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The Seven Year Itch - comedy by George Axelrod - Daryl Hannah - Billy Wilder
Michael Radford - Il Postino - Massimo Troisi

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell - Peter O’Toole - Keith Waterhouse
Jeffrey Bernard


I left my mother’s hospital around 6 o’clock after giving her dinner, washing her dentures. You never get over the pain of your mother’s illness; you just get used to it. I was raining, cold and I felt blue. I’d had a very tough time, awful, ugly, I was really down. I had a black hat on my head, a bag on my back with my mother’s dirty smelly clothes and carrying plastic bags containing some food. I looked really miserable.

I got on a bus and arrived at Piccadilly Circus, walked along Shaftesbury Avenue (the famous road of theatres in the West End of London), arrived at the Queen’s Theatre and said: “Do you have a cheap ticket for tonight?” He said, “Are you a senior citizen?” I thought “Oh my God, I must look awfully distressed.” I said “No.” He said, “Are you a senior citizen?” Again, in despair – and I must looked even more decrepit than before – “NO”. He said again “Are you a senior citizen?” I thought to myself, I must look so awful so I thought, let’s try, and I said “YES” this time. He said, “Ok, Fifteen pounds, please.” And he gave me the best seat in the theatre in the second row of the stalls. I have never felt so pleased to get old, although I’m not quite dead yet, and to have this wonderful seat in the theatre.

Still looking miserable, I left my plastic bags in the cloakroom and found my seat. I was thinking that being a senior citizen in the UK is very fashionable in some cases – “Been there, done that” - you are respected and given a cheap seat in the theatre, cinema even hairdressers, restaurant, not forgetting the Freedom Bus Pass. Although in some quarters a senior citizen can experience ageism. I found being called a senior citizen very funny and started to read my programme. The theatre began to fill up, mainly with Americans.

Just two seconds before the curtain went up I was disturbed by three people wanting to come into my row to get to their sears in the centre. I thought to myself, why on earth couldn’t they come before? I stood up to let them pass, making body contact, and I looked into this man’s eyes, breathing the same air for a second (me with my dirty hair and smelling like a wet dog) and them I realised it was HIM! Oh gosh!!! I can’t believe it’s HIM. I immediately became very embarrassed trying to become a young girl again but not making too obvious in case I was moved because I wasn’t really a senior citizen. I sat back completely shocked. Yes, It was Peter O’Toole, slim and with the most beautiful eyes in the cinema: the man of my dreams there right next to me to whom I would like to write love letters. He looked very elegant and was enjoying the jokes with his companions. It would be luck to see him when I was looking my worst. My eyes were on him for the entire interval. Oh my God – he’s gorgeous.

The Seven Year Itch is a comedy by George Axelrod that was first stage in 1952 on Broadway and became a great hit during the year Eisenhower was President of the United States. Later there was a movie version directed and adapted by Billy Wilder (Samuel Wilder but nicknamed Bill by his mother after Buffalo Bill). He was born in 1906 in Sucha then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but now in Poland. In 1942 he got Ginger Rogers for The Major and the Minor – his Hollywood debut. He later won three Oscar for his film The Apartment in 1960. He created the most-enduring Hollywood image of Marilyn Monroe writhing above a subway vent and he fabulous white dress billowing up in The Seven Year Itch in 1955, an unforgettable classic cinematic moment. One of the scenes shows Marilyn keeping her knickers in the fridge. (My husband didn’t have a seven-year itch, it was an all-year-around itch from the very first day I knew him. He started itching and I didn’t know how to handle the situation, it was very hurtful then but when I look back it is funny because he did the same thing to all his other women.)

My favourite Wilder film is Some like it Hot, 1959. I always remember the end where Jack Lemmon revealed to his fiancé that he is a man and the fiancé answered back impassively: “Well, nobody’s perfect”.

The director of The Seven Year Itch play was Michael Radford (Oscar nominated British film director) making with this play his West End debut. I think this was the first time that Radford and Daryl Hannah had been involved with the stage. Radford directed her last film Dacing at the Blue Iguana. He has also directed 1984 and Il Postino with the Italian actor Massimo Troisi, it was his last film, he died on the last day of filming.

My greatest memory of Massimo Troisi is a sketch for television. He had the characteristic Neapolitan comic accent and used to make a joke about his “Angel Custodian” looking over his shoulder but the angel never seemed to be there when needed. He was a really funnyman – a great loss to the Italian cinema.

The stage design by Tim Goodchild for The Seven Year Itch was an open-plan apartment where Richard lived. The design was of the fifties, with a balcony, a full moon and from the balcony can be seen the lights of Manhattan.

Richard is alone in New York; his wife and son are on holiday. He is having his seven-year itch. Richard enters into a monologue about his life, relationship etc and then he goes onto the terrace, looking at the lights of Manhattan. A vase is throw from the balcony above which nearly hits him. He looks up and sees a very sexy blonde who makes him feels young again and he invites her down for a drink. They eventually go to bed together but he feels very guilty and thinks she is going to blackmail him and is worried that his wife will find out that he has slept with the girl who has an abundance of sex appeal. He had been trying to stop smoking and drinking but with this new experience he has started again and they both got drunk.

Daryl Hannah appears in all her beauty. She really lit up the stage and also has a great sense of humour. Very tall, with a well-toned body, fabulous bone-structure and milky skin certainly one for the gym, looking very well after her body. Has a very husky, high-whine, baby voice. And wore some sensational outfits of the fifties. She wore very sexy, transparent lingerie with decollates. Playing the role as a flirtatious vamp. She played a woman of 22 although in real life she is 39.

Daryl is very shy and she had to take tranquillisers to appears at the Oscar had had to be hypnotised in order to make her stage debut. Also has a fear of flying and has to hold the arm of the person next to her. Never gives interviews, her producer have to talk on her behalf. She says, “I just freeze, I get catatonic. I can’t think. I can’t move, I can’t see. I can’t hear.”

At 15 she left home for Hollywood and her own favourite movie is Blade Runner where she played Pris a gymnastic replicant. Played a mermaid in Splash, the mousy hairdresser in Steel Magnolias and the junkie hooker in The Last Days of Frankie the Fly opposite to Dennis Hopper.

Both her and Marilyn have similarity; they were both involved with the Kennedys. Marilyn dated John, the Us President and also Robert, his brother, while Hannah dated the President Kennedy’s son John-John for four years. It’s all in the family as Grandpa Joe Kennedy dated Gloria Swanson. The Kennedy clan all want to be seen with Hollywood stars.

When John Kennedy Jr left her she returned for a short time, to the musician Jackson Browne their relationship had last 10 years although he had beaten her up and put her in hospital when he found out she was dating Kennedy. She then went back to University and the New York Film School, directing an award-winning short film, contemplating a career on the other side of the camera.

At the end of the of The Seven Year Itch, when the cast took their bows at the end of the performance I noticed Daryl sent out a gesture to Peter O‘Toole. The public loved her very much and applauded for a very long time.

In this last theatre season we have seen some of the Hollywood stars on the London stage, staring with Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room, Katherine Turner and Jerry Hall in The Graduate and the former child phenomenon Macaulay Calkin, Donald Sutherland. They all think it is great to star on the London stage and they feel safer in London and the costs of production are cheaper in London than on Broadway. They are prepared to accept very low fees compared to what they normally command. Just for the honour of saying they have appeared on the London stage. The influx of stars coming to London also goes back to 1980s when such stars as Lauren Bacall, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman appeared on the London stage.

But being in a West End theatre with one of the most famous actors sitting next to me was really terrific. Peter O’Toole in person, very slim and elegant-looking for all his 68 years, smoking Gauloises during the interval with his famous ebony cigarette holder and he didn’t reply to the only person who dared talk to him. He made his “entrances” late – both at the start of the performance and again during the interval (I liked this very much because it gave me the opportunities for twice body contact). He did this so that everyone could see he was Peter O’Toole. Not only everybody saw him going to his seat but he moved his head around and talked about the theatre’s ceiling and when the curtain went up he nearly stole the scene from what was happening on stage. Ha! Actors! They are all the same – they really like the attention even if they profess not to.

Peter is best know for his last performance in the theatre as Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. I saw this play in 1989 at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. The play, by Keith Waterhouse, is about an English journalist who had four wives, and how died in 1997; a raging alcoholic and a smoker, things that he shared with Peter. Bernard says he slept with 500 women, even his best friend’s spouses and he said he was a terrible husband to all his wives. Typical!

Jeffrey was very funny; he even vomited on the Queen Mother’s feet at Ascot, when he was a columnist for Sporting Life. I really liked his character. He once fell asleep at the moment he was to give a speech at a dinner. The next day he failed to produce his article (as often happened) so he went to his editor and said, whipping out his penis “Beat that!” The editor replied “You’re fired”. At The Spectator magazine with his famous political incorrectness column he wrote: “You can hardly blame Arabs for making their women cover their faces”. Of one girlfriend he wrote “I am going to lend her to a farmer to frighten the cows”. He was full of self-deprecation. “The trouble is, I bore myself. When even a self-obsessed man is made to yawn by his own day-dreams then there’s no-where to go”.

Alexander Chancellor, the former Editor of The Spectator that had given him a column, said “He was a nightmare to work with. He used to ring me at three in the morning and shout: “You fucking cunt, I got you”. His agent said: “He was rather dapper, reeked of after shave and was always desperate for a fuck”. What a man!!!

Bernard said of Dennis Shan the actor: “The face that closed a thousand cinema”. Another friend said, “The problem was that he was the star of his own show and there was no space for a supporting cast.” When he lost his leg towards the end of his life he asked one of the nurses to go out and buy him a parrot to put on his shoulder!

