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‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’: The Wages of Sin Is Yeccch!

Original poster.

Original poster.

Q: What do you get when you cross Oscar Wilde with Louis B. Mayer and Albert Lewin?
A: Oscar Mayer Baloney.

Writer-Director Albert Lewin’s labor of love, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” was, surprisingly, Metro’s big prestige picture for 1945. It’s doubtful that Old Man Mayer would have chosen to give it the deluxe treatment if he had ever bothered to read Oscar Wilde’s extremely irritating, silly, pretentious book. The basic plot provides an excellent premise for a clammy little Val Lewtonesque shocker: the portrait in oil of a handsome young man grows old and diseased while its subject retains eternal youth — and his soul decays until it “be as damn’d and black/As hell, whereto it goes.”

The Artist at Work

Here’s the opening scene. Wonderful Cedric Hardwicke narrates wonderfully. Except for Gladys Cooper, he is the only person I’ve heard pronounce “secretive” as seh-KREET-ive. You will hear later in the scene that the equally wonderful George Sanders (who is the best reason to see this picture in its entirety) pronounces it in its conventional way. The painter, Basil Hallward, is played by an American actor, Lowell Gilmore, who is able to slice the Oscar Mayer Baloney pretty thin, but not quite as thin as the supremely droll and capable Mr Sanders.

Sanders dashes through the thickets of Wilde’s language with the nimble lightness of a wood sprite. Listen to how quickly he rattles off the line “I like persons better than principles and persons with no principles better than anything else in the world. Now I remember . . . !” He often gives the impression that there’s a martini waiting for him in his trailer — and it’s getting warmer by the second.

“Who’s that at your piano, Basil?” After Lord Henry asks this question, a fatal alliance is formed. When the novel was first published, there was a sharp critical outcry against the homosexual overtones of Lord Henry’s friendship with Dorian Gray. Those overtones do not exist in the screen adaptation, mainly because one can imagine wicked old George Sanders capable of indulging just about any sybaritic pleasure except homosexuality. Hurd Hatfield and Lowell Gilmore are rather more sexually ambiguous. Anyhow, it’s a Hollywood picture: you’ll find fell actions on the bill, but never fellatio.

Be Careful What You Wish For — Especially When There’s an Egyptian Cat in the Room

And here’s the scene in which Dorian Gray unwittingly strikes the impious bargain that he will live to regret. How strange that Lewin should have selected Hurd Hatfield to play the perfect embodiment of male beauty in the morn and liquid dew of youth . . . ! He’s not at all a bad looking fellow, though as I mentioned several months ago, he always looks as if he’s just come from a chemical peel. But did Lewin honestly think Hatfield was the loveliest lad in Tinseltown? The way Lewin directs him, he’s like one of the historical automatons at Disneyland. His eyes, in particular, have no more life in them than a pair of polished marbles.

The Egyptian cat fetish is Lewin’s contribution, not Wilde’s. No mention of Egypt or feline divinities is made in the book. Lewin had his own brand of mad nonsense that he wanted to explore under Wilde’s epicene ægis; their sensibilities are similar, but their touchstones are different. In the book, Wilde makes up for the absence of cats and the Seventy-three Great Gods of Egypt with a lot of other ponderous nonsense, about which he goes on interminably, especially with regard to a certain evil “yellow book,” which leads Dorian into the most febrile deviltries. (This “yellow book” appears to be Joris-Karl Huysmans’ oddball decadent novel, “À rebours” (“Against the Grain”). You can get it for free on Kindle, but I don’t recommend it.) Unhappily for the reader, Wilde’s novel is little more than an excuse for him to ride his three favorite hobbyhorses: Art, Morality and Æsthetics. About debauchery, Wilde is surprisingly (and Lewin unsurprisingly) prim. Wilde barely describes the low haunts that his hero frequents, but Lewin takes us into a noisy pub, The Two Turtles, where the piano is out of tune and a creepy puppet duo known as Mr and Mrs Ezekiel beat frantic tattoos upon the xylophone. Lewin’s demi-monde is no more depraved than a demitasse. No sinner’s soul ever became wreathed in garlands of boils and buboes from listening to xylophonic envois!

