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Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » December 5th, 2015, 6:13 pm

Mr. Bigwood, we are so grateful for your visit here this weekend!

I didn't realize that Alan Napier had done some voiceover work on The Sword and The Stone and Mary Poppins. how Did he have any comments concerning these types of endeavors?

I have to admit having a bit of a crush on Alan Napier as I've always admired tall men with British accents, and as I reviewed his credits on IMDb before your visit this weekend, I was amazed at how many classic films he was involved with.

As he made several films with George Sanders, did he have any comments about working with him?
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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby JackFavell » December 5th, 2015, 6:54 pm

Thank you for joining us here at the SSO, Mr. Bigwood. I'd also like to thank you for helping us all get to.know Alan Napier. I think.he had a marvelous sense of gracious humor.

My first question has to do with THE UNINVITED. It seems to be a favorite for most people, and in the clip posted, a favorite for Mr. Napier as well, thanks to great writing. Did he enjoy playing a straight role, or leading man type? I know it sounds crazy, but I've always loved the subtle chemistry between him and Ruth Hussey. Did they get on well together? Are there any other stories of the filming of that movie?

I'd also love to hear about his experiences with the Oxford Players. Did he have a particular favorite stage role or play?

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 7:21 pm

Sue Sue - Well, they don't come taller or more English than Alan! His comments on George Sanders were limited to their off screen friendship and other than noting Sanders' basic laziness and contempt for work in general, he did not have any on-set stories. Neither did he say anything about his Disney work. In fact, at the time I knew him, I was only aware of "The Sword in the Stone". My "Films in Review" filmography doesn't include "Mary Poppins". If you listen to the Jolly Holiday animated sequence, you can recognize his voice, but he doesn't say much. He was proud of his voice, and certainly enjoyed the few radio shows he worked on. Peggy Webber was especially impressed with his ability to create a character using just his voice.

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby Lzcutter » December 5th, 2015, 7:27 pm

James,

Thanks so much for answering my question! Did Napier enjoy working on Batman?

Also, how did he come to be in The Loved One one of the more controversial films of its day?

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby Professional Tourist » December 5th, 2015, 7:36 pm

JackFavell wrote:Did he enjoy playing a straight role, or leading man type? I know it sounds crazy, but I've always loved the subtle chemistry between him and Ruth Hussey.

Jack, I thought of your words when I came across this photo at the NYPL, from Mr. Napier's first appearance on Broadway in the 1940 play "Lady in Waiting":

Image

I can imagine quite a bit of chemistry with his co-star seen here Gladys George. :wink: :oops:

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby Professional Tourist » December 5th, 2015, 8:03 pm

BiggieB wrote:He was proud of his voice, and certainly enjoyed the few radio shows he worked on. Peggy Webber was especially impressed with his ability to create a character using just his voice.

You know, I'm surprised Mr. Napier didn't do more radio work. Although I've been unable to locate a recording of the Fifth War Loan Drive broadcast of 12 June 1944 (other than the opening fireside chat by FDR), I have found one more program with Orson Welles -- "The Master of Balantrae" play from the series This is My Best, broadcast 10 April 1945, which also features Agnes Moorehead, as did the war loan program.

"The Master of Ballantrae" may be heard on this page: https://archive.org/details/ThisIsMyBest

The previously-mentioned radio play "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" may be heard on this page: https://archive.org/details/otr_campbellplayhouse

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 9:00 pm

Lzcutter - Alan liked the money he made from "Batman"; he liked the recognition he got from playing Alfred. He enjoyed the comraderie on the set and he was grateful to William Dozier for the opportunity. What he regretted was the fact that it became all he was known for, erasing all that had come before and limiting the rest of his career.

As for "The Loved One", Alan was one of the few members of the original British colony left by the time the film was made. More than just a cast member, he was the real thing. He had come to resemble C. Aubrey Smith in his old age, and he cheekily patterned his performance on Smith. His old Oxford Players colleagues Robert Morley and John Gielgud appeared in the cast as well, but they had nothing to do with his being hired.
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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » December 5th, 2015, 10:26 pm

Thanks so much for these fabulous responses!

Can you share some of the stage performances he seemed most of? I think it would have been wonderful to see him in his element.

After Napier's second wife died, he didn't remarry. Did he have a close companion in the latter portion of his life? And did he have a close relationship with his children?
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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 10:46 pm

Jack - Alan referred to "The Uninvited" as "my first good part, in fact the only good part I've had in movies". I don't agree about it being the only good part, but it definitely was the first movie role that treated Alan as a sexual being. When the handsome doctor winds up with Ruth Hussey, it is unexpected. Character men are supposed to stay character men. Only leads are supposed to be leads. I get the same feeling from "The Uninvited" that you do. And it may indeed be crossing the line that made the role so memorable for Alan.

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 11:09 pm

Jack - Alan started at the Oxford Players in 1924, learning, rehearsing and performing as many as eight plays in an eight week season. He and John Gielgud (almost his exact contemporary) both appeared in The Players' first major success: Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard", which up to that time had not had a successful production in English. After playing in Oxford for a week, the production was picked up and brought to the West End, where it ran for four months, only forced to close because the Oxford Players season was scheduled to start up again. Alan remained with The Players longer than most of his contemporaries, finishing in 1928 with a revival of his successful performance as the title character in Jules Romains' "Dr. Knock", a role which remains on stage on stage for practically the entire play. Along the way he appeared in a good fifty plays by the likes of Shaw, Shakespeare, Sheriden, Galsworthy, Strindberg, and Ibsen. He played one of his favorite roles, the 88-year-old Captain Shotover in Shaw's "Heartbreak House", for the first time in Oxford at the age of 24. He played it for the last time in Los Angeles in 1985 when he was only six years too young for the part. His other favorite role was Lord Shayne in Noel Coward's "Bitter Sweet" in which he wooed Peggy Wood (later replaced by Evelyn Laye) nightly for two years.
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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 11:20 pm

Professional Tourist - That is the very photo I chose to illustrate "Lady In Waiting" in the book! It is so unlike the Alan Napier that we know from the movies. The only thing that approximates it is a guest part he played in 1963 on the "Lloyd Bridges Show" in which he shows that same twinkle. Alan talks quite a bit about his Broadway debut in the book, pointing out what he felt was a flaw in the production: "In Miss Sharpe's novel the whole point was that an elderly retired diplomat with a slightly dickey heart and an aging lady of doubtful virtue but a heart of gold, miraculously find in each other what they need to make them happy... Gladys was not playing the broad a day older than she had to, nor was she showing that awestruck adoration for Sir William's status that was a charming feature of the cockney lady in the book."

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 11:28 pm

Professional Tourist - Alan also appeared in "Pygmalion" on the Lux Radio Theater in 1939. He played Colonel Pickering to Brian Aherne’s Henry Higgins, and created--with just his voice--a tubby, jolly character completely at odds with his actual physical appearance. And again on Lux Radio Theater, in 1941, he appeared as Inspector Slimane with Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr in "Algiers". I have a copy of the Fifth War Bond show, which I can copy for you if you like.

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 11:36 pm

Sue Sue - Alan had many women friends after Gip died, but nobody could replace her. This is what he wrote on the subject: "In a healthy body a broken limb will heal; so will a broken heart in a healthy spirit. Gip had made me whole and it would have been a sorry tribute to her if I had not recovered. In the light and warmth of her love I had at last grown up and become a complete human being - not just an actor faking his way through life. I have not married again. Such a total commitment to another human being is hard to repeat; anything less a betrayal of standards."

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby BiggieB » December 5th, 2015, 11:47 pm

Sue Sue - Beyond Lord Shayne and Captain Shotover, Alan tended to remember his favorite plays, not for what he did, but for who he was working with. "Marry At Leisure" because of Marie Tempest; "The Green Pack" because of Gerald du Maurier; "Firebird" because of Gladys Cooper. These are not plays that are remembered today, but they were some of the plays that stuck out in his memory. He was also proud of the fact that, in addition to playing Captain Shotover in "Heartbreak House" in Oxford in 1927, with George Bernard Shaw in the audience, he was asked to play the more age-appropriate role of Hector Hushabye in the same play in a 1937 London production under Shaw's personal direction.

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Re: Q & A with James Bigwood about Alan Napier's Autobiography

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » December 5th, 2015, 11:53 pm

What a beautiful sentiment about his wife. It's so touching.

His plays are something I'll obviously never experience, but I am so grateful you have recorded his thoughts and comments for all time. Thank you again for sharing your expertise and your wonderful comments from Alan Napier. I obviously have so much more appreciation for the man now since your visit here at the SSO.
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