Book review: Dudley Moore: An Intimate Portrait
by Rena Fruchter
We know all about the club-footed Dagenham boy whose musical brilliance got him into Oxford where, via Beyond The Fringe, he formed a fruitful comic partnership with the Peter Cook. As Cook took to the bottle, Moore took to Hollywood, where, following the triumphs of 10 and Arthur, he descending into a sorry parade of bargain-bucket video fodder and failed marriages before, tragically, his body started to waste away through the ravages of progressive supranuclear palsy.
Rena Fruchter’s new memoirs cover this less well-documented later years, from the time his slurred speech and failed coordination attracted accusations that he was a real-life drunk, like Arthur, to his death in 2002 at 66.
Fruchter, an accomplished concert pianist and classical music critic, shared Moore’s only unwavering passion: music. It’s what brought them together and surely kept them together.
Dudley was lucky to have a friend like Rena. His relationships with women were always rocky, and such a good platonic pal was a godsend. She became his most solid constant in his later life; a companion through a turbulent fourth marriage and, ultimately, the woman who cared for him as his physical condition slowly, painfully deteriorated in the New Jersey home he brought next to hers.
His illness, a distant relative of Parkinson’s disease, is a poignant tale, never more so than when he painfully discovers can no longer rely on his fingers to act as he expects, cruelly robbing him of his music. This personal portrait brings that home with obvious affection, and precious little mawkishness.
But there’s something missing. Certainly for comedy fans, there’s barely a couple of paragraphs’ mention of his creative, inventive partnership with Cook’s flawed genius in the book’s entire 400 pages. After all, all this happened before Fruchter met Dudley.
But it’s more than biographical completeness that’s missing. It’s Dudley’s spirit.
That impish, mischievous, infectious personality that shone through every performance must have been magnified a thousandfold in person – yet very little of that comes across here.
Dudley surely deserves to be remembered as a brilliant comedy natural and a talented musician, yet the overwhelming image here is of a tragic figure; in the end reduced to a wheelchair-bound extra in his own life story.
The book’s not without its anecdotes, though, offering some insight into Dudley’s character. For example, he used to call restaurants he’d dined in, posing as a journalist, and asking if Dudley Moore had been eating there. If they grassed him up, he never returned.
And his uncomfortable attitude to women comes across, too. Dudley had a huge collection of pornography, hundreds of videos, from which he’d compiled ‘greatest hits’ compilations. But this is presented as a fact in passing, when clearly to have amassed such a collection suggests it was a major obsession with him.
Even he realised he had the wrong attitude when he invited a Frenchwoman he’d wooed to spend time with him in Los Angeles. He brought the ticket, and when she arrived – made no contact with her. Discarded her.
Not that he had much success with the women he kept. Fruchter tells how fourth wife Nicole Rothschild would torment him physically and mentally; threatening to blow up his Californian house while he was away touring, calling him a “fucking little midget” and smashing his biographer Barbra Paskin’s head against the wall of a hotel room in a fit of jealous rage.
Being Dudley’s closest friend in such situations must have put Fruchter through the emotional mill. Yet her adoration of him remained steadfast, that much is apparent in every page of this eminently readable book – even if she has failed to capture much of his enduring magic.
June 23, 2004
Posted: 22 Sep 2006