The Pleasure Girls interview part two: director Gerry O’Hara

The writer and director of The Pleasure Girls, Gerry O’Hara, very kindly agreed to do an interview for Du dumme Sau!  I have to admit I was very excited about this interview as he has had quite a long and varied career with credits on some very impressive films and TV shows.

His film work started back in the mid 1940s when he worked on documentary films but by the late 1950s he was working regularly as an Assistant Director on big budget films with big name directors.  He continued as Assistant Director into the 1960s (with one brief foray back into AD work in 1984 on Terence Young’s The Jigsaw Man), working on films as diverse as Richard III (Dir Laurence Olivier, 1955); Cleopatra (Dir Joseph L Mankiewicz, 1963); Exodus (Dir Otto Preminger, 1960); Our Man in Havana (Dir Carol Reed, 1959); The L-Shaped Room (Dir Bryan Forbes, 1962); Tom Jones (Dir Tony Richardson, 1963), and many more.  He moved into directing work in the early 1960s but has also worked very widely as a writer for film and TV, including writing The Bitch (with Jackie Collins!), and various episodes of quality TV series like The Professionals (for which he was also Script Editor), Bergerac, and C.A.T.S. Eyes.

DDS – Gerry, what an impressive career! Your start as an Assistant Director working with an amazing list of directors must have been exciting?

GOH – That was my university.  Those directors taught me how to do it all! [Laughs]

DDS – Aside from the much larger films you worked on as AD, the one I really enjoyed was The Clouded Yellow [Dir Ralph Thomas, 1950]

GOH – It was nice, yes…  I was assistant on that; it was directed by Ralph Thomas. We shot [it] at Sydney Box’s house in Mill Hill, a place called Moat Mount; we didn’t shoot it all there but we shot some of it there and then I think we went up to Newcastle and shot some scenes there on the River Tyne at night, with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons.

DDS – Did you direct any of it?

GOH – I didn’t direct any of The Clouded Yellow.  The thing is, you get to be a Third Assistant Director, and then you go up to Second – the Third does all the running about, the Second does the sort of administrative work for the First Assistant.  The First Assistant Director… he’s like a Stage Manager , he’s the one who runs the crew and gives them orders on behalf of the director, so he really, if it’s done properly, he protects the director.  It’s a very interesting job; quite frankly it was a better job than being director.   I enjoyed it more because… I went all over the world, and… actually, I was probably better paid as an Assistant Director than I was sometimes as Director; quite a lot more.  I was one of the best… I was regarded as the most sought after Assistant Director in London and abroad.

DDS – Yes, I’ve read that somewhere

GOH – I worked in all of those places.  I was the first Assistant Director to have an agent! They all have them now.  The agent used to call me, I might be in Paris and he would say, “Do you want to do a film in Austria starting next month?” and, you know, we‘d discuss the terms and I’d probably go from Paris to Vienna without even going home.  I was not married in those days and I had a little flat in Chelsea and I used to leave it empty for months on end!

DDS – You managed to get into the film industry fairly easily really, didn’t you?

GOH – Well,  I got in during the war, you see – I was 17 then and wasn’t due to go in the army for another year, but I think I had my medical and because I had a kidney problem, which I had to have operated on many, many years later, I was Grade III.  So when all the men were at war, I got this job at a documentary film making company, Verity Films, making propaganda films.  And that was where I met Sydney Box and he was the guy who helped me most in my career.  Sadly he became ill and had to retire and went to live in South Africa and that was a great loss for me.  He was one of the few producers I had worked with who I really got some support from.  And of course all those directors they were really helpful – Carol Reed virtually taught me how to direct!  When I was working with him on Our Man in Havana and The Key with William Holden and Sophia Loren, he and I used to have a drink at the end of the day and he used to literally take me through the day’s work, saying why did I do so and so?  And I had to know why he did it, so I learnt a hell of a lot from him.

DDS – Carol Reed sounds great! [Du dumme Sau! note: Aside from being a truly great film director, Carol Reed was also uncle to a DDS favourite Jane Birkin and the legend that was Mister Oliver Reed]

GOH – Yeah, yeah.  Well, they were all great… the bigger the director, usually the better they are, you know, to work with.  Preminger was very difficult but that was only because he was a sort of jumpy kind of guy… he used to shout an awful lot but privately, and with me personally, he was generous.  He never quibbled about anything and he took me everywhere with him; we used to have lunch and dinner together and you know, everything.  And it was a great way to learn about life at the top! [Laughs]

DDS – But in the 1960s you began directing in your own right and the wonderful BFI Flipside have been championing your work in recent years, it seems, releasing 3 of your films in their fabulous packages (All The Right Noises; That Kind of Girl; and the one the Klaus Kinski fans are interested in The Pleasure Girls).  I’ve got all three of them but the first one I saw from Flipside, before I even saw The Pleasure Girls, was That Kind of Girl.

GOH – That was the first one I did for [Michael] Klinger.

DDS – And then a couple of years later you did The Pleasure Girls, also for Klinger.  But All The Right Noises was not produced by Klinger…

GOH – Well, that, I think, is my best film and you know I had a free hand with that and nobody was allowed to screw around with it.

DDS – That’s what I wanted to ask you, with The Pleasure Girls you were left out of the edit, and I’ve heard stories that Michael Klinger and his business partner Tony Tenser were up to no good trying to insert other scenes in the film behind your back, and it was the same with That Kind of Girl

GOH – Well… if you go back to the beginning, That Kind of Girl was my first attempt at directing.  …about that, there was a fellow called Robert Hartford-Davis who I knew slightly.  He used to be a studio electrician but he’d sort of risen in the world a little bit, and he got hold of me and said would I like to shoot a film, you know, direct a film.  And I’d never even thought about it before, and it was what they call a three-week quickie.  We shot it in 17 days – 3 five day weeks and one weekend of the 3.  We shot at St Thomas’ hospital, it could only be shot on Saturday and Sunday, that was the medical bit about the venereal disease.  So that was 17 days.  Now that deal was very simple, he said, “Look, we want you to direct it but we don’t want you to edit it or cast it or, you know, any of the starting stuff or the ending stuff…”  I had nothing to do with the music and so on.  So in those days I suppose I was a bit cocky and I thought, “Well, why not?”  I got paid very little for it; it was a few hundred pounds.  Cos The Pleasure Girls cost £34,000 [to make] and That Kind of Girl cost £23,000… I’ve got a funny feeling I got about £500 for it.

Anyway, I undertook to do it and really it became a bit of a burden because I was the Assistant Director on Tom Jones which was a lovely film with Albert Finney and Susannah York, directed by Tony Richardson.  Unfortunately I had to leave Tom Jones about two weeks before the finish, which they were very nice about.  Tony Richardson said, “Look, it’ll do you good,” because he was also very keen on me having a go at directing and so he was very supportive.  And anyway I left Tom Jones two weeks early, I shot the film and on the night that we finished shooting, five or six of the crew – we were in Earl’s Court – we went to a pub and had a couple of drinks, shook hands and that was the end of that!

I went back to my flat and I was just sitting quietly having a drink, thinking, “Christ! That was hard work!” and the ’phone rang – extremely corny this story – and it was Otto Preminger on the ’phone in New York.  I had assisted him on Exodus, you know, a very big film, two or three years before that.  And he said, “Gerry, what are you doing?”  I said, “Well, I’ve just directed a film!”  He laughed and he said, “Well, are you going to go on directing?”  I said, “Oh hell, no! It was only a little cheapo. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”  And he said, “Great, I’m doing a movie called The Cardinal,” and he said, “I want you in New York right away.   We won’t do a deal over the ’phone, you know I’ll take good care of you.”  He said, “Go to Columbia tomorrow in Wardour Street, pick up a first class return ticket to New York and I want you here on Monday night.”  And that’s what happened.

I went to Columbia the next day, and I was in trouble with Columbia because I’d walked off the Lawrence of Arabia set.  [Du dumme Sau! note: apparently this was because Gerry didn’t like the way things were going on the production and also a long shooting schedule in Jordan meant he would not be able to see his Jewish girlfriend who would not be able to come out to Jordan].  They hated me, and the fellow in charge insisted on seeing me.  I said to his secretary, I said, “Look, I don’t want to see him, I’ve come for my air ticket.”  So she said, “I know but he wants to see you.”  So anyway I went into his office… his name was Bill Graff… and of course he played me a lot of nonsense, pretending to read papers and to sign things.  I was standing there like an idiot and he eventually looked up and he said, “I suppose you think you’re clever?” and I said, “No, Bill, I don’t think I’m clever at all, I’ve come for my ticket, please may I have it?” He literally threw it across his desk, he said, “There you are!”, and that was it.  The next day night I caught the familiar plane to New York, there used to be one from Heathrow called the 501 and I was met by Otto’s people, you know, and that was it.  I then spent probably six or eight months flying between New York, Boston, Rome, Vienna…  We shot The Cardinal all over the place in cathedrals and all that sort of stuff.  That was the life I used to live!  (laughs)

DDS – Moving on to your work on The Pleasure Girls, I interviewed Anneke Wills, who played Angela in the film, and she told me something interesting, if it’s true, and I’m really not sure that it is.  She said that originally Clive Donner had been directing the film and he walked off when he didn’t like the way the film was going and you picked up the direction when he left.  What can you tell me about that?

GOH – Well, obviously, her memory has gone a bit rocky.  Clive Donner, at that time, wouldn’t have touched a low-budget, skid row movie, because he was doing big pictures then, around about that time.  He was doing What’s New, Pussycat?, which was a big hit.  He did a film for David Deutsch called Nothing but the Best, which was filmed by my old friend Nic Roeg.  So he wouldn’t have touched anything like [The Pleasure Girls].

I knew [Clive Donner] slightly, he was the film editor who became a director, and I think he was David Lean’s editor very, very early on in Lean’s directing career.  I think that might be right… Clive died about 5 or 6 years ago [Du dumme Sau! note: Clive Donner died in September 2010], but I never worked with him.  I certainly met him a couple of times.  But it’s just that…it’s a long time ago and [Anneke] is thinking about something else.

DDS – I think that Anneke is mixing it up with Nothing but the Best, the film that Clive Donner made with Alan Bates…

GOH – Yeah, well, that was made with my friend Nic Roeg…

DDS – …Cos she was in Some People which was directed by Clive Donner in 1962 and then in 1964 she was in Nothing but the Best and I think she’s kind of got part of Nothing but the Best mixed up with The Pleasure Girls

GOH – I think so, yes.  I didn’t know her as well as Michael Gough, now was she married to Michael?

DDS – Yes, she was

GOH – He was a smashing bloke.  I directed him in a little quickie [Game for Three Losers], at Merton Park Studios, and he was lovely.  And I used to meet him in Chelsea occasionally.  I think I was in Hyde Park one day and Michael was sat on a bench in the sun and I sat with him and we had a long chat.  A very, very, very nice man.  And she was lovely, I really liked her.  It’s very sad, she should have done really well because she was an unusual girl, she was quite a sort of, what they called in those days, kooky.  She was kooky, and quite pretty and a very nice girl.

DDS – Yes, she could have been a much bigger star if she hadn’t turned her back on it all.  Going back to The Pleasure Girls, Anneke also said that the producers had wanted to spice things up a little in the film, she said:  “Nobody was happy, we weren’t happy, but we kind of scraped through, we finished it and then we heard that it had gone deeper into, y’know, turning into a sex film, so in a way I think there was a premiere, we none of us went to it and we were kind of slightly ashamed of it really.”

(Above photograph shamelessly stolen from Mike’s Movie Projector blog: http://osullivan60.blogspot.com/2011/03/pleasure-girls.html)

GOH – Well, it was a long time ago but actually Francesca [Annis] came to it because she was my girlfriend at the time.  There was a rather trivial little opening at a lousy cinema in Oxford Street called the Cinephone. Yes, you know, it was treated badly and there was some trouble about sex scenes.

What happened there is that after I’d finished the film Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser without telling me went behind my back and hired a small crew and shot an orgy scene, right.  Now, I went to John Trevelyan the censor and said that if he okayed that scene I would sue the British Board of Censors, which of course was pretty outrageous and caused quite a lot of, you know, fuss.  Trevelyan was quite a nice man, he was the Head of the British Board of Censors.  But the only reason I knew about this sex scene was that I was in a pub in Soho one day and I ran into a young film technician, a camera lad, and he said, “Hey! I was on your film the other day and we did some, you know, some real naughty stuff.”  And I said, “What are you talking about?”  So he told me what had happened and, of course, being pretty experienced even then, I was in my thirties but I knew all about the dirty tricks and so on, so because of that I went to the censor and Trevelyan thought it was a great joke.  But I said, “Look, it is funny, I know, but I’m gonna do it, you know, if you permit those scenes to go out under my name as writer and director it’s going to ruin my career.”  And actually he was very nice, he said “Gerry, leave it to me.”  And he spoke to Klinger and co and those scenes were removed.  Now whether they were ever put into a foreign version, I haven’t the slightest idea.  They were capable of anything.

Michael Klinger was quite a funny character and I knew him quite well and I’d worked with him again. I wrote a script for him several years later and he actually bought an option on one of my other stories but he didn’t make it.  He was an ex-barrow boy from Soho and he ran a very famous sex club in Soho – I can’t remember the name of it now – it was a very well known sort of place where you went to hire ladies of the night and all the rest of it [Du dumme Sau! note: I think it might have been called the Heaven and Hell hostess club].  Lots of people went to it and a lot of famous people would be in there, the name… it just slips my mind.  But the one I really didn’t like and he’s still alive in fact they tell me he’s in a home now was Tony Tenser [Du dumme Sau! note: Tony Tenser actually died in December 2007].  He was again, you know, a Soho spiv but he was so cold, he was a…, I could tell with him that he would quite literally put the dogs on you if he thought he could get away with it.  I never spoke to Tony after that, we didn’t fall out but I just never encountered him again.

