Chapter Six of An Ecstatic Loneliness: Three Christopher's of England And Paul Robeson
By Michael Moriarty
My long-distance admiration for Christopher Hitchens has always been far beyond arms length. My experiences with all the many brilliant Brits I've met necessitate such caution. They, the English literati, have me leaving a room long before their wits can flourish amidst American sitting ducks.
This picture above is precisely the atmosphere in which I might have met Hitchens in New York.
I once encountered the famed playwright John Osborne at an Arnold Weissberger cocktail party in New York. Osborne at that time exuded a compulsive contempt for everyone and everything about him. Look Back In Anger had suddenly fallen into a one man show entitled Look Down Your Nose In Disgust At All Of Life Itself!
Though unquestionably less tortured than John Osborne, Christopher Hitchens would have, no doubt, flashed his verbal rapier at one point and, for me at least, that would have ended whatever lame attempt at conversation I might have offered.
I'm a writer now, not a talker, though Mr. Hitchens might have contested even that claim of mine. As Truman Capote once commented on a famous author, "He doesn't write. He types."
After a second tribute I offered to Hitchens I'm now provoked to compose another laurel wreath because of his wife, Carol Blue, and her own loving portrait of a man we Americans only knew through his public appearances.
I have no doubt that Christopher Hitchens, as his wife describes him, was eternally "an impossible act to follow".
What impressed me most about this reminiscence by Ms. Blue is her husband's undying enthusiasm for life regardless of the darkening clouds of death clustering about him.
Yes, it's the laughter they shared that has me misty-eyed. It reminds me of the fervent declaration of Sir Tyrone Guthrie while he rehearsed a complete and unrelentingly thorough examination of the Greek Trilogy, The Oresteia:
"No self-pity, darlings! On! On! Don't go back!!"
This, of course, has me summoning up all the positive encounters I've had with legends of English literature and the English-speaking theater.
Two come to mind: Christopher Isherwood and Christopher Fry.
Three incomparable Christopher's: Isherwood, Fry and Hitchens. Odd that the first two, both of whom I knew personally, have only been recalled because of a Christopher I never met, Christopher Hitchens.
Saint Christopher Fry … well, that's my memory of him.
Why a saint?
Christopher Fry was the only Brit to visit me at an unapologetically sadistic, Brit torture chamber of the 60's called The Priory. He took me, in my then electro-convulsively shocked catatonia, to lunch. I had met him as an acting student on a Fulbright Scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, where he directed the American students in his play Curtmantle.
Christopher's trip to The Priory was a shocking surprise. I had not even appeared in a major role in his play. What is this indisputable genius doing visiting me?! To this day I wonder what could have prompted this legend of 20th Century literature to drive all the way to Richmond to visit me.
Over ten years later – it took that long to overcome The Priory – after I'd attained some standing in the theater and television, my former wife Anne and I visited Christopher Fry at his home. He took us to lunch and, well, gee … gosh … both Anne, I'm sure, and I have never forgotten his impeccable hospitality.
The "gee … gosh" is an indelibly American response to Englishmen as well-bred, eloquent and impeccably civilized as the three Christopher's I've been led to share with you in this article.
As for The Priory, it is now a linked-chain of nightmares that claims to have the cure to addiction, addictions of any kind!
The only cure to addiction that I know of is "shared" at Alcoholics Anonymous and its prescriptions of faith in God:
"Let go, let God!"
Not to mention taking your addiction one day at a time:
"Have a nice 24!".
With a regular support group of fellow alcoholics, I personally overcame alcoholism. I am now 8 years sober. Previous to that victory, it took ten years of struggle with alcoholism for God to enter my life on a daily basis.
I worship daily now but not publicly.
I privately and most simply offer up my gratitude:
That includes all the bad times as well as the good times.
That includes my horrifying encounter with The Priory.
Not without multi-leveled and intensely complicated irony, Paul Robeson, the legendary Communist baritone, had, before my own internment at The Priory, been treated there for two years, receiving something like 50 to 60 electro-shock or ECT treatments.
As described in Wikipedia, "He (Robeson) was admitted to The Priory hospital, where he underwent electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and was given heavy doses of drugs for nearly two years, with no accompanying psychotherapy."4
Could Robson have been showing "disenchantment" with Communism?
Could he have "worried" the Soviet powers that be? In the same way that my experience of faith in God had cut my ties from the "Liberal" to Far Left hold on the American performing arts?
A Far Left hold on Fulbright scholars which the young, college graduates could hardly try and escape!
