Date of Birth: 2 August 1939, Cleveland, Ohio, US
Birth Name: Wesley Earl Craven
Nicknames: Wes Craven
Wes Craven, the film director, who made his living out of scaring the wits out of people in such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), earning the nickname “Sultan of Slash”; later, as audiences became cynical about the franchise-driven genre, he served up horror with an ironic tongue in cheek.
Craven’s work left the critics divided. Some reviewers denounced him as a purveyor of gore with a dazzling technique and nothing to say; others compared him to Ingmar Bergman.
Craven himself recalled, during his early career, that guests would leave dinner parties upon realising who he was. But he always had fans among younger directors who appreciated the intelligence and psychological insight he brought to low-budget film making.
He created some of the most memorable bogeymen in film, culminating, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, in the blade-taloned Freddy Krueger, a murdered child molester in a moth-eaten sweater and filthy fedora who is brought back to life via the dreams of the teenage descendants of his killers.
Made at a time when Aids was coming to public attention and the prospect of environmental Armageddon had become a topic in classrooms, the film seemed to tap into deep-seated fears.
Craven, who had a master’s degree in philosophy, became a prominent defender of the horror genre which, he argued, gives people the mental equipment to deal with a frightening world. “You’re talking about the beasts in the forest that come after you during the daytime or during the night but in a way that’s under control. So in a sense, you can own the beast,” he explained.
His films were often inspired by true stories. Nightmare was inspired by reports in the Los Angeles Times about a group of refugees who had fled the Khmer Rouge, healthy young men in their twenties, who, after fleeing to the United States, were suffering disturbing nightmares, after which they refused to sleep. “They would try to stay awake, and they would describe the nightmares to their families,” Craven recalled. “Finally there would be a scream and the guy would be dead. Death by nightmare.”
The resulting film established Craven as a leading director . His producers established a franchise and went on to make several more Freddy Krueger films of varying quality, without Craven’s input, until 1995 when he released Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
By this time, as he recalled, “horror had reached one of its sort of classical, cyclical stages of ennui on the part of the audience”. So Craven decided to poke fun at the genre. New Nightmare had the actors, studio head and Craven himself being stalked by Freddy Krueger as they worked on a new instalment of the series.
Craven subverted the horror genre again with Scream (1996), the tale of a high-school student who becomes the target of a mysterious killer known as Ghostface. Full of ironic self-reference (“This is like something out of a Wes Carpenter film,” one character observes), the film was a box office hit, taking $173 million worldwide, spawning a lucrative franchise and inspiring the “Scary Movie” parodies.
Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 2 1939 to strict Baptist parents. Even though he was forbidden from going to the cinema, he claimed that his religious upbringing had shaped his talent as a film maker, encouraging him to “ask big questions about life and death”.
The character of Freddy Krueger, however, drew on an event in his own childhood when, one night, he heard a shuffling sound outside his bedroom window: “I crept over there and looked down. It was a man wearing a fedora.
“He stopped and looked up directly into my face. I backed into the shadows, listening and waiting for him to go away. But I didn’t hear anything. I went back to the window. He looked up at me again and then turned away. He walked into the door of our apartment building. I’ve never, ever been that scared in my life. I was terrified.”
Craven studied English and Psychology at Wheaton College, Illinois . He later earned a master’s in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University, but it was while he was working as a humanities professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York state, that he first went to the cinema and fell in love. In 1971 he left his teaching job to work as a film editor at a post-production house in Manhattan.
After writing and directing pornographic films under pseudonyms, Craven made his debut under his own name in 1972 with the ultra-low-budget ($90,000) shocker The Last House on the Left, about a gang of psychotic killers who rape, torture and murder two teenage girls, only to meet a more horrific fate at the hands of the girls’ parents.
Marketed under the slogan, “To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie . . . only a movie . . .” the film was a grisly remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning Virgin Spring (1959) featuring sickeningly real scenes of sadism and violence. Released mostly on drive-in screens in America, the film was banned by the censors in Britain, though it has come to be seen as a classic .
His follow-up, The Hills Have Eyes, about cannibalistic mutants stalking a suburban family who have become stranded in the desert, established his reputation as a cult director, but it was A Nightmare on Elm Street that propelled him into the mainstream.
Craven’s other films included Deadly Friend (1986); The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988); Shocker (1990); The People Under the Stairs (1991); Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and Red Eye (2005). In 1999 he made a rare foray outside the horror genre with Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar. His last film, in 2011, was the fourth in the Scream franchise. People were sometimes surprised to learn that Craven was not, in his words, “a Mansonite crazoid”, but a charming, humorous man whose hobby was bird-watching. When asked by an interviewer to name the thing that most terrified him, he replied “my ex-wife’s divorce lawyer”.
Date of Birth: 10 April 1932, Alexandria, Egypt
Birth Name: Michel Demitri Chalhoub
Nicknames: Omar Sharif
Omar was introduced to the international screen in one of the most dramatic star entrances of film history. This was the scene in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in which Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) first makes contact with the Arab chieftain Sherif Ali (Sharif), who will become his key ally in the desert fighting, and the latter, in a daringly protracted sequence, develops from a speck on the horizon into a towering, huge horseman, rifle at the ready.
Sharif was instantly elevated by this debut into a major box-office figure, and went on to star in a succession of big-budget films during the 1960s, most notably the contrasting blockbuster hits Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968), as perhaps the last of the “exotic” Hollywood heartthrobs in line of descent from Rudolph Valentino.
This situation, however, proved comparatively short-lived. Almost like the protagonist of a Victorian novel, Sharif was overtaken by his own success, to the extent that in order to service the debts incurred by gambling and a playboy lifestyle, he was thrown back on accepting any work that came his way, and entered a downward spiral into trivial and meretricious movies.
He was born Michel Chalhoub in Alexandria, the son of well-to-do Lebanese-Syrian Christians, Claire (nee Saada) and Joseph Chalhoub, and educated at a private school and at Cairo University. He worked briefly and reluctantly in his father’s lumber business but fell for the lure of acting, and was delighted when a friend, the director Youssef Chahine, offered him a role in the film Struggle in the Valley (1954). The female star was Faten Hamama, who was greatly taken by her leading man and in the same year became his wife, Sharif converting to Islam in the process. The marriage lasted for 20 years and the couple had a son, Tarek, who was to make a brief appearance in Doctor Zhivago in the guise of Yuri Zhivago’s childhood self.
Sharif became established as a principal figure in Egyptian cinema and also starred in the French-backed Goha (1958), which afforded him wider recognition, if only in the arthouses.
But it was his selection by the producer Sam Spiegel and the director David Leanto play Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia that proved the turning point in his career. As he later observed: “Maybe if I hadn’t made Lawrence, I would have gone on living in Cairo and had five children and lots of grandchildren.” He blamed the eventual failure of his marriage on the simple fact of his constant absences in Europe and the US.
The role of Sherif Ali was pivotal in the film’s dramatic scheme, and Sharif’s swarthy, romantic aura was played off to great effect against the blue-eyed blondness of O’Toole’s Lawrence. The two became close friends while making the film. Sharif’s performance won him Golden Globe awards as best supporting actor and most promising newcomer, as well as an Academy Award nomination, though he ruefully recalled that he had signed a contract with the studio that netted him only £8,000 for this and several subsequent appearances.
Fluent in English and French, he worked steadily for the next few years, though as an all-purpose “foreigner”, mainstream cinema never having been especially concerned about precise ethnicity. Thus he played a Spanish priest in Behold a Pale Horse (1964), the title role in a comic-strip historical extravaganza, Genghis Khan (1965), a Yugoslav partisan in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), and even, a little later, a Nazi officer, complete with blond-streaked hair, in The Night of the Generals (1967).
But it was as the Russian hero of Lean’s Doctor Zhivago that he achieved his best-remembered screen role, a brooding, magnetic presence, even if some critics felt that the performance, like the whole film, manifested a degree of shallowness.
There was no doubt about his box-office stature, though, and it was revealing that the film version of the musical Funny Girl, which in the theatre had been an unabashed vehicle for Barbra Streisand, was marketed on the basis of her co-starring with Sharif. As the shady gambler Nicky Arnstein, by whom Fanny Brice (Streisand) was enslaved, Sharif was the essence of the homme fatal, and even weighed in with a couple of song numbers. There were rumours at the time that the stars’ relationship had blossomed off-screen too, a notion that was ill received in Sharif’s native land in the light of Streisand’s pro-Israeli sympathies.
Sharif later admitted that he had briefly imagined himself in love with Streisand, and also recalled being smitten by Ava Gardner, his co-star in Mayerling (1968), in which he brought a suitable intensity to the doomed Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, and Gardner, with some incongruity, played his mother.
Mayerling was hardly a distinguished film, but was considerably superior to some others in which Sharif went on to appear, not least Che! (1969), a dully temporising Hollywood account of the life of Che Guevara, in which at one point Sharif’s Guevara is confronted by Jack Palance’s Fidel Castro with the mumbled expostulation: “Che, sometimes I just don’t understand you.”
The Last Valley (1971) and The Horsemen (1971) were poorly rated would-be spectacles. It seems significant that in the French-made thriller The Burglars (1971), Sharif was cast opposite a contemporary European box-office favourite, Jean-Paul Belmondo, but in the guise of a stereotypical scheming villain, who ends up smothered by Belmondo in a deserted silo under tons of grain, an intimation of the fate that was to befall him professionally as he appeared in increasingly obscure productions.
But there were still one or two brighter spots to come. In 1975 he reprised the role of Arnstein in the Funny Girl sequel, Funny Lady, and the previous year gave one of his most effective, because downplayed, performances, as the captain of a stricken cruise liner in Juggernaut. Of his playing in this film, the American critic Pauline Kael percipiently remarked: “He is not allowed to smile the famous smile, or even to look soulfully lovesick. He is kept rather grim.”
At this time, Sharif was perhaps more readily associated with the game of bridge than with acting. Though he took it up in adult life, he developed into a world-class player. In addition to competing in international tournaments, he wrote a syndicated column on the subject for several years for the Chicago Tribune, was the author of several books on bridge, and licensed his name to a bridge computer game.
He was also an inveterate high-stakes gambler, a regular at the casinos of Paris and elsewhere, and at the racetrack in Deauville. He maintained that claims of his philandering were ill-founded, but his lifestyle certainly encompassed heavy drinking and smoking more than 50 cigarettes a day, at least until he underwent heart bypass surgery in 1993. And the cost was high in financial terms as well.
Professionally, he drifted from one minor role to the next in a run of TV movies and mini-series, often costume dramas of one kind or another, and mostly of the sort only liable to be found at off-peak hours on the more obscure channels. He candidly told a journalist in 2003 that “for 25 years I have been making rubbish movies”.
There were, moreover, some unedifying moments in his private life. In 2003, he headbutted a policeman in a Paris casino rumpus and was subsequently fined and given a suspended jail term, tactlessly telling the press that to assault a cop was “the dream of every Frenchman”. Two years later, he slugged a parking attendant at a Beverly Hills restaurant. He was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution.
But at least he had returned into the realms of serious acting by taking the leading role in the 2003 French movie Monsieur Ibrahim, in which his characterisation of an elderly Turkish Muslim shopkeeper secured him a best actor César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar.
In 2006 he declared that he had abandoned gambling and even bridge in favour of family life, and described himself as semi-retired from the screen.
In the previous year he had been the recipient of a Unesco medal for contributions to world cinema and cultural diversity. Lawrence and Zhivago might by then have seemed a long way in the past, but despite or possibly even because of the intervening vicissitudes of his life, Sharif’s reputation remained undimmed.
Date of Birth: 6 February 1922, Paddington, London, UK
Birth Name: Daniel Patrick Macnee
Nicknames: Patrick Macnee
Patrick Macnee was cast to perfection as the imperturbable secret agent John Steed in the 1960s television series The Avengers, he brought etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity to the part.
The programme began as unremarkable detective fare, with the raincoated Macnee playing second fiddle to Ian Hendry’s forensic surgeon. When Hendry left after the first season, Steed was pushed to the fore and Macnee threatened with the sack unless he breathed life into the character. Steed re-emerged as a lethal dandy, sporting boutonnière, sword-cane and curly-brimmed bowler. He was indubitably a gentleman and Macnee imbued the part with plenty of his own Etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity.The Avengers became an unlikely farrago of Aleister Crowley and P G Wodehouse, a mix of the surreal and the camp set in an England of village greens and stately homes that concealed murderous marriage bureaus, sinister vicars and scientists over-boiling the white heat of technology. Produced with considerable visual flair, it became synonymous with the “Swinging Sixties” and was one of the first British programmes to do well in America.
Much of its success and enduring appeal lay in its ironic subversion of the conventions of the spy genre. Steed was not averse to fisticuffs, but he had none of Bond’s sadism and he eschewed guns Macnee had experienced too much real violence during the Second World War. The programme was also novel in the status given to Steed’s female partners notably Honor Blackman as the steely Cathy Gale and Diana Rigg as the coolly kittenish Emma Peel. Brought up by women, Macnee was willing to let Steed’s leather-clad partners demonstrate their mental and physical equality. He also thrived on the playful sexual tension between the characters.
The Avengers ran between 1960 and 1969; a lame sequel made in the mid-1970s, The New Avengers, also featured Macnee, but only served to show how charming and how definitive had been his performance the first time round.
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born in London on February 6 1922. His mother, a niece of the 13th Earl of Huntingdon and a rather giddy socialite, went into labour at a party and Macnee never discovered from her whether she reached hospital or if he was born in a carriage half-way down the Bayswater Road.