And, you know, having done that film I got onto slightly better films; I don’t know whether it’s on the records but the notices were marvellous, the reviews… and I put all the best bits on a single sheet of paper, you know, “dripping with talent” and all that sort of stuff and I went to the trade papers in those days – one was called Kine Weekly and the other one was called Today’s Cinema, which is now Screen International – now, I bought a page in each of those trade papers, put the notices in with my agent’s name at the bottom implying that the agent had done it.  But I didn’t say that he had.  That trick earned me… for doing The Pleasure Girls they paid me £650 for the script and £650 for directing and I was to get a percentage but they cheated me out of the percentage.  My agent did succeed in getting another £650 out of them, so all I made out of it was about £2,000.  But I invested something like five or six hundred on these two pages and within 7 days I’d picked up contracts worth over £20,000.  In those days, that was like over £200,000.

DDS – Going back to John Trevelyan, I read that he was a founder member of Klinger and Tenser’s Compton Cinema Club…

GOH – Well, that’s more than possible!  It was a very shifty business in those days; it probably still is as far as I know.  I mean I do know because I’m still associated with a film company, I’m an advisor with a company, you know, reading scripts occasionally and things like that.  Anything’s possible; they were all a bunch of crooks!

DDS – I read an interesting thing in the booklet that comes with The Pleasure Girls DVD, it said that one person had complained about it saying it would incite violence at holiday weekends, what did you think of that?

GOH – I hadn’t read that before, it wasn’t particularly violent – well, there was a bit of violence with the guy who owed money to the gamblers… But that was based on a true story that actually happened to a fellow I knew, his name was Litvinov, I can’t remember his first name.  But he actually got into trouble with a bookmaking outfit and he couldn’t pay and they slashed him; he had a scar on his face, nearly took his top lip off.  I mean, it was a true story.

DDS – Yes, because you’d been told that it was a good idea to write about what you know and…

GOH – Yeah, that was what Raymond Stross had said.

DDS – …with The Pleasure Girls in the booklet it said, I’m not sure if you said it or not, that Klinger and Tenser had brought Klaus Kinski in to bring “an air of European sophistication to the film”, is that true?

GOH – No, I wouldn’t use a word like that.  I don’t know if it had anything to do with Michael [Klinger], it could have been.  It wouldn’t have been anything to do with Tenser, he wouldn’t know an actor from …

DDS – No, it seemed to be Klinger who was interested in the European side of things, didn’t it?

GOH – Well, Klinger was the guy who brought Roman Polanski to London, but that was a fluke.  Michael wouldn’t even know who Polanski was but there was a German producer who was a hustler, you know, he was a typical Wardour Street hustler and I think his name was Gene Gutowski [Du dumme Sau! note: Gutowski was actually Polish].  And Gene Gutowski went to Klinger, you know, they met somehow or other, and he sold him the idea of this brilliant young Polish guy who directed a black and white film called Knife in the Water and that’s what started Polanski’s career, he was a film student in Poland.  He was a brilliant guy, I met him, he was very nice; I had a long chat with him.  But that’s what happened there, it was a fluke.

DDS – I understand Klaus Kinski was over here anyway for Doctor Zhivago…

GOH – That came afterwards.

DDS – I interviewed an American director called David Schmoeller, he worked with Klaus on a film called Crawlspace and Klaus was a real nightmare for him.  Afterwards David made a film called Please Kill Mr Kinski because Klaus was so bad… [Du dumme Sau! note: I was about to tell Gerry the story that David Schmoeller had recounted in his interview about how the prop master on Doctor Zhivago asked David Lean: “Mr. Kinski is still chained.  What do you want to do?” and Lean said: “Leave him,” because he had caused so much trouble…]

GOH – [Kinski] did become a bit of an oddity. Actually, I didn’t know him terribly well but he was easy… when I directed him in The Pleasure Girls, he was a relatively unknown German character actor and we got him for £900 for ten days, which even in those days was hardly a fortune.  Presumably we paid his hotel bill, I actually don’t know, but I didn’t know anything about him.

I’d written the script, I knew the famous Rachman – Peter Rachman – because I used to have coffee with Peter Rachman and his girlfriend, the famous girl from the Keeler scandal, what was her name?   The one who said, “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

DDS:  Mandy Rice-Davies?

GOH – Well, a pal of mine, he and I when we weren’t doing anything used to go and sit in a coffee bar in the King’s Road, it’s long since gone, it was a place where King’s Road layabouts and actors and people with time on their hands would go and sit and chat for most of the afternoon and drink 2 or 3 cups of coffee.  One day we sat at the table and Mandy and Rachman came in, he left his big white Bentley outside in the street, and we knew who they were.  My friend was a bit of a scamp, you know, he would talk to anybody.  And we just started to talk and so we had a very funny hour or so with Rachman and I knew all about him, I’d heard all about the terrible things that they did, how they’d cut off the water and the gas and how they’d threaten people and, you know, have Alsatian dogs and all that sort of stuff.  I knew about that subject because they were all real, so I just wrote what I knew.

That was when the producer [Raymond Stross], he’d read a couple of my scripts and didn’t want to make them but he liked the dialogue, and he did, this is absolutely true, he said “Gerry, you’re in Chelsea, you’re out and about, you’re in the night clubs, the discos and all that sort of stuff, that’s what you should be writing about.”  And to tell you the truth, I was rather annoyed and I went back to my flat which I shared with this guy – we weren’t gay, we were both after the ladies – and he said, “How did you get on?” and I said, “Oh, crap! He said I should be writing about Chelsea.”  And he said, “You are an idiot, a producer’s telling you what to do and you’re so bloody clever you won’t do it!”  And that annoyed me!

But I sat at the typewriter the whole of that weekend and I bashed out what we call a storyline, you know, it’s like a framework for a possible story or play or script.  And then I showed it to the producer, and he advised me, and I wrote scenes and half wrote the script and, you know, practically finished with it.  And he said to me, “Gerry, I’ve got some bad news – I’ve got a film in Canada, I’m working on it in America”, and he made this film [The Fox] with Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood.  Anyway, he went off to America and he never actually worked in England again after that.  But he said, “Gerry, you know, I’ll write a disclaimer saying I have no rights over this story whatsoever and it belongs to you”, which it did, and so I was left with a script and I was back where I started from.

But what I did, I played a trick – I played quite a few tricks, I suppose, in my time – I sent out the script to everybody.  You know, in those days you got a company to type a script and to print out 25 copies for I don’t know £50.  Well I sent most of the 25 copies out to, well, any name I could think of and everybody totally ignored it.  And one of the people I sent it to was Michael Klinger at Compton-Tekli in the Compton Cinema in Soho, in Old Compton Street, and… no reply.  And then somebody told me that another outfit might look at it, so I wrote a letter to Michael which was a complete bluff.  No, I didn’t, I rang his secretary who I knew, she was a very nice woman, and I said, “Look, I need my script right away, I think I can place it and I haven’t got a spare copy.  I’m going to come by your office, I won’t have time to come up, leave it at the box office,” you know, on the ground floor of this little fleapit cinema, “and I’ll pick it up and I’ll go.”  So, anyway, I did that I got the 19 bus up to Piccadilly, jumped into a taxi to make it look as if I was in a hurry and went by taxi to Old Compton Street, leapt out, ran to the box office, had they got an envelope for me, yes, here it is, ran back to the taxi got in, told the driver to head off to Shaftesbury Avenue, opened the envelope and there was my script and a letter from Michael Klinger, saying “Gerry, don’t do anything with this until you’ve talked to me.”

I thought, I’ve got you, you bastard!  And I went to a club in Shaftesbury Avenue which was run by Gerry Campion, who used to play Billy Bunter, and I ordered a large gin and tonic and, of course, that was it!  The next thing, I had a meeting with Michael, he bought the script and that was it.

DDS – You have to be quite tenacious in the film industry then?!

GOH – Oh, well, I don’t know what it’s like now but it was terrible, terrifying.  I mean, I was out of work for weeks, and months sometimes.

DDS – What was it like to work with Klaus on The Pleasure Girls? How did you find him as an actor?

GOH – He was lovely.  He was very pleasant, he didn’t make jokes particularly but he did everything I asked him to do; he never argued, he seemed to be quite a nice guy.  In fact I met him many years later at Elstree Studios and he was doing a British film, I can’t remember what it was called [Du dumme Sau! note: possibly Venom as it was shot at Elstree], and somebody told him that it was my birthday and he sent me half a case of champagne.

DDS – Aw! I like him even more now!

GOH – He was alright but you see probably something got to him, you know, same thing with Preminger – eventually Preminger, poor man, died of Alzheimer’s.  It’s the pressure that they’re under.

DDS – Yeah, I think he took his work very seriously and he always said he wasn’t acting that he would become the character and I think that ends up taking over in the end, doesn’t it?

GOH – That’s happened to plenty of actors…

DDS – So what did you do after The Pleasure Girls?

GOH – I got a contract with Sydney Box, which ran for about 2 or 3 years.  I got a contract with Rank directing commercials and I picked up two Avengers out of it as well.  I was hired to direct two [episodes of] The Avengers and that was about £1,500 and The Avengers still pay me; this was in 1964, and even now in 2012 I still get cheques for The Avengers.  Very little, you know, two or three hundred pounds, maybe five hundred a year but I’ve been getting it all that time.  And for the first twenty years I should think I picked up about £2,000 a year, it was like a pension!  And then of course I wrote for Bergerac and the BBC still pay me for that, which was again about 20 or 30 years ago.   And I also, you know, much later directed for The Professionals, Man in a Suitcase, Hammer House of Horror, and you know now and again I get a little cheque; it’s my pension, ha ha!

DDS – You said that after The Pleasure Girls you were still on okay terms with Klinger at least and worked with him again?

GOH – Yeah, I didn’t speak to him probably for several years but what happened was I’d wrote a script – it was called Restless – and I think I sold options on it 5 or 6 times.  The company would approach me, like Hammer, Michael Carreras, who was the son of the head man Sir James Carreras, well, Michael didn’t really like the horror film world and he tried to move Hammer a little bit towards different stuff.  Well, he read my script and he bought a year’s option, he took it to MGM in Paris and MGM in Paris said, “Fine, we’ll do it.” So they paid for me to go to France to work in Paris and somewhere in the South, I forget where it was now, and I rewrote it to base it in France, then that fell through.  I think I sold the option about five times.

Eventually, I sold it to a friend of mine called Dennis Lewiston who was a cameraman in Hollywood, well in London and Los Angeles, and an occasional director.  But I got him a job as a director with The Professionals.  One day he came to my office cos I was the story editor on The Professionals – I wrote 6 of them but I was in charge of all the other scripts which was a hard job actually; not a very nice job – and we were sitting in my office and he was saying how badly he wanted to direct a script, a film, you know, a real film but he couldn’t find a project.  So I said, “Well, I’ve got one in my bottom drawer.  If you like you can have a look at it.  I’ll let you punt it around if you want.”  And this was only because I liked him, you know.

So anyway he got in touch with an English producer living in Melbourne, Australia and an Australian producer.  And they grabbed it; they said “Hey! We’ll do this.”  So Dennis came to me and said, “Look, I’ve got a deal but they won’t pay much for the script”, it was the usual thing, you know. “What will they pay?”  And he said $25,000 – that would be in those days about £15,000.  And I said, “Sorry, Dennis, look it’s a good script, one day I’ll find a backer for it myself,” I didn’t want to give it away.    And he was very upset, you know, and he said would I take $35,000 and I said, “No!” It sickened me, you know, they were going to make a movie which would probably cost, you know, $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 and they were going to pay me a lousy $35,000 and I wrote the bloody thing!

Anyway, what happened was that I got a job in Australia through The Professionals being such a success.  There was a company in Australia, a very successful company in Melbourne, and they in effect wanted to re-do The Professionals in Australia under another name; it was called Special Squad.  So they were cunning, they hired the producer of The Professionals and they hired me, the story editor, because they knew that if they got us two we would be people who knew how to do this particular sort of show, you know.

So I went to Australia under a year’s contract.  Now, while I was there I had a part-time secretary in London… she was taking my messages.  And she rang me the first week I was in Australia, she said, “Gerry, there’s something funny going on, somebody’s calling you from Australia!”, and she gave me the details and of course it was a Melbourne telephone number so I said I’d call them.  So I rang and they didn’t know I was in Australia and they said, “We really want to talk to you,” and I said, “Well, I’m down the road in studio ten”, or whatever it was, and they couldn’t believe it.  So they said, “Look, let’s meet for dinner.”  So they took me out to dinner and they tried all sorts of moves on me and gave me lots of drink and a beautiful supper, and I realised while I was having supper with them, I thought they’ve done something with this script!

They’d put it in a system in all the various countries where you can get a tax break if you make a film in their country.  Now what they’d done, they’d put it through – I’d guessed this – they’d put it through the New Zealand tax break people; they’d put 2 or 3 projects in, the others were probably more expensive than mine, and I know it did happen because I learnt afterwards, the tax break people said, “We’ll do Restless but we don’t want to do the other two.”  In other words, they had an opportunity to get hold of a lot of money, or a big advantage financially, and they were trying to get the script off me without paying for it!  Well, without paying the right price.  So we argued and I said, “Okay, I’ll sell it for $100,000 – American dollars, not Australian dollars.”  “Oh god!” they said, “We can’t pay that!”  I said, “Well, then, cancel the dinner, goodbye!”  They said, “Wait, wait, wait… You’re a hard man but alright, okay…”  And I said, “Fine. Now…” I said, “…you need an option.”

They said, “Now, we’ll need to negotiate, we need you to give us the rights to negotiate.”  I said, “You’re talking about an option.”  They said, “No, we don’t need to…”  I said, “Bullshit, you want an option on the script,” I said, “That’ll be $5,000 for a month, and if you like I’ll take Australian dollars, cash.”  And the next day I picked up 5,000 Australian dollars.  I was due for a break on the Special Squad, my then wife and I flew to Fiji for a few days at their expense!  And then, of course, a month went by and the option ran out.  So they said, “Oh, come on!” And I said, “Bullshit, the option’s run out, if you want another option of another month that’s another $5,000,” and I’m only telling you that’s the way these crooks, well, they’re not crooks but they’re sharpies.

DDS – Did the film ever get made?

GOH – Yes, it did! It got made in New Zealand, they changed the title [Du dumme Sau! note: Hot Target, directed by Dennis C Lewiston, 1985], they re-wrote the script and Dennis, who was still a great friend of mine, invited me to BAFTA one day and he ran it for me in one of their small viewing rooms and (laughing) I didn’t think it was all that good!   But what the hell, I was paid!   The sad thing is it was the best script I ever wrote, but that’s life.

