Marvel Super Special Magazine: For Your Eyes Only on-set report, including an interview with Michael Gothard.

This came out in 1981.

[Contessa Lisl’s] killer in For Your Eyes Only is a cold-eyed assassin called Emile Locque. Played by Michael Gothard, Loque is the film's equivalent of such past villainous henchmen as Red Grant in From Russia With Love and Mr. Wint in Diamonds Are Forever. Gothard is no stranger to cinematic evil – during his career he's played a vampire (in Scream and Scream Again), helped to burn Oliver Reed alive in The Devils and stabbed Simon Ward to death in The Four Musketeers. But he's suffered a lot of on-screen retribution himself.

"I've been killed in so many different ways on both the large and small screens," he said wryly. "I've been hanged, stabbed, strangled, shot, immersed in an acid bath,
crashed on a motorcycle, killed by a 10-year-old boy by a vicious blow to the spine, drowned and – on one memorable occasion – stabbed and drowned simultaneously.

It's quite a challenge to try and make an impact with a character as restrained and quiet as Locque. I had to act in a sort of straitjacket but I certainly did my best to make him into a menacing and evil presence. Audiences usually remember the Bond villains, and their henchmen, so I'm hoping I won't be an exception."

Some of these on-screen deaths are ones we know about:
As John, he was hanged in Michael Kolhlhaas.
As Kodai, he was shot in Stopover.
As Keith, he was immersed in an acid bath in Scream and Scream Again.
As Terry, he crashed on a motorcycle in Up the Junction.
As Hansen, he was killed (or at least maimed, which resulted in his being killed) by a 10-year-old boy by a vicious blow to the spine in The Last Valley.

That leaves four deaths "stabbed, strangled, drowned and stabbed and drowned simultaneously" unaccounted for.

If, as Michael says, these deaths were on film or TV, they must presumably each have occurred in one of five productions:
- the Armchair Theatre play - The Story-teller - in which he played Brian
- the episode of Menace – Nine Bean Rows - in which he played Pip
- the episode of Fraud Squad – Run for your Money - in which he played Jacky Joyce
- the Thirty Minute Theatre play – The Excavation - in which he played Grady
- the TV series - The Further Adventures of the Musketeers - in which he played Mordaunt.

We don't yet know which death belonged to which character.
In “Warlords of Atlantis”, Michael Gothard plays Atmir, a minor dignitary and spokesperson for a race of alien Nazis from Mars, whose space-ship crashed on Earth, and who, from their network of monster-infested cities under the sea, are trying to manipulate Earth’s human population, so that it can one day supply the technology to get them home again.

Charles Aitken (Peter Gilmore), Greg Collinson (Doug McClure), and the treacherous crew of their expedition ship, are dragged to the bottom of the sea, where they are captured by Atmir and his fish-headed guards, who aim to enslave them, and – due to Charles’ high IQ – make him the brains behind their operation.

During an attack by what look like some kind of plant-eating dinosaurs, and the help of one of the slaves, Delphine, who has already developed the gill-like structures that will prevent her returning to the surface with them, they escape. Atmir sends his fish-men after them, and bombards their diving bell with unspecified explosives, or possibly thunderbolts, but they escape back to the surface.

“Warlords of Atlantis” was filmed on Malta, Gozo Island, and at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, and is generally regarded as one of those B-movies to be enjoyed because it is so preposterous in both concept and execution.


Jacob Milnestein on 2012 Movies

Finding themselves beneath the waves, the crew of the vessel are mystified to encounter a hidden underwater realm, a pocket of oxygen and sunken land surrounded on all sides by the water and various encroaching monsters.

Greeted by Atmir (Michael Gothard), who is dressed almost exactly like one of the Thals from the Peter Cushing Doctor Who films … the survivors learn of the fate of the missing civilisation, and of the remaining crews of countless other lost ships.

Split up from the others, Aitken (Peter Gilmore) is taken before the monarchy of Atlantis and learns that he is to become one with the collective brain that powers their culture … From here, the film takes a momentary break to dwell on the science gone wild trope, as the former captain of the Mary Celeste … reveals the genetic reconfiguration needed to survive beneath the waves for a prolonged amount of time.

The Atlanteans are then revealed as aliens … intent on returning to their home world and predominantly indifferent to humanity save for their use as resources ...

