The House on Stradella Road in Bel Air had tall iron security gates, which were standing open. Sitting in the center of the driveway—and blocking the entrance—was a black Cadillac limousine with darkened windows. A chauffeur dressed in black was sitting behind the wheel of the car, listening to the radio and reading a copy of The Hollywood Reporter.
As I reached the end of the drive, I was met by an attractive, dark-complexioned woman in her mid-30s. I introduced myself.
“Peter is expecting you,” the woman said. She spoke with a Latin accent. “He’s with some gentlemen by the pool.”
It was shortly after 12 noon. Although it was early spring, the weather was hot; the skies were clear and free of smog. The water of the pool glistened under the bright midday sun.
Two men were sitting at the far end of the pool, near the diving board. One man, wearing a brightly colored Hawaiian sport shirt and sunglasses, was stretched out on a chaise longue, looking through a large picture book; the other was sitting in a nearby chair, arranging a stack of papers in a briefcase he held on his lap.
A blue jay suddenly came sweeping out of the sky and shot across the pool at a low angle. The man with the briefcase ducked his head as the bird went sailing past.
“Holy shit,” the man said.
At that moment, the door to the guest-house opened and Peter O’Toole came striding out. He was dressed in a faded, ankle-length madras caftan; the garment flapped on his thin, angular frame. On his feet, O’Toole wore a pair of heavy beige-leather bedroom slippers. His head was covered with a patterned-silk handkerchief that hung to his shoulders. It was held in place by a dark-blue fishing cap with a striped band. Under the handkerchief, O’Toole’s face was pale, and the harsh sunlight made him look older than his 49 years.
“Greetings,” he said to me in a booming voice. “I see you’ve found our encampment.”
He held a long black cigarette holder in one hand, a freshly lit cigarette sticking out at a slight angle.
“Come along, come along,” he said, waving the cigarette holder. He led the way to the diving-board area, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke.
“Sorry I was detained,” he said to the two men as we approached them. “It was an allegedly urgent telephone communication. The telephone has been driving me mad since I’ve been here. I shall be very happy to return to Ireland, where the bloody things don’t work and one is not bothered.”
The man with the briefcase stood up.
“I’ll be going,” he said. He had dark, wavy hair and wore a khaki shirt with a military cut. A diamond ring on his pinkie finger flashed in the sunlight.
“I’ll have these other papers sent over to you,” the man said to O’Toole.
“Smashing,” O’Toole said, shaking the man’s outstretched hand.
“I’m sure this will be a very successful project,” the man said.
“One always hopes,” O’Toole said.
The man with the briefcase said goodbye and walked up the hill. O’Toole settled himself on a chaise longue and adjusted his headdress. He motioned for me to sit down.
“This gentleman,” he said, presenting me to the other man, “is here to observe my every movement. We’re possibly going to be doing something for Playboy.”
The other man, who said his name was Phil, looked at O’Toole and then at me.
“Do you want me to piss off?” he asked O’Toole.
“Not at all,” O’Toole said, waving the suggestion away.
“If you want me to piss off, just say so,” Phil said, stretching out on the chair.
O’Toole sat forward and faced the swimming pool as if a boat were approaching. He stared off into the distance for several moments.
“I’m going on safari,” he said at length. He raised one side of his silk scarf to look in my direction. “A photographic safari to Botswana, in the southern part of Africa, courtesy of one of your television networks.”
He waved his hand after the departed man with the briefcase.
“Of course, only an American television network would have the caprice to do such a thing,” he said.
He reached over to a glass table next to his chaise. It held an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts, a coffee cup, the morning newspaper and a stack of books about Africa.
“What I find of particular interest,” O’Toole said, the cigarette holder clenched in his teeth, “are the natives of the region. There is a picture here somewhere…”
He began flipping the pages of one of the books. Phil leaned forward to see what he was looking for. O’Toole pointed to a picture of a small man covered in ceremonial paint, standing among ferns.
“Jesus, these fellows go back more than a fortnight,” he said. “When our hairy ancestors descended from the trees and went out onto the grassy plains and so on, these fuckers stayed right there.” He pointed to an arbitrary spot. “There at the base of the fucking trees. And there they stayed.”
He passed the book to Phil. Phil looked the page over thoughtfully.
“They’re sort of orange,” he said.
“Very interesting coloration,” O’Toole said, dropping back against the cushion. “Not at all Negroid. Different characteristics entirely.”
“Sort of orange,” Phil said.
“They’re completely primitive,” O’Toole said. “They’re not of this century at all. They’re timeless, in fact. Looking at these bastards is like looking at the beginning of man.”
“They just found a tribe like that in the Philippines,” Phil said. “Did you see any of them when you were there?”
“When I was in the Philippines, I was surrounded by 75 men with machine guns, baby. I didn’t see a fucking thing.”
He knocked his cigarette out of the holder and into the ashtray.
“Jesus, what a merry little scene that was,” he said. “Marcos brought the international film community down to Manila as a diversionary tactic while he lifted martial law. Ha!” He laughed loudly at this thought. “And there we all were in our tuxedos-—with soldiers every fucking place you looked.”
“Sorry I missed it,” Phil said.
“Oh, Marcos is a brilliant man,” O’Toole said. “Whatever else he may be, he’s brilliant—and he’s a cunning orator. He gave a speech—I believe it was the most whimsical speech I have ever heard. In it, he stated that the cinema had made greater inroads into Western civilization than had Genghis Khan.”
“He said what?” Phil asked.
“It was a totally whimsical point,” O’Toole said. He found another cigarette from the pack on the table and lighted it. “It’s inarguable, of course. The evidence is all around. The facts are there.”
He got up suddenly and moved to the edge of the pool.
“Do you realize, Philip, that I have sat by a pool only two or three times in my entire life, and each time it’s been this very same pool?”
He shielded his eyes and looked up at the sun. Then he gestured around at the whole area with an outstretched arm.
“Sitting poolside in the California sunshine like a fucking movie star,” he said in a rising voice. “People bring me coffee and juice if I ask for it. I tell them I’m a movie star. They don’t give a fuck, but somehow I amuse them. I told the pool man who was cleaning here earlier that I was a movie star and he couldn’t have cared less. He probably cleans Zsa Zsa Gabor’s pool, and I can get stuffed.”
As he spoke, a golden retriever came racing up the hillside. The dog ran about the area for a moment as if looking for prey, then settled down to a slow walk.
“Enter the canine creature,” O’Toole said.
The dog was followed by a girl in her teens, dressed in blue jeans, sneakers and a shirt with a button down collar.
“Hello, Stacey, my love,” O’Toole said.
“Hi, Peter,” the girl said, coming closer. The dog went over to her and she began petting him.
