Thursday, February 17, 2011

Born On This Day- February 17th... Actor Alan Bates

My little 15 year old gay self was just blown away by Ken Russell’s Women in Love. Ken Russell's adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's novel Women in Love is one of my favorite films. It explores the hearts & minds, personalities, & philosophies of 4 intelligent & educated young people in the beginning of 20th century & their romantic relationships, heterosexual & homosexual, friendship, love & desire. I experienced the film several times in the theatre & could not believe my good luck at viewing 2 beautiful nude men wresteling by firelight. I played the scene over & over in my head & could never quite erase the images. I knew I wanted to do some nude wrestling myself, & Oliver Reed or Alan Bates seemed like excellent choices for a new hobby- Movie Star Nude Wrestling.

Women In Love is a powerful film with strong homoerotic undertones. It was also one of the first films to boldly show full frontal nudity by men. The plot subtly alludes to a strong relationship between the 2 leading men- Gerald & Rupert . The very physical scene continues for an almost full 5 minutes & both of the men wear absolutely nothing! I will always be grateful to Mr. Russell, Alan Bates & Oliver Reed. At 15 this was quite interesting & definitely a strange, but certainly memorable twist to an already curiously beguiling film & story. In another interesting twist, the Oscar nominated screenplay was written by openly gay- Larry Kramer, another personal favorite.

After graduating from RADA in 1956, Alan Bates debuted on stage in the West End, starring in Look Back in Anger, a role which made him a star. 4 years later, he had his first film role in The Entertainer with Laurence Olivier. He soon starred in Whistle Down the Wind, King of Hearts, & The Fixer, which gave him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Bates starred in such international hit films: Georgy Girl, Far From the Madding Crowd, Zorba the Greek, The Go-Between, An Unmarried Woman & Women in Love.

On TV, his parts ranged from classic roles such as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Guy Burgess in An Englishman Abroad, Pack of Lies, & the 2000 version of the Arabian Nights. Bates played Antonius Agrippa in the 2004 TV film Spartacus, but died before it debuted. It was dedicated to his memory.

I saw him on stage in Butley along with Jessica Tandy. He was astonishing as a gay English professor finds his life crumbling around him. The script contained a favorite line: “I'm a one-woman man, & I've had mine, thank God”. Bates had a long working relationship with the plays of Simon Gray, appearing in Butley, Otherwise Engaged, Stage Struck, Melon, Life Support & Simply Disconnected, as well as the film version of Butley.

He was married to actress Victoria Ward from 1970 until her death of a heart attack in 1992. They had twin sons born in 1971- Benedick Bates & Tristan Bates, who died of an asthma attack in1990 at the age of 19 in Tokyo where he had a modeling job.

Bates had numerous, often tortured, homosexual relationships during his life, including Olympic skater-John Curry.

Bates was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996, & was knighted in 2003.

Alan Bates died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 69.

I was a fan of Bates' rumpled, malleable features, & his explosive versatility, Bates was an impossibly beautiful & talented man.

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