Gabriel Hershman Interview – Author Discusses His Latest Biography On The Life Of Albert Finney, Titled ‘Strolling Player’ And Reveals Why His First Biography On Ian Hendry Was So Important To Him
Picture above: Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and the cover of his new biography ‘Strolling Player’ by Gabriel Hershman.
In this exclusive interview with author Gabriel Hershman, he reveals exactly why his first biography had to be on Ian Hendry and why Albert Finney is the ideal subject for his new book ‘Strolling Player, The Life and Career of Albert Finney’.
Towards the end of 2011, I was first contacted by Gabriel Hershman to let me know that he wanted to write a biography on my late uncle, Ian Hendry. It was to be the first (and perhaps only) biography to be published on Ian’s life and work. A few months beforehand, I had purchased the domain name ianhendry.com – as I wanted to create a long overdue online tribute. Gabriel’s biography on Ian Hendry, however, was in many ways the catalyst that was needed to bring this website into being!
Gabriel has just completed his second biography, this time focussing on the life of the celebrated British actor, Albert Finney. The Gabriel Hersman website has also recently been launched recently, providing the latest updates on this book launch and all his other work.
Picture: Albert Finney in pub behind the Cambridge Theatre, London (1961)
In the following interview, Gabriel Hershman discusses writing, why his first biography on Ian Hendry was so important to him and why Albert Finney is the subject of his latest work.
So Gabriel, could you please tell our readers a little bit more about your writing background and why, in particular, you were so attracted to writing biographies in the first place?
I always enjoyed writing at school and experimented with a novel in my twenties. But I struggled a bit with it. When I moved to Portugal I finally got into journalism full-time and began interviewing actors and entertainers. With my interest in the theatre and cinema – coupled with a kind of innate nosiness about other people’s lives! – I had often thought about writing a biography. It was my favourite genre. The first major theatrical biography I read was Melvyn Bragg’s life of Richard Burton. I still think that is a model of its kind – analysing Burton’s craft as well as his character, paying tribute to him without lurching into over-obsequiousness. It was at the back of my mind ever since then – but very much at the back because a lot of time elapsed before I got to the keyboard! – that I’d enjoy writing a biography. I tend to be introspective at times and find it does me good to lose myself in someone else’s story, especially if that person’s life is more interesting than mine!
Picture: Ian Hendry on the set of Get Carter (1971), subject of Gabriel Hershman’s first biography, Send In The Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry.
Your first biography was, of course, based on the life and work of actor Ian Hendry. Could you explain why writing about Ian was so important to you?
Ian Hendry had always fascinated me ever since I first saw him on screen. This would have been around 1985, not long after his death. I remember seeing Theatre of Blood and thinking he was rather good and then The Hill – in which he was absolutely outstanding. The dam really burst when satellite TV came in around the early Nineties and I saw Ian’s guest spots in old TV series. His talent bounced off the screen. He had an extraordinary ability to establish a believable character within seconds. I lived near Hampstead at the time and got talking to a few of his associates. That’s a euphemism for getting pissed with Ronnie Fraser! When I saw The Lotus Eaters on UK Gold in 1993 I found it compulsive viewing for me. In fact, I seldom ventured out on a Saturday night. Looking back, it must have seemed a bit strange, staying in to watch what was in 1993, a 20-year-old TV series. But I was fascinated by it. Ian’s performance holds up extremely well even now and we’re talking 45 years down the line. That’s the mark of great acting – when a performance still rings true almost half a century later. He had a unique gift of being able to convey deep thoughts with just a look or a grunt.
How do you aim to differentiate your biographies from the many others that are published each year – especially those within the show-business genre?
I think that most show-business biographies and autobiographies fall down because they don’t talk enough about acting. Yes, I’m only human and interested that a celebrity had a steamy affair with a famous married actress or that he ‘battled’ drink and drugs. BUT I’m also interested in how actors prepare for roles, how they make their craft seem spontaneous and why their performances are so effective – if they are. I like to analyse and appraise each of their major roles.
Picture: Albert Finney in Annie (1982)
Your latest biography is based on the life of actor Albert Finney and is due to be published by The History Press on 5 January 2017. Could you expand upon the criteria you use in drawing up a short-list of candidates and why Finney was your ideal choice?
I’d only be interested in writing about a very talented actor. Ian Hendry definitely qualified on that score. But for my second book I wanted an international star. Finney had always been at the back of my mind. Perhaps more than any other post-war movie star Finney revolutionised British film. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning changed everything. It was the cinematic equivalent of the Beatles. Finney was a very important figure in that so-called New Wave. I hope that in addition to giving an account of Finney’s life I’ve also succeeded in explaining why he was important. The Finney Factor if you like – to paraphrase Boris Johnson’s recent work on Churchill, the Churchill Factor. It helped that I’d seen Finney on stage several times.
Another important point is that, back in the period I’m talking about (the 1980s and 1990s), seeing someone like Finney – or O’Toole or Hopkins – on stage was a truly MAJOR event, one you would remember forever and talk about again and again. Sadly, I don’t think you can say the same nowadays about any current star. Why is this?
The greatest play I ever saw on the London stage was Orphans in 1986, starring Finney. I came out of the theatre with tears in my eyes. You could feel the electricity permeating the theatre. Obviously some of that was due to the great writing of the playwright, Lyle Kessler, but a lot of the credit must go to Finney. And, as Kessler said to me when I interviewed him, who are today’s Finneys and Pacinos?
Picture: Albert Finney in Night Must Fall (1964)
What were the biggest challenges that you encountered in writing this book and what were the biggest highlights and surprises?
It’s difficult writing a book about someone who is still alive because sometimes people are reluctant to speak. But I discovered that Finney was perhaps the quintessential professional. Not only was he supremely fastidious and well-prepared for every role but he was always careful to make everyone around him feel comfortable. The biggest surprise perhaps lay in discovering Finney’s true nature. He’s clearly a very popular, lovable fellow, universally respected in the business. Whereas I’d always pictured a scowling, rather angry figure. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. But that’s partly because his performance in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was so good.
Picture: Albert Finney
If you had to recommend five of Finney’s most significant performances for someone who is unfamiliar with his work to watch, which ones would they be and why?
1. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. It’s a remarkably self-assured performance from a 23-year-old.
2. The Dresser I’d pick because it contains Finney’s finest screen performance. Don’t be deceived by the ranting. It’s a performance of infinite subtlety.
3. The Playboys I’d pick because he really breaks your heart. It’s an underrated film which has a lot to say about unrequited love, lust, loneliness and the human condition.
4. His Churchill in The Gathering Storm was absolutely brilliant and spot-on.
5. Also the screen version of Orphans – if only because it captures for posterity Finney’s greatest stage role.
Video above: Original Trailer For Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
And lastly Gabriel, have you drawn up a short-list for your next biography and could you give our readers any hints as to who it might be on?!
I can give you more than a hint. Barring some unforeseen disaster I’d really like to write about the late Nicol Williamson. This was a guy who had the talent and danger to become an international superstar, a man who even brought his Hamlet to the White House at the invitation of President Richard Nixon! And yet, today, Williamson is curiously overlooked. I want to ensure he has a proper tribute.
A big thanks to Gabriel Hershman for discussing his work and thoughts with us.
Book Review – Mail On Sunday
A glowing review by Kathryn Hughes – Mail On Sunday 29th January 2017:
For those of you who are interested in buying this biography, please click on the link or image below for more details:
Until next time,
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry
A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography: