I think of Godfrey often. He was an exceedingly kindly man—at least to me—and generous with it. He was also a talented actor who enjoyed considerable success until Alzeimers stole his career and, eventually his life in 1994 at the age of 71. I was deeply saddened and I miss him to this day.
His last movie role was in 1989 in ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN. He was Terrier’s voice.
Prior to that, he was with MICHAEL CAINE in that excellent thriller, GET CARTER (1971) and in EDUCATING RITA (1983). But theater was his first love. He had stage presence, craggy good looks and a truly marvelous voice. He always excelled and he was totally brilliant in THE TEMPEST.
Director Stanley Kubrik liked him and gave him leading character roles in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) and in BARRY LYNDON (1975). In fact, all in all, he had quite a spectacular acting career in both the theater and the movies. That apart, self-discipline was not his strong suit. He drank, he gambled, and money slipped through his hands like water. But, he was a delightful man, generous to a fault, and great company.
I adored the man. I first met him when I was nine or ten and serving drinks (and emptying ashtrays) at one of my mother’s always excellent parties. I had been doing that for years—when not away at boarding school—but, though I knew how to pour wine and mix cocktails at that stage, somehow I hadn’t learned how to pour a beer without it frothing to excess. I guess my mother’s friends were not beer drinkers, or too busy drinking to notice how I poured. I don’t think she knew a teetotaler—or would have wanted to.
Godfrey did notice my lack of pouring skills—and, beaming, he showed me how to tilt a glass and pour a beer correctly. He did this in the middle of a busy party while temporarily ignoring the many who were trying to get his attention. That thoughtfulness impressed me greatly. He was in his thirties, a successful actor, director and producer, and much in demand. He had also just married Genevieve, one of my stepfather’s two devastatingly attractive sisters, and a successful actress in her own right. Personally, my preference was for Maria—who was to win a very special place in my heart. Unfortunately, she chose to live in Rome so I rarely saw her. Then, when I met her at a party years later, I didn’t recognize her. But, that is another story.
My mother had met my step-father at an experimental theater and my sister, Maxine, was a budding actress, so of my first three girlfriends, two were actresses. Sisters have their uses. The third was a judge’s daughter, a true delight, who—to the great regret of all her admirers—married one of her college lecturers while still in her teens.
Older men seem to feature in this piece.
Having a girlfriend while still attending boarding school was something of an exercise in frustration—both sexual and emotional—but I still maintained an on and off relationship with one of the young actresses, Liz Davis, for many years, and became very close to her family. In fact, I even taught her young brother, Martin, Latin—a skill of debatable utility given that he embarked on a career in the oil business in the wilder parts of the world.
Martin was eventually to give up his career in the oil business after a grenade was thrown into a café where he was sitting somewhere in South East Asia, and he found himself drenched in blood and body parts from the late occupants of an adjacent table. You don’t think of such things when you put gas in your tank, but blood and oil maintain a close relationship.
To say I was taken aback when I learned that Liz and Godfrey were living together doesn’t get close to describing my initial reaction to the news. I was incredulous and just plain stunned. Godfrey, something of a father figure to me, was roughly 20 years older and I still felt somewhat proprietorial about Liz—though without good reason because we had gone our separate ways some years earlier, though we remained friends.
But my initial shock faded, and I soon got used to Liz and Godfrey being an item, and to appreciate that, in a way, it was somewhat predictable. Attractive and ambitious young actresses and successful actors (and Godfrey was also a producer) have been getting together since the acting profession was founded—and the Irish theater scene was not that large. And Godfrey and Genevieve were divorced by that stage.
Over time, I was to learn it was a true love match. After Godfrey’s death, Liz then announced quite calmly she couldn’t live without him, and that she intended to kill herself. Despite considerable efforts by myself, her sister, Ruth, and others, she did just that some months later—and in such a way that death was certain.
I find it hard to know whether this is a sad story or a happy one. Liz and ‘Quig’ had about 25 happy years together—and that’s a pretty good showing in the world of the theater. And not only did they love each other, but they loved what they did with a passion. To love, to be loved, and to revel in your profession is as near as good as it gets.
Though I find it hard to remain unaffected when I think of them both—to the point of being near to tears—I think it is a happy story.
I would have preferred a happier ending.