Ever, Dirk: The Bogarde letters, Ed John Coldstream
The Hollywood legend may have had his bêtes noires, but was filled with zest for life
Sunday 31 August 2008
It's likely that a sizeable portion of the population has never seen a Dirk Bogarde film. His heyday as an actor ended four decades ago, and in later years he turned to biography, fiction and journalism. In addition, he crammed hundreds of postcards and letters with gossip, complaints, indiscretions, generous praise and venomous opinions. Not bad for someone with the primary career of a screen icon; but it's gratifying to see how deeply Bogarde cared about the quality of his work and his friends rather than his public status. His enduring popularity is probably down to his likeable vulnerability.
Coldstream wrote the actor's definitive biography and has now completed the picture with these letters, or rather, partially completed, because Bogarde was famously "private" in a time when the word was synonymous with "homosexual". For such an honest man – his writing is seamed with the frankest opinions – it is uncomfortable to be aware of his public denials concerning his life-partner, Tony, but this was an act of self-preservation. As a Rank star he was making three films a year, and became Britain's most popular actor at a time when the government was conducting a series of high-profile gay prosecutions. He was intelligent enough to be careful, so no letters of any frankness survive.
The public's respect for Bogarde was well deserved. Despite international success as a matinee idol, he turned to demanding roles that reflected his personality and allowed him access to emotional truth. By the 1970s, and with the British film industry in terminal decline, he was living and working abroad, at which point the letters commence.
"I have decided to give the Movies a rest," he says – a sentiment rephrased frequently – "I DETEST the work ... and most of the time I detest the people. The fact that I have been chosen by Resnais, or Visconti, or Fassbinder helps tremendously ... but really, when all is said and done, it is what my Father always said, 'No job for a man'."
Bogarde combined the most individual and stereotypical characteristics of actors. His frothy observations, insecurities and general waspishness are largely balanced by his unsentimental criticism. He always knows how to lift the spirits, even if some of his writing feels as if he simply blasted words at the page with a shotgun. In his correspondence with Penelope Mortimer, Kathleen Tynan, Tom Stoppard, Dilys Powell and Joseph Losey (whom he held in great respect despite the turbulence of their relationship) the Bogarde voice bounds out, sometimes ranting, often shouting in glee or annoyance, littered with atrocious spelling, because the important thing was to offer emotion, gut reaction and opinion.
His habit of switching in mid-conversation between, say, mounting the steps at the Cannes Film Festival and needing to repair his lawn-mower is disconcerting until you become familiar with the patterns of his mind. He hated returning to the shabbiness of England after leaving his home in France, and loathed America. "I never want to set foot in their immature, undiplomatic, plastic, mutilated land again ... I do think, however, that they write super Musical Shows, make reasonable ice cream and sometimes make Excellent Movies."
He sobbed himself to a fit during E.T. and skipped Attenborough's Gandhi because "I was in India during the Congress Riots and hated his bloody, cunning, little guts", but was never comfortable discussing politics, and was best connecting with friends he loved. His letter to Patricia Losey after the death of her husband Joseph has the kind of celebratory honesty in which anyone would take comfort. Bogarde points out that Losey made four great films and ends with: "Clever sod! Shitty bugger! HOW I shall miss him."
Contradictory but rarely contrary, Bogarde complained that he had never understood a single script sent to him by Resnais or Losey, but that it all came clear in the end. About the making of Resnais's Providence, he points out that John Gielgud was just as flummoxed: "I'll say it, but I haven't the foggiest notion of what it means."
He was as concerned about leaving his garden as he was about filming, and both loathed and loved adjudicating at film festivals, summing up his jury duty at Cannes thus: "If I have to look at another pubic hair or another shot of a cow being slaughtered, a horse being drowned, or a fat man having his orgasm I'll choke." Beneath the protests, it sounds like he loved every minute.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 3 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 4 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 5 Isis publicly behead man in Syrian town square for 'insulting Allah' as he screams for help
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Mike Tindall, Jodie Kidd and co take to the slopes
Game of Thrones: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' goes viral 35 years later
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures