Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering Nicholas Nickleby

Recently one of our cable TV late shows featured the 1947 film version of Nicholas Nickleby, directed by Calvacanti ( what's the story THERE?). The film went on past my bedtime but I was able to enjoy the first hour before my eyes began to droop. It's on my list at our local library.

The Dickens novel is a great favorite of mine. It got me through a difficult period of my life over twenty years ago. My mother had just died unexpectedly and I found myself orphaned and un-morred at 29! I was also realizing that booze was taking over my life and that I would have to stop. I did. Stop. I got a lot of laughter and a lot of joy out of the Dickens novel. Around this time Broadway was abuzz from the Royal Shakespeare Company's 8 hour version of Nicholas Nickleby, and the $100 seat prize was a scandal (quaint today). I saw the TV version of this outing and loved it. But the Calvacanti version, billed as "the first talking film of Dickens's novel"-had the wonderfully stone faced-British actors and the over the top Vincent Crummles (Mr and Mrs) and the poor all seeing Smike.

About Smike. He was played by the British actor Aubrey Woods, then 20 years old. About ten years ago, after a Met Opera Quiz appearance where I was no doubt pompously talking about Jean de Rezske, I got a letter forwarded to me by the Met from Aubrey Woods-the British actor who was a fan of the Met broadcasts as heard on the BBC. We had a short and pithy correspondence and at one point he sent me the pages of the guest book he kept in his home: Larry Olivier, Dorothy Tutin, Ralph Richardson, Margot Fonteyn and Princess Margaret are among those who came to stay and left greetings. These letters and pages from Mr Woods were my closest brush with the famous. Perhaps infamous after English country weekends, if one believe the old novels and faux-old Mahsterpeice Theatre programs. Never mind. Mr Woods was gracious and kind and seeing his younger self in a classic film version of a beloved book, both funny and sad and above all entertaining, was a treat. Thank you, Aubrey Woods. I'm off to re- read Nicholas Nickleby.

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