Last Friday morning I woke up bright and early in order to see Peter O'Toole introduce his 1964 classic film Becket at Grauman's Egyptian Theater for the TCM Classic Film Festival. Peter was worth the extra coffee that morning...I absolutely adore him. No matter what part he plays, his clever wit and sophisticated way always shine through. He also perfectly inhabits his characters, as witnessed by his iconic performance in 1962's Lawrence of Arabia. Because he became T. E. Lawrence so completely, it always seemed incomprehensible to me that he didn't win the Oscar for it. Alas, he had the bad luck of being nominated the same year as Gregory Peck, who won the award for his iconic role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Becket is based on Jean Anouilh's extraordinary play about King Henry II and his passionate relationship with first friend and then foe, the sainted Thomas Becket. As with many movies that were first plays, the words are so carefully chosen and make for extremely well-drawn characters. Playing Henry showed the true depth and range of Peter's acting ability, employing his natural wit while stretching from great moments of comedy to those of tragedy in this Shakespearean role. It's such fun to witness the verbal sparring between Peter and his talented co-star and friend, Richard Burton, who is another of my favorite actors. Peter would later spar with yet another talented co-star while playing King Henry II--Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. Both are incredible performances and earned well-deserved Academy Award nominations for him. Shocking, though, that Peter's been nominated eight times now and has never won a competitive Oscar.
As a fan of Los Angeles, it was a thrill to see Becket at such a well-known historic venue. Grauman's Egpytian Theater opened in 1922 in Hollywood, the same year King Tut's tomb was discovered and an interest in Egypt swept the nation. It's even older than Grauman's Chinese Theater, which didn't open until 1927. The first premiere here was Robin Hood (starring Douglas Fairbanks) and the following year Cecil B. DeMille chose to appropriately premiere his Ten Commandments within the walls of the Egyptian. For those of us who know classic cinema, you can't get too much bigger than that director or that epic production. It was exciting for me to be there.
Walk to the Egpytian: 1950s lemon pleated cotton swing dress, 1960s white leather frame bag,
Charles David yellow strappy stilettos, white magnesite beaded necklace custom made for GlamAmor,
silver hoop earrings, and silver Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses
Peter's Lawrence of Arabia would be perfectly suited to be shown at the Egyptian
The original gilded ceiling of the theater above Peter O'Toole and Ben Mankiewicz
I really enjoyed the humorous discussion before the film between Peter and Ben, and they talked quite a bit about the process of hiring the two lead actors. This included Richard Burton's understandable reluctance to take on the role of a saint given his most recent project had been Cleopatra, a movie that included worldwide attention on his adulterous relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. But his concerns were assuaged and the two men had a wonderful friendship full of fun and carousing both on and off screen. Also I can only imagine the added richness of the experience for them when both Peter and Richard's acting mentors--Donald Wolfit and Sir John Gielgud, respectively--were brought into the production for Becket as well.
I knew that seeing classic movies on the big screen throughout the TCM Classic Film Festival would make an impact, but I really had no idea how much. Seeing Becket on the big screen, for one, seemed to enhance my senses--I could feel the rough texture of their garments, hear their footsteps echo down dank castle corridors, and smell the hay when the boys went wenching through the Saxon villages. Even Peter's wit seemed bigger, booming and engaging the audience in laughter with nearly every other line of his. It reminded me how much this drama is indeed filled with great comedy, especially in the beginning and happier days of the relationship between the King and Becket.
Wonderful time at the Egyptian...now back to base at the Roosevelt Hotel!