The rest of his childhood was no less confused. His father was a racehorse trainer, a diminutive man known as “Shrimp” Macnee whose dapper wardrobe his son later recreated for Steed. He had a taste for gin and enlivened his dinner parties by levelling a shotgun at those guests he suspected of pacifist tendencies.
Macnee’s mother took refuge in a circle of friends that included Tallulah Bankhead and the madam Mrs Meyrick, before absconding with a wealthy lesbian, Evelyn. Young Patrick was brought up by the pair and was instructed to call Evelyn “Uncle”. He managed to resist their efforts to dress him as a girl, wearing a kilt as a compromise. His father fled to India, from where he was later expelled for urinating off a balcony on to the heads of the Raj’s elite, gathered below for a race-meeting.
Evelyn financed Macnee’s education, at Summer Fields where he first acted, playing opposite Christopher Lee and then Eton. His corruption began when he was introduced to whisky by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, who had escaped into the garden with a bottle when brought in to consecrate Evelyn’s private chapel. Macnee was then expelled from Eton for running a pornography and bookmaking empire.
He trained as an actor at the Webber-Douglas school and began to get some repertory work. Cast more for his looks than talent, he was due to play his first West End lead opposite Vivien Leigh when he received his call-up papers in 1942. He served in Motor Torpedo Boats until 1946, rising to lieutenant. He caught bronchitis shortly before D-Day; while in hospital his boat and crew were destroyed in action.
Macnee made his film debut in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in 1943, and after the war landed several other small parts, appearing as a courtier in Olivier’s Hamlet and The Elusive Pimpernel. The latter starred David Niven, whom he mistakenly claimed as a cousin and who consequently found him work. Yet by now he had a family to support, and when promised better roles by the embryonic Canadian Broadcasting Corporation moved to Toronto, while his wife and children remained behind. It was a decision he later bitterly regretted.
For the next eight years Macnee drifted across North America. His breezily crisp accent brought him regular stage and television work, though he also played a sheriff in the Western series Rawhide. He continued to attract the bizarre. Once he rescued some chimpanzees from a fire at an animal trainer’s ranch; while driving them to safety, one monkey clamped its hands over his eyes, almost causing his car to plunge into a ravine. In Toronto itself for The Importance of Being Earnest, he was forced by Dame Edith Evans to strap her to a stretcher and drag her through snow 10 feet deep to her hotel.
In 1960 he returned to England, his marriage over. He decided he was too old not to have a proper job, a conclusion reached when he came home to find he had been replaced in the affections of a much younger girlfriend by a French thief and his team of huskies.
He was producing a television documentary series based on Churchill’s history of the war, The Valiant Years, when he was cast in The Avengers, having literally bumped into the producer in Piccadilly. Although he was a more competent actor than he gave himself credit for, he was content in later years to stroll through a series of unmemorable roles. He believed he might have been offered better parts had he not rejected the lead in Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth when offered it in 1970. He later played the part on Broadway.
Among his less forgettable film appearances were as a record producer in the seminal rock spoof This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and as Bond’s chauffeur in A View To A Kill (1985). He retired to Palm Springs, California, and cheerfully took well-paid cameo roles in American television series, among them the sublimely dreadful Thunder In Paradise, a vehicle for the wrestler Hulk Hogan. In 1996 he appeared in a video for the rock group Oasis.
Macnee made considerable efforts to escape the constraints of his own character and Establishment image. He felt strongly that he had been socially and sexually confused by his upbringing and schooling and found America a less repressed environment; he became an active member of a nudist colony in the mid-1970s.
Although he remained outwardly chirpy and chivalrous, he was prone to depression and guilt, particularly over his infidelities and the severe asthmatic illness of his daughter, which he saw as a punishment for deserting his family for Canada. He also fought lengthy, and ultimately successful, battles against alcohol and mounting weight.
He published a candid autobiography, Blind In One Ear, in 1988.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1922, Belgravia, London, UK
Birth Name: Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
Nicknames: Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Lee defined the macabre for a generation of horror film enthusiasts with his chilling portrayals of Count Dracula; in a career that spanned more than half a century Lee played the sinister vampire no fewer than nine times in productions including Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
With his saturnine glamour and striking physique at a gaunt 6ft 4in he was a dominating physical presence with an aristocratic bearing, dark, penetrating eyes and a distinctive sepulchral voice Lee was an ideal candidate to play the bloodsucking Count. “Dracula is a very attractive character,” he insisted, “he’s so heroic erotic too. Women find him irresistible. We’d all like to be him.”
After almost 20 years of playing Dracula, Lee eventually tired of the role. He moved to the United States where he enjoyed a lucrative career in both films and made-for-television mini-series such as The Far Pavilions and Shaka Zulu. While in America, Lee resisted all offers of parts in soap operas including Dallas and Dynasty.
After decades in the film industry, Lee remained as eager as ever to take on new roles. At one point in his early seventies he appeared in 12 different films within 14 months. “I get restless and frustrated if I don’t work,” he explained. “I like a continual challenge.” In his eighties he gained a new audience, bringing sulphurous intensity to the role of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings films.
Lee’s one regret, he maintained, was his decision not to become an opera singer. “I was born with the gift of a very good voice,” he said, “and I have been asked to sing in various concerts but I’m too old now.” Late in life, however, he was persuaded to lend his rich bass tones as a narrator to various heavy metal records including those of the symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire. In 2010 he released an album of his own, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, followed two years later by Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27 1922 in Belgravia, London, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope-Lee of the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Lee’s father had fought in both the Boer and Great Wars and had later married an Italian contessa, Estelle Maria Carandini, a descendant of the Borgias whose parents had founded the first Australian opera company. Among Lee’s stories of his early life he claimed that his father was descended from a band of gypsies in Hampshire and that his mother was descended from Charlemagne.
Christopher’s parents were divorced when he was four and his mother remarried. Lee grew up in his stepfather’s house, where he was waited on by a staff of five (a butler, two footmen, a chauffeur and a cook). He attended Wagner’s in Queensgate and Summerfields, and sat for a scholarship to Eton before being sent to the more affordable Wellington College where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar.
Fluent in Italian and French, in later life Lee added Spanish, German, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Greek to his repertoire. When his alcoholic stepfather was bankrupted in 1938 Christopher was forced to leave school at 17 in order to find work. For the next 12 months he worked as a city messenger, licking stamps and making tea for a wage of £1 a week.
When the Second World War broke out, Lee joined the RAF and was promoted to flight lieutenant. He won six campaign medals, was mentioned in despatches and received decorations from Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. He also worked for British Intelligence. “Serving in the Armed Forces was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he insisted. “I did not know how other people lived.”
After the war, Lee served with the Central Registry of War Crimes, work that took him to concentration camps including Dachau, but when he was demobbed at the age of 24, he remained undecided about which career to pursue. He toyed with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, opera singer and diplomat before his cousin (at that time the Italian ambassador to the Court of St James) suggested he try acting.
Greatly against his mother’s wishes (“Just think of all the appalling people you’ll meet!” she warned him) Lee met the Italian head of Two Cities Films, part of the J Arthur Rank Organisation, signed a seven-year contract, and joined the Rank Company of Youth (otherwise known as the Rank Charm School) in 1946. He made his film debut with a bit part in Corridor of Mirrors (1948).
A succession of “walk-on” parts ensued until, in 1951, he appeared in a speaking part as a swarthy Spanish sea captain in Captain Horatio Hornblower RN. It was one of Lee’s last films for Two Cities and when his contract ran out neither he nor the Rank Organisation were eager to renew it. Instead Lee accepted roles in a television series made in Britain but shown first in America Douglas Fairbanks Presents, appearing in some 40 half-hour productions.
After a series of military film roles in the mid-1950s, including a lieutenant in Innocents in Paris (1953), a submarine commander in The Cockleshell Heroes and a captain in That Lady (both 1955), Lee landed his first horror role for Hammer Films. He played the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), a part which required him to be coated in artificial gangrene and which left him looking, in his opinion, “like a road accident”.
Described as “the first gothic horror film made by Hammer”, The Curse of Frankenstein was graphic in its depiction of large quantities of gore. The film was extremely popular and Lee, playing opposite the studio’s resident star Peter Cushing, was enormously successful as the monster. Realising that a film about Bram Stoker’s vampiric Transylvanian nobleman might prove equally successful, a Hammer executive, James Carreras, offered Lee the role of the Count in their next production, Dracula.
The film proved to be one of the seminal horror movies of the 1950s. Lee looked the part (tall and thin, as in Stoker’s novel) and imbued the character with a dynamic, feral quality that had been lacking in earlier portrayals. With his bloody fangs and bright red eyes ablaze, Lee made a frighteningly believable vampire. In contrast with Bela Lugosi’s eerie, somnambulistic count of the 1930s, Lee spoke his lines with crisp assurance and tried to portray what he described as “the essence of nobility, ferocity and sadness”.
With Cushing cast this time as the vampire hunter, Dracula (retitled Horror of Dracula in America) was a box-office success for Hammer and horror aficionados at the time labelled it “the greatest horror movie ever made”. Lee also regarded it as the best of the series of Dracula films which he made with Hammer. “It’s the only one I’ve done that’s any good,” he recalled. “It’s the only one that remotely resembles the book.”
With the success of his portrayal of the Count, Lee treated himself to a grey, second-hand Mercedes and became established as a horror star for the first time. He was swamped with offers of film roles and took leading parts in several films throughout the late 1950s.
In productions such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy (all 1959), Lee played characters ranging from Sir Henry Baskerville to a 2,000-year-old corpse. He later claimed that the make-up for The Mummy was so uncomfortable that he swore never to submit to special effects again. The exceptions were the essential red contact lenses for his appearances as Dracula. Lee found the lenses excruciatingly painful but, as he had worn them in the first film, continuity demanded that he wear them in all subsequent productions.
Lee continued to be in demand throughout the 1950s and 1960s, starring in more than 20 films in only six years. Although he accepted some unlikely projects (including The Terror of the Tongs and The Devil’s Daffodil, both in 1961), he was also able to make films in which he had a personal interest. He had long wanted to play the Chinese arch-villain Fu Manchu and in 1965 he was offered the title role in The Face of Fu Manchu. The film was so popular that a series of four more were filmed, including Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1968). After roles in horror films such as Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors and The Skull (both 1965), Lee returned to his earlier incarnation in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
He was less happy with this second film. He had become too expensive a star for the Hammer studios, and in a cost-cutting measure his scenes were kept to a minimum and remained devoid of dialogue. Lee was reduced to making a soft hissing noise which drew laughter from audiences when the film was screened. He enjoyed more success with the lead in Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966). Although the film was badly flawed, Lee was convincing in the title role.
After The Devil Rides Out (1968), a suspenseful adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel with Lee as an aristocrat in pursuit of devil-worshippers, he returned to the role of Dracula in Dracula has Risen from the Grave, on the understanding that he would have well-scripted dialogue. The film made more money than previous Hammer productions and Lee was persuaded to appear in the 1970 project, Scars of Dracula. But he had by this time become disenchanted with the role. He feared he was being typecast and that the quality of scriptwriting had deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
Nevertheless Hammer were eager to continue with Lee as their horror star and persuaded him to make two more Dracula films that year. After rapidly completing Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Magic Christian, Lee devoted himself to non-vampire roles for a period.
Later in 1970 he played Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (“so commandingly good,” reported The Sunday Telegraph, “that this must surely be the end of shabby Draculas for him”) and followed it with a tiny appearance as Artemidorus in Julius Caesar in 1971. After four more Dracula films, including a modern interpretation titled Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula the year after, Lee was increasingly unhappy with the manner in which the character was being portrayed. “It’s ridiculous,” he complained, “you can’t have Dracula in a modern office block, it completely undermines the original idea.”
Taking another break from the Count, Lee appeared in one of his favourite films, The Wicker Man (1973), playing a Scots laird who practises human sacrifice in the 20th century. He then went on to play the evil one-eyed Comte de Rochefort in both The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) before appearing in his first Bond film as the assassin Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (also 1974). Lee was finally persuaded to make one more Dracula-style film in the 1970s, Dracula Père et Fils (1976), before giving up the role for good.
Despite his physical likeness to the Count, Lee’s affinity with his baleful character stopped there. Throughout his career he had a reputation for being a long-winded raconteur whose reminiscences tended to focus on himself. In 1976, when Lee left Britain for the US, the move prompted an acquaintance to joke that “the population of Los Angeles were dusting out their bomb shelters in anticipation of a barrage of anecdotes”. According to another account, on one occasion an actress got off an aircraft looking ashen and exhausted. Questioned about her health by airport staff, she explained that she had been seated next to Lee and that he had not stopped talking about himself during the 10-hour flight.
Through the late 1970s, Lee continued to make films at a prodigious rate, appearing in 10 in two years. He accepted roles as diverse as Captain Rameses in the science fiction film Starship Invasions (1977) and that of the head gypsy in the Second World War drama The Passage (1979).
In the 1980s, Lee combined his film career with a return to television, appearing in mini-series including Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982) and The Far Pavilions (1984). In 1985 he suffered a heart attack, returned to London and underwent heart surgery. Instead of seeing this as a signal to retire, Lee was back at work within a year and had returned to the horror genre for the dreadful The Howling II (1986), subtitled Your Sister is a Werewolf in America.
