June, 2008

I first heard of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook in late 1969, courtesy of a girlfriend who played a scratchy LP of the 1962 Broadway cast recording of "BEYOND THE FRINGE" for me. I laughed so hard I thought I might seriously compromise my bladder control and embarrass myself, right there in her living room.


Later, she took me to see "BEDAZZLED", the 1967 film also starring Peter Cook. I actually choked and shot Coca Cola out of my nostrils one Saturday evening while watching a sparsely attended double feature at the Circle Theatre in D.C.  I don't remember the other picture, but this was the beginning of a more than 30 year ordeal of being unable to process liquids properly if Dudley was in evidence.

The movie is a take-off on the Faust legend. A poor slob named Stanley Moon (Moore) sells his soul to the Devil --aka George Spiggott-- (Cook) in exchange for seven wishes, which he uses to win the heart of a woman who ignores him. The Devil always finds a loophole to trip him up and avoid granting his wish.

There's a recurring bit where Cook instructs Moore to "Blow your raspberry, Stanley! " (a "Bronx Cheer"; stick out your tongue and go "BRAAAAAPPPPP!") if his wish is going badly. By doing so, he'll be whisked out of the bad situation and sent right to wherever the Devil happens to be, so he can start a fresh wish. Each one fails because George becomes a central character in the scenario to ensure its failure. Each failure finds hapless Stanley "blowing a raspberry" to undo the wish that's gone so horribly wrong.

Pete and Dud in "BEDAZZLED"

Bits of the film can be found online, and it's available from Blockbuster and Netflix. I urge you to watch it. Your life will be fundamentally better.The 2000 remake, while cute, was hardly in the same league.

Raquel Welch played Lust-- one of the
Seven Deadly Sins he encounters. Dud, terribly nervous, said he wore 3 pairs of underpants to film their bed scene, lest he get excited and offend Raquel, somehow.

Though he was a successful jazz pianist, writer, film actor and comedian, Dudley was largely unknown to American audiences until he appeared in Hollywood movies like "FOUL PLAY", "10" and "ARTHUR".

In 1974, I saw Pete and Dud on Broadway in their two man show, "GOOD EVENING". Getting tickets for the show was my birthday present to myself. I had to see these guys in the flesh! I took the train to New York with my girlfriend, and sat spellbound in the Lunt- Fontanne Theater as they tore through a couple of hours of simply brilliant material, featuring some reprised "BEYOND THE FRINGE" bits-- as well as hysterical sketches about a film producer auditioning a one-legged actor for the role of Tarzan, the eyewitness testimony of a shepherd at Christ's birth, and an interview with the owner of The Frog and Peach-- a restaurant whose menu consists entirely of variations on the amphibian and the fruit.

After the show, my girlfriend and I were standing outside the theater, when I noticed a small sign over a door well away from the main entrance. It read: "Through These Portals Pass 2 Madmen". As we read it, this door opened and Peter Cook came out. We approached him to get his autograph. He was pleasant, but seemed distracted and soon took his leave. A few minutes later, the door opened again, and there was Dudley Moore-- all 5'2" of him, in a long, fur coat! This was November, and he looked alarmingly like an energetic little raccoon. My girlfriend fairly squealed in delight. She thought he was just the cutest thing imaginable! (He would become known as "Cuddly Dudley" and was also dubbed "The Sex Thimble", for his diminutive stature and the undeniable attraction he held for women.)

We told him how much we'd enjoyed the evening, and he seemed absolutely delighted that we'd had fun. He smiled and laughed, shook hands, and allowed my girlfriend --who expressed great admiration for it--to feel his fur coat. It was a gift from his wife, Tuesday Weld, he told us. My girlfriend seemed to enjoy stroking it. Dudly seemed bemused by this. He graciously added his autograph to our program, alongside Peter's. It hangs in my office, still.

