying the audience as if it were infinity”. He later acted the part at Nottingham Playhouse.
Returning to his training ground, the Bristol Old Vic, in 1973, he took the title role in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, “shuffling, weary, pale and unprofiteering… one of the best things O’Toole ever did”, according to one critic. He also played King Magnus “indolent, elegant, condescending” in Shaw’s The Apple Cart, a role which he repeated in the West End (Haymarket, 1986).
When he led, in 1978, a tour of North America as Uncle Vanya, he also added Coward’s Present Laughter to his repertoire. As the flamboyant matinée idol, Garry Essendine, O’Toole used his own mannered and sometimes irritating self-indulgence with authority.
Following the fiasco of his Macbeth for Prospect Productions at the ailing Old Vic two years later, his mercurial Professor Higgins in Shaw’s Pygmalion (Shaftesbury, 1984) was warmly approved for its zest, rhythm, tonal variety, and tender eccentricity. It was seen on Broadway three years later.
In 1991 his ideas about the older Jimmy Porter in Osborne’s new play Déjà Vu clashed with the author’s at rehearsal and the Liverpool production was cancelled.
One of his better screen performances in the 1970s came in Clive Donner’s thriller for television Rogue Male (1976). O’Toole was engaging and, when it mattered, moving, as the resourceful but desperate hero, a British sportsman and would-be assassin of Hitler who, ruthlessly hunted down by Nazis, is forced to live like an animal.
The following year he acted in the dubious Roman epic Caligula, described by Variety magazine as “an anthology of sexual aberrations in which incest is the only face-saving relationship”.
In the uncommercial but intriguing film The Stuntman (1980), he was entirely at home as an impatient and overbearing director on a crazed film project which seemed to make sense only to him. O’Toole, who was again Oscar-nominated, later admitted that he had based his performance on the martinet David Lean, who had directed him in Lawrence of Arabia.
Less impressive were his outings in such schlock as Powerplay (1978), Strumpet City (1980), Supergirl (1984) and Buried Alive (1984).
His performance in Neil Jordan’s big budget Hollywood comedy High Spirits (1988), about a family who move into a haunted house, was nothing if not ebullient; he extracted more humour than the rest of the cast from a weak script in what became one of the turkeys of the year.
It is fitting that his swansong was on the West End stage, which he loved and dominated like no other. Keith Waterhouse’s Our Song provided him with another Bernard-like character or at least that was how he played the hard-drinking advertising man infatuated with a younger woman.
Even those critics who professed to a sense of déjà vu were not inclined to complain about it, but rather revelled in another chance to see O’Toole running the entire gamut of his physical and vocal range. “The exhilarating theatrical swagger of his performance is matched by a real depth of emotion,” said the Telegraph. The play was a sell-out success.
The year 1992 also saw the publication of the first volume of his autobiography, Loitering With Intent. Besides committing to record his own account of a life rich in myth and hyperbole, O’Toole revealed a genuine writing talent whose promise is sadly cut short.
Having been denied as best actor Oscar many times, in 2003 O’Toole received a special honorary award, effectively for his lifetime’s work. He joked about this when, in 2006, he received yet another best-actor nomination, playing a 70-year-old roué in Venus, who romances his best friend’s grand-niece. The lifetime’s recognition, he quipped, had been premature because there was life in the old dog yet.
Date of Birth: 3 September 1932, Los Angeles, US
Birth Name: Verla Eileen Regina Brennan
Nicknames: Eileen Brennan
Eileen Brennan, the American actress was best known for her role as the tough-talking Army captain Doreen Lewis in the 1980 film comedy Private Benjamin, in which she starred alongside Goldie Hawn.
As tormentor-in-chief to Goldie Hawn’s high society recruit, Eileen Brennan earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, and when she reprised the role in a television sitcom adapted from the film, she won two further awards, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Guest roles on such television shows as Murder, She Wrote; thirtysomething; Taxi; and Will & Grace (in which she played an over-the-top acting coach) earned her six more Emmy nominations.
On film she made a brief appearance as the crazy Cat Lady in the horror film Jeepers Creepers in 2001. Her last big screen appearance was in the 2011 comedy film Naked Run.
