Drawing: David McCallum

Autographed Drawing of actor David McCallum

Television transmission began in New Zealand in the early 1960s, coinciding with my formative years, influenced by many memorable programmes, including my favourite THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E with Robert Vaughn as the suave spy Napoleon Solo and his enigmatic partner, Russian Illya Kuryakin played by the Scottish-born David McCallum.

David’s father was the lead violinist for the London Philharmonic and his mother was a cellist so everything pointed to a musical career for their son and his favourite instrument, the oboe. A short stint at the Royal Academy of Music was replaced with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, igniting a distinguished film, TV and stage career spanning over seven decades beginning with voice work for the BBC Radio in 1947.

He became a household name as the mysterious Illya Kuryakin, a character originally intended as a peripheral role but his popularity and the on-screen chemistry with Robert persuaded the producers to elevate David to co-star status. He received more fan mail than any other actor in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s history, including MGM stars Clark Gable and Ellis Presley with two Primetime Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe nod. He subsequently featured in COLDITZ (1972-74) and SAPPHIRE & STEELE (1978-1982) alongside Joanna Lumley before taking on the role of Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard, the chief Medical Examiner in the American police procedural series NCIS since 2003. He is the only original cast member left, appearing briefly for season 19 last month.

David returned to his musical roots, recording four albums for Capitol Records in the 1960’s. In 2016 he published a crime novel ONCE A CROOKED MAN which centres on a young actor who foils a murder.

During the pandemic lockdowns I had the time to catch up on many of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E episodes and drawing this quick portrait sketch of David, which I sent it to him at his New York home. He returned it, signed which I will treasure.

Drawing: Ang Lee

Autographed Drawing of director Ang Lee

One of the most accomplished and popular contemporary filmmakers, Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee was ranked 27th in the Guardian’s top 40 directors and 41st in a list of greatest directors of all time in a 2007 poll conducted by Total Film magazine. Ang is also one of the nicest people in the business. I have a had the privilege of meeting him on a number of occasions over the past few years.

His 15 feature films have received a truck load of accolades, including 38 Oscar nominations (four for Best Picture) with 12 wins, 49 BAFTA nominations for 24 wins and 23 Golden Globe nominations for nine wins. Personally he has received five Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Director for LIFE OF PI in 2013 and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN in 2006. He has won five BAFTAS, including Best Film for SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995) and the Fellowship in 2020 for his Outstanding Contributions to British Cinema. He has also been the recipient of a number of honours and decorations, including a Knight of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2012) and the Legion of Honor (2021) from the French Government in the same year he received the Presidential Culture Award from Taiman’s president Thai-Ing-wen.

I sent this sketch to Ang to his home in New York State last year with a signing request and received a very nice reply from his wife Jane, thanking me for my letter and informing me that Ang was working in New Zealand and due to the covid restrictions was going to be there for some time, but as soon as he returned home she would make sure he signed and returned it, which is exactly what happened.

Drawing: Ari Wegner

Autographed drawing of cinematographer Ari Wegner

In 2018 Ari Wegner received a phone call from New Zealand director Jane Campion, enquiring about her availability for the next two years. The brilliant Australian cinematographer immediately signed on to lens Jane’s first feature film in twelve years, the revisionist and submissive western THE POWER OF THE DOG, based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel about charismatic Montana rancher Phil Burbank, who inspires fear and awe in those around him.

Jane specifically wanted a female cinematographer. The Western was traditionally a masculine genre, but she wanted to approach it from a feminine point. Although Ari stressed that gender was only one of the many, many elements when you are viewing the dynamics of desire. Poetically, it was Jane’s 1983 short film PASSIONLESS MOMENTS, which her High School Media Studies teacher showed her that inspired Ari’s interest in film, eventually specialising in cinematography, completing her studies at the prestigious Victoria College of the Arts in her home town of Melbourne. Subsequently they worked together on an ad campaign for an Australian bank.

Photographing THE POWER OF THE DOG both invigorated and terrified her, Ari said in a recent New York Times interview. “You don’t want to be the DOP of the only Jane Campion film that didn’t look any good.” She said they clicked immediately, sharing both a similar aesthetic and an obsession with preparation. Jane said Ari was “good at working on problems until they’re solved, which is very reassuring.” They had the luxury of a year in pre-production. Jane rented a house in Central Otago in New Zealand’s South Island, which doubled as 1920’s Montana, where they spent each day drawing meticulous storyboards and scouting locations.

