Over the years, the British acting community has included a number of very talented individuals who also happened to be hellacious pubcrawlers. At the top of the heap were Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed. Author Robert Sellers traces the life and crimes of those gifted yet flawed men in this warts-and-all biography published in 2008.
Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed were blood brothers almost from birth. Most had childhoods marked by poverty, less than stellar parents and family histories of alcoholism. Those childhood scars shaped each man, producing a Jekyll-and-Hyde man-child. Throughout the book, reminiscences by family, friends and colleagues describe wonderful, sensitive, gentle, incredibly talented men who turned into blotto drunks noted for wrecking pubs, punching out whomever they chose, treating women like floor mats and so on. The Brits apparently enjoyed such hellraising since none of the four ever did serious jail time for their misdeeds but usually received a slap on the wrist.
HELLRAISERS is the kind of book where you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Some of the stunts those gents pulled were silly, stupid, childish and occasionally rather funny. Others would have gotten 'Joe Average' sent away for hard time if he had done the things Oliver Reed, for example, did. Ultimately you end up just shaking your head. Such great potential, such a great waste. And, ironically, what all four men were seemingly aiming for - to create an exciting life filled with memories - was scuttled by their very own actions. Time and again, the comment is made that so-and-so can't remember meeting someone or trashing a particular pub or what he did in the 1970s(!), etc. Some memorable life.
In the end, I found HELLRAISERS a fascinating read. At times, I admit wondering about the accuracy of some of the events. After all, who can verify that Reed knocked down 126 pints in 24 hours!?! In any case, by the end of the roller-coaster ride, I certainly had gotten an education on the dark side of all four actors. I hope they enjoyed the lives they led. They certainly paid a heavy price for it. Recommended.
on December 12, 2009
This is a very good introduction to the lives of the four greatest Hellraisers in the British Cinema. Burton, O'Toole', Harris, and Reed weren't just great talents, but great drinkers. Of the four, Harris was the one who eventually became addicted to drugs, while Reed was the most dangerous. It's a good read, because when you finish and realize how boring the current film stars are, you want to go out and grab some DVDs of this Fearsome Foursome.
on April 11, 2010
Robert Sellers' "Hellraisers: The Blah-Blah-Blah" is one of the worst pieces of pathography to come down the pike in a while. Normally, one has to go to the check-out aisle in the grocery store to find this brand of tripe.
The author couldn't be bothered to include interview notes or book references in this 4 - in - 1 hatchet job. You'd expect, at the least, a list of the television, screen, and stage work performances of each subject. It's not there. Who knows if what he writes is true, false, or somewhere in between? Yes, I know what you're thinking: You read the title of the book, you saw that chapter titles, the clever ones, like "The Plastered Fifties", "The Soused Sixties", and "The Sozzled Seventies" (all clearly the result of a great deal of contemplative effort about his subjects; my god, to come up with chapter titles like that, he must have truly and deeply immersed himself not only in the lives of those he writes about but the times in which they lived -- not), you knew what the book was about. You've no one but yourself to blame.
Perhaps. And perhaps I hoped this was a serious biography about four very complex, often troubled people who all rose from the same generation to become legends of stage and screen and were, in large measure, undone by their success. None of them tried in any way to hide or cover up their exploits; in fact, just the opposite, and Butcher Boy Sellers seems to have simply copied down and regurgitated each and every tall story, any story, as long as he accomplished his goal: to put all four into the worst light possible, to make them look bad. They didn't need Mr. Sellers' help with this, as they left legacies that people will still be talking about for a very long time. It would be a great deal of serious work by a well-informed and talented writer to do justice to their lives and the times in which they lived and worked. There is no justice in this book. This isn't biography; this is the stuff of the tabloid journalism. And if that's your bag, well, you'll love this book.
