Thursday, March 5, 2009

Diarmid and Broccoli

Happily, Diarmid Cammell’s good friend, Carol Staswick, wrote to me last night in regard to my recent post on my memories of Diarmid, supplying me with some additional information and also correcting some information I’d included in it. I’m pleased to able to share that information here, in order to set the record straight. I am thankful Carol wrote to me. First of all, I’m happy to report that she and Diarmid did, in fact, see Donald’s film White of the Eye, some time before 2000. She remembers Diarmid’s reaction to the film being “mixed, along the lines of: it’s disturbing that Donald chose that subject, but the camera work was very artistic.”

Regarding his childhood acting career, she remembers his view toward it differently than I do. It seemed to her that he was not so dismissive of his early acting. She says he seemed proud of having been part some successful TV dramas. In addition to The Prince and the Pauper, which I’d mentioned, she mentioned a TV play by John Mortimer titled David and Broccoli (1960), which I’d forgotten about, but remember being told about. I don’t recall Diarmid specifically mentioning this TV play to me, although David Cammell had mentioned it to me, as he personally knew the barrister and dramatist John Mortimer (who died just this past January at age 85) because of his career in film production. I’d claimed that Diarmid dismissed his early acting career, saying he referred to it as an “embarrassment,” and I mentioned this because I specifically asked him about his acting career on two separate occasions. The second time I asked him about it, I clearly remember him saying to me, “Oh, it’s an embarrassment really. I don’t want to talk about it. Someday when I know you better, maybe.” My reply was simply, “Fair enough.” Actually, the only reason I knew about his career as a child actor in the first place was because David Cammell had told me all about it prior to my first introduction to Diarmid, in 1999. And even before he angrily called us demanding that his name be removed from our book (for reasons detailed in my previous post), he’d previously written me an email requesting that I remove all references to his acting career (we had been sending him document files of the chapters in draft form as email attachments). So all of these instances contributed to my perception that he was highly dismissive of that portion of his life; perhaps I am wrong in that assessment. Personally I thought it was fascinating and I wanted to know about it, not because I intended to go into it in any depth in our biography of Donald, but because I was actually interested in knowing about it. Perhaps rather than using the word “embarrassment,” I should have said that he was “ambivalent” about it, which seems to be more accurate given Carol’s recollection. And most certainly she knew him much better than I did.

As for his knowledge of Arabic, she believes I misunderstood something Diarmid said, and I believe she’s right. She says that in the 1970s, Diarmid translated from the French a book titled The Crisis of the Arab Intellectual by Abdallah Laroui, for which his knowledge of Arabic was useful. But she writes, “He never mentioned to me any professional translations from Arabic (at least I don’t recall any such mention), nor did he put any on his resume. He did say that his Arabic script was quite good.” On this latter point I’m sure she’s right: what he must have told me was that his Arabic script was very good, a remark which I mis-remembered as him saying that his Arabic was very good--a big difference. So I apologize for including incorrect information in my earlier post.

Carol appended to her email the last picture she took of Diarmid, taken just this last December, while he was preparing to barbecue salmon. I thought I would share it. He has much more gray hair than the last time I saw him a few years ago, but then again, I suppose I do, too. And of course he was ill. The picture is very much like him--his smile, that impish twinkle in his eye; but what particularly strikes me about the picture is the strong family resemblance to Donald, which I’d never noticed before as being so pronounced, but it sure is in this picture. Carol asked me to take special note of his green Tibetan wool socks and his custom-made sandals—so inimitably Diarmid! I am privileged to have known him; would that we could have patched up our disagreement before he passed away.

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