No way of proving that now. However, 50 to 60 electro-convulsive "therapy" sessions to cure Paul Robeson of his "depression"
The Wikipedia biography continues, "In August 1963, (roughly nine months before my own encounter with The Priory) disturbed about his treatment (at The Priory), friends had him transferred to the Buch Clinic in East Berlin. Given psychotherapy and less medication, his physicians found him still ‘completely without initiative' (my condition after only ten ECT treatments at The Priory) and they expressed ‘doubt and anger' about the ‘high level of barbiturates and ECT' that had been administered in London (at The Priory). He rapidly improved, though his doctor stressed that ‘what little is left of Paul's health must be quietly conserved.'"
Why was Paul Robson first sent to The Priory? He was a ward of the International Communist Party and sent immediately to East Berlin when the Priory's savagery failed to work. Why would The Priory be the first place of treatment for the well-known Communist Paul Robson if The Priory's ostensibly religious name weren't hiding its own Far Left connections?
What little was left of myself, after The Priory, took ten more years to grow into some recognizable measure of self-assurance.
What had "disturbed" the "experts" at The Priory?
My joyous certainty of God's existence after having experienced the glories of Florence, Italy: the biblical themes not only running throughout the consciousness of the greatest artists and sculptors of that period but the thrilling virulence with which the Bible had inspired the greatest of these creators, from Michelangelo to Germany's Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was forever living in my memory and inner ear as I gazed up at The David and Il Biancone, the "Big White One" in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence.
The "Big White One" gazing in jealousy at Michelangelo's David standing with a divinely naked majesty at the other end of the Piazza?!
The Bible and Greco-Roman mythology in all its splendor towering above a young product of a Jesuit education and its classical courses: four years of Latin, two years of Greek?!
An explosion of recognition that made God not just a myth but a certainty!
The varying effects of Florence, Italy upon young artists is now recognized in the psychiatric community as "The Stendhal Syndrome".
Meanwhile, The Priory with its 60's dependence upon ECT, electro-convulsive therapy or electro-shock, chose to "scientifically" end my addiction to God and Renaissance Italy.
Legendary Communist brain-washing, i.e. The Manchurian Candidate, could not have been more Nazi-like than my 2 1/2 months imprisonment at The Priory in the summer of 1964.
God bless Christopher Fry for having brought some Christian love and comfort to my bottomless loneliness and my sense of complete abandonment by everyone.
On a later occasion, Anne and I were also fortunate enough to visit yet another Christopher, Christopher Isherwood at his home in California.
He had a play or film script he wished to interest me in. Though the role didn't attract me at all, Christopher Isherwood's exquisitely polished eloquence and style recalls, for both Anne and I, our meeting with that other Brit "scribbler", as such authors sometimes call themselves, Christopher Fry.
Now, what can or must I make of these three Christopher's?!
Two of them, Christopher Fry and Christopher Isherwood, the two Christopher's I'd met, are, for me, a lost England.
Of that tragedy I haven't enough space in this article to comment. Perhaps at another time.
The pugnaciously eloquent atheist?
As a ferociously committed non-believer unto death, Christopher Hitchens is almost obliged to claim that the "profiteering" of the equally atheistic Joseph Stalin from World War II "is only true for a couple of decades really". He then goes on in this video clip to say that the "totalitarian" dream, begun in 1914, ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
With a self-confessed Marxist in the White House, Barack Hussein Obama, I cannot disagree with Christopher Hitchens vehemently enough!
Hitchens' refusal to address the totalitarian state and on-going and equally Communist threat of Red China is most revealing. What Christopher Hitchens hasn't said is sometimes as deafening as what he often delivers to us with an atheist's version of fire and brimstone.
Niall Ferguson and his book, The War of The World, are brought up and displayed by Peter Robinson in this interview clip I have cited. Ferguson's undeniable damnation of the Allied – read American – forces and their undeniable repetition of German and Japanese atrocities is then rebutted by Robinson with a Rush Limbaugh quote. Limbaugh labels Ferguson a "revisionist historian" who claims America is "no better than the people we beat".
This hot potato is then dropped into the lap of Christopher Hitchens.
The deftness of Christopher Hitchens' response, however, such deftness always, and I mean always, comes to The Hitchens' rescue. He offers us a brief but eloquent reminder of what America did do for both Japan and Germany after their fall to the allies. America helped to rebuild both of them. Something, Hitchens assures us, that neither Nazi Germany nor Stalinist Russia would have ever done.
However, true to both British chauvinism and this atheist's general distaste for American chauvinism, Hitchens confesses to having no admiration for Rush Limbaugh while, at the same time, offering a very respect-filled nod to England's own, America-disparaging Niall Ferguson.
Basically, despite the possible New World Order fantasies of a British atheist, America might still mean nothing more than "the colonies" for Hitchens and possibly a similarly bourgeois outer planet for Niall Ferguson as well.
This now brings us to Hitchens' most controversial defense of free speech, his support and, I must say, repeatedly voiced respect for the contentious author, David Irving and his books defending Hitler, Nazi Germany and anti-Semitism.
Here we have Hitchens sharing his most long-winded but increasingly entertaining provocations, including his welcome to "comrades", leaving us to wonder: "Is he speaking to Communist associates or potential critics somewhere in the audience?"
The central issue of this over 20 minute lecture is freedom of speech, a subject hardly welcome in previously examined Communist tyrannies such as the Soviet Union, Red China or Pol Pot's Killing Fields of Thailand.
Ergo, is Christopher welcoming "Comrades" as "Fellow Travelers" or tweaking them?
He leaves that question a mystery which he himself must have enjoyed leaving unanswered.
His personal and obviously favorite martyr of free speech is David Irving who was imprisoned in Austria for the content of his books and his clearly stated aim of defending Nazi Germany in a nation that has passed laws against doing such a thing. Irving was, therefore, begging to be arrested by Austria and, indeed, he was sentenced to jail for three years. Hitchens defends Irving quite boldly, offering his own personal opinion of David Irving's historical offerings as greater than any other World War II historian he'd studied at Oxford!
What is Christopher Hitchens selling now: free speech or David Irving or both?
Both, I suspect.
This increasingly intense demonstration of his own freedom of speech leads Hitchens to his favorite and most eternal enemy: religion. Any kind, any sect, any version, any hint of religion in any mind which he would most certainly be confronting and challenging!
Though Hitchens has only strengthened my faith in the existence of God as the only concept that can relieve me from an onslaught by Christopher Hitchens?! Though faith in Christ can offer me a place to seek shelter from the fusillades of Oxfordian authority and intellectual authoritarianism which Christopher Hitchens can forever drown his audience in?! I find his religion-bashing an equally authoritative lesson in style often, too often, dwarfing content. Through charmingly professorial tones, Christopher Hitchens shrinks an audience's self-confidence into a the docile and idiotically nodding obedience of a child in his or her first day at school.
However – and this is why Christopher Hitchens has my undying admiration – halfway through his assault upon religion in general, he collects all his virtual hatred of religion into a blisteringly brilliant aria exposing the insanities of Militant Islam. Ripping ferociously and speedily through the falsehoods and inconsistencies of Muslim fanaticism, Christopher Hitchens becomes worthy of our bottomless gratitude for his courage alone, not to mention the eloquence with which he does liberate us by saying all the things that we already know to be true but that we are too timid, too frightened and too cowardly to say.
Such bravery, which, according to his wife, he showed throughout his own personal dance with death, dwarfs whatever contempt, justifiable or otherwise, he may have shown toward America. Perhaps my other two favorite Christopher's, Fry and Isherwood, might have harbored similarly elitist notions about "the colonies" and a "native or excessively slow American" such as myself.
Fry and Isherwood, however, rarely exuded such a snobbish air.
The parting and most painful faux pas of my brief friendship with Christopher Fry was entirely my own fault. In my last effort at reestablishing a correspondence with Christopher, I misspelled his last name.
I wrote "Frye".
God help me.
After reading Christopher Fry's coldly polite correction, I never dared write again.
As for the three Christopher's and their still on-going effects on my life, I feel divinely blessed and privileged to have known two of them and to have observed the third from an increasingly respectful distance.
With Fry and Isherwood reminders of a Churchillian England and Hitchens resembling a charming rooster who crows out of some Anglophiliac, Brave New World Order, I'm quite content to call Canada my second home and view the entire Commonwealth through an entirely North American perspective.
That means I feel quite comfortable playing a notably milder version of John Goodman's King Ralph.
I've hobnobbed with what I consider the best of England, from a brief encounter with Sir John Gielgud at a Weissberger cocktail party to an undying admiration for my friend from the Holocaust mini-series, Ian Holm.
Therefore, I'm the luckiest, English-speaking American I know of in Canada!
Were I fluent in French I'd possibly be the luckiest human being in the whole world.
I'm 71 years of age.
Do you think it might be too late?
I did have one year of French at Dartmouth College where I fell in love with Madame Veza, my French teacher.
Doesn't that count for something?
Michel, Le Roi?!
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at email@example.com.