Saying goodbye to Princess Leia

I have been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember and a large part of that reason was Princess Leia. Growing up in the 70s and 80s she was, along with Charlies’ Angels, the kind of cute but fearless hero that I longed to be like.

Later in life I came to appreciate Carrie Fisher for her other roles in films like When Harry met Sally, and more recently her brilliantly comic turn as the mother-in-law from Hell in sitcom Catastrophe, but most especially for her writing.

Cover of The Princess DiaristHaving been equal parts amused and horrified by her earlier memoir Wishful Drinking*, late last year I placed a hold on her most recent effort, The Princess Diarist. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that by the time the book became available that she would be dead. How could I have? And even worse, that her family would suffer a double tragedy when her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would follow just a couple of days later. I wept unapologetically and over the Christmas period I watched song and dance numbers from Singin’ in the rain on YouTube and moped.

So it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I finally picked up The Princess Diarist and, after steeling myself and making sure a box of tissues was handy, started to read it.

But I barely needed them because, and this is the magic of writing and the author’s voice, Carrie Fisher was alive again on every page. Dripping with acerbic, self-deprecating wit and wordplay, The Princess Diarist was this amazingly comforting fan experience for me.

In case you didn’t know, the book is based on Fisher’s diaries from 1976 during the making of the first Star Wars film. The book is a mix of explanatory set-up of how she came to even been in the movie (or showbiz for that matter) and her observations on that time from a distance of some 40 years, as well as some really fascinating musings on the nature of fame, or at least her very specific version of it. And throughout runs her brutally honest humour and no BS attitude. The main revelation of the book is her on set affair, at the age of nineteen, with her married-with-kids co-star Harrison Ford. She dedicates a whole chapter to it which is, rather delightfully, titled “Carrison”.

You have the eyes of a doe and the balls of a samurai.

(Harrison Ford “breaking character” by saying something heartfelt to Fisher, as they parted company)

The book also includes a section of verbatim entries from the aforementioned diary. In some ways this was my least favourite part, only because it’s written by a rather tortured teenager about her less than satisfying love life and I have unfond memories of writing similarly tortured diary entries when I was the same age. I can immediately understand why it took her 40 years to publish any of it (There is poetry. About Harrison Ford being distant. It’s wonderful/terrible).

Having said that, Fisher’s diaries are much better written than those of the average teenager. She admits to having been rather precocious and the sly humour and clever use of language would read as being written but someone much older… if not for the This Is So Very Important And Deep style of diarying that teenagers of a certain sort are prone to.

So skim through that section, casting grains of salt as  you go, would be my advice. But the rest of it is great – an absolute must-read for Princess Leia fans, or just fans of Fisher’s signature snappy rejoinders.

Having got through pretty much the whole book with nary more than a slight moistening of eye, I admit to some small amount of tearfulness upon reading the acknowledgments, primarily due to this passage –

For my mother – for being too stubborn and thoughtful to die. I love you, but that whole emergency, almost dying thing, wasn’t funny. Don’t even THINK about doing it again in any form.

No, that part at least, was not funny at all.

More Carrie Fisher

*The audiobook version is narrated by Fisher herself, so if you really, really want to hear that sonorous voice in your head you can!

Goodbye, Gilbert Blythe

Cover of Anne of InglesideIf you were a teenage girl during the 1980s and watched television then you were probably enraptured with the Anne of Green Gables TV series based on the novels of L. M. Montgomery. And there’s a good chance you were smitten with Anne Shirley’s regular tormentor/rescuer/romantic interest Gilbert Blythe.

It is with a sad heart that I learned yesterday that the actor who played Gilbert in the various Anne of Green Gables TV series’, Jonathan Crombie, died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 48.

Born in Toronto, Canada, Crombie was the son of a former mayor of the city, Dave Crombie, and by strange coincidence his mother’s names were “Shirley Ann”.

Though he worked regularly in television, Gilbert Blythe was by far his most famous role and according to his sister, fans who recognised him on the street would often refer to him as “Gil”.

If this news leaves you in “the depths of despair” and in need of a “Jonathan Crombie Commemorative Screening” we have DVDs of the following Avonlea-based TV series featuring Prince Edward Island’s resident dreamboat, Gilbert.

