Do you know of the great actors?

First published in Paul Welsh by

One of my hobbies these days in my twilight years is to act as chairman of Elstree Screen Heritage, which is a voluntary group dedicated to preserving the history of film and television production in Borehamwood.

We always need funds, so to help the cause we are staging a marvellous concert of film music at the Ark Theatre on Saturday, June 30.

You can listen to the 40-piece BBC Elstree Concert Band play such film hits as Star Wars, The Dam Busters, Murder On The Orient Express, 633 Squadron and much more, accompanied by film clips.

Tickets are now available from The Venue, Ark Theatre and Fairway Hall.

Do you remember what you were doing at noon on Friday, October 20, 1989? Well, I have just found a brochure that reminded me of exactly where I was on that date and it was Westminster Abbey.

I was attending the memorial service for whom some describe as the greatest actor of the 20th Century and his name was Laurence Olivier. Younger readers may never have heard of him, which is the fleeting nature of fame, but the event was the hottest ticket in town.

Larry, as he preferred to be addressed, made his name on stage in the classics, but his film career was launched at Elstree Studios in the early Thirties.

He went to Hollywood a few years later and starred in films, such as Wuthering Heights, for which he was paid $20,000 and Rebecca, accompanied by his beautiful wife actress, Vivien Leigh, who gained the female lead in Gone With The Wind.

They had a turbulent marriage, partly due to her suffering from manic depression.

Larry considered the two greatest actors he ever knew to be Charles Laughton and Alec Guinness, both of whom made movies at Elstree.

Sadly, Charles is partly forgotten today, but a 30-year-old friend of mine at least remembered Alec, but only as the old man in Star Wars.

By 1980, Larry was earning $1 million dollars to appear in mediocre films like The Jazz Singer. One casting director told me he was not considered a big enough name to sell a movie, but was great as a guest star.

I am told he was offered the role Marlon Brando took in The Godfather, which would have been interesting casting, but at the end of his career he often took roles for the money.

The Westminster Abbey service was something to behold and I was there representing Elstree Studios and got a front row seat to watch the proceedings.

They decided a parade of stars would walk down the aisle carrying various symbols of his career. Hence walking past me came Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Michael Caine, Peter O’Toole, Maggie Smith, Paul Scofield and Derek Jacobi.

We listened to speeches by Dickie Attenborough, Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, John Mills and John Gielgud.

The audience was a who’s who of film and theatre, with the likes of Ken Branagh and Joan Collins rubbing shoulders with Franco Zeffirelli and even Boris Karloff’s widow.

You can see why tickets for this event were like gold dust.

I never got a single autograph, as this was not considered the done thing, but today I could be selling such a signed programme for a nice sum on Ebay, to pay for next month’s bar bill, but such is life.

I just cannot believe that event was 23 years ago, as it seems only yesterday and it’s a bit worrying that I don’t have that same number of years in front of me.

Larry won best actor Oscar in 1948 for Hamlet and won two special Oscars, in 1947 and 1979, and was nominated ten times.

However today younger readers are probably saying: “I’ve never heard of him”.

It is strange how fate decrees some people are remembered more than others. I hope to be remembered at least until the end of my wake or until my Will is read.

Comments (1)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

1:37pm Thu 28 Jun 12

chelseaboy says...

My Grandfather was a cinematographer on many films in the 20's & 30's - Horace Wheddon.

Worked on a few early hitchcock films - email me
My Grandfather was a cinematographer on many films in the 20's & 30's - Horace Wheddon. Worked on a few early hitchcock films - email me chelseaboy
  • Score: 1

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree