The late Marvin ‘Mr Showbiz’ Hamlisch remains one of the most decorated composers in entertainment. One of sixteen people to have won the E.G.O.T.; an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award, only he and Richard Rodgers have added the Pulitzer Prize to this distinguished set of American awards. His 50 plus movie scores range from spoofs such as NAKED GUN to tearjerkers like SOPHIE’S CHOICE and include a memorable Bond tune, ‘Nobody Dies It Better’ from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). With a dozen nominations, Marvin’s three Academy Awards were all won in 1973, two for THE WAY WE WERE and one for THE STING. His 1975 musical, A CHORUS LINE won two Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a Pulitzer for Drama and a Best Musical Olivier for the London production a year later. His four Grammy Awards were also won in 1975, collecting Best New Artist, two for THE WAY WE WERE soundtrack and title song and one for his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’, which featured in THE STING.
After a short illness Marvin passed away in 2012, aged 68. He was in London three years earlier for a two-date gig (“too brief to be called a ‘whirlwind’, he quipped) at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho in August 2009, where he signed for me.
The infamous line, listed in various polls as the funniest ever in film, uttered by Brian Cohen’s mother, Mandy to the gathering crowd, after her son, born on the same day as their neighbour Jesus, is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah in the cult 1979 religious farce MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN.
Regarded as the British comedy troupe’s masterpiece, and by a number of critics as the best comedy film of all time, the cutting-edge, controversial movie was banned in Ireland, Norway and several parts of Britain, securing its a place in cinematic history. It was directed by the late Python, Welsh genius Terry Jones, who also appeared as Mandy, as well as various other roles including a saintly passer-by, and an alarmed crucifixion assistant.
Sadly we lost Terry last January at the age of 77. In early 2016 he directed the world premiere of JEEPERS CREEPERS , Robert Ross’ play about the life of comedian Marty Feldman at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. After drawing this quick portrait sketch of Terry and as Mandy Cohen, I caught up with him at the venue during rehearsals, where he was happy to sign.
The 89 year-old maestro, John Williams, considered one of the greatest and most influential film composers of all time, producing the most popular, recognisable and acclaimed movie scores over the past seven decades (including JAWS, the STAR WARS sagas, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ET, THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL,the INDIANA JONES and JURASSIC film franchises and SCHINDLER’S LIST to name only a handful). He has won 25 Grammys, five Oscars, seven BAFTAs, four Golden Globes, three Emmys and a myriad of other accolades, which sums up his spectacular contribution to film music. His 52 Academy Award nominations are the second most by an individual, behind Walt Disney. He has had a long association with Steven Spielberg since 1974 scoring all but five of his feature films.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting the maestro once, when he and George Lucas were at ShoWest in Las Vegas in the 1990s. He was conducting the local symphony orchestra performing a number of STAR WARS medleys. From 1983 to 1993 John was principal conductor of the Boston Pops succeeding Arthur Fiedler. While there he signed a card for me adding the opening few bars of the infamous dum dum dum dum Intro to JAWS. A few years ago I sent this sketch to his agent hoping to get it signed, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible.
John was scheduled to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in October 2018 which gave me an opportunity to get the drawing signed in person, but due to a last minute illness he was unable to attend.
The ‘dazzlingly versatile’ Canadian actor, Christopher Plummer, who passed away on Friday at the age of 91 once said, “I just can’t tell you what fun I’ve had being a member of the world’s second oldest profession. I’ve had a wonderful life, seeing the world and they’ve paid for it.” Few acting careers, which straddled seven decades, have had such longevity and impact.
After his cinema debut in Sidney Lumet’s theatre drama STAGE STRUCK with Henry Fonda in 1958, Christopher featured in over 120 movie productions. His biggest hit and arguably best-known role was the singing Austrian widower and retired anti-Nazi naval Captain Georg von Trapp in Robert Wise’s 1965 classic musical THE SOUND OF MUSIC, with Dame Julie Andrews. Although it proved to be his breakthrough performance to stardom, he always felt uneasy. Initially reluctant to take on the role, his open distaste for the film has mellowed over time. “I’ve made my peace with it”, he said in a 2018 Guardian interview.
Christopher first appeared on Broadway in 1953 in THE STARCROSS STORY, a play that closed on opening night. However after such an inauspicious start, he finished with seven Tony Award nominations, winning for the title roles in CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1974) and BARRYMORE (1997). In 1961 he made his West End debut as King Henry II in BECKET for the Royal Shakespeare Company at London’s Aldwych Theatre, later transferring to the Globe. For his performance, he won the Evening Standard Award.
While he gained recognition for his film, television and theatre performances throughout his distinguished career, it wasn’t until 2010 that Chris received his first Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy in THE LAST STATION and like the proverbial London bus, followed by two more in quick succession. “Well, I said it’s about time. I’m 80 years old for God’s sake. Have mercy”, he said after the nomination announcement. He didn’t win on that occasion, but was successful on the second attempt, two years later for Best Supporting Actor as Hal Fields, who comes out gay in his senior years, becoming the oldest recipient of the Oscar. He also won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG awards. In 2018 he continued to break the records when, at 88 he became the oldest nominee for his performance as multi-billionaire oil tycoon J.Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s crime thriller ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (2017). “There’s not that many old actors.They all died. I’m one of the last men standing,” he quipped.
With over seventy small screen appearances, Chris has also been nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning twice for his work on the miniseries THE MONEYCHANGERS and his narration of the children’s TV series MADELINE (1994).
I found a final quote, “I’m too old-fashioned to use a computer. I’m too old-fashioned to use a quill,” but he did use a black sharpie to kindly sign a couple of portrait sketches I sent to him at his home in Weston, Connecticut a couple of years ago.
As George Takei, Christopher’s co-star in STAR TREK Vl (1991)” said in his tribute, “Rest in eternal music.”
In the early years of television transmission in New Zealand during the later half of the 1960s I used to watch an Australian show called SKIPPY THE BUSH KANGAROO. It followed the adventures of a young boy and a highly intelligent marsupial, set in the fictional Waratah National Park near Sydney. A popular character was Clarissa ‘Clancy’ Merrick played by English actress Liza Goddard – my first introduction to one of my and Britain’s favourite performers.
Since then, Liza’s stage and small screen career has spanned five decades, with over 30 theatre appearances in the UK including a number of West End productions. Another telly favourite of mine was BERGERAC, which starred John Nettles in the title role as the unorthodox police officer and recovering alcoholic on the Channel island of Jersey. I mention this because Liza played the recurring role of glamorous jewel thief Philippa Vale, nicknamed ‘The Ice Maiden’. Years later Liza reunited with her ‘old flame’ John (as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby) in an episode of MIDSOMER MURDERS, another favourite.
During the gap between the pandemic lockdowns this year, Liza appeared in the Theatre Royal Windsor’s socially-distanced production of Agatha Christie’s gripping psychological thriller, LOVE FROM A STRANGER, which ran for a week last month. I posted this quick portrait sketch to her and she kindly signed it for me.
English actress Gwendoline Christie returned to the London stage in the Autumn of 2019 to play the Queens, Titania and Hippolyta, in Nicolas Hytner’s immersive production of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at the Bridge Theatre.
She previously played the Queen in the Barbican’s staging of the Bard’s CYMBELINE in 2007 and Mag Wildwood in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S at the Theatre Royal Haymarket two years later. In 2010 she was Lucifer in DR FAUSTUS at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. The 191cm (that’s 6′ 3″ in the old money) Gwendoline has portrayed dominate roles on both the small and large screens, playing Brianne of Tarth in HBO’s fantasy-drama series GAME OF THRONES and First Order storm trooper Captain Plasma in STAR WARS:THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and THE LAST JEDI (2017). She received her first Emmy nomination for the former in 2019.
Gwendoline kindly signed both my sketches at the Bridge in October 2019.
Viennese director and screenwriter Jessica Hausner attended last year’s BFI London Film Festival to support her latest film LITTLE JOE. She has been described as one of the most inventive and surprising auteurs in the Austrian arthouse scene.
In her intro on Jessica for the BFI website, Carmen Grey acknowledges through the work of Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl that we have come to expect from Austrian cinema, a perverse delight in revealing the darker impulses underneath the veneer of civilised society. Carmen writes that Jessica “leans towards that tendency, but is less interested in limit-transgressing provocation than in nudging audiences into a zone of radical uncertainty. Hausner’s are female-centred films of ideas and philosophical experimentation.”
