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 caredO’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)


  1. what a splendid sighting -- and wonderful account. P O'T was absolutely one of the greats for me too. Yes, as you put it so well, his high amplitude magnetism. I saw him in the Henry Higgins role at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London in '84. Quite unforgettable.

    1. Thanks very much for your kind note, Tim. I'm glad you enjoyed this. Quite an actor; quite an individual. Please visit here again. And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you. Curtis

  2. now that I am following you on twitter (I'm a new bird on the wire), I have become quite a regular visitor and am delighted every time I do -- love the blog -- content and design.
    been meaning to write you a proper e-mail for ages. Will take care of that soon enough.
    wishing y'all too the happiest of Christmases…

    1. Would love for you to get in touch by email -- works well. Happiest of Christmases and a great New Year to you also. Blogger's been recalcitrant lately but I tend to be able to post what I mean to in the end. Lots of old blogs to reformat and fix. Greetings from the snowy Hudson Valley -- specifically Tuxedo, NY. Back to snowy Philly tomorrow. Curtis

  3. Hi Curtis -- I am just thinking that perhaps you haven't realized that it is me... Tim Shepard.
    Greetings! Quack Quack.
    ps Kevin featured and pictured in the Times today on notable deaths for 2013. Missing him of course very much.

    1. Hi Tim. I did not realize it was you and am overjoyed to find that it is. Yesterday Caroline and I began panicky filling-in of Jane's Christmas items. Am about to head up to the Woodbury Common shopping area to continue the quest. We've planned what should be a good Christmas and New Year and I'm kind of optimistic about my pre-2014 frame of mind. Now it's just time to (as we used to say in company meetings) "execute against plan." I really look forward to catching up with you in the New Year. Like you, I think about Kevin a lot -- the great things and things I wish had been different, which I'm suspecting (possibly accurately, possibly not) would have made things easier for him and made him happier. It's hard to know. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Curtis