Mr and Mrs Ezekiel and Their Xylophone: Get thee behind me, Satan!

Mr and Mrs Ezekiel and Their Xylophone: Get thee behind me, Satan!

Wilde’s moralizing is exasperating; the conclusions he draws are the sheerest balderdash. But it’s when he yammers on about æsthetics that he’s at his punishing worst: sententious, narrow-minded, wrong-headed, dictatorial and stupendously long-winded. He’s Ayn Rand for faggots. Here is a much truncated version of the preface to his book. Since Wilde makes declarations without supporting or developing them, I can assure you that my abridgment loses no thread of logic; it merely cuts the nonsense in half.

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. No artist desires to prove anything. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless. [Wilde’s emphasis, not mine]

To be sure, with “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wilde created a thing that is quite useless, but that doesn’t make it a work of art. When Wilde dons his High Art vestments and clambers into his pulpit of ebonized wood with gilt highlights, the gospel he preaches is all wet. As a philosopher and critic, he’s a stultifying prig. As a wit, he relies heavily on ironic paradox (“The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer”) and antimetabole (“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul”), but both of these examples, like many of his aphorisms, are what I consider imitation wit, because they simply don’t fit the facts. What good is a cynical paradox that is patently false?

A few years after Wilde’s novel was published, in a terrible miscarriage of justice, he was sentenced to two years’ hard labor for “gross indecency.” Had he been on trial for being a bore, they’d have broken him on the wheel.

'The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.' Aw, nerts!

‘The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.’ Aw, nerts!

On the other hand, Wilde deeply impressed William Butler Yeats, who wrote the following passage in his memoir, “Four Years”:

My first meeting with Oscar Wilde was an astonishment. I never before heard a man talking with perfect sentences, as if he had written them all over night with labour and yet all spontaneous. There was present that night at [critic, poet (“Invictus”), editor William Ernest] Henley’s, by right of propinquity or of accident, a man full of the secret spite of dullness, who interrupted from time to time and always to check or disorder thought; and I noticed with what mastery he was foiled and thrown. I noticed, too, that the impression of artificiality that I think all Wilde’s listeners have recorded, came from the perfect rounding of the sentences and from the deliberation that made it possible. That very impression helped him as the effect of metre, or of the antithetical prose of the seventeenth century, which is itself a true metre, helps a writer, for he could pass without incongruity from some unforeseen swift stroke of wit to elaborate reverie. I heard him say a few nights later: ‘Give me “The Winter’s Tale,” “Daffodils that come before the swallow dare” but not “King Lear.” What is “King Lear” but poor life staggering in the fog?’ and the slow cadence, modulated with so great precision, sounded natural to my ears. That first night he praised Walter Pater’s ‘Essays on the Renaissance:’ ‘It is my golden book; I never travel anywhere without it; but it is the very flower of decadence. The last trumpet should have sounded the moment it was written.’ ‘But,’ said the dull man, ‘would you not have given us time to read it?’ ‘Oh no,’ was the retort, ‘there would have been plenty of time afterwards — in either world.’ I think he seemed to us, baffled as we were by youth, or by infirmity, a triumphant figure, and to some of us a figure from another age, an audacious Italian fifteenth century figure . . . And when I dined with Wilde a few days afterwards he began at once, ‘I had to strain every nerve to equal that man at all’; and I was too loyal to speak my thought: ‘You & not he’ said all the brilliant things. He like the rest of us had felt the strain of an intensity that seemed to hold life at the point of drama. He had said, on that first meeting, ‘The basis of literary friendship is mixing the poisoned bowl’; and for a few weeks Henley and he became close friends till, the astonishment of their meeting over, diversity of character and ambition pushed them apart, and, with half the cavern helping, Henley began mixing the poisoned bowl for Wilde. Yet Henley never wholly lost that first admiration, for after Wilde’s downfall he said to me: ‘Why did he do it? I told my lads to attack him and yet we might have fought under his banner.’

