Out of the Mouths of Babes, or How I Finally Start Talking About Fandom

[I want to preface this post by adding an addendum to the previous post regarding The King’s Speech.  I don’t want anybody to come away with the thought that my problem was severe as his.  What he did was truly heroic, as Colin Firth said in an interview.  My issue flowed from partial deafness; garbled sounds equaled garbled speech.  Once my parents and school therapists realized one caused the other, my speech impediment was basically controlled by age 11.  My comments mainly concerned experiences as child and efforts not to lose ground as an adult.  I don’t feel as badly plagued as he was, but can truly empathize and identify.  So, there is nothing brave about me.]

Anyway, believe it or not, I’ve been ramping up to talk about my first exposure to fandom, except for maybe the bits about blizzards, dogs and computers.  I actually drafted a partial post about an adult fandom experience but realized that if this was to be an introspective view, I needed to explain my thoughts.  But everytime I questioned why I behaved a certain way, it led to earlier and earlier experiences requiring more peripheral explanations.  So, I’m going to chuck it all and take things way back – before I was born.

When my mother was 16 years old she developed a fascination for a young British actor, named Laurence Olivier.  When Wuthering Heights premiered in 1939, she made her boyfriend (my father) take her to see it so many times, he finally refused.  Way before he became Sir Larry and Lord Olivier, she knew LO would be considered a great actor. In fact, she would shake her fist and exclaim, “I knew he would be great, before he was great!”  I was small child when the film was broadcast on televison for the first time.  While she squeed and exclaimed and sighed, my father would smirk, shake his head and walk out of the room.  This was my first experience with a fangrrl.  I looked forward to repeats just to see my proper mother behave so unseemingly, although my parents’ reactions signaled it was all silly and fun.

Later I paid more attention to the actors and thought they talked funny.  Then I realized I could understand every word.   Remember this was before anybody realized my hearing problem.Thus was born my love of British films.  Because of the lilting tones and crisp diction, I could hear every syllable and consonant.  When a speech therapist informed me I wasn’t talking like others’, I loosely patterned my speech after the Received Pronunciation type British accent in an effort to enunciate clearly. Pygmalion with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller was one of my favorite films. British actors became my personal speech therapists and Laurence Olivier headed the list, spurred on by my totally smitten mother.  We watched Wuthering Heights every single time it was broadcast (along with anything else LO made).  When finally after viewing Love Among the Ruinsfor the upteenth time I admitted,  yes, LO was a great actor, she loudly cheered, “yes, he’s finally gotten to my daughter!”   Her crush continued some 47 years until her death.  Wow, that’s what I call a loyal fan.I wonder if her crush would have lasted as long in this internet age of information access.  I suspect my mother would have preferred not knowing facts disclosed about LO in recent years.  But in her time, the star system and satellite media panted rosey pictures of its actors and so, my mother managed to preserve the innocence of her fantasy.  In a way, that’s kind of sweet.

Speaking of sweet, I thought this picture is just that:

Richard Armitage realizes he has fans while on Red Carpet at BAFTAs 2007

16 thoughts on “Out of the Mouths of Babes, or How I Finally Start Talking About Fandom

  1. Good grief. I fell in love with Olivier, on seeing Henry V when I was 13. That would probably be about 20/25 years later than your mother’s experience. Fell in love with Henry, too, though I’ve since revised my opinion of HIM. On a par with Richard I…How very wonderful that you could adapt those RP accents to your own diction. My mother (War Bride) had a very British accent; RP it may be today, back then it was “Queen’s English” and very clear and e-nun-ci-ated.LO was a very great actor. Sometimes a wee bit hammy, mainly in the Hollywood things he did to help fund his actor-manager dreams. And, without the voice of Richard Armitage, Sir Laurence used his voice to very great effect.

    • Oh dear, more Olivier fans come out of the woodwork! To this day, I still reflexively want to yell MOM! whenever I hear anything about LO. Now I can just tell you. LOL!Yes, RP is great for practicing clarity, you definitely have to work the lips and tongue. When you think back, many of the old stars cut their teeth on stage which required larger than life presentation. They brought that style with them to the screen. Now it looks a bit hammy and melodramatic, which it was. Today it would be considered chewing the scenery.The few times I’d seen the word “mellifluous” was in connection with Olivier.

  2. Lawrence Olivier – he’s the dude who was in Dracula with Sylvester McCoy, right? Has the same last name as Philip Olivier who plays Hex in some Doc7 audios by Big Fish… 😉

  3. This was really interesting to think about, thanks for writing it. The thought that a crush could persist for almost half a century frightens me a bit, but I also wonder about the relevance of the celebrity culture industry to experiences like this.The only minor crush I’ve had on an actor as an adult was on Goran Visnjic (most famous for playing Luka Kovac on ER). It was nothing like Armitagemania, but I thought he was good looking, a good actor, and I made a point of making time to watch ER. When I found out that on a brief trip to Croatia he had a one-night stand that resulted in a child whose paternity he then went on to deny until the mother sued him, I lost interest. In essence I feel like the version of the “real” Richard Armitage we get from the media is also another role he is playing. (I’ve been misunderstood as claiming he’s faking everything, and that’s not what I’m saying: just that in general people play roles and “the real me” is always a stance created for the consumption of a particular audience.) I often ask myself if I knew more about Richard Armitage, or if I discovered something really troubling about “the real Armitage,” would my fangirling die?What’s your answer w/r/t your mom?

