5:02 PM GMT 17/05/2013
MOJO is sad to learn that Victor Spinetti, one of the stars of The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour films, has died at the age of 82.
MOJO's Andrew Male writes: "Back in March I spoke to Victor about the production of In His Own Write - the play he directed and co-authored with John Lennon in 1968. Vic was on cracking form: funny, outrageous, charming and delightfully indiscreet. I think I managed to squeeze in three or four questions along the way but this was pretty much Vic's show; a perfect story, well-told, with note-perfect impersonations of Lennon and Olivier along the way. He was a lovely man. It's a sad loss."
Here is Victor's account of his 1968 Lennon collaboration:
Victor Spinetti: "Adrienne Kennedy, who'd written a play at the Royal Court called Funnyhouse Of A Negro, came to my dressing room when I was doing The Odd Couple with Jack Klugman. She said, 'I want you to be in my play.' It was based on extracts from John Lennon's books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works. The National Theatre were interested in doing something with it but I said, Well, bit tricky this because you have to have John's permission. Also, her play had stage directions like, 'Christmas Tree turns into a horse and gallops off' and '50 Jewish schoolchildren come out of a grandfather clock.' Well, hmm... I said to her, John's written fantasy but it's all based upon a kind of reality. And, she said, 'Ooh would you please come and tell [theatre critic and National Theatre literary manager] Ken Tynan this?'
"So I went along to the National Theatre [then located at The Old Vic Theatre, Waterloo] and spoke to Ken. He said, 'Will you tell [The National's Artistic Director] Laurence Olivier?' Olivier said, 'Oh, very well my dear baby. You'll have to direct it for us because none of us will understand it.'
"I rang up John Lennon and I said, John, the National Theatre want to do a play based on your books. He said, 'They must be fucking mad. I'll give you the rights, you do it.' I said, No John, why don't we do it together? And that was it. When I told Olivier that we now had John Lennon's permission to go ahead, he said, 'I'd very much like to meet with Johnny Lennon, I've never met with him.'
"John and Yoko arrived at the National dressed exactly alike, in white, with their long hair. As they were coming up the steps Olivier said, 'Which is which, my dear baby, I can't tell them apart?'
"Then when they sat down together, Olivier began with, 'Now, my dear Johnny...' Lennon said, 'I haven't been called Johnny since I was at school.' Olivier didn't hear that shot across the bows. He continued, 'My dear Johnny, this play might be turned into a film. As you know nothing about the theatre I must tell you that if that happens the theatre will own (voice rising) 60 per cent of the FILM RIGHTS!!'
"Well, John didn't move. All he said was, 'Don't you have people that you pay to talk about this kind of thing, who can talk to the people that I pay to talk about this kind of thing?'
"John and I started working on the play in the flat I had in 52 Manchester Street. During the first couple of meetings John said, 'Hey Vic, let's go somewhere warm.' I thought he meant the next room. We ended up in Marrakech. It was a real pop-star way of travelling. John said, 'It'll be great, Vic, because no one will know me.' Well, we couldn't walk 10 yards. When we got there, it was snowing, so we had to buy warmer clothes in the souks. He just signed his name to pay for everything. They loved him, they followed him, they kissed the hem of his garment.
"It was so cold, so we were sitting in the bathroom, huddled to the radiator, writing the play. John was in the lav, and we needed a bit of a Queen's Speech for the play and he wrote it on those bits of cardboard that they pack shirts with, slid it under the door: 'My housebound and eyeball take great pressure in denouncing this loyal ship...' A whole piece in two minutes, to the exact rhythms of a Queen's Speech.
"I'd never directed or cast a play in my life. Everyone was telling me how to deal with Olivier. I presented him with my cast list and he picked it up, looked at it and said, 'These people are with us? It seems you have chosen... spear-carriers!' I said, It is a play about young people. I have put a lot of young people in it. Isn't it the policy of the National Theatre to bring forward its younger people? 'What policy!?' he shouted. 'When we have leading parts we go outside and bring in LEADING PLAYERS!' Olivier wanted to be in it as well. He said, 'It says here that "Dad" is a cripple. I shall play him in
a wheelchair, with hooks!' He was baiting me.
"He couldn't have been more marvellous after that. That's what he was waiting for. I was in. John Lennon came to the final run-through and by the time it was over he was crying. I said, Darling, was it that bad? He said, 'No, you bastard, you made me think about all the things I used to think about when I was 15.' And I thought, that's my review! Whatever happens, that's my review.
"In the end, Olivier decided that it should be one of three small plays directed by actors. They called it Three In One. John was the second half, the hour, and the others were, like, a half-hour each. On the opening night, the gods and the cheap seats were absolutely packed with people who had never been to the theatre before. The first half was OK, but for the John Lennon play the theatre went mad.
"During the play, a tape played that was put together by George Martin, John Lennon and myself, in Abbey Road all night making it. Did it influence Revolution 9? I think it probably did. All I know is that it disappeared. Somebody probably didn't know what it was. All I remember is the young people were screaming and shouting, laughing. They loved it. And, of course, the premiere was the first time John had been seen in public with Yoko. It all happened on that night.
"Some of the reviews were OK, others less so. It should be part of the history of the National Theatre, but it's been taken out. No one has ever approached me with the idea of putting it on. The day the play opened there was a big rubber elephant at the front door. Around the rubber elephant there was a piece of paper and on it was written, "'I'll never forget Victor Spinetti,' says John Lennon." Well, I mean, that should be on my tombstone."
As told to Andrew Male
This article orginally appeared in the July 2012 issue of MOJO magazine.
And here's Victor discussing the making of Help!
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 11:17 AM GMT 19/06/2012