Of course, Yeats is writing about Wilde’s masterful use of rhetoric in everyday conversation, his unflappability and his creamy Irish charm; he’s not appraising his merits as a novelist and playwright. The passage offers an interesting example of how personal magnetism can be so overpowering that even a man of Yeats’ intelligence can fall entirely and rapturously under its spell. Wholeheartedly do I accept the accuracy of Yeats’ observations, yet I find the substance of most of Wilde’s eloquently expressed observations to be idiotic — especially his remarks about “King Lear” and his blithely nonsensical repartee about reading Walter Pater in the afterlife. Brilliant, perhaps; false, certainly. But is it possible that Yeats, in the cold light of day, could have believed “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to be a good novel?

Well, whatever Yeats thought of “Dorian Gray,” Albert Lewin considered it a work of genius — he was obsessed with the book; over the course of more than a decade, he worked out the picture to the minutest detail. According to Angela Lansbury, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance as Sybil Vane (the first victim of Dorian’s cruelty), “It was his baby.” When at last the picture went into production, Lewin was given an enormous budget and a long shooting schedule, yet went way over budget and over-ran the schedule by more than a month.

The Metro-Gnome

Lewin directs Gilmore and Sanders. I wish it were a bigger picture, but Lewin was tiny.

Lewin directs Gilmore and Sanders. I wish it were a bigger picture, but Lewin was tiny.

Albert Lewin was hired as a screenwriter at Metro in 1924, and not long afterwards, became Irving Thalberg’s personal assistant and closest associate for many years. On account of Lewin’s diminutive stature, wags in Hollywood referred to him as “the Metro-Gnome.” When Thalberg died in 1937, Lewin went over to Paramount, where he produced pictures until 1941. He turned to directing in 1942 — he took Maugham’s enjoyably middle-brow fictional account of Gaugin, “The Moon and Sixpence,” and turned it into earnestly unenjoyable middle-brow crap. Next came “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which is considerably more enjoyable than the novel; then in 1947, “The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami,” which is considerably less enjoyable than Maupassant’s “Bel-Ami.” Lewin’s “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” (1951) is the most lunatic of the bunch. I haven’t seen the two that followed it. Judging from what I’ve seen, especially “Pandora,” I have the distinct impression that the Metro-Gnome was one wacky, pretentious little dude.

The Sorrows of His Changing Face

Here is what we’re to accept as Basil Hallward’s masterpiece “The greatest thing you’ve ever done, Basil,” murmurs George Sanders. The early paintings of Dorian are by Henrique Medina; the later, ghastly ones are by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright. The final painting now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Originally, Albright’s twin brother Malvin painted the early portraits, but Medina’s work was used in the picture. Adam Emory Albright, father of the twins, was himself a popular painter at the turn of the last century, famous for his sentimental pictures of children in bucolic settings — you know the genre: barefoot lads in picturesque tatters, with floppy straw hats and fishing poles. One of his paintings showed up on the Antiques Roadshow the other week — Ivan and Malvin were two of the three models in it. Ivan’s work appears to have been a fairly violent rejection of his father’s style.

Basil Hallward's portrait of Dorian Gray.

‘O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow/Nor draw no lines there with thy antique pen’: Basil Hallward’s portrait of Dorian Gray (painted by Henrique Medina).

Here is a close-up of Dorian’s face:The painting before Dorian has done anything to be ashamed of.

Now here is a close-up of his face after his callousness has driven poor little Sybil Vane to suicide:After his first act of cruelty.

On the DVD’s commentary track, film historian Steve Haberman says he’s never been able to detect the difference in Dorian’s expression. I shrug and am silent . . . except to say that the painting is rather a better actor than Hurd Hatfield. According to Angela Lansbury, Lewin was so adamant about line-readings, facial expressions, body language and everything else about his conception of the role, that poor Hurd Hatfield never had a chance. (She and Hatfield were lifelong friends.) The Metro-Gnome simply would not print a take until he was satisfied that Hatfield’s performance was the real McCoy.

Sanders Cracks Wise

This is why the picture is watchable, why it’s fun: George Sanders.

Only Bad Witches Are . . . Beautiful?

Well, so things go from bad to worse. Dorian gives into his shameful proclivities (never described in the book or the movie; the book does mention something about opium) until finally he commits murder. Here is his portrait as it looks minutes before he commits murder. This is Ivan Albright’s work.

Supperation anxiety: Ivan Albright's 'Picture of Dorian Gray'

Suppuration anxiety: Ivan Albright’s ‘Picture of Dorian Gray.’

Neither Lewin nor Wilde explains why eternal youth leads irrevocably to infernal deeds. I really do not understand the connection: why should Dorian Gray go round eating opium and killing people just because Time has no power to dig deep trenches in his beauty’s field? What’s Wilde’s moral? Is he suggesting that absolute beauty corrupts absolutely? Had Dorian aged like everyone else, would he have pursued the same vices? Or did he pursue them only because his changeless beauty gave him carte blanche? If that’s Wilde’s point, then he is arguing that a man’s honesty and goodness are tuned to the degree of his homeliness. But that’s preposterous. So what the hell does he mean? “O Time, thou must untangle this, not I./It is too strong a knot for me t’untie.”

Don’t Go In the Attic!

Obviously, Dorian Gray must pay for his crimes with his own life. Upon his demise, the picture and he trade places. Donna Reed and Peter Lawford (both play characters who don’t exist in the book) break into Dorian’s attic hideaway, where they find The Picture of Dorian Gray in its original condition (but with a knife through its heart) and a grotesquely disfigured corpse stretched out at its feet. When I first saw this climactic scene on TCM several years ago, I blurted out, “Why, if it isn’t Jack Nicholson!”

Little Boy Ewww

Little Boy Ewww

Harry Stradling’s cinematography is excellent. He won that year’s Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black and White. Herbert Stothart’s score is predictably plush and humdrum. Angela Lansbury is poignant; Donna Reed is pretty; Peter Lawford looks like Jiminy Cricket with the eyebrows of John L. Lewis.

‘Great Expectations’: David Lean’s Finest

Original Poster. At the time, the picture was too mature to be considered suitable for general exhibition?

Original poster.

“Great Expectations” is far from Charles Dickens’ greatest novel, but David Lean’s adaptation (Cineguild, 1946) is, I think beyond any question, the best of all the many Dickens pictures. There is everything right with it. Frankly, I found the book, with its contrivances, coincidences and cartoon characters, so exasperating that I avoided the picture for many years. When finally I saw it (under protest), it so thoroughly enchanted and touched me that I had trouble remembering what, precisely, about the book could have displeased me. David Lean and his actors bring clarity and logic to the whole enterprise: the picture has a moral authority and a richly satisfying emotional pull that I failed to detect (much less appreciate) in the novel. The blend of buffoonish comical characters, multiple coincidences and social criticism is an uneasy one to make work, except as satire. But “Great Expectations” is by no means satire. Under David Lean’s direction, it’s a medium-grim fairy tale whose romantic atmosphere is repeatedly rent by sudden, startling flashes of realism that unexpectedly come crashing through and lighting up the fairy tale world like claps of thunder and bolts of lightning. Here’s one example of the sort of realism I mean. You will kindly note that it is also wonderfully poetic. It is Dickens, after all, and even the harshest reality in his work has poetry in it. I mean, really: beat this for filmmaking. It’s as perfect a cinematic moment as I’ve ever come across.

Whenever I look at this scene, I’m reminded of a tremendous line from a mad soliloquy spoken by Harry Andrews in “The Ruling Class”: it’s the day before he must pass a death sentence; he’s dressed in his play clothes (red military tunic, ballet skirt and a cocked hat), and he’s indulging in some auto-asphyxiation with a pearl-white silken noose, which his pear-shaped valet has suspended from his bedroom rafters. Just before he puts the noose round his throat, he murmurs, “Once you’ve put on the black cap, everything else tastes like waxxx frrruit!”

