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Compare and Contrast: Who’s That Guy?

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, August 23, 2020 14:12:06

Who’s That Guy? by Marcus James Heslop is a record, not only of the remarkable tenacity of the author, but the incredible professionalism of the subject. Guy Standeven was an actor who appeared in hundreds of film and TV shows from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. Unlike many actors, he was happy to accept non-speaking roles as an extra. This means that his appearances were varied and often unbilled. Over the past few years, Marcus James Heslop has been tracking down every appearance of Guy Standeven, swelling his IMDB entries with every hour. Who’s That Guy? now puts those statistics into context with the life story of a man who was determined to spend his working day in the business he loved.

In the first chapter, Marcus James Heslop answers the question, “Why write a book about someone nobody’s ever heard of?” The answer is that Guy Standeven “contributed more to the entertainment industry than many famous people do, but received little recognition for it.” Publishers rush to publish autobiographies by reality TV stars who have accomplished relatively little, so surely there is room for someone with a 40 year track record. Guy was also notable because – as an actor – he was happy to take work as an extra. “When he was doing extra work he wasn’t trying to hog the camera or.. steal the limelighthe just got on with the job.”

Reading Guy’s life story, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast with the life of Patrick Wymark. The two men were born two years apart in the north of England, Wymark in 1926, Standeven in 1928. Both had parents involved in amateur dramatics, and both Wymark and Standeven made their first stage appearance with local societies. Both were conscripted towards the end of the war, although Standeven was unfortunate to be invalided out. This did, however, provide him with a service pension that helped supplement his later career.

Where Wymark auditioned for the Old Vic Theatre School and then graduated to leading theatre companies, Standeven found work with regional repertory theatres before moving to London in 1950. Here he registered with Central Casting, the agency which provided extras to the British film industry. What makes Standeven notable is that while most actors would have refused further extra work once they had ‘graduated’ to speaking parts (The Hostage (1956) Standeven continued to accept the non-speaking roles.

In time Guy built up a reputation as a ‘dress extra’ (an extra who could provide his own costume) and whose acting skills gave him an edge as an someone who could be relied upon to provide a reaction or deliver a small line. Over the years he became high on the “shopping list” of assistant directors and was therefore always in work. However, he was also still cast in stage plays (some quite substantial roles) and Marcus James Heslop documents these too.

Wymark and Standeven’s paths never appear to have crossed, although they did appear in the same films such as Cromwell and Operation Crossbow. Ironically, while Wymark has what is effectively a cameo role as a partly-obscured Winston Churchill briefing Richard Johnson’s character in the opening scene, Guy Standeven gets an amusing dialogue exchange with George Peppard which illustrates his versatility.

Who’s That Guy tells a wonderful story, and for anyone who likes watching 1960’s TV shows (or for any viewer of Talking Pictures TV) it’s worth buying just so that you can start totting up the appearances of Mr Standeven (he’s even got a speaking role in the new Woman In Black BluRay from Network). You can buy Who’s That Guy for £14.99 from Amazon.

Greatness and Grief – Richard Burton

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, August 23, 2020 09:48:25

Greatness and Grief: An Appreciation of Richard Burton is not as Gabriel Hershman says in his introduction, another full biography of Richard Burton, or even an attempt to evaluate every performance. The intent of the book is to examine his greatness as an actor and reappraise the myth that he “threw away” his talent.

The second half of the book covers 20 of what the author considers Burton’s finest film performances. Not necessarily great films, and therefore not a predictable top 20. Where Eagles Dare is in there, as is The Wild Geese, but so is The Robe and The VIP’s.

The cover of the book shows Burton with Tony Palmer, rehearsing for Wagner (1982), a film which Hershman covers in greater detail in the first half of the book. This examines the journey from a small Welsh pit village to Oxford University and then to stardom: what Anthony Quayle called, “The odyssey of Richard Burton”, something Quayle felt Burton found more important than being a great stage actor. “Perhaps,” Hershman offers, “acting was merely incidental on the path of life.”

Hershman records Burton’s generosity and insecurity, and also attempts to define the intangible element that caused his peers to regard him as the greatest of actors. Hershman also devotes a chapter to “the alcoholic actor”. Burton was a pioneer in admitting that he was an alcoholic. He accepted it as a reality, in contrast to fellow actors would just admit to “liking a tipple” (or in the case of Ian Hendry define “giving up booze” as only drinking lager). But even knowing the reality, Burton fatally could not stay away. Hershman suggests that far from trying to get high from booze – many actors are trying to subdue their heightened sensitivity – the very sensitivity that allows them to call up the soul of some fictional person. In once of his diaries, Burton refers to “the panacea of…a double ice cold vodka martini…hitting the stomach and then the brain.” But, Hershman examines all possible factors – the tendency to romanticise the hard-drinking heritage of the pit village, the constant search for excuses. In the end it’s difficult to say what causes an addiction. But it’s fair to say Burton recognised his addiction – went on record to warn others at a time when he still had a career to endanger – and took great efforts to avoid the bottle.

This is a fascinating book – it follows Hershman’s own odyssey over the years as an admirer of Burton’s, visiting his birth village and his final home in Switzerland and redressing the balance after years of negative publicity.

Greatness and Grief: An Appreciation of Richard Burton by Gabirel Hershman is available for £9.99 from Amazon