I could’ve delivered this rebuke in my underwear but of course donned my bemedalled uniform and a pearl-handled pistol on each hip before I shouted, “Attention, Olivier. Other than a coward in battle the last outrage on earth I’ll tolerate is a ham on a movie set.”
“You must forgive me, General Patton, for reminding you that I’m twenty years your senior and immeasurably more experienced in matters of stagecraft and moviemaking.”
“I’m not impugning your talent or experience, I’m decrying your woeful performance, as well as that of Gregory Peck, in The Boys from Brazil. Moviegoers thought they were paying to see a mortal showdown between Dr. Josef Mengele, sadistic dissector of children at Auschwitz, and a character based on that intrepid hunter of Nazis, Simon Wiesenthal.
“Instead, what do we get? You and Peck squawk at each other in the most ridiculous Germanic English yet spoken. What the hell were you two fools thinking? You should’ve known, at least after the rushes, that when you wanted to be serious you were funny. Maybe that’s it. Mengele and Wiesenthal were creating a comedy.”
Still at attention, Laurence Olivier says, “I perhaps should’ve spoken to the director, General Patton, but my health has been quite bad for a decade and I spend all emotional resources on my roles and young wife and our three children.”
I point my riding whip at the aging actor. “You wouldn’t have had to storm the beaches of Normandy, for God’s sake. All you had to do was remind director Franklin J. Schaffner he’d had the honor to direct me as General Patton. I delivered everything in good tough American English.”
“But you were an American actor portraying an American general.”
“That’s my point, Olivier. Be who you really are. You’re an English speaker. Speak English and let your acting determine character. I would’ve court-martialed the lot of you and locked up Schaffner without a trial. And James Mason, too. Can you tell me why that formerly fine actor evidently forgot that a quarter century earlier he’d spoken English when portraying General Rommel in The Desert Fox? Now he’s as idiotic as you and Gregory Peck.
“Didn’t you understand that after two hours of absurd speaking the climactic scene would be burlesque. It should’ve been a classic: Simon Wiesenthal battling Dr. Josef Mengele, eternal good versus unmitigated evil. Instead, I laughed as the four Doberman Pinchers mauled Peck and you guys wrestled on the living room floor and shot each other and bled all over and continued to speak like Teutonic buffoons. And who’s present for this high drama? The genetic Adolf Hitler as an Anglicized child, or course. What a farce.”
Olivier raises a slender hand from which he unsteadily aims a bony finger. “Enough, General Patton. You who had overwhelming advantages in men and material against an exhausted and surrounded German nation, you who slapped a mentally torn soldier, you who unlike George C. Scott had a high effeminate voice, are not qualified to speak to me in that matter.
“Are you suffering from dementia or did you carefully neglect to mention that just two years earlier, in 1976, I portrayed a Mengele-like Auschwitz dentist seeking to retrieve diamonds I’d purchased with gold I stole from the teeth of my Holocaust victims. And I played the role in subdued but otherwise straight English.”
“I commend you for that, Olivier, and assume the director and screenwriter also merit praise for letting you explain you had a certain linguistic characteristics that enabled you to speak without a Germanic accent. I accepted the explanation, which really wasn’t needed. When I played the Duce in Mussolini: The Untold Story, I spoke like a gruff Benito C. Scott. Or, when caressing my mistress and soothing my wife and children, I did so in a dignified English that implied Italian intimacy.”