Graham Greene's attack on 'selfish' Richardson revealed in 1964 letter

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The writer Graham Greene accused Sir Ralph Richardson, the actor, of selfishness, vanity and an inability to learn his lines, according to letters published for the first time today.

The writer Graham Greene accused Sir Ralph Richardson, the actor, of selfishness, vanity and an inability to learn his lines, according to letters published for the first time today.

The scathing correspondence goes on show at the British Library in London, which has brought together rare and rarely seen items relating to Greene's journalism and theatrical works, in an exhibition called Beyond the Novels, marking the centenary of the author's birth.

Written in 1964, the letter was sent to the distinguished thespian when he was performing in Greene's play, Carving a Statue, with Peter Wood and a young Dennis Waterman. He condemns Richardson for refusing to listen either to the director or to Greene himself.

"Alas, you fancy yourself as a literary man, and as I have as little faith in your literary ability as in your capacity to judge a play, I have found you - not for the first time - incapable of understanding even your own part," the author wrote.

Having agreed to change some dialogue, Greene is incensed to learn that Richardson has changed it yet again, a move which caused problems for other members of the cast.

"The time has come to call an end to the selfishness, the laziness and the obstinacy which has impeded nearly every rehearsal," an infuriated Greene tells Richardson, then aged 61. He adds, "The vanity of an ageing 'star' can do far more damage to the living theatre than any censorship exercised by the Lord Chamberlain."

Greene later regretted the harshness of his words and sent a tentative apology, telling Richardson, "I went too far". Candida Ridler, the curator of the British Library's modern British collections, suggested it showed how passionately Greene cared about his work.

Although Greene is most famous as the author of novels such as Our Man in Havana, The Quiet American and The Third Man - many of which were subsequently made into films - his career embraced journalism, film criticism and work as an intelligence agent.

He also wrote several plays, performed by actors including John Gielgud, Paul Scofield and Richard Attenborough. They are represented in the exhibition by original programmes and reviews of the time.

The show also includes rarities such as Greene's own review of the young Shirley Temple in the 1937 film Wee Willie Winkie, which provoked a libel action so costly it caused the magazine Night and Day to fold. Greene criticised the adult knowingness of the child star.

There are also examples of his schoolboy writings, his first book of poetry published when he was an Oxford undergraduate and children's books written with his first mistress, Dorothy Glover, whom he left for Catherine Walston, the woman believed to have inspired his book, The End of the Affair.

And there is an exceptionally rare and extraordinary 97-page pamphlet largely written by the Haitian dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier which denounced Greene as a "racist, a perfect ignoramus who vomits his Negrophobia, a liar a cretin, unbalanced and a drug addict". His ire was prompted by Greene's novel The Comedians, which was unsparing in its depiction of Duvalier's brutal regime.

Comments