In a galaxy far, far away… actually, in 1994, I drew a quick caricature of Sir Alec Guinness. In the absence of a stage door to stand at or a reliable agent’s address, I found out that he was a member of The Garrick Club, Charing Cross Road in London. I was in the city at the time, so I made a couple of copies, wrote a note and left it with a stamped self addressed envelope before heading back to New Zealand.
This month I read that the British Library had recently bought 1000 letters and 100 volumes of his hand written diaries from his family for £320,000. The archive will go on display next year.
Catherine Ostler in the Daily Mail wrote: “To some fans, Sir Alec Guinness will always be remembered as Obi Wan Kenobi, the sagacious Jedi Knight of the Star Wars films. To others, he is The Bridge On The River Kwai’s resolute but misguided Colonel Nicholson.
These and other brilliant performances — in Ealing comedies, Lawrence Of Arabia, Dr Zhivago and TV’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — should surely have left him secure in the knowledge that he stood at the pinnacle of his profession. Yet his private writings, previously unseen by the public, reveal this titan of the screen and stage to have been a flawed, insecure man who found release in petty malice.”
Nobody escaped his barbed comments, from the Queen down. Even the great Sir Laurence Olivier. For more than half a century they shared the accolades as the greatest actors of their generation, but behind the scenes a poisonous rivalry existed. He called his fellow thespian “cruel, unpleasant, destructive and pretentious.” He did, however, balance that by praising Lord Larry as a “total actor – technically brilliant.”
It is common knowledge he disliked the Star Wars trilogy and would throw away fanmail associated with it. he called it “fairy-tale rubbish”. In spite of an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for his role, the theatrical knight wanted the Jedi Knight killed off and convinced George Lucas that it would make the character stronger (and he wouldn’t have to go on speaking that bloody awful, excruciating, banal dialogue, he confided).
The Star Wars films did, however, provide an income for the rest of his life. While he hated the films, he was shrewd enough to realise that the public wouldn’t, so struck a deal for 2% of the gross royalties, along with his initial salary. The franchise went on to become one of the most successful ever. He later said, “I have no complaints, I can live the rest of my life in the reasonably modest way I am now used to and I can afford to refuse work that doesn’t appeal to me.”
One person who he did like, and who sympathised with him was co-star Harrison Ford. Apparently, he said to the director, “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it!”
There was no doubt Sir Alec was a complex man – a shy introvert who shone on stage and screen. Melvyn Bragg said he was the weirdest, strangest person he’d ever interviewed. But, back in 1994 he signed my drawing and added some self-mockery. Six years later he passed away,aged 86. I wonder if I’m mentioned in his diary dispatches. A visit to the British Library next year could be worth it. The force (and the graph) is indeed with me, always.