… Warlords is perhaps one of the finest films Amicus left us with. Far from perfect yet still capable of holding its own against anything Hammer put out at the time, this film deserves to be a lot more popular than it actually is.

Full review

MacReady on Love Horror

After attacks by a giant octopus (Thrilling!) and what seems to be the Loch Ness Monster (Heartstopping!), Aitken, the American and the crew are dragged down to the underwater city of Atlantis (Unbelievable!) to meet their fate.

As it turns out, their fate arrives more than a little resembling Flight of the Concords Jemaine Clement’s impersonation of David Bowie. His name is Atmir, and he is a badass. Unsurprisingly Atlantis isn’t the friendliest under the earth and the whole thing turns into one big nightmare from here on in.

The group are split up and enslaved (Boo!), everyone is threatened with gill-related surgery (Hiss!), and the rulers of Atlantis turn out to be little better than Nazis from Mars (Genius!).

Full review


… Another nice addition to the cast is Michael Gothard who is quite adept at playing menacing roles, although his character is not exactly menacing in Warlords of Atlantis he still has that ability to instil a sense of authority as the spokesperson for the Atlantean aliens.

Full review

Shaun Anderson on The Celluloid Highway

Apart from a few unimpressive and stodgy monsters which can barely move, their main threat is the preposterously attired Atmir played by a very embarrassed looking Michael Gothard.

Gothard’s descent into low class and low budget mediocrity in the wake of his startling performance in Herostratus remains one of the most perplexing misuses of a career in film history.

Full review


Shaun Anderson's comment is a back-handed compliment if ever there was one …

Perplexing, it may be, but it was not always easy to get work in the 1970s and 1980s. Oliver Tobias, who starred with Michael in "Arthur of the Britons", has spoken of how he often had to work abroad after that series ended.

In any case, it seems unlikely that Michael Gothard’s gut-wrenching performance in "Herostratus" under Don Levy’s harsh tutelage has provided anywhere near as much genuine enjoyment to cinema audiences, as "low class and low budget" cult favourites such as “Scream and Scream Again”, “Warlords of Atlantis”, or “Lifeforce.”

IMDB entry
In 1978, Michael's house in Shirlock Road appears to have been empty.

No one is listed at the property on the electoral roll.

Perhaps work was being done on the house.
During 1973, having been noticed by the Director Richard Lester, Michael Gothard was cast in the minor role of Puritan, John Felton in a “project” produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, “The Three Musketeers.”

The enterprise was to prove controversial, because enough footage was shot to make two films, “The Four Musketeers” being the second one. It seems that the Salkinds always intended to make two films for the price of one, because they used the word “project” in the actors’ contracts, rather than “film.” They were nevertheless sued by some of the actors, and had to pay them more money, though not as much as if they had originally contracted them for two films.

This resulted in the “Salkind Clause” being included in all Screen Actors Guild contracts, stipulating how many films are being made.

Speculation: this may have been the incident which made Michael Gothard an active union supporter, as witnessed by the appearance of his name in “The Stage” among other Equity members supporting their union’s actions in the 1980s, when under attack by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

In September/October 1973, during filming, at Estudios Cinematografica Roma S.A., the film centre outside Madrid, Michael was interviewed by Jerry Bauer for “Petticoat” magazine.

“The Three Musketeers and I seem to have an affinity for each other. In this film version I portray Felton, the lover of Madame de Winter – Faye Dunaway but on television, I was Madame de Winter’s son in yet another dramatisation. Presumably, I was chosen by Richard Lester for this role because he’d seen me as the inquisitioner in The Devils. Both characters are repressed, violent and mad.”

Full "Petticoat" interview

Michael only appears briefly in the first film, 'The Thee Musketeers', in attendance to the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward), whom he kills in the 'The Four Musketeers', having been deceived by Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway).

Joss Ackland, who had appeared as D'Artagnan in the 1967 TV series, "The Further Adventures of The Musketeers", in which Michael Gothard played Mordaunt, appears as D'Artagnan's father in "The Three Musketeers."


Black Hole

The director of photography is David Watkin who'd filmed The Devils two years earlier. I think Ken Russell's approach informed the look, approach and even casting of the two musketeers films, which re-use Oliver Reed and Michael Gothard (also the vampire villain in Scream and Scream Again).

