When Sean Connery offered me a Scotch …

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Sean Connery nudged my arm as a waiter hovered with a tray of champagne, and said, “They have Scotch, you know.”

We were on the terrace on Elton John’s house on the cornish that overlooks Nice in the South of France. The pop star’s film company, Rocket Pictures, was hosting a fancy spread for a mix of top-liners and mid-level film people during the Festival de Cannes in 1999. A handful of trade reporters was invited to, and I was one of them.

Connery was the first familiar face I spotted when I emerged from the elegant home onto the terrace with its fabulous view of the Côte d’Azur, so I joined him and two men I did not recognise.

“Did you see the goals?” I asked.

“The golf?” the Scotsman said.

“No, the goals.”

I explained that I had just watched an English football game in which Manchester United had beaten Tottenham Hotspur to win the Premier League.

He was all ears. When the other two men strolled off, I offered my hand and introduced myself. The actor has an infamous dislike of the press so I decided immediately to reveal that I worked for the editorial department of The Hollywood Reporter.

“They asked us not to write about this event,” I said, “but I thought you would like to be aware that’s who I am.”

Connery gave me that James Bond stare and took my hand. “There are not many who would have said that,” he said. “Where are you from?”

We chatted for a while as the crowd grew larger with more famous faces including Catherine Zeta Jones, who was there with Connery for “Entrapment”.

After he alerted me to the Scotch, Connery and I shared when the whisky arrived and he took my arm to introduce me to a newcomer: “Ray, have you met Pedro Almodovar?”

The Spanish filmmaker, who was there with “All About My Mother”, joined us in a conversation about Terry Gilliam’s ambitions to make a film of “Don Quixote”.

“You should make it,” Connery told Almodovar.”

“If you’ll play Don Quixote,” the filmmaker said. “But I heard there was a project with you in the works. With Robin Williams as Sancho Panza.”

Connery looked fit to burst. “No! No! No!” he exclaimed.

I didn’t meet the star, who turns 85 today, again until 2010 during the Edinburgh Film Festival when he unveiled a plaque on the site of his Fountainbridge home to mark his 80th birthday.

Like the place I grew up in Ashford, Kent, his building was demolished years ago. Like me, though, he grew up in circumstances in which a bath was a weekly event.

When I was very young, our bathtub was in the kitchen and we had to fill it with water heated on an old-fashioned Edwardian coal-fired copper ladle by ladle. Connery’s family did much the same. He had a younger brother, so he was the third one into the bathwater. I had an older brother, so I came last.

Connery said that when he became successful and travelled the world, whenever he checked into a luxury hotel, the first thing he did was take a luxurious bath. From the first time I went on a movie junket to New York, that’s been my habit too.

On my first trip to Cannes in January 1999 for the MIDEM music event, I checked into the Hotel Martinez at the top of La Croisette, poured a bubble bath, opened a split of champagne, and sank into the suds.

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Why Omar Sharif liked playing bridge more than making movies

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Omar Sharif, who has died of a heart attack in Cairo aged 83, was an international movie star who was always rather embarrassed about the way he earned a living.

He said, “The things going on in the world are so important, it becomes sort of silly to be merely an actor.”

And so the star of “Dr. Zhivago” played bridge.

He was on tour with a team of crack European bridge players when I met him in Detroit in 1970. His team played local groups with a side bet going to charity if they lost.

“There is nothing more significant about playing bridge than making movies,” he said, “but bridge is a game of the mind. There is a general ethical rule that no matter where you go other people are forced to cut you into a game.

“It’s a game that has a very great gentle human relationship to it. If people have a passion in their lives, something innocuous like bridge or golf or fishing, you rarely find them yelling their prejudice, hating, and so on. The sour-pusses, the ones with nothing in their lives, they are the ones who hate. People with a passion don’t have time for this nonsense.”

After he devastated the women of the western world when he rode out of the desert in his first English-speaking movie, “Lawrence of Arabia” a decade earlier, Sharif made more than one mediocre film. He said, “I don’t like very much what I’ve done. I can’t forget ‘Dr. Zhivago’ because it was the most important but I don’t have a favourite. In order to keep the excitement, you have to believe that the last film was the best and the next film will be better.”

