What do I mean by “wild?” Where animals are concerned, I guess the answer would be “untamed.”
Where human animals are the focus, I’m not sure the definition should be much different. Nonetheless, other words like “uninhibited,” “non-conformist” and “unconventional” come to mind—and you could add “drinks too much,” “sexually adventurous,” and “unpredictable” to the mix. But almost all of the wild people I have known (and I still know a few) were fun, warm of heart, and generous of spirit—or at least able to convey such qualities when socializing.
Such were the common characteristics of many of the family friends who influenced my youth when I wasn’t locked up in Alcatraz (a string of boarding-schools). As a consequence, I’m not surprised that I have never been able to truly settle down.
Despite the harsh discipline and other efforts of my expensive public schools, I was singularly ill-prepared to be socialized into conforming, and to accept the compromises that went with conventional family life such as a regular job. In addition, at an early age, through books, I fell in love with the challenge of adventure, of doing something different.
My mother virtually defined wild – at least in her younger years – and she was ably abetted by my step-father, Alfred Lyons, an impressively good-looking and amusing man of considerable intelligence. I adored him and insisted that we siblings call him “Daddy” despite his step status, and the fact that he was ten years younger than my mother, and more like a big brother.
Her maternal skills left a great deal to be desired—something of an understatement—but she was charismatic, attracted some fascinating people, and gave the wildest parties—and often at that.
They weren’t orgies, or anything of the sort—though they certainly led to plenty of sexual adventures—but her real skill was her talent for mixing guests and then getting them all to relax and enjoy themselves. That’s a very special skill, and one that has little to do with careerism or social climbing. In her case, she was entirely confident of her social standing and tended to choose her friends primarily because of their entertainment value and interaction potential. She had a strong bias towards creative people, the diplomatic community and the media, little interest in business, and regarded most politicians with contempt. She also had an affinity for celebrities, but more as equals than as distant figures to be admired. In their eyes, of course, she was the celebrity—and shone in the role.
Essentially, she picked her guests as if creating a recipe for a highly spiced dish. Add in a big house, servants, plenty of alcohol, excellent food, and some emotional drama (and there was always emotional drama) and the results were consistently spectacular.
Beyond that, when I started having my own adventures—independent of the family—I found they were as much fun as I had always thought—and, frankly, they still are. Wildness and adventures are addictive. Arguably, they aren’t good for your health, finances, peace of mind, or longevity—and they are considered to be the height of irresponsibility—but they are such fun in a scary sort of a way, and the antithesis of a comfort zone.
I don’t think of myself as a natural adventurer—I’m not sure I have adequate degrees of either recklessness or nerve in my nature—but my role models certainly have had, and I guess after a while, whatever about your hidden fears, you become what you do. Besides, my tolerance of risk increases dramatically if a good story is involved. You’ve heard of ‘Dutch courage?” Well, let me introduce you to “writers’ courage.” If the situation calls for it, you can mix the two.
The word ‘wild’ came to mind while writing about Godfrey Quigley yesterday. He was one of a wild bunch of Irish actors, all of whom knew each other, caroused together, made extraordinary contributions to theater, film, and creativity generally—and most whom I was privileged to know. They are now passing on, as is the way of things, but they certainly knew how to live.
The most recent to die was Peter O’Toole—and the first of the Wild Irishman to die was the playwright, Brendan Behan (who was as wild as they come). Other included Godfrey, Richard Harris, Norman Rodway, TP McKenna, Noel Purcell, Desmond Leslie, John Kilbracken—and those honorary Wild Irishmen, movie director, John Huston, and movie star, Robert Mitchum. Huston lived in Ireland. Michum filmed RYAN’S DAUGHTER there though I recall him better from Grooms Hotel.
My mother apart, tact prevents me mentioning the wilder Irish women—until I write my memoirs—but there were plenty (and doubtless still are) although my first great love, Bunny Bennett (who was actually American, albeit living in Ireland) would certainly qualify. Bunny would dare just about anything—and did. Together, the wild ones made it impossible for me to stick to to the straight and narrow, or be confined to a comfort zone.
Could have I been a contender for that mantle of respectability that so many long for, and which society purports to hold in such high esteem?
Not a chance in hell.
Is there a price for living an adventurous life?
Yes there is, and it’s a high one by conventional standards—a very high one. I have no illusions concerning my choices.
Do I have regrets in that regard?
None. Above all I have craved an interesting life, spiced with adventure, and that I’ve had and continue to have. I feel damn lucky.
The photo, by the way, is of highly successful Irish actor, TP McKenna—who in that shot bears a passing resemblance to Godfrey. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of Godfrey himself, but I have the fondest of memories.