Drawing: Olivia de Havilland

Drawing of actress Olivia de Havilland

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.

RIP Dame Olivia.

Letter from actress Olivia de Havilland

Drawing: Neil Simon

Drawing of writer Neil Simon

Proclaimed by TIME magazine as ‘the patron saint of laughter,’ writing colossus Neil Simon passed away in late August 2018, aged 91. Considered the most popular playwright since Shakespeare, I drew this sketch of Neil and sent it to him a year earlier, hoping to have it signed, but it was returned with a letter form his office saying that Mr Simon was no longer able to fulfill requests for autographs, but did appreciate my letter and drawing.

Neil dominated Broadway like no other playwright over the past half-century. In the New York Times obituary, Charles Isherwood wrote “Mr Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still worth ruling.” Hardly a year passed from 1961 to 1993 without a new Simon production. His unparalleled career spanned four decades, with over 30 plays and musicals, starting with COME BLOW YOUR HORN in 1961 until 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY in 2001. He also wrote as many screenplays, mostly adaptations of his theatre scripts.

His breakthrough play was BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1963), followed by a string of smash hits, THE ODD COUPLE (1965), PLAZA SUITE (1968), THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1971) and THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1974). His final play was ROSE’S DILEMMA in 2003, produced off-Broadway and in Los Angeles. From 1965-1980 Neil’s plays and musicals racked up more than 9,000 performances, a record not even remotely touched by any other writer of the era. In 1966 he had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.

His arsenal of sarcastic wit with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living involving typically imperfect characters, unheroic figures who are at heart, decent human beings were the hallmarks of his work. He has more combined Oscar (4) and Tony Award (17) nominations than any other writer, winning three Tony’s for THE ODD COUPLE, BILOXI BLUES (1985) and a Special Award in 1975 for his overall contribution to American Theatre. His Academy Award noms were for THE ODD COUPLE (1969), THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1976), THE GOODBYE GIRL (1978), which did win a Golden Globe and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1979). He also won four Writers Guild Awards and received four Emmy nominations among his many accolades that included the Pulitzer Prize for Drama LOST IN YONKERS in 1991. He was the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named after him in 1983.

I was very fortunate to collect Neil’s signature a few years ago, when he signed and dedicated a poster from his 1988 farce Rumors for me.

Drawing: Jason Manford, Carley Stenson and Rebecca Lock in Curtains

Autographd drawing of Jason Manford, Carley Stenson and Rebecca Lock in Curtains at Wyndham's Theatre on London's West End

Kander and Ebb’s charming musical mystery comedy caper CURTAINS opened on Broadway at the Al Hirschfield Theatre in the spring of 2007 starring David Hyde Pierce as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi. Described as the ‘fun companion’ to the duos CHICAGO and CABARET, this classic whodunnit was nominated for eight Tony Awards with David winning for Leading Actor in a Musical.

The UK production, featuring comedian-singer Jason Manford in the lead role, premiered at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre last year, beginning a nationwide tour that included a belated but brief, unexpected five-week festive season filler at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End, due to the early closing of THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUITE.

Set in Boston in the 1950’s, the Broadway-bound musical ROBBIN’ HOOD OF THE OLD WEST is flopping, when its untalented star, Jessica Crenshaw is murdered during her opening night curtain call. Homicide cop and show tune-obsessed Frank is brought in to solve the case. Jason was joined by Carley Stenson as the show’s composer Georgina Hendricks, who replaces Jessica as the leading lady and Rebecca Lock as the brassy co-producer Carmen Bernstein.

The continuing UK tour was cancelled last month during its run at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester due to the coronavirus pandemic. A recorded version streamed last week with profits going to the Funds For Freelancers charity.

Jason, Carley and Rebecca signed my montage sketch at the Wyndham’s Stage door in early January.

Drawing: Victoria Lucie and Molly Roberts in The Mousetrap

Autographed drawing of Victoria Lucie and Molly Roberts in The Mousetrap at the St Martin's Theatre on London's West End

The world’s longest continuously running play for the past 68 years, Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSTRAP in London’s West End has finally ended its ‘initial’ run. On March 16 this year, when the British Prime Minister issued a statement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic advising people to avoid gathering in theatres, cinemas, bars and restaurants, the producers appropriately ‘suspended’ all performances until 30 June at the earliest. All theatre’s are now dark until further notice after the lockdown was formalised a week later.

The timeless tale of ‘whodunnit’ by the ‘Queen of mystery’, involving a small group of people who gather at Monkswell Manor, where a murder takes place during a blizzard, opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on 25 November 1952, running until Saturday 23 March 1974, before transferring next door to St Martin’s on the Monday. It has become a West End staple ever since.