He chatted amiably with us for 20 minutes or more, as though we were the most important people on earth and he had absolutely no other obligations or schedule-- or any wish to be any place except where we were at the moment. He was in fine, good humor and high spirits, and had a twinkle in his eye. He was refreshingly normal and approachable; a warm and cordial fellow. He seemed truly happy that we were interested in talking to him.

I asked how long the show had been running, and he told me that it was over a year old. It seemed so fresh and immediate, and I asked how he managed to maintain that level of exuberance. He said "Well, that's the thing about doing comedy, you know? You have to do every show with very high energy, like it's opening night and your life depends on it. If you allow yourself to feel tired, or to dwell on your boring day, or the tasteless garbage you had for lunch, or you're distracted even a little bit, it shows-- and it takes away from the performance. People will notice, and it won't be nearly as funny as if you go at it full tilt." Here he leaned in very closely and stage-whispered in a broad Cockney accent:
"Well, it ain't bleedin' Noel Coward, is it? "

I told him that I was a huge "BEDAZZLED" fan, and that it was one of my favorite comedies, ever.
"Oh, that old thing", he chuckled. I told him there was a repertory cinema in D.C. that ran it regularly and that I'd seen it many, many times.

"Ah, we had a lot of fun doing that one", he said. "It was funny, wasn't it? I think it holds up all right."

"Um... today is my birthday, and this show was my present to myself..." I said.
"Well, what excellent taste you have!" he interjected.
"...and I was wondering if I could ask you a small favor", I said.

"Well, anything for the Birthday Boy! I'd be very happy to oblige, if I can", he said, winking at my girlfriend.
"I wonder... would you... blow your raspberry for me, please, Stanley?" I asked him.

He threw his head back and, laughed, long and loud. It was a hearty, high-pitched, cackling sort of laughter that made you feel giddy just to hear it.

"My God! All right; but... wait! If I do that, I'll disappear!" he shouted.

"I'm not so sure about that. If it works like it did in the movie, you'll just catch up to Mr. Cook. He's probably... I don't know... 30 blocks from here by now...?" I said.  Again, he laughed out loud, and I couldn't help but join in. We seemed to set each other off, and were both whooping and "Tee-hee-hee"- ing at the idea of him vanishing right off the sidewalk there on 46th Street.

"Well, then; here you go, my friend..." and he blew a long, loud, resonant "raspberry" for me, right there. What a unique and terrifically special gift to me! It absolutely made my day! How cool was that, eh?
We chatted a few more minutes, he hugged my girlfriend, gave me a huge grin and a very vigorous, two-handed handshake, slapped me on the back, wished me a very happy birthday, and off he went.

It was during the run of "GOOD EVENING" that Dudley's 20 year partnership with Peter Cook began to unravel, due to Cook's increasing alcoholism. Their legendary, underground, cult classic characters "Derek and Clive" were born as they tried to create an environment in which to stabilize their relationship. See the informative article about their creation HERE.

Next year, the show came to the National Theater in Washington, D.C. I took a friend to see it, and after the show she wanted to get Pete and Dud's autographs, so I led her to a hallway backstage I knew the artists generally used to exit the building. A few people were already waiting there. Peter Cook came out first, signed a few autographs and rushed away. Shortly thereafter, Dudley Moore came out, signed some autographs and even posed for photos with a couple of people. Once the crowd had dwindled, my friend approached him for an autograph. I stood off to one side, watching. He looked up, caught my eye, and cocked an eyebrow at me.

"Hello...", he said, with a bit of a question in his voice.
"Hello, there, Dudley. Great show-- again. I'm sure you won't recall it, but we met..." I began.
"Yeah! In New York-- last year! Right! And... it was... it was your birthday, wasn't it?", he asked, beaming.
"My God... you do remember! Yes, it was!" I was just... well, flabbergasted would be an understatement.
How many people does a guy like this meet in a year, and what were the odds that he'd recall 20 minutes of idle gabbing with a total stranger on the street?

