Williamstown theater icon tells tales ...

Thursday August 9, 2012

by Milton Bass, Special to Berkshires Week

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Actor Frank Langella was a fixture of the Williamstown Theatre Fes tival umpteen years ago. He also had a stint at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge doing William Gibson’s "A Cry of Players." Since then he has attained worldwide fame in theatre and film, mostly because of his blood-sucking talent in the title role of "Dracula."

On the way to his present status, Langella, at 74, has a lot to tell us about what it’s been like as a 6-foot-3-inch man whose great looks attracted women to his presence. He is also a terribly talented actor whose performances have ranged from farce to high drama with a comic turn or two in between. And, last but not least, he has a very high sex drive.

Consequently, he has published a book, "Dropped Names: Famous Men and Wo men as I Knew them," (Harper Collins, 356 pp., $25.99) which consists of 66 profiles of mostly famous people, some in the acting profession and some not.

They include local residents like the late playwright William Gibson and the late director Arthur Penn, but also his experiences with Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Noel Coward, Richard Burton, Lawrence Olivier, Bette Davis, Tip O’Neill, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana, The Queen Mother, Arhtur Miller, Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman, Eliz abeth Taylor and a dozen other people of some repute.

There are few references to Langella’s three wives, nor his five years’ habitation with act ress/comedian Whoopi Gold berg, but the book continually entails his liaisons with platoons of women. The New York Times review of the book included this summation:

"Langella’s book celebrates sluttiness as a worthy -- even noble -- way of life. There was so much happy sexuality in the book that reading it was like being flirted with for a whole party by the hottest person in the room. It was no wonder Langella was invited everywhere."

His Williamstown years, he confesses (or brags) were taken up as a contest with his male colleagues as to who could bed the most interns. There is no indication as to was the champion (or biggest cad), but since it is described as an almost heroic endeavor, you can be sure that Langella won the gold.

The attitude that strikes you most in the book is how casually these actors, both male and female, take sexual activity for granted. And the other point is how foul-mouthed the female actresses are on a regular basis. It must be something to be in the presence of a female star with a face like an angel and the vocabulary of a combat infantryman.

The tenderest part of the recollections is Langella’s relationship with Rachel (Bunny) Mellon, the centenarian widow of mega billionaire Paul Mel lon. Being the guest of rich people can be an unnerving experience, but Langella is overwhelmingly grateful for the good things this woman brought into his life and how she enjoyed the prerogatives of being so rich that she could do so much for those around her.

There could be 20 guests for the weekend at one of her home steads, yet everybody received breakfast in bed. If someone had to be somewhere fast, she would ask: "which of the jet planes do you want to use?" At the end of his reminiscences about her, Langella writes:

"It would be impossible to relate here the many lessons Bunny Mellon taught me during the 50 years I have known her, but perhaps the most prescient, as relates to the subjects of this book, including myself, is a piece of advice she gave me when, at 24 years old, I asked her:

"What should I do when I meet a famous person?"

"Oh Frank," she said, "don’t think too much about famous people. They already think too much about themselves."

It is obvious from this book that Langella has thought a lot about famous people, and this book reflects his reflections. If you want an insight into what makes the theatrical world go round, this is about the best I have ever encountered.


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