One of my recent routines is to draw the actresses playing the strange and aloof Miss Casewell and the Manor’s co-proprietor, Mollie Ralston after each cast change – in this case, Victoria Lucie and Mollie Roberts respectfully, who now have the distinction of being part of final cast of THE MOUSETRAP’s ‘initial’ run. Victoria is making her West End debut and has just finished a TV pilot for NOIR-MAN. Mollie is the Artistic Director for Poleroid Theatre and is a regular on stage and screen, receiving multiple Off West End Award nominations.

Both signed my sketch prior to the lockdown.

Drawing: Hugo Weaving in The Visit

Autographed drawing of Hugo Weaving in The Visit at the National Theatre

Veteran Australian actor Hugo Weaving returned to the London stage last month in the National Theatre’s production of Fredrich Durrenmatt’s visionary 1956 revenge play THE VISIT or THE OLD LADY COMES TO CALL, directed by Jeremy Herrin. Adapted by Tony Kushner and set in mid-twentieth century, in Slurry, a poverty-stricken industrial town in Western, New York where billionaire heiress Claire Zachanassian returns after leaving 45 years earlier as a pregnant 16 year-old to seek revenge on her former lover Alfred Ill, who dumped her back then. The locals hope her arrival signals a change in their fortunes, but they soon realise that prosperity will only come at a terrible price. Hugo played Alfred and Lesley Melville was Claire.

The production unfortunately was cancelled in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Hugo signed and returned my drawing of him as Alfred I left at the National’s stage door before final curtain.

Drawing: Rosamund Pike in Hitchcock Blonde

Autographed drawing of Rosamund Pike in Hitchcock Blonde at the Lyric Theatre on London's West End

Rosamud Pike played the ‘Blonde’ in Terry Johnson’s HITCHCOCK BLONDE, which opened at London’s Royal Court theatre in April 2003, before transferring to the Lyric in Shaftesbury Ave in the West End. The play interweaves between three time zones – a 1919 short film featuring a blonde woman that later fascinated ‘the master of suspense’, influential English film director Alfred Hitchcock, 1959, during the filming of his best-known film PSYCHO, where the blonde acts as a body double for Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene and in 1999 when a media studies professor and one of his students, a blonde woman, discover the 1919 short film and re-examine Hitchcock’s work through its lens.

Rosamund’s screen credits include her role as undercover M16 double agent Miranda Frost in the 2002 Bond film DIE ANOTHER DAY with Pierce Brosnan and the disappearing wife, Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s 2014 psychological thriller GONE GIRL, earning her SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award nominations. This year she won a Primetime Emmy for her performance as Louise in the British Comedy about a disintegrating marriage, STATE OF THE UNION.

Rosamund was a guest on Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show at its studios in Wogan House earlier this month to discuss her latest role as Nobel Prize-winning Polish scientist Marie Curie in RADIOACTIVE, where she signed my sketch.

Drawing: Stephen Schwartz

Autographed drawing of composer Stephen Schwartz

I had the good fortune to meet one of the great contemporary composers and lyricists last night at the West End opening for his new musical THE PRINCE OF EGYPT at London’s Dominion Theatre. Winner of three Academy Awards, three Grammys, and nominated for six Tony Awards and an Olivier, Stephen Schwartz added ten new songs to the original five he wrote for the original 1998 DreamWorks Animation feature for the stage adaption, which is directed by his son Scott. He won the Best Original Song Oscar for ‘When We Believe’.

Stephen made his name with GODSPELL in 1971, his hippy-era, communal-clownish presentation of Christ’s parables and now returns to the Good Book with the story of Moses as a once prince of Egypt who leads the children of Israel out of Egypt. It debuted at Mountain View Centre for the Performing Arts in Silicon Valley, California in October 2017 and had its international premiere at The Fredericia Theatre in Denmark in April 2018, followed by a summer season at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen last year.

Stephen’s stage hits include PIPPIN (1972) and WICKED (2003) and his film successes GODSPELL (1973), POCAHONTAS (1995), THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996) He won a Golden Globe, a Grammy and two Oscars for Original Score and Original Song (‘Colours of the Wind’) for POCAHONTAS.

In 2015 he was the recipient of the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award.
Luckily I caught Stephen after he did his press interviews at the Dominion Theatre, where he was happy to sign my portrait sketch.

