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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.