His latest film had been the title role of “Che!” about which he said he was bitter: “They made changes and I was fighting something bigger than myself. In the end, I gave up the fight. I never saw the picture.”

His next film, “The Last Valley”, based on a story that happens during the Thirty Years War and co-starring Michael Caine, was due for release in the fall.

An Egyptian citizen, Sharif was light-hearted about the banning of his films in his homeland: “‘Dr. Zhivago’ was banned out of courtesy to the Russians, who didn’t like it. “Funny Girl” was banned because they don’t approve of Miss Streisand.”

Of Funny Girl Barbra herself, he said, “I’m very fond of her. I think the world of her. We had a very good relationship and we are good friends. For her, work is everything. She is selfish I guess, when she’s working, but then one should be. But I always fall in love with my leading ladies. It’s very difficult not to.”

Long black hair streaked with red dye from his role in “The Last Valley”, sideburns down to his chin and looking spry in a fit 5-foot-11 frame, Sharif said he liked to play bridge “because since I was a kid I have liked puzzles. Bridge is a series of little puzzles.”

This story appeared in The Windsor Star on Feb. 18 1970

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‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ does right by LAMDA

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – A fund-raiser for LAMDA, the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art, attracted a packed house to a performance of hit West End show “The Play That Goes Wrong” on Tuesday. Continue reading

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How James Horner came to write the ‘Titanic’ song

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – American composer James Horner, who has died in a plane crash aged 61, won an Academy Award along with lyricist Will Jennings for “My Heart Will Go On” sung by Celine Dion in “Titanic”, and it sold millions, but the song was a complete afterthought.

James Cameron’s movie has grossed almost $2.2 billion worldwide and won 11 Oscars including best picture and best score for Horner. The soundtrack album has reported sales of around 28 million and the single was No. 1 around the world.

It almost didn’t happen. Continue reading

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The look on Anne Murray’s face was one of sheer terror

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – One of Canada’s most successful singers, Anne Murray, who turns 70 today, became a huge international entertainer but she told me two things had made her nervous – performing in Las Vegas and at the Quebec Winter Carnival. Continue reading

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Ready with a zippo for Elizabeth Hurley

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Happy birthday to Elizabeth Hurley, who turns 50 today.

I met her at a party during the Festival de Cannes several years ago. I turned on the terrace and there she was in a white dress lit up suddenly from behind by a bright light and to all intents and purposes she appeared to be naked. Continue reading

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When US TV censored hip-swinging Tom Jones

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Fans of “The Voice” might not suspect that the venerable Sir Tom Jones, who turns 75 today, was censored on American television when he was younger.

His show “This is Tom Jones” aired on the ABC network for three seasons until 1971 and his electrifying performances made him a huge sex symbol that terrified his network TV bosses. Continue reading

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Tony Curtis on Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas and more

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Nobody loved being a movie star more than Tony Curtis, who was born on this day 90 years ago and who died in 2010, and as he got older he liked nothing more than to talk about it. “Don’t I have great stories?” he said to me. “Don’t you fucking love it?”

Curtis did an hilarious impression of Cary Grant to seduce Marilyn Monroe (pictured below) in “Some Like it Hot” (1959) but he told me that when director Billy Wilder screened the film for him, Grant said, “I don’t talk like that”,  and Curtis said it just as Grant would have. They had starred together in the Blake Edwards war comedy “Operation Petticoat”. Continue reading

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KFMF: International TV series music gala rocks

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By Ray Bennett

KRAKOW – Themes from some of the most popular television shows in the world rocked the impressive new Tauron Arena here on Saturday as the Krakow Film Music Festival celebrated the exciting vibrancy of music for TV series.

An enthusiastic crowd of around 15,000 greeted familiar themes from shows such as “Downton Abbey”, “The Borgias”, “House of Cards”, “Vikings” and “Game of Thrones”. Continue reading

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KFMF: Enthralling film music at Shakespeare in Concert

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By Ray Bennett

KRAKOW – Powerful, melodic and mischievous, Elliot Goldenthal’s music for the productions of his partner Julie Taymor was given full rein at an exhilarating Shakespeare in Concert performance as part of the Krakow Film Music Festival on May 29. Continue reading

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