Ari’s influences included the work of English photographer Evelyn Cameron, who moved to Montana at the turn of the Twentieth century and Ken Burns’ documentary series THE WEST. The paintings of Andrew Wyeth and Lucian Freud were also additional points of reference. She also researched the rugged landscape of the American State before the the actual shoot took place in 2020, interrupted by the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

Ari’s breathtaking cinematography rightfully garnered many accolades as THE POWER OF THE DOG became the most celebrated film of the year. She made history, becoming the first woman in the British Society of Cinematographers 73-year history to win its feature prize and then receive a BAFTA nomination. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has only ever nominated two female cinematographers for the Oscar, Rachel Morrison in 2018 for MUDBOUND and this year, Ari. She also won a number of Film Critic’s Circle honours including Best Cinematography at the Critics Choice Awards, where the film also won Best Picture and Jane collected both Director and Adapted Screenplay Awards.

I meet Ari to get my sketch signed, when she was in London for the BFI London Film Festival last October. She immediately recognised my kiwi accent. I told her I was very familiar with the landscapes that her phenomenal photography captured having lived there most of my life.

Drawing: Jane Campion

Autographed drawing of director Jane Campion

It was a proud night to be a New Zealander after kiwi auteur Dame Jane Campion won the Academy Award for Best Director at this year’s Oscar ceremony on Sunday evening for helming THE POWER OF THE DOG, her universally acclaimed modernist western based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same title.

The psychological drama became one of the most celebrated films of the year, reflected in its 12 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and certainly the most honoured – with nearly 250 wins from over 300 noms – dominating all 10 Best Lists and Year-End critic groups’ Awards since its world premiere at the 78th Venice Film Festival last September, where Jane won the Silver Lion for Best Direction. She became the first woman to receive two Best Director Oscar nominations and the third to win the category.

The first was for THE PIANO in 1994, losing to Steven Spielberg for SCHLINDLER’S LIST. She did however collect the golden statue for her screenplay written directly for the screen. Steven was also nominated this year for Best Director, for his remake of WEST SIDE STORY. A couple of weeks prior to the Dolby Theatre ceremony, Jane won the BAFTA for Best Film and Direction, the Directors Guild Award and the Crictics Choice Awards for Picture, Direction and Adapted Screenplay all within a few hours of each other, which pretty much summed up the her whirlwind year. The self-proclaimed ‘shy extrovert’ collected just about every accolade going.

Author and academic Dana Polan stated in his 2001 book that Jane Campion is one of the few female directors who can be considered an auteur… “it is the disturbances in her work – the divergences, the dispersions, the tensions, for instance between quirky humour, making strange of the familiar and an interest in the ambiguous, even that which is uncomfortable and which makes the viewer uncomfortable.”

Glenn Whipp, writing recently in the LA Times summarized her contribution to cinema. “She has long been celebrated as an iconoclast, a woman whose radiant films meld beauty and barbarism in their depiction of the world and the flawed humans inhabiting it” Jane was the only woman to win the converted Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival for THE PIANO until French director Julia Docournau won last year for TITANE, who presented her with the Lumiere Prize (considered to be cinema’s Nobel Prize) at the Lumiere film festival in Lyon in October.

I caught up with Jane last October at the BFI Southbank after her Screentalk at the London Film Festival, prior to the gala screening of THE POWER OF THE DOG, where we had brief chat and an antipodean connection while kindly signing my quick sketch.

Drawing: Saoirse Ronan in The Crucible

Autographed drawing of Saoirse Ronan in The Crucible on Broadway

American-born Irish actress Saoirse Ronan made her stage debut on Broadway as the main antagonist in the 2016 revival of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play THE CRUCIBLE at the Walter Kerr Theatre. She played the manipulative maid Abigail Williams, responsible for the deaths of 150 people accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692. It was an allegory for McCarthyism. In his review for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney called Saoirse’s performance “icy and commanding.” The production won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

Last year she made her London stage debut as Lady Macbeth in the Almeida Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH.

