Wallace Potts

Rudolf Nureyev's lover and archivist


Wallace Bean Potts, film-maker and archivist: born Birmingham, Alabama 4 February 1947; died Los Angeles 29 June 2006.

Wallace Potts, the independent film-maker and archivist, was responsible in his final years for assembling, on behalf of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation and the Fondation Rudolf Noureev, all film footage of the dance star. In putting the collection together, Potts built upon the library Nureyev had himself compiled; he added all the many 16mm films he had made of Nureyev rehearsing and performing and he brought together every other known film and video from sources around the world. The result is an exhaustive record of Nureyev as dancer and man which has been deposited in both the New York Public Library and the Centre Nationale de la Danse in Paris.

Potts will be remembered as much for his endearing personality as his work - if not more. "Wallace Potts brought qualities of friendship to a form of art," said the dancer and actress Leslie Caron.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947, Wallace Bean Potts met Rudolf Nureyev in 1979 during the Royal Ballet's tour of North America. (There is disagreement as to whether they met in New York or Alabama.) The 21-year-old Potts was a physics major at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and exceptionally handsome - tall, athletic and masculine. When he spoke he had a Southern drawl. The two were immediately attracted to each other: Nureyev was the first dancer Potts had ever met and they were to live together off and on for seven years, sometimes at Nureyev's house in London, sometimes on tour.

After graduating from Georgia Tech, Potts enrolled to do a MA in film at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. This was not without a struggle to overcome Nureyev's insistence that he stay at his side. Nureyev, with his blazing strength of will, always expected his lovers to be subservient to his career and daily life. Potts generally acquiesced with grace and generosity, which perhaps explains why they stayed together for so long.

As a would-be film-maker, Potts was happy not only to accompany Nureyev on his travels, but to practise his new skills by making film records of Nureyev's working life on the road. And Nureyev was anxious to help Potts get started. He introduced Potts to the film director Herbert Ross (then married to the dancer Nora Kaye) at a party in 1970, and made Potts first assistant director on the 1972 filmed version of the ballet Don Quixote, co-directed in Australia by Nureyev and Robert Helpmann. This was an exceptionally successful endeavour to bring the excitement of a live performance on to a screen. "Don Quixote contains some very successful uses of the camera to involve the spectator without betraying the dancing and its shapes and rhythms," wrote the Spring 1974 issue of Focus on Film.

Many years later, Potts was to be the driving force behind the film's restoration by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2000, for use as the centrepiece of a This is Nureyev! retrospective in New York and Los Angeles and for its first-ever broadcast in the Great Performances series on PBS. He then introduced it to Paris in 2002 for a Nureyev celebration at the Cinemathèque Française, and to London in 2003, for a month-long tribute to Nureyev at the National Film Theatre.

Potts had an ease and sweetness, an openness and curiosity which made him irresistible. He brought stability and companionship into Nureyev's life and, because he never attempted to compete with Nureyev, he was a calming influence. But being with Nureyev's overwhelming ego was never going to be easy. Even early on there were conflicts. There is a story of how the choreographer Frederick Ashton, seeing their unhappy faces while they were sunning themselves at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, pulled Nureyev aside and said: "Look, Rudolf, boys as pretty as that don't come along very often and one day even you are going to be old and ugly. So why don't you go make it up with him?"

After seven years, the relationship unravelled. Potts had been working at various times for film directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mike Nichols and James Bridges, and in 1976 he had made More, More, More. In 1979, after the break-up with Nureyev, he made Le Beau mec, a gay porn film shot in Paris. In 1988 he managed to raise enough money to write and direct a horror film, Psycho Cop, about six college students on a weekend camping holiday who fall victim to a demented policeman. This was successful enough to spawn a sequel by another director.

By then, Potts was probably infected with the HIV virus that would eventually kill him, as it had killed Nureyev in 1993. He had remained close friends with Nureyev, seeing him and telephoning him. Potts died after a struggle of several years of lymphoma and was buried in Montgomery, Alabama, near his parents.

Nadine Meisner

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