Sunday, 16 November 2008
Hellraiers tells of “The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed.” It's snappily written, and the mulitiple biography format works well - it’s like a greatest hits compilation with the boring bits left out. Consequently, it’s quiet literally packed with stories: How Burton answered the phone at Elizabeth Taylor’s place to find her then husband demanding to know what he was doing in his house. “What do you think I‘m doing?” said Burton. “I‘m fucking your wife.” How O’Toole was refused service at a pub because it was past closing time, and was so desperate for a drink that he brought the pub. How Reed once downed 126 pints in one day. How Harris was due to meet John Boorman for an audition over Sunday lunch, woke up at Midday, frantically dressed and hailed a cab, only to realise that it was already Monday!*
So is Hellraisers just a string of laddish anecdotes? Well no, not quiet anyway. However Sellars, his interviewees and the stars themselves try to spin it, there’s a real melancholy edge to this book** These four musketeers all did real damage to themselves, their careers, and their loved ones. Harris and Reed were phenomenally talented and charismatic performer who made themselves virtually unemployable for most of their lives. Burton’s affair with Taylor led to both her and his then wife attempting suicide.
*the film was Zadoz, so possibly a lucky escape there.
** and don’t know if it’s just me, but I find that biographies tend to be rather depressing anyway, as (SPOILER ALERT) the subjects tend to get old and die at the end.