DDS – You should have made it yourself!

GOH – Yeah, yeah, I should have done it, but I couldn’t find anybody to put up the money at the time, but anyway, that’s what happened…

DDS – Going back to the subject of being left out of the edits, and in some sense not being in control of what you were working on, you worked on Maroc 7 and The Bitch, and these were not films you wanted to work on…

GOH – (laughs) You’ve put your finger on the two films I hated the most.  I had to do Maroc 7 it was a contractual thing.

DDS – Do you wish you’d had a bit more control over what you had to work on?

GOH – No, I wish I’d never seen the bloody thing! It was a terrible script and I begged my boss at the time, Sydney Box, to let me out of it and he said, “Look, Gerry, we’ve been paying you for a couple of years,” and they were, they were paying me an enormous salary just to be there ready to make a film for them.  He said, “Look, we’ve paid you all this money and we want it back.  We’ve loaned you out to this outfit and they will pay us all the money we’ve paid you.”  I couldn’t get out of it and even though he was very nice, he said “Look, you can handle it,” it was impossible.

DDS – It sounds like it was a bit of a nightmare…

GOH – Well, the script was so weak.  You see, a director can’t make a good film out of a bad script.  A good director can actually take the curse off a bad script, but he can’t actually save it.  Now, a bad director can’t totally screw up a good script.  See what I mean? And that was it, I could not fix that script, I used to re-write scenes at dawn before we were shooting but I couldn’t get it… it was nonsense, it was like a poor man’s James Bond; it was a James Bond idea, on a Mickey Mouse budget.

DDS – There were a lot of those type of films around about that time though, weren’t there?

GOH – Yeah.  Of course, the other one [The Bitch] was entirely my fault; I shouldn’t have done it.  A friend of mine offered me the job, he was my closest friend; he runs Goldcrest and he offered me the job.  It was quite a good deal, not vast but it wasn’t bad.  And I was probably then 60-odd I suppose and I was very busy squirreling the nuts for the winter.  I’m afraid I did that solely for my pension, I put every penny of that into a pension and it was about £20,000 or maybe a bit more.  It’s my fault, I did it and I can’t get out of it (laughs).

DDS – That’s why it’s good that companies like BFI Flipside are reissuing your films, because whatever the restrictions you were working under at the time, they’re your personal projects not all things you took for contractual reasons.

GOH – It helps a lot.  Actually someone sent me a cutting from a film programme; it was a BFI advertisement saying “By the cult director Gerry O’Hara.”  Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever been called a cult director (laughs) – they’ve called me a lot of other things!

DDS – It sounds like it’s been a fabulous career, some of it not so good and some of it amazing, but have you enjoyed your career?

GOH – Oh, wonderfully, yeah!  I’m still working.  I’m 87 and on November 3rd last year (2011), I published my first book!  Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania [published by MX Publishing].

DDS – That’s excellent!  And you’re still involved in film through the production company…

GOH – Yeah, but only really as an adviser and it’s really more out of friendship than anything else.  But I mean I see every movie I can due to the Cinema Veterans, I have two free tickets Monday to Thursday afternoons at all the London cinemas.  Last week we saw Shame, The War Horse, The Iron Lady… We just go out in the afternoons, get on the bus, and go to the cinema.  It’s not a bad life, but rather annoyingly I’m getting old, but that’s neither here nor there…

The favourite film that I made was called The Amsterdam Affair (1968), it was based on a book called Love in Amsterdam written by Nicholas Freeling and it was the first Van Der Valk story, the first or second, and I made that long before the TV series but I cannot find a copy of it.

DDS – I shall try and find it for you.  When I interviewed Anneke Wills she wanted to know if I could find a copy of Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?

GOH – Anthony Newley, he was a friend of mine as well.   He was Joan Collins’ husband?

DDS – Yes, that’s right, but you see the thing is, Anneke had dated Anthony Newley for some time before he was with Joan Collins and she had ended up having his love child and didn’t say anything as he had got together with Joan.  So Anneke went off and had the baby without telling him, she met Michael Gough and he knew she was pregnant but they brought the child up as their own and then had one of their own as well.

GOH – Oh wonderful, what a lovely story!  Anyway, if you ever talk to Anneke, remind her that she gave me a painting that she did.  She gave me a painting on brown hardboard of a rocking horse.  But the thing about that was that many, many years afterwards, I split up with a girlfriend and she asked if she could have it and I could hardly say no!  And I was rather sad to part with it, because I was very interested in painting.  And my present wife is a painter; she illustrated my book Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania.  You can get a free look at that book on Kindle and if you want they’ll give you the first chapter for nothing.

DDS – Brilliant! I’ll put a link to it in the article.

GOH – I’ll tell you a little bit about [Amsterdam Affair], it was made by a British film company which is long since defunct called London Independent Producers, the English producer was a man called William Gell, who left the business and retired to Ireland.  The American partners, financial partners, were Westinghouse TV.  Now, Westinghouse is a big American company that manufactures refrigerators and stuff like that.  The American producer’s name was Howard Barnes.  Now, I’ve never found anybody competent enough to find it for me.

DDS – I will try my hardest!

GOH – Well, it would be wonderful.  It’s a nice film.  I had quite nice reviews for it, it went down on a double bill and disappeared.  I got a wonderful review of it in The Irish Times!  It did get reviewed in England, but minor reviews.  If you can get that for me…

DDS – I’ll try my hardest, in any case I want to see it myself now!  I’m a bit of a film collector and a bit film mad…

GOH – I’d gathered that!  If you get that for me, I’ll give you a prize, I don’t know what it will be but it will be something!

DDS – Thank you so much for doing the interview, Gerry, I’ve really enjoyed it.  And I hope your new book sells well for you.

As a postscript to this article, I found a copy of Amsterdam Affair which I sent to Gerry – just call me the Filmfinder General!  In return Gerry invited me out to dinner and we had a lovely time; he’s such a nice, friendly and very interesting man.  Here’s my photograph of him (taken with Diana F+ camera):

Gerry O’Hara’s book, Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Translyvania is published by MX Publishing and is available to purchase in both book version and Kindle version from Amazon.   The three BFI Flipside films (The Pleasure Girls, That Kind of Girl and All the Right Noises) are also available in lovely DVD and Blu-Ray editions.  For more information, see Gerry’s website:  http://www.gerryohara.com/


Click the image to purchase from Amazon


Click the image to purchase from Amazon


Click the image to purchase from Amazon

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Interview with Kinski Biographer Christian David – Part Two

Following on from Interview with Kinski Biographer Christian David Part One here’s Part Two!

DDS: Christian, are you a Kinski fan? What made you want to write the book?

Christian David (CD): I really don’t know whether I’m a Kinski fan or not. To be honest, when writing the book I focused on not becoming a fan, thus ensuring a professional distance in order to write a useful book, and not just some adoring homage or hagiography. It was clear for me though, that I wanted to write my book for all the Kinski fans out there.

They had been the ones keeping the memory alive, even when Kinski was considered by some as an over-the-hill-actor and a man of yesterday. The fans have continued to discuss his films and performances, and also his private life, of course. My book was a gift to them, and I’m glad that so many of them liked what I had researched and written, and spoke favourably about my book. So I’m actually a fan of all the Kinski fans…

Besides, I wanted to write about this man named Klaus Kinski whom I had gotten to know by interviewing his friends, lovers, colleagues. Which was definitely somebody other than the usual sex-crazed maniac attacking journalists and disrupting film shootings. I know this cliché of “Kinski, the crazy guy” is quite popular, and above all entertaining and funny. But it is a very one-sided approach to this man, resulting in a completely false, nearly perverted image. Several people I interviewed were very happy to finally rectify this. For example Kinski’s longtime friend, then journalist and now television producer – of Inspector Rex fame – Peter Hajek would only talk to me about Kinski on the condition that I would abstain from the usual, silly stereotypes…

Back to your original question. Now, and having the book behind me, I allow myself to be a bit a Kinski fan. I don’t need to distance myself from him any longer. And whenever I watch a film and Kinski is in it, there is a smile on my face as soon as I read his name in the opening credits. I just like this guy.

DDS: I like that! Did you ever meet Klaus?

CD: Not to my knowledge… I leave it for the readers to decide whether this was an advantage or disadvantage for someone writing a biography. One could argue that this ensured a healthy distance between the biographer and the object of his work. But, of course, a certain proximity would have improved my credibility. I would have been considered a personal witness. Which on the other hand would have certainly lessened my objectivity. Anyway, I had to cope with the fact that I had never personally known Klaus Kinski. So I chose the position of a detective researching facts, checking details, talking to witnesses, visiting places where Kinski had lived, and all that stuff.

DDS: As your research developed and you found out more, what impression did you form of Klaus Kinski as an individual? Do you think you would have liked him if you had known him well?

CD: I’ve contemplated that many times, although it was completely irrelevant for writing this biography; I’d never expect a wonderful artist to be an equally wonderful human being. It would be naïve to wish for connection between an artist’s talent and his human qualities. Again and again, great art has been created by immature, idiotic assholes, whilst decent, honourable people have produced mediocre, boring things. And vice versa. Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, and later Milos Forman’s great film, was based on this disquieting fact. On a larger scale, works of art should never be judged by the personality of its creators. Nowadays this happens a lot, even going so far that art works reflecting certain social problems are immediately deemed important, even though aesthetically they might be totally banal. But this is a terrible, dangerous trap, because aesthetic, artistic values are replaced by time-dependent moral or ethical standards. I reject that strongly. Applying such an approach artistic talent gets overlooked and devaluated.

This also applies to Klaus Kinski. To me, what counts in the first place is his talent as an actor. And his unquestionable, exceptional talent was due to his great sensitivity, nurtured by all kinds of experiences; certainly also by his wrongdoings. Undeniably he could be a terrible pain in the ass. Not because he was a sadist, a psychopath, or suffering from a borderline personality disorder as some have suggested. It was rather his deeply instinctive behaviour pattern that made him do things he may have even partially regretted later. Sometimes he did something because he just felt like it, period. Which occasionally made him appear quite unpredictable and erratic. And it also angered him when he was expected to follow other people’s rules or expectations. Hence the numerous scuffles with directors, journalists, or talk show hosts.

Routine is an element of life which was disdained by Kinski. Even in some badly paid, obscure and trashy Italian film production he showed an acting presence. As if he was directed by David Lean or Sergio Leone, rather than by Sergio Garrone or Joe D’Amato. He was an actor because he needed to be one, and he honoured his profession by sticking to what he considered his own personal minimum standard. And he didn’t allow anyone to question this, as such a behaviour seemed disrespectful to him; Kinski wanted to be respected, and any lack of respect incited his rage.

Journalists expecting him to simply follow the established ping-pong-routine of interviews – with the interviewee dutifully answering any question, even questions revealing the interrogator’s deficient degree of preparation – this challenged Kinski’s intelligence and good will. He was never inclined to tolerate such behaviour towards him. It not only enraged, but also hurt him. Probably this had to do with his childhood, with the sense of having been abandoned by his parents, who both had died prematurely. I’ve read a lot of highly personal letters written by Kinski and I came to the conclusion that this man was actually very soft, highly sensitive, thin-skinned, and vulnerable. He therefore girdled himself with an armour of harshness, unyieldingness, and arrogance in order to prevent further psychological injuries. Understanding and accepting this, I cannot help but like Klaus Kinski.

And yes, I think I would have gotten along with him. And if not, I certainly would have known how to ensure my well-being. Werner Herzog knew how to deal with Kinski, at least most of the time, as did Sergio Corbucci, Manfred Purzer, and Just Jaeckin. Basically, and as incredible as it may sound, Kinski was a loving, caring individual. Those who really knew him confirmed that independently. Otherwise he would never have enjoyed friendships spanning two or three decades.

And of course he was a ladies’ man. He chased women, but those were different times. We shouldn’t be so pretentious to apply our current standards to how men and women interacted with each other back in the 1960s or 1970s. Feminism has since changed our attitudes. Although back then sexual liberation was the ruling dogma, at least in Europe and North America, women were still in a weaker position than men, even from a legal standpoint. Major issues like contraception or abortion underwent deep changes at that time. Sex was the yoga of the late 1960s; nudity lost its social stigma.

For quite some time Kinski enjoyed a promiscuous lifestyle and many women were fond of him. They liked this intense, sensual, exciting guy. He didn’t have to force them to sleep with him. They fell for him. On the other hand, from a woman’s point of view, Kinski was merely seen as a welcome bedfellow, but not more than this. One actress told me off the record, that he was a great lover, but he wasn’t husband material; she would have married someone else. This actress had a longer affair with him that was also documented in Kinski’s autobiography.

DDS: What are your favourite Klaus films?

CD: Naturally I love all the Herzog-Kinski collaborations. Especially Fitzcarraldo, which to me is the absolute peak in their common undertakings. When at the end Kinski smokes a cigar and smiles an unusually uncynical, broad, relaxed smile, being accompanied by his beloved Italian opera music, this is such a moving moment. Fitzcarraldo has actually lost everything he wanted to achieve, but he has finally found himself. And he has also found the love of his live, in the character played by the great Claudia Cardinale. In those final moments we realise what both Herzog and Kinski believed in – that whatever you do in the so-called real world, and wherever you might travel to find the land of your dreams, it’s the inner journey really making the difference. To all theatrical actors I’d strongly recommend Woyzeck, with an extremely restrained and intense Klaus Kinski. Then of course Nosferatu, a visually stunning recreation and homage to Murnau’s original silent film. And certainly Aguirre, with the unforgettable soundtrack by Popol Vuh. Cobra Verde is a bit problematic though, I think both Herzog and Kinski would have preferred not to have done it; watching it carefully you can sense all the exhaustion and stress involved.

DDS: And aside from the Herzog/Kinski collaborations?