She gained international attention in 2001, when her first feature, LOVELY RITA, a portrait of a young girl confined by family constraints, was selected for the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at the Cannes Film Festival. Translated as ‘From another angle’, it is the prestigious French festival’s official selection of 20 films with unusual styles and non-traditional stories. Jessica’s 2019 feature LITTLE JOE has been described as a “floral Frankenstein horror.” It was in the official selection for the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where English-American actor Emily Beecham won the Best Actress Award for her portrayal of Alice Woodward, a floral breeder and single mother who creates a unique plant she calls ‘Little Joe’, after her son.
The BFI hosted ‘The Cinema of Jessica Hausner Retrospective’ from 21-29 February this year which Jessica attended. She signed this sketch when she arrived to participate in an ‘In Conversation’ event on the opening day.
One of France’s most influential contemporary filmmakers, screenwriter and director Celine Sciamma is known for exploring the themes of gender fluidity and sexual identity among women in her work. She cites David Lynch, Chantal Akerman and the writing of Virginia Woolf as major influences. Since her debut feature, WATER LILLIES in 2007, Celine has written and directed four features and was responsible for the screenplay for three other feature productions among other writing credits.
She has won numerous accolades, including a Cesar Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI, directed by Claude Barras and based on Gilles Paris’ 2002 novel ‘Autobiographies d’une Courgette’. The film was nominated for an Academy and BAFTA Award for Best Animated Feature in 2017.
Celine’s latest film, the erotic love story of two women in love, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE screened at last year’s London Film Festival, which Celine attended along with both leads Adele Haenel and Noemie Merlant. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay Award for Celine. The film was also nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and nine Cesar Awards. She is a founding member of the French branch of the ‘5050 by 2020’ movement, a group of movie industry professionals advocating gender parity in film.
Celine attended a screening and Q & A of the film at the Curzon Soho cinema last October, where she signed my sketch.
British actress Fay Ripley’s breakthrough role was Jenny Gifford in Granada Television’s production for the ITV network’s award-winning comedy-drama COLD FEET. It’s one of my favourite TV shows, following three couples experiencing the ups-and-downs of romance. The six core cast members were James Nesbitt and Helen Baxendale (Adam and Rachel), Hermione Norris and Robert Bathurst (Karen and David) and Fay and John Thomson (Jenny and Pete).
The nine series includes 60 episodes, beginning with the pilot in early 1997. Fay was part of the main cast through to 2003, guest starring during series five, when she divorced Pete and moved to New York with their son. Fay returned for the second run, starting in September 2016 until February this year. COLD FEET has won 20 major awards, including the BAFTA for Best Drama Series and the National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Programme. The series also received an International Emmy Award nomination.
Fay is the only cast member to be nominated for a BAFTA Award. She said of her character, “Jenny’s very ballsy and speaks her mind, but she’s more sensitive than people than people give her credit for. She’s seen as very hard, but I don’t think she is – it’s just that she won’t show her vulnerability to everyone.”
Fay signed my sketch at Wogan House after appearing on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio Two show in January this year.
One of the last surviving stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Dame Olivia de Havilland passed away peacefully at her home in Paris on Saturday, just a few weeks after her 104th Birthday. Her career spanned five decades, from 1935-1988, including 49 films. At the time of her death she was the oldest living performer to have won an Oscar.
Dame Olivia was renowned for playing strong, beguiling characters in difficult circumstances. The first of her Academy Award nominations, was for Best Supporting Actress, as Melanie Hamilton in the 1939 classic GONE WITH THE WIND. She won the Best Actress Oscar twice, the first for her performance as WW II fire warden Josephine ‘Jody’ Norris in TO EACH HIS OWN (1946) and her second, three years later as Catherine Sloper, a women who is controlled by her wealthy father and betrayed by her greedy lover in William Wyler’s THE HERIESS. She also won a Golden Globe for the role.
Dame Olivia continued to act until the late 1980’s winning her second Golden Globe Award in 1986 for ANASTASIA:THE MYSTERY OF ANNA. She also featured on the stage, appearing three times on Broadway, ROMEO AND JULIET (1951), CANDIDA (1952) and A GIFT OF TIME (1962). In 2017 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire, the oldest recipient of the honour.
Last year I sent this sketch to Dame Olivia with a signature request, but it was returned with the attached letter, which is self explanatory.