In 2020 the New York Times ranked her tenth on its list of this century’s Greatest Actors. She has been nominated for four Oscars – for her performances in ATONEMENT (2007), BROOKLYN (2015), LADY BIRD (2017), and LITTLE WOMEN (2019) and five BAFTA Awards in the same films with the addition of THE LOVELY BONES (2009). She won a Golden Globe for her title role as Christine ‘Lady Bird’ MacPherson in Greta Gerwig’s 2017 directorial debut LADY BIRD.

Saorise signed my sketch of her as Abigail at the Almeida Theatre during the final week of MACBETH In November 2021.

Drawing: David Puttnam

Autographed drawing of producer David Puttnam

David Puttnam has spent thirty years as an independent producer of award-winning films, including many of my favourites such as CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981), MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978), THE KILLING FIELDS (1984), THE MISSION (1986), BUGSY MALONE (1976). Together these films have won ten Academy Awards,13 Golden Globes, 31 BAFTAS, nine Emmys, four David di Donatellos and the Palme D’Or at Cannes. From 1986 to 1988, he was Chairman and CEO of Columbia Pictures and between 1994 to 2004 he was Vice President and Chair of Trustees at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and was awarded a BAFTA Fellowship in 2006.He has personally won 13 major film awards and nine other nominations, including the Best Picture Oscar for producing CHARIOTS OF FIRE, receiving three other nominations, four BAFTA Awards, and three Emmy noms.

David pursues an active role in a variety of areas including education, environment and digital skills. He is the recipient of over 50 honary degrees and fellowships. He founded the Irish-based Atticus Education in 2012 that delivers audio-visual seminars to students worldwide.
After his knighthood in 1995, Sir David received a life peerage two years later, sitting on the Labour benches in The House of Lords, where I sent this sketch, which Lord Puttnam kindly returned, signed and dedicated, accompanied by a nice note.

Drawing: Carol Burnett

Autographed drawing of Carol Burnett

Continuing my ‘lockdown letters’ to some of my favourite performers, I wrote to the wonderful Carol Burnett via her production company in Santa Monica earlier this year, enclosing this simple portrait sketch for signing, which she dedicated and quickly returned.

Rated one of the best TV shows of all time by a variety of notable publications including TIME magazine, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW ran for 11 seasons from 1967-1978, with a total of 279 episodes and a further nine in 1991. I don’t think I missed one of them. The groundbreaking comedy-variety show was one of the first of its kind hosted by a woman. It featured Carol with regulars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and in later episodes Tim Conway and Dick Van Dyke, collecting 25 primetime Emmy Awards. 

Beginning with student productions while studying at UCLA in the early 1950’s, Carol’s impressive seven-decade career in stage, television and film, with a mixture of dramatic and comedic roles has been recognised with numerous awards including six Emmy Awards (23 nominations), seven Golden Globes (18 nominations) a Grammy and a Tony (three nominations each). In 2005 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom “for enhancing the lives of millions of Americans and her extraordinary contribution to American entertainment.

During her student days, Carol was struggling to pay her tuition bills. An anonymous benefactor came to her rescue. She had to pay back the interest-free loan in five years, never to reveal his identity and if she became successful, help others in financial need. She kept all those promises, contributing to scholarships at both UCLA and the University of Hawaii.

Drawing: Ed Asner

Autographed drawing of actor Ed Asner

I always meant to write to Ed Asner. The various lockdowns gave me the time to do so. I’m pleased I did. Sadly he passed away on Sunday at the age of 91. I drew this quick drawing of Ed in his defining television role as Lou Grant, the burly, blustery but lovable newsman and sent it to him at his Tarzana home in Los Angeles in April this year. He signed, dedicated and returned it within a week, along with my postage money.

On his twitter page, Ed described himself as an “Actor, author, activist, warm, lovable, gruff, leftie, patriot.” I’m sure many kind words will follow in the coming days from his millions of admirers. During his illustrious career, Ed was an outspoken supporter of a number of humanitarian and political causes, including trade unionism and animal rights. He served two terms as President of the Screen Actors Guild.

The US Army veteran made his Broadway debut with Jack Lemmon in FACE OF A HERO at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in 1960, before moving to Hollywood, becoming a prolific character actor with over 400 screen credits.

