Quotable quotes from Brief Encounters

Posted by on Nov 25, 2016 in Brian's Blog, Celebrities | 0 comments

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These quotes are from columns about celebrities that I wrote in the first instance for the online journal Facts & Opinions, and later turned into a book. The celebrities are listed here in alphabetical order.

If you would like to read any of the complete columns, you can go to this page on the Facts & Opinions site, search the page for the celebrity in question, click on the individual’s name, and then make a small donation to Facts & Opinions to help keep its journalism fearless and free of interference.

Of course, if you would like to access all 63 columns in the collection, you can purchase the Kindle edition for $9.99 CAD by clicking here, the Kobo version by clicking here, or the iTunes version by clicking here.

Randy Bachman: (On what he hoped to achieve musically after leaving the Guess Who and BTO.) “I’m trying to grow up. I don’t want to do Shaun Cassidy forever. I want to do exactly what Paul McCartney did. I want to reach the point where I can play my new songs as well as medleys of the old stuff, and go out rocking.”

Long John Baldry: (When asked if he resented the success of his former protégés Elton John and Rod Stewart while he ended up in rock ‘n’ roll limbo.) “I’m too set in my ways to be concerned about that. I don’t envy the lack of privacy in their lives. There’s a part of me that I give to the public when I perform, but I treasure my privacy.”

Mario Bernardi: (On why, as a conductor, he felt it important to maintain discipline among his musicians.) “An orchestra, by definition, is an ensemble: people playing together. If they don’t know how they are supposed to play together, what do you get? A free-for-all. Chaos!”

Chuck Berry: “I write very plain, simple basic tunes that a lot of people can understand. About life as I saw it, or lived it.” (Thirty-nine years after I conducted this interview, a New York Times writer, Chuck Klosterman, chose Berry as the 20th century rock star whom historians of the future would remember.)

Victor Borge: (On why he chose comedy over a serious career in classical music.) “I’m not a frustrated concert musician or a frustrated anything. You can’t be frustrated if you’re doing something that you want to do. If I had played it straight, I know I could have done well. But I wanted to do this. It’s in my chemistry.”

Len Cariou: (On playing the role of King Lear while still only in his 30s.) “The actor who plays Lear has to be as strong as a bull. He should never tackle the role unless he’s in good shape and has been doing this kind of stuff all his life.”

Ann Casson: (On why she opted to leave her native England to make her career as an actor.) “I’ve always found Canada more exciting than England. There’s more enthusiasm in the theatre here. England is a wonderful place to start because you get a very good classical training there, and more companies are doing classical plays. But there’s far more enthusiasm here for starting new things.”

Nicola Cavendish: (On why she abandoned Broadway to resume her theatre career on the Canadian stage.) “I think the star system in the United States is a tremendous burden.”

Chubby Checker: (Mightily annoyed that nobody gave him credit for starting the disco dancing craze.) “Disco owes its existence to me. If it wasn’t for me, this club wouldn’t be here. They’ll probably make me a star when I’m dead.”

David Clayton-Thomas: (On the fact that he, a self-taught, self-styled “raw belter,” got to front Blood, Sweat & Tears, a band of professionally-trained musicians.) “If they had gotten a conservatory-trained vocalist, I don’t think the band would have had the same power, the same raw excitement.”

Judy Collins: (Commenting on the fact that some critics still classified her as a folk singer.) “I don’t know where these critics are living, probably on some other planet. On my second album, I included a poem by Yeats, which can hardly be called folk music. So the lines were already fuzzy by that point. By the third record, I was already singing songs written by contemporary songwriters. And by the sixth record, I was breaking all the rules – supposedly – by including show music and songs by Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel.”

Robertson Davies: (On why he never opted to teach a class in creative writing.) “I just don’t believe you can teach people to write. If they’re going to write, they’ll do it in their own way and teach themselves.”

Chris de Burgh: (On why he reluctantly went commercial when his natural instinct was just to excel as a critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter.) “I have to be aware that there’s a lot of money involved in making records. If this money is to become an investment, I have to write with commercial considerations in mind.”

Roy Dotrice: (On the pleasures of playing John Aubrey, an obscure 17th century English gossipmonger, on stage in a one-man show.) “After each performance, I felt that for those people I had played to, Aubrey was no longer a stranger. And so a man who received little or no recognition during his lifetime was suddenly put on the map by some silly actor some three centuries later. That will always remain a great part and a very affectionate part of my life. One thing I would have liked in life is to have sat at a dinner table with Aubrey and listened to some of his stories. I can’t think of anything more fascinating; it would be even more fascinating than Merv Griffin.”

Glenn Ford: (Looking back on a 40-year career playing cowboys in the movies.) “I thought it was obscene to be paid for going out into beautiful countryside and riding a horse. When I wasn’t acting, that’s what I did anyhow to relax.”

John Frankenheimer: (On how his drinking affected his work as a film and television director.) “I had a problem; it took a toll on me. And the state of mind you’re in, when you have a problem like that, even when you’re not drunk, is the most dangerous time. Because you make decisions that are not totally in your best interest, about your life, about your career choices, and everything.”

Richard Harris: (On what it was like to return to his native Ireland after he gave up the booze.) “Going back to Ireland and not having a drink is like going to church and not saying a prayer. It becomes very tiresome, after a while, having to explain that I’m ill and that I can’t have a drink. Particularly when I’m over there for a rugby match.”

Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins: (On his preference for playing pubs rather than soft-seater concert venues.) “We’re geared for drinkin’ and dancin’ and cuttin’ up. The music always sounds better in a bar. How can you boogie with 20,000 people you can’t see? There’s no point in playing Maple Leaf Gardens unless you’ve got Bob Dylan playing rhythm guitar.”

John Hirsch: (On why he thought Canadian theatre companies should be producing Canadian plays, not plays imported from Broadway or the West End.) “When you do those plays, it’s like saying you shouldn’t have your own children in your own house, but should bring in the neighbour’s kids instead.”

Glenda Jackson: (On the perils of making a movie in the Canadian Rockies in wintertime.) “I hate snow and cold. It’s very difficult to act happy and amusing when your teeth are chattering and your nose is turning red.”

Keith Johnstone: (On finding his own voice as a playwright after years of producing derivative work.) “It took me a long time to throw away the stuff I didn’t need. There’s nothing I can do about whether people like my plays or not. But now they don’t look like a copy of Pinter, or a copy of Osborne, or a copy of anyone else.”

Milt Kamen: (On resisting his impulse as a comedian to “improve” the script while appearing in a Neil Simon play.) “As an actor, I do the play on a different level from what I do as a comedian. I try to interpret, to fulfil what the author has written, and suspend any desire I might have to change the lines. It’s enriching for me to work as an actor. It keeps my craft alive.”

Debbie Lori Kaye: (On how she coped with sexual abuse when she got into the music business as a young teenager.) “I was a child within an adult world, with adult responsibilities and an adult contract and time schedule. But I was a kid. And there was a lot of trash going on, and I had nowhere to take the trash. Basically, I learned to play cards and drink scotch with the adults, and be an adult. And the child died.”

B.B. King: (On how such white blues-based rock guitarists as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Mike Bloomfield created a new market for his music.)  “Had it not been for those young fellows, the doors would still be closed for guys like me. The blacks knew about us but the white audiences didn’t get to hear our music until it was played by people like Mike (Bloomfield) and the rest of the fellows.”

Larry Kramer: (On why he hoped his AIDS-crisis drama, The Normal Heart, would inspire young gay people to take up protest politics.)  “Considering how many of us there are, how much disposable income we have, how much brain power we have, we have achieved very little. We have no power in Washington, or anywhere else, and I say it over and over again, it’s as if it falls on deaf ears. It doesn’t occur to people how to turn that around.”

Cleo Laine: (On why she refused to be pigeonholed by an industry that expected her to focus exclusively on jazz, pop or classical music.)  “There’s only one kind of music for me, and that’s the music I like. Music is music is music. As long as the music has a strong appeal for me, I like to perform it.”

Frankie Laine: (On why he thought spending 17 years singing for peanuts in small clubs prepared him for later big-time success.) “My saving grace was that lightning didn’t strike for me until I’d been around long enough to witness first-hand the toll that booze, pills and the wild life can take.”

