Bill Bailey Interview outline:
Born North Carolina. Mother a secretary, father a salesman when he had a job. Got a degree in Philosophy from U of N California. Not very well off. Started graduate school but left to avoid the draft around 1960/61, having graduated in 1960. Did basic training in the army and in Colorado Springs where he was posted. He found a way out by keeping going AWOL with his girlfriend Sandra. The Company Commander was pleased to be rid of him under ‘section 109: ‘Incompatibility’.
They got married and went to Vancouver planning to go to Japan to study judo. He worked as a prison guard and she as a Secretary then did gold-prospecting. It turned out his wife Sandra was wealthy. They moved to Texas, her home state and got involved in alternative theatre in Houston: Hamlet Theatre Club connected with Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam. Ned Budkoff ran it. BB’s complicated situation with Sandra – they split up and got back together. Lots of serial infidelity – the Pill was in, sexual liberation in.
Company did improvisation – one of BB’s strong points. Play called In White America – attracted lots of KKK-type extremists who attacked with baseball bats. Eventually police intervened. One night at Ned’s flat six large black guys hammered on Ned’s door – the Deacons for Defence from Mississippi – offered help and guarded the theatre. Strong threat of violence – also because of Vietnam. BB grew up with the same ignorant white farm-boys in his small – segregated – town – they solved things by guns. Rejected all that in high school (1955/56), found his own route through classical music and Paul Robeson, the only one to do so as far as he knew. Hamlet Theatre Club was a cabaret theatre. They also rented out the Old Inn Theatre. BB played LBJ in Barbara Garson’s MacBird. NB knew Jim Haynes who was at Traverse. BB planned to train in UK. Interested in experimental theatre. Left Sandra and moved to UK, motor-biked to Edinburgh, but JH had moved on. BB moved to London and was getting very poor and at risk of not being able to stay in UK. EB helped him through lending money. Became an ASM at the Mercury, was sleeping in Props Room. Had to be quiet as Rambert rehearsed in the day; it was the International Theatre Club (ITC) by night.
Jean-Pierre Voos who ran ITC – beyond description – bilingual, volatile, preposterous person, had a swanky flat, family money, ran workshops – trust exercises, cf Living Theatre. BB met Marie Adams (nee Marie Aberg, MA) his 2nd wife there and Naftali Yavin (NY) who was directing his own play [Precious Moments from the Family Album…]. MA, Canadian, one of the best actors BB ever worked with and ED Berman. EB had the idea for Inter-Action and was trying to combine it with ITC [International Theatre Company]. La Mama performed there and Jerome Savary (in 1968). EB not that political but writing very unconventional work. ITC later collapsed. BB living with MA who left her husband and they got a flat in Queen’s Crescent, Kentish Town. First EB show he did was at Little Theatre in St Martin’s Lane – Super Santa. Also in Sagittarius directed by NY there [Theatrescope], in which they all had fake beards – ‘symbolic’. It opened at Brighton Combination. Rented a communal house. Bob Hoskins came in in Charles’s [Kinross] role. Also Virgo, done at Oval House.
Vague memories of Theatrescope; it seemed EB was at the helm at Ambiance. Roland Rees (RR) first appeared at ITC then moved with EB to Ambiance. It was a pleasant space with a little thrust stage, BB thinks, seating 40-50. Got press coverage esp. for The Nudist Campers Grow and Grow – especially the press event EB set up with BB and MA walking naked but for large fig leaves through Hyde Park and down Queensway to theatre. Full page in Life opposite Lennon and Ono. By time of Oval House shows, IA was at Chalk Farm Rd – BB taught a judo class there but wanted to be an actor and needed experience. Got residence by marrying MA, got Equity membership and drifted from IA. Would still see EB and visit eg Maldon Rd. BB thinks he was the first full frontal male nude on British stage – Oh! Calcutta came shortly after, Hair had no full-frontal males. At the end of each show MA and BB asked audience to join them and take clothes off. Only happened when RR’s company were on next (Black and White Power season). Discussion of RR’s work and Foco Novo and of new American work. BB was in Charles Marowitz (CM) play about the Chicago Seven [The Chicago Conspiracy] Wm Burroughs played the Judge, Larry Adler (LA) in it and other Blacklisted US actors. Informal network of left-wing US actors (LA, Sam Wanamaker, Dalton Trumbo) most of whom had established themselves in London earlier due to McCarthyism; others came after Kennedy assassination. BB knew many of them. Very political, going for similar roles, a supportive community and informal network. Ed Bishop was the best-known and key instigator of the network and initially one of the few right-wingers till his politics changed. He and BB formed The Bull Pats (i.e. Bullshitting Ex-Pats) with monthly lunchtime meetings at the Old Red Lion in the 1980s. 10-12 regulars. Stuart Milligan and BB still meet. Some women e.g. Pat Starr
Open Space under Charles Marawitz. Like an old speakeasy. CM an off-the-wall character. Lon Satton was Bobby Searle in The Chicago Conspiracy , black guy, fair-sized name here, another lefty. BB was in Threepenny Opera with Vanessa Redgrave.
BB and MA also involved in IA with ASM for Precious Moments from the Family Album by NY and then joined NY’s group which became TOC: improvisation. Naftali – proactive, ex-para, energetic, Zionist but not crazy, bubbling with ideas, wanted to be at cutting edge of experiment, funny and likeable. Shock of his death.
MA and BB part of a more semi-detached group, not part of the main collective. Untrained, needed to learn to act – experimental theatre couldn’t teach him – he learnt from later working with excellent actors at NT etc. Interactions with Roundhouse. Camden was very alternative, shops and stalls, people making alternative livings, lots of drugs, lively, squats. BB’s interests elsewhere primarily from EB’s. Was involved at the Almost Free in Player Piano, based on Kurt Vonnegut (Science Fiction season) and maybe a James Saunders piece.
Also doing films and plays: Yanks, The Omen, a New Avengers, two Superman movies, voice work. Difficulties of being a jobbing actor, pay today little more than in 1980s. Loss of Equity protection of the name, loss of closed shop. Confusion with other Bill Bailey, the comedian.