Her role in Private Benjamin led to a lasting friendship with Goldie Hawn. In 1982, a couple of years after they had made the film, the two women had dinner in Venice, California. As they left the restaurant, Eileen Brennan was struck by a car, in an accident which smashed her legs, broke bones on the left side of her face, and shattered her left eye socket. She later recalled seething with rage at what had happened: “I was no saint. I was angry, and anger is a powerful emotion. It increased my determination not to go under, to get well.”
She took three years off work to recover, but became addicted to painkillers, and eventually entered the Betty Ford clinic to cure her dependency. She later received treatment for breast cancer.
Ten years after the accident Eileen Brennan said she was glad she had been hit by the car. “You learn from powerful things,” she said in 1992. “Initially, there’s enormous anger, but your priorities get shifted around.”
The daughter of a doctor of Irish descent, Verla Eileen Regina Brennan was born on September 3 1932 in Los Angeles. Her mother had acted in silent films. Educated in convent schools, she went on to study at Georgetown University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
Her first major role on the New York stage was in Little Mary Sunshine, a musical that earned her the 1960 Obie award for best actress. In 1964 she played Irene Malloy in the original production of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. In Hollywood the director Peter Bogdanovich cast her as a weary waitress who inherits the café where she works in The Last Picture Show (1971).
Her other films included The Sting (receiving excellent reviews as the brothel madam with a heart of gold); The Cheap Detective; Clue and Divorce American Style. On television her versatility led to appearances in All in the Family; McMillan & Wife; Kojak; The Love Boat; Mad About You; and 7th Heaven.
As well as being cast as the gruff Capt Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin, Eileen Brennan applied her perfect sense of comic timing to several other sharp-tongued film roles including that of the aloof and world-weary Mrs Peacock in Clue (1985), and the cruel orphanage superintendent Miss Bannister in The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988).
Date of Birth: 11 May 1982, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Birth Name: Cory Allan Michael Monteith
Nicknames: Cory Monteith
The Canadian actor Cory Monteith, shot to fame as the all-American student Finn Hudson in Glee, the worldwide television hit about an Ohio high-school show choir.
When the musical-comedy teen series began in 2009, Monteith was cast as Finn after submitting what he described as "a cheesy 80s music video-style version" of the REO Speedwagon power ballad Can't Fight This Feeling. Although he had no previous singing experience and his vocal performance was considered slightly weak, producers believed that Monteith displayed the naivety they were looking for in Finn, a quarterback in the fictional William McKinley High School football team and a member of its choir, New Directions.
The role made Monteith not only a global TV star, but also a lead singer in a recording act with sales of more than 50m singles and 13m albums. The Glee cast recorded covers of pop songs and musical numbers on eight soundtrack and three compilation albums. Astonishingly, taking advantage of the age of music downloads, it also hit the charts with more than 200 singles. The first, Don't Stop Believin', reached No 2 in the UK and No 4 in the US in 2009.
Finn's squeaky-clean character was in stark contrast to the teenager Monteith had himself been a decade earlier. He frequently missed school while drinking and taking drugs until family and friends persuaded him to attend a rehabilitation centre at the age of 19. He came out and returned to his old ways.
The turning-point came when Monteith stole money from a member of his family to fund his addictions. When he was caught, he was given an ultimatum: get clean or face the law. He chose to turn his life around. "I'm lucky to be alive," Monteith said two years ago. However, the actor checked back into rehab for four weeks in March.
Monteith was born in Calgary, Alberta, where his father served in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and his mother was an interior decorator. The couple divorced when Monteith was seven and he and his older brother were raised by their mother in Victoria, British Columbia. Leaving his troubled teenage years behind, Monteith moved in with a family friend in the city of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, and took a job as a roofer. Another friend, an acting coach, gave him free lessons. Moving to Vancouver, Monteith started auditioning for TV roles and was soon landing parts, starting in Stargate: Atlantis (2004).
As well as appearing in other popular series, such as Supernatural (2005), Smallville (2005), Stargate SG-1 (2006) and Flash Gordon (2007), on the big screen he was in two horror films, Bloody Mary (2006) and Final Destination 3 (2006), and the comedy Deck the Halls (2006). There were regular TV roles as Charlie Tanner in the first two series of the sci-fi teen drama Kyle XY (2006-07) and Gunnar, drummer in a rock band, in the short-lived MTV series Kaya (2007).
Stardom finally came with Glee, which brought Monteith a 2010 Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (shared with the cast) and parts in several films, including the role of Justin, a TV star battling with his social-activist brother, in Sisters & Brothers (2011).
