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Stoned: A Memoir of London in the 1960s
     

Stoned: A Memoir of London in the 1960s

by Andrew Loog Oldham, Ron Ross (Editor)
 

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In 1963, Andrew Loog Oldham was a precocious hustler of genius on the London scene, with a keen eye for the next look and a willingness to gamble on it. He was all of nineteen when Brian Epstein took him on to be the Beatles’ London press agent, and already regarded as someone who could make things happen. But it was when he went to hear a relatively unknown

Overview

In 1963, Andrew Loog Oldham was a precocious hustler of genius on the London scene, with a keen eye for the next look and a willingness to gamble on it. He was all of nineteen when Brian Epstein took him on to be the Beatles’ London press agent, and already regarded as someone who could make things happen. But it was when he went to hear a relatively unknown blues combo perform that Oldham found his true calling. “I met the Rollin’ Stones,” he recalls simply, “and said hello to the rest of my life.” He took on more than a band; he took on an irresistible force that, with his vision, would become the Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band of All Time.

In addition to indelible portraits of Mick Jagger and crew, Stoned regales the reader with candid memories of John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Marianne Faithfull—whom Oldham also created. Joined by contemporaries such as Pete Townshend, Vidal Sassoon, Diana Vreeland, Nik Cohn, and others who counted, Oldham gives us a privileged, brilliantly clear-eyed, and unmistakably authentic view back to where, for generations of music fans, things first started rolling.

Editorial Reviews

Mojo
A fantastic evocation of an oft forgotten period in British history and a sizzling read for '60s spotters.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Oldham is and forever will be best known as the trendy hustler from mid-1960s swinging London who discovered the Rolling Stones and molded their bad-boy tendencies in his own image. After the Stones unceremoniously dumped him as manager during the Summer of Love, Oldham more or less disappeared from the rock 'n' roll map--producing a few artists here and there and living off his past success. But as shown by this delightful cut-and-paste romp (interviews with Oldham spliced together with comments from other hipsters such as designer Mary Quant, the Who's Pete Townshend and writer Nik Cohn--but, curiously, no interviews with any of the Stones), Oldham's memories are not only sharp, insightful and full of gossip, but also reflect that he has probably forgotten more about the music business in his fast-paced early life than most of his peers can claim to know. The Stones don't appear until halfway through the book, but the pre-1963 material is perhaps the most intriguing part of Oldham's memoir. As he moved from posh schools to '50s lowlife to early '60s social scenes, Oldham probably met every big name and con artist who ever populated London or the south of France--from Picasso (from whom he bummed money) to infamous producers Mickie Most and Phil Spector. The wealth of information, details and larger-than-life stories about the London music scene before the Beatles and the Stones that Oldham recounts provides a valuable record of a fertile and fascinating, albeit overlooked, cultural era. At 19, he may have known "nothing about the music biz," as Pete Townshend confirms, but as a "worldly-wise" purveyor of '60s excess who may have blown his mind way back when, Oldham proves today with this hotter-than-hot-for-hard-core-fans memoir that he has never lost his sense or sensibility. 60 b&w photos. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
After watching Brian Epstein transform the Beatles from loutish toughs into charming moptops, Oldham took five well-mannered boys and turned them into every parent's nightmare: the Rolling Stones. In the first of an intended "triography," Oldham tells how he went from working for British fashion icon Mary Quant, to becoming a press agent for the Beatles, to eventually becoming the manager and record producer for the second biggest band in Britain. Despite his legendary ego, he defers to passages from friends and associates, who take the story into unwelcome tangents and leave the reader anxious for Oldham's return--his colorful, slang-heavy voice is a hoot. The Rolling Stones do not even appear until more than half-way through, and this installment ends abruptly with the release of their first album. An optional purchase, though Volume 2 promises to cover the band's rise to megastardom, Oldham's split with the Stones, and the launching of his Immediate record label.--Lloyd Jansen, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The original manager of the Rolling Stones recalls his unconventional boyhood and his fortunate alliance with the bad boys of rock music. More than half of Oldham's memoir is gone before the Stones appear, but the warm-up act is not disagreeable. The author begins in 1995 with an overwrought account of his current condition: hung-over, used-up, depressed."I knew the ride was over," he admits,"but I wasn't ready for the other side." He then returns to his childhood (his father, a US airman stationed in England, did not survive WWII; his English mother carried on as best she could). As a teenager he bounced from school to school and early on became a fan of films, television, and pop music. Possessing a vast ad hoc knowledge of popular culture, as well as a formidable fashion sense and a ferocious determination to farm the freshly flowering fields of rock music, Oldham gradually arrived in this brave new world and witnessed the blossoming of a number of important rock stars, including the Beatles, Marianne Faithfull, and—most notably—the Rolling Stones. Oldham intercuts his text with quotations—some quite lengthy—from many others who were present at the Big Bang: among them, Peter Townshend, Lionel Bart, and Vidal Sassoon. Some wrote their own accounts, some submitted to interviews, and others Oldham quotes from their own published memoirs. To his credit, Oldham allows these other voices to contradict him and even to portray him unfavorably: his acquaintances recall, for example, that Oldham physically abused his mother—which he subsequently denies. Among the interesting revelations: Oldham was the first to insist that the Stones writetheirownmusic. Although the early chapters contain wearisome lists of celebrities and dreary accounts of dissipation, once the Beatles and Stones arrive on stage, the memoir picks up some real energy. (60 b&w photos)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312270940
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
04/24/2002
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.96(d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


ALO: There are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth.

    I lost my father before I knew the meaning of loss; I lost him before I was born. World War II had kept my mother busy as a nurse by day and a nightingale by night. But she found a moment for herself with one Andrew Loog, a Texan of Dutch origin, who served in the Army of the United States Air Corps from 15 July 1941 until the day of his separation by death, 13 June 1943. Flt Lieutenant Loog, assigned to the 332nd Bombardier Squadron, 94th Bombardier Group H, was shot down over the Channel. I shot out on 29 January 1944, when Celia was admitted to Paddington General Hospital having gone into labour prematurely; perhaps she was working there already. Thus Air Medalled and Purple Hearted, Louisianan Loog left a wife and a child dependent in Texas and, perhaps, this happy, independent little bastard in London.

    My birth was complicated, and I was born ill, weak and puny, a mere four pounds. I had a `soft skull': a `hard hat' was specially designed to protect me, and I wore it for the first year of my life, until my head became as hard as it has remained ever since. I was named Andrew Loog Oldham, in memory of Airman Andrew Loog, although on my birth certificate the space for daddy is blank.

    The day I was born, Germany mounted its final offensive, the most vicious blitzkrieg over England yet. My mother and I spent many a night getting acquainted in the Underground as the German `doodlebugs' rained down on the capital and drowned out the sound of Bow Bells, and alongwith them much of the life, but not the spirit, of our fellow Londoners.

    My mother, Celia Oldham, has Alzheimer's, so I am telling you her story with help from some who knew her back in the day. She was born in Paddington, New South Wales, on 11 February 1920. It has been pointed out to me that my first real employer, Mary Quant, was also born on 11 February some years later.

    Celia's father was an Ashkenazi Jew named Militar Schatkowski born in Plotaly, Kovno, Russia, who fled Poland in 1916. Militar had looked across the oceans of choice and ended up in New South Wales, where he met my grandmother, whose name I've never known. Perhaps they were wed, and two years after my mother, Cecelia Olga, was born, a brother — whose name might have been Robert — joined her. In 1923 my mother's mother gathered her brood together and shipped off for England, leaving a bemused and culture-baffled Militar horizontal with drink at the Sydney race track; for him the race was over.

    My mother was four years old when she arrived in London. She was schooled to conceal her Australian and Jewish lineage, socially a double whammy at that time, and grew up to become a fiercely proud, aloof and radiant redhead. I'm afraid that it is typical of my mother's reticence, shall we call it, that nothing is known of what happened to my maternal grandmother or how my mother was raised. I can presume she passed on before I was born, but I cannot commit to that as a fact. My mother never mentioned her, so there was no reason for me to reason. Why should I? It's not just that she was the grandmother with no name or face; she simply never was.

    Growing up in London, Celia cultivated a certain style, which along with `correct' behaviour mattered to her above all else. She was nineteen when what would become World War II was declared with Germany, the women of Britain playing an active part in the war effort. Many succumbed to recruitment posters that made service dress look smart and sophisticated. My uncle was drafted or enlisted into the Royal Australian Navy, and Celia joined the Women's Voluntary Services, my fashion-conscious mother opting to become a nurse. Norman Hartnell, the prestigious dressmaker, designed the uniforms.

    Once, when I was about nine, I asked my mother what had happened to her brother. She gave me a look that warned me not to cry `uncle' and went on to tell me that she had not got on with her brother very well before the war, so there hadn't been any point in finding out whether he had survived it. I was happy that she felt more for me: the only thing that was mine was my mother. Most other people's `mys' were in the plural. I knew already that my mother had taken some cold, hard decisions as a woman on her own with a young boy child and that perhaps warmth of heart had settled for second place as a consequence.

    Celia — and ain't life genetic — had already developed an opiatic cotton lair around her that prevented one from entering, as she went about the business of life. Detail was for the poor and unfortunate, and I would continue to cross over that line with Celia when, aged eleven, I worried (not for the last time) about the future prospects of my hairline and asked my mum for details of my father.

    I started at the bottom. `Where was he buried?' I asked. My mother fetched from her desk some forbidding-looking papers and showed me one letter from an American Air Force chaplain, who had written in answer to my mother's enquiries. In officialese he informed her that Flt Lieutenant Andrew Loog was interred at the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial, Neurille-en-Condroz, Belgium.

    `What did he look like?' I continued. She smiled and went back to the good place in her heart. Her face was radiant, then she frowned and looked around the room as if wary of eavesdroppers.

    `He was tall, over six foot, handsome ... a good man,' she said quietly.

    `But don't you have any photos of him, Mummy?' I persisted.

    I could see from her eyes that her mind was flashing through the snaps of her life as she pursed her lips and replied, `Well, Andy, there was a war on, we really didn't have time for pictures.

    Later in life I often thanked God that my mother, when considering whether or not to abort me, had not displayed the characteristic coldness with which she allowed the rest of her family to slip away. I believe there was a real shyness beneath her seeming self-confidence.

    After the war, we were continually on the move. Celia rented a series of horrific single rooms in houses and flats around north-west London. By winter 1947, the worst for over a hundred years, the British economy and morale were at an all-time low. There were queues for everything: the country was getting worse, not better (rationing of food and clothes continued until 1949). The black market burgeoned and spivs took control of the streets, the crack-men of their time. Familiar neighbourhoods still looked like a lunar landscape, abandoned airfields dotted the countryside, and all the spontaneity and joy had gone out of life. It was a deadly dull and demanding time, and all in all I'm quite glad to have been too young to remember much of it.

    Celia was as devoted to me as she was to herself, determined that I should receive the very best upbringing. She installed me at a nursery school in Sussex, far away from the destitution and disease of London. I remember my mother's visits, when more often than not a Doctor Jimmy, who'd reputedly made himself rich practising illegal abortions during the war, accompanied her. In the post-war austerity years, running one car was an extravagance that few could afford; Jimmy had two — twin Sunbeam Talbots, grey and maroon.

