Timothy Findley, Yes, His Greatness & Mark Twain, NoFriday, October 19, 2007
Rosemary and I attended the opening on Wednesday evening of the Daniel MacIvor play His Greatness based on a potentially true story about two days in 1980 (in a Vancouver hotel room) in the last years of the life of Tennessee Williams. He died in a New York hotel in 1983. The play (on until November 10 at the Granville Island Stage of the Arts Club Theatre Company) is superbly played by Allan Gray, David Marr and Charles Christien Gallant. Alas I never had the opportunity to photograph any of them so others are posted here as surrogates.
Rosemary, my wife, rarely likes anything but on Wednesday night she was smiling with pleasure and glee.
Yes, I laughed a lot, particularly when playwright MacIvor made fun of our two-newspaper town. But I was dead serious and uncomfortable (paradoxically) because of the uncanny reconstruction by Scenery Director Kevin McAllister and Lighting Designer Alan Brodie of what to me has to be a Hotel Vancouver suite. I should know as I have photographed many actors, politicians, directors, authors, pornography stars, etc in many Vancouver hotels and quite a few of them at the Hotel Vancouver.
One of my first Hotel Vancouver subjects and, certainly one that gave me lots of pleasure was a sitting with poet/novelist Timothy Findley in October 1988. While I was certainly no Young Man, played with a wicked panache by Charles Christien Gallant, I was the younger and third person in that Hotel Vancouver suite. The second was Findley's friend Bill Whitehead. At the time I discussed with the friendly Findley ("Please call me Tiffy.") the idea of some day having a show of hotel portaits. In January 1989 I received a kind letter from Findley that raised the question of those hotel portaits.
I wonder if anybody snapped His Greatness when he was in Vancouver? I must state that I first became interested in taking photographs in Vancouver hotel rooms when I saw the picture (seen here) of Mark Twain holding court from his bed in the (yes!) Hotel Vancouver when he visited our city on August 18, 1895.
I include here a photograph of American writer Richard Ford whom I photographed at the Hotel Vancouver in October, 1990. He had come to town for the Writer's Festival. I had taken the liberty of calling the Hotel Vancouver publicist to tell her that of all the persons who were staying at the hotel the one who would most likely write about the hotel was British travel writer (by then he had moved to Seattle) Jonathan Raban. I did not know that Raban and Ford were friends. While I was taking Ford's picture (I'm happy," he said to me, "you are making me look like Graham Greene."), Jonathan Raban walked in and said, "Richard I have this great big room that is semicircular and occupies a whole end of the hotel. I have no idea why I have been given this room." Ford countered with, "Mine is a normal room. Somebody must like you." I said nothing.
Rosemary and I drove home from His Greatness. We were silent but content. After all it had been an excellent evening at the theatre. While I had missed Tennessee Williams's stay in Vancouver, the play had carried me back to that hotel room in my head, haunted by all those ghosts, some dead some alive that have passed in front of my camera and through my life.