Magazine article The Spectator

Name Dropping

Magazine article The Spectator

Name Dropping

Article excerpt

The last time I encountered Leonardo DiCaprio (as one does) was when the Telegraph sent me to interview him a few years ago at the Dorchester in London. He appeared hungover - in fact he admitted that he was - and resembled a rather unattractive teenager. Indeed, my young nieces asked for a photograph of the actor, which they could pin on their bedroom walls. In my view, this was about all DiCaprio was fit for.

The other day, however, I went to see his new film, The Aviator, a biopic of Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes has always been a figure of fascination to me, not least because he allegedly said to one actress who wished to marry him and had monogrammed all her towels with the initials 'HH', 'Why don't you marry Huntingdon Hertford?'

I expected DiCaprio to be the weak link in the film, but he turned out to be the strongest, delivering a mind-bogglingly mature and tortured performance. Unfortunately, the film was slightly marred by some major inaccuracies concerning Ava Gardner's sex life. At one point, Kate Beckinsale, who plays the actress rather woefully, like a giggly member of a girl band, hints that she is sleeping with Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra. Gardner was having affairs with neither at the time.

She did indeed marry Artie Shaw. Shaw's death recently came as a bit of a shock to me. Somehow you don't expect a man who was married as many times as Shaw was to cop it. Even at 94. Shaw's marriages to actresses and other females were so legendary that P.G. Wodehouse even inserted a joke about the musician into the The Mating Season. It went something along the lines of, when a girl goes to Hollywood, it's not obligatory to marry Artie Shaw.

Shaw was an unusual man in other respects. He was revered by classical musicians and had the fierce intelligence and knowledge of an autodidact. He and I nearly got married - no joke. Somebody once gave me his telephone number in California. Having admired him since I was a girl, I rather rashly decided to ring it. I say rashly, because ringing 'legends' at home is a tricky business. A year before, another friend had informed me of Marlene Dietrich's number in Paris. It was Dietrich's birthday, and I wanted to write a tribute to her. …

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