    My mother could have stayed kept, but she opted for keeping busy, forging a career for herself as a freelance Comptometer operator (a primitive tallying machine that was a predecessor of the modern computer), keeping the books for several small companies. On this steady but small wage, the only luxury she could afford was the knowledge that her Andy was being kept at a decent school. The general post-war malaise of the British working classes horrified Celia. Despite her rather outré position as a single mother, she wanted her son to rise above the gloomy masses, just as she felt she had, though she never detailed from what to what she had risen.

    By 1950 Celia was relatively settled in a one-room apartment at 18 Old Marylebone Road, close to the Edgware Road. She shared this tiny space with an old wartime friend, Joan Bingham, or `Lady Joan' as she liked to be called, who had over-enjoyed the wartime party when each night's revelry held the promise of the final snuff-out. Joan had no one to anchor her, as Celia had me; the war had burnt her out like some tired old silent-movie star. She got straight to the point, and during my first summer holiday in London we returned home to find Lady Joan dearly departed, with her head in the oven, stone-cold dead from gas poisoning. Not a very jolly experience for a six-year-old. We think the 60s were wild, but that decade's death we brought upon ourselves. Surviving World War II, greedy for life, with no choice about death, must have been the ultimate head trip: despite the odds, some managed to grasp a post-war existence, and some — like Lady Joan — couldn't handle the return to the norm and moved on.

    Celia moved out of the room in Marylebone Road shortly afterwards, finding accommodation the other side of the Edgware Road in Maida Vale at 6 Elgin Avenue. Here she rented a room in an apartment belonging to two Hungarian refugee sisters, both working as airline stewardesses to earn enough money to retire to Spain. I was growing up fast and very much enjoyed the double fun of listening to the radio in the room of the sister I fancied, while silently ogling her.

    In the summer of 1951 Celia first introduced me to her steady boyfriend, Alec Morris, a man who was to play a significant paternal role in my life. Twenty years older than Celia, Alec was a successful Jewish businessman. His company, Made by Morris, was one of the best-known manufacturers of furniture in the country. By the late 50s he had moved out of the furniture business and into private banking with Alec Morris Investments Ltd.


Pat Clayton, daughter of Alec Morris: Celia was very cagey about her family; she never discussed it, she sort of referred to this guy who she'd been married to. He was going to be a doctor but they had to pack it in because of the war. People must have wondered who the hell Celia was. `Where's yer kid's father?' `Oh well, he was killed in the war.' That was acceptable. But Celia knew Alec before Andrew was born, around 1942, and that's why it makes me wonder, y'know maybe ... Andrew doesn't look Jewish, but before my dad was bald, he was ginger, and so was his father. There are a lot of redheaded Jews from Poland.

    They were very hungry people. Alec said his father worked every hour God gave him, he never stopped working. That was how you did it, especially as an immigrant. You're hungry and you have a lot of mouths to feed. Jews in Britain changed their names, more so than in the States. English Jews, particularly, wanted to be part of the urban landscape. They didn't want to stick out. It was the women who carried the race and culture of the Jewish religion. The men disappeared or became `stomach Jews': eat well on Jewish food, go to synagogue sometimes and that's it.


ALO: Alec had grown up in the East End at the turn of the century, tired of it as a teenager and in 1915 smuggled himself aboard a troop ship heading for the States. There he spent time in New York teaching the tango and foxtrot alongside George Raft, the alleged gangster, gigolo and, later, movie star. The same George was drummed out of the UK years later for fronting the Mob-connected Colony Club.

    After a few years in the States up to everything, Alec returned to London to join the family furniture business. When World War II began, all furniture manufacturers had to go into war work, making ammunition boxes and wooden rifles for the Home Guard and the army. After the war, Made by Morris started to produce utility furniture and from then until 1950 the Morrises lived the good life, rolling in money — living on the right side of Hampstead and getting there in a Rolls-Royce.


Pat Clayton: My dad was flying back from a buying trip in Italy in 1948, when he nearly died and became a hero in the national newspapers: he rescued an air-hostess by jumping with her from the plane, forty feet off the ground, just before it crashed. They were the only survivors. The event may have made him a hero, but it gave him nightmares for the rest of his life: he'd always hear the screams of the people; he always heard and saw the people dying.


ALO: My mother was Alec's long-term outside affair, but he had no intention of deserting his wife and two children, an arrangement that suited all. Unlike many wayward husbands, Alec showed genuine concern for his `second family', and lavished attention on me. He would pay for my education and for our holidays abroad — La Baule on the Normandy coast, and the Costa Brava.


Pat Clayton: My father always had a soft spot for redheads; he was also very fond of Andrew, he certainly looked after him. Everybody at the factory knew about the affair. My mother knew, she didn't really care. She did a deal: he looked after her, they had a good marriage, a good home life. My mother never really minded about Celia. Celia used to visit the house. She would bring clothes for my mother, go shopping for my mother, very strange. They became great mates.

    My mother was eccentric, dotty, completely nuts, maybe she came to terms with it. Her nickname was `Unconscious'. Celia was fun to be with, she was very good company, although she could be quite bitchy and was always vain. I don't think she had an easy time of it, she obviously should have had a better position in life, more fun. She should have had a more settled life than she did. She was quite a classy lady.


ALO: By the time I met Alec, Made by Morris had been sold and he'd invested his time and money into becoming Alec Morris Investments Ltd. As well as driving a Rolls-Royce, Alec practically lived in the Ivy, London's most élite restaurant, the moneyed showbiz haunt. His other favourite home away from home was Cunningham's on Park Lane.

    Alec acted like a real father to me, and I liked to imagine he was. He rewarded me when I did well in school by taking me to dinner at The Ivy. This practice continued for many years. When I did less well, it was Lyons Corner House, corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road.

    My mother never gave up her day job or her independence and continued with her career as a Comptometer operator. To me life seemed normal, the relationship between Celia and Alec did not bother me: it was all I knew, and I felt truly loved by two people who had a great deal of apparent affection for each other. My education was her primary concern, and Alec paid for this agenda. I was enrolled at a new boarding school, the Aylesbury School for Boys.

    In early September 1952, just a few weeks before the new school term started, my mother was informed that Aylesbury was `overcrowded' and I was to be relocated to an alternative school, the Cokethorpe School for Boys, situated in the leafy Oxfordshire hamlet of Witney, in blanket country. This school would leave a lasting impression on me.

    Cokethorpe to me seemed like the Oxford of Brideshead Revisited. The school occupied a magnificent mansion with stables and many acres of lush green fields. I was particularly impressed with the clothes of our stylish headmaster — a three-piece tweed suit and Hush Puppies made him appear to be as comfortably aristocratic as the exiled Windsor. By his side, his glamorous wife, in her tartan skirt and Shetland wool sweaters, looked like nothing so much as a `royal'. So this was the world Celia wanted us to live in!

    Since I was acutely aware of my `illegitimacy' and dreaded the subject being brought up by my classmates, I was grateful that the head treated all of us as if we were his own sons. I recall an occasion when one boy's parents forgot his birthday, since they were too busy separating for such sentiment, and the head took him into town to the toy store and bought him a present.

    Then one day a new headmaster arrived to take over at Cokethorpe. Colonel Elston was a brooding bachelor with a handlebar moustache. Customarily attired in a double-breasted blazer, he wore crisp shirts set off by the navy and maroon regimental striped tie of the Royal Guards.

    Col Elston aroused much curiosity among the pupils, particularly as at midday every Wednesday he left the school in his sleek black Rover, returning hours later in the early evening. Rumours abounded as to what the colonel was up to. We fantasised that he was an adviser to the War Office or involved with the Secret Services. Seven years after VE Day, the war still provided the scripts for the comics that children devoured.

