MT VOID 08/18/00 (Vol. 19, Number 7)

MT VOID 08/18/00 (Vol. 19, Number 7)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 08/18/00 -- Vol. 19, No. 7

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Alec Guinness (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I probably should make some comments about Alec Guinness who died at 86 less than two weeks ago. After all, Guinness really was one of my favorite actors.

There was a crop of major English actors who came into prominence during and shortly after the Second World War. I guess the most respected was Lawrence Olivier, but also included were John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Alec Guinness. (Incidentally, probably I should be using the title of "Sir" for all these actors, since all had been knighted, but that is a bit more formal than I want to be.) Certainly Olivier and Gielgud one thinks of as being Shakespearean. Not Shakespearean in the sense that Kenneth Branagh is, but sort of cast in marble. They became famous for playing in very respectable productions of classic plays. They played in films, but usually they were people who did not have a moment's doubt about themselves. They took grand dramatic roles. It was a little less true of Richardson than the other two, but it was not true at all of Alec Guinness. From some of his earliest film roles Guinness played people who were very human and very vulnerable. I think I am glad I never met Lawrence Olivier's Heathcliff, but most people that Guinness became in films are people that I would have liked to know. When Olivier felt pain he played it as one force of nature facing another. The impression one gets is like rain hitting a cliff face. It is hard to feel any sympathy for Olivier as he was in REBECCA or WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

On the other hand Guinness always played very human characters. He played frequently with an impish smile when he was happy. But also he knew how to feel emotion in a role and express it. More than that he could get the viewer to feel that emotion along with him. In the best remembered of his 1950s films I think THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, at the end when he feels betrayed, we do also. But I think of all his performances the one that I like best is in one of his lessor known films. He did a wonderful comedy-drama called THE LAST HOLIDAY. In it he was a man diagnosed with a fatal disease who after a life of penury wants to spend his last days at a very posh resort. There was nothing overplayed about the way he let the knowledge that death was approaching eat at him. Even today I find it very hard to see the performance and remember that it is only the character and not Guinness himself who is dying. I think that Olivier and Gielgud had more respect, but I think more people feel a genuine affection for Guinness and his characters.

Of course later on Guinness took roles that brought him more acclaim. He got an Academy Award and a prefix of "Sir" for his role in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI in one of the most fascinating studies of obsession in film. Second only to THE LAST HOLIDAY I liked him in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. He was a perfect choice for Prince Feisal, actually physically resembling Lawrence's own sketches of Feisal.

Probably today Alec Guinness is best known for the role he most regretted. When George Lucas sent him the script for STAR WARS he said his reaction was "Oh crumbs, this is not for me." But he liked the script and agreed to play Obi-Wan Kenobi. The role brought the modest and shy man just precisely the sort of notoriety that he did not want. He became a hero to a younger generation who did not know of his serious work. Even worse people responded to his character as if he was real and would send him mail asking for advice.

Guinness supposedly retired in 1988 but I know better since in 1989 I saw him on the stage as Botvinik in A WALK IN THE WOODS. It was a classic Guinness character, serious and worried, yet impish and playful. Nobody could have played the role better.

As usual when a major actor dies, many of his old films are playing on television and cable. I hope that the younger actors of today take a close look. [-mrl]