Next to Shakespeare, Dickens is the most word-drunk popular author in the history of English literature. Like Shakespeare, Dickens is most notable for his imaginative use of language. One remembers his characters more for the way they express themselves than for anything else. Consider Ebenezer Scrooge: that he is a miser is not what fixes him in one’s mind; he is memorable on account of the force of his eloquent vituperation against charity in general and Christmas in particular. Silas Marner, his near contemporary, was also a miser: but who remembers what he ever said? Rhetorical exuberance is the engine that drives Shakespeare and Dickens. Of the two, Shakespeare is clearly the deeper philosopher, but both have at their command a genius for expressive turns of phrase. To date, no screen adaptation of a Shakespeare play has ever been entirely satisfactory, no matter how admirable individual scenes may have been. The most common theory about why Shakespearean movies never quite work is that Shakespeare is first and last about the Word, while movies are primarily about the Image; therefore, the argument goes, to film Shakespeare, you must first cut away much of the language; yet cut away the language, and you lose Shakespeare — and there you have an insoluble problem. This certainly seems true in the case of Shakespeare. (Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” kept all of the text, and that didn’t work either: in my experience, it is the most stultifying — though not nearly the worst — Shakespeare picture to date.) Yet Dickens gives the lie to this argument, since screen adaptations of his novels very often work splendidly, and the ones that work the best are always those that keep as much of his highly stylized, artificial, literary dialogue as possible. The crazy plots may be simplified, so long as the rhetoric is left standing: Dickens without his linguistic flights of fancy would not be Dickens — that is why modern adaptations of his works are doomed to fail (the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow modern version is an abomination: it should have been called “Great Expectorations”), and perhaps why there have been so few attempts to set his stories in the modern world. David Lean’s “Great Expectations” succeeds because so much of the dialogue has been taken from the novel verbatim, and because Guy Green’s superb cinematography captures Dickens’ descriptive passages with amazing accuracy and vivacity.

Freda Jackson as Mrs Joe: 'If that boy comes home his head blown to bits by a musket, don't look to me to put it together again!'

Freda Jackson as Mrs Joe: ‘If that boy comes back ‘ere with his head blown to bits by a musket, don’t look to me to put it together again!’

I’m lost in wonder at the stupendous number of ways David Lean and his colleagues have found to make “Great Expectations” a thing of exquisite beauty; the picture perfectly captures the spirit and sensibility of Dickens, while improving on the novel. And it’s a real movie movie — that is, it’s brilliantly cinematic (Guy Green won that year’s Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography, the first time a British picture ever won in that category), while also containing some of the best writing and acting ever to be put on film. Lean’s adaptation succeeds so brilliantly that I find it hard to understand how Dickens could have written the novel eighty-six years before it was made; the picture is so ideally cast that one gets the feeling that Dickens must have had these very actors in mind when he wrote it. Here’s the opening sequence, which should give you a reasonable idea of all the rest of the marvellousness to follow.

Shortly after this scene, we see Pip (the excellent Anthony Wager) steal the “wittles” and the file for Magwitch the convict (played with astonishing authority and musicality by Finlay Currie — one of the most reliably entertaining actors who ever drew breath). He sneaks out to the churchyard to deliver the stolen items and this is the scene that follows:

The entire picture is as excellent as these early scenes: it’s engrossing and emotionally satisfying from the first frame to the last. Every actor in the cast is perfect. As Uncle Bumblechook, Hay Petrie is the living embodiment of a few score of Dickens’ demented tertiary characters — he also looks remarkably like a tinier (he stood 5′ 3 ½”), freaked-out Claude Rains. If Ronald Searle had drawn a caricature of Rains, the result would have looked like Hay Petrie.

Here, without introduction, is Alec Guinness in his first appearance of what would prove to be his career-making performance as Herbert Pocket. Guinness had already played the part with great success in the West End, in his own adaptation of the novel.

It is probable that Miss Havisham is the most famous character in the story; she is played to perfection by the great actress and wit, Martita Hunt. Hunt was not yet fifty when she made this picture, but you’d never know it. Here are the first three scenes that feature Miss Havisham; I think it should be obvious why her character is so famous. I show them partly because Martita Hunt’s performance is so interesting, and partly because I want to pass along a funny anecdote about the redoubtable Miss Hunt after you have taken a look at the clips. The three clips, as you will see, are all quite short and superbly entertaining — but I believe you really must have Miss Hunt’s voice clearly in your head if the story I am going to relate is to have its maximum effect.

