Today is the day! My favourite, absolutely favourite book of the year hits the store shelves and I can now blog about it in full. So whether you are a Christopher Plummer fan or not, here's ten reasons why you need to read his memoir In Spite of Myself.
#1. I already knew he was a great actor (I've seen him on stage 5 times now over the last 20 years and his terrific recording of speeches from Henry V is on my iPOD), but the real, pleasant surprise was how good a writer he is! This is not some ghostwritten celebrity bio knocked off in a couple of weeks. Plummer has spent years writing this book and he is a great storyteller. His memoir is entertaining, very funny, forthright, wistful, and filled with passages of writing that are so beautifully crafted. So read it first of all for the writing.
#2. And then read it for the life! Plummer has definately lived his to the lees. What I loved about this book was how unabashedly honest he is about his huge ego, his arrogance, his drinking, his admission that he was a horrible husband (at least to his first two wives) and an absentee father. He certainly not only sowed his wild oats but harvested them and had them for breakfast every morning - at one point I stopped counting the euphemisms he uses to denote yet another love affair. And yet the generosity and love he shows towards the people - both famous and not - who he learned his craft from, and who helped him in his career is endearing. (He's been with his third wife now for decades, so he definately settles down in the end.)
#3. Plummer paints a portrait of a lost Montreal from the 1930s and 1940s that will enchant anyone who loves that city. The book begins and ends in the city of his youth. Though he currently lives in Connecticut, he is still a proud Canadian.
#4. If you are a theatre lover, you MUST read this book. Plummer has worked with just about every major player in Canada, the U.S. and England - from Lawrence Olivier, Michael Caine, Claire Bloom, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards Jr., to William Shatner, who was his understudy for Henry V. Many of the best stories involve people behind the scenes - costume makers, theatrical agents, set designers, playwrights. The stories are juicy, hilarious, sometimes sad and poignant, but always brimming with enthusiasm and gratitude for being a part of this crazy world. Plummer has always had the utmost respect for the actors' craft - this is a guy who turned down a huge multi-year Hollywood contract with David O. Selznick because the Stratford Festival had offered him the part of Hamlet. There's also some wonderful material here about the beginnings of Canada's Stratford Festival.
#5. If you love Shakespeare, Plummer has played all the major roles and his insights into how he (and the many directors he's worked with) approached the characters is fascinating. The BBC has been busy lately, digging through its archives and putting some of its treasures on DVD. I'm hoping that they find 1964's Hamlet at Elsinore with Plummer playing the melancholy Dane actually at Kronberg Castle, widely believed to be the inspiration for Elsinore. Michael Caine (who played Horatio in this production) has publicly stated that Plummer's Hamlet is one of the best he has ever seen. Plummer calls it one of the "wettest", as Caine couldn't stop crying as Horatio held the dying Hamlet in his arms.
#6. If you love the movies you'll get a kick out of the antics on film sets that Plummer relates. There's a whole chapter of course on The Sound of Music which Plummer dubbed at the time S & M. It will certainly make you look twice at the butler. And if you want to know why Peter O'Toole taking a break from filming Lawrence of Arabia, popped into Plummer's dressing room, and promptly pulled down his pants, well, you'll just have to read the book.
#7. While Plummer paints a golden age of theatre and film that has sadly disappeared, take heart that at least one thing has improved over the years - elevators. The number of nasty elevator accidents that take place in this book is distinctly uncanny.
#8. There are some warm and fuzzy dog stories.
#9. One of the things that contributes to Plummer's marvellous way with words is undoubtedly the fact that he's a big reader and has been all his life. The memoir is peppered with literary influences from Stephen Leacock to Nabokov.
#10. He's a Canadian treasure and one to be very proud of. And he's busy working more than ever. Hmmm - wouldn't this make the perfect holiday gift?