CD: I absolutely adore, as everyone seems to do, The Great Silence /Il grande silenzio, Sergio Corbucci’s deeply pessimistic western, which is brilliant in all aspects. This was also Kinski’s personal favourite. The whole setting in the snowy Italian Alps, the depressing, hopeless atmosphere, and the disillusionment at the end… as if Corbucci had exactly foreseen how the dreams of the 1968 Summer of Love would end too soon. I can’t count how often I’ve watched this film. Kinski and Jean-Louis Trintignant are terrific, and Ennio Morricone’s dry music is simply perfect. Dating from the same period, Riccardo Freda’s A doppia faccia is another of my absolute favourite Kinski films. It’s like an Italian giallo version of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, very interesting, and with truly terrific music by Nora Orlandi. Kinski is so fearful and nervous in it, desperately searching for his wife. Well, if your wife is the incredibly sultry Margaret Lee, this is so totally understandable… And finally among my absolute favourites there is Andrzej Zulawski’s L’important, c’est d’aimer. The film which made me discover Kinski as a great, unique actor. Again a film I’ve watched countless times, both on the big screen and on DVD. And one gets the chance to see how Kinski would have played Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s a shame that the project with Roman Polanski didn’t materialise. Also in this film, Kinski interacts so well with Romy Schneider. Then there is the stunningly beautiful music by Georges Delerue. And Ricardo Aronovich’s nervous, intruding camera work is terrific.

Other movies… well, there are too many! But I’d like to mention those I’d consider fine films and at the same time ideal for studying Kinski’s talent. From the 1950s I’d immediately pick Helmut Käutner’s strangely romantic biopic Ludwig II. Käutner was one of the great, today almost forgotten German film directors, one of only a handful of German post-war filmmakers who tried to see film as an art, not just a way of earning money. That’s also the reason why Käutner hired the great Douglas Slocombe as his cinematographer. And Kinski is absolutely marvellous here, you can see how great and convincing an actor he was at the age of only 28. I’m sure he would have gotten an Oscar if he had been American, and in Britain or France or Italy he would have risen to stardom immediately. Not so in Germany unfortunately…

I could go on for hours, so allow me to just mention a few other fine Kinski films I’d consider essential, without going too much into detail: from all those German Edgar Wallace versions, I take Die toten Augen von London, Das Gasthaus an der Themse, and Das indische Tuch, all directed by the great Alfred Vohrer. Another very interesting film is Der rote Rausch, shot in Vienna and directed by Wolfgang Schleif, with Kinski in an early starring role as a psychotic serial killer. Then there are the Italian westerns, above all Damiano Damiani’s gorgeous Quien sabe?, but also Kinski’s supporting genre debut in Sergio Leone’s For A Few Dollars More, then his – absolutely fascinating – gay character in Giorgio Capitani’s Ognuno per se, Antonio Margheriti’s very impressive …e Dio disse a Caino, or Alfonso Balcázar Granda’s and Francisco Celeiro’s El retorno de Clint el solitario, where Kinski shows up with his long Jesus hair, and in a very unusual passive mood given that once more he was cast as the bounty hunter. We should also not forget Giuliano Montaldo’s clever heist movie Top Job; Luigi Bazzoni’s Le orme, masterfully photographed by Vittorio Storaro; Alexander Whitelaw’s quite original Lifespan; Manfred Purzer’s underrated Das Netz; Serge Moati’s surreal Nuit d’or; Just Jaeckin’s ambitious genre-mixture Madame Claude; Georges Lautner’s slick and gripping Mort d’un pourri, with Kinski as the prototypical ruthless capitalist; Raphaele Billetdoux’ daring La femme-enfant; Billy Wilder’s sentimental Buddy Buddy; and certainly Piers Haggard’s very well cast Venom, with Kinski trying to contain Oliver Reed. And regarding the trash and exploitation genre, I’d go for Jess Franco’s unexpectedly tame Justine; and his fine El conde Dracula; Fernando Di Leo’s strange La bestia uccide a sangue freddo; Sergio Garrone’s sleazy La mano che nutre la morte and Le amanti del mostro; Joe D’Amato’s gory La morte ha sorriso all’assassino; and David Schmoeller’s funny Crawlspace… Well, I’m sure to have forgotten some films other Kinski experts would consider. I expect to be stoned by them when they see me.

DDS: Which of all the female actors who worked with Kinski are your favourites?

CD: Without a doubt Claudia Cardinale. Their chemistry in Fitzcarraldo is fantastic and unsurpassable. I think both knew exactly that they were one of cinema’s great, great couples. Herzog was lucky to have them. Nothing comes close to this pairing of two quite diverse and, at the same time, convincingly devoted lovers.

And then from an earlier period, I’d go for the sensual charisma of Margaret Lee. I think her being cast as Kinski’s missing wife in Riccardo Freda’s A doppia faccia was the decisive factor and made the plot understandable. And watching them together in several 1960s productions, you just know they got along very well even when the camera was not rolling.

DDS: What was the most interesting thing you discovered during your research?

CD: I found it absolutely fascinating how much truth Kinski’s autobiographical books contain. That was incredible, as everybody thinks that he just invented everything. On the contrary, the books are full of actual events and real people, often disguised and given new names, but nevertheless true. Often I met people whom I knew from these books, and sometimes I only later discovered that they had been mentioned by Kinski. Even small anecdotes had not been invented. For example, the one about the nurse in the hospital where Kinski was recovering after falling from a horse. I have two witnesses who independently confirmed that this nurse had existed and, yes, Kinski had really had a short affair with her. It sure helped his convalescence so he decided to immortalize her.

As Kinski had only his memoir and no notes to rely on for his books, it’s incredible how well he remembered that many things. Very often the descriptions of events and persons are unbelievably factual. But he took great care in protecting many of his friends’ identities; he even changed street names when he considered that necessary. His really close lifelong friends are all in the books, but mostly in disguise.

The rule for Kinski’s autobiographies is: Whenever you think that something was made up by him, it’s actually true – and when you believe something must be true, it’s probably been made up. For example, when Kinski describes his last tour of recitations as an unmitigated success, it was in fact the complete contrary. On the other hand, Kinski tells us about the wife of a stockings manufacturer with whom he lived in Vienna and this is absolutely correct. This woman really existed, she was indeed the wife of a rich stockings manufacturer, and they really did have a very intense, very sexual love affair lasting for several years. It ended shortly before Kinski married Ruth Brigitte Tocki; and of course during those years Kinski wasn’t totally faithful.

The woman was of high importance to Kinski. When he lived in Vienna in subleased rooms, had no money and no career, she was crucial in supporting him financially and morally. And as she also was an actress, she understood his needs maybe better than anybody else. Without that woman Kinski quite possibly would never have had his comeback. He was often suicidal in those years and she encouraged him not to give up too soon. I would have loved to mention her name in the book and say a little more about her. But due to legal reasons I wasn’t allowed to do that.

There was a daughter I couldn’t get into contact with, and she could have challenged my book legally accusing me of invading her privacy. I had to use the same pseudonym Kinski had invented for her, “Anuschka”. But I wasn’t satisfied with that. So I used a little trick. I put the real name into the book, but in a different context; I sort of adapted Kinski’s own strategy. Which, by the way, Kinski was only capable of doing so brilliantly because he actually wrote his biographies himself. There was no ghostwriter involved, not even for parts of the manuscripts. The author was Klaus Kinski, and he cared even about the tiniest details, struggling with his then editors.

That was another thing I discovered with great astonishment during the research. And this also made me choose the style I wanted to use for my book. It was important to me not to imitate him, to get stylistically as far away from him as possible. I never wanted to outKinski Kinski. I went for a rather matter-of-fact, analytical, occasionally tough tone. I thought the more relaxed my writing was, the hotter the subject would appear.

DDS: What else did you find interesting?

CD: Quite certainly the fact that Klaus Kinski wasn’t just a compelling actor, above all he was an artist. Acting was merely his occupation. He was so gifted, he could have been a great writer and journalist, a filmmaker, a painter, or even a philosopher if he had had the chance to enjoy academic training.

His infamous conflicts with people trying to interview him were rooted in a deep scepticism towards the nature of human communication. Kinski never accepted established patterns, but always questioned them. This is exactly the material great thinkers are made of. And had he been ten or twenty years younger he could have become a great rock star – Jagger and Bowie have reinvented themselves constantly, just like Kinski did during his career. But unlike them whose careers flourished in a time of moral, sexual, and even artistic liberation, Kinski had to endure the war (even becoming a prisoner of war), and later a rather dull German post-war period. It is so telling that his talents were only appreciated in the 1960s and after leaving Germany. Before that, he had to wait, and hope, and wait again. Which of course was very humiliating.

And I find it interesting that probably even today things wouldn’t be easier for a younger Kinski trying to be accepted as a great, fascinating actor in Germany. Unfortunately, the really fine film actors tend to get completely overlooked in Germany. They have real difficulties getting cast in interesting, starring roles. Their potential is ignored and neglected, and sometimes they’re even belittled. I haven’t been able to really understand the reason behind this, but it’s a sad fact.

Take Christoph Waltz, for example. Although an Austrian, he spent many years in Germany where he played in loads of TV productions, but he never got to be a real, popular star. He was never invited to any of the popular talk shows, he was rarely asked to give interviews. The brilliant, fascinating talent Waltz constantly displayed simply wasn’t understood. He had to wait for Quentin Tarantino to be finally discovered. And now he is an international superstar, a unique character actor working with the biggest names in the business.

Even now, there are fine German actors who would absolutely deserve great fame. But they share the same experiences Kinski and Waltz had to live through. Whereas there are some second-rate or even third-rate actors who are considered big stars in Germany. Beyond Germany’s borders they’re irrelevant, but in Germany they’re major league players – scripts are adapted to please their pitiable standards; TV series are specifically created for them; accolades are poured over them. An attributing factor to this is the dominance of German television. Popular German actors are TV actors. You can be stunning in a film, maybe loved at international festivals, but in Germany only insiders or film critics would know your name. That’s why so many good actors have to do television work; otherwise they’d be nearly jobless. And in those TV productions they frequently get used and after some time thrown away, to be immediately forgotten.

This is sad, and the only way of avoiding all that is trying to establish oneself on an international level. Armin Mueller-Stahl had done that in the 1980s; Franka Potente was lucky enough to do that in the 1990s; and a recent example is Daniel Brühl, who was recently cast as the legendary Austrian racing driver Niki Lauda in an upcoming Ron Howard film. Kinski did the right thing in going to Italy, and later to France. Certainly he was unhappy with his career in the United States. The film with Billy Wilder unfortunately wasn’t the huge success everybody had hoped for. But he’d never have gone back to Germany, and he was right not to do so.In Germany at that time he was seen as merely the decrepit remnant of a better past. They had caged and buried him under tons of old, bizarre clichés. Except for Werner Herzog, none of the leading German directors would cast him; not even Fassbinder. Those directors were just sheepish petty bourgeois afraid of being confronted with a headstrong actor like Kinski. That’s the reason why so many of their films turned out so boring. Maybe Kinski wasn’t artsy enough for them. Or he was too difficult, too demanding, too uncomfortable. But aren’t the arts all about a bunch of unconventional people with highly problematic manners?

Maybe these directors feared being overshadowed by Kinski’s fame. Yet the basic obstacle was the small-mindedness of these filmmakers. They should have begged him on their knees to be in their films. As they should have done with Romy Schneider; Curd Jürgens; Helmut Berger; Mario Adorf; Horst Buchholz; Udo Kier… They worked in Britain, France, Italy, the United States, but not in German films. At least Kinski wasn’t alone. Anyway, going back to Germany wasn’t an option, so Kinski stayed in California. I bet he would have freaked out if some fine German directors had called him and offered him something interesting. Sadly it didn’t happen.

DDS: Was there anything you unearthed that you were unable to include in the book?

Yes and no. My German publisher told me to respect certain legal boundaries. Going too much into detail about other people’s sexuality, drug consumption, or medical condition can be dangerous. Especially in Germany, where some courts rule rather strictly. It’s unbelievable, but in Germany in the past five years at least three biographies had to be retracted and they completely vanished. And a novel was forbidden, just because some woman had claimed that one of the characters was merely a fictionalised version of herself. That woman was of course totally unknown to the broader public. So my editor and I didn’t want to fall into this trap, as there are always people trying to use any occasion for getting attention.

By the way, Kinski had to face a similar situation when preparing the first US edition of his autobiography. Lawyers sent him a lengthy list with all kinds of silly questions regarding the persons mentioned by him. Hence I found it quite amusing. But there are always possibilities for inserting hints. If you read my book carefully enough, you’ll understand what I mean. Generally I’d say that Kinski for the great part of his life enjoyed a full, rich sex life. And of course he knew that smoking cigarettes or drinking red wine weren’t the only drugs available. And I think this is also what makes a great actor; to know what real life is about, rather than just living in some aloof Hollywood bubble and thinking you’re superior.

On a larger scale, every book has its limits. Whether it has 100 or 400 pages, the author must decide what to put into it. And what to leave out, as sad as it may seem to both the author and the readers. On the other hand, books must be readable and readers tend to shy away from 1000-page biographies. Not just because they are overwhelmed with all the stuff they would have to face, but also the price would be reasonably higher. For the reader as well as for the publisher too. My first draft would have resulted in an 800-page book. So we had to cut it down. I had to select what to include and what to exclude, which wasn’t that easy.

Of course I thought that everything was worth mentioning. I tried to condense the material, and I was confronted with tough decisions. Often I wondered whether readers would want more or less information about the films, plays, unrealised projects. Whether they wanted more or less, longer or shorter quotes from the interviews I had conducted. For some time I was playing with the idea of a supplement containing the interviews. And then there were the footnotes. There could have been many more, but this would result in pages that only absolute enthusiasts would appreciate and study. And then I would have to cut the actual text even further.

So there had to be some sort of compromise as I was dealing with a diverse readership. I knew some of them would already be well-informed Kinski enthusiasts, whilst others would be absolute novices. And I had to satisfy all of them. I tried to do my best. As I’ve mentioned before, when my book was praised by Kinski fans I thought maybe I had done a good job.

There was one specific event I couldn’t include for the reasons I mentioned initially. Probably it would have been quite spicy or spectacular. But it was a he-said-she-said-thing, and there was only one person left who could, of course, only have told her own side of the story. Verification of what had really happened some forty years ago between a man and a woman was therefore impossible. Given all this I gladly decided to leave it out.

