have three stories about visits to
the famed Savoy hotel while living and
working in London. One concerns the
flamboyant American entertainer
Liberace (1919-1987), the
second is about a sighting of film legend
Garland ( 1922- 1963) and the
third is about Greek film actress
and politician Melina Mercouri
(1920・1994). Also I make a brief side trip
to Cold War espionage and the suspected
assassination of a friend.
I have just read that America actor Michael Douglas is playing Liberace in an HBO movie and that Matt Damon is playing his lover. The movie is titled Behind The Candelabra.
I interviewed Liberace in his room at the Savoy. I believe he had just won a libel case against the Daily Mail for calling him a homosexual, and that my been the reason I was interviewing him. The homosexual charge ( the "gay" label was years away) turned out to be true. of course.
My memory of the encounter is skimpy. I found Liberace welcoming and unpretentious, very much as he appeared on tv ( my grandmother Dan , back in Hamilton) was a huge fan even though she probably suspected he was gay.
When I told Liberace I was moving to Stockholm to take up at job with foreign service of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. He wished me well and said he hoped we would meet again in Sweden where he was going on a European tour. We never met again but I have always had a soft spot for him. Here is a personal favouriteYouTube video of Liberace - kidding around with another favorite comedian of mine, Jack Benny.
One thing I do remember vividly was there sitting on his hotel room floor, partly hidden by furniture was his famous candelabra. The HBO movie with Michael Douglas is appropriately titled "Behind The Candelabra・.
Next, my sighting of Judy Garland. It was at an election night party. My boss, and friend Noel Bernard, were there with a crowd of news people and celebrities to listen to the election of John Kennedy as President. There was no trans-Atlantic television then.
It was September 8. 1960 and we there as guests of the U.S. Ambassador. A couple tables away sat Judy Garland, her husband Sid Loft, and Gary Cooper. Garland was a supporter of Kennedy, and was in Europe to champion his candidacy with U.S troops stationed in Europe. All I remember of her is that she was overweight, fat really. Gary Cooper looked like Gary Cooper. Sid Luft, Garland's husband, was at the table.
Finally, Melina Mercouri, Greek film actress, singer and politician. Mecouri gained world attention starring in such films as"Never On Sunday" and "Topkapi". A political activist during the Greek military junta of 1967-1974, she became a member of the Greek parliament in 1977 and was the first female minister of culture of Greece in 1981.She died of lung cancer in 1994, aged 73. I seem to remember her being a heavy smoker and a whiskey drinker.
She was in London campaigning for the release of renowned Greek composer and left-wing activist, Michael "Mikis" Theodorakis, who was currently exiled to a remote Greek village by the military junta ruling Greece. Theodorakis is perhaps best known as the composer of the theme for the film "Zorba The Greek".
One of the British Sunday papers had just received an audio cassette tape of songs Theodorakis had secretly recorded in his exile home and had smuggled to Britain. After drinks with Mercouri and her entourage at the hotel (very good whiskey I seem to recall ) we went to the nearby Bush House studios of the BBC to hear the tape.
Mercouri, listening on earphones, suddenly began to sing along with the tape. Unfortunately, I lost the duet tape but you vsn hear he original on Youtube.
Years later in Edmonton I briefly met Theodorakis back stage at one of his concert. I told him the Mercouri story. He seemed totally dis-interested.