I regard myself as “The Star Who Hasn’t Quite”! I hope one day I shall really be able to call myself a star.
WHEN I was four years old my mother found me wandering round our house in Hampstead, draped in a red velvet curtain and wearing a battered paper hat on my head. I was muttering in a strange language which only I could understand.
When she asked me what I was, I said that I was an actor: and from that day forward, until the end of time, that is what I shall be – if I can get my way.
At the age of ten, I was borrowing money from school friends and going to the galleries of large theatres, reading books of plays and making minute studies of my face in every mirror I came across. At fourteen, I took every film magazine in the world and acted scenes from movies I had seen, all round my bedroom. And all I asked for was to become a film star.
If I believed half that has been written about me since I got into pictures, I would unhesitatingly believe that today, some fifteen years later, I had achieved that aim.
But to myself, and one or two close friends, I am “The Star Who Hasn’t Quite.” It is sad, but nevertheless true.
To begin with I started off on the wrong foot. In 1946 I left my beloved Army (I really loved every minute of that war, I’m afraid!) and got a couple of days’ extra work on Dancing with Crime. Until then I had never been inside a studio, and had never seen a camera.
A couple of months later I was a star. How? I got a film contract and played a large part in a costume picture and the “boys” just stated that I was a star.
You just had to accept it. That picture was a flop and so was I. A shocking flop. But whether I liked it or not I was a star – it had to be that way. Simply because the Press and the public had been told that I was – not because I graduated to it, or earned it, or even deserved it.
Naturally, the Press, which likes to make its own stars, refused to recognize me – my performance hardly merited a comma, let alone a comment!
Then came personals, opening swimming pools, presenting prizes, and no one had ever heard of me, or cared. But I was a star, and so. . . .
Then a succession of pictures followed, in which I suffered badly from a lack of technique and a lack of understanding. I say here and now that I am not a romantic juvenile! I loathe them, I can’t play ‘em, and I can’t even begin to understand how they work.
I have a face like the back of a rather ancient cab, I am tall and skinny, and I photograph badly the moment anyone sticks a piece of make-up near my face. In the theatre, for ten years, no one ever gave me a romantic part to play.
I played scruffy kids, old men, neurotic elder sons, and Welsh, Spanish or French students, and enjoyed them alL In films, from the start, they poured me into tight white pants, stuck boots on my sparrows’ legs, and permed my hair into tight curls.
I was shoved into the romantic class quicker than the Brabazon will reach New York.
And my “fan” mail after all this grooming? One or two a week asking for signed pictures of Pat Roc. I was a happy chap.
Then came Sydney Box, who knew how I felt about things, and handed me Alfie in Boys in Brown. I played that part with the deepest love that an actor can give a character.
I didn’t give a cuss if I was being unsympathetic or unromantic, or unglamorous. Take a look at my knees in this film, you’ll see what I mean, but I did enjoy playing Alfie.
And then came my idol, Basil Dearden, who remembered me in a play three years ago and offered me Tom Riley in The Blue Lamp – a gift to any actor and life blood to a character juvenile in the depths of despair.
I worked hard on Tom Riley. I lived him. My voice altered and I was never allowed to put a piece of make-up near my skin. With the result that I managed to believe that he was a real person, not a dummy.
Sampling Dearden’s brilliant handling, I suddenly found that filming was the most wonderful thing to do in the world. And I realized bitterly from that film that I have a lot to un-learn.
Starting, as I did, too soon and too big, I have had to learn backwards- learn how to act, to walk, to behave and speak in front of a camera.
Everyone used to tell me not to act in front of a camera. Don’t move a muscle of your face, make no big gestures, keep your voice low, and, above all, remember that you are not in a theatre.
And I believed them. Poor old Bogarde! I went up into the world of the stars like a damp rocket, and fell silently to earth in no flurry of sparks. Of course you have to act in front of a camera. It’s quite different acting from the stage, but you simply must act. At least, I must.
When The Blue Lamp started Basil said to me : “Act as if you were on the stage. I’ll stop you if you go too far.” And so I did. When the film came out everyone was rather shocked! I was quite good. But I was still suffering from a lack of attack and bite due to the careless way I had started off seven pictures before.
I love filming. I simply love it. I love acting, and so long as I can combine the two I shall be happy. But films like The Blue Lamp only come once in an actor’s lifetime, I think.
I am hard to cast, they say, so for the time being I am back in the theatre.
I hope one day that I shall be able to call myself a star, but before I can there is a lot of work to do, and a lot of mistakes already made which I must rectify.
