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Tag: peter o’toole

Not Minding That It Hurts


Little Boy Blues is Malcolm Jones’ beautiful memoir about growing up with his mother (and sometimes, his father) in North Carolina in the late Fifties and early Sixties.  It’s my favorite kind of memoir–understated, succinct, honed. The prose is precise without being delicate: “My father was a quiet man. If he put more than two sentences together, that was a speech. There was nothing forbidding or taciturn about his silence, though. On the contrary, it was somehow companionable, almost comforting. He wore his quietness lightly, like a windbreaker.”

The book’s also funny: “On the one hand, I was an incorrigible optimism. I had no reasons for this, never figured out where this notion that things were bound to get better came from, but nothing could extinguish it. At the same time, I spent a good part of every day being terrified of something–anything from mayonnaise in sandwiches to batting against the older kids in backyard baseball games. I was like the boy who confronts a roomful of manure and becomes convinced that somewhere in that room is a pony. It was just that I was equally convinced the pony would eat me.”

I think you guys would dig it. Here’s a taste for you, reprinted with the author’s permission.


From Little Boy Blues

By Malcolm Jones

It was still hot outside when we left the movie theater. I had expected that. It was the darkness that took me by surprise. We had gone in while it was still broad daylight, and now it was full dark, an impenetrable darkness made even thicker and blacker by the humid heat of a late-summer night and the myriad tiny white-hot lights burning in the ceiling that projected well past the ticket booth, all the way out over the sidewalk, where the lights mapped a bright island on the concrete sidewalk. The ceiling supported an electric sign that spelled out, in a foursquare block-letter style, the word WINSTON, blazing in the night. Time had gotten away while I wasn’t looking.

“What are you waiting for, honey?” my mother said. “Let’s go.”

I was stuck in that island of light. We had crossed the thickly carpeted lobby lined with wall sconces generating just enough illumination to make the small room resemble a cave. We had pushed through the lobby’s heavy metal doors draped in lush velvet curtains, passing out of the twilit dimness of the lobby into the abrupt brilliance of the outside foyer. And there, between the theater and the real world, with my mother marching ahead, already almost to the sidewalk, I stopped to let my eyes adjust to the hot light that seemed to set the night on fire. The first things I saw when my vision returned were the heavy chrome and glass cases set into the walls flanking the foyer. Each case contained half a dozen stills from the film we had just seen, and every image shimmered like a tiny mirage. And there I stopped.

Mother was still speaking, but I barely heard her. I was too busy concentrating on the scenes depicted in those glass cases. My eye moved from one image to the next, dawdling the longest on Peter O’Toole as T. E. Lawrence striding down a sand dune toward a dynamited train lying on its side in the desert. Beside it was one of Lawrence smeared with blood after butchering Turkish soldiers on his way to Damascus. The movie ate up all the space in my head, addling me so thoroughly that I could not find words to express what I felt. I was not the same person who went into that movie theater, and I was having trouble catching up with myself.

Lawrence of Arabia was by far the most complex film I had ever seen, starting with an early scene in British headquarters in Cairo where Lawrence was a mapmaker. A soldier pulls out a cigarette. Lawrence lights it for him and then lets the match burn all the way down to his fingers. When another soldier tries the same thing with a lit match, he drops it, exclaiming, “Ow, it ’urts! What’s the trick?” Lawrence calmly replies, “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” A few minutes later, a black-clad Arab guns down Lawrence’s guide in the desert and then threatens to take his compass. “Nice English compass,” the killer says. “How about I take it?” Lawrence says, “Then that would make you a thief.” Impervious to pain, brave, resourceful—Lawrence’s exploits looked like the stuff of Boy Scout training manuals. Then, a bit at a time, it all came undone. He lost his Arab army and then his confidence. The capture of Damascus from the Turks felt hollow, even to me, although I wasn’t ready to give up on Lawrence. I walked out at the end not knowing what to think. Part of me was still mentally charging toward that wrecked train. But another part of me grappled with Lawrence’s uneasiness in his role as hero. I didn’t know quite what to make of him—it would be years before I understood that I wasn’t supposed to—and this disturbed me, had been disturbing me, in fact, since the movie started.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Directed by David Lean Shown: Peter O'Toole

No sooner had the opening credits disappeared off the screen than Lawrence got killed in a motorcycle accident. The death of the hero in the first five minutes of a movie was not something I was used to, and for a while I nursed the hope that perhaps he would come back to life, injured but alive. But no: the rest of the movie, all three hours plus, was a flashback. And in case you forgot how it all started, the filmmakers had inserted a scene at the very end where Lawrence, on his way home to England from Arabia, sees a motorcycle—the very instrument of his death—coming toward the car in which he’s riding.