Although Lee continued to work prolifically throughout his life, he never again enjoyed the same success as when playing Dracula. He made some fatuous comedies in the mid-1980s such as Rosebud Beach Hotel (1985) and Jocks (1986), and continued into the 1990s with a starring role in the spoof horror film Gremlins II The New Batch.
He starred in the title role of Jinnah soon after the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan in 1997, and was Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002). He returned to the same role in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and was the wizard Saruman in two of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films (2001-2002), in two of his Hobbit series (2012-14) and in various video games.
With Uma Thurman, Lee was due to appear as a retired surgeon in The 11th, a film about the lead-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, to be shot this autumn.
Reflecting near the end of his life about the role of Dracula, Lee said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about me in that role. It had never been played properly before that. With me it was all about the power of suggestion to make the unbelievable believable.”
He published two volumes of autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1977) reissued as Lord of Misrule (1997) and was appointed CBE in 2001. He was knighted in 2009 and made a fellow of Bafta in 2011.
Date of Birth: 26 March 1931, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Birth Name: Leonard Simon Nimoy
Nicknames: Leonard Nimoy
Few actors outside soap opera become defined by a single role to the exclusion of all else in their career. But that was the case for Leonard Nimoy, who has died aged 83. He did not simply play Mr Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek he was synonymous with him, even after taking on other parts and branching out into directing and photography.
Star Trek began life on television, running for three series between 1966 and 1969, and later spawned numerous spin-offs, including a run of films of varying quality, two of which (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from 1984, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from 1986) Nimoy directed. “I’m very proud of having been connected with the show,” he wrote in 1975. “I felt that it dealt with morality and philosophical questions in a way that many of us would wish were part of the reality of our lives.”
In front of the camera, as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock, he captured with delicious wit the tensions in the character. Spock’s logical, detached perspective could be infuriating to his more demonstrative colleagues; it also caused him to be amused or bewildered by the workings of humans. This could play out humorously or poignantly. He was uniquely placed, for example, to analyse coolly our emotional shortcomings: “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want,” he mused in the first series. His dry rapport with the more passionate, full-blooded Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) was a pleasure that endured long after the Star Trek brand itself showed signs of having been around the galaxy a few too many times.
Once seen, Spock was never forgotten. The hair, boot-polish black, was snipped short with a severe, straight fringe; it looked more like headgear than a haircut, more painted on than grown. An inch of forehead separated that fringe from a pair of sabre-like eyebrows that arched extravagantly upwards. These came in handy for conveying what the reserved Spock could not always express verbally. “The first thing I learned was that a raised eyebrow can be very effective,” said Nimoy.
Spock’s defining physical feature, though, was his pointed ears. The actor’s first reaction upon seeing them was: “If this doesn’t work, it could be a bad joke.” Sharply tapered but in no way pixieish, the ears somehow never undermined his gravitas. Or rather, Nimoy’s sober disposition precluded laughter. Besides, in a show suffused with messages of inclusivity and tolerance, it would never do for audiences to laugh at someone just because he came from Vulcan.
Nimoy contributed key details to the character, including the traditional Vulcan greeting: a hand held up and the four fingers parted to create a V. This was inspired by prayer gestures witnessed by the young Nimoy at synagogue.
He would later title his 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock. “I was trying to illuminate the actor’s process in creating a character. I talked about the fact that I grew up in Boston and Spock did not. My parents were Russian immigrants; Spock’s were not. I’m an actor who portrays this character.” He conceded, though, that the title had been a mistake and had given the erroneous impression that he was trying to shrug off his best-known role. He made amends by calling the 1995 follow-up I Am Spock.
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Max, a barber, and Dora, and showed an interest in acting from a young age (though his father tried to persuade him to take up the accordion instead). He studied drama at Boston College and began to get small parts in theatre, film and television. At 20 he was cast in the lead role of a young boxer in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni, and discovered a kind of sanctuary in the prosthetics he was required to wear. “I found a home behind that makeup,” he wrote in I Am Not Spock. “I was much more confident and comfortable than I would have been, had I been told I was to play ‘a handsome young man’.”
Nimoy did military service from 1953 to 1955, during which time one of his duties was producing army talent shows. He continued acting after leaving the army and in the early 1960s began teaching acting classes, while also starring in guest roles on television series including Bonanza, Rawhide and The Twilight Zone. He established his own acting studio where he taught for three years.
Nimoy auditioned for an earlier Gene Roddenberry project, and when Roddenberry created Star Trek he thought of him for the role of Spock. “I thought it would be a challenge,” Nimoy said. “As an actor, my training had been in how to use my emotions, and here was a character who had them all locked up.”
After 79 episodes across three series, the NBC network cancelled the show because of its low ratings. Nimoy went straight into another regular gig a role on the light-hearted spy series Mission: Impossible and then began studying photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He would later publish photographic studies including Shekhina (2002), a celebration of spirituality and sexuality in Judaism, and The Full Body Project (2007), focused on unorthodox female body sizes.
His acting work in the 1970s included a chilling performance in Philip Kaufman’s intelligent 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1979, he returned to play Spock in the rather leaden Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He would do so in a further seven Star Trek films. Among them were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He was the only original cast member to appear in JJ Abrams’s instalments of the revived or “rebooted” franchise, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). His appearance in the first of those Abrams films, as the older Spock coming face to face with his younger self (Zachary Quinto), was deeply affecting and played with characteristic restraint. He also revived Spock in two 1991 episodes (“Unification I” and “Unification II”) of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in animated and computer-game incarnations of Star Trek.
If Nimoy never escaped association with Spock, it was not for want of trying. He wrote seven poetry collections, released several albums and established himself as a successful and varied director. Alongside his two Star Trek movies, he directed himself in a TV movie version of the one-man play Vincent (1981), about the life of Van Gogh. He scored an international box-office hit with 3 Men and a Baby (1987). He also made the drama The Good Mother (1988), starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson, as well as two disappointing comedies, Funny About Love (1990) and Holy Matrimony (1994).
Date of Birth: 19 June 1921, Marseille, France
Birth Name: Louis Robert Gendre
Nicknames: Louis Jourdan
For audiences in the 1940s and 50s, Louis Jourdan’s incredible good looks and mellifluous Gallic purr seemed to sum up everything that was sexy and enticing about Frenchmen. As a result, he became the most sought-after French actor since Charles Boyer. Though perhaps this hampered him, stymying opportunities to extend his dramatic range, any actor who was constantly in demand by both French studios and Hollywood producers had a lot to be grateful for.
When Jourdan played the consummate bon vivant in Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (1958), he became an international celebrity. The film, which co-starred Maurice Chevalier and Leslie Caron, won nine Oscars, including best picture. Though the best-known of its Lerner and Loewe numbers was Chevalier’s Thank Heaven for Little Girls, the title song went to Jourdan. He later widened the breadth of his work, and in old age was still one of the most handsome men on the screen, even if the films themselves seldom matched the fineness of his looks.
He was born in Marseilles, one of the three sons of Henri Gendre, a hotelier who organised the Cannes film festival after the second world war, and Yvonne, from whose maiden name, Jourdan, Louis took his stage name. The family followed Henri’s work, which accounted for the ease with which he was later able to perform overseas. He was educated in France, Turkey and Britain, where he learned to speak perfect English with an accent that he was clever enough to realise he should keep superbly French.
Jourdan, who knew from early on that he was going to be an actor, studied under René Simon in Paris. Admired for his dramatic talent and a certain polish that no one could readily explain, he was cast in his film debut, Le Corsaire (1939), which starred Boyer, though the outbreak of the second world war prevented its completion. He went on to appear in L’Arlésienne (1942) before his career was interrupted by the Nazi occupation of France.
His father was arrested by the Gestapo, and Louis and his two brothers were active members of the resistance, whose work for the underground meant that he had to stay away from the studios. But it also resulted in his becoming a favourite of the resurgent French postwar film industry. At a time when many had worked on films that had served to help Marshal Pétain’s propaganda campaign and stars such as Chevalier were being accused of collaboration – it was easy to promote a star who had actively worked against the Nazis.
In 1946, Jourdan married Berthe Frédérique (known as Quique) and went to Los Angeles, having been persuaded by the movie mogul David O Selznick that he would be able to make more of himself in Hollywood than he ever could in Paris. He shone in his first American film, The Paradine Case (1947), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Gregory Peck. This was followed by Max Ophüls’s masterly Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), based on the story by Stefan Zweig. Jourdan played the debonair, womanising pianist with whom Joan Fontaine falls hopelessly and tragically in love. He invested the performance with a vulnerability that saved his character from being simply caddish.
In Minnelli’s 1949 film of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, he starred as the lover of the adulterous anti-heroine, played by Jennifer Jones. He returned to France for Rue de l’Estrapade (1953) and La Mariée Est Trop Belle (The Bride Is Too Beautiful, released with the title Her Bridal Night, 1956), the latter with Brigitte Bardot, while in Italy he appeared in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), its title referring to the Trevi fountain in Rome. His image as the light romantic lead was burnished in that film, and his status as such was sealed by Gigi, which made him the No 1 pin-up of sophisticated American women.
He had a similar role in Can-Can (1960), which starred Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Chevalier. There followed continental roles in Hollywood productions: as a playboy in The VIPs (1963) and a fashion designer in Made in Paris (1966).
He had made his Broadway debut, playing a repressed gay man embarking on marriage, in an adaptation of André Gide’s The Immoralist, in 1954. The production co-starred Geraldine Page and James Dean, before Dean’s movie breakthrough. The following year, Jourdan returned to the New York stage in Tonight in Samarkand. He soon let it be known that he wanted more serious film roles and was not getting enough of them. In 1961 he took the lead in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Comte de Monte Cristo and, in 1975, he appeared in a British TV movie production of Alexandre Dumas’s novel, this time playing De Villefort to Richard Chamberlain’s Count. Two years later, he was D’Artagnan in The Man in the Iron Mask on TV, again opposite Chamberlain.
He played Dracula in a 1977 BBC TV adaptation and an Afghan prince in the James Bond adventure Octopussy (1983), but few of his later roles showed the range of his talents. Certainly, Swamp Thing (1982) and The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) were not the sort of movies that the Gigi star would want to be remembered for. In the mid-80s he returned to Gigi, this time in Chevalier’s role, for a touring show; he replied to the criticism that he lip-synched songs by saying: “If I sang them live, the fragile little voice I have would go.”
Jourdan’s final film appearance came as a suave villain in Peter Yates’s caper about a rare bottle of wine, Year of the Comet (1992). In 2010 he was appointed to the Légion d’Honneur.
Date of Birth: 13 September 1939, Detroit, Michigan, US
Birth Name: Richard Dawson Kiel
Nicknames: Richard Kiel
Richard Kiel, the actor, who was the orthodontically-challenged Jaws, the indestructible Bond villain who terrorised audiences in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979).
Standing at a shade under 7ft 2in, Kiel’s natural presence was further enhanced by the set of stainless steel teeth which gave the character his nickname. “The character we have in mind is going to have teeth like tools, maybe like a shark. They’ll be made out of steel and he’ll kill people with them,” the Bond producer Cubby Broccoli told him. Several enemies and, in the final scene of The Spy Who Loved Me, a shark, met their ends at the hands of Jaws, who usually managed a sinister smile before biting his victims to death.
Originally Broccoli contemplated having Jaws bumped off by the shark; and until the film was test-screened, even Kiel did not know whether his character had survived. “They had shot the ending both ways and I didn’t know what version they were going to use,” he recalled.
When the film was finished, the two versions were tested on people who worked in the studio, and there was little doubt which ending they preferred: “At the end there was such a long time after I went into the shark-tank that I thought, 'I guess that’s the end of me’,” Kiel said. “Then, all of a sudden they cut to the surface of the ocean and Jaws popped up the audience just screamed and hollered and laughed and applauded. That was the defining moment, the moment that I finally made it big in the movies.”
The character proved such a hit that Broccoli gave him a reprieve and, unusually for a Bond baddie, Jaws was brought back for a second outing.
In the follow-up picture, Moonraker, however, Jaws became something approaching a comedy figure, and developed an implausible ability to survive any event unscathed. Audiences saw him fall several thousand feet from an aeroplane without a parachute, only to land safely on a trapeze net in a circus tent. Another time he crashed through a building on top of a runaway cable car but survived without a scratch. He also gained a girlfriend roughly half his size and eventually abandoned the villain, Sir Hugo Drax, to become Bond’s ally.
The metal-mouthed monster was last seen waving weedily at Bond from the bridge of a doomed space station as he and his tiny, bespectacled girlfriend set off on a happy, but presumably short, future together. The scene furnished Kiel with the only words he uttered in either movie: “Well, here’s to us.”
Richard Dawson Kiel was born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 13 1939. He took a variety of jobs in his youth, working as a cemetery plot salesman and nightclub bouncer, before being offered minor parts on American television in the late 1950s. His towering height and distinctive features were the result of the condition acromegaly, when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone, and ensured that he was rarely out of work playing a variety of freaks and aliens in programmes including The Twilight Zone and The Monkees. He also featured in the prehistoric B-Movie Eegah (1962) and showed some depth with a sensitive turn in The Human Duplicators (1964). Other credits included bit parts in the Jerry Lewis comedy The Nutty Professor and alongside Elvis Presley in Roustabout.
When he was first approached by Cubby Broccoli for the part of Jaws, he was initially hesitant about toothing up. He wanted to break away from rent-a-monster parts and play as he put it “regular henchman or villain roles”. It was Kiel who seems to have persuaded Broccoli to make Jaws a more sympathetic character in Moonraker: “If I was to play this role, I told him I’d want to give this character who kills people with his teeth a human side to make him more interesting, maybe have him be persevering and frustrated, so he wouldn’t become boring. A guy killing people with his teeth could easily become over the top.” But it was, of course, his over-the-top quality that made Jaws such a hit.