    After my first year at Cokethorpe, I returned home to London for the summer holiday. Mother had moved again, now sharing a flat at 65 Eton Avenue in Swiss Cottage with an extravagant hairdresser, Harry Mizelas. Mizelas later became the André of `André Bernard' and, beginning with the flagship salon in Mayfair, his empire eventually stretched to over twenty establishments. But he met with a brutal death: shot dead in Hyde Park during the 70s. He drove from his schlock-Regency town house down High Street Kensington, turned left into Hyde Park at Knightsbridge, steered his Roller to the right in the direction of Park Lane, then pulled over to the left, having noticed an acquaintance, who shot him in the head. I remember my mother being questioned by the police on many occasions, but to this day the case goes unsolved.

    There was no fridge at Eton Avenue, so for most of the year we kept milk cold on the window ledge; there was no telephone, but Celia had bought her own radio set, which became my window on the world. I regularly listened to BBC melodramas like The Archers, Riders of the Range (whose hero Jeff Arnold also featured in an Eagle comic strip) and Dick Barton, Special Agent.

    The BBC radio monopoly offered little in the way of musical entertainment that would appeal to the post-war generation. Two-Way Family Favourites was a weekly two-hour music show that played the requests of British soldiers still serving abroad for their families and sweethearts at home, and vice versa. Dickie Valentine and Slim Whitman were popular favourites, but I preferred my dramas.

    Every morning Alec arrived in his wildly exciting silver Rolls-Royce to chauffeur Celia to work and drop me off at Pamela Marshall's, a war friend of Celia's who kept her home fires burning minding me, while her wing commander husband still served his country overseas. I would walk the neighbourhood if Pamela was detained by some errand, and it was on one of these excursions that I encountered a way of life as far from Alec's Silver Cloud as could be, just over the next block. It made me shudder and set off in me both ambition and appreciation for the perhaps austere, but well-decorated womb with a view Celia had made for us.

    As I crafted my way down Crawford Street, a shell-shocked, withered-to-the-bone elderly lady in apron and carpet slippers stood, arms folded, eyes searching, in the doorway of her depressing one-up, two-down. She caught my eye and my attention, beckoned me towards her, held out a coin in her grimy, work-worn hand, and asked if I minded coming inside to feed her gas meter, which was too high for her to reach with her deformity. I was happy to return her to light and heat, but chilled by the poverty to which I was exposed for the first time, ashamed that my discomfort might be perceived by her as disdain.

    Back on the sunny, well-heated side of Old Marylebone Road, Pamela kept me on a loose leash, thankfully, and I was able to explore her neighbourhood without fear of Celia's disapproval. I returned to the ABC Cinema off the Edgware Road any number of times to stare at the movie posters, and finally plucked up the courage to sneak in. Geography, psychology and anatomy were on offer at the Academy of Motion Pictures, and so pop became my favourite schoolmaster.

    The first film I remember is John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952), starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and José Ferrer, who played the crippled painter Toulouse-Lautrec. It was one of the first films to have been shot in Cinemascope, and I was reeling afterwards. Widescreen close-ups of chorines doing the cancan gave me my first glimpse of how art could get away with murder, as legs I might wait a lifetime to see in real life pummelled me in the stalls. I left the cinema shaken and stirred. The film experience put off any appreciation I might later have for women's legs, as in Moulin Rouge they just seemed like lethal weapons.

    I had just returned home from Cokethorpe's spring term when Celia received a letter from the local vicar. There was `something awfully wrong' at the school. I didn't know what that something was, but I never returned to Cokethorpe. A year later Celia and I were on a train taking us to the south coast for our holidays. She got comfy and opened up the Daily Express to see a photograph of Cokethorpe School for Boys on the front page, beneath a headline that read `Four Jailed in School Swindle Ring'. My beloved Cokethorpe had been the work of confidence tricksters! The `gang' had opened and closed seven private schools in total, including the supposedly overbooked Aylesbury School. After collecting up the tuition and boarding fees, the conmen ran up credit in a small town and then moved on without paying, to open yet another `school' in another town. Cokethorpe was their final scam before they were caught. They'd been averaging out about £80,000. Col Elston's mysterious midweek sojourns were to a parole officer and not the Foreign Office. While my mother paced the corridor, ruing her bad luck, I devoured the larger-than-life newspaper with a great deal of interest and some delight. To me, it was an ingenious scheme, original and entertaining.

