I had no more than posted my KING RICHARD II than I ran across this story as told by Richard Harris himself. It fit in so well with the incident of mouthy extra who got the sword thrown at him by Harris, that I had to post it, in spite of the fact it quotes from ‘THE SCOTTISH PLAY’.
Richard Harris’s Story
In an interview on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), Harris told a story about when he was a young actor playing Seyton in a theatrical production of “Macbeth.” The lead actor was a real jerk to him, making constant demeaning references to Harris’s Irish heritage. On opening night, Harris couldn’t take it anymore. In Act V, Macbeth turns to him and says, “Wherefore was that cry?” Harris was supposed to reply, “The queen, my lord, is dead,” after which Macbeth goes into his famous soliloquy about “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” However, Harris decided instead to say, “Oh, don’t worry. She’s fine. She’ll be up and about in ten minutes.” He ruined the performance and was promptly fired.
And to think Harris got mad just because an extra was mimicking Harris during a soliloquy.
Then in the COMMENTS to KING RICHARD II, I received one from my old friend, Ivar Brogger, who was in the Guthrie acting company back in the day. I just had to add it to this post.
Ivar Brogger’s Story
‘Don – I love that story! Here’s a little one of my own. Peter O’Toole was playing Henry Higgins in PYGMALION on Broadway and I was his understudy and playing a small part in the show. Peter was out a lot so I went in for him a lot. As a result, we kind of got to know each other. Closing day there was a party after the show and Richard Harris was there as Peter’s guest. Peter called me over to meet him. At this point in his life Peter was completely clean and sober. So, after meeting Richard, Harris turned from me, (as we really had nothing to say to each other) and said to O’Toole, “I hear you’re off the spirits”. Peter admitted he was. I remember the look of shock on Harris’s face. He roared incredulously, “COMPLETELY?”
During the time I worked Harris, he was COMPLETELY off the booze. He had had a scare a few months before he took over from Burton on the CAMELOT tour. He almost died of alcoholism and was even given the Last Rites. It was a hard fight to overcome booze the because he had grown up in a time and place where drinking was a way of life. He was a charter member of the hard drinking actors society that consisted of the likes of Harris, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed and others. British Isle post war actors who had a lot in common, namely great talent, great wit, and a great propensity for the sauce, and who excelled on both the stage and in film on two continents.
Like a great many alcoholics, Harris fell off the wagon by thinking a few beers won’t hurt, what the heck it’s only beer. He continued to drink beer for the last 12 years of his life; but with one stipulation, the beer had to be Guinness. Through thick and thin, he was Irish all his life.
And his wit excelled even on his dying day. As he was wheeled on a gurney out of Clarages, the posh London hotel, he quipped to the reporters, ‘It was the food’.