Kiel complained that the teeth he had to wear for the part were so uncomfortable they made him feel sick, and he could tolerate them only for short periods of time. “They were made out of chromium steel and they went up in the roof of my mouth and caused a little bit of gagging, so it was kind of difficult,” he admitted. “But it gave me a stoic expression, trying to keep from throwing up.”
After Moonraker Kiel’s career nosedived to the extent that on one occasion friends took out a full-page advertisement in Variety magazine, to let the film world know he was still alive.
But he went on to appear in a number of other films, among them Pale Rider (1985), Happy Gilmore (1996) and Inspector Gadget (1999), and appeared regularly on television. In between the Bond films, in 1978, he had been offered the role of the Incredible Hulk on television, but was dropped after two days in the studio for not being bulky enough in favour of the body builder Lou Ferrigno.
For some time Kiel struggled with alcoholism and, following a serious car accident in 1992, was forced to use a buggy or walking sticks to manoeuvre himself. In later years he set up a production company, became a born-again Christian, and wrote books, including an autobiography, Making It Big In The Movies (2002).
But he remained most popular for playing Jaws, and as acting work dried up he supplemented his income with appearances at comic book and film conventions, signing autographs for Bond fans.
Date of Birth: 21 July 1951, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Robin McLaurin Williams
Nicknames: Robin Williams
Robin Williams, who has died aged 63, was one of America’s most versatile and successful comedy actors; brilliant at improvisation and mimicry, he made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, while on screen he was able to portray anyone from a post-menopausal grande dame (Mrs Doubtfire) to a psychopathic killer (One Hour Photo).
Stardom came in the early 1970s after he had taken a cameo role as Mork, an extraterrestrial in the television sitcom Happy Days. Williams’s eccentric, largely improvised performance was a huge hit and spawned a spin-off sitcom, Mork & Mindy, in which Mork lands on Earth and ends up sharing an apartment with the quintessential girl next door. The series which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1982, and arrived in Britain in 1979 showcased the frenzied energy and amazing facility with voices and faces which he would later use in his films. Mork & Mindy eventually reached an audience of 60 million.
After making his screen debut in Robert Altman’s ill-fated 1980 version of Popeye, Williams’s breakthrough came in 1987, when he played Adrian Cronauer, a motormouth DJ who gets up the noses of the top brass in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).
He delivered an Academy Award-winning performance as a psychologist battling his own emotional demons in Good Will Hunting (1997), and won several Oscar nominations including one for his performance in 1993 as Mrs Doubtfire, the ex-husband who infiltrates himself back into the bosom of the family by disguising himself as a middle-aged Scottish nanny.
Hollywood directors sometimes found it difficult to harness Williams’s talents to a script and a storyline strong enough to take him. There were memorable flops, among them The Survivors (1983), Club Paradise (1986), Toys (1992), Patch Adams (1998), Jakob The Liar (1999) and Bicentennial Man (1999). But he won Oscar nominations for his roles as the mildly anarchic teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989) and as the deranged tramp who leads Jeff Bridges towards personal redemption in The Fisher King (1991).
His critics often complained that Williams’s characters were all the same: cuddly, waifish innocents with a mawkish need to ingratiate themselves with their audience. And there was, admittedly, something curiously sexless about his performances. One American columnist described his appearance as the owner of a gay club in The Birdcage (1996) as akin to “a hirsute construction worker halfway through a sex change operation who can’t afford to finish the job”. Of his performance as a psychologist in Awakenings (1990), one critic observed: “This is another of Robin Williams’s benevolent eunuch roles.” He certainly never got anywhere near a screen clinch.
Yet Williams proved he could play it straight; and he could play it nasty, too. In later life he revealed a darker, more interesting side to his acting. In Insomnia (2002) he put in a masterly performance as a sociopathic killer on the run from Al Pacino’s LAPD cop in the frozen wastes of Alaska. In One Hour Photo (2002) he was chilling as a photo lab technician who becomes obsessed with a family whose films he develops. And in The Night Listener (2006) he played a radio show host who realises that he has developed a friendship with a child who may not exist.
Williams first made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, and the versatility which was so evident in his later career would have come as no surprise to those familiar with the virtuoso free-fall improvisation of his stage routines. One critic wondered whether the star of such sickly-sweet offerings as Jack (1996) or What Dreams May Come (1998) could be “the same Robin Williams who used to spend two hours on stage pretending to be a penis”.
An only child, Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21 1951 in Chicago. His mother was a former model, his father an executive with Ford. The family moved several times during his childhood, at one point living in a house with 40 rooms.
Williams was often portrayed as a lonely child who tried to use humour to build friendships and avoid being picked on. Perhaps, he once joked, it was “because my mother was a Christian Dior Scientist... I was not only picked on physically but intellectually people used to kick copies of George Sand in my face.” But he denied being the class clown, and claimed that he got into acting in his final year at Redwood High School simply “to get laid”.
After leaving school, and a brief spell studying political science, Williams won a place at the Juilliard Academy in New York to study drama. There he demonstrated such extraordinary gifts for improvisation and mimicry that his tutors advised him to concentrate on comedy. He became good friends with his fellow student Christopher Reeve, and the two remained close until Reeve’s death in 2004, nine years after the riding accident that had left him paralysed from the neck down. Their relationship demonstrated the loyal, decent side of Williams’s character. When Reeve’s medical insurance ran out, Williams picked up the tab for many of the bills; then, after Reeve’s widow, Dana, died in 2006, he provided practical and financial support for their 14-year-old son.
After two years at the Juilliard, Williams moved to San Francisco, where he worked in restaurants by day and on the comedy circuit by night until his lucky break on Happy Days. The live stand-up comedy circuit remained a consistent thread throughout his career, and he sometimes turned up unannounced at San Francisco clubs just to get up on stage and start “riffing” — a great way to “peel off any pretence”, as he put it.
In his films and television performances, Williams often ad-libbed his own dialogue. The story goes that his television scriptwriters on Mork & Mindy got so fed up that they took to sending blank pages down to the set, inscribed “Robin Williams does his thing”.
For some reason his stand-up routine did not go down so well on the other side of the Atlantic. “I went to a club in Windsor and I just died,” he recalled. “It was the worst night of my life. A friend was watching and laughing his ass off because all you could hear was the clink of glasses.”
In 1978 Williams married his first wife, Valerie Velardi, a former dancer; but as a result of life in the fast lane he had become addicted to cocaine (“God’s way of telling you you’ve made too much money”, as he remarked). In the early 1980s his marriage fell apart and he started to make bad career moves, choosing films that bombed. But the death from a drugs overdose in 1982 of his friend the actor John Belushi, just hours after Williams had been with him, led Williams to rethink his own lifestyle. He went into rehab and sobered up.
The critical success of Good Morning, Vietnam was followed by a voice role as the Genie in Disney’s cartoon Aladdin (1992), in which left in the studio with a microphone Williams spun off into imitations of everyone from Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson to Carol Channing. Disney ended up with 30 hours of his improvisations, to which the animation was adapted later to synch with his voice-over. What started as a small cameo role eventually stole the show and helped make Aladdin the biggest earner in Disney’s history. By the time of Mrs Doubtfire in 1993 Williams was one of the biggest box office draws in the world.
In August 2008 Williams announced a 26-city stand-up comedy tour entitled Weapons of Self-Destruction. Though he explained that the tour was his last chance to have fun at the expense of George W Bush, the title could just as well have applied to himself. In 2006 he had gone into rehab for alcoholism, and in 2008 his second wife, Marsha Garces, whom he had married in 1986 and who had become his producer, filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
Williams’s many other film credits include Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), in which he played the adult Peter Pan, and Flubber (1997), in which he was an absent-minded professor who invents a miraculous flying green gloop. He starred in Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson (1984); appeared in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997); and played Theodore Roosevelt in the three Night at the Museum movies, the last of which is currently in post-production. He also played President Eisenhower in The Butler (2013).
An avid video games player, and a fan of professional road cycling and Rugby Union, Williams owned a vineyard in the Napa Valley, California, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including Comic Relief. In addition to his Oscar award and nominations, he won six Golden Globes, two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards and three Grammy awards.
He belonged to the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Lite same rituals, half the guilt”), and was philosophical about death. “In your fifties, loss is a thing you live with a lot,” he told an interviewer . “Pretty soon friends will be checking out from natural causes. It’s the grim rapper, he’s comin’.”
Robin Williams, who had recently been suffering from depression, died at his San Francisco Bay home in an apparent suicide.
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: October 26 1942, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK
Birth Name: Robert William Hoskins
Nicknames: Bob Hoskins
Bob Hoskins, the actor, who has died aged 71, was hailed as the original tough guy of British film, but once described himself as “short, fat and bald, the only actor who had to diet and wear lifts to play Mussolini”.
His cuboid frame, villainous features and Cockney accent fitted him for a series of roles which he described as “animals, thugs and heavies”. These included the gangland boss Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (1980) and the violent minder George in Mona Lisa (1986), a portrayal that earned him an Oscar nomination. Hoskins won critical success in both films, mainly for his ability to exude menace while suggesting the vulnerability beneath the violent surface of his characters.
Ultimately it was Hoskins’s versatility and eye for a good part that made him a star. He played Arthur Parker in Dennis Potter’s innovative and hugely successful Pennies from Heaven (1978); Nathan Detroit in the National Theatre’s first musical Guys and Dolls (1981); and cameo parts such as the police chief in The Honorary Consul (1983) and Robert de Niro’s plumbing partner in Brazil (1985).
Like his friend Michael Caine, Hoskins was one of the few British actors to become equally successful in Hollywood. Films such as The Cotton Club (1984), Sweet Liberty (1986) and the box office smash Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) consolidated his position as a British actor who could make the transition to the United States. A contributing factor in his American success may have been that Hoskins was one of a small minority of British actors able to produce a convincing American accent.
Robert William Hoskins was born on October 26 1942 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, but grew up in Finsbury Park, north London. His father was a clerk for the Pickfords removal firm, his mother a school cook. At Stroud Green secondary modern school, his dyslexia meant that he was often written off as stupid.
During his adolescence, the beatings he endured in street fights toughened him up, and a knife wound across the bridge of his nose left him with a hollow between the eyes. A life in the gangs beckoned he was once taken to meet the Kray twins who ran London’s underworld in the 1950s but he dreamed of becoming an actor.
Hoskins had never been formally trained, and was always proud that he had never attended a single acting lesson. Instead, on leaving school in 1959, he took on a series of temporary jobs, including as a merchant seaman in the Norwegian navy, a banana-picker on a kibbutz, camel-herder in Syria and porter at Covent Garden market.
In 1969, after an abortive attempt at going into accounting with his father, Hoskins claimed that he “fell sideways into acting by mistake”. While waiting in a pub with a friend who wanted to audition for the Unity Theatre, Hoskins was mistaken for the next candidate. “I was too pissed to argue,” he recalled, “so I got on stage and acted my socks off.” He was offered the lead in The Feather Pluckers, and at the play’s first night was signed up by an agent.
Hoskins spent the next 12 months in repertory, building up a reputation as an actor who was content to do anything, including fire-eating and running headlong at brick walls. “In those days we just passed round the hat,” he recalled. “I had a wife and kid to support on that, and so I wasn’t going to say no to anything that was for the good of the show.”
In 1975 he was offered his first television role, as an illiterate truck driver, in the BBC’s adult literacy programme On the Move. The programme established him as a “screen natural”, and attracted a wide following and an almost cult status. After his television appearance, offers of work on stage and screen doubled. One critic described Hoskins as having “cornered the market in the cheeky Cockney chappie”.
In 1980 The Long Good Friday established Hoskins as a global star. The film was enormously successful in the US, but Hoskins was angered by the fact that his speeches were dubbed into “stage Cockney”.
“They thought the Yanks wouldn’t be able to understand me”, he complained. “In the film I end up sounding like Dick Van Dyke.”
In 1981 Hoskins starred in the National Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. It was the Theatre’s first attempt at a musical and was a major critical and box office success. As in Pennies from Heaven, Hoskins’s charismatic performance carried him over any deficiencies in his singing and dancing. “The choreographer convinced me I looked like Fred Astaire,” he remembered, “but I really looked like a little hippopotamus shaking its hooves.” Critics described Hoskins’s “animal appeal” and “considerable panache”. They began to compare him with Edward G Robinson and George Raft, and to call him “the Cockney Cagney”.
In 1983 Hoskins was miscast in The Honorary Consul, with Michael Caine, and gave an embarrassing performance as a South American police chief. Despite this setback, however, he received an early morning call from Francis Ford Coppola asking him if he would appear in Coppola’s next film. Hoskins thought it was a joke and shouted down the line: “It’s three o’clock in the morning and you’ve just woken up my kid, you bastard” before hanging up.
Coppola called back later and signed Hoskins as the nightclub owner in The Cotton Club (1984).
In Heart Condition (1990) Hoskins played a bigoted white policeman kept alive by a heart transplant from a black donor. He went on to make Mermaids (also 1990), a comedy in which he starred opposite Cher . In Hook (1991), a live-action version of Peter Pan with Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams, Hoskins played the fusspot Mr Smee.
