“Victor Spinetti, who has died of cancer aged 82, was an outrageously talented Welsh actor and raconteur who made his name with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and found fame and fortune as a friend and colleague of the Beatles, appearing in three of their five films, and with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967).” Michael Coveney for the Guardian: “It was while he was giving his brilliantly articulated and hilarious ‘turn’ as the gobbledegook-shouting drill sergeant in Oh, What a Lovely War! in the West End in 1963—he won a Tony for the performance when the show went to Broadway—that the Beatles visited him backstage and invited him to appear with them in A Hard Day’s Night (1964). George Harrison later said that his mother would only go and see the group’s films if Spinetti was in them. These, and other tales of the stars, would be recounted by Spinetti himself in his one-man shows, and in the wonderful autobiography he wrote, Up Front (2006), with the help of another Littlewood associate, Peter Rankin.”
“News of his death prompted a stream of tributes from fans and members of the entertainment world on Twitter,” reports the BBC. “Actor Rob Brydon tweeted: ‘So sad Victor Spinetti has died. The funniest story teller I’ve ever met and a lovely warm man. Proud to have been his friend. “Eh, Vic…”‘ Britt Ekland, actor and singer, wrote: ‘Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius.’… Spinetti’s collaboration with the Beatles saw him appear in their next two productions, Help! (1965) and the hour-long television film Magical Mystery Tour (1967). He also worked with John Lennon to turn Lennon’s book, In His Own Write, in to a play which he then directed at the National Theatre. Sir Paul McCartney described him as ‘the man who makes clouds disappear.'”
Profiling Spinetti about ten years ago, Siobhan Roberts noted that the actor also appeared in Voyage of the Damned with Faye Dunaway, in Return of the Pink Panther with Peter Sellers, and in Under the Cherry Moon with Prince. And Spinetti told Roberts a story:
When I first met the Beatles, in fact, I was asked constantly, by everybody, ‘What are they like?’ Literally by everybody—by Laurence Olivier: “What are they like? What are they like? What are they like?” This is the story I used to tell: When we were in Austria filming, I contracted the flu. Each of the Beatles came to my hotel room in turn to visit me. The first person to arrive was George Harrison, who knocked on the door, came in and said, “I’ve come to plump your pillows. Whenever anyone is ill in bed they have to have their pillows plumped.” So he plumped my pillows and then he left. Ringo came in next, sat down by the bed, picked up the hotel menu and said: “Once upon a time there were three bears, mummy bear, daddy bear and baby bear…” And then he left.
John Lennon came in—remember, this is Austria—came marching in, shouting “Sieg Heil, Schweinehund! The doctors are here, they are coming to experiment upon you, Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler!” And he left. Finally, Paul McCartney opened the door and said, “Is it catching?” I said “yes” and he closed the door and I never saw him again.
Glenn Kenny‘s got some nice pix and quotes.