Recent necrology, June 2014

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Cover of Best Poems on the UndergroundGerard Benson, 1931-2014
    Poet who brought Hardy and Milton, Auden and Yeats to the London Underground
  • Patsy Byrne, 1933-2014
    Actress with the RSC who later played the dim-witted Nursie in Blackadder
  • Felix Dennis, 1947-2014
    Hedonistic publisher behind Oz and The Week who dreamed of being a great poet but found his true forte was making money
  • James Douglas-Home, 1952-2014
    Racehorse trainer and writer who castigated the new Ascot racecourse as one of the ‘world’s worst dumps’
  • Cover of Night Night Spot!Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, 1933-2014
    Spanish-born conductor of German parentage who blended Teutonic precision with Iberian sensuality
  • Peter Matthiessen, 1927-2014
    Author, naturalist and reluctant CIA agent who gave up espionage to champion a different kind of wild life in his bestseller The snow leopard
  • Rik Mayall, 1958-2014
    Anarchic comedian who took on the British Establishment in The young ones, and The new statesman
  • Josephine Pullein-Thompson, 1924-2014
    Author whose pony club novels thrilled a generation of girls with the jolly adventures of the gymkhana set
  • Cover of Regal Records Live in New OrleansJimmy Scott, 1925-2014
    Jazz singer who was later in Twin Peaks
  • Horace Silver, 1928-2014
    Jazz pianist and composer behind Latin and hard-bop tunes that became post-war standards
  • Eli Wallach, 1915-2014
    Masterly and versatile actor of stage and screen who particularly delighted in playing villains
  • Bobby Womack, 1944-2014
    ‘Soul survivor’ of an astonishingly lurid lifestyle who fused passionate gospel and dulcet crooning

Recent necrology, May 2014

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Cover of I Know Why The Caged Bird SingsMaya Angelou, 1928-2014
    American poet, novelist and civil rights activist
  • Jack Brabham, 1926-2014
    Driver with an engineering flair who was the first man to win the Formula 1 title in a car of his own making
  • Lorraine Cohen, 1943-2014
    Woman at the centre of an infamous international drug case
  • Don Donovan, 1933-2014
    New Zealand writer and illustrator
  • Radu Florescu, 1925-2014
    Romanian historian who claimed Bram Stoker based Count Dracula on real-life Vlad the Impaler
  • Cover of A Daughter's TaleH. R. Giger, 1940-2014
    Swiss artist who brought his hellish, eroticised creatures to Hollywood, winning an Oscar for Alien
  • Antony Hopkins, 1921-2014
    Composer and conductor whose infectious enthusiasm animated his BBC broadcasts for four decades
  • Robert Masters, 1917-2014
    Violinist who played at the Coronation, taught Nigel Kennedy and created Yehudi Menuhin’s orchestra
  • Barbara Murray, 1929-2014
    Actress from the Rank Charm School who starred in Passport to Pimlico
  • Mary Soames, 1922-2014
    Last of Churchill’s children, who acted as ADC to her father and wrote an acclaimed life of her mother
  • Cover of Mary Stewart's Merlin TrilogyMary Stewart, 1916-2014
    Author of romantic thrillers who wrote for love not money, and had an intuitive feel for the past
  • Philip Sugden, 1947-2014.
    Historian who brought a new, much-needed scholastic rigour to Jack the Ripper’s crimes
  • Joe Wilder, 1922-2014
    Trumpeter noted for the beauty of his tone who played with Count Basie and the New York Philharmonic

Matinee idols and opera stars

photoDid you ever wonder what our forebears did for amusement? Was early Christchurch a cultural wasteland, bare of entertainment apart from the male preserve of the pub? Surprisingly the answer is no. There was a Theatre Royal in various guises from 1863, which hosted both amateur and professional theatricals.

A quick look through Papers Past reveals visits from such luminaries as English actress Mrs Scott Siddons in 1877 and opera diva Nellie Melba in 1903.

1905 bought something a bit different in the form of the Giantess Abomah known as the Amazon Giantess and the African Giantess, who traveled all over the world as the tallest woman in the world.

Hilda Spong star of screen and stage performed in 1912.

In 1914 a rather dishy matinee idol Julius Knight starred in A Royal Divorce.

There were in addition various Shakespearian plays, as well as musical productions by local opera societies and touring companies. Gilbert and Sullivan musicals were popular, along with choral recitals and the occasional full blown opera. There seem to have been several opera societies on the go – The Christchurch Opera Society was reborn several times, and The Christchurch Amateur Opera Society and Sydenham Opera Society seem to be operating at the same time.

At times the theatre was as heavily booked as we are used to it being, leaving no gaps between different performing groups. Nor did the Theatre Royal have the show all to itself. In 1879 for example, both the Gaiety Theatre and the Oddfellows Hall were also running shows, as this advertisement demonstrates. Even Lyttelton got in on the act, although their entertainments are a little harder to decipher from this distance.

Not too bad for a small town at the bottom of the world.