Eighty-two-year-old actor Victor Spinetti passed away on June 19th, reportedly from cancer. Perhaps not well-known to the general moving-going public, Vic was, nonetheless, both famous and popular with all us Beatles fans around the world. Victor is the only person to appear in both a Beatles movie and an Elvis Presley movie.
The Elvis film was a very bad secret agent/spy romp from 1967 called Double Trouble. Like most of Elvis' films, Double Trouble is very forgettable and is undistinguished in every way, but for the fact that it has Elvis in it. Also, like most Elvis films, the less said about it, the better.
I met Vic as a Beatles fan convention about twenty years ago. He was a very friendly, soft-spoken, cordial man. We chatted for a few minutes. I remember I told him he was great in A Hard Day's Night. He immediately said, "I'm also in Help! and Magical Mystery Tour." I have met thousands of thousands of actors in my time, but I have never met any actor who was so concerned with me knowing his full credits.
Besides his unique place in cinema history with the Beatles and Elvis, Victor is also the only actor to appear in three Beatles films. I guess because of his unique record, this is the reason he was so anxious to make me aware he was in all three of these films, not just A Hard Day's Night.
A gifted British stage actor, Victor was appearing in a musical in London called Oh! What a Lovely War one day when two long-haired young musicians entered his dressing room after a performance in 1963. They introduced themselves as John Lennon and George Harrison, members of the Beatles. Victor was aware of the band , who were already huge in England at the time (although they were still virtually unknown in America). They had come to ask him to be in their first film, which was to be called A Hard Day's Night.
"You've got to be in all our films," said George.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because me mum fancies you and she won't see the film unless you're in it," said George.
Victor agreed to their request and was brilliant in his role as a nervous stage manager in the boys' first film. As an interesting sidebar, John makes a gay joke at Vic's expense in A Hard Day's Night: As Victor walks away, with a pretty secretary following him, Paul says, "I'll bet his wife doesn't know about her."
John Replies, "I'll bet he doesn't have a wife. Look at that sweater." Vic is wearing a frilly, effeminate-looking sweater.
I have always wondered is John knew Vic was gay (he lived with a male partner for almost forty years) when he made that joke or was it just coincidence.
At the time A Hard Day's Night premiered in 1964, Vic was performing in Oh! What a Lovely War on Broadway. As he made his entrance to open the show, wild screaming and shrieking came from a group of young girls. These girls were Beatles fans and knew Vic from the movie. They wouldn't stop yelling (one screamed, "He touched George!") and the show was constantly interrupted.
Victor called out to the girls, "Look, we're here to do a play. But if you promise to be quiet, I promise I'll give you a ten-minute seminar about the Beatles after the show." This handled the problem, and after that night, Victor would give his daily ten-minute seminar on the Beatles after every show to delighted young female Beatles worshipers.
In 1965, Vic appeared in the Beatles' second film, Help! One of his favorite Beatles stories was of how he got the flu and was bedridden during the film's production. Each of the four Beatles came to visit his bedroom, and he always thought the following anecdote was symbolic of their four individual personalities.
Paul came to the door and asked if the flu was catching, and when Victor said "Yes," Paul left and never came back.
Then John came to the door and started doing his Nazi impression: "Jawohl, you vill stay in bed und recover for the zake of ze fatherland!" and strutted and goose-stepped and gave big Nazi salutes to make Vic laugh.
Next, Ringo came in and picked up a hotel menu and started reading to him, "Once upon a time there were three little bears and Goldilocks..."
Later, George walked in and plumped Vic's pillows, explaining, "Everyone gets their pillows plumped when they're sick, so I'm plumping your pillow."
Another anecdote Victor loved telling was the day Warren Beatty came to visit him in his dressing room during the run of Oh! What a Lovely War. Warren came in and told him, "Victor, you've got tot help me. These girl fans outside are going crazy over me. They're going to tear me apart!" Victor has a great laugh as he took Warren and walked him out among the frenzied girls who yelled, "It's Victor Spinetti! It's him! It's Victor!" Victor chuckled at the recollection and said he could still see the shocked, amazed look on Warren Beatty's face to his final days. He had no idea that the girls were going crazy at the theater because Spinetti was in a Beatles movie.
One day, Victor asked George Harrison, "Why did you have me appear in those three films?"
"Because you've got a lovely karma, Vic," George replied.
In another private moment with a Beatle, Vic once asked John Lennon, "What is the best lyric you've ever wrote?"
"That's easy, Vic," answered John. "All you need is love."
Victor Spinetti -he appeared in dozens of distinguished stage plays and was in around 30 movies with such luminaries as Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter Sellers. An accomplished stage actor, he was also a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. And although most actors would kill for such an eclectic, fascinating, accomplished career, nobody really cares about those credits or co-stars. In the minds and hearts of millions of Beatles fans (and in trivia books and quizzes), Victor Spinetti will always be "the guy who was in three Beatles films." And... "the only guy who was in both a Beatles movie and an Elvis movie."
Victor Spinetti in Magical Mystery Tour