Friday, November 30, 2012

Gone but not forgotten - Iconic film figures from days gone by are back

Liz and Dick and Alfred and Alma and Alfred and Tippi and Marilyn and Colin (and Laurence) and Frank and Dean…and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice: Okay, the last four don’t really fit in this list.

The first names are those of iconic figures from the movies of the last half of the 20th Century. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, however, is a 1969 film starring Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon about wife swapping/open marriage Рit is not nearly as risqu̩ as it sounds.

Those iconic figures listed above are again, everywhere on the big screen and the little.

Last Sunday, Lifetime Movie Channel aired the disastrous and universally panned Liz and Dick about “the great love story of the 20th Century” between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Hitchcock, about the relationship between the great director and his wife/collaborator, Alma during the making of Psycho is currently in theatres.

The Girl, again about Alfred Hitchcock, this time about his relationship with Tippi Hedren and the making of The Birds, is airing on HBO.

Last year’s My Week with Marilyn about Monroe’s time in England making The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier and the week’s friendship she had with a production assistant on the film, Colin Clark.

But there is more to come.

Paramount has optioned Furious Love, the 2010 Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger book about Elizabeth Taylor's affair and two marriages to actor Richard Burton. It is intended as a directing project for Martin Scorsese. There is no word of exactly when this might actually happen. Scorsese has a number of projects on which he is working including The Wolf of Wall Street, finishing production and scheduled for release in 2013. He may then begin work on Sinatra, a biopic about the singer, though with Scorsese this will not be an ordinary biopic – nothing with him is ever ordinary. Intriguingly, he has said he would like Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro to play the older Sinatra and Dean Martin, respectively. An initial script has been written, so maybe….

The BBC has two projects, one of which is a documentary, Burton’s Diaries, which has already aired. It is in part based on the newly published private diaries of Burton, aptly titled The Richard Burton Diaries.

The other project is a film titled Taylor and Burton, about the ill-fated production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, that Taylor and Burton did in 1983. Rehearsals started in March of that year and did not go well. Burton complains in his diaries that Taylor was always late and often too drunk to really rehearse, much less remember her lines. After opening out of town (Boston) the production moved to Broadway. It received poor reviews and closed after 63 performances. The BBC film is set to air sometime next year, starring Rachel Weisz and Dominic West.

This project has stirred some controversy. Sally Burton, Richard’s widow has loudly proclaimed that the BBC has written her out of the film and is keeping her in the dark about it. She says she only inadvertently learned of the film and has threatened to sue, if anything from the published diaries is used as original source material. It was Sally Burton, who controls the rights to the diaries, who allowed them to be published. She had also provided the originals to the BBC for the documentary.

I saw Richard Burton in his last performance as King Arthur in the revival tour of Camelot. It was in March 1981, at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I had gotten tickets and was very excited to see him and indeed, he was terrific. I knew that he had been ill (and I was to learn later in terrible pain all the time) but the presence and the voice were still there. He could command a stage like few other actors I have seen. He was amazing.

Actually given the state of his life and health, the reprise of Camelot at the end of the show had even greater import. Of course I had no idea that he would never again return to the stage in that run and only briefly on stage ever again – the aforementioned and ill-fated Private Lives.

It was after that particular performance that he collapsed and was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. The show went on at the next performance with his understudy and then eventually his friend Richard Harris took over for the rest of the run in LA.

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