Bob and I first saw Frank Langella at Williamstown Theatre. He played opposite Blythe Danner in The Sea Gull. as well as in a number of other productions over several seasons. We took our young son, Paul to see him in Cyrano. As a result Paul came home and dressed up as Cyrano, using my old foil as his sword. (I had taken up fencing at one point in my life.) When a student of Bob’s at Bennington who was working as an apprentice at the theatre saw pictures Bob had taken, she said Paul must meet Frank. We took him to see the play again, the meeting with Frank occurred and Frank gave him one of his noses from the production. The next time Langella did Cyrano, Paul who was studying theatre at NYU had a roommate who was working at Williamstown and once again met Frank and told him he was the reason, the went into theatre. The third time Langella did Cyrano, Paul, now a married man and publishing theatre books at Applause Books also encountered Frank. He was always very nice to Paul but did think he should stop encouraging young men to go into theatre.
This is a memoir about all the famous men and women Langella has known. Well, all of the ones that are now dead. He includes one, his good friend Bunny Mellon who at 102 is still alive.
This is his first book and it is very good. The people are recorded in the order that they died. His first encounter is with Marilyn Monroe when he was fifteen and had saved up his money for a trip from his home in New Jersey to New York City. He happened to encounter Marilyn as she was getting out of her car and she said Hi to him and it transformed his young life.
The memories are anywhere from two to six pages long and they bounce all over in terms of time since they are in order of the people’s deaths, an intriguing idea in itself. He refers to his marriages but Wikipedia lists only one so I need to do more research. He did have two children that is clear. He also had lots of lovers. Jackie Kennedy seems to have been one of them and Rita Hayworth definitely was as was Dinah Shore. Some of the memories are of people he knew relatively slightly and others of dear close friends like Raul Julia and Alan Bates. He did like older women although he resisted the charms of an older Elizabeth Taylor.
He starts the book by saying how actors love to drop names of the people that they know, running across so many as they do and this is his way of structuring his memoir. He is very strong in his feelings about people. He hated Lee Strasberg, thinking that he was a phony. Evidently, the feeling was mutual since Langella turned down the opportunity to work at Actors Studio. He also did not fall completely under Kazan’s spell. His take on Arthur Miller was fascinating as he did two productions of After the Fall. He kept asking Arthur to have some insight into Quentin and reflect on what the reasons were that people did not like the character that represented Miller. He saw Miller as lacking insight into himself almost stubbornly. He talks about how he learned to shed his New Jersey accent by listening to Geilgud’s Clarence speech over and over again in his attic room. There is a great deal of sadness in many of the ends of the actors such as Oliver Reed and Richard Burton. He also recognizes when he has been a rude jerk. He is quite stubborn in terms of some of the famous people like Anthony Quinn to whom he will not pay tribute. He says Paul Newman was so beautiful it was a limitation and that essentially he was a very dull man.
One gets glimpses of the days at Williamstown although there is no mention of his Cyranos, but again that is because the focus is on the famous people he has known. Through his relationship with the Mellons he knew a great many wealthy and well positioned people. He had a strong friendship with Anne Bancroft that soured after thirty years which he regrets. Besides the interesting insights into these people, there is also this theme of how people live their lives, particularly creative people. The Brits seem to do somewhat better than the Americans with some exceptions. The book is dedicated to his daughter which is nice. This was a book well worth reading. It was not an angry book like Patti LuPone’s. In some ways it is sad because everyone in it dies, but it also provides an interesting perspective as we see people over time and how they change. So many of the movie stars he met were at the end of their peak which happens quickly for many women, not so fast for the men.
More recently Langella played Lear. Having seen his Prospero, I regret not seeing his Lear. However, our son Paul saw it and was impressed as he always has been by Langella.
Langella on Lear