The young Estella is played by Jean Simmons. In a 1999 interview, she was asked if David Lean was difficult to work for. “With me and the boy, Anthony Wager, he was very gentle. He seemed amused by us for some reason. It was a perfect part for me; sixteen is the age of flirtation.” Did she break his heart, as Estella breaks Pip’s? “Oh no, no. But we liked each other. In fact, he saved my life on the film one day. I had to go up and down those damn stairs so many times holding the candle that I was tired late one evening and I kind of relaxed and let my arm drop. Suddenly there were flames shooting up. My apron was on fire! Anthony just rushed in and brushed it out. He was there before anyone else could move. Really a great sense of timing. I often wonder what happened to him. He may have just given up acting and gone into business.” (For the record, he did continue to act, but in the late sixties, he moved to Australia, where he acted in television shows. He died on the isle of Bali on December 23, 1990.)

Valerie Hobson and John Mills as Estella and Pip.

Valerie Hobson and John Mills as Estella and Pip.

When Estella grows to young womanhood, she is played by Valerie Hobson, who was married to the picture’s executive producer, Anthony Havelock-Allen at the time of the filming. Hobson played her last starring role in 1953, when she appeared as Mrs Anna Leonowens in the West End production of “The King and I.” The following year, she married John Profumo, a member of Parliament. In 1963, Profumo’s ministerial career ended in disgrace when it was discovered that he had lied to the House about his affair with his mistress, Christine Keeler. Hobson stood by her husband, and till the end of her life (she predeceased him by eight years), they worked for charitable organizations, dealing with lepers(!) and mentally handicapped children. (A story straight out of Dickens.) She died on November 13, 1998.

“It and I have worn away together; mice have gnawed at it. And sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me.” The rhetorical brilliance and superb balance of that one short passage dazzle me. The technical skill of the writing is a pleasure for its own sake. There’s an echo of Richard II’s prisonhouse lament “I wasted time and now doth time waste me” in Miss Havisham’s words, both in her theme and in the figures of speech she employs. But then there’s the actress, who knows how to set those devices a-work. Martita Hunt, a great actress, makes everything count.

This next clip begins with another one of those fine British character actors, Francis L. Sullivan, who plays Mr Jaggers, the explosive attorney. He specialized in peremptory lawyers and timpano-bellied plutocrats, which he played with brio and swagger. He’s roughly the London equivalent of America’s Eugene Pallette; both men were reliably funny and conveyed a special soulfulness without ever engaging in the least bit of sentimentality, but I’m bound to say that Sullivan’s range was somewhat wider — perhaps so was his girth. In any case, Sullivan is always worth watching, even in the worst drivel, but he is especially suited to the world of Dickens, which is a society of outsized people and personalities.

After making such a success as Miss Havisham, Martita Hunt spent the rest of her career playing old dragons, aristocratic crones and high-falutin busybodies. Ten years after “Great Expectations,” she was cast in “Anastasia” (a scornful pleasure of the first water) as the Baroness Elena von Livenbaum, a lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Empress Maria Federovna, which part was played by Helen Hayes. In Guy Bolton’s West End stage version of “Anastasia” in the early 1950s, the Dowager Empress was played by a highly respected British stage actress named Helen Haye (no “s”), who played the role to great acclaim. In fact, she was supposed to reprise the role in the 20th Century-Fox picture, but through a clerical error, the role went to that First Pixie of the American Theatre, Helen Hayes. (“Rather bad luck on our actress,” wrote John Gielgud, who was great friends with Miss Haye (no “s”), who had given him his scholarship to Lady Benson’s Acting School in 1921; “I remember Martita Hunt complaining bitterly because she only got a lady in waiting.”) While “Anastasia” was being filmed, Sir John was at a large party when Martita Hunt saw him across the room. She tottered up to him unsteadily — very tipsy, as he reported — and said in a dignified voice, “I am worn out by curtseying all day to that f-f-f-f-fucking Helen Hayes!” Even if Martita Hunt hadn’t been the brilliant comic actress she was, I’d have to hold her close to my heart for her taste in actresses.