Date of Birth: 30 October 1914, Hackney, East London, UK
Birth Name: Anna Eva Lydia Catherine Wing
Nicknames: Anna Wing
Anna Wing became a household name in her 70s as Albert Square's indomitable matriarch.
When Anna Wing took on her most famous role, in EastEnders in 1985, the Sun ran the headline: "Enter the dragon ... Lou Beale!" As hard as nails and as brittle as pressed flowers, Lou was one of a declining breed, a widowed East End mother whose power indoors was absolute, but whose attitude towards the outside world was one of mounting fear and alienation. She played Albert Square's indomitable matriarch for only four years but Wing became synonymous for many with her character.
The original character outline by Julia Smith and Tony Holland, creators of EastEnders, described Lou Beale thus: " the changing face of the area (especially the immigrants) is a constant source of fear to her, but then she doesn't go out much. She prefers to be at home, or on a trip down memory lane."
Wing recognised this stereotypical character since she had grown up among just such women. Born in Hackney, east London, she took along her birth certificate to the audition to prove she was the daughter of a greengrocer which was fitting since Lou and her late husband Albert had built up the Beales' business running a fruit and veg stall on Walford Market.
At the time of her audition, Wing was 71 and the show's producers worried about whether she was up to EastEnders' tough filming schedules. "All my life I've been an actress, now I want to be a household name," she told them.
She worked 70 hours a week for four years to achieve that aim, playing Lou largely from an armchair, dispensing reminiscences to the family faithful. "I can recall when there was 25 of us round this table for Sunday winkles, and separate tables out in the yard for the kiddies," she said once. She could even reflect on the menopause with her trademark combination of denial and sentiment: "I never had all that trouble. I just got on with it. In my day, we fetched ourselves by the bootstraps and carried on no matter what."
By 1988, Wing had had enough. She asked to be written out. "We had 31 million viewers and it was shown all over the world, and I suddenly thought 'Should I be in this?'... I had a crisis of conscience." So the scriptwriters obligingly killed Lou off. She returned from an outing to Leigh on Sea feeling ill and retreated to bed. After giving putative wisdom to her descendants, she said her last words: "That's you lot sorted. I can go now." At the Queen Vic after her funeral, her son Pete proposed a toast to that "bloody old bag".
Wing deserves disentangling from the legend of Lou Beale. She was several things unimaginable to her soap character, including a Quaker and CND supporter. She decided, aged 11, that she wanted to be an actor after seeing John Gielgud on stage at the Old Vic (in 1977, she appeared with her idol in Alan Resnais' film Providence).
After attending the Croydon School of Acting in south London, Wing worked extensively in repertory theatre. She also worked as a teacher and an artist's model, at tenpence an hour. "I had a very attractive body, a Renoir, and they were mad about it."
A lifelong pacifist, when war broke out in 1939 she took a nursing course and volunteered with the Red Cross. After the war, she worked both as a nursery school teacher and as a stalwart of repertory theatre, where she met her first husband, the merchant navy lieutenant and actor Peter Davey. The pair had a son, Mark, and were divorced in 1947.
In 2007, she reckoned to have appeared in at least 50 plays in 68 years, among them Early Morning in 1969 and A Man for All Seasons in 1971. During the 70s, she worked with her eldest son Mark Wing-Davey, the actor and director, in Sheffeld Crucible's production of Free for All. She also had small parts in films such as Billy Liar (1963) and an adaptation of Ibsen's A Doll's House (1973).
Between 1953 and 1960, she was the partner of the surrealist poet Philip O'Connor, whom she encouraged to write his first book, the extraordinary Memoirs of a Public Baby (1958). She once lamented that she had nothing to remember O'Connor by but a scribbled farewell note reading: "I love you, the gist of it is, I've been unfaithful. Have packed and gone." She said: "I pined for him for 15 years." She had a second son, John, with O'Connor.
Wing appeared in the ATV soap Market in Honey Lane between 1967 and 1969. The drama was set in a Cockney market, and made at Elstree studios where, 20 years later, she would film EastEnders. During this era, she also had roles in Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and Play for Today. But EastEnders was to be her big, if belated, break.
After EastEnders, she had parts in Casualty, Doctors, French and Saunders, The Bill, Silent Witness and Doctor Who. In the cinema, in 2004, she appeared opposite Orlando Bloom in The Calcium Kid and as an ancient fairy in Tooth. That year, she was made an MBE for her services to drama and charity. Perhaps her strangest incarnation was in 2012 as a nonagenerian East End gangster in a music video for the band Quarrel. She played an indomitable woman bent on purging her manor of funk music.