Full review

AV Forums review

The Movie Scene review

IMDB entry

Interviewed by Clare Spark, in February 1973, Don Levy stated:

“It’s not necessary for the actors to know what they’re doing. What they’ve gotta know, is – what they are. In fact, that’s all I require of them."

The audition process for ‘Herostratus’, described in the BFI booklet as "intense", was perhaps designed to find out whether the actors who auditioned (including, per. Amnon Buchbinder, John Hurt as well as Michael Gothard) possessed what Don Levy considered that essential knowledge.

Evidently, Michael Gothard did, because he was chosen to play the lead role, Max.

In “Sight and Sound”, summer 1965, an unnamed reporter says that “Levy spent a good deal of his time testing artists: having decided that this was to be a film developed entirely by improvisation around a firm narrative, he wanted a particularly malleable and intense type of player. After the extensive improvised auditions, he settled on Michael Gothard, then a drama student, for the lead …"

As to why a young actor would put himself through a tortuous audition for a reportedly unpaid role – per Philip Ward: "This is Art, with a capital ‘A’, which may explain why, challenging as the film’s contents were, actors were keen to get on board. When the British film industry was turning out generic pap like the Carry On series, the prospect of a home-grown arthouse movie must have been enticing …"

It is easy to see how, having been cast in his first prestigious film role, Gothard could have been temporarily mesmerised by Levy, and regarded him as some kind of mentor: possibly letting himself be put through experiences and processes that were more demanding and revealing than he might have liked, or otherwise have tolerated.

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says: “The film has several long takes up to four minutes. Some people are afraid of these, but I feel I need them here as the actors require space to reveal their deepest states of intensity ..."

Richard Whitehall, in 1972, spoke of: “Long takes, through which the actors improvise brilliantly … as Levy explores the ramifications and resonances of his theme: the revolt of a young failed poet against the horrors and corruption of society, and the means he takes to make his protest known."

According to Philip Ward: “… the filming, which extended from summer 1964 to spring 1965, took a huge toll on those involved as Levy, by his own admission, drove his cast to confront unwelcome truths about themselves.

Gabriella Licudi, the lead actress, suffered a breakdown during filming and retired from the business not long after … The resulting film gives a vivid idea of what it would be like to crack up mentally. Gothard’s derangement is expressed both as outward violence – in one frightening early scene he trashes his rundown bedsit to the sound of loud choral music – and in inner turmoil ...”

Drewe Shimon also mentions mental problems allegedly suffered, this time by Gothard himself:

"As the actor – Michael Gothard in his first major role - embarks upon this odyssey of wanton destruction, we are dragged into his psychosis in a way we wouldn’t have imagined when, five minutes earlier, proceedings commenced in an admittedly abstract but comparatively restrained manner. ... Gothard’s performance … is a revelation, a spitting, snarling yet suave diatribe on legs, and proof of what a performer can achieve when stretched to his outer limits (Levy would later admit Michael had at least “two breakdowns” during filming)."

The source reference for these supposed breakdowns among the cast have so far not been found, but Levy himself said that Michael Gothard had “been going through these incredible convolutions …”

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says: “Details of characterisations and dialogue were all developed during a very complicated process of improvisation and recall, designed to produce through various psychological methods a peculiar emotional state whereby the acting became behaviour. The improvisation was not based on their own characters … but was used as a technique for freeing and distorting action and reaction and enveloping the characters of the play.”

In other interviews from the BFI library, Don Levy seems to have no shame in describing his treatment of the actors, which is at best unreasonable, and at worst, downright cruel.

Of Gabriella Licudi, he says: “In the final scene I had to get something very difficult out of Gabriella – difficult because she didn't want to give it, to admit to this in herself. I stood and shouted at her (that's my voice you hear on the film right at the end) until eventually she broke down.

She kept switching from herself to Clio and back again – she couldn't separate her own guilt as an individual from that in the part she was playing.

The camera crews had to stand and watch this in silence for an hour and a half. They were horrified, and argued fiercely about the morality of it. But I got the response I needed.”

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says that sometimes the actors appeared to be in a state akin to hypnosis, during which they were able to operate by drawing directly on the subconscious. In connection with one scene ... where the girl, posed in the corner of the screen against a white wall, goes into a long hysterical outburst, he commented: “The actress was not informed of the end result required. The scene was gradually built up by a violent actress-character conflict during the recall and preparation which took about two hours. When it finally occurred, two members of the unit were not able to watch and one was unable to work.”