Generally, the book’s readers basically get to know everything I’ve been able to research. There are no big secrets I’ve kept for myself. The difference between them and me lies probably in the experiences I had during my research – in actually meeting close friends of the man, and not just reading about them. And I have read so many private, deeply personal letters written by Kinski. This was an experience which had a strong impact on me. It had a major influence on my view of who Klaus Kinski actually was. There he was: the human being, not the star, not the myth, not the maniac. I could not pass on this experience directly to the readers. But I could tell them about Kinski; I could describe his state of mind, his aspirations, fears, and joy. So I did just that. The rest is up to the readers. I’m only the medium.

DDS: Do you have any interesting stories you can share?

CD: I got hold of a letter, written in the early 1980s by a 16 year old girl from a small town in Bavaria. She had written to Kinski, saying how much she adored him, and expressed her wish to meet him. And in the letter she had very bluntly offered him the opportunity to have sex with her, even using the German word for “fuck”. That letter was really something Kinski could have mentioned in his autobiographies. Nobody would have believed that a teenager had wanted to sleep not with a young, hip rock star, but with a man more than forty years her senior, and had actually expressed that in a letter to her idol. Unfortunately I couldn’t find her, and I don’t know whether her dream ever came true. But in case she reads this interview, I’d love to hear from “Ina”. Which isn’t her actual name, but she would recognise herself.

Then there was this house in Berlin, where Kinski had lived. I went there to study it and take pictures. In the basement was a shop, and I suddenly felt the desire to step in. I had no rational reason for doing so, but I wanted to see whether the salesperson incidentally knew who had lived in the house. I was careful and asked: “I understand some famous man once stayed here.” She replied indifferently: “Yeah, that resistance fighter. Not in this house, though, but rather in the other one, down the street.” I gave it another try: “No, actually I’m not talking about the resistance fighter. I think there was this famous actor who resided right here in this building.” Suddenly she looked at me and said: “A famous actor? Are you referring to Kinski?” I was surprised and replied: “Sure. According to what I know, he lived here nearly fifty years ago.” She smiled: “Of course, that’s true. And I was staying in this house at that time, too. I remember everything, including him. And I know his book. He exaggerated in some aspects.” She continued to talk, and unexpectedly I had new material for my book. Later I wondered whether she had really told me everything she knew about him.

A similar thing happened to me in Vienna. I had managed to enter an old apartment building in order to check the place where Kinski had lived in a subleased room. In the staircase I met this older couple. Judging from their age, they could have lived there decades earlier. So I gave it a try and asked whether they knew that an actor named Klaus Kinski had once had a room there. Both looked at me smilingly, and the man said: “Yes, of course we know that. He was a very strange guy. He was very loud, always shouting, even at night. With him, we had constant noise in this house.” And while the man was talking, I felt like being taken back with a time machine. Suddenly it was 1958, and Klaus Kinski could storm down the stairs at any given moment. Any time difference had vanished. I felt really strange. It was as if the past was suddenly becoming the present. I experienced that a lot of times, and I took it as an inspiration for my writing. I felt as if Kinski was just around the corner waiting for me.

Sometimes I envisioned things in my fantasy, initially to fill gaps in Kinski’s biography. And later it regularly turned out that I had instinctively hit the mark. As if Kinski had told me in what direction to go and research. I don’t know whether this sounds ridiculous or not, and I don’t care. Intuition helped me a lot in searching and finding the right path, period.

After the book had been published, I was approached by an older guy from Berlin. He had been active in Berlin’s post-war gay community. And he had known Kinski – that was very clear – and was quite satisfied with what I had written about the young Klaus. And he made me understand how difficult it was back then to live out one’s sexual desires at a time when everything that didn’t conform to social norms was disdained or even punished by the authorities.

We should be grateful for living at a time that leaves us greater possibilities of expressing our desires. At least theoretically. And we must be careful to prevent all kinds of authorities from limiting our freedom and our personal well-being. And we must not obey at all costs. Censorship is one thing, but self-censorship may be even much more harmful. Although we’re told all the time that the constraints put on us serve a greater purpose, let’s not trust those hypocrites; Klaus Kinski never did.

DDS: What do you think of Kinski’s Paganini? I love it!

That’s a difficult one, given that this project had been Kinski’s lifelong dream. I was quite critical of this film in my book. And I thought that the film seemed pale compared to what Kinski had originally envisioned. But then I saw two films which made me sort of rethink my position. Those two films maybe came close to what Kinski had had in mind. I’m speaking of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette from 2006, and Terrence Malick’s recent Tree Of Life. Both Coppola and Malick avoided the traditional story-telling approach; they were more interested in creating a certain atmosphere, and depicting their characters’ moods, always putting the significance of images above dialogues. And they abandoned what has become so foreseeable in recent years, namely the idea of how a script should be constructed.

I think Syd Field’s famous concept of a three-act structure is certainly fine for sit-coms, and it’s a comfortable basic concept for storytelling novices. But in my view this technique leads to a reduced complexity – it’s a simple solution – whereas really ambitious films in order to be inspiring must rise far above that. At the end there shouldn’t be a resolution, as Field suggested, but rather excitement and amazement. A great film’s end is not really the end, but a new beginning. The viewers should sort of hijack the film, take everything they’ve seen with them, and start enriching it with their own conflicting emotions. The film ultimately doesn’t belong to the director, but to the viewers, may they love or hate it. Great directors know that, and they anticipate that in their films. Contrary to what the three-act structure declares, they do not provide you with easy answers, but leave you with open questions. They prefer ambiguity to clarity. Coppola did that, although Marie Antoinette isn’t her best film, to put it mildly. In contrast, Malick’s Tree Of Life is a masterpiece, albeit quite controversial.

Seen from that perspective, Kinski was far ahead of them. He had already tried doing in the 1980s, what only became a still daring, but viable way of cinematic storytelling more than twenty years later. Paganini may not be the great film Kinski had dreamt of; the production’s circumstances were problematic, given the hostile conditions. But Paganini is the ultimate proof for Kinski’s singular artistry; it is the most audacious part of his legacy.

DDS: If Kinski was alive today, would he have a career? Would directors hire him?

CD: Kinski’s tragedy was that he died too early. The 1980s weren’t a particularly pleasant decade for him. It was the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Even E.T. was so depressed that he tried to get away from this world as soon as possible. A period of bad hairstyles and conservative restoration, crowned with the so-called triumph of divine capitalism. There was really no place for somebody like Klaus Kinski, no way. But I’m totally convinced he would have been seriously rediscovered in the 1990s.

There would have been new, younger directors keen on working with him. I bet he would have loved and embraced their talents, their enthusiasm. I can so totally see him working with someone like Tarantino. Imagine Kinski as Hans Landa, the Nazi villain in Inglourious Basterds. He would have been fantastic. In my view, Kinski would be the only actor who could potentially have matched Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of that character. Fluent in English, German, French, Italian, combined with the usual devilish politeness and the chilling cynicism, Kinski would have been an iconic Landa. And in Tarantino’s dedication and crazy visual fantasy he would have found his new Sergio Leone.

DDS: Thanks so much for this truly informative interview, Christian. I’ve really enjoyed it. To close, do you have anything else you want to say?

CD: Yes, in case anybody wants to contact me, please get in touch via Raechel. Thanks a lot – it was a pleasure talking to you. And you and your readers will be the first to know about my next book.

DDS: That’s brilliant news – do send us an update when you’re able to tell us anything about your new book!

– 0 –

If you wish to contact Christian David, post a comment to me and I’ll email you outside the site to arrange to forward any messages on.


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Interview with Kinski biographer Christian David – part one

Anyone who visits this website regularly will definitely have read the words, “As Christian David says in Kinski Die Biographie…” as I quote him left, right and centre. Christian David’s biography of Klaus Kinski is almost like a bible for me when I’m looking for information on the films and although my German is pretty bad I make a special effort and persevere with Kinski Die Biographie because it seems to hold just about all the information any Kinski fan could need. I just wish someone would translate it into English to make my life easier, but as they’ve not yet done that I’ve got the next best thing – an interview with Christian David, and a long one at that!

The interview is so detailed that I’m posting it in two parts: part one, a bit of background on Christian David and the approach he took when researching and developing the book; and part two, more detail about Christian David’s experience of “getting to know” Klaus Kinski through all the research.

I am so happy to have been granted this interview and I hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did:

DDS:  Christian, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. You know how much I love Kinski Die Biographie, but I don’t know anything about your other work. Can you tell me a little bit of background information about you? Outside the Kinski biography have you written any other books?

Christian David (CD):  I studied film, theatre, and media, and since very early on I’ve been active in the field of film and television productions, and have also spent some time working for the stage and as a journalist. This is, and has always been, an environment I love and know very well. Writing a book was a totally different world for me. I was very humble and reluctant in the beginning. But I knew exactly what kind of book I wanted to write; I had it in my mind, and that actually helped a lot.

Writing it down was quite often very tedious; it would have been great to simply project everything going on in my mind directly into the computer. I’ve always understood why Hitchcock enjoyed preparing his films much more than the actual shooting on a set. From my perspective, writing a book, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, is a thing one has to learn while doing it; it doesn’t come naturally. You have to understand what pace and language to take – and that is just the basis, not the building. It’s like having spaghetti and tomatoes, but lacking the recipe.

Of course, writing my doctoral thesis was helpful in that respect. From a certain point on you lose the fear of having to fill hundreds of pages. On the contrary, I started dreaming of writing about Kinski for the rest of my life, unable to ever finish the book, which was a real nightmare, Kafka could have invented it… Anyway, my familiarity both with the entertainment world, with actors, directors, scriptwriters and other professionals, and on the other hand with the academic world, with film and television studies, with the whole theoretical and critical approach towards films and stardom, all helped me in crafting this book. Without that, I would probably never have achieved anything I’d consider worthy; at least not in my view. And I’m my worst critic…

Whether I talk to actors, producers, or film scholars, I always feel at ease. And they never have the feeling of speaking to an outsider, thus they talk more freely. They know that I would never willingly or unwillingly misunderstand or misquote them. Another thing was, of course, talking to Kinski’s former lovers or acquaintances. At first, I was totally nervous and shy when approaching these people, while at the same time, of course, trying to conceal my unease. But nearly all of them were very open, friendly, and welcoming. They were pleased to remember Klaus Kinski, a man they still loved or at least respected. And that is something which tells us a lot about Klaus Kinski the man, not just the actor.

DDS:  How did the Kinski book come about? Were you working on it anyway? Or was it commissioned by the publishers?

CD:  Forget about any publishers. When it comes to non-fiction, biographies about actors are seldom what publishers are looking for. Especially if it doesn’t involve tell-all-books about Hollywood stars, their substance abuse or their mostly boring sexual escapades, in which case it starts getting difficult. Money is the issue, and I can totally understand that. Any topic that might be hot today could be a cold, rotten fish tomorrow. Thus, publishers need to be convinced. And under no circumstances are you given a carte blanche. So a lot of pressure is involved, but I like that; it’s kind of a stimulus. But to come back to your question… Actually it was very simple.

First I quite accidentally came to watch the wonderful Andrzej Zulawski film L’important c’est d’aimer in a small movie theatre. I discovered Klaus Kinski as the great character actor he really was. Until then I had only known him as the creepy German supporting actor in various genre movies. This made me read Kinski’s two autobiographical books in German, and I became very curious. I wanted to know much more about him. But unfortunately there was no real, serious biography on him. And on the whole not very much was known about who Klaus Kinski really was or under what circumstances his career had evolved. I thought this was very unsatisfying. And sad too, because Kinski was not just the ordinary, average actor, but a singular artist. And so I started digging, just for my own, personal pleasure. I didn’t think of writing any book at all.

From an actor I learned a few things about Kinski’s stay in Vienna. This made me even more curious. Kinski himself had mentioned this time in his book, even linking his idea of making a feature film about composer and violinist Niccolò Paganini with a shop window he claimed to have seen whilst in Vienna. Which meant that one of Kinski’s core ideas, which ultimately became the film of his dreams, was connected to the 1950s, to Vienna. Logically, it became my obsession to know more about all that. And I was fascinated when I found out that what Kinski had written in his autobiography was not a myth, but totally true. In fact he had already been fantasising about doing a film on Paganini in the 1950s; he had told this to his then friends, and they confirmed that.

Finally, I saw several stories that needed to be told, and not forgotten. And I had always longed for a real, objective, serious Kinski biography. This led to the decision that if nobody else had done it, I should be the one to write this biography; the book I had been longing for had to be written by me. And so this enterprise began…

But it’s revealing that quite a few publishers rejected my project. They didn’t explain this properly, they just expressed their lack of interest. I think that they simply underestimated Kinski and his continuing cultural relevance. Anyway, Aufbau showed great interest and was very supportive right from the beginning. Even in the end, it was Aufbau and their connections to Deutsche Kinemathek and Filmmuseum Berlin, which was extremely helpful in closing the last gaps regarding Kinski’s career from the 1970s to the late 1980s.

I know that some of those publishers who had rejected my proposed book later regretted their decision. But that’s life. The history of books, films, fashion, and marriages is full of wrong choices and missed opportunities.

DDS:  You did so much research – I was massively impressed. It must have been hard work?

CD:  The research for this book was sometimes easy and fun, I felt like a private eye peeping through other people’s keyholes. Sometimes it was complicated, difficult, and dull, and I didn’t know where to start and whom to ask. I had to do all of that myself; I wasn’t given the luxury of research assistants. I collected piles of data, ’phone numbers, email addresses, transcripts, notes, photocopies, resulting in numerous USB flash drives. This led to even more stuff, like transcribed interviews, and I spent a lot of time on the ’phone, and travelling. Don’t ask me how my study looked during these months. If a burglar had invaded my home, he would have thought some other housebreaker had already got there before him…

In some cases, I met dead ends and my research led to nothing. For example, I would have loved to learn more about Kinski’s female companions and lovers in the 1940s and 1950s, but this proved extremely difficult. I knew many names and addresses, but often people or their relatives seemed to have simply vanished; they were untraceable. Maybe with a much bigger budget I would have been able to find them, by hiring a private eye for example, and the shadier the better. This would have been very costly, so I did it myself, and the results ranged from great to depressing. Because even when you find the right person it doesn’t mean that you get him or her to talk…

DDS:  Were there any problems along the way or were people generally cooperative and happy to share information with you?