“I like your hat a lot,” she told O’Toole with a smile.
“Thank you very much,” O’Toole said, brushing the scarf away from his face. He took three fast steps back to the glass table and dumped the remains of his cigarette into the ashtray.
“It keeps me cool, that’s the main thing,” he said, looking over at the girl. “It protects me from the unwanted attack of solar radiation.”
“Yeah, I could use some suntan lotion,” Phil said, examining his arm.
Stacey looked at the books that were lying about. She picked one of them up and began leafing through it.
“Are you going to Africa or something, Peter?” she asked.
“I am,” O’Toole said. “Very shortly. I’m going on a photographic expedition. We will look for wildlife of all sorts.”
“That sounds neat,” Stacey said, turning the pages.
“Yes, it should be good fun,” O’Toole said, gazing off toward Africa. “Something unknown, a bit of true adventure … the Great White Actor on safari.”
He looked over at the dog, which was looking up at him.
“What do you think about that?” O’Toole said.
The dog did nothing for a moment, then leisurely got up and walked away.
“Quite right,” O’Toole said.
Stacey got up to leave and called the dog after her, saying that she was going to give him a bath.
“Best of luck to you,” O’Toole said as they went off. He looked at the sky again. “Christ, it’s hot! I shall experience meltdown shortly if I don’t get out of the sun.”
The woman with the Latin accent appeared at the edge of the patio. She called down to O’Toole that he had an overseas telephone call.
“Oh, shit!” he said. He held his hand to his forehead and thought for a moment. “Tell them I’ve gone off!” he shouted. “Tell them you’ve lost track of my whereabouts!”
He slumped into a chair, looking like a man overcome by events.
As he did so, a man came walking down the steps to the pool. He was a tall man with a deep suntan, dressed in a pair of brown pants, a brown sports jacket and a brown shirt.
“Hello, Richard,” O’Toole said, greeting Richard Rush, who had directed O’Toole in the film The Stunt Man. “Your daughter was just here,” O’Toole told him. “With her pet.”
Rush nodded, took off his coat and threw it on a nearby chair. He looked at O’Toole’s outfit.
“What are you up to?” he said. “Are you remaking Lawrence?”
“No, I’ve just been enjoying myself by the side of your pool,” O’Toole said. “Now I’m overheated and I shall have to take a shower and cool off. Afterward, Philip is going to drive me to Westwood village so I might search out a falafel establishment with which I became acquainted on a prior visit.” He turned to Phil, who had come over to join them. “What was the name of the chap who runs the place?” he asked.
“Murray,” Phil said.
“Murray,” O’Toole said. “Of course. Murray, Prince of Falafels. Just what I need—a little jaunt, a little lunch. The telephone has been driving me mad!”
“Can you manage all right?” Rush said. “Out in the naked city?”
“I can cope,” O’Toole said. “After all, I’m a fucking movie star.”
“Oh, yes,” Rush said. “I thought I’d seen you someplace.”
“Have you never been to Ireland during shamrock season before?” the man behind the bar asked me.
“He’s never been at all,” the man sitting next to me answered. He had dark, curly hair, and he was wearing a green sports jacket, a pale-green shirt and a green-and-white tie.
“Never, John?” the first man said. He raised his eyebrows as if amazed. “He’s never been to Ireland?”
“No, never, Frank,” the other man said. “Never at any time.”
“Ah,” the man named Frank said. He ran his hand back against his long silver hair. “Well, then. He’s never been during shamrock season.”
The door of the pub flew open and O’Toole came in; he was wearing a green-cord jacket, a light-blue shirt, a red tie and a striped vest. He clapped me on the back.
“Good to see you,” he said. He produced a five-pound note from his pocket and waved it in the air. “I’d like a cigar,” he said to Frank.
“Certainly, sir,” Frank said with a mock bow. “I’m yours to command.” He went to the other end of the counter.
“And not one of those Dutch fuckers, either,” O’Toole shouted, following after him. Frank came back a few moments later holding a cigar, the end of which had been clipped.
“What’s happened to Peter, then?” Frank asked.
“In the jakes,” John said.
A young man in his 20s came in and took a place at the bar. He was wearing a blue blazer and a silk scarf, tied nattily at his throat. Frank produced a deck of cards from beneath the counter. The three men put money on the bar and the cards were dealt.
The hand ended with John and the young man throwing in their cards with disgust.
“Bastard!” John said balefully, staring at Frank. He pounded the countertop for emphasis. “Whoremaster!”
Frank smiled at him and shrugged amiably.
“Brightness, John!” he cautioned.
O’Toole returned from the rear of the pub, his face dripping wet. He was mopping himself off with a handkerchief.
“I would like to ask,” he said, settling himself on a stool at the end of the bar, “just how are you supposed to dry your face under one of those fucking blowers?”
Frank handed O’Toole his cigar and lighted it for him with a plastic lighter. “It’s an interesting question,” Frank said. considering it a moment. “I doubt it’s been asked before.”
O’Toole looked at the young man in the blue blazer and said, “How are you, Andrew? Good to see you.”
“I’m well, thank you, Peter,” Andrew said. “And yourself?”
“Fine, fine,” O’Toole answered. “I see your uncle is setting a sterling example for you,” he said, motioning to the cards on the counter.
“I’m filling in the gaps in the lad’s education,” Frank said, scooping in the money, “I try to be a good moral influence.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” O’Toole said. “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. A good moral influence, indeed! I was passing by a church one day and met a chum of mine who was on his way out. Quite politely, I said good morning to him, and he snarled back. ‘Don’t speak to me! I’m in a state of fucking grace!’ ”
“A man close to God,” John said, laughing hard.
O’Toole turned to me. “Let’s go for a look around, shall we?” he said. He rose and, puffing on his cigar, led the way through the door.
“That’s my car there,” he said, pointing to a mustard-colored car of indeterminate make that was double-parked at the corner. “We have to detour briefly up the street so that I might get some chewing gum. A pernicious habit I picked up in your country. But it helped me get off the booze, and now, at least, they make it sugarless, so your fucking teeth don’t rot out. Do you ride a horse, by the way?”
I said that I did not.
“That’s all right,” O’Toole said. “We’ll adjust.”
He stepped suddenly out into the street and looked up at the sky. A car moving at high speed swerved to avoid him.
“We’ll have to see what the weather does,” he said. “The weather changes from moment to moment here. Yeats said, ‘The light has legs.’ If you were a landscape painter, you’d go potty.”
He pushed open the door to a crowded gift-and-souvenir shop. Elvis Presley’s record Don’t Be Cruel was playing over a loudspeaker.