One can only imagine what effect watching this treatment of Gabriella Licudi might have had on her co-star, but Michael Gothard wasn’t spared either. Levy says: “Everything was shot on location and they didn't have to pretend it was cold or raining or dangerous. Mike Gothard, the leading actor, can't stand heights. But we had him standing on the edge of the roof of an 18-storey block, with no safety devices and in a howling gale. He was terrified, but he did it.”

And in another interview:

“At one point in the film Max has to stand on the edge of a high building in a howling wind. The actor who plays the part, Michael Gothard, is terrified of height – but I made him do it. Most scenes really happened like this. The love scene is an act of love.”

Even if the talk of mental breakdowns is exaggerated, Levy very obviously relished the feeling of superiority and power over his actors, and had little care for the possible consequences of what he put them through.

One might suspect that, in making this experimental film, Levy was not only experimenting with techniques, and with his audience, but on the actors: seeing how far he could push them, while dispassionately filming the results, just like any scientist observing his "experimental models" – rats in a maze.

Philip Ward describes Levy as “one of a rare breed of artist-scientist … he made educational documentaries on scientific subjects for the Nuffield Foundation …”

Drewe Shimon observed: “Indeed, it seems he [Don Levy] only gave ‘Herostratus’ what linear narrative it has to ‘throw people a thread.’ This attitude demonstrates not only a contempt for cinema audiences (and a feeling of intellectual superiority to them), but cinema itself, and possibly even humanity in general ...”

Levy was, however, an admirer of the poet Rupert Brooke, whom he – somewhat presumptuously – credits as an “assistant” on an earlier film, ‘Ten Thousand Talents.’ Brooke was: "A young Apollo, golden-haired …” (Frances Cornford), who was beset by mental anguish, and travelled around Europe trying to find himself: a narrative which might also have fitted Michael Gothard in his early years.

Angharad24 has speculated that Don Levy saw this similarity, and picked Michael for the role of Max because of it.


Following his work on ‘Herostratus’, Michael was unemployed for 18 months, a time which he described as "too depressing to think about." Per a 1973 TV Times article, “It was this taste of unemployment that determined his practical attitude to his profession.”

Whether or not Michael Gothard and Don Levy kept in touch, Levy clearly continued to follow Gothard’s career.

In his 1973 interview, he said: “The lead actor, for a year or so, held out, waiting for a role – really good work – finally said … recognised, to himself, at least, that a … there wasn’t any such thing as good work, and so he just accepted everything that came along. Really. He’s played in ‘The Devils’ of Ken Russell. He’s played in ‘Scream and Scream Again.’ So he’s just a … working actor, but he does this with incredible reluctance.”

It’s hard to tell whether Levy regarded ‘The Devils' and 'Scream and Scream Again’ as extreme examples of good and bad work, or whether he considered both equally unworthy; neither does he suggest what, in the supposed absence of “good work”, he expected Michael to do for the rest of his career.

Michael Gothard appears to have been aware of Don Levy’s opinion. Things he said in the second of only three interviews he is known to have given, (this one in October 1973), could be seen as a rebuttal of Levy’s criticisms:

“In order to survive, you must compromise. If not, how can your ideals remain on a high level? I don’t like the glorification of violence and materialism, but I realise that I cannot just sit at home waiting to do a righteous, moral film. It may never come along.”

He also said: “You see, my work is an extrovert thing, performing publicly – but I approach it in an introvert manner. I’m quite happy to show myself as the character I’m portraying but I’m not at all interested in doing it as a direct revelation of myself.”

This is the exact opposite, in terms of performance, to what Don Levy sought to extract from him, and from Gabriella Licudi, in ‘Herostratus’; Michael is clearly rejecting Levy’s approach. He must have recognised that, while ‘Herostratus’ was a big break for him, Don Levy was not the most helpful director he could have worked with.

Michael Gothard with Don Levy with Gabriella Licudi

Image from the BFI booklet, showing Gabriella Licudi, Michael Gothard and Don Levy. Gabriella appears to be wiping away a tear.