Although largely self-educated, Hoskins co-wrote and directed the feature film The Raggedy Rawney (1988), a gipsy story set in central Europe, which was reckoned an ambitious failure and had only a limited distribution. On television he won critical approval for his portrayal of the Italian dictator in Mussolini: the Decline and Fall of Il Duce (1985); while his appearance in The Street in 2009 earned him the accolade of Best Actor at the International Emmy Awards of 2010.
In 2012, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Bob Hoskins announced that he was retiring from acting.
Date of Birth: 23 September 1920, Brooklyn, New York, US
Birth Name: Joseph Yule Jr
Nicknames: Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney was an icon of American youth and energy who was as prolific in his marriages as he was on screen
Mickey, was in the Thirties and for much of the Forties the very image of how Americans liked to think of themselves brash, energetic and eternally young.
As a child star and later a teenager, he epitomised American get-up-and-go, with a cheeky, cocksure arrogance that won him a wide following, especially in the United States. Though he never got an Oscar for his work, in 1938 he shared a special award with Deanna Durbin “for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement”. In keeping with their stature, the awards were pint-size Oscars.
Diminutive but pugnacious, Rooney managed to look like an adolescent until well into maturity. He was still playing Andy Hardy, the chirpy judge’s son which was his most famous role, until the late Forties, when he was nearly 30.
Like many young players renowned in their teens, however, Rooney found difficulty in landing suitable adult roles. He continued to work and was, indeed, prolific into his seventies and at the age of 90 he filmed a cameo for The Muppets (2011), but the parts were seldom challenging and many of his films barely received a cinema release even in America.
He became better known for his private life than for his work. A prodigious earner at the peak of his popularity, he amassed some $12 million but kept none of it. Most of it went in back taxes and to pay alimony to his many wives (he had eight, of whom the first, Ava Gardner, was the best known). By 1962, he was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Drink at one time was also a problem but it disappeared in remarkable circumstances. As he recounted it, he was dining in a Los Angeles restaurant when up stepped a heavenly messenger with bright golden hair. “God loves you,” the angel said. From that moment Mickey Rooney was a born-again Christian and mended his ways. None of his fellow diners saw the angel.
Mickey Rooney’s real name was Joe Yule Jr. He was born in Brooklyn on September 23 1920, the son of vaudeville performers Joe Yule and Nell Carter, who divorced when he was seven. He joined the act almost from the cradle and, at the age of only 15 months, appeared on stage as a midget, dressed in a tuxedo and sporting a huge rubber cigar. At six, he was a movie actor, making his screen debut (again as a midget) in Not to Be Trusted (1926).
His real screen career began when his mother saw an advertisement placed by the cartoonist Fontaine Fox, who was looking for a child to impersonate his comic strip character Mickey McGuire. Fox took a shine to the boy and he got the job, appearing in some 80 episodes between 1926 and 1932, when the series was wound up. In fact, he was so closely identified with the part that his mother wanted him to adopt the name Mickey McGuire professionally. Fox refused so he became Mickey Rooney instead.
In his early years Rooney worked for a number of studios and was eventually placed under contract by MGM because David O Selznick thought he would be ideal to play Clark Gable as a boy in the film Manhattan Melodrama (1934). MGM guaranteed him 40 weeks’ work a year but reserved the right to loan him out to other studios.
One such arrangement, with Warner Bros, resulted in the best performance of Rooney’s career, as the mischievous Puck in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Barely 15 at the time, he was perfect casting impish and with a gurgling laugh that might be construed as innocent or knowing; it was hard to tell.
At MGM, his career took off in 1937 when he first played Andy Hardy, son of Lionel Barrymore’s Judge Hardy in A Family Affair. Planned only as a programme filler, based on a minor Broadway play, it became an unexpected hit and exhibitors begged MGM for a sequel. In the end, the series ran to 15 episodes over the next 10 years, with one ill-judged afterthought in 1958, Andy Hardy Comes Home. Lewis Stone replaced Barrymore as the judge after the first film.
Rooney appeared in much else besides, often opposite the equally youthful Judy Garland. In such films as Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937); Babes in Arms (1939); Strike Up the Band (1940); Babes on Broadway (1942); and several of the Andy Hardy series, they became the most popular team in movies. He also played a juvenile delinquent opposite Spencer Tracy’s priest in Boys’ Town (1938) and its 1941 sequel Men of Boys’ Town and took the title role in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939).
The success of these films and especially of the Andy Hardy pictures was good for Rooney’s image but bad for his ego. Increasingly bumptious and swollen-headed, he was the only actor on record to have come to blows with MGM’s feared studio boss Louis B Mayer. Rooney wanted the rights to do the Andy Hardy series on radio as well and lost his temper when Mayer said no. Rooney got a hike in salary out of the fracas, but Andy Hardy was never broadcast.
During the war, Rooney served in the Jeep Theatre, entertaining more than 2,000,000 troops, but was unable to recover his popularity in peacetime. Summer Holiday (1948), a musical version of Ah Wilderness!, proved a dismal failure, while nobody had anything good to say of Words and Music (also 1948), in which he played lyricist Lorenz Hart to Tom Drake’s Richard Rodgers. What attracted particular criticism was that the script ignored Hart’s homosexuality, portraying him as a red-blooded American male.
Rooney’s subsequent film career was mostly a catalogue of further disappointments. Especially regrettable was his bucktoothed Japanese photographer in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and his contribution to Stanley Kramer’s leaden comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
Against these and many equally as bad, can be set only occasional high points, such as Baby Face Nelson (1957), in which he was cast against type as a Tommy gun-wielding gangster; Pulp (1972), again as a gangster, this time inviting Michael Caine to write his memoirs, and The Black Stallion (1979), for which he received an Academy Award nomination (but did not win) in his supporting role as a horse trainer.
In 1983 he was presented with a second Oscar honouring his lifetime’s work. By the end of his career he had appeared in several hundred films.
He enjoyed a big stage hit in 1979 with a nostalgic tribute to vaudeville called Sugar Babies opposite the dancer Ann Miller. It ran for five years on and off Broadway but failed to translate successfully to London.
In 2003 Rooney and his eighth wife Jan Chamberlin began an association with Rainbow Puppet Productions, providing voices for some of the company’s films. Four years later, in 2007, Rooney made a debut in British pantomime as Baron Hardup in Cinderella at the Sunderland Empire, a role he reprised in the subsequent two years at Bristol and Milton Keynes.
In 2011, as well as his role in The Muppets, he appeared in an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, recalling how his dead father had appeared to him one night at a low point in his career telling him not to give up.
Rooney published two volumes of autobiography, of which the second, Life Is Too Short (1992), was conspicuously ungallant about such former movie queens as Norma Shearer and Betty Grable.
Mickey Rooney married first Ava Gardner; secondly Betty Jane Rase; thirdly Martha Vickers; fourthly Elaine Mahnken (all the marriages were dissolved). He married, fifthly, Barbara Thomason (who was shot dead by her lover in what may have been a double suicide pact); sixthly Margie Lang; seventhly Carolyn Hockett (both dissolved); and eighthly Jan Chamberlin, who survives him. He had seven children.
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: 8 February 1944, Islington, North London, UK
Birth Name: Roger Llyod-Pack
Roger Lloyd-Pack, the actor, who has died aged 69, will forever be associated with the slow-witted Peckham road sweeper Trigger, whom he played in the much-loved television series Only Fools and Horses.
As one of the regulars at the Nag’s Head pub, Trigger provided an immeasurably dim foil to the wit and wisdom of wheeler-dealer Del Boy (David Jason), used-car salesman Boycie (John Challis), landlord Mike (Kenneth MacDonald) and Del Boy’s younger brother, Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst).
The character was involved both in one of the series’ best running jokes, and its greatest slapstick moment. In the latter, he accompanies Del Boy on a mission to pick up a couple of “modern euro-birds”, only for Del Boy to fall through the bar after a waiter, unnoticed, lifts the hatch. In the former, Trigger persistently refers to Rodney as “Dave”. Even on the announcement of Rodney’s engagement, to Cassandra, Trigger raises a glass “to Cassandra and Dave”. When she discloses that she is pregnant, he suggests that the couple call the baby “Rodney, after Dave”.
Born with what he described as “an old man’s face”, Lloyd-Pack had to wait until his 40s to find success as an actor; once he found it with Trigger, however, the role would not leave him be. Such was his identification with the road-sweeper that passers-by, even policemen, would shout out “Wotcher Trig?” at him in the street. In conversation, he said, strangers assumed he was very thick. He described the role as “like an albatross in one way. If something becomes mega, like Fools, you’ve had it. I’ll never escape Trigger, I’ve learnt to live with that.”
But the role (which he nearly abandoned after two series, until his agent told he would be “mad”) provided him with a measure of financial security and also ensured that he did not have to worry about finding work again. Though he never subsequently secured the golden roles of Lear or Shylock, to which he aspired, he was sought after for smaller, plum Shakespearean parts, such as Buckingham (in Richard III) or Sir Andrew Aguecheek (in Twelfth Night).
Not that he was above playing a pantomime dame, or signing on to the Harry Potter franchise. Acting, he said, was “a silly job, in a way, especially when you get older. It’s just dressing up, playing at being someone else. It’s rather lovely, too, but it’s hardly life and death.”
Roger Lloyd-Pack was born on February 8 1944 in north London. His father, Charles Pack, had grown up a working-class lad in the East End before turning to acting and, in the 1930s, adding Lloyd to his surname. Roger’s mother, Ulrike, was an Austrian-Jewish emigrée who had fled the Nazis.
Roger was educated at St David’s (“a snobby little prep school run by a sadistic couple”) and Bedales, where he “coasted”. He did not shine at Geography (securing just nine per cent in his O-level), but did begin acting, eventually auditioning for Rada. After training there, however, he found jobs hard to come by.
In part he put this down to his looks. “It took a while for all my features to fall into place,” he said. “I didn’t come into my own as an actor until I was 40. I was not easy to cast.” He found bit parts in series such as The Avengers, The Protectors and Dixon of Dock Green, but spent much of his time drifting in rep waiting, with increasingly little confidence, for his big break.
In the mid-1970s his career got a boost when the director Bill Gaskill invited him to join the Joint Stock Theatre Company, which pioneered the idea of using collaborative workshops to inspire new material from playwrights such as David Hare and Caryl Churchill. But it was not until 1981, with the advent of Only Fools and Horses, that he secured his future as an actor. He was signed up after being spotted by the series’ producer, Ray Butt, while in a play alongside Billy Murray, who was being considered for the Del Boy role.
The series ran for a decade, with the character of Trigger appearing in nearly every episode and acquiring something approaching cult status, notably for moments of inadvertent wisdom that pierced the fog of idiocy. On one occasion, Trigger prompts a philosophical debate by revealing that he has used the same broom to sweep streets for 20 years. When asked his secret, he reveals that he has lovingly maintained it, replacing the head 17 times and the handle 14 times.
In interviews Lloyd-Pack was frank, sometimes disarmingly so, about the nature of his/Trigger’s rather peculiar brand of celebrity. He was also frank about the travails of his personal life, in particular the mental health difficulties faced by his eldest daughter, Emily.
Emily Lloyd, who was born when Lloyd-Pack was 26, was catapulted to Hollywood stardom while still in her teens after appearing in the film Wish You Were Here (1987). A decade in Hollywood followed, but she was increasingly afflicted by mental health problems. In an interview last year, Lloyd-Pack said that watching his daughter struggle with her condition was “absolutely heart-rending and painful”.
He was also forthright about the possibility that, having left his first marriage, to the actress Sheila Ball, when Emily was only two, he had somehow contributed to his daughter’s later difficulties. “I feel very sad about that,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t have a second chance. Forming good, trusting relationships with your children involves being with them when they’re very small and holding them. You can’t replace it. The thing you most want in your life when you’re little is for both your parents to love each other. If not, it can be the beginning of all your problems.”
Roger Lloyd-Pack, who died of cancer, was also clear-sighted about death, upon which, he said, even before his diagnosis, he reflected every day. A keen cyclist, recycler, and campaigner for Left-wing causes, he revealed he would like to buried in “a cardboard coffin”. As for his obituaries: “I don’t really care what [they] say, so long as they are fair. I know I will be best remembered for Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, but I hope all my other work will be acknowledged, too.”
His television credits included Spyder’s Web; Moving; The Bill; The Old Guys; and The Vicar of Dibley. Film credits included The Naked Civil Servant; 1984; Wilt; Interview with the Vampire; Vanity Fair; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Date of Birth: 12 September, 1973, Glendale, California, US
Birth Name: Paul Willam Walker IV
Nicknames: Paul Walker
Paul Walker was one of the actors who helped make the Fast & Furious film franchise so successful.
Walker rode the Fast & Furious franchise to stardom, featuring in all but one of the six action blockbusters, beginning with the first film, in 2001. The blond-haired, blue-eyed Los Angeles-native brought California-surfer good-looks and an easy, warm charm to the street-racing series. Walker did some of his own driving in the films, though the insurers prevented him from doing as much as he would have liked. He said it was the driving and working with the stuntmen that he enjoyed most.
The son of a fashion model, Cheryl, and a sewer contractor, Paul, Walker grew up in a working class Mormon household in Glendale, California, the oldest of five children. His mother began taking him to auditions as a toddler and he was a child model by the age of two. He said his early induction to showbusiness wasn't to start him on a career path, but as simply a way to help provide for the family.
