The Last Impresario is a documentary that is released into cinemas on Friday (26th September 2014) and it is most likely about a man you have never heard of, Michael White. The film is as fascinating as the man himself, but who is he? Greta Saachi stated in the documentary that Michael White is ‘the most famous person you’ve never heard of’ and this seems so very true.
Michael started life in Glasgow as part of a big family, but as a child he suffered with asthma and was promptly shipped off to Switzerland to attend boarding school because of it. He speaks in the movie of how lonely this was, but seeing the resulting years of his life you would never know, because the thing that comes across most in the film is just how much Michael did and still does, love people.
It investigates his life as a producer of plays in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but the amazing thing is the story is told by the people who have experienced life next to Michael and he really has shared it with a lot of people, each one seemingly more admiring of him than the last. From Kate Moss, to John Cleese, Bill Oddie to Richard O’Brien talk openly about Michael and the kind of person he is.
Michael shares with the audience the ups ad downs of his life including the 30,000 photographs of him with Royalty, Hollywood stars, models and actors from stage and screen. He also talks quite candidly about the life he led back in the 1960’s when he was changing the face of theatre forever – with revolutionary but extraordinarily risky shows like O’ Calcutta and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.Life in the theatre is like a series of affairs, but Rocky was like a marriage. Michael White
The most surprising thing (to me) was that Michael produced the incredible Rocky Horror Picture Show, a show that was so very ahead of it’s time and right on the edge of acceptable, exploring taboo subjects in hilarious and captivating ways. This was when (for me) the film brought home just how famous this man (I had) never heard of before, was, he had produced one of the most influential and possibly most loved stage show (of my life)! Starring the beautiful and talented Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell and Susan Surrandon, along with Richard O’Brien (who also wrote RHPS), Tim Curry and even Meatloaf, to name but a few.
It is our extreme pleasure to have been lucky enough to spend an hour with Patricia Quinn, star of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as Magenta, a feisty ‘domestic’ at the Annual Transylvanian Convention where poor Brad and Janet unwittingly find themselves after their car breaks down. Patricia told me all about Michael and how she came to know him.
∗∗∗‘I first knew of Michael in 1975 when I did a film with Lou Adler. I got to know him and he was absolutely charming, with a real twinkle, you know? I think even if you know nothing about Michael, this film is really interesting, a chronicle of someone’s life. You can see from the film he is much adored and he was the sort of person that could open doors. He was very enigmatic. I didn’t know he was a producer of it (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and I was in it! On the last day of filming Rocky, my agent came down to the set with a script called Murderer by Tony Shaffer and I was to audition for the girl. I read the play and wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, which is hilarious now. It was with Robert Stephens and I, full of youthful arrogance thought it wasn’t good enough for me. I wasn’t going to go for the audition and the directors decided to suspend the play until they found the right actress. I was washing dishes in the kitchen and my au pair was smoking a cigarette reading something. She started laughing and I asked her what was so funny, she told me the script, it was really funny. So, I thought I had better go. I ran to the stage door of the Fortune Theatre in my floor length Raccoon Coat, my hair still Magenta’s from Rocky Horror. The character I was auditioning for was quite a débutante and after two lines of performing on stage with Robert Stephens, I heard the drone of ‘Thank you’ from the auditorium which meant, get lost. I hadn’t got it. About half an hour later though, I had gone shopping in the snow to get baubles for the Christmas Tree, I was called and told I had the part! This is the magic of Michael White. I had no idea that Michael was in the audience. Apparently, Robert had said I was no good and then Michael replied asking if Robert had seen Rocky Horror and he replied yes, of course. I remember him popping in, you always knew if someone big was coming to watch. Well, Michael had said that I was the one who played Magenta and that I was very talented and going to go far. Robert had decided then and there to give me the part. You see Michael was very instrumental in my life, although it wasn’t on my to do list, I ended up marrying Robert Stephens!
Michael is such an interesting person. He was Robert Fox’s mentor and now Maggie Smith wont do a play without him. Kate Moss, who we ever hardly hear speak, talks about Michael with such fondness. He is always holding court wherever he is and surrounded my beautiful women.I said to Nell (Campbell, played Columbia in Rocky), the thing about being a producer is you have to be a gambler. I always found him enigmatic and never in the foreground. He didn’t ever befriend me, he was just there, though not really part of it, an observer. I guess a good name for him would be The Fixer! One night Richard (O’Brien) and I had gone to the Groucho Club and I was waiting outside for him in a beret and fur stole, when Chalky (Michael’s nickname) walks straight in and signs his name at the desk. I said ‘Hello Mr White’ and he turned, saw me sitting there and asked ‘What are you doing not using your influence?’ I explained I was waiting for Richard and Michael turned to the desk and said She’s with me, until she trashes the place!’
Another time we were all at an after party for a Jack Nicholson movie at the Criterion, I think Richard was talking to Ronnie Corbett and I noticed that Jack Nicholson was leaving. I called out to Jack who turned and asked who I was.I could see that Chalky was on the sidelines and I could see a bemused look on his face out of the corner of my eye. He came over and promptly introduced me as Lady Stephens (Robert was knighted), Jack clicked his heels and kissed my hand. He was always observing. Thanks to Michael I have never stopped being a part of that circus (Rocky Horror), I have had a wonderful life and it has sent me around the world. I was so happy to see him be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to the Theatre at the last Olivier Awards, he really did deserve it.
Thank you so much to Patricia for taking the time to talk with me about all things Michael White, Rocky Horror and much more besides. It was an absolute pleasure and honour to speak to the lady who is as iconic as her lips! (Rocky Horror Reference).
The Last Impresario is in UK cinemas and online Friday 26 September, and on DVD 27 October http://www.dogwoof.com/thelastimpresario