Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Laurence Harvey and the Art of Ennui

"Someone once asked me, 'Why is it so many people hate you?' and I said, 'Do they? How super! I'm really quite pleased about it."
-           Laurence Harvey

Laurence gives a neck rub
He was born in Lithuania but everybody thought him British. At birth his name was Laruschka Mischa Skikne. His Hebrew names were Zvi Mosheh. In South Africia, where he moved as a young boy, he was called Harry Skikne. ‘Laurence Harvey’ was just made up. He was married a few times but rumored to have other inclinations.

See the pattern? The swirling brocade he dutifully followed from cradle to grave? And so perfect with the 1960s demimonde passion for detachment and ennui.

Laurence Harvey was posh and pedestrian at exactly the same time. He was equally at home in Room at the Top as in Of Human Bondage. In fact, regardless of the part he played, his hair rarely changed. Always parted and combed, longish in a 60s mod way. And his face rarely changed too. Wooden, flat, ideal for the hypnotized zombie of The Manchurian Candidate, his most famous role.

And a lot of people did hate Harvey. Some actors and directors refused to work with him, even though he was popular and had box office appeal.
The Sound of Silencer

Laurence Harvey didn’t seem to like anyone or anything, even himself. His deep-rooted misanthropy empowered his performances with mystery and violence, an existential angst that was never supposed to be there but somehow worked. You got the feeling that Harvey couldn't be trusted by anyone, not even himself…and he was okay with that.

Playing the character Miles Brand in Darling (1965), Harvey has this exchange:

Diana Scott: I asked you to go. Why haven't you?

Miles Brand: Because I've stayed.

People don't like me?

More Beckett than Pinter? Few could speak a Waiting-for-Godot haiku with such conviction as Laurence Harvey.

He once said, “To bare your soul to the world, I find unutterably boring.”

So goodbye Zvi Mosheh and all others who know the fleeting power of not belonging.