guinnessGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Here’s a nifty little item that caught the Robbo eye this morning:  Alec Guinness Archive at British Library.

Alec Guinness will be the subject of a major project at the British Library after it acquired the actor’s personal archive.

The star of stage, film and television, who won a Best Actor Oscar in 1957 for his role as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (below), died in 2000 at the age of 86. The archive charts Guinness’s career from the late 1930s, and includes more than 900 of his letters to family and friends and over 100 volumes of diaries.

The British Library already holds the papers of actors Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Cataloguing is due to take place over the next year and the archive (publicly available for the first time) is expected to be open for research in 2014.

The papers offer an intimate account of the actor’s life, detailing his wartime responsibilities and his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1956, as well as his successful career on stage and screen. Highlights include a letter to his wife written during the opening night of the 1938 Old Vic season which made his reputation, a diary entry following the death of Olivier in which Guinness reflects on Olivier’s acting technique, and Guinness’s account of his premonition of death the day before his boat went down in a freak storm during World War II.

How nifty!  Guinness has always been one of my very favorite actors.   One of the shelves of the Port Swiller Mansion library is devoted to theatrickal personnel and matters.  I’ve got autobiographies of Olivier, Gielgud, Hepburn and the like, and also have two or three of Guinness’ own collections of reflections.  It would be nice to see somebody put together a new biography of him based on this additional information.

As for the snippets mentioned above,  I believe Guinness was a naval reservist in WWII and saw combat.  I also seem to recall reading that he swam the Tiber as the result of his experience filming the Father Brown Mysteries (which I’ve never been able to get hold of, but I’ll bet he was terrific in the part).  I also dimly recall an anecdote about Ralph Richardson getting so angry over Guinness’ (or it may have been Gielgud’s) effortless impishness in some stage production or other that he punched him out backstage in frustration.

It was also largely on Guinness’ behalf that I was so delighted when Tom Hanks’ effort to re-film The Ladykillers spun in so ignominiously.   Masterpieces ought to be let alone.

The one thing about him with which I could possibly find fault is his extremely nasty attitude toward teh Star Wars franchise and its legions of fans constantly pestering him in later life over the whole Ben Kenobi biznay.   While I can perfectly well understand his feelings, it has always struck me that as a professional he ought to have kept them to himself.   Apparently, he was rayther rabid to autograph hounds, including small kids.   (I often wonder if Alan Rickman had Guinness in mind when doing his classickal-actor-trapped-in-cheesy-scifi shtick in Galaxy Quest.)

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