Tag Archives: Keith Moon

Happy birthday Graham!

Happy birthday, Graham Chapman! Graham would have been 73 years old this Wednesday, and the world is a far less silly place without him. He left us nearly a quarter of a century ago, and he is sorely missed.

ImageReaders Digest used to run a feature about "The Most Unforgettable 
Person I Ever Met." While I have known a few people who would qualify, I don't know if anyone fit the bill more than Graham. In addition to being a member of Monty Python, he was also a goatherder, a Petula Clark writer, an alcoholic and then a recovered alcoholic, openly gay at a time when it wasn't well-accepted, a mountaineer, and a fully qualified medical doctor who went to New Zealand as the result of an off-handed comment during a meeting with the Queen Mother. He was sometimes prolific, sometimes not, though at one point, he was simultaneously writing for three different television shows. [He would undoubtedly have been at the forefront of the gay rights/gay marriage movement over the past 25 years, as he was when he was alive--he never really got the credit, but he was, arguably, the first openly gay star of a Hollywood movie.] His greatest accomplishment may have been his triumph over alcohol. He used to party with his friends Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and Ringo Starr, a group not known for their temperance (they all eventually quit--or in the case of Keith, tried to quit--drinking; all but Ringo are gone now). At the beginning of the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Graham self-diagnosed himself as alcoholic and made the decision to quit drinking, though it took some time. But when he finally came out of it newly sober, he proved himself to be wonderful capable in films like Life of Brian. The first couple of times I met Graham, he was still hampered by alcohol. The Chicago premiere of Holy Grail (where he was accompanied by Terry Jones) was early in the day, and he did not seem to be affected. The following year, I met him again backstage at New York's City Center, between two Saturday evening performances of the Monty Python Live! stage show. He wandered around shirtless with a large tumbler of something that looked suspiciously like Gordon's Gin. He emitted the occasional random squawks! and sang "Ya De Buckety!" for no apparent reason. But he held himself together enough during the performance that I saw, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Image When I flew to London two years later, I met a completely changed Graham. Quiet and soft-spoken, but still with a wickedly funny sense of humor, he had quit drinking at the beginning of the year and was a totally different person. He invited me to stay at his house on Southwood Lane, along with his partner David, foster son John, dogs Harry, Sly, and Clint, and a semi-regular assortment of drop-in guests, including a semi-scary man in black leather called Spike, and Bernard McKenna, with whom he was writing at the time. He introduced me to the Angel Pub in Highgate (where there is now a plaque in his honor), where he drank ginger ale. Having read about it in guidebooks, I ordered the shepherd's pie; when it came, Graham eyeballed it, looking a bit disturbed, and asked me "Are you sure that's what you wanted?" (Graham was right about the shepherd's pie.) And so began our long friendship, one which lasted as long as Graham himself. Happy birthday, Gray.

George Again

Monty Python’s Life of Brian opened in New York the year after shooting wrapped in Tunisia. It was a soft opening at first–it was slipped into one theatre and ran largely without controversy for several weeks. Then in September, the Pythons themselves all flew into town (and so, naturally, did I). They kept to a rather busy schedule, doing lots of TV, radio, and press interviews to promote the film, which was getting great reviews but also upsetting a few folks (Graham Chapman told me “There are some people whom one would wish to offend”). While I was walking to their Central Park South hotel, I saw a full-page tabloid headline from one of the smaller newspapers–I can’t recall precisely what it said, but it seemed a little jarring to see a full-page headline devoted to the film. When I got back to their hotel, I ran into one of the people with Handmade Films. When I told her about it, she was quite interested, so I promised to get her a copy if I could find one.

Not long afterward, I found and bought the last remaining copy I could find of the tabloid, and dutifully headed back to the hotel. For some reason, there were dozens of people gathered in front, but I brushed past them and made my way to the elevator. I rode up to the suite that was serving as base camp for Handmade and knocked on the door. A smiling John Goldstone, the film’s producer, opened it and said hello. “Hi, John,” I smiled, and brushed past him, heading toward the adjoining room. I had planned to drop off the newspaper and leave. John appeared a little uneasy, but I was moving too quickly for him to stop me.

Then, from the far corner of the room, I heard someone call “Howard? Howard Johnson?” I turned to see George Harrison grinning back at me.

GeorgeHarrison

I was a little stunned. The one and only time I had met George was nearly a year ago, in Tunisia, during the slightly chaotic evening that I wrote about last week. I hadn’t noticed him, but he recognized me! I later realized that in addition to our conversation, he probably recalled me from the Python fanzine that I had given him a year ago. If he could remember that, he was a serious Python fan.

We chatted for a few minutes, then John Goldstone politely interrupted George and reminded him that they had an appointment for lunch. I rode down the elevator with them, with George chatting away. I asked him about the rather large crowd in front of the hotel, whether it was for him, but he shook his head “no” and speculated that it was for The Who, who were playing their first concerts since Keith Moon’s passing. When we got to the first floor, he didn’t seem to want to leave. But business called, and they slipped through the lobby to the adjacent Stork Room, avoiding the crowd outside.

Later that day, I came down the elevator with another guy who looked vaguely familiar. We got off and he walked outside, into the crowd, which swarmed around him for autographs. I thought it might be Kenny Jones, who was filling in as drummer for The Who at the time. So I asked an enthusiastic member of the crowd, who gasped breathlessly “That’s Bruce Springsteen!” He was playing that weekend for the No Nukes concert. A lot happens in New York…

I was a little surprised I hadn’t recognized him, but not particularly bothered. Riding in an elevator with Bruce Springsteen was anti-climactic after visiting with my pal George.