Articles referred to:
Review by Philip Ward

Review by Darius Shimon

TV Times interview, 8 February 1973

"Petticoat” interview, 6 October 1973

Sight and Sound 1965, on location:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Clare Spark’s interview with Don Levy, in February 1973 can be heard on the British Film Institute DVD of ‘Herostratus.’

Interviews found in the BFI Archive.
At a fan meeting in August 2010, Oliver Tobias spoke about the filming of “Arthur of the Britons.”

“Out of the blue, a memory which I had closed away … it’s quite emotional …”

When asked about the casting, he said that his and Michael Gothard’s audition consisted of them, and 4 horses – they had to ride various horses to the top of the hill and back together a number of times. Obviously the chemistry between them was an important factor, as well as horsemanship.

“They cast us for who we were at the time. We were allowed complete freedom as … how we were.”

He said that they improvised a lot of the action, and they weren’t given any direction on how to deliver any of their lines.

He remembered filming as having taken a year, though in reality it must have been closer to eight months. “We [Oliver Tobias, Michael Gothard and Jack Watson] more or less lived on set.”

During ‘The Challenge’, the third-filmed episode, in which Arthur (Oliver Tobias) and Kai (Michael Gothard) spend at least half of the episode fighting each other, they worked with Bristol’s champion javelin thrower on the spear-throwing scene.

Oliver thought he was young and athletic enough to jump out of the way in time, but he didn’t make it. The spear glanced off the inside of his shield instead of the outside, and hit him on the back of the head. “When it hit me it was like a ship running aground.”

He remembers looking around, and seeing Michael. Later he said Michael held his head in his lap. “Christ I’m lucky to be here – I nearly died during filming …”

He is said to have thought of Michael like a brother. He and Michael used to play tricks on each other, and to try and pile up mounds of earth to stand on, so they would be taller than the other. Oliver said that the stories were so harsh, they needed an outlet. The series was “like a war zone.”

However, he also said that of all his roles, he identifies most with Arthur.

When dedicating a tree to Michael Gothard, Oliver said: “He was a sensitive man – perhaps too sensitive,” and spoke of remembering Michael holding his head on his lap when the spear had hit him, and he nearly died. He also mentioned Jack Watson. He said he felt privileged to be the one left alive. Then, clearly affected, he drove the commemorative stake into the ground with considerable force.

Oliver’s brother, Benedict, who had once met Michael, (before ‘Arthur of the Britons’) and performed a Cheyenne ceremony at the site, said that Michael didn’t have the filters you need, to stop yourself feeling all the suffering going on in the world – “otherwise you give yourself the bullet.”

Though Oliver had gradually lost touch with Michael Gothard after filming the series, it seems likely that Michael’s death was the reason he had closed away the memory of ‘Arthur of the Britons.’
"I didn’t like him at all."
Curtis Harrington

Louis M. Heyward

The set of ‘Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?’ was clearly an unhappy one. Executive producer, Louis M. Heyward, who - having been impressed with him on ‘Scream and Scream Again’ - had cast Michael Gothard in the role of Albie, said:

“Curtis Harrington was great to work with but Shelley was difficult. There were problems between her and co-star Michael Gothard. She also kept insisting that I get a 'Sir' for supporting role. I got Ralph Richardson but she had meant Laurence Olivier.”

Judy Cornwell's problems with Shelley Winters

Judy Cornwell, who played the maid, Clarine, gives a more detailed account of Shelley Winters’ ‘difficult’ behaviour, both before shooting began, and on set:

"Richard [Eastham, Cornwell’s personal manager] told me that ‘Wuthering Heights’ had now opened in America and I had wonderful, rave reviews for my performance. Unfortunately for me, Shelley Winters too had seen the reviews, and she had overall script approval in her contract for the next film.

Before the shooting in Shepperton began, my part was almost deleted from the script. The best scenes were changed to become hers, and any of my scenes that were not essential to the story line were cut.

When I was sent the final draft of the script I was horrified and talked over the situation with Richard … He wanted to know whether I would rather pull out of the film, but I decided not to do so. I liked the producers of the film and this would be my fourth for American International Pictures. The heads of the company sent me Christmas cards. There were not to know that a certain actress would invoke her script approval clause.

I knew that Michael Bryant had worked with Shelley Winters on a film for television, so I phoned him to see what it was like to work with her.

