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Peter O'Toole was my first, possibly my only proper crush. I am immune to fannishness, generally; I've just been shrieking in dismay at the telly because wardytron and were about to watch Friday's episode of Mastermind and realised it was a bloody Dr Who-themed one. I thought the Beeb's self-promoting tosspottery about that anniversary was finally over. But I was - am - a fan of Peter O'Toole. I actually thought about him, daydreamed about him when he wasn't on a screen in front of me, read books about him and followed his career.

It is odd, given my predilection for men with blue eyes, that I developed my giant crush on him watching black and white telly. I remember him in the series Rogue Male when I was little and really, really, rooting for him. And I was bewitched by him when Lawrence of Arabia was first shown on TV. It wasn't just his beauty, it was the nervous, dangerous energy that dripped off the screen whenever he was on it. He was thrillingly alive, even when his roles were poor and his performance overblown. To me, he is the opposite of Robert Redford, whose youthful beauty was so static and lifeless it atrophied, grotesquely, in early middle age. And he is different from the equally beautiful Paul Newman, who holds his power in reserve, and uses it in performance, in precise doses. Redford is completely devoid of that magic energy, Newman is completely in control of it, and O'Toole leaked it as casually, as pungently, as sweat.

I met his first wife, Sian Phillips, when I lived in Wales. I had a friend who was close to her, and knew her throughout her marriage to him. There is a large body of Welsh luvvies who are convinced that she could have been the female Richard Burton - in terms of celebrity and wealth - if she had wanted to, and if she hadn't played second fiddle to O'Toole. In person, she has phenomenal presence, but it's glacial, inscrutable, with sudden flashes of vivid, sensual fire. I was too young and self-absorbed when I met her to know what to make of her; to discern whether she wasn't aware of quite how compelling she was or simply chose not to trade explicitly upon her beauty. Perhaps it simply went too far under the radar of those who could have made her famous. Female beauty and charisma are so essentially performative that when they are not actively displayed, they go unremarked, even in an actress. I'm thinking now of the story about Marilyn Monroe, at the start of her fame, walking down the street with an old friend, quietly being Norma Jean and saying 'Shall I be her, now? Shall I be Marilyn?' and turning up the wattage and affecting the wiggle and slipping into that role. Possibly the only men whose masculine charisma was so forcible assumed were those in the same sorry position as Rock Hudson.

I met Peter O' Toole once, in Cardiff. 'Met' is something of an exaggeration. He was in Wales filming Rebecca's Daughters and we had both just got off the London train. I discovered him standing behind me in the taxi queue outside the station. I turned round and there he was, swaying slightly like a poplar in his Crombie(?) coat, lazily emitting a force field of thrilling magnetism, with those eyes boyishly sparkling over a yawn like a ancient lion's. I couldn't speak but I kept opening and shutting my mouth and some syllables must have fallen out. 'How do you do?', he said, and he took my hand and shook it. My lucky, lucky hand. And then he said - projected - as if I were hard of hearing or foreign - 'I'm Peter O'Toole. I'm in Wales making a film called Rebecca's Daughters'. He said ' in Wales' as if he couldn't quite believe it himself. Then he swept past me, into my taxi, and disappeared, leaving only a faint odour of cologne, wet dog and magnificence behind him. Even old, and way past his heyday, he had that quality - in spades - that all stratospherically sexy people have, that renders one unable to take them in one, or a dozen, or a hundred glances. You just have to keep on looking, and wanting. That's why they are so compelling on the screen, because the camera is never sated.

I can't think of any 21st century men who are nearly as exciting as him. My female friends all seem to have the hots for David Tennant or Benzedrine Crumpetsnatch. Perhaps I am just old, but Tennant just seems too eager and twitchy and side-kickable to be a sex symbol. Besides looking a spaniel carved out of scone dough, Cumberbatch always seems a bit dreary. If you snogged him he'd probably taste of bile disguised with toothpaste, not fags and whisky and wickedness. The internet as I know it creamed its collective jeans over him when he held up a hand-written sign telling the paparazzi to stop taking pictures of him, and go and take some in Syria. That seemed to me, at best, the self-important posturing of a sixth-former and, at worst, as pompous as a man who pays to get into Spearmint Rhino and them berates his lap dancer for not performing Swan Lake. Tool, not O'Toole.