He looked at my friend, and said-- breaking into a broad, affected, Cockney accent once again "So... this one, 'ere, she don't pet me coat! What d'ya think? She don't fancy me? I'm losin' it, am I?"
It was my turn to roar with laughter. He'd remembered that little episode, too...!

"Well, is tonight a special occasion, then? A birthday, or your anniversary or anything?" he asked.
"No, just a night out with my friend. We needed a good laugh, and I knew where to find one", I said.

"Ah! Well; this one's on the house, then, chum!"
And he blew an enormous raspberry-- causing everyone to turn and stare at us, trying to figure out what the hell this was all about. I laughed until my eyes watered; Dudley cackled like a madman-- it went back and forth until we were both out of breath. I nearly peed myself. A helluva fine little reunion!

Over the next several years, as I saw him on TV and in movies, I always felt a special connection with the impish, lovely, little man who'd been so nice to me, and with whom I'd shared a couple of wonderfully silly belly laughs. I'd fondly remember the warmth, humor and kindness he radiated. He was a star; he didn't have to do that. His former girlfriend, actress Susan Anton said: "He was very sexy and he really knew how to turn his light on you. You just got his full attention. He made you feel very special and very beautiful and extraordinary." Yes; absolutely. I saw it. I had the pleasure of making the guy laugh, too.

In the mid 90's things changed drastically for him. From a 2002 article by Steven Peros:

"... everyone in town "knew" that Dudley Moore had deteriorated into a forgetful, stumbling drunk. The most public whisper involved him getting fired from the set of what could have been his comeback role-as Barbra Streisand's male confidante in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). He was hurriedly replaced by George Segal.... An acquaintance told me similar sad stories from the set of Dudley, Moore's short-lived 1993 TV series. Still another comrade spoke to me with regret about Moore's "drunken" state in 1995 at a tribute to his recently deceased friend and Bedazzled collaborator, Peter Cook..."

But he wasn't drunk. It was his neurological system betraying him. The symptoms that prevented him from memorizing lines, speaking clearly or even maintaining his balance were eventually diagnosed as a degenerative brain disorder called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy-- a rare, untreatable and fatal condition, akin to a form of Parkinson's. Dudley displayed typical dark humor in 1999 when he announced he had the condition, which strikes only 1 in 100,000 people: "It is in some way considerate of me that I have taken on the disease for myself," he cracked, "thus protecting the remaining 99,999 Screen Actors Guild members from this fate."

A transcript and photos from his 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters can be seen HERE.

Shortly after the news was made public, I wrote Dudley a letter. A friend who works on the Paramount lot managed to get me his home address in New Jersey, where he was then living and being treated at local hospitals. I reminded Dudley of our two meetings. "I know that you'll remember these, because you bowled me over by remembering me after our first, brief meeting" I told him. I went on to say how sad I was to hear about his condition, and to wish him strength and send him my love. "...whatever accolades or awards have come your way, you are surely aware that you've richly deserved all of them, and every bit of good press or glowing reviews you've ever had. You've made the world a far better place for your presence and your work here. Aside from all the professional acclaim that's so rightly yours, I'd just like you to know that you have significantly enriched at least one regular person's life (that'd be mine...) and that I shall always remember you for the simple kindness you showed me on those occasions-- as well as your contagious, cackling laughter, amply in evidence both times. Thank you for the great memories..." 

June, 2001: Prince Charles—an ardent fan—honors Dudley with a Commander of the British Empire award at Buckingham Palace for his lifetime of achievements It was Dudley's last public appearance.

I didn't get an answer. A few months later-- on March 27th, 2002 -- Dudley Moore died. It was the same day that director Billy Wilder and comedian Milton Berle died, and coincidentally the same day I launched the Quit Buddies website. I'd like to think that he got my letter-- I'd marked it "PERSONAL"-- and that perhaps his caregiver read it to him. I'd like to think he remembered me-- and that maybe he laughed.

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