'Tricky,' he replied. 'She makes mistakes when you are giving your best performance, so you have to do it again. This goes on until you drop your performance, then she comes up, and that is the take they use.'

My heart sank.

The first day of filming for ‘The Gingerbread House’ [as ‘Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?’ was originally titled] arrived and I met Curtis Harrington, an experienced and charming Hollywood director. We talked through the scene and then Miss Winters arrived. I was introduced to her as the girl who gave the great performance in ‘Wuthering Heights.’

She gazed at me with small beady eyes and said, 'I know. She's a scene stealer.'

Curtis laughed as if she had made a joke; I knew she had not.

When we began preparations for the scene, as Michael [Bryant] had warned me, she fluffed and made mistakes. I kept steady … not panicking, just keeping up my performance and not dropping it for one second.

Suddenly there was a wail from Shelley who said she had a headache and she stormed off the set, so we broke for an early lunch …

After lunch we returned to the scene again and this time she wanted me in a different position from before. Curtis tried to accommodate her. Every position that would work for the camera was unacceptable to her.

I heard a couple of yawns from the crew. They did not like one of their own British actresses being put through the wringer by this Yank.

Curtis began to lose his cool. 'Would you like me to put her under the table?' he said.

I took several deep breaths and stayed calm.

We began the scene again and suddenly she came up with a performance. So did I, and there was a shout of 'Take and Print.' I think she thought I was going to be thrown by the sudden change but I was not. I was tired at the end of the day, but the first scene was in the can, and my next scheduled scene did not involve her.

[Presumably this was her scene with Albie (Michael Gothard) and Mr Harrison (Hugh Griffith) in the kitchen: Judy seems to have had no problems with either of them]

The next time we had to work together she started again. I had had enough by now, so I let her have it with both barrels and told her that I had worked with some pretty big names, people with huge talent, and that none of them had behaved as badly as she had. I said life was too short for such games and could she please stop pissing about.

Instead of wailing and storming off the set, which by now was frigid with silence and tension, she smiled, her face relaxed, and she said, 'My God, you remind me of me when I was young.' … from then on she was nauseatingly nice to me, and I had no more trouble from her."

Curtis Harrington's friendship with Shelley Winters

Harrington seems to have been very tolerant of Winters’ unreasonable behaviour – he must have known what to expect, as he’d already worked with her on ‘What’s the Matter with Helen?’

In fact, in an interview for ‘Terror Trap’ in April 2005, he admitted: “A lot of movie stars particularly can be quite difficult. I mean, Shelley Winters is one of them. So I've learned to handle all that fairly well by being diplomatic and sympathetic and all those things. When I hear of directors who are very brutal with their actors, I think that approach is all wrong. I mean, actors need a lot of TLC to do well."

As we shall later see, this ‘TLC’ was something he denied Michael Gothard; but then, Harrington and Winters were friends.

Another friend of Harrington’s, David Del Valle, says:

“Curtis did [‘Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?’] because Shelley asked for him personally, the perks were of course a trip to the UK and the joy of working with Sir Ralph Richardson whom he adored …

… I got to know Shelley Winters who acted for Curtis on two occasions. Curtis would organize parties around her and we would all find ourselves sitting on the floor around this ornate loveseat in his living room as Miss Winters held court from her throne, she loved to be the center of attention at all times …

Shelley bonded big time with Curtis on the set of ‘What’s the Matter with Helen?’…”

In the ‘Terror Trap’ interview, Harrington answered questions about both ‘What’s the Matter with Helen?’ (in which Winters starred with Debbie Reynolds) and ‘Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?’

TT: Did Debbie [Reynolds] and Shelley get along?

CH: Just barely.

TT: Interesting.

CH: It was rather inevitable that they would have a conflict occasionally. Shelley imagined a rivalry with Debbie.

TT: Why is that?

CH: Well, Debbie still had a very youthful figure and by this time Shelley was already dumpy and heavy. It was that sort of thing, a kind of female jealousy.

TT: You'd get Ralph Richardson for your next project, as well as Shelley Winters part deux. Tell us about ‘Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?’

CH: Yes, we made that right after ‘What's the Matter with Helen?’ She and I both flew to London together to make it at the Shepperton Studio.

TT: Who approached whom?

CH: It was an AIP production. They had already contracted her to do a film for them. And they decided this was the one they wanted to do with her. Because I had just worked with her and she liked working with me, they hired me to direct it.