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 18th, 2013 01:45 pm (UTC)
Great post, in all aspects! :-)
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Dec. 18th, 2013 01:57 pm (UTC)
I just want you to know I love you :-)

I fancy neither Tennant nor the other one but I probably wouldn't say no to Basil Rathbone....
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:08 pm (UTC)
This (aside from the Rathbone bit of course)! :-)
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
I certainly wouldn't kick Basil rathbone out of bed on a cold night, but I'd rather have Jeremy Brett; lovely, lovely Jeremy Brett.

I love you, too, missus. Just got your Christmas card, too.
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:34 pm (UTC)
I reckon Jeremy Brett would be quite hard work..
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:35 pm (UTC)
Mmmm. So do I.
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you thank you thank you for making me feel less alone for not giving a flying fuck about fucking Dr fucking Who I am sick to death of the whole thing and being led to believe I should care about it!

And agree with you about the Dr Who actors, guys like Tennant and Smith are elongated boys, not men. Though I'd make an exception for Christopher Eccleston.

I liked Cumberbatch in Parade's End, but agree re Syria. Did you hear about the latest hooha involving him and Caitlin Moran and reading fanfic out loud on the Sherlock panel?
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:19 pm (UTC)
I found out about the hooha by reading your LJ. I haven't watched the footage but can imagine how squirm-inducing it must have been for poor old Benzedrine, who is clearly uneasy about the extent of the Cumberbitches' fannishness at the best of times.

I can imagine why Caitlin Moran thought it would be funny and equally imagine why it really wasn't, but I don't share your sympathy for the writer. If you post your elaborately written wank fantasies on the web, you are opening yourself up for comment/ridicule. It's a minor version of the same way he opens himself to the attentions of the paps by being an actor whose stock is raised by his celebrity.

Dec. 18th, 2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
That's what my partner said, more or less, once it's in the public domain you risk that happening. I don't think it would have hurt to give fair warning though. Fanfic is fantasy, whether sexual or not, and there's an understood "wall" between it and canon.

Tell you one thing, if it turns out that my stuff ends up being slashable, I'm not sure whether I'll dare to read it, or wish to, or what!
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:25 pm (UTC)
Ooh I am going to write something APPALLING anonymously and post it where you can't miss it!
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:28 pm (UTC)
Well twice already you have said a line verbatim that was in my characters' dialogue and ::cue twilight zone music:: I'd already written it...

First one was "drinking is bloody compulsory"

Second was "I will not accommodate wilful stupidity."

Hairs went up on the back of my neck!
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:36 pm (UTC)
Oh I like that! I think you must have been accidentally channeling me!
Dec. 21st, 2013 07:55 am (UTC)
Now that is a scary thought!
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
Oh this is weird. Your post has entirely dropped off my friends list and it should be at the top. For a horrible moment I thought you'd deleted it because of my filthy language, but that doesn't sound like the kind of thing you'd be overly concerned about. And you haven't defriended me thankfully - even if you did I'd still see the post on my list since it's public. I've no idea what the hell is going on with livejournal...
Dec. 18th, 2013 02:24 pm (UTC)
When I've gone back to find a thing, I've seen loads of posst I hadn't seen before. It's one of the reasons it's fading, really. Bah!

