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Dirk Bogarde: Victim Actor Letters Took No Prisoners

Dirk Bogarde: Victim star took no prisoners in his letters to Dilys Powell

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Letters exchanged between film critic Dilys Powell and actor Dirk Bogarde – one of the most popular and respected British performers of the twentieth century, and the star of seminal movies such as Victim, The Servant, Darling, and Death in Venice – reveals that Bogarde was considerably more caustic and opinionated in his letters than in his (quite bland) autobiographies.

As found in Dirk Bogarde’s letters acquired a few years ago by the British Library, among the victims of the Victim star (sorry) were Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave (Julia), a “ninny” who was “so utterly beastly to [Steaming director Joseph Losey] that he finally threw his script at her face”; and veteran stage and screen actor – and Academy Award winner – John Gielgud (Arthur), who couldn’t “understand half of Shakespeare” despite being renowned for his stage roles in Macbeth, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet.

Dirk Bogarde also asserted that most of his fellow actors were “dreadfully dull and boring,” but he is particularly unforgiving toward actor-director Richard Attenborough (Oscar winner for Gandhi, one of the stars in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park), with whom he collaborated on the all-star war musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and the all-star box office and critical bomb A Bridge Too Far (1977). Besides referring to Attenborough as an “idiot,” Bogarde also derided his “beaming falsity.”

On the other hand, two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson (Women in Love, A Touch of Class), Bogarde’s co-star in the 1981 TV movie The Patricia Neal Story, lucked out. She is described as “sheer magic,” even though the liberal Jackson’s and the reactionary Bogarde’s political viewpoints seem to have been quite far apart.

Dirk Bogarde biographer John Coldstream edited The Dirk Bogarde Letters (2008), featuring correspondence between Bogarde and not only Dilys Powell, but also Penelope Mortimer, Kathleen Tynan, Tom Stoppard, and Joseph Losey. (More info on Dirk Bogarde’s Letters.”)

I should add that Bogarde wrote several books of memoirs, none of which is very readable – and none of which is candid about his personal life or his homosexuality.

Dirk Bogarde movies

A top box office draw in the United Kingdom in the 1950s thanks to commercial fare such as Doctor in the House and The Doctor’s Dilemma, Dirk Bogarde turned into a “serious actor” in the early 1960s. Beginning with Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961), in which he plays a married man who happens to be both gay and a victim of blackmail (homosexual acts were still a high-profile crime in the UK in those days), Bogarde became mostly attached to prestigious – if not necessarily commercial – international filmmakers.

Among those – not always at their best – were Luchino Visconti (The Damned, Death in Venice), Joseph Losey (The Servant, King & Country, Modesty Blaise, Accident), John Schlesinger (Darling), Jack Clayton (Our Mother’s House), John Frankenheimer (The Fixer), George Cukor (Justine), Henri Verneuil (The Serpent), Liliana Cavani (The Night Porter), Alain Resnais (Providence), and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Despair).

Among Dirk Bogarde’s countless international co-stars or co-featured players – it’s unclear which ones were “dreadfully dull and boring” – were Monica Vitti, Sarah Miles, Ingrid Thulin, Anouk Aimée, Terence Stamp, Charlotte Rampling, Andréa Ferréol, Helmut Berger, James Fox, Susannah York, Lilli Palmer, Alan Bates, Stanley Baker, Ellen Burstyn, John Gielgud, Yul Brynner, Henry Fonda, Jane Birkin, Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Laurence Harvey, Sylva Koscina, Sylvia Syms, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Caron, Brigitte Bardot, Alexis Smith, Glynis Johns, Cecil Parker, Virginia McKenna, Muriel Pavlow, Kenneth More, Jean Simmons, Dorothy Tutin, Margaret Lockwood, Hermione Baddeley, Alexander Knox, and Jack Warner (no connection to the Warner Bros.). An impressive – and rarely matched – (partial) list covering a movie career that spanned nearly half a century.

Dirk Bogarde was never nominated for an Academy Award, but he did get shortlisted for six BAFTA Awards, winning twice: Best British Actor for The Servant and Darling. Bogarde’s other BAFTA nominations were for Victim, Accident, Our Mother’s House, and Death in Venice.

Dirk Bogarde death

Born in London on March 28, 1921, Dirk Bogarde, debilitated by a massive stroke suffered in 1996, died of a heart attack on May 8, 1999, in the city of his birth.

Bogarde’s manager and longtime companion, Anthony Forwood (a former actor who had been married to Glynis Johns in the mid-1940s), had died in 1988.

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1 comment

Peter Radcliff -

Thanks for the great article. The John Coldstream bio of Dirk Bogarde is one of the best I ever read.


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