CD:  There was that woman photographer mentioned in Kinski’s book, who visits him in his Viennese hotel room and starts an affair with him. This actually happened – I found the photographer; I saw the pictures she had taken of him; and three of Kinski’s friends independently confirmed that she was the one from the book. Kinski himself had mentioned her in his private letters. However, she refused to talk about him. She claimed to have barely known him, and said she didn’t remember anything. As if Kinski had been just another artist she had photographed. Later she declined my wish to publish one of her Kinski portraits. To this day they haven’t surfaced anywhere, and I just hope that the negatives didn’t get lost. She was a very civilised, totally well-mannered lady, so it would have been fantastic to hear from her how she had experienced Klaus Kinski. But she remained silent, as if hidden behind a protective wall, and even my discrete offer to avoid mentioning her name and to never quote her directly didn’t help either. She kept smiling politely, and that was it. Which meant that all her memories were destined to be lost. Unless there is a secret diary, or a collection of letters, and provided that any heirs allow me to study them, her recollections will be lost forever.

This was also the case with a well-known German actor who was a prominent co-star in some of Kinski’s films. He didn’t even allow me talk to him; his wife was always on the ’phone. She was extremely nice and promised that she would try her best to convince him to agree to the interview. Unfortunately all efforts turned out to be futile. Then there was another actor and filmmaker, an absolutely intelligent, internationally renowned man, and an Academy Award winner. In that case a friend of mine happened to be the closest friend of the actor’s then girlfriend. My friend intervened on my behalf, and the girlfriend promised to do something for me. But nothing happened, and I never heard from him again. Maybe I missed his ’phone call, who knows… Thankfully, in other cases I was slightly more successful in getting people to talk.

DDS:  How did you do your research?

CD:  I find it quite difficult to describe the process… I had a very intuitive approach. Given how many gaps in Kinski’s CV still existed when I began my research, I often had to imagine certain possibilities of what could have happened. Using a working hypothesis as the starting-off point, I developed a scenario and proceeded to finding possible contact persons. Very often you start with one person, and then he or she leads you to another person, and so forth. It’s like being a spider and slowly but steadily building your net. And the net is only complete when it’s finished. Only then you may sit quietly and wait for the fly. This technique allows you to check the information provided by one person. I was very careful and suspicious; I didn’t want to write about anything that probably didn’t actually happen.

Of course there are sometimes cases where you simply have to trust your gut feeling, but in principle this is not sufficient and is unprofessional. So I had to leave out certain things I couldn’t get the proper confirmation for. It doesn’t mean that certain incidents didn’t occur; it’s just that the basis for claiming something was beyond the necessary documentation or credibility. Most of the time, people were very open and ready to cooperate. Although one has to be careful – average people not used to being interviewed must be dealt with specifically. Often they need much more time to warm up; they have to be asked the same questions repeatedly, because they don’t go into the details immediately. It’s a step-by-step-process. Which of course is also another way of checking what they said. If people deliver constant descriptions then there is a higher probability that what they’re saying is close to what they actually have stored in their memory. If people tend to change their stories a lot, it’s likely they’re inventing something, maybe trying to arouse your curiosity.

All in all, my interviewees were very cooperative, welcoming, and friendly. I owe them a lot; possibly everything. They’ve taken their time to talk to me, meet me, provide me with material, and answer even the most delicate and daring questions without getting angry. Especially those people working behind the scenes were of great help. My advice for everyone writing a biography about an actor would be to talk to the assistants, the script girl or the best boy, the costume designers, the directors of photography. They can provide you with real great insight as their egos are not involved. It may be more difficult with actors. Many actors are born egomaniacs; they rarely indulge in talking about fellow, probably more famous actors. The idea that there might be a guy writing a biography not about them, but about some other actor, is like an insult to them. But I knew that, and was prepared to cope with that. The solution is simply not giving up. If you get rejected, try again and again. Never give up. Wait, and try again. It’s basically like stalking, but with a rational motive as an excuse for your behaviour.

DDS:  How long did it take to write?

CD:  My basic research started around 2001, and I finished the first draft in December 2005. The actual writing was an on-off process beginning in 2004. I’d say it took me about a year to get to a workable manuscript. In 2006 I was busy with rewriting and correcting. I added one more chapter, took care of the footnotes, the filmography, and other stuff. My social life at the time suffered a lot. But it’s a good way of testing a friendship, or any relationship at all. Friends who tolerate that kind of behaviour are real friends; the others are merely ’phone numbers.

DDS:  Peter Geyer (Kinski Estates etc) says that he likes to break the myths about Klaus and set records straight, he also says that Klaus used to go to the press with stories about himself in order to gain publicity, do you think this is true? Does your book try to break the myths and set records straight? (I think it’s very factual myself, so I’d say it is giving a true impression)

CD:  Myths can’t be broken. They evolve and dissolve. Always depending on our society; our values; our morals; whatever. This makes us believe what we want to believe, and overlook what doesn’t fit into our vision of how the world should be. And in hindsight we always know better.

A good example is the re-evaluation of Klaus Kinski, the man and his work. He is better understood today than ever before. The passing of time changes our apperception. Yesterday’s tragedy becomes today’s anecdote. Now we can appreciate many things in Klaus Kinski which only ten or twenty years ago were dismissed. The so-called bad films of the 1970s became glorified cult movies; their once despised directors are hailed as artists. Hence quite a few of Kinski’s long forgotten 1970s films have gained a reputation they didn’t enjoy when they were originally released. Which also influences our perception of Kinski’s career.

Thirty years ago he was seen as a former film star forced to make money by appearing in second or third rate productions. Today we finally relish the unconventionally broad stylistic range of his roles and films. Times and opinions change, and with that also what we call knowledge undergoes a significant change; the myths of yesterday are obsolete, and new generations have created new myths. This is a process which can’t be controlled. It just happens. Thus myths even need not to be broken, as this only happens given the right, susceptible social atmosphere. And mostly old myths are replaced with new ones.

Kinski, the former “good-but-difficult-actor-making-bad-films”, is now the great genius appearing in cult movies. Which also shows us the relativity of tastes and critical judgements; they’re all made for the day, not for eternity. Given this very volatile context, I wasn’t interested in breaking myths. For me, creating a new myth was the challenge; I didn’t care about the myths of the past. So I simply set out to write about what I had researched about Kinski, and about my thoughts on him, his career and his life. Given that, I felt total freedom to write whatever I wanted, whether it matched old or new myths and tastes or not.

My new myth was Kinski the artist, nothing less. I wanted to understand him and thereby allow the readers to understand him. Which is why I didn’t shy away from contradictory statements on his personality. In my book you’ll find people adoring and praising him and others criticising and despising him. I did not try to create some dishonest harmony. Every human being’s nature shows different, partially conflicting qualities. Mitigating that would have been highly hypocritical.

Every reader has to create his own personal image of Kinski from what he or she can find in my book. This is something the readers themselves are responsible for, not me. It’s my book and it’s me and the readers who jointly break or design myths. It’s a shared experience, like in a movie theatre. The director is absent when the film is shown, but nevertheless the filmmakers and the audience are communicating with each other.

Being aware of all this, it was my goal to stick as closely as possible to the facts. I tried to exclude everything that wasn’t proven or documented. Only then was I allowed to push forward my new myth of Kinski the artist. And only by trusting the presented facts the readers will also trust me, allowing them to construct the Klaus Kinski they want or need. Kinski himself knew how all this worked. And he underestimated the heteronomy involved in this process. To a certain extent he was successful in establishing himself as a public figure. Already in the 1950s he was well-known throughout Germany. But he didn’t always choose the wisest of methods. Thus sometimes he had a high profile, but at the same time he gained notoriety. This later got in his way and impeded his career. He was overshadowed by the silly clichés he himself partially helped to establish.

For example, he became the sex maniac sleeping around with countless females, or the dictatorial barrater torturing helpless directors and lecherously groping helpless young actresses. Kinski considered this very funny and he entertained himself creating these clichés. But they became stronger than he had thought. They weren’t exactly helpful, as the public was lured by them to divert their view. They only saw the clichés and didn’t bother to discover the artist, not to speak of the human being, behind the anecdotes. It was crucial for me to destroy these clichés. I’m a big admirer of Alfred Hitchcock who once said in an interview: “The most important thing to do is to avoid the cliché.” In a novel or a feature you can do that. Writing a biography you have to be more extreme; you have to consciously destroy the cliché.

DDS:  Among the persons you interviewed for your book, which ones were the ones you liked most?

CD:  Of course I enjoyed and was thankful for all of them. But one of the first interviews I did after having decided to write the book was the one with the wonderful actress Judith Holzmeister. From the 1950s to the 1970s she was one of the absolute queens of the German language stage. She was also for some time married to the actor Curd Jürgens. When I asked for an interview about her experience with Kinski at Vienna’s Burgtheater in 1956, she had already retired, and I was doubtful whether she would even respond. But then what kind of reaction came from her… a handwritten letter, full of praise for Klaus Kinski. It was incredible. Later I interviewed her, a fascinating experience which to me was like a time machine. And her praise for Kinski was really something like a seal of approval.

From that point on I knew he had been a great stage actor. We have no tapes of him; nothing documenting him on the stages of Vienna, Munich, or Berlin. So we can’t judge for ourselves, but to me Judith Holzmeister’s testimony is satisfactory; I don’t need any other proof.

Of the other interviews, the one with Bruno Ganz was wonderful. He isn’t just a fantastic stage and screen actor, but also a very decent, humble human being. Very critical of his own profession, and without any vanity or arrogance; a real treat.

And to show the importance of interviewing people who’re working behind the scenes, I’d like to point out the interviews with Werner Herzog’s long-time assistant Anja Schmidt-Zäringer, and with the costume designer Gisela Storch. It was Storch who, for example, had designed Kinski’s white suit for Fitzcarraldo, which I consider an iconic Kinski costume. Both were absolutely crucial in understanding what was going on when shooting with Herzog and Kinski.

DDS:  Thank you for this, Christian, it’s really interesting for me to hear about the process of working on the book and how you went about it all. I also enjoyed the idea that we, the readers of Kinski Die Biographie, construct the version of Kinski we need from your work and words; it’s a bit S/Z with the reader interacting with the text you have helpfully provided! I think Klaus would love the idea of us all getting some kind of jouissance out of reading about his life and works. Anyway, it’s been a pleasure for me so far and I hope the visitors to Du dumme Sau! will find it interesting too.

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In part two we’ll move onto Christian David’s thoughts on Kinski the man, the films and some of the intriguing stories that Christian unearthed when doing his research. More to follow soon but if you haven’t already bought a copy of Kinski Die Biographie, you know what you need to do!


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Interview with A Bullet for the General actress and Bond Girl Martine Beswick

Well, it’s all been happening lately – at the weekend I met the actress Martine Beswick who starred in A Bullet for the General (dir Damiano Damiani, 1966) alongside Klaus.  I made my usual request for an interview regarding working with Klaus Kinski &c and, imagine my surprise, but not only did Martine say yes but she also said, “Yes, how about today?”

That’s a lesson learnt – not counting my chickens, I hadn’t taken my voice recorder along with me and I hadn’t drafted any questions either; next time I will make sure I am better prepared.

Anyway, all things considered I think the interview went amazingly well and I have to tell you that Martine Beswick was wonderful – she was warm, friendly, funny, very open and a joy to interview.

Please note, though, that as I was frantically scribbling notes during the interview and was unable to get everything down verbatim, I’m only quoting Martine directly where I know I got her exact words down.  For the rest I have recounted the conversation without direct quotes.  I hope this works, and if it doesn’t I only have myself to blame for not being optimistic enough to imagine the interview would take place there and then!

I started out by asking Martine how she got into acting because I’d heard that she had won a modelling competition during her teens in the 1950s in Jamaica and that she sold her prize – a car – to get the money for acting lessons.  This was not quite true as Martine had sold the car to get the money to move back to London where she wanted to pursue a career in modelling and acting; this was in the late 1950s. 

In the early 60s she was eventually put up for a role in Dr No but did not get it because she was not considered experienced enough; then Terence Young decided that he wanted her for From Russia with Love (1963)…

Martine was only 22 back then and it was early days for the Bond films – they didn’t really know what being a Bond Girl meant in those early days – but she said, “It reached its zenith with Thunderball [in 1965].  That was a turning point; there was no private life for Sean Connery after that…”

DDS:  How did you get from Bond to A Bullet for the General

Martine Beswick (MB):  “I went from From Russia With Love to some television work, then onto Thunderball, One Million Years B.C. and Prehistoric Women…”

DDS:  Lots of bikini wearing? 

MB:  “Just leather bits in One Million Years B.C.!  There was a guy [at the film fair] earlier who in all seriousness said he had thought we [Martine and Caroline] would be appearing in our bikinis. You wouldn’t get me in a swimming costume now, let alone a bikini!”

DDS:  And how did you get the role in A Bullet for the General? 

MB:  “They’d seen me in my other films and said, “Let’s get her!”

DDS:  So did you enjoy working on A Bullet for the General

MB:  “I loved it!  I had to spend 3 months in Almeria – on a horse!  And I’d only just learned to ride; I’d lied and said I could ride.” 

Martine was dating the actor John Richardson (Revenge of the Vampire; She; One Million Years B.C.) back then and at the time he was also going to be in a Western in Madrid.  And, guess what?  He’d lied about being able to ride too!  The solution was to hire someone to give them both riding lessons in London’s Hyde Park. 

MB:  “I was so sore!  It was so much easier in Spain, sitting on a Western seat.  I don’t know if you go riding but the seats they use for riding here are really small and uncomfortable.”

DDS:  Did the shooting go well? 

MB:  “Yes, Damiano Damiani was a very good director.  But I was madly in love [and John was in Madrid], so I would get in a cab after shooting on a Saturday night – the drive was 8 hours to Madrid – and then I would come back the next day for shooting.  I wouldn’t do anything like that nowadays!”

DDS:  What was Klaus like? 

MB:  “I loved Klaus.  Klaus was really crazy.  He had his wife [Ruth Brigitte Tocki] and daughter [Nastassja] with him for some of the time.  And luckily he had a wife and I was madly in love because otherwise I really would have!”