I liked Dr Who when I was a kid, but I cannot understand the degree of obsessiveness of the fans or why it is quite so celebrated. I think the BBC wasted a huge amount of license fee on what were basically giant adverts for it this year.
Dec. 18th, 2013 03:21 pm (UTC)
I think the BBC wasted a huge amount of license fee on what were basically giant adverts for it this year.
It actually brings in a monumental amount of money for the BBC, through overseas sales, merchandise and so forth. To put its popularity into perspective, more people watched the 50th anniversary special (12.8 million viewers) than voted for any single political party during the 2010 election (the Tories got 10.7m votes). So I think the BBC probably spent an entirely appropriate amount of money celebrating the occasion, and I doubt very much that they'd have done that if they weren't pretty sure it was going to be worth the bother. Frankly, they'd have been criminally stupid not to do so.
Dec. 18th, 2013 03:42 pm (UTC)
Fair point, though many of those 12.8 million would not be old enough to vote. I do have a prejudice against it, really, because it depresses me how banal and cliched the stories are - saving the universe with love every time - when they could be so brilliantly inventive with all that money and all those fans. I loved it when I was a kid, because it wasn't a soap opera then.
Dec. 18th, 2013 04:18 pm (UTC)
though many of those 12.8 million would not be old enough to vote
I wasn't suggesting an alternative model for parliamentary democracy, I was providing a purely numerical comparison to put the viewing figures into perspective.

it depresses me how banal and cliched the stories are - saving the universe with love every time - when they could be so brilliantly inventive with all that money and all those fans.
Well, I certainly won't pretend that I've been delighted by every last choice the writers, actors and producers have made, and indeed there have been quite a few stories that I've found decidedly underwhelming or cliched (although none have come remotely near some of the truly dire stories we were subjected to during the late 1980s). But it's certainly captured the imagination of a tremendous number of people, only a tiny fraction of whom could reasonably be classed as obsessive fans, and I think it also provides a range of pretty decent role models for younger viewers.
Dec. 18th, 2013 04:10 pm (UTC)
I spotted his picture in a newspaper at work and yelled "Oh no!" A burning, beautiful man.
Dec. 18th, 2013 04:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, as I posted on my own LJ page, now all my heroes are gone. I'm assuming I'm older than you, so I've loved Peter O'Toole longer.
But what you say about Sian Phillips is so true. She was so completely eclipsed by Peter O'Toole I confess I didn't know (or care) that he was married.
Dec. 18th, 2013 05:18 pm (UTC)
Neither Tennant nor Cumberbatch look like they'd be any good in a fight (which seems to have become my first box to tick when eyeing someone up), and Cumberbatch barely even looks like a vertebrate.
Dec. 18th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
I saw O'Toole once. He had the charisma turned off and was sitting in the corner of a railway carriage, hiding behind The Times with a glass of Coca Cola.
Dec. 18th, 2013 06:28 pm (UTC)
Yes this is very good. I still haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia either so I believe this might count as a recommendation.
Dec. 18th, 2013 06:32 pm (UTC)
I also had a crush on O'Toole, and once had an extremely interesting dream about him. I'll leave it at that. But I also have a mad crush on Tennant, although he does make me think of a bouncy puppy. That might be because I'm so much older than he is.
Dec. 18th, 2013 07:29 pm (UTC)
Came for the O'Toole, stayed for the heckling of Tennant and Cummerbund. *applause*
Dec. 24th, 2013 09:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Dec. 18th, 2013 08:46 pm (UTC)
He was my 'last man standing' after Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed all succumbed. And by far the most mesmerising (and downright beautiful) of the lot. I saw him on stage a few years ago and the charisma was still palpable. None of today's 'stars' come anywhere close.
Dec. 18th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I hadn't thought of it that way, but if I were gay, I would totally have had a crush on him. What's New Pussycat must be on your list too.
But the last of the stars are going out. When Clark Gable took off his shirt in It Happened One Night, and wasn't wearing an undershirt, national sales of undershirts dropped in half. Several years ago, when Sophia Loren showed up at the Oscars, all the twenty- and thirty-somethings gaped and gawked. And more recently, a tool company counted it a great coup to have her pose for the cover of their annual garage girlie calendar.
"Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. I want to be Cary Grant!" -- Cary Grant
Dec. 24th, 2013 09:41 pm (UTC)
If only more men would be 'dressed up like a million dollar trooper, trying hard to look like Gary Cooper'.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )


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