He had many newspapers job and lived in eternal hangover for most of the time in Soho, in a bohemian world of poets, painters, prostitutes, and bookmakers, among them the famous Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud. Jeffrey had many illnesses and was one of Britain’s most famous drunkards.

The title of the play comes from the fact tat he often was too drunk to produce his article on time so the newspaper used to print Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. At the time of the play I saw him I the stalls bar as he used to drink there. He was an attraction for theatre-goers but once a temporary member of staff tried to remove him from sleeping in the bar but a women serving in the bar said, “You can’t do that, that’s Jeffrey Bernard”. When Jeffrey Bernard eventually died, he was even late arriving for his own funeral (traffic jam). Peter O’Toole, Keith Waterhouse and Ned Sherrin who were waiting for him decided to repeat the play, so two years after his death it was put on the Old Vic.

Peter O’Toole played the role for 300 times, it was mostly a monologue but with asides from other actors reminiscing about Jeffrey. The play features him being locked, by mistake, inside his favourite pub and he spends the night recalling his memories, anecdotes and reminiscing. The pub was of course the Coach and Horses in Greek Street, Soho. (I have tried many times to go inside but the looks I was given intimidate me when I only just opened the door, so I have given up. I don’t drink anymore but I would just like to go there to soak up the atmosphere where Peter O’Toole, John Hurt, Keith Waterhouse, Richard Burton, Richard Harris etc all drunk to excess as well as Jeffrey Bernard and all went hell-raising around the world.)

The breathtaking scene of the play – the audience goes completely silent – is the famous egg trick where Peter has to move the egg from on place to another. If it went wrong (it never did – the egg was actually hard-boiled) it would splatter the front two rows of the audience. Another scene was of the imaginary cat racing (the horseracing had been called off because of the bad weather). Each race took place with full commentary and bets were put on it.

Altogether it is a very hilarious play. Throughout the play he has a fag in one had and a glass of vodka in the other. It is about a drunk and attracts a lot of people. The best person to play the role is Peter O’Toole. He said to Jeffrey: “I ‘m not going to do an impersonation of you” and Jeff replied “thank God for that, because I’ve been impersonating you for 30 years”. The critics loved it – “exceptional role is a natural for Peter. He is the best drunk I’ve seen on stage, completely natural, considering he no longer drinks. He stopped after he was rushed to hospital with a pancreatic problem. Peter said that in the last years he has been to many friends’ funeral such as Jeff’s. “They’re dropping like flies. It’s the end of an era…” Also the funeral of the jazzman, his friend from Soho, Ronnie Scott.

Peter O’Toole married the actress Sian Phillips (in her biography Private Faces she mentions him on the penultimate page, his “two long slim feet”. He proposes to her “Will you have my babies?” They married in 1959. He said of her “Sian doesn’t have a career. She just does jobs”. He said his “marriage was very nice while it lasted”. (Vinicius de Moraes, the Brazilian poet, also a drunk, said “love is beautiful while it lasts” – “O amor e belo enquanto dura). Peter and Sian had two daughters; Kate who lives in Ireland; I think Pat is a journalist? He has a third son with his American girlfriend – Lorcan, who spends the school-time with him and holidays with his mother in America. He loves to be a father and takes his role very seriously. He likes children and teaches cricket to the under-tens.

Peter has had a great cinematography career but the role, which made him a famous international star, was as Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. He also has a great friendship with Omar Sharif – whilst making the film together they had the time of their life! He also starred in What’s New Pussycat? And in The Last Emperor directed by Bertolucci.

He has also been writing his autobiography in four books. I bought one and used to carry it around me hoping to meet and get him to autograph it. I missed my opportunity when he was so close to me in the theatre as I’d left the book in Italy. He is also writing a novel.

It is a pity he doesn’t plan re-marry. He said he doesn’t want to inflict himself on another woman but he can inflict himself on me anytime! As an old-fashioned female I dream only to settle down with an attractive, caring man such as Peter O’Toole.

He consider himself an adopted Londoner but, although of Irish descent, was brought up in Leeds with his sister and very lovely parents that were married for 50 years. His father smoked all his life; he was never without a cigarette in his mouth. Once Peter saw his father smoking in the front row of a theatre and, even if it hadn’t been allowed, he wouldn’t have cared. His parents saw everything he starred in until their death.

Tall and with this rake-thin face showing all the excesses of life, a bit of blonde hair still there. I hope he has sorted out his dental problem because I read that he had a bridge problem just like me – could we together start a beautiful friendship discussing our dentures?

I left the play The Seven Year Itch feeling very-down-in the mouth. I looked back and saw Peter and his friends still in their seats – obviously they were going backstage. I was mortified to see later in the Evening Standard, Peter and Daryl partying and - Would you believe it – holding hands. So my dream has gone. Only in London can one have this kind of emotional experience!!!

 

Verinha Ottoni.




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