“We were all supposed to get this per diem and we hadn’t been paid for ages.  One day we were doing this scene where we had to fly right into the village, in front of the camera.  Klaus was standing on top of this water tank and he did the scene but then he shouted down, “I’m not doing another shot until you pay me now!”  And I said, “Right on, me too!”  He shouted, “I’m not coming down until you pay me!”  He was shouting like a wild man in his monk’s robes.  And I was shouting, “And I’m not doing it either!”  And he just would not come down.  That did it for me; I fell in love.”

“All the cast and crew, we all spoke different languages – Italian, German, French, Swedish… Lou Castel spoke pretty good English but most of the crew and the director did not speak English.  So they had this translator and he had to translate what Klaus was shouting!  But it worked, and they didn’t do it again.”

There was another incident though: 

MB:  “They used a lot of gypsies [as extras] on the train.  I loved them – they taught me how to do the clapping, and the dancing and singing.  But they weren’t feeding them, and when we found out we were all angry; particularly Klaus who was furious.  So he pulled another one!  Everybody was furious and it shamed them into getting food for the gypsies.”

The other thing Martine had to be on her guard for during the filming of A Bullet for the General was unwanted visitors at night-time…

MB:  “I had to lock my door at the hotel; there were people knocking all night:  “Martine!  Martine!”  But they realised I was in love and eventually they left me alone.”

DDS:  Are there any roles or films you wished you could have done? 

MB:  “I really wanted a series – but that didn’t happen.  I liked doing both films and TV, although you get better budgets for films.  I liked the instant family you get on the film set; you’re part of a hub in an instant.”

“Here’s a perfect example:  I was in The Six Million Dollar Man [Outrage in Balinderry episode, 1975] playing Lee Majors’ love interest – an Irish agent – and it’s first thing in the morning: 6.30 arrived…8.00 on set, we have a love scene and we’ve never met before.  I’m in love at 8am – first thing – and we’ve only just met!”

“And then with the Bond films, I was comfortable with Sean Connery because we’d already met before the film to have our photos taken.  I’m sitting on his lap, in a bikini, but it’s nothing to do with sex; we’re just having a chat!”

DDS:  What were your favourite projects?

MB:  “Each one has its own special place in my heart.  I enjoyed Thunderball [Dir Terence Young, 1965] because we all got on; Claudine [Auger] was a great friend, but I’ve not seen her for a while; Luciana [Paluzzi] is still a great friend.  The place was beautiful; the parties; the hanging out; Terence Young was great.  It was an amazing time.”

“I had great fun on Prehistoric Women [aka Slave Girls, 1967] with Michael Carreras – we just laughed so much!” 

[Martine told me that one review of Prehistoric Women said it contained “the best bitch kitty acting” – I think I need to see it now!]

MB:  “And then Wide Sargasso Sea [Dir John Duigan, 1993], which I consider to be my swansong.” 

Martine had loved Jean Rhys’ novel, on which the film was based.  Michael Apted was originally going to do the film, with Michael York starring, but it didn’t work out and it was several years later in New York that Martine heard that a friend was going to be producing the film.  By this stage Martine was too old to play the lead but instead she got the role of Aunt Cora. 

DDS:  Did it turn out well? 

MB:  “It was interesting, but unfortunately the film did not turn out as it could have.”

Martine has given up acting these days and now enjoys a relaxing life, attending film conventions and events from time to time.  I asked Martine if she enjoys looking around at these events but she said that she doesn’t tend to get that much time to look around, although it is interesting to see all the posters and photos that people have of the films she was in; especially the ones from other countries that she has not seen before. 

DDS:  Do you enjoy appearing at the events though? 

MB:  “I go to these shows and have a lovely life – it’s delicious.  I’m not wealthy, but I’m rich in many other ways.  It’s nice to meet people; generally they’re sweet and they honour you and love you.”  

If you want to meet Martine Beswick at one of these shows, she will be attending various events throughout the year along with her friend and fellow Bond Girl Caroline Munro (most importantly Caroline was in Luigi Cozzi’s brilliant Starcrash!).  Their next event is the SF Ball in Bournemouth, from 10-12 February 2012 – for details of how to book tickets see http://www.sfball.com/

Massive thanks go to Martine Beswick for the interview; to Dave Tinkham of Datapanik Design for the photo of Martine; and to Glenn of A Pessimist is Never Disappointed for sharing his photos of Martine fighting Raquel Welch in their “bits of leather” – see Glenn’s review of One Million Years B.C. here


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More Klaus Kinski Photos

I’m spoiling you all today with some lovely photos I recently acquired for my Kinski collection:

Zoo zéro (Dir Alain Fleischer, 1979)

Woyzeck (Dir Werner Herzog, 1979)

I don’t know when or where this photo is from (very early 80’s maybe?) but it’s rather nice. 

I’ve done a couple of interviews over the past few days and hopefully they should be posted here soon, but I’m also dying to get another film review done as soon as I can as I have a lot of catching up to do if I’m ever to get all the films watched and reviewed!

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The Pleasure Girls interview part one: Anneke Wills

I think this interview’s alternative title should be, “Can Anneke Wills forget Klaus Kinski and find a copy of Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness??” 

The answer to both questions is yes. 

I met Anneke Wills towards the end of last year at a convention in London and I thought I would take the chance to speak with someone who had worked with our (anti)hero Klaus Kinski on one of his British made films, Gerry O’Hara’s The Pleasure Girls (see the Du dumme Sau! film review here).  That said, I always knew that there were no direct scenes between Anneke Wills, who played Angela, and Klaus’ character Nikko, but I guess I had always assumed that people working on films together might have some contact anyway or at least have met; it seems that this was not really the case for Anneke Wills and Klaus Kinski, so it didn’t take long for me to realise that there would not be much Klaus talk to be had during this interview.  But, never mind, Du dumme Sau! took the opportunity to talk to the lovely Anneke Wills about Anthony Newley and Alan Bates instead and I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

A little background on Anneke Wills for those of you who may only have seen her in The Pleasure Girls, Anneke is probably most famously known as the Doctor Who companion, Polly, for the first and second Doctors (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton) – and she was therefore present for the first regeneration, which is probably more exciting in hindsight than it appeared to be at the time.  She was also in two episodes of Anthony Newley’s cult TV series The Strange World of Gurney Slade; in two films directed by Clive Donner, Some People (with Kenneth More, David Hemmings and Ray Brooks) and Nothing But the Best (with the gorgeous Alan Bates and, well, who cares who else? Alan Bates is enough for anyone!); she also appeared in The Likely Lads, The Saint, The Avengers, and the wonderful Strange Report amongst many other things.  Anneke left the film and TV industry in 1970 to devote more time to her husband (Michael Gough, as seen with Klaus Kinski in Piers Haggard’s Venom – see the Du dumme Sau! review here) and their family and she has lived a wonderfully strange and exciting life.

You can read about Anneke’s life in her two autobiographies – Self Portrait and Naked– both of which are still available through Anneke’s website.  I particularly enjoyed Self Portrait as it covered her life and work in the sixties and seventies, but without further ado – the Du dumme Sau! interview:

DDS:  Thank you so much for agreeing to do the interview, Anneke.  It’s very exciting because for me you are a 60’s icon, appearing in so many wonderful cult TV shows.  Firstly, I should explain that this website Du dumme Sau! is about the films and life of Klaus Kinski, so I will need to ask you a few questions about The Pleasure Girls but other than that there’s so much more I want to ask you and we can move onto other parts of your career.

What do you think of The Pleasure Girls?  Did you enjoy working on it?  I know you didn’t mention Klaus in your biographies but do you remember working with him?  And if so, what was he like? 

Anneke Wills (AW):  Cos the thing is about Klaus that I actually never really met him!  No, I didn’t meet him because he was doing something different in his part in The Pleasure Girls. I was sort of in the house, with the guys… Francesca Annis and all the others, and then he was off in a different part of the script so I never actually came across him.

DDS:  I did wonder because there weren’t any scenes with you and Klaus, but I thought that you might have come across each other in the firework party scene or that you might have just met off the set and behind the scenes…?

AW:  Yes, the awful thing is I can’t remember.  I watched it about 6 or 7 years ago, I can’t really remember.  So that’s not very good for you because I can’t actually remember very much about him!

DDS:  Were there any stories about him being naughty on set even?

AW:  That’s the awful thing, I can’t remember anything about it…

DDS:  In terms of that film though, you did say something which interested me – you said in your autobiography that originally Clive Donner was directing the film and then he left and Gerry O’Hara took on the direction work.  That’s of interest to me because I’ve never heard that mentioned by anyone else before – neither in books about Klaus Kinski’s films, nor on IMDB, and it’s not mentioned in the booklet that came with the BFI Flipside BluRay/DVD.  Could you tell me a little bit about that?

AW:  The thing is this, that I can only say what I remember, what I remember was that I had already worked with Clive Donner on Some People [1962] and he was a good friend and a marvellous director, and so when he called up my agent and said he wanted me in a movie I dropped everything and said, “Yes, please, I would love to work with him again!”  So then the script was sent and it was very much like the way that Clive Donner always used to work, which was, erm, you know, on location, getting right into the whole [thing]; he was unique in that way, actually, it was the same with Some People we went down to Bristol and we integrated with all the people and we rehearsed and then we started shooting.  And he was going to do the same thing [with The Pleasure Girls], we would all be in the house together and we would, as it were, live together and work together.  So that’s what was happening and then the team of people, you know, Francesca Annis and Ian McShane and Tony Tanner, I mean, wonderful actors to work with; he got a very good bunch of actors to play out this interesting little story and then in the middle, all of a sudden, what is going on?  They’ve seen the first rushes, they don’t like it!  They don’t like what he’s doing, it’s not sexy enough they want to put it out, as far as we know, they’ve got a sort of, what’s the word, the venues where they want to show this film, it’s not cinéma vérité that they want, they want tits and boobs (sic).  So then, terrible upset, Clive is walking, we are left stranded, are we going to get paid?  Bottom line for an actor, always very practical, oh crumbs are we going to get paid?!  Was it Gerry O’Hara –  I don’t remember – stepping in and saying, “No, no, we can do this, we’ll just have to change the scenes slightly.  Here’s a scene with you, Anneke, in a telephone box, well, I tell you what, we’ll put that in a bedroom instead.”  So we were all kind of, “OH GOD! This is pathetic and actually rather annoying,” and it seemed like to us that the whole script was getting unbalanced and nobody was happy.  Nobody was happy, we weren’t happy, but we kind of scraped through, we finished it and then we heard that it had gone deeper into, y’know, turning into a sex film, so in a way I think there was a premiere, we none of us went to it and we were kind of slightly ashamed of it really.  And we moved along in our careers, that’s the whole story. 

DDS:  That’s interesting… but despite the fact that I have issues with the film trying to do too many things at once, I still believe it’s a very good, enjoyable film and well shot; I think it’s aged quite well. 

AW:  You see, it’s no good asking me because being an actor, I mean I’m not a film judge or a film critic and I just did my part in the film, and I was getting on with the guys, and that was nice, and, y’know, that’s what I remember.  I look now and I think, mm, to me what’s interesting is when I saw it some years ago, I thought goodness it’s telling a story of a different London – London was very different then – y’know me shouting down, “Hallo, milkman!”  Y’know that was so sweet, actually, and the sort of the innocence of it all, we were all so kind of innocent really. 

DDS:  I thought Paddy, the gay character, was the nicest character in the film…

AW:  That’s right, yes, and you see that was very early times for all that, I mean, I don’t know when the laws all came through but all that was supposed to be, erm… it was illegal so you just had to be careful!  So those poor people they all had to, y’know, well, hide in the cupboard.  I mean, but on the other hand, gay people had been in the arts forever!  We all knew that, it’s just that the laws hadn’t caught up with us yet! 

DDS:  Going to your other work – what do you remember about Toddler on the Run

AW:  Well, erm, actually I have got a photograph from Toddler on the Run that emerged and if you’d like and if I can find it I’ll get it off to you.  Well, of course, it was a Play of the Week, wasn’t it? 

DDS:  A Wednesday Play.

AW:  Right, I was very happy to get it cos it was a very good part – a nice big fat part – and too bad that that’s one of the ones which got lost. 

DDS:  I’d love to see it, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it and hope that it becomes one of these Lost and Found items.  I’ve read the book by Shena Mackay and the story has been something that’s been in my life since I was a child when my mum told me about it and I remember having nightmares after that about being chased across a golf course by a dwarf wearing tartan trousers; I’ve had a phobia of dwarves ever since but at the same time I am also fascinated…

AW:  I’m not surprised you had horrible nightmares, I mean anything to do with dolls… and I mean I have to tell you some of the Doctor Who episodes lately have been so frightening that I’ve been hidden behind my sofa because I can’t watch!

I don’t think I ever remember reading the book [Toddler on the Run].  Didn’t we go to the seaside?  And then what happened for me was that I think we were running on the beach and I fell over and I hurt my arm and then my whole location work there was very difficult because I couldn’t move my arm and we were staying a pub and I couldn’t put my trousers on because I couldn’t get dressed on my own and so that was what I remember!  You know, you see, the trouble is you’re talking to an actor and we don’t have great judgements of what the work is [laughs]… y’know, you go along, you go to rehearsals, you do your job and then you go home!

[Morris Todd] was just a smaller man, erm, I don’t remember him ever being called a dwarf [Du dumme Sau! note: in the book he was supposed to be 4 foot 6 tall]… [Ian Trigger] was a very lovely actor with a lot of charisma, so then it would work, y’see, cos that’s why he would be together with me!

DDS:  Yes, he was supposed to be very attractive to the ladies! I am hoping that it will turn up one day so I can see it…

AW:  Well, keep your eye out.  I’ll tell you the other one I want you to keep your eye out for, let me know, well, if there is any way we can get hold of Mercy Humppe.  I don’t think it’s available…

DDS:  Well, you’re in luck, Anneke, because I’ve got it [Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, dir Anthony Newley, 1969] recorded from a TV screening and I can send it to you!

