Laurence Olivier, Alexander Clark on Richard III: A Radio Interview Transcript
This document is presented in loving memory of Alexander Clark, who died on September 30, 1995 at the age of 94. The New York Times printed a moving article celebrating his life and work on October 1, 1995. See also Richard’s First American Friends for the story of the Friends of Richard III, founded by Alexander Clark.
Laurence Olivier, left, and Alexander Clark at the Waldorf-Astoria for the Tex & Jinx broadcast.
(Transcriber’s Note: This is a transcript of a portion of the December 3, 1955 broadcast of ” Tex & Jinx,” Radio Broadcasting Div., National Broadcasting Corp.: CT3067. The interview was conducted by Jinx Falkenberg at Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.)
FALKENBERG:…at the microphone now is a distinguished actor from New York, Mr. Alexander Clark, who is a Friend of Richard III. Now, Mr. Clark, I wonder if you will take over with Sir Laurence Olivier, and maybe he knows why you’re FOR Richard III and so many people think he WAS evil but you feel he’s been maligned through history.
CLARK: Well, yes, he certainly has been maligned, since the day he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, so brilliantly acted and depicted by Sir Laurence, who is seated opposite here. The man who killed him became Henry VII, and was a Tudor, the first Tudor. He completely suppressed all, or practically all, of the true facts about Richard III’s two-year reign. Henry VII reigned some twelve or fourteen years. His son was Henry VIII and HIS daughter was Queen Elizabeth, the great queen. So, during the time the Tudors were in, nobody DARED look up the true facts of what actually happened before that, in the – at that time- hated Plantagenets. So when Queen Elizabeth died, people started delving into actual records of the time and facts came out which had been suppressed. One historian at the time of Henry VII even said that the king had destroyed cartloads of evidence. So, I think, the first man was a Sir George Buck, who wrote a life of Richard III in (1619). After that came Horace Walpole, who wrote hisHistoric Doubts, in which was included what he considered the true facts of Richard III, and then every so often somebody would write another book about Richard III, showing that he was not one-tenth of what he was supposed to be.
Now, you wonder how this came about. (It came about) because Richard’s bitterest enemy – I’ll make this very brief – was a lawyer-turned-churchman, John Morton, Bishop of Ely. He’s in the play; he’s the one that Richard asks for strawberries in the council scene – and he organized or helped organize the invasion by Henry VII which resulted in Richard’s death. He had in his household a boy of nine years old at the Battle of Bosworth(not at the battle but at that time), who was Thomas More, the great Sir Thomas More, who wrote the life of Richard III – which facts he got (from Morton) or else copied a version written by this John Morton, which of course depicted Richard in this terrible guise. His account was followed by Hall and Holinshed. From those three Shakespeare drew the facts of the play Richard III, which of course, with his genius, perpetuated this legend up to now.
FALKENBERG: And, Mr. Clark, you’re for a better Richard III, better than Sir Laurence Olivier played him?
CLARK: Oh, that has nothing to do whatsoever… Sir Laurence has brilliantly played the part of Richard III as written. You of course have to play what is written. Naturally, nobody could do it better than Sir Laurence. But, what we would like to see — and actually Maxwell Anderson has written a full Richard play, which is not quite finished, called Richard and Anne, which I imagine will be eventually produced – (is a play) showing the other Richard as the actual, as we claim, “true” Richard.
FALKENBERG: Sir Laurence, do you think Mr. Clark has a valid point? Do you think there is another Richard other than the one you’ve brought to the screen?
OLIVIER: Yes – I’ve been convinced of it for years. I think the book from which he got the idea was written by a girl who called herself Josephine Tey, a book called The Daughter of Time.. When I first played Richard in 1944, this lady’s name that she used a la nom de plume was Gordon Daviot, who wrote Richard of Bordeaux, a play of which you may have heard, and she sent me this play whitewashing Richard, which was calledDickon. A very good play it was, too — and she wanted me to do it right after having played the Shakespeare play. But actually — I don’t know why not, it was a very good play — just my time didn’t allow me to do it. There’s a great deal of truth and a great deal of untruth abut the original story started by Morton, Bishop of Ely.
There’s no reason to suppose that he killed the babies in the Tower. To begin with, their mother — the babies’ mother — remained a firm friend of Richard up to the time of his death, and lived perfectly free. A significant fact is that almost as soon as Henry VII came to the throne she was, not locked up, but quietly confined to a nunnery.
FALKENBERG: Mr. Clark, who are some of your supporters in the Good Richard Club?
CLARK: It’s called the Friends of Richard III, Inc. We are incorporated in the laws of the State of New York. We have certificates, which we issue at $5.00 apiece. We have now about, I would say, 160 members, including Miss Helen Hayes, Miss Tallulah Bankhead, Mr. Salvador Dali, Mr. Pat Weaver of NBC and Richard Watts, John MacLain, James Thurber and … well, it’s hard to do, out of my head, but it gives you a sample. What has interested me most in this organization is that as soon as it was publicized, a little over a year ago, letters started pouring in from all over the English-speaking world from England, from America, from Australia. I found a fascinating fact: that there had been a Richard III Society in Australia for nine years, and I had a letter from the president. This was even before the Josephine Tey book came out. For instance, Henry Cabot Lodge the elder in 1897, I think, inScribner’s magazine had a 15-page article about the true Richard III. And, as I say, there have been many others.
FALKENBERG: You’re going to get a retraction in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, aren’t you? Or a change in the description of Richard III?
CLARK: Yes, that’s true. Ex-senator William Benton, who’s a friend of my wife’s and mine, told his editor in Chicago about it, and I had a lovely letter from [the editor], saying that he’d suggested to his men in London to look into this and see what he can do about getting the true Richard into the next edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which I think is quite a coup.
FALKENBERG: In 1957 that will be published. And tell Sir Laurence Olivier about a great English actor who’s joined your club, too.
CLARK: Oh, Sir John Gielgud, I’ve been told, is a member of our organization.
FALKENBERG: Maybe you could sign up Sir Laurence now?
CLARK: What about that, Sir Laurence? Think it over carefully.
OLIVIER: Not yet. But I suppose the most significant thing in favor of Richard is that when Henry VII came to the throne, in his bill of attainder, in his impeachment of Richard, he never, although charging him with all kinds of heinous deeds, mentions the murder of the children, which would be his king-pin, wouldn’t it? His best story.
CLARK: Not only after Bosworth, but when he arrived and landed at (Milford Haven), in his notice that he put up about “we must get rid of this foul fiend” and other words like it, he then – which would have been a great rallying point, even before the battle – said nothing about murdering the Princes.
OLIVIER: No, and there’s no real reason to suppose he had a hump on his shoulder, that he had a withered are or anything. One of his shoulders is supposed to be a little lower that the other, and there’s a gallant little story that when he was a little boy he WOULD wield lances that were too heavy for him.
However, I think it would be a great pity – don’t you? – if Shakespeare’s play was to be denied existence on the stage or on the screen, because it’s a very beautiful bit of work. As I’ve tried to say in the preface to Richard III, it’s a legend, and what a pity all legends should die, merely because they’re disproven.
CLARK: That’s quite true.
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