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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California • Page 327
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California • Page 327

Los Angeles, California
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CALENDAR Hull IP i ImtilllM i Li pi rn rn KMiiiMflKH MiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiMirraiawiWBi -tUi H' Sx Jut- ri ir nm innrnnnnwojaag 1 OTOOLE GOES FOR THE BIRD' IN 'MACBETH' BY MARY BLUME LONDON-Peter O'Toole began on the stage in repertory and even in his heyday as a film star returned regularly to the theater, averaging a play for each film. Now he has started rehearsals at the historic Old Vic and on Sept. 3 will open as Macbeth if he is lucky. Traditionally, "Macbeth" which has been described as "impissated gloom" is a bad-luck play, to the point where actors do not mention it by name. "People call it the Scottish Play, the Caledonian Tragedy. Aimez-vous Glamis is a favorite," O'Toole said. He prefers to call the play Harry Lauder. Within hours of uttering its real title during preliminary talks at the Old Vic, he learned that his wife had left him for a younger man. "The whole play is a jinx," he says. The jinx can be traced to at least the early 19th Century and the title role is not the only one afflicted. At Stratford in the late 1940s, Diana Wynyard took a terrible fall during her sleepwalking scene, struggled through the rest of her performance, and was roughly criticized thereafter for leaving the fall out. Laurence Olivier's 1937 production at the Old Vic was spectacularly disaster-prone, starting with the deaths of the head of the Old Vic and of the most popular actress in the company. "Three steadfast marriages within the company crumbled in acrimonious disarray," O'Toole said. "Then at a public rehearsal, Olivier's blade broke during a sword fight and a fragment flew into the stalls where it struck a spectator who promptly died of a heart attack. On opening night Olivier lost his voice and couldn't be heard beyond the third row. "When Alec Guinness did it, the whole set burst into flames. We've had our crop so far," O'Toole added cheerfully. "The First Witch was rushed to Paddington Hospital with peritonitis in spades. She's a smashing bird, too." The production is at present on its third set designer. And on Friday, June 13, in Ireland, on his way to a meeting with his Lady LauderMacbeth a young Irish actress named Frances Tomelty, O'Toole wrapped his car around a large stone. "I left it to be made into dogmeat or ashtrays or whatever they do and walked to the house and never said what had happened." Leaving the meeting, Tomelty wrecked her motorbike. "We should have lost Harry Lauder and Mother, but we didn't," O'Toole said. "Macbeth" is directed by Bryan Forbes and will alternate until Dec. 13 that's a Friday, I'll die. I will die," says O'Toole) with Timothy West's "Merchant of Venice." O'Toole's hope is to help revive the moribund Old Vic and to thumb his nose at such subsidized companies as the National Theater, which he helped inaugurate with an uncut "Hamlet." After getting initial aid, he argues, a theater should pay its way or not exist. He reckons it will take the Old Vic five years to get afloat. "I loathe subsidized theater," he said. "You can't win or lose. You can't be a success because you can't be a failure. It breeds mediocrity." uteshe got what he refers to as a tummy ache. Acute pancreatitis deprived him of three years' work and left him with an 18-inch scar and an urgent resolve never to touch another drink. Today, the ersatz glamour is gone: He is a battered and buoyant 48, with the mellifluous voice and spacious gestures of an actor-manager and an old pro's loathing for amateurism. "The theater has given harbor and sanctuary to dangerous clowns, but at the moment we're overcrowded. We want the best. It's not flavor of the month time. Larry Olivier has been pumping at it for 50 years now. John Gielgud. Ralph Richardson. Stayers." Ten years, ago, O'Toole says he thought he was ready to play "Macbeth," but he wasn't. "I have more equipment, voice, technique. Not better, more. "The play is so vehement, it never stops. It's a juggernaut, relentless. It requires more voice than Lear because he's a man in complete vigor. Within 30 seconds of arrival onstage, the man is possessed. It's an unremitting drive all the way through and it's bravura and has to look effortless. And it ends with two whacking great sword fights." O'Toole's sword fighting is, he says, rusty. "Harry Lauder," says O'Toole, is blood and thunder and divine poetry. "Sublime tragedy, that's what it is. 'The attempt and not the deed confounds says Lady Lauder. The witches don't tell him what to do. They say he will be and C. So the doing is human." The witches are a problem. "Play it any way you like. It's always permutations on Estelle Winwood, Grandma Moses from the Three Stooges. So that's not on. For 1980 one has to think." O'Toole plans to tour "Macbeth" through Europe and to film it on stage. "When it is recorded for posterity I would like it to be live at the Old Vic. If we are live at the Old Vic." At some point he intends to write a book about his grandmother, a bookmaker, but right after "Macbeth" his plan is to make a well-paid film. "I wouldn't describe myself as hot again," he said, "But I am tepid." Although it may not seem so from looking at his list of films, O'Toole says he has been lucky even though his recent film, the well-received "The Stunt Man," has yet to find a distributor and is playing only a test run in Los Angeles. He's also completed the mammoth ABC-TV min- iseries "Masada," which has no air date. "You get a good script every five years if you're lucky. I've been very fortunate. 'Lawrence' was good, and and 'Lion in 'What's New, Pussy- was acting I learned a lot about comedy. And 'How to Steal a Million' was light comedy, poised, which isn't easy. I smartened up my act a lot." His stage career, while bold, has been as bumpy as films. English actors award each other something called the Classical Shield, given when the people onstage outnumber the audience. "I won it in Aberdeen," he said. He won the Ameri- can equivalent last year in Chicago when, in Noel Coward's "Present Laugh -ter," he says he played one night to five 5 Chinese nurses and a black rat. It is clear that for O'Toole acting on the stage is like touching ground, reality. "Palpable," he said. "That's a nice word. "The theater is home. It's heart home," he said. "Yes, that's where I began. That's where little Peter belongs." Peter ff Toole between rehearsals for "Macbeth," a "bad lucK' classic scheduled to uca un oept. mt via vie in uonaon. tsnng mis ojj and irs a bird" he says. Still, even to help the Old Vic, why choose a bad-luck play like Why not something simple like "Oedipus" or "I think Harry Lauder is probably the best play, melodrama, ever written, bring off. It is." In the living room of his Hampstead house, amid the theatrical posters and souvenir photos, is a snapshot of the teen-aged O'Toole, dark, with a beak of a nose and an elusive glance. Plastic sur- The theater has given harbor and sanctuary to dangerous clowns, but at the moment we're overcrowded. We want the best. It's not flavor-of the -month time. -peter otoole gery and the dyer's hand turned him into a pretty blonde who became world famous in "Lawrence of Arabia," but behind that tidy exterior always lurked an unruly, sardonic, black and questing nature. In 1974, after a typical O'Toole schedule Otto Preminger's idiotic "Rosebud" preceded by four plays at the Bristol Old Vic, in one of which he held the stage alone for two hours and 45 min though I believe 'Lear' is the greatest artifact on earth." His choice of "Macbeth" may be taken as further proof of O'Toole's celebrated self-destructiveness. "No," he said. "It's a magnificent role, and if I'm not able for it I should turn it in." Anyway, by definition anything that is unlucky is also lucky. "Yes! Fair is foul and foul is fair. Bring this one off and it's a bird. It's the one everyone wants to

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