He does what minor critics do: Sellers goes to the battlefield *after* the battle and bayonets the wounded. Or, in this case, he bayonets one wounded and three casualties (Mr. O'Toole is still with us as of this writing; one hopes he's beyond caring about this kind of "writing".). The reader won't be surprised to learn that Mr. Sellers went to drama school, had ambitions to be a stand-up comedian, and ended-up writing about film and actors rather than, say, making films or acting. One imagines he might be a happier person had a refused to give up on his dreams.
If you want to learn about Richard Burton's life, his career as an actor, his love-hate relationship with booze, his talent as a writer, try "Richard Burton -- A Life" by Melvyn Bragg.Richard Burton: A Life Bragg was given access to some of the many journals and diaries Burton kept, and, along with a three dimensional portrait of Burton and those in his life, Bragg gives you an insight into the man that Sellers will never simply be able to capture, certainly not by this maligning third-rate prose about those who (again, with the exception of O'Toole) are dead and can no longer even defend themselves.
]ust consider for a moment someone who presumably sets out to write serious biography, in this case four inter-related biographies, and resorts, in his own work, to including curse words as a part of the book, not the quotes of others but his own robust and bracing prose. I've nothing against curse words. One of my favorite books is called "The F Word" The F-Word , but Sellers tries so hard to sound like "one of the guys" that it smacks of a desperate attempt to gain credit with the reader by propping up his tabloid prose with curse words. It suggests to me a ferocious lack of self-esteem, both as a writer and a person. His profiles come off like some teenage scrawl written by a Hemingway Wannabe. In fact, Mr. Sellers has done to Burton, O'Toole, Reed, and Harris what Kenneth Lynn did to Ernest Hemingway, but that's another review for another time. Like Lynn, Mr. Sellers clearly did not like his subjects.
Please, if you're thinking about buying this book, let me repeat: This is a vicious hatchet job by mean-spirited hack. It's really that simple. Do yourself a favor and watch some of their movies, from "Camelot" (Harris) to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" (Burton) to "The Ruling Class" (O'Toole) to "The Curse of the Werewolf" and "Women in Love" (Reed). There's also "Becket" (Burton and O'Toole) and "Gladiator" (Harris and Reed). And that's just for starters.
Anything but this sad mix of innuendo, character assassination, pathography, and tabloid nastiness. Mr. Sellers, my guess is that, when the time comes, these four gentlemen will be waiting for you at the gates of Hell. If you're lucky, you'll spend Eternity serving them drinks as they look back on their remarkable lives.
This is all my opinion, clearly and without a doubt. If you want truly salacious tales, try "The Twelve Caesars" by Seutonious. The Twelve Caesars He writes well about rumor and innuendo and excess, since such writing, if done properly, is an art.
If I can save you the time and money involved in enduring "Hellraisers", then my time here will have been well spent. Should you read it, though, I urge you to think about yourself or someone you love, and how you'd feel if a biography was written soley from the point of view of a problem or issue: perhaps the issues is eating too much, drinking, drugs, gambling, infidelity, depression, anxiety, etc. If someone wrote about you in such a one-dimensional fashion, do you think it would honestly convey your life, or that of a loved one, as it truly is or was?
on November 4, 2013
Gossip makes the world go around and confirmed true gossip is the best kind especially when it involves high profile celebrities. The four Irish actors presented here were stage and screen actors extraordinary. Well let's say all but Oliver Reed who never seemed close to breaking through to stardom the way O'Toole, Harris and Burton did. Oliver Reed was also the only one of the group who came from a well to do family.
The point of this book is to entertain the reader with story after story of these four actors drinking with many other theatrical talents indulged in what can only be described as inappropriate behavior. There self-destructive behavior in all but O'Toole's case resulted in their early deaths and the squandering of their talent. O'Toole said it was marvelous to wake up in the morning and not know what country he was in. He is alive today because in his 40s he had to quit drinking or die (so he took up smoking and laid off alcohol). My favorite of the group is Peter O'Toole and my favorite O'Toole story is: "When (Peter) Finch was working in Ireland in the early 60s O'Toole joined him one night for a drink but the pub refused to serve them because it was after closing time. Both stars decided that the only course of action was to buy the pub, so they wrote out a cheque for it on the spot. The following morning after realizing what they'd done the pair rushed back to the scene of the crime. Luckily the landlord hadn't cashed the cheque yet and disaster was averted. O'Toole and Finch remained on friendly terms with the pub owner and when he died his wife invited them to his funeral. Both knelt at the graveside as the coffin was slowly lowered in, sobbing noisily. When Finch turned away, unable to stand it anymore, O'Toole saw his friend's face change from a look of sorrow to one of total astonishment. They were at the wrong funeral. Their friend was being buried 100 yards away."