Ed was the most honoured male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, winning seven – five for his portrayal as the hard drinking, tough-talking Lou Grant in the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (3) and its spin-off series LOU GRANT (2) in the 1970’s and 1980’s. His other two Emmys were for the miniseries RICH MAN, POOR MAN and ROOTS.

Documentary film-maker Michael Moore wrote in his Twitter tribute that when he was making his first film, ROGER & ME, he was broke and wrote to a number of famous people to invite them to invest in it. Only one replied: Ed Asner. “I don’t know you kid, but here’s 500 bucks. Sounds like it’ll be a great film. I was an autoworker once.”

Thanks and RIP Ed.

Drawing: Charlie Chaplin

Drawing of Charlie Chaplin
CHarlie Chaplin Autograph saying "Best Wishes, Charlie Chaplin"

I never met Charlie Chaplin. Neither, to the best of my knowledge, did Alfred Goldschlager, but he did acquire his signature. Alf started the collecting journey, begging opera singers for autographs as a teenager in his home town of Vienna before he fled the Nazi regime in 1938, bound for Australia via South America. It was an unfortunate detour, having his extensive and impressive collection, which included such notaries as Sigmund Freud, stolen in Paraguay. After establishing a successful timber business down under, Alf rekindled his interest in collecting.

In 1992, I was attending a Graphic Design conference in Melbourne. During a break, I wandered down Flinders Lane and came upon a quaint little shop full of historical documents, signed books, autographs and other curiosities. Inside I met Alf. He looked just like Geppetto, the woodcarver… maybe he was. He asked me if I was searching for anything in particular.
I mentioned a handful of names, but would love a Charlie Chaplin. He had one, at home in his private collection, but was willing to sell it to a suitable buyer.

Nirvana moment. I returned the next day, saw the Chaplin and a deal was done. I was now the custodian of a very precious piece, Charlie’s signature.

Charlie’s signature is written in fountain pen, the providence of which escaped me, but it looks 1920-30’s. He would often add a quick ‘Tramp’ doodle in those days. Alf closed his shop in 2006 when he turned 88 – the same age Charlie reached before he passed away in 1977. His iconic ‘tramp’ persona was a global phenomenon and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry.

Poverty and hardship dominated Charlie’s early life in London, where he started acting in music halls at a young age. At 19 he signed with the prestigious Fred Karno Company and travelled to America to begin working for the Keystone Studies. The rest as they say is history. He was a true auteur, who not only acted, but wrote the script and music, directed, produced and distributed most of his films, which are characterised by slapstick, mixed with pathos as the tramp struggles against adversity, often including social and political themes and autobiographical elements.

He received three Academy Awards, two Honorary and his only competitive Oscar for Best Original Score in 1973 for LIMELIGHT, twenty years after the film’s initial release. The previous year the Academy honoured him for, ‘The incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.’ He also received a Special Oscar at the first Academy Award ceremony in 1929 for acting, writing, directing and producing THE CIRCUS.

Since there is no tramp doodle with this signature, I drew a quick sketch of the Tramp to accompany Sir Charlie’s fine graph and inscription, as a tribute to his genius and this post as a thank you to Alf, who passed away in 2011.

Drawing: Anya Taylor-Joy

Autographed drawing of actress Anya Taylor-Joy
Autographed drawing of actress Anya Taylor-JoyAutographed drawing of actress Anya Taylor-Joy

After 28 days since its release in October last year, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT became Netflix’s most-watched limited series, amassing a staggering 62 million views. Headlining the miniseries was 25 year-old Argentine-British actress Anya Taylor-Joy, playing orphan Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as she strives to becomes the world’s greatest player. As most countries grappled with the global Covid pandemic, with its enforced lockdowns and restrictions, many people turned in droves to watch the seven-episode drama based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis.

It was a stellar year for Anya. She also starred in the title role as Emma Woodhouse in the comedy-drama EMMA, a film adaption of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. TIME magazine listed her in the 100 most influential people of 2021. Anya came to prominence as Thomasin in the supernatural horror film, THE WITCH in 2015, receiving the Trophee Chopard at the Cannes Film Festival two years later. She also received a BAFTA Rising Star Award nomination.

This year she received Golden Globe nominations for both her Beth and Emma portrayals, winning for the former. She also won the Screen Actors Guild Award for the same role. Anya kindly signed and inscribed my sketch, which I posted to her in London earlier this year.