“Honey, hurry up!” I looked up out of my reverie to see my mother standing fifty feet down the sidewalk, waiting for me to catch up. Reluctantly, I followed her, and as soon as I passed from that pool of light—that enchanted territory—the spell was broken. The vividness—so intense that almost fifty years later I can still remember almost every detail of that movie and every detail of what I felt while watching it, even what I ate and drank while I watched—all that vanished in the split second in which I passed from light to dark and hurried to catch up with my mother.


[Photo Credits: (featured image) Stepan Obruchkob via Lover of Beauty; William Gale Gedney and Facebook]

Million Dollar Movie


My father was a Sid Caesar man. Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour trumped Benny, Berle, and Gleason.

So when My Favorite Year came out, Dad was eager to take his children to see it. I was eleven years old and we went one Saturday afternoon to the Paramount. I always loved that theater because it was underground. Dad fell asleep during the movie but my brother, sister and I enjoyed ourselves. It didn’t matter that Dad passed out (he was still boozin’ then). The subject meant something to him. The movie was funny and sentimental. And O’Toole was nominated for an  Oscar.

And Dad woke up for the finale:

[Photo Via: Cinema Treasures]

Million Dollar Movie

I remember being fascinated by this movie poster when I was a kid. It was cool and sinister. Wasn’t until years later that I saw the movie, which remains overlooked, but is now available on Blue Ray DVD. Dig this Q&A with Peter O’Toole in the New York Times:

Q: How is it that “The Stunt Man” was as well-reviewed and widely nominated as it was, and yet played in so few theaters?

A.Don’t forget this is a long time ago, and I wasn’t very au fait with everything that was going on in any way. But apparently the guy who put up the bread, the money, I think he was a supermarket builder or something. [Melvin Simon, the producer, was a shopping mall developer.] He had bought the script and the entire idea on the fact that it was an art film, and it made sense on his balance books to lose money. I think eventually it crept into 11 cinemas, which is a bit shameful. [After a successful test run for "The Stunt Man" in Seattle, 20th Century Fox picked up distribution rights for the film but ordered only about 300 prints.]

Q.Was it disappointing to have put in so much effort into something that was not seen by a large number of viewers, or is that just the way it goes sometimes?

A.It’s almost the nature of my line of work. [chuckles] I began in the theater, don’t forget. I was with the Classical Repertory Company, the Bristol Old Vic, and we did 12 plays a year. Over a period of four years you can imagine the number of times one had the highest hopes [laughs] and you find you’re playing to – as the old actors used to say – Mr. and Mrs. Wood. Which meant nobody was in the audience but the seats. I’m used to it, but it was a disappointment.

For more on O’Toole check out Gay Talese’s 1963 Esquire profile, “Peter O’Toole on the Ould Sod.”

The best of them won't come for money; they'll come for me…

Happy birthday to one of the true heavyweights of stage and screen – Peter O’Toole turns 78 today.  O’Toole is not only an exceptional actor, he’s also a true “star” in a way we rarely see anymore. He may have been riffing on Errol Flynn in his brilliant performance in My Favorite Year, but it was clear there was more than a little of himself in Alan Swann too.

O’Toole’s sometimes boozy, seemingly always cheerful, outsized personality and his talk show appearances are as legendary as his performances (remember him riding a camel onto the stage for David Letterman?). Nominated 8 times for the Best Actor Oscar, he’s never won, but did accept an honorary Academy Award for his body of work (which he initially refused). Here’s a snippet from one of those nominated performances, as movie director Eli Cross in Richard Rush’s 1980 film The Stunt Man:

Since attempting to watch Lawrence of Arabia at work seems like a bad idea, and its too early to raise a pint to the old Irishman, why not mark the occasion by reading Gay Talese’s terrific 1963 Esquire profile of O’Toole.

O'Toole and Richard Burton in Becket (1964)

Happy birthday, Peter. Let’s hope we see you up on the silver screen again soon.

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