O’Toole marched purposefully to the back of the store, where there was a metal rack holding an assortment of candy and gum. He lingered over his choice a moment, then selected two packs of gum and paid for them. A pair of gray-haired ladies in tweed walking outfits stood nearby and watched him with shy interest.
“Hello, ladies,” O’Toole said, towering above them. “Lovely day!”
We left the store and walked back to O’Toole’s car. The town of Clifden consisted of one main street with an old stone church at each end. We passed a butcher shop with a side of beef in the window: a man walked by carrying a large fish in each hand.
“It’s only within the last year that I’ve been driving an automatic transmission,” O’Toole said as we got into his car. “Consequently, I have a tendency to shift gears with the ashtray. Please don’t allow this to alarm you.”
He started the car and we took off, leaving the town by a narrow road that wound upward along a hillside. The ground to one side sloped down to the Atlantic. The water was gray-blue and calm under an overcast sky.
Off the coast, there were a number of dark-green humps in the water.
“Most of those islands are inhabited,” O’Toole said, “as they have been for centuries. Mostly by fishermen, though they also graze cows and sheep.”
He stopped the car in the middle of the road and pointed to one island.
“That island,” he said. “was inhabited up to several years ago by a population of 30. One day, four of the island men drowned in a terrible storm at sea.” He unwrapped a stick of gum and popped it in his mouth. “It destroyed the spirit of the island,” he said. “So the people left and came here to the mainland. These are some of their houses.”
He indicated whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs that were set back from the road.
An old man passed, leading a donkey.
“You’re in the most primitive part of Europe,” O’Toole said to me. “Don’t let the stray bit of electricity fool you.”
The road continued to climb until, at last, we arrived at O’Toole’s house. Gravel from the driveway scattered as we pulled in. The house was quite large in relation to its neighbors; it stood two stories high, built solidly of stone, and was encircled by a stone terrace. The house looked directly out to sea. Behind it were blue-green mountains.
O’Toole hopped out of the car and walked briskly over to one of the plants that surrounded the terrace.
“Hello, hello,” he said, bending over to the plant’s level. “How are things today?” He looked over his shoulder at me. “I must check on them constantly and reassure them of my presence,” He straightened up and gestured around. “I planted everything you see here. The trees. The bushes—every fucking thing. Ninety percent of what was planted was blown away by the wind. The wind’s a mighty thing, coming off the ocean.”
He looked at the ocean accusingly, “Plants must be sturdy to survive here,” he said. “Just like the people.”
The entranceway to O’Toole’s house was hung with raincoats, overcoats, hats, and mufflers. There was a row of shoes and boots lined up on the floor.
The living room was high-ceilinged, with a stone fireplace. There was a large wooden sideboard against one wall, the surface of which was covered with cassette tapes and recording paraphernalia.
There was a fire going in the fireplace. O’Toole examined it, rubbing his hands together. He took a large piece of turf and threw it onto the fire.
“I’ll make some tea,” he said, going into the kitchen. “It’s part of my limited culinary repertoire.”
The living room was paneled in light wood. There was a sofa in front of the fireplace, with a large brass stand-up lamp behind it and a table in front. There were two windows in the room, both looking out to sea.
After a few moments. O’Toole returned with a tray holding a teapot, mugs, milk and sugar. He poured some tea for himself and added milk; the milk clung to the top in scummy flecks.
“Don’t mind that shit,” he said, referring to the milk. “I mix rubbish with good stuff, but it’s not sour.”
He went over to the sideboard and examined the cassettes. He selected one and put it into a tape player. Phoebe Snow came on as the fire began to spark and fill the room with smoke.
“I have my own bachelor inventions.” he said. “My own mad methods of housekeeping and so on.”
He came back and stood in front of the fire. “You just missed the photographs of my trek to Africa.” he said. “We had literally hundreds of them here. Every fucking thing we did. It was an extraordinary, extraordinary adventure. We had only two bad moments. Once, we came across a pack of wild dogs and for a moment, it looked like goodbye, but somehow we managed to get out with our skins intact. The other happened when we were stalking—of all things—bull elephants. Amazingly, they are the stealthiest of all the animals of the bush. Isn’t that amazing?” He paused to see whether I thought it was amazing. “They appear absolutely without warning. And so we turned around, and there in front of us…”
He pointed to a spot nearby where the elephant would have stood.
“And he had that ancient, old look,” O’Toole said, gazing at the imaginary elephant. “Amazingly old, and blue; a faded, faded, faded gray, gray primal blue. The color I have always imagined mastodons to be. And one eye spotted us—and he gave us the ear treatment.” O’Toole held his hands, palms spread next to his ears. “Va-voom!” he shouted. “And mind you, the ears are the size of the sofa you’re sitting on! And he showed these great tusks and these great trotters, and I thought, Dear God Almighty! This is my farewell performance! But, once again, Providence intervened and we escaped.”
He relighted his cigar and puffed on it experimentally.
“We saw hawks, shrikes, eagles; we were floating downriver in a soap dish, with the camera crew in another soap dish behind us, and there, in a tree on the other side of the river, was an eagle—a fishing eagle, with its wings spread, drying its feathers. A mighty creature, with very carefully defined features outlined in black and white. We wondered whether it would be interested in a lump of fish. So I took a lump of tiger fish and heaved it into the air. Down it came…” O’Toole slowly flapped his arms and imitated the bird’s descent. “And with one talon he hooked onto it and off he went. It was an astounding sight. I mean, can you imagine…”
He was interrupted by the telephone—a single long, piercing ring. O’Toole looked up as if a bomb had gone off.
“Jeeesus!” he said. “You’ve witnessed an event. The fucking telephone actually rang. Good God!”
Standing up very straight, he picked up the receiver and spoke into the mouthpiece.
“Good afternoon,” he said in a deep voice. He waited for a moment but evidently received no answer, “Good afternoon.” he said again, a little louder. He held the receiver away from him and looked at it.
“Hello!” He shouted into the telephone. “Hello! Yes, yes! Hang on!” He put the receiver down on the table with a bang. “Will you hang this up for me?” he said, and dashed out of the room.
After a moment, the extension clicked on and I put the receiver back in its cradle. I stood by the window and looked out; the sun had appeared, and now the sky was blue and the clouds had separated. The sea had become a brighter blue. A small boat, just a dot on the water, was making its way to the mainland from one of the offshore islands.
O’Toole returned in a short while, a delighted expression on his face.
“That was all the way from the United States of America!” he said. “A major achievement! Communication is largely irrelevant here. I usually keep the fucking phone in the oven, since it has no useful function. Sometimes people do get through. The odd daughter gets in when she needs something…”
He wandered around the room for a moment, as if trying to locate something. “Electricity came to this peninsula only five years ago,” he said, finally crossing the room to stand by the window. “It altered the reality around here. It changed things. Modernization breeds its own brand of schizophrenia….”
He trailed off, looking out the window. He stood and stared for quite a long while, as if he had fallen into a trance. “I’m sorry,” he said at last, “I have this habit of looking out to sea.”
He turned away from the window, seemingly with renewed vigor. “Let’s go for a jaunt, shall we?” he said. “I don’t like to be closed indoors.”
He got a canteen, which he filled with water from the kitchen. He stopped in the entry and lifted a pair of binoculars from one of the coat racks. We stepped outside. Although the sky had brightened, the air was cold and crisp.
“Everything is fresh here,” O’Toole said as we stood on the porch. He took a deep, invigorating breath. “There’s no pollution, and even if there were, the wind would blow it the fuck away. Here, take a drink of this.” He handed me the canteen; I unscrewed the top and took a drink.
“The water comes from my own well.” O’Toole said. “I take water with me everywhere I go. One must always be prepared when one ventures out. Here, have a look.”
He had the binoculars raised to his eyes; he lowered them and handed them to me.
“Look straight out that way,” he told me, pointing toward one of the islands. “Look up at the top.”
Through the glasses, the island jumped into focus. There was a rectangular object, dark in color, sticking up from the top, like a short stem on a green apple.
“That’s a marking stone,” O’Toole said. “A megalith. A prehistoric monument—a bit of architectural fancy to while away the hours in the second millennium B.C.”
He tilted his head back and took a long swig of water from the canteen.
“It’s an old neighborhood,” he said.
We walked to the car—O’Toole stopping to have a few words with a group of hydrangeas in full bloom—and set out for the other side of the peninsula.
“I’ll have to ask you to roll down your window,” O’Toole said to me as we wound our way along the coast line. “I find it impossible to see three-dimensionally through glass.”
Below us, on a white sandy beach, two men were standing next to a boat that was upside down. It had an oily-looking black surface, and from a distance, it looked like a beached sea animal.
“That boat is called a currach,” O’Toole said. “It’s constructed by stretching a piece of material over a wooden frame–very simple, very lightweight. It’s the traditional sailing craft of the area. Two or three men usually carry it and they plop it into the water and off they go, fishing or whatever. Men have sailed the high seas in similar craft. Which shows a bit of guts. I would think. A bit of intestinal fortitude.”
He brought the car to a sudden stop and turned and looked directly at me.
“Am I boring you absolutely to tears?” he asked. “If so, you must protest loudly and I shall stop. Otherwise, I have a tendency to yammer on about things.”
He took his cigarette holder from his jacket pocket and pointed with it toward a neatly kept white-stone house set away from the road.
“This place, I believe, belongs to some man who was supposed to be the American Ambassador to Ireland. Or did I read he was sacked out before he even got here? There was some sort of cloud over his appointment. It sounds like he was the perfect man for the job; in Ireland, there’s an understanding attitude toward questionable behavior. It’s all part of things. It’s been said that the reason the crime rate is so low in Ireland is that nobody ever gets caught.”
O’Toole fished in his pocket for a cigarette to fit into the holder. A group of brown-and-white cows came walking slowly toward us on the road.
“Hello, daisies!” O’Toole called out brightly. “Hello, girls!”
One of the cows regarded us with a soulful gaze as she passed by.
“The Clifden chorus girls,” he said.
As he put the car in gear, he scanned the sky through the windshield. “I’m looking for a heron,” he said. “Or a bittern. The swans arrived the other day. They’re Bewick’s swans; they come all the way from Siberia—think of that!”
We went around a curve and came face to face with an orange-colored van, which completely occupied the narrow turtleback roadway. O’Toole and the other driver looked at each other for a long moment, neither making a move. Finally, O’Toole backed up and created as much room as possible. Two sheep, branded with bright-blue stripes down their backs, observed the scene from a pasture.
We watched as the van slowly pulled around us and somehow did not topple off the road. O’Toole exchanged a salute with the other driver, spilling ashes on his coat in the process.
We had completely rounded the peninsula and were reproaching the mainland. A medieval building, with turrets and towers, sat on a hillside. “That’s a monastery, that picturesque building.” O’Toole said. “A place where monks have cavorted through the ages.”
As the building passed from view, O’Toole made a sweeping gesture that took in the surrounding countryside.
“Before the invention of celibacy,” he said, “the fucking was great round here!”
He considered that statement and began chortling to himself. “Isn’t it an irony?” he said. “Ireland is the country that more or less exported Christianity—by the act of writing it down—but the irony is it never really caught on here. Most of the churches weren’t built until the 19th Century. But in the old days, the Irish were good at copying—the monks were, at least-—and so they began to copy the Christian texts: and then they began to decorate the manuscripts: and then they became so involved that they simply made up their own words. Hence, the great literary tradition of Ireland, which, when you think about it, is extraordinary: Joyce, Yeats, Synge, O’Casey. Wilde, Shaw, Swift” — he counted the list of names on his fingers — “and Beckett and Behan and on and on. As I said, this is the most primitive part of Europe, but it’s also the most literate. One of those juxtapositions that creation serves up so nicely.”
The countryside grew rockier, the rocks strewn about as if they had been sprayed out by a popcorn machine. I commented to O’Toole on the rugged landscape. He looked at me as one who had stated the obvious.
“‘The stones the stones the stones of Connemara…’ ” he intoned. “‘In spite of the tennis I resume…’ That’s Sam Beckett, man! That’s Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot. ‘In spite of the strides of physical culture … the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding … dying … sports of all sorts … tennis of all kinds … in spite of the tennis … the facts remain … the earth abode of stones…’ ”
He pointed through the windshield. “And there are the fucking stones!”
He pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. The car bumped and staggered a bit as it went off the pavement.
“Careful, Peter, careful,” O’Toole said to himself. “You’re not on a horse.” He maneuvered the car a little farther, until he had reached a satisfactory position, and then shut off the engine.
He picked up the binoculars, opened his door and disembarked. I followed him into a field of wildflowers. In the distance, in sight of the shore line, there was a group of boulders, huge rocks, arranged in a horseshoe shape. A large stone, standing roughly in the center of the group, stood out above the rest.
“That spot is what is called a fairy ring,” O’Toole said. looking at it through the binoculars. “Gullible tourists are led to believe that fanciful creatures materialize here during favorable lunar phases—no doubt to the accompaniment of genuine Irish folk music. But that’s not what it is. What it is, in fact, is a place where songs and recitations were held when the earth was quite young. Here, have a look at it through these.” He handed me the binoculars. “You can see how the island people came in with their boats. They gathered here from the islands. They landed and met there, in the fairy ring.”
He bent over and selected a stone from one of hundreds lying about. “Some of these are thousands of years old,” he said, turning the rock over in his hand, “but if you start trying to figure the old from the new, you go stone mad!”
He tossed the rock away. “There’s a spot not far from here where, in 1919, two aviators named Alcock and Brown completed the first successful transatlantic flight. And when the local people saw this great flying thing in the sky—well! They thought that Jesus had come to Clifden! And they erected a monument of stone for the event. The monument was what they fancied the airplane’s tail to look like. It sits on top of the mountain and looks very much like one of these prehistoric jobs. I find it rather amusing to see this stone monument to a flying machine. It has a bit of Connemara cuteness to it.”
We returned to the car and set off again. We passed people with backpacks and a group of boys playing ball. On the side of the road was a decorative ruin, once a castle, now only a stone skeleton covered with vines. On the other side of the road, there was a row of ugly modern single-story houses with chain-link fences and large television aerials.
We passed an abandoned, gutted barn. On the side of the building, in dripping black paint, were the letters IRA.
As we drew near the town of Clifden, we saw two nuns dressed in modern habits, with shortened veils and dresses.
“We have lots of nun factories in Ireland,” O’Toole said. “Lots of priest factories as well. Although that’s all in a decline now, along with church attendance in general. It seems that many of the boys who once wanted to be priests are now becoming policemen—which I’m sure has some significance for some sociologist someplace.”
The two nuns were walking along the side of the road. One held a basket filled with pink and white flowers.
“I’ve never liked nuns,” O’Toole said. “They remind me of crows—and I detest crows. At least now, in these contemporary frocks, the good sisters don’t look quite so fearful and crowlike. At least now you can see gender. That was the terrifying thing when I was young—to see a creature without gender.”
The town came into view, its two almost identical church steeples rising up at each end.
“That’s the Catholic church, the one closest to us,” O’Toole said. “That’s the Protestant church down there. Personally, I don’t attend either. I go to Frank Murphy’s pub.”
We were standing in the doorway of O’Toole’s house in the late afternoon. A soft rain was falling. The sky and the sea were gray. Gray rocks were scattered along the mountainside like human skulls.
“Well, we have some real Wuthering Heights weather here,” he said. “It has that foreboding air, the sort of weather that lays bare the human soul.”
He smiled quite broadly, as if that pleased him.
“What do you say we go for a walk? I’ll give you some foul-weather gear.”
From the entry he took a heavy fisherman’s slicker and a pair of green-rubber boots.
“Here, put these on,” he said. “They’ll be a bit large, but it’s good insulation and will keep you properly warm.”
The coat swallowed me, hanging almost to my ankles and completely covering my hands. The boots were similarly sized. O’Toole put on my head a tweed cap with wide buckled straps that hung down on each side.
He stood back to survey the effect. “You do look a bit comical,” he admitted. “But generally, that’s better than bronchitis.”
He removed the pair of loafers he had been wearing and changed into a pair of black boots. He put on a green tweed overcoat.
We had already started away from the house when O’Toole muttered something under his breath and turned back. He returned a moment or so later with a shotgun cradled in his arm.
“I’m looking for crows,” he explained. “Vile, spiteful creatures. One of the few birds I do not like, as I believe I mentioned. In fact—” He looked around him for one of the black birds. “In fact, if I see any, I shall be quite delighted to blow them to perdition!”
I followed him as he led me up a grassy hillock. “Watch your footing,” he called back. “The ground is tricky and deceptive.” The wet grass and the muddy earth slid away easily underfoot: there were small puddles everywhere. At the top, he pointed toward a farmhouse down the mountain nearer to the water.
“That’s my daughter Kate’s house,” he said. “Pat, my other daughter, has a house down there as well, though you can’t quite see it. This is Zulu-style living. The family lives in the same spot, but each family member has his own dwelling. I think it’s a very sensible arrangement. It keeps the family together but the fuck away from one another at the same time.”
We made our way carefully down the slope of the hill and came out on a narrow, rutted dirt track that stretched out in a straight line and seemed to disappear into the sky. We walked slowly up the road. Once or twice. O’Toole paused and raised the shotgun as if he’d noticed something, but each time, there was no sound other than the rain.
“This part of Ireland, traditionally and to this day, has been known as the land of the solitary poets,” O’Toole said. “Your man Theodore Roethke, he lived here, on one of the islands. Richard Murphy lives here now. There are more solitary brains, both men and women, fiddling around these shores than in any other spot on earth. An unbroken tradition of poets—pirates, too.”
Enormous rain clouds hung over the hills. Far below, the sea was becoming rough and the waves beat against the rocky coast line.
“This is also the traditional burial place of the O’Malleys,” O’Toole said, turning up the collar of his coat. “A renowned family of both poets and pirates. One of the greatest pirates who ever lived. Grace O’Malley, had a fortress here. She’s one of Ireland’s non-mythic figures, whose life is quite carefully documented. She sailed the high seas at the time of Drake and the other great pirates, and she outfoxed them all. She was a great beauty, too, and a poet in her own way. Her base of operations was a small harbor that is now called Cleggan, and when I was a young man. I lived there in a pub owned by an O’Malley, Master O’Malley, dead and buried 20 years now.”
A chill wind came up and O’Toole beat his arm against his thigh as if to restore circulation. “The weather is constantly on the change,” he said. “It can turn from being the most vividly beautiful, romantic countryside to this…” He gestured. “A rocky wilderness, lonely and desolate. And it can do it in an hour’s time. People here have to learn to adapt. It’s either mutate or die!”
He stopped and motioned for me to be still. He went on ahead a few feet, moving toward a large bush with tangled branches. O’Toole bent over, noiselessly, and picked up a wet stone. With infinite care, he raised his arm and tossed the rock into the bush. At the same time, he drew his gun up to fire. The rock landed with a thud and a rustle of leaves, but nothing flew out. O’Toole looked disappointed.
“Those lucking crows,” he said, “They’re here.” He looked around like a detective at the scene of a crime. “They’re here, all right, and they know I’m out looking for them!”
There was the sound of footsteps, and then a man approached us, followed by a small dog. The man was dressed in a green rain slicker and tall rubber boots. The dog looked as if it had recently been in a fight.
“Hello, Eddie.” O’Toole called out to the man.
“Hello, Peter,” the man said, coming up to where we stood. He nodded toward O’Toole’s gun. “Looking for birds, eh?”
“Yes,” O’Toole said, glancing up at the sky, “I’m looking for crows. But the fucking things are hiding from me.”
The man gave a short, gruff laugh, as if O’Toole had told him a joke. The man wore thick black-framed glasses with a piece of adhesive tape in the middle. He had a paper hat on his head.
“How are things with you, then, Eddie?” O’Toole asked. “How’s your mother? Is she better?”
The man suddenly looked very sad. “She’s not well. I’m afraid, Peter. It’s not good for her.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” O’Toole said.
“They’ve moved her to the hospital in Galway,” the man said. “The doctor told me that if she wasn’t moved, she’d have no chance. He said she wouldn’t have lived two days if she had stayed in Clifden.”
“She’s in Galway now, is she?” O’Toole said.
“They took her in an ambulance,” Eddie said. “They don’t know what’s wrong. They say it could be three things: It could be be t.b.; it could be cancer; or it could be fluid—fluid in her lungs.” He put his hand across his chest. “They have to take X rays to know for sure.”
“Who’s the doctor?” O’Toole asked him, “Is it young O’Casey?”
Eddie nodded. He kicked at the ground with his boot. The dog lay down with his head on a patch of wet grass.
“The truth is, Peter,” the man said, “she still may die. At least this way, though, the doctor says she has a chance. In Clifden, he said, she had no chance.”
O’Toole took a cigarette and cupped it with his hand against the wind to light it. He blew out a cloud of smoke.
“She’s old,” the man said, almost to himself. “She forgets things, she doesn’t know people—it’s sad, Peter. She’ll remember the old things, you know? She’ll remember things from years ago. But then I’ll go to speak to her and—”
He cut off, and spread his hands in a gesture of hopelessness. O’Toole smoked his cigarette and watched him carefully.
“I’ll be going to see her in a day or so,” Eddie said.
“I want you to promise me you won’t go alone,” O’Toole said. “I’ll drive you: or if I can’t, John will. But I want you to promise you’ll go with one of us, all right? Is it a promise?”
“Yes, all right,” the man said, nodding. There was water collecting on the frames of his glasses.
O’Toole clapped him on the shoulder. “Take care, Eddie,” he said. “Be strong.”
“I figure, at least this way, she has a chance,” the man said, “In Clifden, she’d have no chance.”
He walked away, the dog followed behind, until they both disappeared up the road in the mist. We stood without moving for quite a long while. Everything was absolutely still and quiet. When O’Toole finally spoke, I was startled by his voice.
“Some people can’t tolerate the silence,” he said. “It’s very awesome: it gives you a sense of the eternal. It holds you like an anchor.”
I asked him if he ever got lonely.
“Never,” he said without hesitation.
We walked back toward his house without saying anything. The sky was gray and enormous, and it covered the earth like a seamless garment.
O’Toole cocked his head and listened a moment. He made his way slowly off the road, through bushes and vines dripping with moisture. A wooden animal shelter stood beneath a tree whose branches were weighted almost to the ground.
O’Toole leaned against the shelter like a weary traveler. He waited a moment. then knocked several times. A deep. bellowing moo issued from within, followed by another. O’Toole raised himself up on tiptoe and peered over the top.
“Hello, girls,” he said. “Seen any crows?”
“Oh, this is exciting,” O’Toole said. He was standing on the ledge of a rooftop, teetering backward. Behind him was the night skyline of New York City. He was restrained from falling by a firehose wrapped around his waist.
Richard Benjamin looked at him, studying the situation.
“You’re drunk,” Benjamin said.
“I’m drunk,” O’Toole said agreeably, nodding his head.
He strengthened his grasp on the hose.
“You’re drunk,” Benjamin said, “and you’re on the roof of this building”—he gestured around him—”and you’re going over the side with that fire hose wrapped around you.”
“It makes perfect sense to me,” O’Toole said.
“Good,” Benjamin said. “You’re well motivated. I like that. Now, you”—he turned toward a young man who was standing on the rooftop, only a few feet away—“you, Mark, are very upset by what you see here. When Peter says he’s going over the side, you get very upset.”
The young man regarded Richard Benjamin with an intense expression. He had curly hair gone wild and a face that seemed about to explode with confusion.
“I’d say he was actually frantic,” O’Toole called over. He was leaning back precariously, holding on to the hose with one hand and lighting a cigarette with the other. “I’d say he’s ready to pee in his fucking pants.”
Mark nodded his head rapidly in affirmation.
“Good, good, good,” Benjamin said. “Everything seems clear. All right…” He turned and cupped his hands around his mouth. “All right, we’re ready,” he called out.
He spoke to half a dozen men who were standing around a camera crane. They turned to look at him.
“Or are we ready?” Benjamin asked.
“Almost ready,” said a man who was sitting on a high folding chair next to the camera. He was stout, dressed in blue jeans and a blue turtleneck and wearing a visored cap. “We’re clearing up a little problem, Dick.”
The man got up and walked off the rooftop and around to the canvas backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. He took a light meter from around his neck and held it against one of the windows.
O’Toole, still teetering on the ledge, turned around to look at the man.
“We’ll be shooting shortly, may I presume?” he inquired. “I’m getting simulated vertigo.”
“We’re ready now,” the man in the turtleneck said, putting his meter away. “We had a little problem with the lights, but it seems OK now.”
“Splendid,” O’Toole said. A make-up man climbed up onto the ledge and began applying powder to his forehead.
“All right, everybody,” Benjamin said, clapping his hands. He settled into a folding chair with the word Director stenciled on the back in gold lettering.
“Settle down, people,” a young man with a trim beard said. He spoke in a loud, authoritative tone of voice. “Let’s go to a bell, please.”
A loud bell sounded, like a submarine surfacing.
“Very quiet now,” the bearded man said. He looked around the sound stage as if to silence everybody with mind control. When he was satisfied, he said, “Roll the sound.”
Three men in identical golfing sweaters were seated at the sound cart, which was parked in a comfortably remote spot.
“Speed,” one of them called out.
“Roll the camera,” the bearded man said.
“Rolling,” the cameraman said, squinting into his eyepiece.
A man jumped in front of the camera and slated the scene with a clapboard that read My Favorite Year.
There was a moment of silence.
O’Toole readjusted himself on the ledge. Benjamin inclined his head slightly to one side and said, “Action!”
“Don’t do it!” the young man with the curly hair cried. He ran forward to face O’Toole and gestured as if to save him.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” O’Toole called back at him, weaving slightly in place. He glanced over his shoulder at what was supposed to be the street, some 20 stories below.
“There’s nothing to it! I’ve done this sort of thing”—he gestured erratically with his free hand—”I’ve done this sort of thing hundreds of times!”
“But that was in the movies,” the young man cried, his face full of terror. “This is real life!”
He began running in frantic circles, looking desperately for something to save the day.
“Movies or real life,” O’Toole bellowed, “what’s the difference?” He gathered himself up very straight. “I’m going down now,” he announced.
“No,” the young man wailed. “Don’t do it!”
O’Toole reached down to pick up a whiskey bottle perched on the ledge, and as he did so, he lost his balance. With a great cry—arms flailing, like a man trying to fly—he fell backward off the roof. The fire hose went rushing over the roof after him.
The young man with the curly hair ran forward and looked over the side, down at the shadowy sidewalk.
“Oh, my God!” he shouted out. “What have I done?” He held his head in his hands and shook it sorrowfully. There was a silence of several seconds.
“And cut it.” Benjamin said.
Mark shielded his eyes against the glare of the lights and looked toward the side lines.
“I thought I’d forgotten to say something,” he said.
O’Toole, who had fallen backward on a red-vinyl mattress, got to his feet and brushed himself off. He looked down at a man who was crouching alongside him with the fire hose in his hand.
“Did we collide?” O’Toole asked.
“No sweat.” the man said.
“I liked it a lot,” Benjamin said, getting out of his chair. He turned to the cameraman. “Can we print that?”
The cameraman, who was in a whispered conference with the operator, looked up with the expression of a man who bears bad news.
“Uh, we have a little problem, Dick,” he said.
“Oh, shit,” O’Toole said, lighting a cigarette.
“A problem?” Benjamin said. “What kind of a problem?”
“The lights are flickering,” the operator said. He pointed to the Manhattan backdrop. “You’ve got flickering lights back there.”
Benjamin looked at the backdrop and then at the cameraman.
“How bad is that?” he asked.
“Well, it’s not good,” the cameraman admitted. “We thought we had the son of a bitch fixed—something’s draining our power,” He shook his head.
“You mean we can’t print that?” Benjamin said.
“Well, yeah, you could,” the cameraman said. “But—” He spread his hands to show the futility of such an action.
O’Toole came walking over to where I was standing, next to a card table holding an ashtray, a cup and saucer and a green-plastic Thermos bottle. He turned the spigot on the Thermos bottle and dispensed some tea into the cup.
“We seem to have hit a patch of stormy weather,” he said, drinking his tea. He looked over his shoulder at the conference that was shaping up around the camera crane. Orders were being called out and the workmen who manned the catwalks were busy examining the lights.
“I find at a moment like this,” O’Toole said, “it’s best to retire to the trailer.”
He put the cup down with a clatter and, with the cigarette holder clenched in his teeth, steered a course off the sound stage.
“Bloody boring thing,” O’Toole said as he pushed open the first of two doors leading outside. “Just as things are rolling along, we have ourselves fucked up by some bit of electrical cable.”
He pushed open the second door and stepped out into the afternoon sunshine. A man wearing a short black-suede jacket and carrying a stack of file folders came rushing from out of nowhere and grabbed O’Toole by the arm.
“Ah, hello,” O’Toole said to the man, somewhat startled.
“I wanted to catch you,” the man said with a shortness of breath. “I wanted to make sure I caught you before—” He waved his hand off in the air, leaving the thought unfinished.
“Yes,” O’Toole said. “Hmmmm.”
The man had slicked-down hair and wore a pair of dark-framed glasses. He shifted his load of folders from one hand to the other. “There are just a couple of things I want to talk to you about. Peter, and I know you’re busy—” He coughed and patted his chest.
“Yes, that’s all right. Jack,” O’Toole said. “Calm down and get a grip.”
O’Toole led the way down the narrow street that ran between the huge dun-colored sound stages. Parked along the street was a string of mobile homes. Outside one, there was a line-up of at least a dozen small children, each accompanied by his or her mother. A man with a clipboard and an uninterested look on his face was walking up and down the line, presiding over the event. Several of the mothers were vigorously instructing their children to stand up straight and appear attractive.
“Casting call,” O’Toole said as we passed by. “Not a pretty sight.”
“The thing is. Peter,” Jack said, hurrying to keep up with O’Toole. “I know you’re busy as hell and you’ve got no time to spare, but I’ve had The Today Show on the phone twice already this morning—I told them your situation—”
“When?” O’Toole said. He knocked the cigarette from his holder and stamped on it with his foot.
The man looked at him quizzically.
“When what?” he asked.
“When do you want them to come here. Jack?” O’Toole said. He clapped the man on the shoulder and leaned forward to smile at him. “Isn’t that where this conversation was headed?” O’Toole turned away abruptly and stretched his hand up to the door handle of a long white trailer. He yanked the door open, took two steps up and disappeared inside.
“I thought tomorrow afternoon, maybe,” Jack said, following cautiously. “Or Wednesday, if that’s better for you.”
O’Toole stood in the middle of the trailer near the kitchen area, going through the pockets of his suit like a man searching for car keys. Evidently finding nothing, he took off his coat and folded it over his arm.
“Well, the honest truth is, baby,” he said to the man in the black-suede jacket, “either way is dreadful for me. How’s that coming, then?”
He had swiveled around and addressed the question to a burly-looking teamster in a padded parka vest, who was standing in front of the kitchen stove.
The man was pouring hot water with exaggerated care from a kettle into a teapot.
“Coming right up,” the man said. He wore a perforated cap with a Ford insignia on it.
“Good,” O’Toole said. “Well, then”—he looked at the publicity man, who was watching him with a growing sense of apprehension—”why don’t you have them drop by tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” Jack said. Having been prepared for rejection, he overflowed with joy. “Fantastic!”
O’Toole maneuvered by him toward a simulated-wood-grain-plastic dinette table. There was a booth on each side and a couch, upholstered in green-and-white brocade, across the aisle. O’Toole threw his coat onto the couch.
“There’s just one—ah—other thing, Peter,” Jack said. He began flipping through the folders in his arms. The stack threatened to get out of hand and spill on the floor. “And I know you probably won’t have time for this one; I have the information here someplace—”
The burly man in the parka vest looked over to O’Toole and said, “Tea’s ready, boss.”
“Wonderful, darling,” O’Toole said. He picked up a pack of cigarettes from the dinette table and shook one into his hand. He struck a match and brought it toward the cigarette as if he were performing a hand-to-eye-coordination test.
“Well, it’s the BBC,” Jack said.
“Who is?” O’Toole said, waving the match until it was extinguished.
“The interview,” Jack said. “The one I was talking about.” A sheet of paper broke free from his folders and floated to the ground.
“The one I don’t have time for?” O’Toole said. “When would that be?”
“They were talking about Friday,” Jack said.
O’Toole paused for deliberation: then, as if in response, he unzipped his trousers and let them drop to the floor.
“Friday’s impossible,” he said, stepping out of the pants. He bent over and picked them up. He was now wearing his shirt and tie, a pair of highly polished black shoes, green socks and a pair of white jockey undershorts.
“No can do, huh?” Jack said.
“Out of the question.” O’Toole said. He laid the suit pants next to the jacket on the green-brocade couch.
“Yeah, well. I sort of knew that was the way—” Jack began to say, but he was cut off as the teamster who had been making tea crowded by him carrying a cup and saucer, which he set down gingerly on the dinette table.
“If you want anything else. I’ll be outside,” he said to O’Toole. Eying Jack suspiciously, the burly man elbowed his way past him once again, opened the trailer door and left.
“Well, at any rate—” Jack said, clearing his throat. “I just thought maybe because it was the BBC.”
“What’s that?” O’Toole said, picking up his teacup and taking a sip.
“The reason why you might want to do the interview,” Jack said. “Because it was the BBC.”
O’Toole looked about for a moment or two as if trying to find the connection.
“Ah, yes,” he said finally. “Yes, I see. Well—one can’t do everything, isn’t that so, Jack?”
He put his hands against the base of his spine and arched his back. “Christ Almighty!” he said. He closed his eyes and stretched some more. “I’m sore from all my acrobatics, and I’m exhausted from these uncivilized working hours. It’s not easy being a lucking movie star.”
Jack chuckled softly, as if appreciating some subtle joke. “I guess it’s a lot quieter for you back home.”
O’Toole opened one eye and squinted at him as if sighting along a gun barrel.
“In Ireland,” Jack offered. “I guess things are a lot calmer for you back home in Ireland.”
O’Toole nodded his head slowly, as if weighing the thought. “Yes,” he said. “Quite a bit calmer.”
The door opened, and a slender young man with closely cropped hair and a bandanna tied around his head stepped busily into the room. He was carrying half a dozen women’s dressing gowns on plastic hangers.
“Here they are,” the man announced in a peevish tone. He thrust the gowns forward. They were garishly patterned and not of a contemporary style. He shook them petulantly on their hangers. “And may I say they were something of a bitch to assemble!”
“It’s all part of the joy of making movies, baby,” O’Toole told him. He motioned for the garments to be brought over to him and perused the selection. “Oh, this is a tasty number,” he said, holding up a silky gown with a ruffled collar and huge red roses decorating it.
“Isn’t that a panic?” the wardrobe man said.
“In a word,” O’Toole said. He handed the robe back. “Put them up inside and I’ll give them a try in a moment.”
The wardrobe man took the dressing gowns into the bedroom and hung them on the outside of a closet door. “They’re not ready to shoot yet,” he said to O’Toole. “In case you were wondering.”
O’Toole glanced up at a clock that was mounted on the wall. “Bloody boring thing,” he said. “Just when things were rolling along nicely.”
“I’ll let you know about tomorrow afternoon,” Jack said as he and the wardrobe man left the trailer.
O’Toole resumed his seat at the table. He turned himself sideways in the booth and stuck one rather bony-looking white leg out into the aisle. He gave me a faint smile.
“Well, what do you think?” he said. He made a gesture with his arm that seemed to include the immediate area as well as the entire studio surrounding it. “Does any of this make sense?” He dumped a liberal amount of sugar into his teacup.
“We had a rather ghoulish incident last week,” he said. “Very Hollywood Gothic. Mark and I were attacked during the shooting of a scene by a mob of extras. Can you believe that? Actually … attacked. It was positively like The Day of the Locust.”
He shook his head in disbelief at the recollection. “I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything quite so bizarre in my long and eclectic career.” He leaned forward and tugged at the top of one green sock. “God only knows what was on their minds. We were shooting a scene in an apartment house corridor and these extras—these animals, as it turned out—were supposed to simply mill around us. Very passively. I might emphasize. Instead of that. they jumped all over us like rabid dogs. One cheeky prick took hold of me by the ear and wouldn’t let go. I mean, he would not let go! I finally had to bash him in order to get free!”
O’Toole banged his fist against the booth as if it were somebody’s head.
“They went absolutely starkers,” he said. “I think they’d been in Hollywood so long, they’d lost their grip on reality.”
He stood up and shook himself as if to cast off the memory. He went into the bedroom and put on the dressing gown with the roses on it.
“Rather fetching, don’t you think?” O’Toole said, striding back into the room. The sleeves of the garment ended just below his elbows and the hem flapped around his knees. “I particularly fancy these roses. They look like they were grown by a mad botanist.”
He walked up and down the length of the trailer, testing the robe. He finally came to rest, leaning against the kitchen stove, and lighted a cigarette.
“One might ask why I’m wearing this,” he said. He looked at me as if that were what was on my mind. “Well, you haven’t read the script, of course.” He held his sleeve out in front of him to examine it. “And I’m afraid it would take too much energy to put it into context. Suffice it to say there’s a story point at stake.”
There was another knock at the door.
“I hope that’s not the queen mother,” O’Toole said. “I’ve run out of biscuits.”
I opened the door and Mark stuck his head inside.
“Guess what?” he said. “They want us on the set.”
“Oh, shit!” O’Toole said. “I had just been informed to the contrary. There seems to be a shortage of reliable information on these premises.”
He modeled the dressing gown for the young man. “What do you think of this, Mark?” he asked him. “For the scene in the girl’s apartment—what do you say?”
Mark looked O’Toole up and down. “Looks great,” he said. “Especially with the black shoes and green socks.”
“I always was a trendsetter,” O’Toole said. He went to the rear and pulled a plastic curtain separating the bedroom from the rest of the trailer. A moment later, the toilet was flushed, making a sound like that of a nuclear reactor coming on line.
Mark and I went outside to wait. A man with silver hair and sunglasses, looking like a Greek shipping tycoon, motored past us in a golf cart. Up the street, the children’s casting call was still in progress.
In a few minutes, O’Toole appeared. He was smoothing out the lines of his jacket and straightening his tie. He gazed off down the studio street as if it led to a field of battle. He put his hand on Mark’s shoulder as if he had something momentous to impart.
“It’s time for us to go be funny now,” he told him.
The three of us began walking back to the sound stage. As we approached the line-up of children and their mothers, a girl of about ten years of age, with Shirley Temple curls, wriggled free and went skipping away from the rest. Her mother testily commanded her to return. Ignoring her, the girl turned her back and ran toward a brilliant shaft of sunlight that fell between the giant buildings. For a moment, she posed prettily, holding her tiny skirt out with both hands. Then, suddenly, she broke into a tap dance.
O’Toole and Mark watched soberly as the little girl performed bucks and wings on the studio street.
Mark placed his hand over his heart as il pledging allegiance.
“That’s show business,” he said reverently.
“Yes,” O’Toole said. He gave a short, rueful laugh. “Too fucking right.”