TT: How was the second round with Shelley on this one?

CH: Well, she didn't have the rivalry of Debbie Reynolds being on the set this time. Shelley was the solo star, there were no problems at all. She was completely happy through the whole production.

Shelley Winters’ fraught relationship with Debbie Reynolds was already well-known, but Judy Cornwell’s revelations had yet to be published.

If Cornwell’s detailed and specific accounts of Winters’ ‘neurotic’ behaviour, and deliberate fluffing of her lines – in the presence of multiple witnesses – are true, then Harrington’s anodyne disclaimer, “She was completely happy through the whole production,” is clearly a lie.

Harrington looks like a man trying desperately to protect his friend, Shelley Winters, from criticism, at the expense of the truth.

This might explain why Heyward thought there were problems between Winters and Gothard, when no other record of this has been found. Winters’ attitudes to younger women seem to have been common knowledge at the time the film was made; Harrington may have put the blame for the time and film Winters wasted in trying to spoil Cornwell’s takes, on Gothard. If Harrington had tried to blame Judy Cornwell, the truth – that Shelley Winters’ insecurities were responsible – would have been obvious to anyone in the business.

In another example of his loyalty to Winters, when interviewed by Rusty White, Harrington talks about the script changes, but fails to mention that they had been demanded by Winters, due to her jealousy of the younger actress.

RW: Yes. I noticed Jimmy Sangster [Hammer film director] was listed as one of the screen writers. Did you get to know him?

CH: He wrote the original script, but we did a lot of changes. We had no contact with him at all. The final script, a lot of it uncredited, was written by Gavin Lambent.

Harrington comes off even worse in an interview with Harvey F. Chartrand, first being bitchy about his employers:

“American International Pictures had offered me a contract to do a picture. I was scheduled to direct a new version of ‘Wuthering Heights’, [the film for which Judy Cornwell got good reviews, and Shelley Winters called her a “scene stealer”] which they subsequently made with another director. It was a disaster, of course.

In the meantime, AIP had ‘Whoever Slew Auntie Roo’ in development … I worked extensively on the script. Originally, it was very poor and we improved it a great deal.”

So Harrington spins the cutting of Judy Cornwell’s lines, to pander to Shelley Winters, as ‘improving the script.’

Curtis Harrington's attack on Michael Gothard

In an interview with DVD Drive-in, Harrington again chooses not to mention either his annoyance with Winters, or the fact that Cornwell faced Winters down over her behaviour. Instead, he reserves most of his criticism for Michael Gothard.

“Michael Gothard was one of the most neurotic actors I’ve ever worked with. I didn’t like him at all. He was assigned to me by the producers. I wouldn’t have cast Michael Gothard. He was an extraordinarily egotistical bad actor who kept flubbing his lines. It was like pulling teeth to get a performance out of him. I never understood why Gothard had any career at all. I guess casting directors thought he was an interesting type.”

It seems almost as if he has transferred any possible criticisms of his friend Shelley Winters to Michael Gothard.

If you transpose Shelley Winters in place of Michael Gothard:

“Shelley Winters was one of the most neurotic actors I’ve ever worked with … She was an extraordinarily egotistical bad actress who kept flubbing her lines. It was like pulling teeth to get a performance out of her” – you get something Judy Cornwell would probably agree with.

The question is, why implicate Michael? An uncharitable view might be that he was not around to defend himself. As he had taken his own life, he was apparently fair game for accusations of ‘neurotic’ behaviour.

We don’t know what, if any, problems there were between Michael and Shelley Winters. If she behaved in the same way with him as she did with Judy Cornwell, that might have been enough to make anyone fluff their lines, which was the result Shelley Winters was looking for anyway.

It is also possible that Michael Gothard, who had a strong sense of justice, may have become uncooperative because he felt aggrieved at Judy Cornwell’s treatment, just as the film crew reportedly did.

Just one man's opinion

Harrington’s accusation that Michael was a “bad actor” and “kept flubbing his lines” is out of line with the experiences of others who worked with him.

In correspondence, Mark Lester, who played Christopher Coombs on 'Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?' said: "I worked with Michael in the 1970's and to my knowledge he was a truly professional actor with a unique charm and presence. It was a pleasure to work with him."