He made his big-screen debut as a 13-year-old in the 1986 slasher-comedy Monster in the Closet, and after a string of television roles, including small parts in Who's the Boss and Charles in Charge, he drifted away from acting for a while, but was then tracked down by a casting director with a long memory who gave him a role in the television series Touched by an Angel. He also had a recurring part in the soap The Young and the Restless
His returned to films in the 1998 comedy Meet the Deedles and had supporting roles in Pleasantville, Varsity Blues (as a young quarterback – "I got to play the meathead jock that I hated in high school," he recalled), Flags of Our Fathers and the 1999 teen comedy She's All That. His performance in the 2000 psychological thriller The Skulls, which explored the conspiracy theories surrounding Yale's Skull and Bones student society, caught the eye of producer Neal H Moritz despite the film's poor critical reception.
Moritz then cast him alongside Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious. Adapted from a Vibe magazine article, "Racer X", about underground street racing, the film became an unexpected hit. Walker's undercover police officer, Brian O'Conner, is ordered to infiltrate a ring of illegal street racers suspected of stealing electronic equipment and finds himself drawn to their adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle.
Walker, a self-styled "gearhead", had taken part in street races, and he used some his fee for the first film to import a Nissan Skyline R34 sports car, the model he drives in the 2003 sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, in which he starred without Diesel. He wasn't in the third instalment, but the pair were reunited for the fourth film, known simply as Fast and Furious (2009). It became the biggest hit in the series and the producers stuck with the formula for Fast 5 (2011) and Fast and Furious 6 (2013), each successive film garnering bigger box-office grosses. The most recent has made nearly £491.7 million worldwide so far.
Walker starred in other films between Fast & Furious outings, including the crime thriller Running Scared, the Antarctic adventure Eight Below and the heist film Takers, in which a gang of young criminals carry out a series of minutely planned bank jobs to bankroll their expensive lifestyle. Although he didn't make as much of an impact beyond the franchise, he continually drew praise from his co-stars and directors as a kind-hearted and eager collaborator. "Your humble spirit was felt from the start," Ludacris, one of his co-stars, said on Twitter. "Wherever you blessed your presence you always left a mark, we were like brothers."
In 2006 he was cast by Clint Eastwood in Flags of our Fathers as one of the six US Marines who famously raised the American flag at Iwo Jima during the Second World War. The seventh Fast & Furious instalment began shooting in September, with a release planned for next July. The film's production was on break with more shooting to be done, which producers said would go ahead despite Walker's death.
Walker also stars in the forthcoming Hurricane Katrina drama Hours, due to appear later this month. He plays a father stranded with his newborn daughter in a New Orleans hospital in what Walker described as "a passion project". Reading the script, he said, "I just wanted to believe that if I was faced with a similar situation, I would see it through the same way. You want to believe you have the make-up to do what it would take to keep this baby going." He is also in Brick Mansions, a remake of the French action film District B13, due for release next year.
Walker and Rebecca McBrain, a former girlfriend, had a daughter who lived with her mother in Hawaii for 13 years and then moved to California in 2011 to live with Walker.
Roger Rodas, who died with Walker, was a financial adviser and the CEO of Walker's company Always Evolving; the pair met through their shared passion for cars. Another passion for Walker was martial arts, and he held a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was also interested in marine biology, and made a series for the National Geographic Channel, Expedition Great White, in which he helped tag great white sharks off the coast of Mexico.
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: 12 April 1947, Baltimore, Maryland, US
Birth Name: Thomas Leo Clancy
Nicknames: Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy was the author of gung-ho techno-military thrillers which generated many millions of dollars, a number of successful films, and a franchise of equally popular and profitable video games.
In Clancy’s books, Armageddon is always on the horizon. In The Sum of All Fears (1991), the city of Denver is obliterated by a nuclear explosion; in Debt of Honour (1994), which prefigures the events of 9/11, a kamikaze pilot crashes into the Capitol Building, wiping out much of Congress and killing the President.
“As real events always prove, bad things tend to happen,” Clancy once observed. “I write about those possibilities. Now, that doesn’t make me a good fit for the so-called literary establishment. They want to write pretty, complicated things that show off how brilliant they are.” And while he claimed to be merely “a pretty good storyteller”, “what I offer most is verisimilitude, showing my readers what’s real”.
The book which made Clancy’s name was his first, The Hunt for Red October, released in 1984 by a small publisher, the Naval Institute Press. The story turns on the disillusioned captain of a new class of Soviet nuclear submarine who decides to defect to the United States with his boat, Red October, which is equipped with ballistic missiles. The Soviets respond by dispatching the whole of their northern fleet to destroy the submarine before it can reach America; meanwhile, the US Navy alerted by a spy in the Kremlin waits to provide assistance.
Despite its rip-roaring plot, the book would almost certainly have languished had not a copy found its way under the White House Christmas Tree. President Ronald Reagan lapped it up as “the perfect yarn”, while his Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger went further, declaring: “The technical detail is vast and accurate, remarkably so for an author who originally had no background or experience.” (At the time of the book’s publication, Clancy was working as an insurance agent and had only a single published article to his name.)
When the Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, read the book, he asked: “Who the hell cleared it?” Clancy claimed that he had had no access to classified material, but had gleaned details of weapons systems simply by researching technical manuals, magazines and reference books. He also drew on the mass market war game Harpoon.
If some critics complained that the characters were one-dimensional, the public did not mind. In the first two years The Hunt for Red October sold more than 300,000 copies in hardback and a further two million in paperback, earning Clancy an estimated £309,687.57 in royalties and a further £309,687.57 for the rights to £123.88the subsequent film, which starred Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin and grossed million worldwide.
“Reality is fairly simple,” Clancy observed. “My critics say my characters are cardboard, but the people I know and write about tell me I get it all right. The mark of a superior person is to take complexity and find the simplicity in it.”
The success of The Hunt for Red October secured Clancy a £1.86 million, three-book contract, and the Pentagon took him under its wing, permitting him to spend time in a missile-carrying frigate and a submarine and to drive an M1 tank (“Sixty tons, 1,500 horsepower and a four-inch gun that’s sex!” Clancy enthused. “That was a ball! The army treats me right... When I was a kid I wanted to be a tanker. With a tank I am death!’’). Meanwhile, in Baltimore harbour he was allowed to go on board a Royal Navy ship to meet Prince Andrew, then serving as a helicopter pilot.
Clancy’s second novel Red Storm Rising also a bestseller offered his vision of World War Three, which breaks out after Arab terrorists blow up one third of the Soviet Union’s oilfields, and the Soviets respond by seizing the Gulf States to safeguard their energy needs before invading Western Europe. The war is a hi-tech affair, with no resort to nuclear or chemical weapons. Red Storm Rising was adopted as required reading at America’s Naval War College, and the military historian John Keegan declared that it would take its place in “a long tradition of military futurology” alongside Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.
Patriot Games (1987) addressed the subject of international terrorism and featured Jack Ryan, the CIA analyst who had appeared in The Hunt for Red October, this time attempting to foil a plot by an Irish republican group to kidnap the Prince and Princess of Wales. In 1992 it appeared as a film with Harrison Ford in the starring role.
By now Clancy was a rich man, a turn of events which appeared to cause him little surprise. “In America,” he said, “there ain’t no excuse. You can go out and do anything you damn well please if you try hard enough.” All he had done was to follow his instincts, developing his boyhood fascination with aircraft, ships and tanks. As he once put it: “I’m a technology freak and the best stuff is in the military.”
Thomas Leo Clancy was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 12 1947, the son of a postman. The family was devoutly Roman Catholic, and after attending a Catholic high school in Baltimore he went on to the city’s Loyola College, a Jesuit institution where he switched from Physics to English Literature. “Ethics [is] what they stress,” he later said of his education. “It’s what ought to be stressed. You’re taught to be accountable, to do the right things instead of the easy things.”
As a student, he enrolled in the US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and was itching to serve in Vietnam an ambition that was sabotaged by his defective eyesight. But he was also determined to become a writer, and was sorely disappointed when a short story he submitted to a science fiction magazine was rejected.
Yet his marriage in 1969, to Wanda Thomas, required him to earn an assured income, so he found work as an insurance agent, first in Baltimore and later in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1973 he moved to the OF Bowen Agency in Maryland, a business owned by his wife’s grandfather; seven years later Clancy and Wanda bought the firm for £77,421.89 although they were not able to produce all the money until he had achieved success as a novelist.
Clancy claimed he was “a lousy salesman; it was tough basically saying to people, 'Something bad could happen to you, so buy this [policy] from me’.” This was over-modest, since he was soon making about £154,843.78 a year. Well-off he may have been, but he was also bored and his literary ambitions persisted. “I’d made my own trap,” he later recalled. “I had kids to support, mortgage payments, and a business to pay off.”
In 1976 he had read a story in the newspapers about a mutiny in a Soviet warship, Storozhevoy, in which some of the crew had tried to defect to Sweden. He now resolved to use the incident for the basis of a novel about a mutiny on board a nuclear submarine. At about the same time, the events of the Falklands conflict caused Clancy to start thinking about the weapons used in modern warfare. The seeds were sown for The Hunt for Red October.
Clancy’s fourth book was The Cardinal of the Kremlin, about espionage and SDI (the “Star Wars” nuclear defence shield proposed by the Reagan White House).
In all Clancy wrote 17 novels, the last of which is Command Authority. Others are Clear and Present Danger (1989); The Sum of All Fears (1991); Rainbow Six (1998); and The Teeth of the Tiger (2003). Several of his books were made into films the latest, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is due to be released in the United States on Christmas Day.
A keen tabletop wargamer, in 1996 Clancy founded Red Storm Entertainment, which would adapt his complex military themes to computer games. Its first release, a turn-based strategy called Tom Clancy’s Politika, was published in conjunction with a board game and Tom Clancy’s Power Plays novel (penned by a ghostwriter) of the same title.
It had a muted reception, but the company struck gold with its third effort, Rainbow Six, again released in conjunction with a novel. A slew of sequels and four more franchises followed Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, End War and Air Combat, all under the Clancy name. Championing a new breed of gaming that placed strategy and teamwork above virtual brute force, they none the less excited an inevitable degree of controversy for the uncompromising realism of their on-screen violence.
The game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas (2006) had the desert city complaining about possible damage to its revenues, while US Army commanders faced a quite different problem: many new recruits stayed up late playing at virtual combat, leaving them too tired for exercises the next morning. Yet in 2001, the Department of Defense had incorporated Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear into its training programme, as a guide to successful military operation in urban settings. Red Storm Entertainment was sold to Ubisoft in 2000, and eight years later Ubisoft acquired all intellectual property rights to the Clancy name in video gaming.
Clancy was a part owner of the American League baseball team the Baltimore Orioles.
Tom Clancy’s marriage to Wanda Thomas, with whom he had a son and three daughters, was dissolved in 1998; the following year he married Alexandra Marie Llewellyn.
Date of Birth: 8 April 1943, London, UK
Birth Name: James Herbert
James Herbert, the author sold more than 50 million horror novels, a tally bettered in the genre only by his friend Stephen King; Herbert wrote 23 books but was always rather to his frustration best known for his first two, The Rats (1974) and The Fog (1975).The Rats, a gory tale about mutant rodents taking over the country, was finished in nine months when Herbert was 28 and working as an art director in the same advertising company as Salman Rushdie. Herbert recalled making “loads of money” at the time but finding the job too easy: “I just decided to write a book, and it all poured out of me.”
The book did not meet with universal approval. Martin Amis, in the guise of “Henry Tilney” in the Observer, was the first to review it. “By page 20,” he wrote, “the rats are slurping the sleeping baby after the brave bow-wow has fought to the death to protect its charge. Enough to make a rodent retch, undeniably and enough to make any human pitch the book aside.”
The Sunday Times’s critic thought differently, calling The Rats “brilliant”; but when Herbert went into his local WH Smith’s and asked if they had the book, they replied no, and nor were they likely to. Such opprobrium inevitably heightened its appeal, and word quickly went around among teenagers that it was gripping stuff. Before long the book had sold more than a million copies.
Despite the commercial success of The Rats and his later novels, Herbert remained dissatisfied with his literary status, feeling that the “literary snobs” should take him more seriously. “I’ve always suffered from being labelled a horror writer just because I didn’t go to university, just because I still talk in my natural voice, just because I’m not as articulate as Martin Amis. We like to kid ourselves that we’re in an equal society, but we’re not.”
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Herbert referred to a men’s style magazine’s recommended reading list of 20th-century novels that one should read by the age of 30: alongside books by Joyce, Salinger and Heller was The Rats, by James Herbert. He also pointed out that his fourth novel, Fluke (1977), had found its way on to the GCSE syllabus, and that a professor at an American university had written to him to say that he was analysing the Herbert oeuvre.
“I know I’m good,” he said, “and I know I write well.” Of the explicit violence Amis affected to deplore, Herbert explained that “it flowed naturally from the pen. But I also wanted to show what it was really like to have your leg chewed by a mutant creature. I was very much against the Tom and Jerry and John Wayne types of violence where no one is ever really hurt, and Indians are killed without any suggestion that they may be husbands and fathers, and perhaps keep a dog back in the tepee.”
Herbert maintained that his books were moral works about redemption, “packed with metaphor and subtext”. But he did not deem them suitable reading matter for his own daughters until they were 15 (the books were banned from their school, so they couldn’t read them there either). “There are certain key scenes which are graphic,” Herbert admitted, “but I prefer to think of them as spiritual. It’s never wham, bam thank you ma’am unless it’s a subsidiary character.”
