Profile: Dudley Moore - Not a dream, a dud: His talents abound, yet he squanders them. Andrew Stephen on the misfit of Hollywood

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS something both poignant and inevitable about Dudley Moore's arrest outside his Los Angeles home last week, to say nothing of the ritualised degradation which then followed: the handcuffing, the detention in Venice police station for two hours, the formal reading of rights and accusations of 'cohabitational abuse', the dollars 50,000 bail, the 'Shame of Dudley Moore' tabloid headlines next day.

Only the British media persists in treating Moore as a superstar: the local lad who made good in America. In Hollywood itself he is much closer to being part of that sad procession of has-beens, clinging to past, brief glories and diminishing wealth.

It is perhaps significant that last week's incidents started as Moore and his latest girlfriend were watching the Oscar ceremonies - not as part of the begowned and dinner-jacketed Hollywood in-crowd at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but as mere television viewers glued to their sets at home. The breaking point apparently came when Paul Newman appeared on stage to accept a special award. A remark by Moore's lover, Nicole Rothschild, 28, moved him to violent rage. One thing led to another and finally to the police cells.

Newman is everything Moore is not: an enduring movie superstar, a man fantasised over by women because of his sexuality rather than that awkward, jokey cuddliness exemplified by Moore. He leads a relatively stable per-

sonal life and his box-office bankability is assured. Above all, he has earned a lifetime's adulation even from that tinsel-and-glitter in-crowd of Hollywood.

This is real success. Moore, by contrast, is sustained by the fantasies of the British tabloids. The reality of that ' pounds 2.5m pink mansion' (Today) or, alternatively, the very same ' pounds 5m mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean' (Daily Mirror), for example, is a three-bedroomed house minus a front or back garden. It is probably considerably smaller than the homes of many of those same hacks who drool over Moore's imagined riches and fabulous lifestyle.

The house is crammed with artefacts from his various personae. There is the battered upright piano, complete with wooden inlay and Victorian candlesticks, on which he learnt to play during the Second World War at his parent's council house in Dagenham. Just feet away are sleek modern Steinway and Yamaha grands, recording equipment and assorted CDs.

For a man who insists he no longer believes in God yet who wept playing 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' on the organ at his father's funeral in Dagenham in 1971, there is a small side-room, dominated by a large wooden cross, that looks suspiciously like a chapel. He has a blown-up facsimile of the score of his first childhood composition (entitled, with great premonition, 'Anxiety') close to an Art Deco Coca-Cola vending machine. There are innumerable kitsch ornaments of frogs and steam trains (his father worked for LNER), a battered Hymns Ancient and Modern won as a school prize by the 13-year-old at Dagenham County High. And in his guest bedroom there are touching drawings inscribed 'To Dad' by his teenage son Patrick, a product of his marriage to Tuesday Weld.

The contradictions mount up. He will, he once told me, drive through Los Angeles during a hot summer listening to a tape of Christmas carols from Caius College, Cambridge, crying furiously; he will not even contemplate breakfast without first playing a Bach fugue (typically the F minor or E major from the First Book) on one of his pianos, or a chorale prelude on his organ (complete with pedal board) upstairs.

Yet he will also still make dire films like his latest in 1992, Blame it on the Bellboy, a resounding flop. He seems addicted to tawdry publicity. He puts on silly voices at the drop of a hat, especially if there seems a danger that the conversation is turning too serious. Despite occasional maudlin sentiment, he has no wish to return to live in Britain after two decades in the US; it is not so much that he fits in better in LA but that he feels he fits in less badly than in London, that he can hide better in what he calls his 'cocoon' south of Santa Monica. Like Peter Sellers before him, he is a highly gifted British export who left a creative British career behind for fleeting fame, some riches, but sadly, little fulfilment in America.

HE WAS born at Charing Cross Hospital, London, in 1935 to a shorthand typist, 'iffy' and 'hyper-anxious' Christian Scientist mother and a railway electrician, high-church Anglican father. He was born with a club foot and his parents found this condition and the numerous operations it spawned both frightening and rather shaming, something not to be discussed in front of the children (he has an elder sister, Barbara). He still cannot convey, he says, his parents' 'neurotic richness' about his foot or their sheer fearfulness of the outside world and its inhabitants in rigorously structured, repressed, pre- and post-war Dagenham.

Moore was also very short - he stopped growing at just under 5ft 3 - and his left leg was more than an inch shorter and thinner than his right. His peers called him 'Hopalong'. He perceived himself as a kind of grotesque Rumpelstiltskin figure at school, courting favour with his peers by becoming the classic school jokester.

He became a (low-church) Anglican choirboy, then won a Saturday scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music - and then another to become Organ Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford.

He was sufficiently fine an organist to be later offered the post of organist to Queen's College. It was a momentous decision. But after just a few minutes' consideration the lure of the bright lights proved too much and the jester inside him won out. He embarked on a showbiz career, first forming his own jazz trio and then joining Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett in what was to become the satirical, trend-setting revue Beyond the Fringe.

All three men, like the women who were to follow in Moore's life, were not just taller but vastly taller than him - Miller and Cook by more than a foot. Even when Beyond the Fringe became the toast of the West End and Broadway, Moore retained the image of being the laughable runt of the litter.

That image gathered momentum: the others tended to retain a literary, artistic gravitas that eluded Moore. They attained a certain kind of elitist cred; he became cuddly Dud, the LA clown. So Moore went on to star in silly but lucrative Hollywood hits such as 10 (where he played a sexually insatiable lecher) and Arthur (a debauched, playboy millionaire).

But these two high points - materially if not intellectually or creatively - were 15 and 13 years ago, and he has never come close to emulating them since. And, as he knows only too well himself, there is nothing quite so debilitating as a fading Hollywood star living on the achievements of yesteryear.

He has found solace by reverting to semi-serious, if populist, music by making programmes for Channel 4 with Sir Georg Solti and playing such musical evergreens as Mozart's C Major K467 concerto. But even then that incipient nervousness comes to the fore. The conductor David Susskind relates how he just knew Moore would dry with nerves in one performance; anticipating this, he brought with him to the rostrum (unknown to Moore) a large spanner. When Moore faltered, Susskind stopped the concert and set about the piano's innards. The audience roared, assuming it was part of the act rather than a result of Moore's chronic nerves.

Then there are the Moore Women - the leggy blondes so much part of the British mythology. Not just his three wives - Suzy Kendall (1968-72), Tuesday Weld (1975-80) and Brogan Lane (1988- 90) - but others such as Susan Anton, Shirley Anne Field, Fiona Fullerton and, now, Nicole Rothschild. Some believe that Moore's insecurities extend to his sexuality, and that his sexual avidity and often very public conquests are merely an unending quest for sexual reassurance - he did not lose his virginity until he was 23. He finds it almost impossible to sustain intimacy - and, within such relationships, his fall-back device of jokesterism is not enough. Regular volcanic explosions with his partners, he says, are inevitable. Yet the women who have tried and failed to make lives with Moore retain a deep affection for him. He still sometimes stays in London at the family home of Suzy Kendall.

The women fall, it seems, for the charm but also for the personal terrors within him, each believing that she can banish them. They have failed, as have the 'shrinks' he has consulted over three decades. Yet, to both sexes, there remains something immensely appealing - if not lovable - about Moore. Less than 24 hours after Ms Rothschild claimed to police that he had tried to strangle her, she announced her everlasting love for him and her wish to kiss and make up. It says much about Dudley Moore that there are very few people in the world who would like to have seen him charged, and possibly imprisoned, for whatever his inner demons made him do that stormy night of the Oscars.

(Photograph omitted)