Fortunately, I am young and I am horribly ambitious. I love my work above everything else. so I think – I just think – that I might one day manage to sort myself out and climb honourably to an honourable place in that fantastic realm – the world of the movies.
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In the-long – run it is the stars, and the stars only, who count. Hollywood stomps out over the film world because it has the names in electric lights which still attract the crowds. British films, on the other hand, are in the doldrums, with their really big names – the Lockwoods and the Neagles – so few that you could count them on one hand.
A few months ago there was a flicker of flame in the darkness. His name was Richard Todd. Now he is away in Hollywood , acquiring an international veneer.
Since then another name has arisen, much to the surprise of its owner, who is nothing if not a modest young man. The name is Bogarde. Dirk to you.
Two films, hitting the screen about the same time, set picturegoers talking about Bogarde. Boys in Brown was not even shown by the Rank Organization to the critics. Mr. Rank and his henchmen are unhappy at the mere mention of the critics.
They have received some nasty hammerings. Possibly they thought Boys In Brown would give them another pasting. Anyway, whatever the reason, West End filmgoers had to take a three-halfpenny bus ride to see it.
The Blue Lamp came along at about the same t ime. It is a fine picture, one likely to cook up some of the choicest superlatives of 1950. It brought queues back to tired cinemas, and when people came away from it, the performance they were talking about in it was Bogarde’s.
Does this mean that another star has arrived? It well may. One more film will clinch the problem either way.
The singular thing about Bogarde is that he has made only seven films, and, on his own admission, has never liked himself very much in any of them.
The son of a journalist, intended once for the Foreign Office, he is an educated, highly-geared type, blunt of speech and inclined to be highly critical, of himself in particular.
He is not a boy who suffers fools gladly, and his very outspoken approach will make him critics as well as friends. This won’t bother him in the least.
His good fortune is that he is young enough to live down some of the pictures he has made-like Esther Waters. The weakness of this film was certainly not his.
His bad luck lies in the fact that he has started to hit the jackpot at a time when British films are at their lowest ebb for many years.
While the queues were talking about Bogarde, while the Press was praising his work in The Blue Lamp, and while professional film people were rubbing their hands as the money poured in, the boy who played the killer in this strangely moving picture was – what? Was he preparing another film? Was be about to star in something bigger and better? Were big plans being laid for him?
Of course not.
He was rehearsing in a modest part in a play at the Bedford Theatre, Camden Town.
That is the way breaks go these days.
Bogarde’s next film will be So Long at the Fair. It is not a big part, and none of the studio people who sense these things in advance expects him to set the town on fire in it. This is a pity. The Rank people have a chance of creating a big name – if they go about it in the right way. …
There is still plenty of time.
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FAMILY: Born March 28, 1920; Christened Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven Dirk Bogarde: now well into his thirtieth year. Father a direct descendant of Anne of Cleves: left Dutch village which has been traditional home of the van den Bogaerde family, and, while still in early manhood, came to England. Mother a Scotswoman-Margaret Niven, a former actress.
EDUCATION: principally at Allen Glens College, Glasgow. At fifteen went to Chelsea Polytechnic to study stage and film decor, and, later, won a scholarship to Royal College of Arts. After two years an impulse caused him to alight from a bus as it was passing the Chiswick “Q” Theatre, and ask for a job.
EARLY DAYS: began work at “Q” as stage hand-cum-callboy at 7s. 6d. per week, and stayed till one of the cast of Priestley’s “When We Are Married” fell ill. Was offered the part: played it successfully for remainder of season.
WAR SERVICE: In 1942 commissioned to Army Intelligence. Landed In France on “D”-Day, and was attached to Free French regiment which liberated Paris. Served in Europe until VE Day, and then, with the rank of major, was flown – out to Far East where, besides his work as A.D.C. and counter espionage officer, he became chief announcer for Java radio network.
AFTERMATH OF WAR: 1946 found Dirk demobilized and out of work. Then in ex-service actors’ Reunion Theatre’s production, played the schizophrenic younger son in “Power Without Glory.” Ian Dalrymple, of Wessex, saw him and gave him screen test which resulted in J. Arthur Rank contract, and lead in Esther Water‘.
OFF THE SCREEN: Has recently acquired an ancient and reputedly haunted house standing In three acres of land at Amersham, and is laying in stock of live poultry. Hobby is painting. In 1946 gave an exhibition of seventy-six of his war sketches: several of them (including one done on blotting paper) have found their way into the British Museum and to America. Also has a collection of tropical fish. -R.S.
Does Bogarde’s performance in “The Blue Lamp” mean that another star has arrived? Possibly. One more film from him will decide.