Date of Birth: 16 May 1941, Sierra Leone, Africa
Birth Name: David Laurie Lyon
Nicknames: David Lyon
David Lyon was a stalwart of numerous Royal Shakespeare Company productions and became a familiar face on television in series such as The Bill, Lovejoy, Taggart, Holby City and Midsomer Murders.
Though he was a popular figure at the RSC, Lyon never got to play the Dane and most audiences would be hard-pressed to name his roles. On stage they included the Earl of Westmoreland in Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V; Capulet in Romeo and Juliet; the Duke of Albany in King Lear; Thomas Mowbray in Richard II; King Philip of France in King John; Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing; Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew; and Dull in Love’s Labour’s Lost. On the small screen he ranged from bishops (The Inspector Linley Mysteries) to murderers (Midsomer Murders).
The principal exception to this rule was his role as Henry Collingridge, Margaret Thatcher’s decent but dithery successor whose position at No 10 is steadily undermined by his Machiavellian Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) in the 1990 BBC production of House of Cards.
The role was memorable not least because the first episode in the four-part series aired on November 18, four days before Mrs Thatcher stunned her Cabinet by announcing that she would resign as Prime Minister “as soon as a successor can be chosen”. Lyon uttered exactly the same lines, written some months earlier, in House of Cards two weeks later. He added, as Mrs Thatcher may also have done to her Cabinet colleagues, two-thirds of whom had told her she might not win if she stayed in the race: “I should like to take the opportunity of thanking you for your friendship and your loyalty at this time those who feel this description applies, of course.”
David Laurie Lyon was born on May 16 1941, the son of a diamond merchant, and grew up in Sierra Leone. He was educated at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, where he played scrum-half for the first XV. Forced to leave school aged 16 after his father was declared bankrupt, he worked for Royal Insurance in Glasgow, then as a flooring salesman in Birmingham. In his spare time he performed as an amateur actor with the Old Grammarians in Glasgow and the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham, and in the early 1970s studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
After making his professional debut in Manchester in 1975, he performed in repertory theatres around the country before joining the RSC in 1976. As well as supporting roles in Shakespeare, he also appeared in several modern plays, such as The Innocent, After Aida and Piaf.
In 1998 he married the actress Sandra Clark, whom he had first met at drama school when she was married to someone else. They spent their honeymoon touring with a production of Romeo and Juliet, in which they were playing Capulet and Lady Montagu.
Date of Birth: 1926, Wood Green, London, UK
Birth Name: Pat Ashton
Pat Ashton was an actor for over four decades. Probably her most important TV role was that of Annie, wife of a burglar (Bob Hoskins) who comes out of prison to find that his old friend (John Thaw) has moved in, in Thick As Thieves (1974). When Yorkshire TV declined a second series, the writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais took the idea to the BBC, where it was developed into the much-loved series Porridge.
Pat was born and raised in Wood Green, north London. During her early years, the piano was the focus of entertainment at home, with her brother Richard playing all the popular songs of the day. Her grandmother had been a trapeze artist, performing in front of the tsar in Russia, and Pat quickly became fascinated with music hall, learned to tap-dance from an early age and went on to study singing with Manlio Di Veroli.After the second world war she ran "concert parties", essentially variety shows, some of which, at the Gaumont cinema in Wood Green, featured the young Barry Took. After finding an agent, Pat performed at seaside resorts around England in summer season shows.In the early 60s, trading on her singing and dancing, she toured Europe with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in Oh! What a Lovely War.
Her early West End shows included Half a Sixpence and The Match Girls, and later she appeared in Stepping Out.
She also performed regularly at the Players' theatre in London.One of her first TV breaks was taking the role of Fanny Cornforth opposite Oliver Reed in Ken Russell's Dante's Inferno (1967), a film in the Omnibus series on the life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, this later led to a small role in Russell's 1971 film The Devils.By the 1970s other TV producers had picked up on her popular blonde, cockney persona. In fact, in 1970 she understudied Barbara Windsor in the Ned Sherrin-produced musical Sing a Rude Song, based on the life of music hall singer Marie Lloyd, and successfully took the lead role when Windsor was struck down with laryngitis.
