FROM THE COLLECTION OF MICHAEL WHITE
playwrights including: Joe Orton (series of 6, including 2 long letters discussing the casting of Loot in London and America, together with a list of possible actors for the American production), Athol Fugard (series of c.10 concerning his plays People are Living There and Hello and Goodbye a British TV version of Blood Knot, and related subjects, 1960s, also with retained copies of letters by White to Fugard on British productions of his plays), Tom Stoppard (7), John Arden, Harold Pinter (2), David Hare, Christopher Logue (series), John Osborne (2), Peter Schaffer (2), Richard O'Brien, Christopher Hampton, and Anthony Shaffer (two-page summary entitled "For Years I Couldn't Wear My Black")
actors including Laurence Olivier (3), Vanessa Redgrave (2), Sheila Hancock (5), Denholm Elliot, Peter O'Toole, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Richard Briers, Ralph Richardson (2), and Andre Gregory
comedians including Spike Milligan (3, one unsigned), John Cleese (2), Terry Jones, Barry Cryer, Russell Harty, Eric Idle, and Ronnie Corbett
musicians including Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and Andrew Lloyd Webber (3 on the production of Cats)
film directors including David Puttnam, Jonathan Demme (2), Michael Winner (3), Ken Russell, Mike Nichols, John Schlesinger, and Vivien Merchant
producers including Kenneth Tynan (2), David Merrick (3), Oscar Lowenstein (3), Michael Codron, Peter Brook, Lucille Lortel (series), and Jean Pigozzi (series including c.30 faxes)
artists including J.H. Lartigue (4, and one by his wife), John Bratby (2), Yoko Ono Lennon, and Derek Boshier
novelists and other writers including Graham Greene (2), John Mortimer (2), Michael Horovitz (2), Germaine Greer, William Maxwell, Anthony Powell (5), John Wain, Doris Lessing, Antonia Fraser, John Wain, and Pierre Jaquillard (extensive series)
other public figures and celebrities including Kate Moss, Ronnie Wood, Adam Ant, Pamela Stephenson, Koo Stark, Candida Lycett Green (series), David Frost (2), Muhammad Al Fayed, Jim Haynes, and Maurice Girodias (3)
A rich and engaging collection of letters touching on many aspects of cultural life in Britain and elsewhere from the 1960s onwards. Many of the earlier letters discuss the risque avant-garde theatrical productions with which he made his name. There are, for example, fascinating letters by Joe Orton on the American production of his play Loot:
"...Americans see homosexuality in terms of fag and drag. This isn't my vision of the universal brotherhood. They must be perfectly ordinary boys who happen to be fucking each other. And the girl as well. Nothing could be more natural..." (14 July 1967)
Many of White's early productions were sexual comedies - sources of much consternation from the Lord Chamberlain's Office, as a series of (often unintentionally hilarious) letters demanding changes reveal. He also found controversy in his production of Rolf Hochhuth's play Soldiers (1969), a play set during World War II which explored the morality of the bombing of German cities and suggested Churchill's complicity in the assassination of the Free Polish leader Sikorsky. It stirred up considerable hostility and eventually led to libel writs. Among the many letters relating to this are one from the Prime Minister's office refusing White's invitation to see the play as well as several by the historian David Irving giving his support (which was less than entirely welcome).
White was also an early supporter of the great South African dramatist Athol Fugard in the 1960s, and the collection includes a good series of letters by the writer on his early plays ("...In many ways [Hello and Goodbye is] a return to and development of the style and idiom I struck in B[lood] K[not] I am thinking of doing it myself here in S.A. with myself in the male role – but at the moment various moves by the Govt directed at 'purifying' theatre have created insuperable difficulties...")
White has combined a deep appreciation of literary drama such as Fugard's with a great knack of understanding what would work at the Box Office. Over the years he built up a formidable reputation as a successful West End producer, as can be seen - for example - when Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote to him in January 1974 explaining the difficulties he was having with a new show that he felt would not stand up commercially on its own: "it would clearly be impossible to go ahead with the Cats on their own as 'Variations' is the carrot which we have to get our investors and indeed our audiences".
Alongside his work in the theatre and film, White has been a presence in British cultural life and fashionable society for decades (the collection includes the letter inviting him to appear on Desert Island Discs, surely one of the best indicators of public success in modern Britain). Alongside discussion of proposed productions there is correspondence relating to calls for the legalisation of Marijuana, about his support for radical publications that challenged censorship laws such as Oz (including letters from Richard Neville concerning the trial and its aftermath) and Black Dwarf (mostly by Clive Goodwin). White is almost as well known as a socialite as he is as a producer, and the letters include references to huge numbers of parties, previews, and other special events. The range of his friends and acquaintances is perhaps the most striking feature of the correspondence. The collection includes letters by Ronnie Wood asking him to sit for a portrait, Germaine Greer describing a dramatic night-time Mediterranean bike ride, Koo Stark reporting from the Notting Hill Carnival ("...I saw a Rasta 9 feet tall walking around on sticks..."), John Cleese explaining his hatred of film acting, John Mortimer on his adaptation of I Claudius, and thank-yous from Kate Moss, Jack Nicholson, and Paul Simon. This archive provides a unique and richly detailed portrait of theatre and entertainment in Britain from the 1960s on.
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