Our lovely Hitchcock biographer, John Russell Taylor, was lucky enough to meet and become friends with many famous Hollywood faces during his long career. Here, he remembers Dirk Bogarde – actor, heart-throb and Bloomsbury Reader author.
It always seemed to me a shame that Dirk Bogarde was so permanently dissatisfied with himself. After all he had a triumphantly successful career on almost every level, whether he would admit it or not, and, as far as one can know these things from the outside, a very happy and devoted love life with his longtime “man” (hardly manservant!) Tony Forwood, previously married to Glynis Johns.
All the same, from the first time I really got to know him, when he wrote to me to tell me how pleased he was with the Times review in which I compared his appearance in The Singer, Not the Song, black-leathered and with a white cat on his shoulder, to something in Queen Kelly – to the last time I visited him in his London flat shortly before his death, he always seemed rather bitter that he had never done just what he wanted to do with his life.
Though in his later public interviews he always denied that he dismissed contemptuously his early Rank stardom in films like Doctor in the House, admitting that at the very least he had learnt a lot from them, in private he tended to rail against that whole phase of his career. I always remonstrated with him, pointing out that though Cary Grant never got a performance Oscar, no one doubted that he was one of the best actors in Hollywood, and that nothing was more difficult than carrying off light comedy successfully. To no avail, I might add. Though apparently he vowed he never wanted to direct again after being forced to direct for ten days on The Servant (1963) while Joe Losey was sick, almost a decade later he professed himself eager to do so.
I know because I was working at the time on an adaptation of my friend Jocelyn Brooke’s novel Image of a Drawn Sword, and showed it to Dirk because I thought he would be ideal for the role of a sinister, charismatic military man with a sort of private army, in which he involves an awkward innocent (possible role for Tom Courtenay). Dirk loved the ambiguity of the story, partly sexual, and worked on it a lot with me, but insisted he was too old for the role and wanted, rather, to direct it. (The project foundered because Jocelyn died, all his books were out of print, and his heirs did not want to complicate probate with the possibility of payments for film rights.)
Shortly afterwards I went off to Los Angeles to become a professor in the Cinema Department of the University of Southern California, for what proved to be nearly seven years. During that time, which was the period of most spectacular development in Dirk’s career, I saw little of him. But when I came back to be the Art Critic of The Times, the Film Critic who had succeeded me happened to be on holiday, and my editor thought it would be fun having me write the film reviews for one more week before taking up my new job. The principal film that week happened to be Despair, the film Dirk had made with Fassbinder. Fortunately I liked it, and immediately hurtling through the post came a postcard from Dirk ordering me, on any account, “Don’t go buggering off again!”
No more I did, and found that Dirk and I took up again exactly where we had left off. My most memorable later encounter with him was when I had lunch with him and Tony in Cannes while he was President of the Festival jury. He seemed delighted to be talking to an old friend he could trust, and was very vocal about his discontents and battles with the Festival’s Director, who was determined they should give the main prize to a film none of them liked, John Huston’s Under the Volcano, because Huston was 80 (which he wasn’t quite) and actually present. Finally Dirk told Favre Le Bret “We’re supposed to give the prize to the best film, not because the director is old and fucking here!”
So Dirk was far from being a happy man. But maybe we should accept that his shining talent, as an actor and a writer, had its roots in his unhappiness, and be sad for him, but happy for ourselves as the recipients of his bounty.