Memoir of a friendship with a gay, Irish, octogenarian filmmaker.
In the 1970s, Robbins (Test of Courage, 2000, etc.) was a scrappy free-lance journalist, deep in debt, barely able to pay his rent, who was then introduced to Brian Desmond Hurst, a leading Irish filmmaker who wanted to cap his career by making a movie about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. “Larry Oliver” had already agreed to participate in the project. Robbins at first wanted to back off—Hurst seemed a little weird, and Robbins had never read, let alone written, a screenplay. But Hurst offered a whopping salary, and Robbins signed on. Robbins quickly figured out that Hurst had his own financial woes; he was often unable to find the cash either to pay the milkman or cover his bar tab. Even when friends and associates offered to back the movie, some psychological block prevented Hurst from moving forward. So the film was never made. Still, Robbins and Hurst traveled, and drank, and occasionally wrote. Robbins began working with his eccentric friend on his memoirs, another project that never saw the light of day. But along the way, Hurst included Robbins in a number of adventures, including friendship with (and theft from) a Russian baroness and spy. Robbins’s droll account (winner of the Saga Award for Wit, given previously to Alexander McCall Smith) also offers a glimpse into the gay subculture of pre–Stonewall England—Hurst was sometimes discriminated against by movie execs who didn’t want to work with a “bugger.” He died in 1986 and, despite a career that had included making Malta Story and Tom Brown’s Schooldays, was rapidly forgotten. The filmmaker, says Robbins, “outlived his reputation”—when he died, he hadn’t made a film in two decades.
Hurst’s reputation, though, has now been ably resurrected by a devoted albeit not uncritical friend and student. He couldn’t have wished for a finer tribute.