Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Late Great Victor Spinetti

British comic actor and film star Victor Spinetti passed on 18 June 2012 at the age of 82. The cause was prostate cancer. He may be best known for his appearances in The Beatles' films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), as well as their 1967 television special Magical Mystery Tour.

Victor Spinetti was born Vittorio Spinetti on 2 September 1929 in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales. His father was descended of an Italian immigrant who found work in the coal mines in Wales. His mother was a native Welshwoman. His parents operated a chip shop in Cwm, Blaenau Gwent, Wales. Mr. Spinetti attended Monmouth School in Monmouth, Monmouthshire, Wales. He studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Victor Spinetti made his debut on the West End of London in Expresso Bongo in 1958, playing four different roles. He made his television debut in 1958 in Behind the Mask.  He made his debut on Broadway in New York City in 1960 in The Hostage. Mr. Spinetti appeared in the films The Gentle Terror (1961), Sparrows Can't Sing (1963), The Wild Affair (1963), and Becket (1964). He appeared on television in episodes of the TV shows Richard the Lionhearted and The Saint.

In 1963 Victor Spinetti was appearing on the West End in the satire Oh What a Lovely War. It was one night that two members of The Beatles (already popular in the United Kingdom, but not yet having conquered the United States), John Lennon and George Harrison, visited him backstage. George Harrison told Victor Spinetti that he had to be in The Beatles' film (what would become A Hard Day's Night), all of The Beatles' films. Curious, Victor Spinetti asked, "Why?" George Harrison simply replied, "Because if you’re not in them, me mum won’t come and see them. She fancies you." As a result Victor Spinetti appeared in A Hard Day's Night as the neurotic television director in charge of the programme on which The Beatles were appearing in the film. Victor Spinetti would also appear in The Beatles' second film Help! There he played the mad scientist Foot, desperate to steal the sacrificial ring stuck on Ringo's finger ("With a ring like that I could - dare I say it? - rule the world!").  With his appearance in The Beatles' 1967 television special Magical Mystery Tour, he became the only person besides The Beatles to appear in A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Magical Mystery Tour. Victor Spinetti would remain friends with The Beatles well after Magical Mystery Tour had aired.

In the Sixties Victor Spintetti also appeared in the films The Taming of the Shrew (1967), The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969) . Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), This, That and the Other! (1970), and Defeat of the Mafia (1970). He appeared on television in an episode of Thirty-Minute Theatre. He was a regular on the TV show Two in Clover. He appeared on the West End in Oh What a Lovely War (1963) and appeared in the show when it debuted on Broadway in 1964. He also appeared on Broadway in La Grosse Valise (1965).

In the Seventies Victor Spinetti was a regular on the TV shows Take My Wife and Kelly Moneith. He guest starred on the shows Harriet's Back in Town, Cooper, Bernie, and Time of My Life. He appeared in the films Under Milk Wood (1972), Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973), The Great McGonagall (1974), The Little Prince (1974), The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), Voyage of the Damned (1976), Some Like It Cool (1977), and Fiona (1977).

In the Eighites Mr. Spinetti was a regular on the TV programme Sweet Sixteen and provided the voice of Texas Pete on the animated series SuperTed.  He guest starred on the TV shows BBC Play of the Month, Bad Boyes, and Omnibus. He appeared in the mini-series Mistral's Daughter and Sins. He appeared in the films Under the Cherry Moon (1986) and The Krays (1990).

In the Nineties he was a regular on the TV show An Actor's Life for Me. From the Nineties into the Naughts he guest starred on the shows Paul Merton: The Series, Take Off with T-Bag, Bottom, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, First Degree, New Tricks, and High Hopes. He appeared in the films Julie and the Cadillacs (1999), Wednesday (2006), and Cosa raccomanda lei? (2006).

Victor Spinetti was one of the best comic actors to emerge out of the United Kingdom in the late 20th Century. He had a fantastic wit and he was a master of the English language. At the same time he was very adept at physical comedy. These talents suited him very well, as he easily handled material ranging from The Beatles' films to Shakespeare's comedies to such broad family movies as  Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973). Although Victor Spinetti was perfect for comedy, he could also play dramatic roles as well. He gave excellent performances in both the film Voyage of the Damned and the television movie The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank.

In interviews Victor Spinetti was a great raconteur. By all reports he was also a very warm hearted man. He appeared at many Beatles conventions around the world where he told stories about the making of A Hard Day's Night and Help!, as well as his friendship with The Beatles. Mr. Spinetti was always patient with my fellow Beatles fans and always had kind words for them. Indeed, when he was on Broadway in Oh What A Lovely War he told those Beatles fans who attended to see him that if they behaved he could sit in the front row after the play and he would tell them about The Beatles for 10 minutes. Victor Spinetti did so for the rest of his time with the play. Not many actors would be so kind to take time out to talk to fans of a popular musical group about his experience with them! In the end Victor Spinetti was not just a great comic talent, he was a fine Welsh gentleman.

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