AW:  You’re kidding me! Okay, we’ll do a swap – I’ll send you the Toddler on the Run photo and you send me Mercy Humppe!  The thing was that I went to see Tony before Mercy Humppe and he said, “I’ve written a part for you, but you can’t play it cos Joan’ll kill me.”

DDS:  And was it the Mercy Humppe part?

AW:  I think so, yeah.

DDS:  Yes, because I thought it was you anyway. 

AW:  And I never saw it. 

DDS:  O my gosh, well, the reason I thought it was you was after reading your autobiography I could see that you were the lady he was dating before he got together with Joan Collins and he played it beautifully, you see, you were the character he could not forget and when she turns up it’s almost like a fairytale and it’s soft focus and lovely – in the film, the character of Filigree Fondle seems to be his first wife, the lovely Ann Lynn; Mercy Humppe, is the sweet love child with blonde hair and enormous eyes [Anneke Wills maybe?], who Hieronymus leaves when he gets together with Polyester Poontang, Joan Collins, played by Joan Collins herself.

[Du dumme Sau! note:  No wonder Joan Collins divorced Anthony Newley after making the film!  He even had their two children playing their two children in the film too.  A bit too close to the truth, maybe?  And since the most dreamy and romantic sequences are reserved for Mercy Humppe, and he appears to be saying he cannot forget her and find true happiness, well, it’s a recipe for marital disaster really, isn’t it?]

AW:  You see, he’d written it all.  The thing was that, at the time, as you know, I was with Mick Gough and he wasn’t too keen on me seeing it so I pushed all that aside because I had my life and my children and I didn’t want to sort of go back into the past and unpick unhappy memories.  So I never really knew that – isn’t it amazing, Raechel, that at this time these things would come back to one so that then there’s a massive healing.  And it’s like a sort of message from Tony up there in the clouds saying, look, here, I did love you.  Aww!

DDS:  And can he ever forget you and find happiness and, y’know…

AW:  That’s sweet!

DDS:  Yes, very.  I saw the film and then, oddly, a couple of weeks later I met you at the convention and then I got your book and read the story and put two and two together. 

AW:  Oh gosh! And isn’t it interesting that I led my whole life and I never even knew?  I never knew how he’d written it.

DDS:  Well, I just thought, “That sounds like Anneke!”  And there’s some lovely songs in it as well – the best one he kept for you, “Sweet Love Child

AW:  Now I can’t wait to see it! And, y’know, it’s interesting too because this year Network found [The Strange World of] Gurney Slade, and remastered that and put it out there.

DDS:  Then there was that dreadful warehouse fire…

AW:  Yes, and they’re slowly recouping them and getting them out there.

DDS:  Do you know what Gurney Slade was about, cos I’ve watched it and I liked it a lot but I’m still not entirely sure what it was about, even after seeing the entire series!  In one of the trailers Anthony Newley says something along the lines of, “What is it about?” as if he didn’t know either!

AW:  Yes, I think he’s being disingenuous when he’s saying that…

DDS:  Yes, he’s probably saying it because that’s what the audience would have said or thought – especially at that time when it would have been even more unusual than it is now…

AW:  Absolutely, when I watch it, it just makes me laugh because that was what was going on in his head all the time.  He did have this kind of inner dialogue which was always going on; that’s what made him so extraordinary to be with because he was VERY creative and VERY quirky and so he got together with these writers and together, well, off they went.  Well, when you know that he’s lying on his tummy talking to ants and this was pre anybody taking any drugs and we hadn’t reached psychedelics yet, when we all laid on our tummies and talked to ants! [Laughs] Y’know, this wasn’t happening yet, so it was very interesting, I thought, to see that this was just how Tony was, y’know, off he would go, talking about politicians and so on and he would have a great old go – he knew EXACTLY what he was doing, which is why when they trashed it, he was terribly hurt by that.   

DDS:  That wasn’t a one-off because Mercy Humppe is a very odd film too…

AW:  [Laughs!]  He was very odd, and he loved The Goons, y’see, as did Leslie Bricusse [Du dumme Sau! note: Bricusse was Newley’s songwriting partner] too – we were all completely mad about The Goons.  And so he loved the idea of, y’know, stepping up beyond the camera and trotting off and having magic adventures. 

DDS:  Yeah, and talking directly to the camera quite a lot too – which is fairly unusual and a bit disconcerting with a kind of alienation effect.  It’s a very strange sense of humour, but you get into it and I particularly enjoyed the episode about the countersunk screws, which is just one very long joke about screws with a great punch line, I thought!

AW:  Yes, you can see how influenced he was by The Goons, you can see it there.  But that was the strongest influence around at the time.  Don’t forget, y’know, we hadn’t seen Monty Python, we hadn’t seen any of this screwball humour; it was only The Goons around at that time that were doing this kind of serialistic kind of pieces of madness, and the other one was Marcel Marceau although he did it in mime…  In a way, [Anthony] was given this series as a little treat and he came up with that and they didn’t know what to make of it, ha ha!

It was absolutely lovely, because y’know they were expecting a piece of “Anthony Newley”, which is why they also even advertised it with Tony sitting there with a whole load of gorgeous 60’s ladies draped all over him.  But, no, that’s what he was going to produce so that’s why I think they were really angry and fed up, ha! …because they didn’t get what they were expecting.

But you see, there are people out there of my age who remember it clearly and remember it as being very special and very unique and it stuck in their heads.  And I just spoke with a dear old friend up in Norfolk who I haven’t seen for many years and he said, “Gurney Slade, I remember because he was talking about this ant carrying the equivalent of a grand piano on his back,” he said, “I’ve never forgotten that.”  You see, it strikes chords with people and now, you see, what’s happening is my younger friends, my Doctor Who friends, and all my sort of science fiction friends, are calling me up and saying, “My goodness me! I’ve just seen Gurney Slade for the first time and I think it’s MARVELLOUS!” [laughs].  Well, there you are, you see.

DDS:  What are you up to these days?  Are you going to do any acting or are you still keeping yourself quiet in the countryside?

AW:  There’s lots going on, so at the moment I’m making soup to freeze in case I get frozen in again like last winter!  For six weeks I was completely frozen in! So I’m busy getting my food stores together, and getting the weeds out of the vegetable patch cos if I don’t do it now they’ll be MUCH worse in the spring.  So, working hard on the garden because I’ve been SO busy this year and it’s been actually the MOST amazing year for a decade, at least, Raechel.  It’s been incredible, y’know, I’ve just turned 70.

DDS:  NO!!! [Du dumme Sau! note: Remember, I met her recently, so I know what she looks like and she is AMAZING!]

AW:  I’ve just had my 70th birthday and it was so wonderful and so my little cottage is smothered in lovely cards from people, which is just a treat, and I had a really very, very special sparkly few days; really, really lovely.  So that was a culmination of lots of lovely things, like the 50th anniversary of The Avengers happened this year [2011] and so that was very lovely meeting, and meeting Paul O’Grady, which was a treat.  Then there was the 40th anniversary of The Go-Between [dir Joseph Losey, 1970], which I wasn’t in, but Michael Gough was in it and so I went up to Norfolk and they made a beautiful film about the making of The Go-Between and that Norfolk summer that we all remember so well.  So that was lovely.

DDS:  Anneke, I LOVE Alan Bates [Du dumme Sau! note: I truly believe that Alan Bates was the most handsome man ever to have walked this earth]

AW:  Oh, Alan Bates was GORGEOUS! …And, then, you know Michael Gough died this year and that was the beginning of it all actually, and it was really very special.  He always said he’d like to go on St Patrick’s Day and he did!  So my son and I gave a little party for all the old friends from the 60’s, and that was very special, and so it’s just been the most amazing year. …For my 70th birthday, I gave myself the lovely book of John Craxton [by Ian Collins and David Attenborough, published by Lund Humphries, 2011] and I’m reading it and falling in love with him all over again!  He was a magical person.

DDS:  The Craxtons sounded lovely – I don’t know how you get taken in by a family like that, and get looked after by them but it sounded amazing!  [Du dumme Sau! note: Anneke spent a lot of time with the Craxton family – a family of classical musicians, composers, artists – when she was attending acting classes in London]

AW:  Well, ya see, I’ve got guardian angels looking after me as you can read [in the autobiographies]!  I’ll tell you what was really good about writing the book –  I’d decided I’d write them by hand cos I think it’s very important, at least for me, to use your right hand, because your right hand is connected to your heart.  So when you actually write with your right hand and you’re in the right space and you’ve lit a candle, and you’re doing this, you say you’re writing a story of love; it’s actually a love story.  Because I’m writing looking back, I’m writing about all these extraordinary and wonderful people – and I mean some of them who absolutely hurt me and, you know, that was my life lesson.  And how much I learnt from that!  But still, I look back and I love them all.

DDS:  I did wonder how you could be so nice when I was reading it because there were some quite awful bits really… 

AW:  AWFUL!  Yes, they were, and I mean it’s been a life lived and I didn’t just fall into forgiving them all straight away [laughs] – no, no…  But you have to live it, you have to suffer it, and it’s when you come out the other side and you can say “I forgive you” and you’re free then to move along.  So that’s when I was ready to write the book.  I didn’t want to write one of those books that people write that are, “O! POOR OLD ME! Everybody’s been so horrible to me, poor old me!”   How boring is that?!  [Laughs] No, you’ve got to live it and you’ve got to let go of it and then you can write it and say this is what happened; this is how it was.

DDS:  I loved reading your stories about how you knew and worked with all these people, like David Hemmings and Sarah Miles, who I’m sorry to say sounds like an awful friend.  But, I can tell you that Klaus got her back for you, because he gave her hell when she was in Venom with him, which Michael Gough was in as well.  And that was odd because I was watching the film and thinking, “This is the kind of film Mick Gough would appear in”, and then he popped up playing a reptile handler!

AW:  [Laughs] I know, he did do some dubious work actually but I understood that because before I came to be in his life, he told me that he was in New York and he and his first wife were incredibly broke; absolutely starving.  They’d gone over there, they were in a play and the play folded.  They got stuck over there and they didn’t have the money to get home to England and they were starving.  That freaked him out.  I think that really deeply frightened him and so at that point he decided, “I’ll do anything, any job that comes up, I’ll say yes to”, so that’s what he would do.  And acting came first; we would all come second.  Acting was his life.  And so he never said no to any job at all and it used to drive me mad sometimes because sometimes, y’know, you knew that they weren’t worth him putting his energy into them but he’d always say “Yes, because I have to pay the bills”. 

DDS:  Don’t you regret leaving acting?

AW:  Well, y’know, I don’t regret any mad mistake I made because, y’know, if I hadn’t done that then, who knows, all this other wonderful stuff might not have happened!    I really think I followed my spirit; I did listen to my spirit.  And sometimes you wake up and your spirit says, “Right! Let’s pack up and move!”  And, o no!  But you’ve got to pack up and move right now!  [Laughs] So that’s what I’ve done when spirit is moving me, I followed it even though you’re stepping into the unknown, in fear and trepidation, but what can you do?  That’s what I’ve always felt, y’know, and you’ve just got to do it.  [Laughs] 

DDS:  How is life for you these days?

AW:  I tell you what, this is how mad my life is at the moment, I’m going to be 70, I’m in Earls Court (that’s where I met you, isn’t it?) and there’s lovely, sexy Paul McGann [the 8th Doctor] and David Tennant [the 10th Doctor].  And they both said, “You can’t be 70, what are you going to do?”  And I said, “I’m going around collecting hugs”, so I got hugs from them, how lovely is that? And a day or two later, I’m having lunch with Doctor Who number 8 [Du dumme Sau! note: actually the 7th Doctor], I think it is, Sylvester McCoy, at The Troubadour where I hadn’t been since the 60’s and I walked in and said, “Oh my god, look at this place – how long it’s been!”  And the lovely manager guy said, “Ooh, let me show you around!”, and it’s been magic.

DDS:  I hope my 70th birthday is that exciting!

AW:  But now what I want to say is we’ve got a super new interesting up-to-date website [http://www.annekewills.co.uk/] where lots of things can be found [Du dumme Sau! note: There’s an online shop where lovely signed items can be purchased].  And the other thing is that I am doing two more books, they will be picture books and I’m doing them with Fantom Films, and we’re in discussion about that.  So one is me in the 60s and we’re in negotiation for another book, so there’s possibly two… 

DDS:  Photo books will be great because I have to tell you that I loved your outfits, some of them in Strange Report – I wanted them, especially the long turquoise boots!

AW:  Aw, sweetheart!  I didn’t make all my clothes – I made some pieces but I was mainly wearing Ossie Clark, and Alice Pollock, and mainly designer clothes.  And that was my argument with them [the producers of Strange Report] cos they had a deal with Harry Fox [to provide the costumes] and he had a tatty old shop in Carnaby Street and all the other actresses had to wear his clothes.  [Du dumme Sau! note: I think the shop was called Lady Jane and I actually had a rather lovely mini dress from there myself!]

But I didn’t [wear his clothes] and I tried to make a fuss and in the end they said, “Look, if you want to wear your own clothes, wear your own clothes,” so I was wearing all my own clothes!

DDS:  Such lovely clothes, lucky you!  Well, thanks so much for doing this interview, Anneke, and I hope everything goes wonderfully well with the new books, which I will look out for in 2012.

– 0 –

For anyone who wants to meet the lovely Anneke Wills, she will be appearing at The Big Finish Day 2 on 11 February 2012, where other guests include Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Katy Manning, David Warner, Shane Rimmer, Nick Briggs, Paul Darrow and David Richardson.  Find out more here.

As a postscript, following the interview Anneke sent me the photograph from Toddler on the Run (see above) and I sent her the Mercy Humppe film, which I hope she enjoyed.  Regarding Anneke’s comments about Clive Donner working on The Pleasure Girls, I did a bit of detective work which involved contacting Sue Harper, Professor of Film History at the University of Portsmouth, as she wrote the essay about The Pleasure Girls for the BFI Flipside DVD.  Professor Harper was very helpful but knew nothing about Clive Donner’s involvement and, like me, thought that the idea sounded interesting but odd.  After trying other avenues and getting nowhere I finally made contact with the film’s director, Gerry O’Hara, and did a great interview with him this morning.  I will write this up very soon and it will form Part Two of The Pleasure Girls interviews, so watch out for that…

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