On Friday I booked tickets for the Arts Theatre’s new musical The Tailor-Made Man for La Farmer, Mr Bowering, Simon and myself. The Tailor-Made Man is a musical based on the life and love story of Hollywood idol William Haines. Billy Haines was one of MGMs brightest stars in the 1920s starring alongside Joan Crawford, Marion Davies and Mary Pickford in silents before making a successful leap into talkies. In 1933 Haines’ star fell was he arrested in the YMCA with a sailor he’d picked-up in Pershing Square.
Faced with a choice between a lavender mariage to silent movie queen Pola Negri and his lover Jimmy Shields, Haines chose the latter. MGM pater familis Louis B. Mayer buried him: cancelling his contract, withdrawing his pictures, burning film stills and turning the entire studio system against him. ‘Look what happened to Billy Haines’ has been a stock warning to closeted actors ever since. That said, the fallen star had a happy ending. Thanks to loyal friends Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard and George Cukor, Haines carved out a second career as a celebrated Hollywood decorator and remained with Shields until his death in 1973.
Billy’s story isn’t what you’d call an obvious choice for a musical but, then again, nor was a dead Argentine dictator’s wife and look what happened to Evita. I arrived early as per so ordered a glass of Prosecco and struck up conversation with a charming man who it transpired had written and directed The Tailor-Made Man. Like I, Claudio Macor had first read about Billy Haines in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and had since written the play and subsequent musical that is so much wiser, wittier and fully-rounded than Anger’s arch acid drops of scandal.
Claudio’s script, co-written by Amy Rosenthal, is as bitter-sweet as a lyric penned by Noël Coward with cracking laughter lines such as Haines languidly saying ‘been there’ when a character mentions a trip to Europe with Clark Cable. ‘What, Europe?’ ‘No, Gable’. The friendship between Haines and actress Marion Davies is beautifully described by Dylan Turner and Faye Tozer. Turner captures the reckless, cocksure breeziness of Billy Haines that cost him his career. Tozer evokes the languid, gin-soaked glamour of Davies with irresistible charm and nails her pop-eyed, exaggerated acting technique on camera. Let’s face it, Marion was no threat to Garbo.
Kay Murphy has a scene-stealing Act 2 opener as reclusive silent movie queen Pola Negri and Mike McShane serves-up a Mayer with equal measures of ruthlessness and sentimentality. The undercurrents of Hollywood gossip will thrill movie buffs who know about the murder of Robert Ince on board William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, Davies’ alcoholism and affair with Charlie Chaplin and the firing of director George Cukor from Gone With The Wind because he knew about Haines’ dalliance with a young Gable. In short if you want an evening in the West End as effervescent as a glass of Pol Roger then do book stalls seats at the Arts for The Tailor-Made Man.
The London theatre is one of the city’s greatest assets but the same can’t be said for after-show street life. The minute you leave a theatre, the magic evaporates as a squadron of rickshaws descend and beggars swarm. As Londoners we’ve become grand masters in the art of evading those who ask for impromptu charitable donations. We blithely tell Big Issue vendors we’ve already got the current copy knowing full well it’s a heinous lie and inform beggars that we don’t have any spare change when we’ve got a fist-full of pound coins clenched tighter in a trouser pocket than Shylock’s gold.
I’ve become particularly adept at dodging the Scylla and Charybdis of cheerful charity muggers on the street who daily ask for my direct debit details. In my defence your honour, I do donate to St George’s, Mayfair but not to the level where the chisel is at the ready to carve my munificent name with pride. So when the lovely Scott ‘Bespoke Banter’ Wimsett called me up late last year and asked if I’d help put together a bespoke lot for the 30th anniversary Terrence Higgins Trust auction at Christie’s, I thought it was the absolute least I could do.
Well, what can I tell you? I sent four letters to tailors Thom Sweeney, shirt maker Turnbull & Asser, perfumer Floris and hatter James Lock & Co all of whom came back immediately to say they’d be happy to offer their services for the THT Perfect Gentleman bespoke day. THT gala director Fameed Khalique added an evening at Home House and an appointment at The Refinery and I agreed to accompany the winner and take them to lunch at Wiltons. When the Chairman of Christie’s saw the lot he told Fameed the lot sounded like ‘a day in the life of a Christie’s auctioneer’. Quite.
The evening proved to be terribly smart with the A gays out in force and enough champagne flowing to float Fire Island. Star lots included artworks by Louise Bourgeois, Maggi Hambling and Tracey Emin, a diamond-set pendant designed and made by Shaun Leane, an Aston Martin, a trip to Mr Branson’s Necker Island estate and an opportunity to be inked by tattoo artist Mo Coppoletta. The Perfect Gent lot was one of the last lots of the evening: lovely from a ‘best till last’ perspective but risky when the audience is ‘feeling no pain’ as they used to say at Hollywood parties in the 30s. What you wish at charity auctions is for the result to exceed the low estimate however modest. So I was thrilled that The Perfect Gent went for a hammer price of £9500 to highest bidder Tracey Emin. Can’t make it up can you?