A DREADFUL MAN by Brian Aherne


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Was actor George Sanders, who committed suicide in 1972 at age 65, really a dreadful man? Perhaps. But here, through the eyes of best (nearly only) friend Brian Aherne, he's just a one-dimensionally pathetic one--spending his last 15 years of life as a roving curmodgeon, a sometime actor who loudly loathed acting, a hopeless would-be wheeler-dealer always in search of doomed big deals and those notorious tax evasions. The only apparent joy of Sanders' miserable, countryhopping, post-Zsa Zsa years: wife Benita Hume Colman (Ronald's widow), whose giddy letters to Mr. and Mrs. Aherne occupy the bulk of this fragmented, unfocused, and unsatisfying book. Aherne considers Benita to have been a supreme letter-writer, but, unfortunately, few readers will agree; full of exclamation points and first-name movieland gossip (""That Basil!!! Honestly!""), these seem to be private letters that should have remained private, especially such embarrassments as: ""I went to Goldfarbs yesterday and all the salespeople were negroes! Personally I think they have the wrong lot on the reservations. . ."" Benita remains a not-very-engaging character, even when dying from cancer with her panache intact; nor does Sanders--in his letters (after Benita's death: ""I am now an irascible old fart, deaf and intractable"") or in Aherne's compassionate but superficial comments--ever grab much sympathy, and only very rarely is he delightfully outrageous. In fact, the only absorbing moments here come when Aherne is writing about himself with self-deprecating charm (as he did in his autobiography, A Proper Job)--touring as Higgins in My Fair Lady, playing Johann Strauss in a misguided film. A few tidbits for Hollywood gossip freaks, then, but this is an utterly unsuccessful character portrait: the dreadful man (or woman) is whoever assured the genial Mr. Aherne--who is clearly sincere in his affection for dreadful old George--that a few sad recollections and a batch of old letters would add up to a personality study.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Simon & Schuster