Harry Fielder – an old pro in the industry, described Gothard as: “good guy to work with" and added that "Michael was always word perfect.”

Executive Producer Louis M. Heyward said of him: "I felt that Michael Gothard was going to be the biggest thing that ever happened. He had that insane look and that drive, and he was wonderful … He had a lot of class and a lot of style.”

Peter Sasdy, who directed him in two episodes of ‘Arthur of the Britons’, the Hammer film ‘The Sweet Scent of Death’ and an episode of ‘Lytton’s Diary’, wrote:
“As far as Michael Gothard is concerned … I thought of him as a very interesting actor, with strong personality and in the right part he’d always give a good performance.”

Even Patrick Dromgoole, Executive Producer of ‘Arthur of the Britons’, who did not particularly like Gothard, said he was “an artist of high standard” – not the kind you would expect to fluff their lines.

John Glen, who’d worked with him on ‘For Your Eyes Only’ cast him in ‘Columbus’ because he knew he could rely on him to perform, not just his own lines, but those of another cast member, without “flubbing.”

“I was anticipating trouble. When you're a director you have to box a little clever sometimes and I'd cast a very good actor called Michael Gothard as Brando's assistant, the idea being that if Marlon didn't turn up any time I would put Gothard in. And sure enough, on the first day, Marlon was a no-show, so I put Michael in and he took Marlon's lines.'

Glen also described Gothard as a "captivating" actor.

David Wickes, who directed him in "Jack the Ripper" and "Frankenstein", had this to say:

"Michael had a screen presence unlike that of any other actor with whom I
have worked. He could frighten an audience with a glance. His soft, husky
voice was electrifying and he knew how to use it to maximum effect.

Each time I welcomed Michael to the set, I knew that we were about to get something special in the can. There are very few actors in that category."

Even Harrington’s friend, David Del Valle, appears to find Harrington’s inability to get along with Gothard puzzling.

“Curtis absolutely hated Michael Gothard whom AIP forced upon him after the actor’s favorable reviews in Gordon Hessler’s ‘Scream And Scream Again.’ Gothard had also scored with a tour de force in Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’, yet Curtis found him unpleasant and difficult in a modest but key role of the sinister chauffeur.

They squared off over Michael’s long hair which he refused to cut until Curtis threatened to fire him …”

Studio in-fighting?

Whether Louis M. Heyward would have put up with Michael Gothard being fired is open to question, and perhaps that is part of the problem.

Del Valle continues: “I always wondered why Curtis was never offered any of those Poe films American International was making at that time in England. Perhaps the lack of success with the aforementioned films [“What’s the Matter with Helen”, and “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo”] sealed his fate with that company.”

Even Harrington’s friends can’t help but portray him as bitter and disappointed man.

“… the whole experience would have buried a lesser director, yet Curtis continued to work even with out that all important block buster that would admit him to that exalted realm of the Hollywood player.”

It is easy to see how having not had the blockbuster he wanted from AIP, and not being given any more work by them, he might have taken out his frustrations on the actor the Executive Producer, Louis M. Heyward, had chosen to cast, with the added bonus of deflecting criticisms of Shelley Winters.

In the end, perhaps Michael Gothard’s good name was just collateral damage in the behind-the-scenes wrangles between the major players.

It seems very unjust that the opinion of Curtis Harrington – who didn’t even like Michael Gothard – is the one that has so often been allowed to stand unchallenged, as the last word on Michael’s life and work.


“Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Producers, and Writers of the 1940s through 1960s”, by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas. (1991)

Interview with Louis M. Heyward by Gary A. Smith, in “Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956-1976.” (2006)

“For My Eyes Only: My Life with James Bond” by John Glen (2001)

“Hollywood Hellraisers: The Wild Lives and Fast Times of Brando, Hopper, Beatty, and Nicholson”, by Robert Sellers (2010).

Judy Cornwell’s autobiography, "Adventures of a Jelly Baby: A Memoir” (November 2005).

Rusty White’s Film World Obituaries

Vinnie Rattolle’s Cult Oddities

David Del Valle: Dreaming Dreams no Mortal Ever Dared to Dreamed Before

DVD Drive-In

Terror Trap

Correspondence with Peter Sasdy and Patrick Dromgoole.

Thanks to Tzaratango for finding many of these references.
Read more... )


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