    Celia next bought a five-room basement flat at 44 Belsize Park Gardens near Swiss Cottage, with financial assistance from Alec. She quickly arranged for me to attend the local Swiss Cottage junior school. At first, I was happy to be staying at home, and thrilled to learn that at Mum's new flat I would have my own bedroom at last. For Celia, the Belsize Park flat was a rung up the ladder of respectability. She had a telephone installed and, best of all, a television delivered.

    Swiss Cottage state school was unremittingly grimy and depressing, all the more so after the glamour of Cokethorpe. I was frequently ill from fear and revulsion. I nevertheless enjoyed running credits for the film I hoped the day would become. The older boys ritually inducted new pupils, and on my very first day I was forced into the local sweet shop and ordered to steal something. I got caught, an early indication that I was about true romance, not true crime. I tried to make the most of our new accommodation: after school, between 7 and 10 p.m. every night, I tuned into Radio Luxembourg. The invariably bad reception annoyed my mother, who under any circumstances did not suffer imperfection gladly, but I was glad to have an alternative to the Beeb.

    Television and film combined with radio to stimulate my hungry senses. Unlike most of my peers, I wanted a peek behind the scenes; I remembered the names of producers and directors as well as actors. While the major American studios such as MGM, United Artists and Warner Brothers found a ready audience in Europe, I was always attracted for some reason to the independent producers of my homeland. Romulus Films, a production company formed in 1949 by the brothers Woolf, James and John (sons of the veteran producer C.M. Woolf), specialised in Anglo-American co-productions. The films produced by the Woolfs and their Romulus atelier were most distinguished: The African Queen (starring, of course, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, 1951), Cosh Boy (1952), Beat the Devil (John Huston's wicked satire with an all-star cast, again including a `mature' Bogart, 1954), The Bespoke Overcoat (1956), I Am a Camera (Christopher Isherwood's memoir of decadent, 'tween-wars Berlin, later turned into Cabaret, 1955), and best (and worst) of all The Good Die Young (1954) which introduced me to the actor who would tower in my youthful imagination as a paragon of accomplishment and style: Laurence Harvey.

    Both `above the line' and on the screen, The Good Die Young was my kind of deal; I found it fascinating that James Woolf managed Larry, and both brothers produced his movies. James also found time to touch Terence Stamp's life, and died in 1966 at the age of fifty-three. But Laurence Harvey was his crowning achievement.

    Laurence was born Laruschka Mischa Skikne in 1928 in Lithuania, and as a child moved with his Jewish parents to South Africa. He joined the Royal South African Navy at fourteen by lying about his age and was enlisted for the last two years of World War II. By 1946 he was in England studying at RADA, and at eighteen he was playing lead roles in rep. At twenty, in 1948, he had his first lead role in a film. My kind of guy, pace and life!

    The British character actress Hermione Baddeley, twenty years his senior, took him under her wing. Larry, too ambitious to be swayed by the glamour of youth, made this his pattern. He married the much older West End theatre star Margaret Leighton in 1953, and her introduction to the stages of the West End and Broadway provided complementary challenges to his suave roles in films like Darling. He did As You Like It in 1953, toured with the Old Vic as Henry V on its 1958-9 tour and starred in Camelot in the late 60s in the West End and on Broadway. He married Joan Cohn in 1968, she being the widow of Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn and, again, some twenty years Mr Harvey's senior. The last eleven months of his too-short life he was married to the model Paulene Stone, passing away in 1973 from cancer.

