Monday, April 4, 2011

Speak no ill of the dead. Is that an old saying? I believe it is. Of course there are the dead who it is impossible not to speak ill of; and if Gaddafi, or Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmajinedad or Kim Jong Il* and a few others like them were to drop dead tomorrow the world would be a cleaner place and I doubt very much if anything good will be said about them. But it would seem open house without fear of retaliation for slandering the dead when there really is no need. I am thinking in particular of a biography just out that purports to give the low-down on Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and which sounds just too horrendous for words. By Darwin Porter and Roy Moseley it is called “Damn You, Scarlett O’Hara” and is reviewed in The Mail by Roger Lewis who has, among other things, this to say of it- ‘Their book subjects the Oliviers to ridicule and contempt the like of which I have never known. It claims that Larry was a shameless and rampant coke-snorting rent boy turned predatory homosexual. Viv was a gibbering manic-depressive nympho who liked to be taken roughly by everyone, from the Oxford Boat Club to a taxi driver in the Libyan Desert.’
It so happens that Mister Lewis has himself written a biography of Oliver and in all his research and talking to Olivier’s contempories he says, ‘Nowhere did I come across evidence that Olivier leapt into bed with Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Novello, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton to name a few … so many willing partners from the Golden Age of Hollywood…Distinguished actors such as Charles Laughton are made to appear, in this book, as filthy and foul-mouthed. Details appear to be wrong – dates, addresses, London topography, cockney slang. The whole enterprise is awkward and anachronistic. So perhaps it is best to disregard the book as biography and reclassify it as an imaginative interpretation obsessed with sex. … Needless to say we get a lot on the alleged Olivier affair with Danny Kaye…’ But so what? We’ve known this for years. As time passes more people (both dead and alive) are outed one way or another and really does any of this matter? Princess Margaret, another of the dear departed, is reputed to have joined Kaye and Olivier in jolly threesomes. I’m sure they enjoyed them. ‘What Moseley and porter seem to have gambled on is that as the dead are not protected by the laws of libel, you can say what you want about them with impunity.’ But wouldn’t it be possible for Oliver’s widow. Joan Plowwright and his son to take these two smut merchants to the cleaners? ‘“Damn You Scarlett O’Hara launches a dangerous new genre which can be called bioporn. Let’s hope no one is taken by a single word of it.’
At the same time a book on the life of Mahatma Ghandi by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Joseph Lelyveld has been banned in India. Banning books is a bad thing at any time and the reason for banning this one is the same old knee jerk reaction. The same knee jerk reaction evinced by a group of homophobic Greek lawyers who objected in no uncertain terms to any idea that Alexander the Great had a male lover and threatened to sue Warner Bros., when Hephaestion, Alexander’s friend from childhood and for life is a known historical fact. In this book maybe there is a suggestion that Ghandi might have had an affair with one Hermann Kallenbach, a German architect who emigrated to South Africa where he met Ghandi in 1904. Ghandi’s great grandson Tushar Ghandi said he was against banning of books and “it didn’t matter whether Mahatma Ghandi was straight, gay or bisexual, he would still be the man who led India to freedom.”
One of Ghandi’s letters reads, “How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.”
The awful thing is the book has been banned when it has not yet been published in India and has not even been read by those doing the banning but who have only read newspaper reports. Sad isn’t it?

*All heterosexual you will note.

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