Pat took TV roles in On the Buses (1971, and appeared in two spinoff films), Both Ends Meet (1972, with Dora Bryan), Yus My Dear (1976, with Arthur Mullard), Rooms (1977), The Benny Hill Show (1972-80), The Gaffer (1981-83, with Bill Maynard) and Tripper's Day (1984, with Leonard Rossiter).
Date of Birth: 18 September 1961, Westwood, New Jersey, US
Birth Name: James Joseph Gandolfini Jr
Nicknames: James Gandlfini
James Gandolfini was one of those rare actors who was able to portray a violent, bullying, murderous, vulgar, serial adulterer, while simultaneously eliciting sympathy and understanding from television audiences. In 86 episodes from 1999 to 2007, in HBO's hit series The Sopranos, the balding, beefy, middle-aged Gandolfini, as Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mafia boss, managed to transcend any stereotyping of Italian-Americans (although the charge was still made) by showing the flawed character's vulnerable side.While Tony Soprano does embody the close-knit Italian-American community, with its codes of masculinity, Gandolfini, who had studied the Sanford Meisner method of acting for two years, lived up to Meisner's exhortation to "find in yourself those human things which are universal". Gandolfini always claimed to be nothing like Tony Soprano: "I'm really basically just like a 260-pound Woody Allen."Gandolfini explained that he sometimes went to extremes to express Tony's anger by hitting himself on the head or staying up all night to evoke the desired reaction. "If you are tired, every single thing that somebody does makes you mad. Or I just walked around with a stone in my shoe. It's silly, but it works."Yet it was the scenes of the therapy sessions with his psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) that really humanised the character. "If you took the Melfi scenes away, you wouldn't care about this man as much, or care about anything that was happening to him," Gandolfini explained.
Like his television alter ego, Gandolfini was born, raised and educated in New Jersey. His mother was a school dinner lady, and his father a bricklayer and stonemason. Both his parents were devout Roman Catholics of Italian ancestry and spoke Italian at home. After graduating from Park Ridge high school, Gandolfini gained a BA in communication studies at Rutgers University.
After the role of one of the poker playing buddies of Stanley Kowalski (Alec Baldwin) in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway in 1992 in which he had the last line of the play, "The game is seven card stud" Gandolfini started to get roles in movies, first making an impression in Tony Scott's True Romance (1993), which understandably got him an audition for the leading part in The Sopranos. In a memorable stomach churning scene, as a ruthless hitman he beats up Patricia Arquette, only to have her whack him on the head and set him on fire.Gandolfini was then cast against type as shy guys in Mr Wonderful (1993) and Angie (1994), but returned to bad ways as an ex KGB man in Terminal Velocity (1994), as a southern-accented stunt man turned bodyguard in Get Shorty (1995), as a corrupt cop who kills himself in Sidney Lumet's Night Falls on Manhattan (1996) and a mafia man in The Juror (1996). Of the last, Roger Ebert wrote: "Gandolfini has a very tricky role, who is about as sympathetic as a man can be who would, after all, kill you. His line readings during a couple of complicated scenes are right on the money. If the movie had been pitched at the level of sophistication and complexity that his character represents, it would have been a lot better."Gandolfini portrayed all his roles admirably, but there was no inkling that he would ever be anything more than a serviceable heavy in mainly commercial thrillers for the rest of his career. It was television and Tony Soprano that gained him Emmy awards, three years running, and superstar status, which he never equalled but which sustained his active post-Sopranos life. This included In the Loop (2009), The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) and Welcome to The Rileys (2010), in all of which he attempted successfully to soften his persona.In 2007, Gandolfini produced a documentary, Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, in which he interviewed 10 injured Iraq war veterans. This was followed by Wartorn (2010), about post-traumatic stress disorder and its impact on soldiers and families through several wars in American history.
Date of Birth: 16 July 1946, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
Birth Name: Richard LeParmentier
Richard LeParmentier was an American character actor but in the 1970s moved to Britain, where he was cast as a young space station commander who is almost choked to death by Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film (1977).
Although LeParmentier appeared in more than 50 films and television series, it was the modest role of Admiral Motti, commander of the Death Star space station, who foolishly mocks Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways” and “sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion”, for which he became best known.
Darth Vader (played by David Prowse) finds Motti’s lack of faith disturbing, and starts crushing his windpipe using the “Force” (a powerful form of telepathy), choking the young commander, but allowing him to live.
Devotees of the Star Wars canon have acclaimed “a brilliantly understated piece of cinema that showcased the true power of the Dark Side while highlighting the Empire’s main weakness over-confidence”. The scene remains a favourite with fans and has even spawned an online craze known as “Vadering”.
LeParmentier’s role may have been modest but it was also crucial. It was his character’s reckless act of defiance in standing up to Darth Vader that prompted the Rebel Alliance’s strike on the Death Star.
“I did the choking effect by flexing muscles in my neck,” LeParmentier recalled. “It’s one of the most famous Star Wars scenes and it’s the most parodied one too. Eddie Izzard does a bit on it in one of his routines.”
In 1988 LeParmentier played Lieutenant Santino in the animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) a role that furnished him with the celebrated line: “Now that’s what I call one seriously disturbed toon” and found steady work as an actor on British television.
During the 1980s and 1990s he was also a television screenwriter, scripting episodes of Boon and The Bill for ITV.
Richard LeParmentier was born on July 16 1946 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but moved to Britain in 1974, settling in Bath. He appeared in the David Essex rock film Stardust (1974), and with James Caan in the futuristic Rollerball (1975). But it was a week’s work at Elstree Studios in 1976, in between playing bit parts on British television, that changed his life when he shot his scene as Motti in Star Wars.
“I thought the film was going to be a success as soon as I read the script, despite the fact people were laughing at us as we shot the thing,” LeParmentier recalled. Walter Murch, a friend of the film’s director George Lucas, explained that people thought it was laughable “because they couldn’t see the vision behind it. It was in pieces. It’s just that once you see the vision, then it all makes sense.”
For more than 30 years LeParmentier was a fixture at Star Wars conventions all over the world, often signing pictures of himself sporting his Imperial Officer uniform while being choked by Darth Vader’s “Force”. His role of Motti, although the briefest of episodes in a 40-year acting career, occupied most of his official website.
One section of the site called “Motti’s hotties” featured a series of photos of LeParmentier posing with female fans, one of whom wore a bored expression and a shirt emblazoned “porn star”. Interviewed on the site, LeParmentier said he would prefer to be known as a writer first and as Admiral Motti second. “But you can’t deny being part of [one of] the most popular and influential films of all time,” he explained.
In the 13th James Bond film Octopussy (1983), LeParmentier played an American aide.
While appearing as a reporter in Superman II (1980) he met the British actress Sarah Douglas, who was cast as the Kryptonian supervillain Ursa. They married the following year, but divorced in 1984.
Date of Birth: 31 July 1947, Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, UK
Birth Name: Richard Griffiths
Richard Griffiths was one of Britain’s most recognisable actors, deploying his girth and equally sizeable talent to great effect on television, on stage, and on the big screen.
He was memorable in a host of different genres, with a range and subtlety that belied his giant physique. A natural in Shakespeare’s comic roles, notably Falstaff, he later captured the imagination of young filmgoers with his performances as the hideous Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter series. But it was, perhaps oddly, for his portrayal of two sexual predators that he was best-loved.
As Uncle Monty in Withnail and I (1987) he erupted, cheeks lightly rouged, into the bedroom of his nephew’s terrified flatmate, declaring that “I mean to have you, boy, even if it must be burglary.” Like the film’s other stars, Paul McGann and Richard E Grant, Griffiths would have such memorable snippets of dialogue quoted at him by legions of fans for the rest of his career. (“They’re all a bit silly about it, and they quote stuff and expect me to know it. I find that very odd.”)
Almost two decades later he played Hector, an inspirational teacher who fondles his pupils while giving them lifts home on his motorcycle, in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (2004). The play was a smash hit in London, and went on to repeat the success on Broadway. Like Withnail it contained some lines that left audiences helpless with laughter (notably when one boy sighs: “I’m a Jew ... I’m small ... I’m homosexual ... and I live in Sheffield ... I’m f---ed.”) A large part of its appeal, however was what its director Nicholas Hytner called Griffiths’s “masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation”.
Griffiths was always at pains to insist that Hector is not a paedophile the boys in the play are all over 18. “I’d feed all paedophiles into a tree-shredder,” he told interviewers. “One minute with a tree shredder. Anything left the police can have.” And he was almost as intemperate with audience members who forgot to turn off their mobile phones. At least three times he interrupted the play in mid-performance, threatening to walk off.
