I don’t want to leave the Actors’ Workshop without remembering some of the students in my class. As far as I know, none of them flourished on the acting firmament, unless one of them later changed their name to Dame Judy Dench. But they were a fine group, and I pay verbal tribute to a few of them today.
A tall, rather thin, lively and delightful girl named Chrissie Shrimpton, sister to Jean Shrimpton, who, along with Twiggy, were the two most famous models in the “hey-day” era of “Swinging London”. I recall Chrissie’s boyfriend, waiting to pick her up after class. A musician. You may recognize the name. A Mister Mick Jagger?
That’s right. Me and The Mickster. Two degrees of separation.
As she hopped into his roadster, he may well have remarked, “Who’s that Jewish guy, came out with yuh? Looks like he can’t get no satisfaction. Hold on a minute. There might be a tune in that.”
I remember an expatriate Texan, whose name, I believe, was Johnny Mountain, though I could be confusing him with a local L.A. weatherman. I know he had a really big name, which was appropriate, because the guy was huge. Not heavy, or with a big gut – perfectly proportioned, but enormous. I described him as the type of guy who goes into a restaurant and orders cattle. Fortunately, he laughed, because he could have punched me to Germany.
Colin Peterson. Australian. Colin was once a child movie star, and after an extended hiatus, he hoped to revive his career. For some reason, Colin had chosen to “sharpen his chops” at a acting school nobody’d heard of, whose standards permitted them to include such unlikely candidates as myself.
Colin was also a drummer in a band. Once, he excitedly raced up to me in a record store and screamed, “We’re ‘Number Three’ in Belgium!”
For some reason, Colin felt comfortable confiding in me. (Maybe because, though not English, we both shared membership in the British Commonwealth.) Colin said his band was thinking of changing its name. He asked me what I thought of the name he favored for the band, “Rupert’s World.” Weaseling out on a direct response, I replied that I thought it didn’t matter what the band’s name was; it was all a question of the music.
Colin agreed with me. But he was distraught because the other members of the band, who were all related, favored a name Colin really hated:
The Bee Gees.
Colin did not remain with that band much longer.
I have mentioned in other posts the name of Belinda Rokeby-Johnson. I think I just like mentioning the name. This was long before feminist hyphenation. This was traditional Upper Class snootiness. The thing is, Belinda wasn’t the least bit snooty.
Belinda was beautiful. Dark-haired, slim and impeccably complected. (Describing women is not one of my literary strengths.) Everything about her announced – though very discretely – “I’m from really old money.” Her elegance, the way she held herself, and especially, the way she treated “the little people.” Like me.
After losing my teaching job, Belinda was the one who suggested I apply for pre-Christmas employment at Harrods. And once – this still touches me – when an inexplicable rash broke out over half my body, rather than shunning me, Belinda drove me to the Emergency Room, stayed with me the whole time, accompanied me to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, and then took me home. It’s unlikely to be true of all of them, but some Upper Class people really have class.
When Belinda and I were assigned to do an acting scene together, she invited me to rehearse at her townhouse, which was in Eton Square – a really fancy part of town – and then stay for dinner. I recall two things about that dinner. The overhanging chandelier had real burning candles in it rather than light bulbs, and my table setting was arrayed with more forks than we had in our entire cutlery drawer. I had no idea what to do with them. I believe I dropped a couple on the floor, just to cut down on the volume.
After dinner, Belinda’s husband, Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Rokeby-Johnson drove me back to this hostel-place I was living in – I had moved on from the place that had no bathing facilities – in a red, Aston Martin convertible. When he let me out, Rafe handed me a crisp ten-pound note.
At first I refused the money, but Rafe insisted, confident, he predicted, that I’d pay him back someday. I’d still like to do that. So, Rafe, if you’re reading this, buddy, just say where, and the money’s on its way. Adjusted for inflation.
My final memory is of a girl whose name I don’t recall. She looked a lot like…remember Geena Davis? She was like her, but with a cockney accent. The reason I include a woman whose name I can’t recall here is because, when I decided to quit the Actors' Workshop (and, in fact, leave England entirely), the girl took me out to lunch and berated me for quitting.
I had a similar experience once before. Classmates at the UCLA Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop berated me when I announced that I was returning to Toronto and enrolling in law school. On both occasions, though couched in professions of admiration for my ability, my classmates seemed to treat my personal decision as a betrayal of them. I never totally got that, but I appreciated their caring.
A lot of people want to be actors. Most of us don’t make it. What you’re left with are the people you met along the way. I remember a few of them today.
I wonder if they remember me.