In Memoriam         ANTHONY HARVEY

Anthony HARVEY


In 2001 I visited Katharine Hepburn at her town house on East 49th Street, New York. The nonagenarian star had agreed to see me to comment on some photographs I was hoping to use in the book I was writing about her. Perched on a stool in her spartan basement kitchen and sipping tea, she scrutinised the images I laid before her.

A picture of Hepburn and Peter O'Toole on the set of The Lion In Winter (1968) elicited a comment on the third person in the picture. "Dear Tony. Looking so young and thoughtful," she said, her eyes lighting up. She was referring to Anthony Harvey, the director of the film, who has died aged 87. "A real English gentleman and a brilliant director, one of the best I've ever worked with." That was high praise indeed from a movie star who had worked with such greats as Howard Hawks, John Huston, John Ford, George Cukor and Frank Capra.

Actually, by the time the picture was taken, Harvey was already 38 and directing his second movie, the first of four with Hepburn. He had been recommended to the producer Joseph E Levine by O'Toole, who had seen Harvey's first movie, the low-budget, 55-minute Dutchman (1966), basically a two-hander set in a New York subway train, and a far cry from The Lion in Winter, a full-length, widescreen epic set in medieval France and featuring two of the cinema's biggest stars.

Based on James Goldman's Broadway play about the bitter battle between Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine over which of their three sons should be the king's successor, it was atmospherically filmed, mostly in Ireland, capturing fine performances from the two leads as well as from Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton making their feature film debuts.

Early in the shoot, panic-stricken by the task, Harvey was forced to consider how a novice director such as himself could tell Hepburn, a living legend, point blank that her acting was over the top. He risked it and, to his relief, Hepburn laughed and agreed to tone down the dramatics to a certain extent. This resulted in Hepburn justifiably winning the third of her four academy awards, though it was shared by Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl.

Harvey was not new to show business. After the death of his father, his mother, Dorothy Leon, married Morris Harvey, the stage and screen character actor, who gave Anthony his surname, and introduced him to some of the leading lights of British theatre. It was his stepfather's acquaintance with Vivien Leigh that got the 14-year-old Anthony the role of Ptolemy, the troublesome younger brother of Cleopatra (Leigh) in Gabriel Pascal's film version of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

This gave Harvey a taste for acting, and he won a scholarship to Rada. But, as he recalled, "I soon realised, when I got behind the footlights, I just knew I didn't have the command." Instead, he got a job as assistant editor on Boulting brothers' films from 1953, being made chief editor on Private's Progress (1956). 

Harvey went on to become a respected editor, working on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965, directed by Martin Ritt), The L-Shaped Room (Bryan Forbes, 1962) and Lolita (1962) and Dr Strangelove (1964), both directed by Stanley Kubrick.

anthony harvey

 It was Kubrick who advised Harvey to move from the cutting room to the studio floor. The advice paid off when Harvey was nominated for an Oscar as best director for The Lion in Winter. "It was a thrilling start," he said, "but when you have success so early, everything after that is under great scrutiny. You wonder what the hell to do next."

What he did was direct They Might Be Giants (1971), a whimsical drama based on another Goldman play, and starring George C Scott as a judge who is undergoing medical treatment as he believes he is Sherlock Holmes, and Joanne Woodward as his psychiatrist, Dr Watson. It flopped, because Universal Pictures "mutilated" the last 30 minutes, according to Harvey.

It made him regret that he had turned down Cabaret and Love Story. "I let them go out of total indecision," he claimed. "It was a terrible mistake." As consolation, he returned to Hepburn, now a firm friend, to play the former southern belle Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (1973), a first venture for both actor and director into made-for-TV films.

The eclectic Harvey showed his skill at directing actors. "I abhor showy directors who use camera gimmicks in their films. I try to keep the camera fairly stationary in order to not interfere with the performances." These included Liv Ullmann as Queen Christina of Sweden in The Abdication (1974) and in Richard's Things (1980); Faye Dunaway as the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in the made-for-TV biopic The Disappearance of Aimee (1976); and Hepburn in Grace Quigley (1984), the black comedy on euthanasia.

After directing Hepburn and Anthony Quinn in the made-for-TV love story This Can't Be Love (1994), Harvey retired. At his home in Southampton, New York, between gardening and walking his dog, he kept busy writing his memoirs (as yet unpublished) about the horrors of the Hollywood package and agonies of the film industry in general, under the title Incident Prone.

He also regularly visited Hepburn at her home in Connecticut. She once told him that she so disliked show business that he was the only person from the industry with whom she was still in touch.

Ronald Bergan
first published in:
www.theguardian.com/film/2017/dec/08/anthony-harvey-obituary 

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