Griffiths became so associated with gay roles that many assumed he was gay himself. “Look, I’m just acting,” he said. In fact he was married and declared a pronounced preference for women of a fuller figure. “I could never understand the attraction of Bette Davis. I always preferred Jane Russell.” Moreover, not only was he not gay, it turned out that he had started life so skinny that he required medical treatment.
Richard Griffiths was born on July 31 1947 in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire. His father, Thomas, was a steelworker who also fought for money in pubs and, like his mother, the former Jane Denmark, was deaf-mute. Only two of the couple’s five children survived: two were stillborn and one, a longed-for daughter, died days after birth. The poverty, Griffiths said later, was “Dickensian”, with the unusual twist that, as he communicated with his parents by sign language, and the family had no television or radio, Richard’s childhood home was largely silent.
He ran away frequently but always came back to his parents because “I was sort of responsible for them. From the age of four I would help with the shopping. They would sign and I would translate to the shopkeeper.” As a result, he complained, “I have a lifelong loathing of shopping.”
He was also skinny as a boy, so skinny in fact that aged eight he was given treatment on his pituitary gland. His metabolism slowed and he gained 60 per cent of his body weight within a year. He was picked on at school but, owing to his new-found heft, coupled with a temper that he retained throughout his life (“I think I get it from my father. He was a very aggressive man”), he was more than able to hold his own. “I was the biggest. I once attacked two kids because they threw an apple core at me and it hit me in the face and everyone laughed and that was what really made me angry, being laughed at. So I pursued them round the school and beat them up. I was so angry. It was the best fight I ever had.”
He left St Bede’s school at 15 and applied for “a poxy job in a warehouse” only to find himself one of 300 hopefuls; so he returned to full-time education at Stockton and Billingham College. Taken by a teacher to see his first professional theatre production at 17, when he was in the audience of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Griffiths found himself spellbound.
He applied to do a drama course at the Northern College of Music in Manchester, which did not go down well at home. “In Teesside at the time ... if you said you wanted to be an actor it meant you had to be put to death. I had to keep the acting secret from my Dad. He raged at its pooffery when he found out.”
His first major role was in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the college’s drama society. When the student playing the governor of Massachusetts fell ill, Griffiths, promoted from a minor role, found himself overawed. “But I learnt it and did it.”
Like the principal characters in Withnail and I, Griffiths’s years as an aspiring actor were hard. But he soon realised that the weight he struggled with was a theatrical asset. Early in his career he was playing the Griffin in Alice in Wonderland when the actor playing the Mock Turtle turned to him and said: “Now listen to me, lad, you are very, very useful. You’ll never be out of a job.”
In the mid-1970s Griffiths was spotted by Trevor Nunn, then the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director, and moved to live in Stratford. He rose through the roster of roles, eventually playing Bottom and Trinculo as well as Volpone and Henry VIII.
Still, it was a precarious life, and the best financial rewards came from advertising. Griffiths appeared in a series of television ads for Holsten lager, then in 1979 was asked to go to America for three days to film a series of ads for BMW. But Nunn would not give him the time off from the RSC and Griffiths lost out, a blow he never forgot. “That would have meant never having to worry about overheads again, and I could have devoted my life to interesting theatrical projects.” Instead, he would have wait until the Harry Potter films (from 2001) to achieve real financial security despite its subsequent success, Withnail and I was a flop at the box office.
Griffiths appeared in many other films, from Gandhi (1982) to Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991), and also became well known to viewers of Pie in the Sky as Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe, a food-loving policeman who longs to retire from the force and set up his own restaurant. The light-hearted drama ran for five series on BBC1 from 1994.
Despite his success, Griffiths was not averse to moaning about the lot of the actor. It was a trait, he admitted, that drove his wife, Heather Gibson, an Irish actress whom he met in 1973 in a production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, “nuts”.
His most enduring concern, however, was with his size. His bountiful proportions may have come in useful in securing work, but there were complications elsewhere. Armrests on seats were a particular bugbear. And while he felt that the business of moving about and acting provided some sort of veil to his shape, posing for still photographs left him uncomfortably exposed. “I don’t like the way I look so I don’t like being photographed. I become defensive.” Being asked to appear naked, as his co-stars were in a production of Equus (2007), was never an issue. “Thank goodness it’s not me being naked. I wouldn’t inflict my naked body on any paying audience.”
