After writing the previous Blog I got to thinking about actresses and why they turn down perfectly good parts whilst they moan about the paucity of roles for women and decided, even if they’re dead right casting wise, it could be they are either too vain or too conscious of their image. The image is all.
My first experience of this was many years ago now with the very first play I wrote, ‘The River Of Sand.’ Naturally it is set in South Africa and the leading role is that of a formidable Boer woman, I use formidable in the sense of her being strong in adversity, and I wanted to interest Flora Robson in it. In fact I would have given my eye teeth if she agreed to do it she was so right, but what was the response? These are her exact words and to this day I don’t know what she meant by the first bit –‘I couldn’t possibly play a woman like that, what would my fans say?’ So obviously her choice of parts was one dictated by what she imagined her fans would think of her.
There are parts of course, no matter how good they are, that require an actress to forget her image. Such a one is Mrs Borrodaile in ‘Beautiful For Ever.’ An actress has to lose all self-consciousness about her looks in order to play this part. It has been turned down by a number, including Dulcie Gray who I believe was ideal for it. Not that she was as plain as Mrs Borrodaile but I remember playing a television role many years ago for that lovely director, Chloe Gibson and, looking at me, she said, ‘He’s supposed to be terribly ugly, my dear, but I’m sure make-up can do a good job of it.’ And make-up can perform wonders on anyone.
So I say to all those actresses turning down perfectly good parts because they’re desperate to maintain an image, just think of the wonderful, fabulous, adorable, incredible Joanna Lumley in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, who in her most grotesque chain smoking drunken state, all caution thrown to the winds, was as incredibly ab fab as anyone could possibly be.
On the male side I can still see Jack Nicholson, was it in “Terms Of Endearment”? standing in a bedroom doorway unshaven, flabby, in his underwear, looking a complete wreck and exuding charm and charisma from every pore.
There are other reasons of course why plays are turned down. One of them is fear.
I submitted my play ‘Red In The Morning’ to Beryl Reid of blessed memory with the following result: within a couple of days a phone call from her agent saying how much he enjoyed it and he was passing it on to her with his recommendation. However, not to be surprised if she turned it down as she would probably be afraid of it, and not to expect an immediate result as, being dyslectic, she took a long time to read a script.’
Except for the fact that, dyslectic or not, she came back in a couple of days, he was spot on. She turned it down, and some time later, rehearsing at North Acton for a BBC television, I had just collected my lunch and was paying for it when I heard a voice behind me say, ‘I know what I’ve forgotten. I’ve forgotten the darling little pats of butter.’ Now nobody could mistake that voice. It’s Beryl Reid I thought and turning around sure enough it was, so I waited for her at the cash desk and when she reached me, I said, ‘Excuse me, Miss Reid you don’t know me. My name is Glyn Jones.’ And that is as far as I got.
‘The play!’ she shrieked for all to hear. ‘The play!’ She then insisted I accompany her to her table where I was introduced to everyday as ‘This is Glyn Jones who has written the most marvellous play that I’m not going to do.’
Later she said to me, ‘Darling, what if I wanted to GO?’ Was she afraid she would shit herself on stage? Who knows but sometimes, paraphrasing Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, a playwright’s lot is not a happy one.
Postscript: Quote from “The Reminiscences of J.L.Toole” 1889 – ‘The judgment of actors in regard to parts that suit them, or in which they are likely to be successful, is not always reliable.’
As I’ve said before, nothing ever changes.
An interesting piece of history regarding ‘The River Of Sand’: it was submitted to Granada Television who wrote back saying, “Who’s interested in South Africa?” This is the equivalent of the American producer who said of ‘Gone With The Wind’, “Who’s interested in the civil war?” A few years later the whole world was interested in South Africa.