Tom Lehrer: (On why he stopped writing and performing satirical songs in the late 1960s, when he was in his early 40s.) “One of the problems was that the liberal consensus had split up. In the 1950s, we had consensus. We agreed that Adlai Stevenson was good, Eisenhower was foolish, and Joseph McCarthy was evil. We all knew where we stood, and you could make jokes about it. But that all changed when people got serious about things like Israel versus the Arabs, feminism versus pornography, affirmative action versus quotas, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the gradual destruction of the environment, and so on. I didn’t know which side I was on any more. You can’t write a funny song with a lot of ‘howevers’ in it. You feel like a resident of Pompeii who’s been asked for some humorous comments on lava.”

Shari Lewis: (On why she wrote a syndicated newspaper column for children.) “A lot of kids have grown up with the idea that a newspaper is something you use for training a dog. If the kids can be seduced into opening the paper at the same place each day, a valid hope is that they will find something that will seduce them into reading a little further. My column is all about the things kids want to do without parents telling them how to do it. Kids really want to feel like they’re worth something, and yet they’re often treated like useless beings-in-waiting. They have a lot to offer. Kid power is a very wasted commodity.”


Sophia Loren: (On why she left the States and returned to Italy in 1982 to serve a short jail sentence for income tax evasion.) “Because I wanted to come back to see my mother. But I don’t want to live there permanently again because now I have my children, and I settle wherever they choose.”

Vera Lynn: (On how she felt about being forever linked with the music of the Second World War era.) “It’s a two-way thing. In one way, it’s marvellous to think that they still associate me with those songs and that period. It’s very nice to think I was part of that time. And also, it’s given me a great base for my concerts. But on the other hand, there are times when I would like to be accepted for more modern stuff, and I find that rather difficult. The modern songs don’t seem to catch on like the old ones.”

Norman Maen: (On what it was like to choreograph dance numbers for Rudolf Nureyev on The Muppet Show.) “He was one of the most difficult stars I ever worked with. Some of the others – Juliet Prowse, Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis Jr. – were just as big. But if you were prepared to look after them and make them look good, they trusted you and everything worked very well. It was a hard job convincing Nureyev that simplified choreography would read right and make him look good. But we got it in the end.”

Tommy Makem: (Musing about leaving the music business because of the constant travelling involved.) “It’s a grind and it doesn’t get any easier after 25 years. But then I stop and think, what’s the alternative? I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck running a pub in Ireland. I’d be there seven days a week, married to it, and I don’t think I could put up with that.”

Al Martino: (On how he remained successful in the pop music business when the rock charts were dominated by the likes of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.) “Thank god for MOR (middle-of-the-road) radio stations. They’ve got the listeners. They play the records, and they keep us alive. As long as I’ve got radio, that’s all I need. It’s the fastest way of getting into people’s homes.”

Paddy Moloney: (On why his traditional Irish band, The Chieftains, found favour with concert audiences around the world.) “Because the appeal of the music is universal and because we give them the real stuff, the roots and the folk feeling of it all. I’ve believed in it ever since I started playing it at the age of five. The music is so powerful, so rich and varied. It’s strong and it really carries. We try to get it across in its true form, just as if we were sitting at home.”

Brian Moore: (On how he empathized, as a “fellow victim,” with a monk in his novel Catholics who was undergoing a spiritual crisis.) “I was brought up in a Catholic family. My father was a very religious man. But I realized very early on that I was not religious, and I felt guilty about that. Things I had been told were true, I no longer believed in. In that sense, I tried to identify with the abbot in Catholics who lives in a community where everyone else believes and he doesn’t.”

Barry Morse: (On what it was like to be still receiving mail about his role as an unyielding police detective in The Fugitive, a television series that ended in 1967.) “That role made me the most hated man in America. I got more hate mail than anyone since Adolf Hitler. And it never really went away. It’s quite extraordinary. I get mail from countries I didn’t even know had television.”

John Mortimer: (Why he maintained respect for religion, church rituals and religious people despite his own lack of faith.) “I go to church on Christmas Eve in the village near where I live (Turville, Oxfordshire) and I feel very moved. One of the contradictions in my character, I suppose, is that I would hate England without churches. I would loathe to live in a country that didn’t have village chapels and cathedrals. In some ways, I do feel very Christian. I love talking to bishops. There’s something to be said for Christian ideals and tradition. The only thing I can’t get on with is actually believing in God. Because of my legal training, I suppose, I need more proof.”

Anne Murray: (On why she was reluctant at first to limit her creative output to country music.) “I couldn’t be restricted to one musical bag because I like to do different kinds of music. The aim of any performer is to reach as many people as possible, and you can’t do that with just one kind of music. Besides, it’s great to keep the record people and the press confused.”

Burt Mustin: (Asked how he felt about screen nudity after he appeared semi-nude in an episode of the 1970s’ television series Adam-12, when he was 88.) “It’s not much of a problem for an ugly old man like me because I’m not much in demand for bedroom scenes. But I wouldn’t pay a dime to see the pornographic stuff. I hate it.”

Michael Nesmith: (On how he felt when the actors playing the Monkees were booked to perform concerts as the band they played on television.) “We were no more a rock ’n’ roll band than Raymond Burr is crippled or Marcus Welby is an MD. The fact that people ever wanted us to be an actual rock ’n’ roll band seems very bizarre to me. It’s like asking Marcus Welby to check for symptoms.”

John Neville: (Explaining why he was still looking for acting jobs in his 80s.) “My greatest fear is being out of work and being out of work for some time. One becomes frightened that one is never going to work again.”

Bob Newhart: (On why he pulled the plug on The Bob Newhart Show after six successful seasons.) “I didn’t want to take a chance on the show getting less successful. It would be terrible to limp off after so many good years.”

Mary O’Hara: (On why she quit a rising career in the music business and entered a convent after the death of her young husband from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.) “I wanted to get to heaven quicker to be with my husband. If I hadn’t been a Christian, I would have committed suicide.”

Colleen Peterson: (On the satisfaction of being in a female vocal-harmony group that covered the sounds of roots, traditional, folk and country music.) “The thing I have fought all my career for is I don’t want to be categorized. This is the music I do. And Quartette doesn’t get pigeonholed. And I think, finally! This may be the just desserts that you wait for and, if it’s had to be this kind of wait, that’s fine.”

Sharon Pollock: (On what prompted her to write plays.) “It always begins as an attempt to understand the world around me. I make up a story in which I can control the elements and the motivation of the characters. I create a little world which I know has meaning and makes sense. When I’m finished doing that, I’m better able to cope with what began as something incomprehensible to me.”

Sally Rand: (On why she was still performing striptease at age 71.) “If I were to give it up, what would I retire to. Sitting on a patio doing needlepoint? Yecch.”

Johnnie Ray: (Why he quit acting in movies to return to the singing career that brought him three million-selling records in the 1950s.) “I’d found where I belong: in front of an audience. I can’t wait six months for editors to work on a picture to see how it came out. I can’t live with that kind of insecurity. I’m insecure enough without that.”

Cliff Richard: (On how he survived as a pop singer in England when the Beatles were sweeping all before them.)  “The Beatles didn’t wipe the rest of us out. What they did was impress the media so much that they wrote about nobody else for a year. Everyone thought the rest of us were finished but, in point of fact, I don’t remember a time when I played to empty houses in England. My records were still getting into the Top 20.”

Mordecai Richler: (Responding to charges that his novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was anti-Semitic.) “I find these charges of anti-Semitism highly objectionable. For the most part, they come from people who never read the novel. Duddy Kravitz is not a metaphor for the Jewish people. It’s the story of a working-class boy with his eye on the main chance. The kind of Jewish people who accuse me of anti-Semitism are rather ashamed of their own background. They call their children Byron, Nelson and so on. They contemplate the world through a wrong-ended telescope.”

Jimmie Rodgers: (On the frustrations of trying to sing his old pop hits after a vocal disorder, spasmodic dysphonia, took away some of his range.) “The only thing I really feel sad about is that I feel now I’m a better performer than I ever was before. Now I know how to handle an audience, how to deliver a song. Now is the time in my life I’d like to be able to really sing well. And I just can’t do that.”

Kenny Rogers: (Undecided, at age 39, on where to take his musical career next after trying jazz, folk and pop, but still optimistic about his future prospects.) “I guess I’m too old to be a rock singer. I don’t like to be typecast, but I guess you could say I’m getting back to my roots (as a performer raised on country music). If you enjoy the highs and prepare for the lows, then you will survive.” (A few months later his song “Lucille” reached #1 on the pop and country charts in a dozen countries and brought Rogers a slew of awards including best single record and best male vocalist in the 1978 Academy of Country Music Awards.)

Jay Silverheels: (Defending his decision to play Tonto as an ethnic stereotype in the Lone Ranger television series.) “Some called me Uncle Tomahawk for playing the ‘dumb’ Indian. But they forget the era in which the Lone Ranger was set. I don’t think they had Indians speaking proper English in those days.”

Elizabeth Taylor: (On why she and Richard Burton decided to star together in Noel Coward’s Private Lives on Broadway.) “Noel used to tell us all the time that we totally fit in his play.”

Sylvia Tyson: (On why she thought it unlikely she would ever sing again with former husband and singing partner, Ian Tyson.) “He’s committed to hard-core country, and I have a lot of my own songs that I like to sing; simple songs that come from where I do. I don’t think people at my shows expect to hear those old Ian and Sylvia songs any more.”

Leon Uris: (Responding to my suggestion that his best-selling novels were nothing more than templates for future screenplays.) “I don’t see how a serious novelist can write with an eye to a movie sale. It just can’t be done. Trinity is a perfect example. I’ve been trying to get that thing made into a movie since 1975. Topaz was turned down by every studio in town until Hitchcock – may his soul rest in peace – picked it up. I guess there are some fellows who can write with one eye on film, but it’s not that easy. Your statement is just a lot of nonsense.”

Bob Welch: (On how he helped Fleetwood Mac evolve from a British blues band into one of the most successful California rock groups of the 1970s.) “It didn’t happen all at once. It wasn’t like I just walked in and said that the band had to start doing my songs. The development took place over a long period, over a couple of years.”

Nancy White: (Responding to the hisses from the Calgary audience that greeted her announcement she was dedicating “to all the cowboys in Alberta” a satirical song about Roy Rogers’s desire to be stuffed and mounted – like his horse Trigger – when he died.) “Regional sensitivities are so weird. I don’t care because I don’t have any axe to grind. But it seems to me that if you don’t want people from outside to think there’s cowboys out here, you should stop selling those boots and hats in the souvenir stores.”

Andy Williams: (Contemplating, at age 49, the prospect of quitting the road after four decades as a travelling performer.) “When you’re on the road all the time, things take on a different kind of perspective. Life is no longer meaningful. You know what I hate most about travelling? It’s this feeling of being displaced all the time. I enjoy singing to people. Performing for a live audience is what I enjoy most. But it takes up a lot of time and it’s not worth it not to have a home base.”

Emlyn Williams: (On the difference between performing in a one-man show, such as his Emlyn Williams as Charles Dickens, or playing in a Shakespearean drama with other actors.) “It’s much more tiring to work with other actors. With Iago, for instance, which is as long as Hamlet, you’re never off the stage long enough to relax. You’re continually listening for your cue, rushing up and down stairs, changing costumes and makeup, wiping the blood off your face, putting the dagger in the right place, and making sure the letter is in your pocket to give to Othello. If the letter isn’t there, you’re in trouble when you get back on stage. You have a heavy responsibility to the other actors. A solo performance is much easier because I’m on my own and I don’t have to rush.”

Tennessee Williams: (Describing his own creative process.) “Playwriting is the pursuit of a very evasive quarry that you never quite catch. Truth, the inner reality of things to the extent that we can perceive it, is hard to capture. But I think at times I have come close to achieving it.”

L.R. (Bunny) Wright: (On how her early experience as a professional actor influenced her later career as a mystery novelist.) “The link between the two is closer than you might think because both involve pretending you’re somebody else.”

Tammy Wynette: (Explaining why she would always choose singing first if forced to make a choice between husband and career.) “I tried living without music for years, but it didn’t work. It’s the only way I can express myself and be me. It’s something I have to do. I plan to keep on singing for as long as they let me do it.”

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