James Herbert was born on April 8 1943 in east London, just around the corner from the Krays. “Ours was the only Catholic household in the street,” he recalled. “All the rest were Jewish.” His parents ran a fruit stall in Bethnal Green market. His mother continued doing so into her seventies, and consistently turned down her son’s offers of a comfortable retirement in Sussex. At 75, she sat her GCSE in English. The day she passed, she filed for a divorce from her hard-drinking, gambling husband, but she continued to cook dinner for him once a week; someone would take it round to him on a bus.
At the age of 10, James followed his brother John on a scholarship to St Aloysius, a Roman Catholic grammar school in Highgate. John went on to become a “very, very middle-class” Lloyd’s broker. James progressed to Hornsey College of Art, and from there got a job in a small advertising agency, using the name of a better qualified friend (Denis Barker) for his interview. Before long, “Barker” had progressed to become group head in a larger agency, Charles Barker.
The idea for The Rats, Herbert explained, came from a line in Dracula in which a lunatic says he has seen 1,000 rats with red eyes staring up from the lawns. “I put that image together with my own experience of rats not fear of them, but loathing from growing up in the East End of London.” At the back of his house there had been some stables where the market traders dumped rotting fruit and vegetables. It was alive with rats.
Herbert wrote the book during evenings and weekends. Written in manuscript in purple felt tip pen, with barely a crossing out, he needed only one draft and then asked his wife to type it up a system he stuck to for subsequent novels. He had five rejection slips before he found a publisher, eventually selling it to New English Library for an advance payment of £150 and a royalty of five per cent.
After The Rats, Herbert wrote his books at the rate of roughly one a year until the turn of the century: The Fog (1975); The Survivor (1976); Fluke (1977); The Spear (1978); Lair (1979); The Dark (1980); The Jonah (1981); Shrine (1983); Domain (1984); Moon (1985); The Magic Cottage (1986); Sepulchre (1987); Haunted (1988); Creed (1990); Portent (1992); The City (1993); The Ghosts of Sleath (1993); ’48 (1996); Others (1999); Once (2001); Nobody True (2003); The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006); and Ash (2012).
Four of his novels The Rats, The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted were made into films; The Magic Cottage was dramatised for Radio 4; and The Secret of Crickley Hall was adapted for television by BBC One.
He was appointed OBE in 2010.
In 1979 Herbert was ordered to pay damages to the author Trevor Ravenscroft after Mr Justice Brightman ruled in the High Court that in The Spear an improbable story of neo-Nazi terrorism in England Herbert had copied from Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny. “He did so to give his novel a backbone of truth with the least possible labour to himself,” said the judge, adding: “One must not underestimate the commercial attraction of the rubbish I have attempted to describe.”
For his later novels, Herbert tended towards supernatural plots. “The great advantage of my field is that you can always go way over the top if you’re in danger of getting bored,” he said. He claimed to have torn the horror genre from the grip of the bourgeoisie and “upper-middle-class writers like Dennis Wheatley”: “I made horror accessible by writing about working-class characters.”
Herbert lived in Sussex, with unbroken views of the South Downs. He aimed to be in his study by 10am and write until one, then from 2pm until six. Shrewd and cautious with his money, he was a member of Lloyd’s until 1991, when he withdrew.
“I worry about the many things that could happen to the people I love,” he said. “The books are full of that neurosis and I guess people tune into that. I have a dread of sounding pretentious and try not to talk too much about what I do.”
Date of Birth: 30 October 1935, Hampstead, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Michael Robert Winner
Nicknames: Michael Winner
Michael Winner, supplied interviewers with a list of more than 30 films he had directed, not always including the early travelogue This Is Belgium (1956), mostly shot in East Grinstead. But his enduring work was himself a bravura creation of movies, television, journalism, the law courts and a catchphrase, ''Calm down, dear", from an exasperating series of television commercials.
He was born in London, the only child of George and Helen Winner, who were of Russian and Polish extraction respectively. His builder father made enough money propping up blitzed houses to invest in London property. The profits funded his wife's gambling, which, her son complained, so distracted "Mumsie" that he was never paid due attention. She left him in the bedroom with the mink coats of guests who came to his barmitzvah only to play poker with her.
A boarder at St Christopher school, a Quaker establishment in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, Winner was an attention seeker from start to expulsion. According to his school reports he was "spoilt" with a "craving for power which he is trying to achieve by the use of his money". He also earned a "reputation of being movie mad" after he pinned handwritten reviews on the noticeboard.
When the publisher Paul Hamlyn addressed the school, Winner, then 14, asked for copies of all his film books and phoned him, reversing the charges, until they were sent. He then approached British studios, claiming to write for Hamlyn, and when that scam was found out, turned his acquaintance with a child actor into an article for the Kensington Post in 1950. It became a regular, syndicated showbiz column: he was not paid, but the seats were free and he had the undivided attention of Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye. That became a permanent part of his persona – the enfant terrible among the stars.
For his father, he studied law and economics at Downing College, Cambridge, and also edited the Varsity newspaper. He persuaded the owner of the Rex cinema in Cambridge to apply to the local council to approve a showing of The Wild One, banned by the censor because of its violence. The stunt attracted nationwide interest.
After university, television companies turned Winner down for a directors' course, so he wrote for both TV and film, and was a gossip columnist of sorts. He hired a Rolls-Royce and was, said a fellow writer, "a master at gathering banal quotes from silly girls down to the last burp". He invented a debutante, Venetia Crust, a fiction for which he was eventually exposed (later he used the name of her "father", Arnold, for movie credits).
Winner's father loaned him £1,500 for his first film, money soon recouped as Some Like It Cool (1962) filled a gap in the market for a comedy in a nudist camp. It was among several films he confected in the early 1960s. None demonstrated his maxim "create your own material to get a better class of employment", but they did end a period in which he sacked secretaries rather than have them know that he had no deals going.
Winner shared a new blokey humour emerging in post-Brylcreem Britain: after directing Billy Fury in Play It Cool (1962) and accurately reproducing bedsitter-land in West 11 (1963), he made The System (1964); You Must Be Joking! (1965) for which he blew up a car in Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour and told police he had no idea who was in charge; The Jokers (1966); and I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname (1967), with Oliver Reed and Orson Welles.
Winner extended his boy-genius phase by phoning reference books on his 30th birthday to tell them he was 29, knowing entries would not be changed for three years. He went on the road to make Hannibal Brooks (1969), a comedy lumbering through 200 locations, working again with Reed, and The Games (1969), about an Olympic marathon.
"I was looking for something that would keep us employed," he said of his move to Hollywood. "You don't have that much choice." Rejecting The French Connection as a project, he began with the westerns Lawman (1971), shot in Spain with rubber cacti, and Chato's Land (1972).
His real metier turned out to be primitive violence. Winner despised analysis, but it is significant that he directed testosterone fuelled revenge fantasies during the years when his by then widowed mother (a "nice, little, white-haired lady … She was a killer") sold paintings and antiques left to Winner to fund her casino losses, and set 11 firms of solicitors on him.
Winner mentioned to the actor Charles Bronson the idea of a man "justified" by the rape and murder of his womenfolk to shoot muggers, which led to Winner directing Death Wish (1974), and two sequels. He also directed coarse versions of The Big Sleep (with Robert Mitchum, 1978) and The Wicked Lady (1983 – he saw the original 20 times for Margaret Lockwood's bosom). All of these, as Bronson remarked, were abusively hard on women. In 1993 Winner converted Helen Zahavi's novel Dirty Weekend into a fantasy of a female exterminating angel, but it hardly evened the score (nor squared with his claim that his favourite film was Bambi).
Critics disliked a pleasureless tension gripping his films, whether it be The Nightcomers (1971), a prequel to The Turn of the Screw; Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976); or Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval (1989). Winner was always quick to challenge the press he taped his interviews either directly or through legal action (he gave away the damages). Papers would get a warning from the company, Scimitar Films, he ran with John Fraser: back at school, Winner had paid Fraser two shillings a week to clean his room and make his beds, and sixpence for washing up.
In 1984 he set up the Police Memorial Trust in response to the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Several years later he proposed a naff memorial to officers killed in the course of duty, featuring snarling alsatians (the Queen suggested their mouths be shut).
He began to describe films as a hobby, since he had sufficient millions for Learjet rides, a garage of cars that he drove Mr Toadishly and the slow repurchase of the rest of the Holland Park house in one flat of which his family had lived. The restored mansion, Woodland House, the former home of the Victorian artist Sir Luke Fildes, has more than 40 rooms and housed his valuable collection of artwork for children's books, including EH Shepard's drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh. He also collected the artwork of Donald McGill, master of the ribald, big‑bosomed seaside postcard.
A succession of young women shared evenings among his antiques, but did not live on the premises, where more regular companions included five full-time cleaners and herds of soft toys. On more solitary evenings he cut and glued table mats, and said obituarists would describe him as a "table-mat maker", adding "film‑maker" if there were space.
Eventually, he re-encountered Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, whom he had met in 1957 when she was a teenage ballet dancer; they were engaged in 2007, and married in 2011. He had intended to leave his house to the nation, but put it up for sale for £60m just before his marriage. He also auctioned much of his art collection, but swore this was not to repay £9m he had borrowed for little luxuries, including the hire of helicopters. He did not part with his autograph album of star signatures, or the teddy bears.
"I ate cornflakes on my own," he replied to questions about his swinging life when he was young and slender, although it was never all that he ate, and certainly not after the Sunday Times encouraged him into restaurant reviewing for his Winner's Dinners columns (published in book form in 1999). These were less about digestion than self-definition: several famous eateries banned him for his bullying.
His "calm down" catchphrase in the telly ads he directed and appeared in (once in drag) for the Esure insurance company displaced his own excitability and fluster on to (female) others. Esure sold a million policies during his era, before replacing him with a stop-motion-animated mouse. By then the ''calm down'' line had developed its own career David Cameron was heavily criticised when, during prime minister's questions in 2011, he directed it against the Labour MP Angela Eagle. Winner himself had been a fervent supporter of Margaret Thatcher, before a Blairite conversion.
He retired from his restaurant column in December 2012. His last years had been a tribulation involving a near-fatal bacterial infection from oysters, MRSA and liver disease.
Date of Birth: 28 February 1923, Highland Falls, New York, US
Birth Name: Charles Edward Durning
Nicknames: Charles Durning
Charles Durning first grabbed audience attention as the crooked Lieutenant Snyder in The Sting (1973). He makes an explosive appearance, tearing down an alley after the slick grifter played by Robert Redford, and repeatedly lurches out of the shadows throughout the rest of the film. Durning had only a handful of scenes, and over the next 40 years would seldom be granted more screen time in 200-odd film and TV roles. Nevertheless, his jowly face, with its boxer's nose and sly eyes, grew increasingly familiar, and his name in the opening titles usually promised good things ahead. His heavyset frame meant he was often cast as tough guys, but he later assumed more jovial roles, portraying Father Christmas several times.
His first Oscar nomination came for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), an ebullient musical about the southern hospitality offered at a brothel called the Chicken Ranch. Durning plays the slippery Texan governor who must decide whether to close down the establishment. His evasive nature is captured in a magical song-and-dance routine: "I love to dance a little sidestep," he sings. "Now they see me, now they don't …"
Durning's second Oscar nomination was for playing another character uneasy with his authority – the nougat-loving Gestapo chief Colonel Erhardt in To Be Or Not to Be (1983), Mel Brooks's remake of Ernst Lubitsch's classic about a Polish theatre company's attempt to outsmart the Nazis. Durning has some of the funniest scenes in the film. He barks commands at a hapless captain (Christopher Lloyd), then blames him when his plans backfire. Making doe eyes at Anne Bancroft, he tells her: "Consider yourself in the arms of the Gestapo." It is a broad comic role in a film that balances farce with tragedy.
Durning knew first-hand the horrors of war. Born in Highland Falls, New York state, he grew up near the military academy at West Point. His mother, Louise, laundered the clothes of the cadets there. His father, James, was badly injured in the first world war. Charles joined the army aged 17 and took part in the D-day landing aged 21. In a Memorial Day speech in 2007, he recalled: "I was the second man off my barge, and the first and third man got killed." Shot in the hip shortly afterwards, he spent months in hospital, then fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He received the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
Durning was a boxer, ice-cream seller and dance instructor before establishing himself as an actor. He cut his teeth in Shakespearean productions staged by Joe Papp and, in 1972, won a Drama Desk award for his performance in That Championship Season on Broadway.
By then, he had played his first film roles. In Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! (1970), he is the slobbish superintendent who shows off an unsanitary apartment to a prospective tenant (played by Durning's friend Robert De Niro, who recommended him for the part). He re-teamed with De Palma for Sisters (later Blood Sisters, 1973) and The Fury (1978); in the latter, he is the director of a research facility judging psychic ability, and supervises a female patient who unlocks his own troubling secrets. That decade he also took police roles in Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and the TV series The Cop and the Kid (1975-76).
In Tootsie (1982), he was the wealthy widower Les Nichols, who falls hopelessly in love with the TV star Dorothy Michaels, not knowing that behind the drag makeup is the luckless actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), who is infatuated with Les's daughter. Les's pursuit of Dorothy is full of funny moments – when he squeezes on to a garden swing with her at his ranch, it creaks under his weight but it touches on pathos, too, particularly when Les speaks of his wife, and when he makes his move on Dorothy with an excruciating proposal.
