"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue

John Gielgud

06 Apr 2002

Sir John with mother and sister. Photo: BBC Web Site

While looking for just the right picture of Sir John Gielgud, I came across this gem on the BBC's web site. Their caption reads "After receiving his knighthood from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1953, with his mother and sister." What you can't really see here is all the hair he has. Since I've been drawing breath, Gielgud has been pretty much bald, so whenever I see him in something like "Julius Caesar" (the film version, with Marlon Brando, released one year this photo was taken), it inevitably takes me a scene or two to realize that the hirsute young buck on screen is actually he.

My personal memories about Gielgud number three:

  1. As Prospero, in Peter Greenaway's "Prospero's Books". Gielgud speaks most of the dialog in this sumptuous film, and now I can imagine no other playing the role. A couple of years ago, I saw William Hutt read as Prospero in a made-for-radio presentation of the play. I think it was the first time I had seen anyone other than Gielgud perform the role. And it was all wrong. Of course, it was simply all "different", but you know what I mean.
  2. In a radio interview from the early days of the Stratford Festival (Ontario, Canada). He is giving a few words of advice to a younger actor on the importance of breathing. He delivers a line from some bit of Shakespeare to illustrate his point, the first time taking a breath after one particular word, the next time after a different one. The first version came out stilted and awkward, the second like velvet. "You see?" he says. Even I saw.
  3. Reading Alice Through The Looking Glass on a 2 CD album. Many nights I've fallen asleep listening to John's sing songy voice wade from one side of the mirror to the other.

John Gielgud died on the weekend (May 21, 2000).