“Everybody my age should be issued with a 2lb fresh salmon,” he told an interviewer before the play opened. “If you see someone young, beautiful and happy, you should slap them as hard as you can with it. When they ask, 'Why did you do that?’, you say, 'Because, you lucky young bastard, you don’t know how fortunate you are.’ And they don’t...”
Date of Birth: 7 June, 1942, East sussex, UK
Birth Name: Patricia Bysshe Shelley
Nicknames: Pat Derby
Pat Derby was an Englishwoman who became an expert handler for some of the biggest animal celebrities on screen, from Lassie to Flipper; after a career working for Walt Disney, among others, she rebelled against what she called the “horrifying” cruelty of the industry.
As well as the famous collies on Lassie and dolphins on Flipper, Pat Derby worked with large American black bears for the series Gentle Ben and in 1975 handled a cougar for a car advertisement in which a skimpily-clad Farrah Fawcett was required to cosy up to the big cat.
Unlike many trainers of the period, her methods centred around “positive reinforcement”, rather than physical coercion. The advertisement, for example, ended on a shot of the snarling cougar perched above a billboard bearing the company logo. “I got him to twitch his tail by tickling it from behind the sign,” she later recalled.
Yet Pat Derby eventually became alarmed by the “dark side” of the Hollywood animal industry. “I went into that occupation with the feeling that if people earn their living off animals, they must love them a lot,” she said. “But it was really horrifying to me when I saw how even little dogs who worked on films had to live.” She once walked out on Disney while filming Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour after a bear cub was forced to endure hours of retakes under hot studio lights.
In 1976 she published The Lady and Her Tiger, which served both as an autobiography and an exposé of the inhumane handling techniques practised by some of her colleagues. The book won an American Library Association Award, but it also put an end to her career in show business.
Finding herself persona non grata, Derby became a campaigner and, in 1984, co-founded the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) with her partner Ed Stewart. After acquiring 30 acres of land in Galt, outside Sacramento in California, they populated it with four-legged refugees from cruel owners and the entertainment world.
Among its first inhabitants were a jaguar, several lions and bears, as well as an African elephant, known as No 71, rescued from an estate in Florida. As the couple achieved public notice with their campaigns against cruelty in the circus industry, numbers at the sanctuary expanded. “It was like Noah’s Ark,” Stewart recalled. “They just kept coming.” Today, PAWS has three Californian sanctuaries, including the 2,300-acre ARK 2000 in San Andreas.
The second of two children, Patricia Bysshe Shelley was born on June 7 1942 in East Sussex. Her father, who claimed the great Romantic poet as an ancestor, died when Pat was 12. She left formal education three years later, moving to New York on her own to try her luck as a dancer and actress. She enrolled at Columbia University but subsequently dropped out and moved to the West Coast, where she found a job at a nightclub in San Francisco.
There, in 1964, she met Ted Derby, a fellow performer who was also an animal trainer. They married and together set up a roadside zoo, also using the animals in film and television. When the marriage broke down in the mid-1970s, however, the couple were forced to divide up their menagerie.
It was while filming the car commercial for the Mercury-Lincoln Cougar that she met Stewart, then employed in advertising for the car company. The pair relocated to California and set up their first animal sanctuary, at Howling Wolf Lodge in Leggett. During this period Stewart became a vocal advocate for animal rights, making his influence felt at the California State Legislature and the Department of Fish and Game. Six years later PAWS was established at Galt to raise awareness of cruelty in the entertainment industry, to ensure high standards of care for animals bred in captivity, and to create a safe environment for the shelter of rescued or retired wildlife.
Their first legislative success came the following year. Pat Derby soon rose to prominence as a spokesperson for animal welfare, appearing on such shows as Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, Animal Planet, The Today Show and CBS Evening News. Working alongside Stewart, she pioneered a “non-dominance” technique in the safe handling of elephants, and served with several state committees, advising on elephant welfare. Throughout her life, she remained acutely conscious of the inherent shortcomings of raising wild animals in captivity: “You can never replace the wild. You can only make the prison as comfortable as possible.”
Work on the ARK 2000 began in May 2002. It is now the only sanctuary in America to house bull elephants. In 2012 Pat Derby and Stewart received the Lily Award, presented by the Voice For the Animals Foundation, “for their extraordinary and heroic work”. An elephant at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya has been named “Pat Derby” in her honour.