With his physical bulk and commanding presence, Durning was perfectly cast as the tyrannical tycoon Big Daddy in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway in 1990, for which he won a Tony award. He also looked at home as Chief Brandon in the box-office hit Dick Tracy (1990). Regrettably, fewer saw one of his best performances, in The Music of Chance (1993), based on Paul Auster's novel. He played Bill Flower, a former accountant who believes he has the Midas touch. Flower and a fellow millionaire host a card game and when their opponent (James Spader) cannot settle his debts, they make him and his friend build a wailing wall from 10,000 bricks. Durning was never creepier, seldom more sadistic.
In the Coen brothers' comedy The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), he was the bigwig who, in a boardroom meeting, runs the length of a conference table and throws himself out of the window. "We cast Durning on the idea that a fat person falling 40 floors is a lot funnier than a thin person falling 40 floors," said Joel Coen. "Charles actually used to be a dancer and all that stuff he does at the beginning where he gets up and digs his heel and shakes the tension out of his body was all Charles. He choreographed all his movements."
In O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), another Coen brothers' production, he was the cantankerous Mississippi governor Pappy O'Daniel, whose re-election campaign is boosted by a trio of convicts turned musicians, the Soggy Bottom Boys. Pappy joins them on stage for a rousing version of You Are My Sunshine.
That year, Durning starred in two comedy films written by David Mamet Lakeboat, and State and Main and appeared on stage in New Jersey in Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. There was little to distinguish his subsequent films such as Kinky Killers (2007), a nasty piece of work, but he evidently relished voicing Peter Griffin's mean-spirited stepfather in the animated TV series Family Guy.
He remained bracingly prolific and kept a straightforward approach. "Of course, I'm often not the top dog," he told Playbill in 2000, "but sometimes it's better not to be top dog, because you last longer.
Date of Birth: 10 December 1957, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Michael Clarke Duncan
Nicknames: Big Mike
Michael Clarke Duncan was the American actor best known for his film roles as a gentle giant.
Every character actor who has ever been typecast dreams of a role that will transcend the cliches of his image. For Michael Clarke Duncan, who has died aged 54 of complications from a heart attack suffered in July, that breakout role also drew on the hidden truth of his own personality, and the results were spectacular.
Duncan was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor in The Green Mile (1999), the film of the Stephen King story in which he plays John Coffey, a gentle giant with extraordinary powers, on death row for raping and killing two young girls. The film's climax, when Coffey, innocent of the crimes but having punished the real killer and an evil guard, goes to the electric chair telling Tom Hanks not to put a hood over his head because he is scared of the dark, left few dry eyes in any audience.
Born in Chicago, Duncan, 6ft 5in and usually weighing about 20 stone, was himself a gentle giant. His father left when he was six, and his mother Jean's reluctance to allow him to play American football led to his deciding he wanted to become an actor instead.
He played basketball at Kankakee (Illinois) Community College, but when his mother became ill, he dropped out of his communications studies at Alcorn State University, a historically black university in Mississippi. After returning home, he supported his mother and sister, Judy, by digging ditches for a gas company and working as a bouncer at night.
He moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, again working as a bouncer before getting into the "private security" trade. He had acted as a bodyguard for such entertainment figures as Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx and LL Cool J before breaking into films in 1995 with a bit part in the Ice Cube vehicle Friday. His early film roles, including Warren Beatty's Bulworth (1998), saw him typecast as bouncers and bodyguards, often billed as Michael "Big Mike" Duncan. He gave up his day job as a real bodyguard for good in 1997, when the rapper The Notorious BIG was murdered on the first day Duncan was assigned to him.
Duncan's break came following a part in Armageddon (1998) alongside Bruce Willis, who recommended him to director Frank Darabont for The Green Mile. He went on to work with Willis in three more films: two comedies – Alan Rudolph's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (1999) and The Whole Nine Yards (2000) and the noirish blockbuster Sin City (2005).
Although he never found another role with the impact of John Coffey, Duncan remained in demand with substantial parts in blockbusters such as Planet of the Apes (2001), The Scorpion King (2002) and perhaps his best later work as The Kingpin, in Daredevil (2003). To play the comic-book villain he went from weighing less than 20 stone to more than 23.
His career blossomed, as his look made him easily cast for supporting roles in films and frequent guest parts in television series, and his resonant baritone voice made him a popular choice for animation voice-overs, in films such as Cats & Dogs (2001), George of the Jungle 2 (2003), Dinotopia (2005) and Kung Fu Panda (2008). He starred in the comedy The Slammin' Salmon (2009), as a boxer turned restaurant-owner who stages a competition between his waiters to pay off a debt to Japanese gangsters, and was the villain, Erlik, in the straight-to-video Cross (2011), a supernatural action film that also featured Vinnie Jones as a Viking named Gunnar transplanted to the present.
In 2010 Duncan undertook something of a reprise of his Coffey role in Redemption Road, as a man with a secret who brings home an alcoholic for his father's funeral. His last television role was a recurring part in the crime series Finder.
In 2009 Duncan converted to vegetarianism. The following year, he met his fiancee, the Rev Omarosa Manigault, in the aisles of a Whole Foods supermarket in Los Angeles. Manigault, a considerable presence in "reality" television, made her name as a controversial participant in the American version of The Apprentice with Donald Trump, and feuded with Piers Morgan in The Celebrity Apprentice.
In May this year, Duncan made a film for the animal-rights group Peta, talking about his conversion to a vegan lifestyle, and how he had thrown away £3,135.13 worth of meat when he did. Two months later, he suffered a massive heart attack.
Date of Birth: 21 July 1923, North Shields, North Tyneside, England, UK
Birth Name: Tony Scott
Nicknames: Anthony Scott
A former advertising director who followed his brother Ridley (now Sir Ridley) to Hollywood, his glossy, commercial sensibility powered films such as Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days of Thunder – testosterone-filled movies described by one critic as “visual amphetamines”.
A director with little interest in ideas or morality, he created a visual sheen that lingered in the memory long after narrative and characters were forgotten. Although he was accused of vulgarity and excessive love of hardware, Scott instinctively understood the power of images and was obsessive in his quest for visual impact.
But for all the reviewing community’s artistic unease, Scott was that rarest of beasts: a British filmmaker with a blockbuster reputation. That he lived in Hollywood, collected Ferraris and Harleys and hustled through relationships, only further alienated the sensibilities of his European peers.
He had extraordinary energy, producing and directing movies, making advertisements and, with his brother “Rid”, buying and managing Shepperton studios. Often involved with 20 projects simultaneously, he relaxed by climbing mountains and running. If his films were often accused of having a shiny core where the insight or empathy might have been, no one disputed his contention that his interest lay with “people who live their life on the edge”.
Anthony David Scott was born in North Shields on July 21 1944, seven years after his brother Ridley, and educated at Stockton-on-Tees. He enjoyed painting and rugby, while the proximity of the moors encouraged a love of the wild he retained all his life. Each summer in his youth he hitchhiked to the Alps to climb.
While at grammar school, he appeared as the title character in his brother’s first short film, Boy On A Bicycle. He then studied painting at Sunderland Art School, Leeds College of Art and Design and finally, on a scholarship, the Royal College .
Realising that he was unlikely to sustain a career as a painter, he joined his brother’s fledgling television production company. Ridley recalled: “I knew he had a fondness for cars, so I told him, 'Come work with me and within a year you’ll have a Ferrari.’ And he did.”
Ridley also taught Tony the techniques of making lush, high-quality shorts and, when he left for Hollywood, passed on several gold-tinted franchises, including the Hovis advert, featuring another boy on a bicycle. While Ridley enjoyed early success with Alien and Blade Runner, Tony made thousands of commercials, evolving a singular visual style and winning awards for his work for Chanel, Marlboro and Levis.
After Ridley’s success, and that of fellow “out-of-advertising” British filmmakers such as Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne and David Puttnam, it was inevitable that Tony Scott would try his luck in Hollywood.
But his first feature, the dark, moody The Hunger (1983), starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve – was almost his last. A self-consciously arty, Gothic tale of a vampire forced to find a cure for her rapidly ageing lover, the film was a self-confessed “total knock-off of Nic Roeg’s Performance”, and most memorable for a lesbian love scene between Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.
Despite sumptuous cinematography (albeit compromised by Scott’s fatal attraction to the shorthand of advertising coloured filters, exquisitely photographed smoke, fluttering curtains, shafts of light streaming through blinds), the film was mauled by the critics and Hollywood insiders. The director recalled that, after the first screening, “on my parking space my name was painted out. I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. Nobody had the balls to tell me I’d been fired.”
He returned to making commercials until the producer Jerry Bruckheimer hired him to direct Top Gun (1986). Initially he couldn’t “see” the movie. “I wanted to make Apocalypse Now on an aircraft carrier. Then I got it. It’s rock-and-roll, silver jets in a bright blue sky, good-looking guys.” Taking his “look” from a Bruce Weber photograph, Scott was a self-confessed magpie he created the ultimate feel good movie in which Tom Cruise’s air force recruit tried to pass out top of the flying academy and retain the love of Kelly McGillis.
The film, described by one critic as “a sleek, pulsating paean to testosterone”, took £220.59 million at the box office, propelled Cruise to superstar status and Scott on to the Hollywood A-list.
He was rewarded with Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), a hugely successful action sequel starring Eddie Murphy’s wisecracking, rule-busting policeman which confirmed Scott as a director capable of delivering high energy drama loosely attached to a plot.
Both hits were made with Jerry Bruckheimer, who kept Scott’s less commercial instincts at bay, and when Scott made his next film without Bruckheimer, it showed. Revenge (1990) was a darker thriller, a story of adultery in Mexico starring Kevin Costner and Madeleine Stowe. It leaned towards a darker palette reminiscent of the paintings of Francis Bacon that had inspired Scott as a student and was panned.
Back in the cockpit with his usual producer and a familiar star, Days of Thunder (1991) was Top Gun in a different machine. With fighter pilots replaced by racing drivers, Cruise reprised his role as the talented but reckless young buck who has to control his emotions as much as his motor. But the movie failed to repeat his earlier success, the public evidently taking the view that there was no point in watching the same film twice.
Scott was conscious that he was being typecast as a director of blockbusters, so when he was introduced to a video store employee, unknown scriptwriter and fledgling filmmaker called Quentin Tarantino, he tried to buy the rights to True Romance and Reservoir Dogs . Tarantino refused to sell Reservoir Dogs, using the money Scott paid for True Romance to fund filming it.
But his script for True Romance, a Bonnie and Clyde-themed tale of a hooker and her lover on the run from almost everyone, was sharp edged and allowed Scott the opportunity to focus on individuals as much as action. Although it attracted a cast including Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Patricia Arquette, Christian Slater and, in a cameo, Samuel L Jackson, initial reactions were lukewarm though it attained cult status after the by now ludicrously hip Tarantino blessed it.
Having established his ability to handle the egos of multiple stars in a single picture, the permanently pink baseball-capped, cigar-toting Scott had little trouble attracting Hollywood’s finest to his projects. Crimson Tide (1995) starred Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington as two submariners without radio contact to base who take opposing views over whether they should launch a nuclear attack on a Russian island.
The Fan (1996), which portrayed a baseball fan stalking his hero, starred Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, Wesley Snipes and Benicio Del Toro, and was followed by Enemy of the State (1998), a hi-tech thriller in which Will Smith’s hapless lawyer was forced to take on the government machine. An opportunity for the director to pay homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s paranoid classic The Conversation, what Enemy of the State lacked in originality it made up in pace and in Gene Hackman’s beautifully understated portrayal of a tired, cynical investigator.
Spy Game (2001), which had to be cut after the September 11 terrorist attacks, again examined the not always beneficent power of the state. The film portrayed retiring spymaster Robert Redford’s attempts to spring his young partner (Brad Pitt) from a Chinese jail, where he faced execution for spying, despite the refusal of his bosses to help.
Scott’s technical skills and his obsession with cinematography at the expense of narrative were again visible in Man On Fire (2004). This starred Denzel Washington as a tortured ex-CIA agent hired to protect a child in Mexico City who was, to no one’s surprise, kidnapped. Displaying all Scott’s capacity for hi-tech mayhem with hand-held camera shots and jump-cut editing, the hackneyed story bounded along furiously towards its inevitable conclusion.
Domino (2005), which starred Keira Knightley as the heiress-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey, was universally panned, as much for its woeful miscasting as for the over-exuberant editing which elbowed what little plausible narrative there was aside.
Denzel Washington also starred in two of Scott’s more recent films, The Taking Of Pelham 123 (2009) and Unstoppable (2010). Latterly Scott had been producing for television as well as films.
For a director of such energy and success, Scott was a surprisingly soft-spoken man who retained his Geordie accent all his life. He indulged his love of fast cars, motorbikes and women, and his highly publicised affair with Sylvester Stallone’s ex-wife and the female lead of Beverly Hills Cop II, Brigitte Nielson, put paid to his own second marriage.
Reportedly a man who needed only three hours’ sleep a night, he awoke to three cups of black coffee and a large Monte Cristo, the first of 12 each day. He was a passionate mountaineer who claimed to be never happier than when “5,000ft up on a cliff face”. An art collector of catholic tastes, he acquired works by artists ranging from Robert Rauschenberg to Guido Reni.
The Scott brothers did not suffer from sibling rivalry; rather, they worked together over Shepperton, understood their respective strengths and rejoiced at each other’s success. “Ridley makes films for posterity,” Tony once observed. “My films are more rock ’n’ roll.”
Tony Scott, who apparently committed suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles, married three times and divorced twice. His second marriage was to the BBC producer Glynis Staunton. He is survived by his third wife, Donna, and their two children.