They were all alcoholics who lived hedonistic lives of misbehavior. Richard Harris eventually gave up drink because he realized he remembered none of it. Burton and Reed never did. Burton fought the demons of great talent (perhaps the greatest of all four especially on stage) by preferring great fame and notoriety and great wealth over quality work. He took the money and ran leaving one bad picture after another behind him. Oliver Reed comes off just a first class jerk. Reed it appears was a drunken, fighting, rude bloke with no charm and total disregard for health or life of even those around him. His stories are mostly ugly and sad. But the whole of the stories and lives presented from their dark sides are all sad. O'Toole less so as he has outlived the bunch and developed an eccentricity that is both charming and out of date.
As I read the book I could not help myself from telling others around me a story or two from what I had just read. There just to amazing, many funny, many shocking made more so because my generation grew up with this talent. Who can forget Richard Harris in SNOW GOOSE perhaps the best Hallmark Hall of Fame film ever (Or This Sporting life or A Man Call Horse, or Mutiny on the Bounty). Or Richard Burton as BECKET (with Peter O'Toole) or his stage work as Hamlet or the king in CAMELOT. Oliver Reed not so much as he died before his last film the Russell Crow
GLADIATOR even was finished. Yet it is O'TOOLE, the eccentric O'Toole that combined the best of all four with the luck of an amazing body of work.
As you may be able to tell this book is a fun, light romp through these four lives as if told by their friend after a pint or two (or seven or eight). You will enjoy it and be outraged by the behavior of these four STARS.
on October 31, 2010
Although this is aquick and semi-interesting read for fans of the inebriated stars in the title, the author has basically cobbled together information that anyone can find on the internet. Seriously. Google Ann Turkel, for instance (second wife of Richard Harris). What's in the book is taken almost word for word from her web site. Ditto Oliver Reed, etc.
on December 1, 2015
If you are like me and enjoy living vicariously by reading about the misdeeds and generally abhorrent conduct of the rich or famous — rock or movie stars or politicians — well, this book is for you. This book describes the reckless, alcohol and drug addled lives and times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed.
The stories told in this book are anecdotal but taken together present a picture consistent to all these actors: They were all enormously talented, and while each starred in their share of lose movies, each took part in some of the greatest films from the last fifty years.
They all had a deep indifference to, distrust and/or disgust of authority, and whenever these thespians expressed that indifference, distrust or disgust they all, in contemporary terms, “acted out.” This is by far the most entertaining portion of the book. That indifference, distrust or disgust was expressed in different ways. Richard Burton made sure that he bedded as many women as possible. Oliver Reed went out of his way to intimidate anyone he came into contact. Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole did whatever they fool well felt like doing, irrespective of social convention.
And alcohol. They all drank like a fish and smoked like a chimneys. Richard Burton could put away two bottles of vodka before 2:00 in the afternoon. The book relates that when Burton was undergoing surgery on his back due to chronic back problems, they discovered that there were alcohol crystals up and down his spine. Now that’s a lotta booze. Sober, Reed was a complete gentleman; drunk he was out of control. He was banned for life from most pubs he went to because of the mayhem he caused when drunk. Harris and O’Toole modified their drinking habits in the latter part of their lives. This is why they lived to see their 70s. Richard Burton, on the other hand, lived to be 58 years old and Oliver Reed lived to the ripe old age of 61.
