Paul Welsh asks whether will.i.am will be remembered as long as stars like Clark Gable and James Cagney

Borehamwood Times: will.i.am, Kylie Minogue, Tom Jones and Ricky Wilson on The Voice will.i.am, Kylie Minogue, Tom Jones and Ricky Wilson on The Voice

I have just watched the first live episode of The Voice as it is now being recorded at Elstree Studios. It is great to have such hit shows being televised from Borehamwood, although I wish they would acknowledge that on the credits.

The day before the show, I almost met one of the contestants called Jamie. He was being filmed driving an old yellow Mini into the studio while I was standing outside the gatehouse.

Many years ago, I met Tom Jones when he came to rehearse at Elstree Studios and he seemed a real gent. However, I am not so impressed with the judging panel overall, in that they seem to offer only bland comments and rarely any constructive criticism.

I was annoyed by a chap called will.i.am, who presumably the BBC are paying a six-figure sum. He seemed to spend most of the show tweeting on his iPad rather than looking at the contestants. Some may consider that a bit rude, but I could not possibly comment.

I have just heard that the statue used in the classic 1940s thriller The Maltese Falcon has sold for a staggering $4million, which is several times more than the movie cost to make. It just shows the nostalgia for old stars and movies from the golden era of film production and that is what readers seem to like about this column, which is why I have been writing it for 37 years.
The worrying thing is that the new film releases of that time are themselves now part of motion picture history to a new generation not born when Star Wars was shooting at Elstree.

Some great stars of yesteryear left our screens with their stardom still at its peak. Sometimes it was their choice and other times the choice of the Grim Reaper.

Clark Gable was the 1930s’ king of Hollywood and died just after completing his finest acting performance in The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe.

The great Spencer Tracy died just after shooting his final scene in Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner. They all knew he was dying, as they did with Robert Donat in The Inn Of Sixth Happiness, resulting in a prolonged applause from the film crews when they completed their last shots.

Charlton Heston told me he was in tears when Edward G Robinson shot his scenes in Solyent Green, especially as his last shot was a death scene and they knew he had terminal cancer.
John Wayne had a great exit in The Shootist, as did Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond, but others like Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford and Robert Taylor saw their careers diminish before the final curtain fell.

Some stars took the really brave decision to bow out at the top and enjoy long retirements. Older readers may remember William Powell, who was a big star in the 1930s, especially playing opposite Myrna Loy, but in the mid-1950s he simply hung up his hat and retired to Palm Springs to enjoy his time. Cowboy star Randolph Scott did the same thing as he had become a multi-millionaire and was losing his hearing.

The ever-youthful looking Cary Grant announced his retirement in the mid-1960s as he said he felt his time had come romancing his leading ladies on screen when they were young enough to be his daughters. Somehow you could never see Cary turning up as a special guest star in those awful American TV movies or as a character actor.

Many years ago, I had the real pleasure to meet a very elderly and somewhat frail James Cagney at Shepperton. His doctors had advised him to take a small role in a film to help his health and self motivation after 20 years' retirement. I asked him why he had retired in the first place.

He replied: “Three reasons: I was beginning to find it a chore to memorise lengthy dialogue scenes; secondly, acting was only a profession to me and not my life blood; and finally, I walked out of a dark sound stage one day into a lovely summer day and thought I could be on my farm so why am I doing this, and that was the signal to go.”

It was reported that Jimmy was frequently offered parts during those retirement years, including Doctor Dolittle and The Godfather, but declined them all. He told me: “When I am in Los Angeles I can drive past Warner Bros where I made all those pictures and not even give it a second glance.”

Finally, when I interviewed David Niven I was considerably younger than my twilight years of today, so I asked him for a lifetime tip. David looked at me and said: “Young man, always know when it is your time to leave the stage.” That tip has stayed with me.

Anyway, enough name dropping for another week as I am about to watch a DVD of Mutiny On The Bounty starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, which I think after nearly 80 years will still be entertaining. I wonder if someone writing this column in 50 years' time will be recalling The Voice and Mr will.i.am and if they are, please let me know, albeit via a seance.

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