Wednesday, February 02, 2022

3. Reed all about me by Oliver Reed

I'm not normally a big fan of celebrity autobiographies but this is a coronet and come on, it's Oliver Reed.  I am not a huge fan, but have seen him in several of his earlier Hammers and The Devils.  I started out this book with low expectations and they fell even lower in the first chapter.  Like the bad title, it is full of bad puns and a particularly British male upper-class humour that is just annoying. Fortunately, it settles down into the actual narrative in the second chapter and his backgrounds is actually quite interesting.  He comes from an upper-class ancestry (his grandfather started the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and his uncle was the director Carol Reed).  However, by the time he was born, his parents had been disconnected from any wealth so he was raised with a peculiar mix of upper class culture and working class means.  He also was dyslexic which didn't exist as a concept in British education at the time, so he failed out of school after school.

His narrative is of the self-made actor, who rejected formal training and the theatre for the school of life, learning, he claims, his skill in the army and at pubs, just watching people.  There is no doubt if you see him in anything that he is intensely charming and charismatic as well as quite a skilled actor (could do accents, all kinds of stunts and fights).  Hard to know how much of that was innate and how much from the aforesaid school of life.  He has the reputation of a wild man and heavy drinker, but it does seem that on set he was disciplined and hard-working and the length and output of his career seems to attest to that.

After we get through his background, he shares a lot of stories about other directors and stars, life on the set and his various hijinks.  One gets the sense that though a wild man, he genuinely seemed like a decent person.  He loved animals and ended up despite all kinds of mistresses being in 2 steady long-term relationships (including his second wife who was 26 years his junior).  The one area where he really is not good is his misogyny.  He doubled down constantly on the gross anti-feminism of this period. It sucks in the book and it sucks when he talked about it live.  He actually was generally decent to the women in his life, so it sucks that he was so ignorant and nasty when it came to women actually trying to fight for equality.  A gross stain on his otherwise well-earned reputation for being a great actor and character. 

No comments: