Clem Sunter

And the Oscar of all time goes to...

2012-04-18 13:00

Clem Sunter

I love conversations around likes and dislikes because we are all different – and that is what makes the world go around. Favourites of mine are pet hates of yours and vice versa. One of the reasons a democracy works is that we vote for different parties and leaders. What’s more, we occasionally change our minds. The person we had no time for yesterday suddenly becomes a bosom buddy tomorrow.

So when the topic the other day at a business dinner for which I was the guest speaker turned to the arts and choice of best actor ever male or female, I was hooked. Of course, Meryl Streep was suggested for a variety of roles and the versatility of moving from being the star of Mama Mia to The Iron Lady. Helen Mirren for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II was also nominated. Among male actors Marlon Brando as The Godfather and for his magic performance in the movie On The Waterfront in 1954 got the nod. We all agreed he was the James Dean who could act.

Probably the person around whom the majority converged in their opinion was Al Pacino and particularly for playing the blind, retired army officer in Scent of a Woman in 1993. Who will forget Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade as he whisked a young woman around the dance floor or drove a Ferrari around the city streets with little or no attention to instructions? He really did come across as blind in the film but that is what good acting is all about – convincing the audience you are the part you play.

I guess I showed my age because the Oscar of all Oscars for me goes to a young lady who mesmerised me for 3 hours and 44 minutes in the most famous picture of all time – Gone with the Wind – about the American Civil War and its aftermath in the South. The name of the actress is Vivien Leigh and she played the wilful and sometimes downright mischievous Scarlett O' Hara opposite Clark Gable's hedonistic but likeable character of Rhett Butler. She was only given the part a month before shooting began at the beginning of 1939 and, being the daughter of a British officer in the Indian Cavalry, she had a few weeks in which to perfect the accent of a southern belle.

She won the Oscar as leading lady but Clark Gable failed to do so as leading man. The most famous line in the movie came at the end when he walked out on her into the mist: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” In real terms, Gone with the Wind is the highest grossing film in the history of the cinema beating Titanic and all others. Sadly three of the four leading members of the cast died in their 50s: Leigh herself after a long bout of ill-health including tuberculosis and bipolar disorder; Gable and Leslie Howard who was cast as Ashley Wilkes, the great, unrequited love of Scarlett, in the film. Only Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie married to Ashley, survives in her mid 90s.

As a final twist, Leigh was married for 20 years to the man that many people in Britain would vote as the greatest actor of all time: Sir Laurence Olivier. During the making of Gone with the Wind, she missed Olivier every day as he was the real love of her life. Like Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, their marriage was dramatic too. The curtain came down on it in 1960 and seven years later she died.

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