Amusing if fitfully irritating memoir of a (sort-of) brilliant career.
Character actor Spinetti recounts his ’60s heyday, during which he frolicked with the Beatles, Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles and a host of other swinging celebrities, in anecdotes designed to underscore what a clever and exceptional chap he is. Perhaps this insecure self-promotion is understandable in a talented performer who never achieved the fame of his more celebrated peers. Best known for his role as the sneering television director swaddled in an impossibly fuzzy sweater in A Hard Day’s Night, Spinetti was also a prominent player in the progressive theater of the era, working with such visionaries as Joan Littlewood in plays like Oh! What a Lovely War. He rubbed shoulders with the famous and almost famous: “A man, totally naked, was peeing into the sink. He turned round and, extending his hand, said, ‘Hallo, I’m Sean Connery.’ ” These glimpses of backstage life are great fun, with Richard Burton, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and a host of other dramatic titans rendered human and surprising. The portraits are not uniformly flattering. Peter Sellers is depicted as a schizophrenic disaster who coldly cut Spinetti’s scenes from The Return of the Pink Panther, fearful he would siphon laughs from the star. Mostly, though, Spinetti paints the international showbiz scene of the ’60s as a grand adventure full of warm fellowship. This contrasts dramatically with the book’s early sections on a grim childhood in a small Welsh village, dominated by a remote, pleasure-hating father completely mystified by his dreamy, unconventional son. The family’s Italian lineage led their neighbors to shun the Spinettis after the outbreak of World War II, and this experience colors the author’s observations on his theatrical career. He is infuriated by unfairness, fiercely loyal and haunted by the feeling of being an outsider. Fortunately, these are useful qualities in a memoirist.
A slight but enjoyable read for film fans, theater junkies and ’60s nostalgics.