Monday, December 16, 2013
It is impossible not to feel sadness and loss learning that Peter O’Toole has died.
I’ve loved him in movies (never saw him on the stage) since Lawrence Of Arabia in 1962. David Lean's enigmatic epic captured my imagination in the most thrilling way then and still does.
So many other wonderful, memorable performances. I'm sure the obituaries will all cite My Favorite Year, which was fine, but to my taste slight, but will omit more enjoyable minor roles like his hilarious and subtly touching turn as the British Governor-General in Harold Ramis’s Club Paradise, where he was essential to the wonderful Joanna Cassidy, Jimmy Cliff, Brian Doyle-Murray, Robin Williams and Earl "Chinna" Smith comedy ensemble.
In many ways I think my favorite Peter O’Toole role was his portrayal of King Henry II in Becket. Although Jean Anouilh’s play is ür-melodramatic and telegraphs its arcs and moves, O’Toole’s and Richard Burton’s performances are deeply and mutually empathetic and in tune with each other, and the subject matter is richly moving and genuinely tragic.
Peter O’Toole had star quality in spades. Once during the late 1980s I was walking up 6th Avenue in Manhattan on a hot summer matinée day and I saw him coming toward me from a distance. He was in the middle of his run as Professor Henry Higgins in the successful Pygmalion revival a short time after recovering from serious, mysterious illness. He was gigantically tall, incredibly thin, dressed in a bright white suit and flowery cravat, gesticulating wildly with a cigarette and holder, talking to himself, lost in thought, not giving a damn, projecting genius.
Unlike all the other creepy movie actors and celebrities regularly on view slinking up and down 6th in the West 50s, hiding out and twitching under their stupid baseball caps, as if you actually cared, O’Toole was just out there, bold and magnificent. The only other public figures of his magnitude I ever spied emitting that kind of high amplitude magnetism while out and about in Manhattan were Wilt Chamberlain and Burning Spear.
Like most of the truly great, Peter O’Toole inspired parody. Joe Flaherty (another Club Paradise co-star, actually, although I don't recall them sharing any scenes) did a great Peter O’Toole on SCTV. And O’Toole and Burton’s Becket performances inspired one of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s greatest Not Only, But Also pieces, The Making Of A Movie (click on link below).
Remember: “The money’s neither here nor there; it’s in Geneva.”
I will miss Peter O’ Toole very, very much.
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore: The Making Of A Movie (from Not Only, But Also) (Link)