    Laurence Harvey signed with the Associated British Picture Corporation in 1948 and remained a `contract' actor until 1952. He was due a salary rise that year from £25 to £35. ABPC cried poverty and asked Harvey to re-sign for the same wage. That same week ABPC announced profits for the year of £3,000,000. Mr Harvey, understandably, left ABPC and was out of work for most of a year before signing with the Woolfs. Commuting between London and Los Angeles, rubbing noses with the likes of Jane Fonda and Kim Novak, Larry leapt off the screen into immortality as Joe Lampton in the 1959 Romulus-produced Room at the Top and the 1965 sequel, Life at the TOP.


    Messrs Harvey and the Woolfs are together responsible for remarkable bodies of work and illuminating lives. Laurence Harvey's stardom and James Woolf's management of it would inspire me throughout the turbulence of my youth and showbusiness career, and would encourage the birth of my own Immediate Records by their example. As Immediate staggered between controlling its acts and trying to remember who they actually were, I — like Larry — would remain `happy to be part of the industry of human happiness' To this day I am indebted to their genius, which has lighted my life even in its darkest moments.

    Back in the `real' life of mid-50s London, Hollywood-on-the-Thames beckoned in the form of Harold Lang, a B-movie gangster in many Anglo Amalgamated-produced films, who lived just round the corner from us. Although he was not in the same league as Laurence Harvey, I'd seen Harold on TV, so I went a-knockin' and the kindly actor let me in. His huge blond peroxide quiff and exaggerated gestures fascinated me. Over tea and biscuits, I barraged him with questions: `Have you met ...? What's he like ...? Who's the best director ...? How do you do that?' Off-screen Harold was a nice man, not at all like a gangster. He did, however, radiate something different. The tension of an actor's life appealed to me even then, and Harold had that attractive aura of a man working in a field apart from the norm.

    About this time I made friends with a young Swiss Cottage boy, Jeremy Holt. Jeremy's father, Seth Holt, was the Ealing Comedy editor who'd worked on The Lavender Hill Mob. For a short while I fell heavily under the influence of Mr Holt, who was tickled that I could knowledgeably discuss the work of British producers like Sir Alex ander Korda and the Boulting Brothers.


    Holt went on to direct Britain's first teenage angst film, Nowhere to Go (written by Kenneth Tynan) in 1958. He told me that Swiss Cottage was home to many celebrities, including Stephen Spender, who in 1946 had been sent to de-Nazify German libraries, and Humphrey Lyttelton, the British jazzman who, with his partner Chris Barber, launched the 100 Club.

    I myself became interested in jazz while visiting my immediate next-door neighbour, Bob Carroll. Bob taught me how to listen critically to a record, to listen for the part around which the music wrapped itself: the horns, the trombone or the bass. He played me Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Hi-Lo's, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker. He showed me how Sinatra and Nat King Cole used their voices as instruments and were in fact an extension of the orchestra. I know I applied that one later on. Why Bob chose me I don't know, but he did, and I've never forgotten what he gave me. I don't remember what I was learning in school at the same time, but I remember producers and arrangers like Frank DeVol, Billy May, Gordon Jenkins and Nelson Riddle.

    After one jazz session in Bob's top-floor apartment, I returned home to the basement flat and glimpsed, through an open bedroom door, my mother and Alec making love. They didn't realise I was home until they dressed and came out into the hall. I was standing on top of a chair with one end of a rope around my neck and the other end attached to the pipes running along the ceiling, threatening to kill myself. `Come down,' advised Alec, first of the many practical men who have remained unswayed by my flair for the dramatic, `you'll only break the string.'

(Continues...)

third person singular

By KJ ERICKSON

st. martin's minotaur

Copyright © 2001 K J Erickson. All rights reserved.

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Andrew Loog Oldham currently lives in Bogotá, Colombia.

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