Another blast from my blogging past, this one from a long time ago in a Livejournal far, far away: Alec Guinness on Star Wars, The Simpsons, syphilis, and Marlene Dietrich’s alien lover.
[Edited to add: Hey, Carrie Fisher has a blog!]
Guinness is Good for You
(Originally published December 6, 2002.)
I had some time to kill on campus the other day, so I parked myself in a comfy chair in Lamont Library and read A Positively Final Appearance, by Alec Guinness. It’s Guinness’ journal for the last few years of his life. I recommend it; like him, it was funny and wise and occasionally laser-sharp and only a little bit sad. The 80-something Guinness was, as we all know, weary of his unshakeable association with Obi-Wan Kenobi, but still plugged in to the popular culture: he was addicted to The Simpsons and had good things to say about the Leo diCaprio / Claire Danes version of Romeo and Juliet. There are lots of funny stories in there, in the Peter O’Toole-esque raconteur vein. In fact O’Toole and Guinness were buddies, from the same generation of gin-soaked British actors up to absolutely no good. Highlights include:
- The story of a scandalous stage production of Peter Pan in the 1930s in which Nana contracted syphilis from an affair with Smee. (NB: Nana was the dog.)
- The fact that Marlene Dietrich used to drive out into the California desert every New Year’s Eve for a date with “a well set up gentleman from outer space”—when Guinness asked Dietrich what the spaceman looked like, she said, “Handsome, darling, and dressed all in silver.”
- Some nice, unfashionable fondness for the Royal Family, and impatience with the beatification of Princess Diana.
- And, of course, the following oft-told tale:
A refurbished Star Wars in on somewhere or everywhere. I have no intention of revisiting any galaxy. I shrivel inside each time it is mentioned. Twenty years ago, when the film was first shown, it had a freshness, also a sense of moral good and fun. Then I began to be uneasy at the influence it might be having. The bad penny dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. His elegant mother nodded with approval. Looking into the boy’s eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guessed that one day they would explode.
‘I would like you to do something for me,’ I said.
‘Anything! Anything!’ the boy said rapturously.
‘You won’t like what I’m going to ask you to do,’ I said.
‘Anything, sir, anything!’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?’
He burst into tears. His mother drew herself up to an immense height. ‘What a dreadful thing to say to a child!’ she barked, and dragged the poor child away. Maybe she was right, but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.
“A fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.” That ought to be the tag line for my website!
I love that story. I’m going to start telling it, and end with the punch line, “… and that boy grew up to be … me.”