This book will not disappoint. Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed lived lively, full lives, even if they severely abused their bodies. There is a companion book as well, Hollywood Hellraisers, about the counterparts to the subjects of this book — Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, and Warren Beatty. The highjincks of these scallywags don’t come close to the antics raised by Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed, in my opinion, with the possible exception to Dennis Hopper, of course.
It seems that today’s Hellraisers lack something that these fellows definitely had in abundance. Keith Richards, another hellraiser, once said, “If you are going to get wasted, then get wasted elegantly.” Today’s hellraisers resemble sloppy drunks compared to Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed. They got wasted and they did so elegantly. They were the real deal.
on April 8, 2010
I got a copy of Hellraisers after listening to an interview with Robert Sellers on NPR. It sounded like an entertaining book and since I knew few details about Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed (other than they were Olympian drinkers), I thought the book would be fun to read.
In truth, the book is fun and fast reading. The purpose of Hellraisers is to record the legendary destructive habits and attitudes of its four subjects. Mr. Sellers writes in a tabloid style warranted by the subject - the pursuit of a good time. I found the many similarities between Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed to be interesting. The were, for the most part, for working class families, held authority in contempt, did terrible in school, were athletes when young and all found as a perfect escape. All four exuded a feeling of danger. Today, actors would not be able to get away with what this quartet did. Of course, as time went they all found making films more difficult because of their inebriated states. There are many other actors mentioned in Mr. Sellers' book that, in their way, followed the same examples as the main subjects. Actors such as Stanley Baker, Peter Finch and Trevor Howard may not have had the same star appeal as Burton, O'Toole, Harris and Reed but they followed in the same footsteps.
Hellraisers is entertaining, funny and sad at the same time. The exploits of Burton, O'Toole, Harris and Reed are amusing but their seeking self-destruction makes us wonder why. Countless other Hollywood boozers of an earlier generation come to mind, like John Barrymore and Humphrey Bogart, and put the Hellraiser quartet into more of a tradition than an exception. Today there is less toleration for spoiled actor antics so Burton, O'Toole, Harris and Reed can be seen as the last of their kind. This book will appeal to those who
Bottom line, Hellraisers is not well written literature and pulls the masks off many actors that may be better off left on. Most of the time, the book is entertaining and sometimes offers interesting facts. If you are interested in Burton, O'Toole, Harris, Reed, and their times this book will interest you.
on May 1, 2011
With the serious reading I have to do for my lesson plans, this is a welcomed respite. These very talented actors were unapologetic about their on/off screen misbehaviors. I shall refrain from recapping some of the gross-out antics in this gossipy, fast paced, hilarious read.
Most of us realize that the major film and theatre awards (and even, the nominations!) are not based on excellence, but "rationed" so that one performer does not win often. We know that Meryl Streep and Jack Nicolson deserve more Oscars than their competitors, but the awards are a war zone and the power brokers negotiate to maintain a semblance of peace. In a evidently vengeful reaction, the Hollywood entertainment community persistently denied these "hellraisers" a major award. I thought it was outrageous that Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole were patently ignored for their fabulous work in Becket. How Burton never received a Tony for his Hamlet performances defies common sense. Lesson: we acknowledge your talent; however, if you can't control yourself, no prizes.
Short of committing murder, they knew that they were the "cat's meow" to sell a project. They continually showed their backsides to the establishment, family, associates, and their doctors by completing their offensive "bucket lists" before they left our presence. Wherever they are in the afterlife, I silently chuckle at my imagination of them running havoc in heaven (or hell) over an exasperated Almighty (or the devil).
on September 18, 2015
I can't believe they lived as long as they did. I recall a comment that most actors were angry little boys. that certainly seems the case here. That they could remember lines after all that alcohol is something . And for them to think they were not alcoholics is how out of reality they were. It's hard to understand how any woman could have lived with them.
on September 5, 2015
The boyos - long did they drink! Peter O'Toole was still alive at the time of the book, though he seemed so gaunt and haggard. I was surprised he lasted as long as he did - shows what the body can do to keep you going, no matter how you treat it! Still, an interesting part of history. I like all of them and their films, good and bad!