Drawing: George MacKay

Autographed drawing of actor George MacKay

Since being nominated for BAFTA’s Rising Star Award in 2014, London-born actor George MacKay’s star has certainly been on the rise. He is currently dominating the big screen in one of the best and most decorated pictures of the year, the Sir Sam Mendes directed, co-written ( with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) and produced WW1 epic, 1917. George plays the lead character, Lance Corporal William Schofield, who along with fellow Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission, to cross no man’s land to deliver a warning to the commanding officer of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment to call of an attack that will jeopardise the lives of 1,600 men, including Tom’s brother.

Sir Sam based the screenplay on a ‘fragment’ of a story, told to him as a child by his grandfather Alfred Mendes, a native of Trinidad, who was a messenger for the British on the Western Front. At its core it is “the story of a messenger, who has a message to carry”, said Sir Sam. George’s ‘messenger’ very rarely leaves the screen, because of the decision to film and edit the picture to appear as one take – actually two takes, split with a blackout at the midpoint when he is knocked unconscious – he is almost continuously on screen for the entire two hours of the film. 1917 was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning three and nine BAFTAs, winning seven including Best Picture.

It’s not the first war film George has starred in. He was Private Tommo Peaceful in the 2012 adaption of Michael Morpurgo’s PRIVATE PEACEFUL and Lutz, the son of a high-ranking SS officer in Nazi Germany in the rite-of-passage war drama WHERE HANDS TOUCH in 2018. In 2013 he won a Scottish BAFTA for his portrayal of Aaron, an ostracised misfit and sole survivor of a strange fishing accident in FOR THOSE IN PERIL. Other prominent roles included playing Viggo Mortensen’s son, Bodevan Cash in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016), earning a Screen Actors Guild nomination as part of the cast. George won the Trophee Chopard last year at the Cannes Film Festival. His next film role is the outlaw Ned Kelly in Justin Kurzel’s TRUE HISTORY OF THE NED KELLY GANG with Russell Crowe, due for release in the UK at the end of February and the US in April.

He has also walked the boards in the West End, most recently as Mick in the Old Vic’s production of Harold Pinter’s THE CARETAKER (2016), opposite Timothy Spall and Daniel Mays.

George signed my sketch for me at the Corinthia Hotel in London as he was leaving to attend the BAFTA Awards earlier this month.

Drawing: Sara Bareilles in Waitress

Autographed drawing of Sara Bareilles in Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre on London's West End

In 2015 Sara Bareilles wrote the music and the lyrics for her hit musical WAITRESS, which opened on Broadway a year later at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Based on Adrienne Selly’s 2007 film of the same name, it tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a pregnant, pie-baking waitress in an abusive relationship with her husband, earning Sara a Tony and Grammy Award nomination. Last year it transferred to London’s Adelphi Theatre where Sara made her West End debut at the end of January this year, stepping into the title role for a six-week run, alongside Olivier and Tony winner Gavin Creel as Dr. Jim Pomatter, after both played their respective roles in the Broadway production last year.

Sara has sold over a million albums and five million singles, receiving eight Grammy Award nominations, eventually winning for her song ‘Saint Honesty’ last year.

Her portrayal as Mary Magdalene in NBC’s live TV adaption of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in 2018, earned her critical acclaim and a Primetime Emmy nomination.

Sara signed my portrait at the Adelphi Theatre’s stage door after her first Saturday evening performance.

Drawing: Sarah Brightman

Autographed drawing of musical theatre star Sarah Brightman

The world’s best-selling soprano Sarah Brightman returned to London’s Royal Albert Hall last November, where she last headlined 20 years ago, for one night only as part of her HYMN: SARAH BRIGHTMAN IN CONCERT World Tour. After appearing in a number of productions following her West End musical theatre debut as Jemima in the inaugural London cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS in 1981, she originated the role of Christine Daae in his musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux French Novel THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the tale of a beautiful songstress who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius (played by Michael Crawford), living in a subterranean labyrinth beneath the Paris Opera House.

It opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in October 1986, where it is still running, becoming the second longest London musical behind LES MISERABLES, winning the Olivier for Best Musical. Both Sarah and Michael reprised their roles on Broadway, opening in January 1988 at the Majestic Theatre, where it is also still running, becoming the longest running musical on Broadway and winning the Tony Award. After Sarah retired from the stage she has become largely responsible for the popularity of the ‘classical crossover’ genre, selling over 35 million albums and two million DVD’s worldwide, becoming the world’s best-selling soprano. Her fifth album, ‘Timeless/ Time to Say Goodbye’ with the London Symphony Orchestra became her best seller in 1997, going gold, platinum or multi-platinum in 21 countries.

Her duet with Andrea Bocelli performing ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ became one of the highest selling singles of all time. She has won over 200 gold and platinum records in 38 countries.

Sarah kindly signed and returned my drawing, which I left at the Royal Albert Hall prior to her 11 November concert.