    • My mother’s crush was quite benign. She didn’t comb newspapers and rags for news of him and was content to watch LO’s work anytime it was on television. So, she was coccooned and the crush endured. As for your question, she was a woman of her times. Had she learned that LO slept around and had an affair with Danny Kaye as biographies have stated, she would have felt terribly disillusioned and lost interest.I’d like to eventually answer your question with personal conclusions I’ve made over the years in another post. (I’ve got a great eyewitness example about what happens in a fandom when you know too much.)Long story short, I don’t want to know too much about RA. Fangirling is largely tied to fantasty. I can admire his work, appreciate his looks and by extension hope he is a good person in real life. Because I just can’t admire the work of somebody I can’t respect, I do want to know just enough about him to feel comfortable as fan. For example, if he were a cheater, a bigot, a jackass, or beat his partners, I’d go right off him. But there’s such a glut of information available today that maintaining parameters against learning too much can be tricky.I suspect you are afraid he’s too good to be true and girding your loins, as it were, against possibly being blindsided down the road over some nasty revelation about him. Yes, he shows us his public persona called “Richard Armitage” because he needs to maintain the integrity of his private self. But unless he is actually the greatest actor who ever lived, I’m not observing any intrinsic inconsistencies in his presentation and statements he’s made, nor have people associated with him said anything disparaging. I think his public persona is fairly close to the private one; we just don’t and shouldn’t see the latter.Factoring in the fact that he is a fallible human being, have you determined what things you absolutely would find unacceptable about him? Is it your concern that you like him so much, you’re bound to be disappointed and are using that as a shield against liking him so much?

      • I’ve been trying to figure out whether I should answer this here or on my blog, and simultaneously struggling with a blogiversary post. Taking a break for a second.The things that I would find absolutely unacceptable are all extremely unlikely (he’s a serious criminal of some kind, for instance, or an extreme racist. Beats up Pakistanis, kills kittens, publishes an antisemitic ‘zine. All unacceptable; all unlikely. Potentially extreme sexual promiscuity lived out in a way that is harmful to fellow humans could fall into this category, but there’s no evidence of that). I like to think of myself as fairly tolerant. And, of course, all humans disappoint each other; even the people I love most in the world and know best have disappointed me off and on. So I think answering the question falls more into the realm of things I’d find so disappointing that they’d end my fascination and make blogging about him seem not worth the effort. However, for better or for worse (it’s either a blessing or a curse) I’m unlikely ever to discover the truth about the thing that would disappoint me most, as it’s not the sort of thing that interviewers are usually interested in asking about or revealing if they are aware of it, and it’s not something you can see in photographs. I’d have to talk to him in person, and that’s not going to happen. I suppose that could be seen as shielding myself (or just self-knowledge combined with a fundamentally pragmatic attitude toward reality).I’ve given in to liking him more than I ever have any other actor (and channeling it into writing), and that part of the fascination doesn’t involve self-protection at all. That was clear at the very latest after the February 11 press conference. I suppose when you feel the way I do on some level you constantly fear disappointment or being let down. The self-protection comes in what I actually say on the blog about how I feel about stuff. If I admitted how much I like him, or what being his fan means to me, I’d be seen as ridiculous or crazy. Though I’m about to try doing this again. It’s easier to write allusively than literally, I think.

        • I’m tempted to ask what would disappoint you the most but since you didn’t volunteer it, I won’t pry. BTW, I’m really looking forward to your reaction about the press conference.

          • Doesn’t the answer to that question always reveal as to the thing about which we are potentially most ashamed? Well, it probably does in my case.Still working on the press conference — it’s in drafts. I wish I could write faster. Part of the problem, too, lies in finding how to express the emotion once it’s channeled. I don’t understand that well. It was always less visceral for me to write expository than creative prose — they both came, but expository prose hurt way less.

              • I have it when describing wine, too 🙂 It’s like the vocabulary is much too imprecise to allow you to say what you mean in any way that’s not overstated.And given the issue you identified with blogging in your other posts — everything depends on words — the words become so important.

  4. judiang, you can yell at those of us who have been Olivier fans. It was a different style of acting back then. Still, he had a je ne sais quoi quality.@servetus, it’s a quandary, isn’t it? To disengage the actor from the roles; to separate the roles from the image he projects in “everyday life” and interviews? And to maintain an appreciation for the acting.It’s such a celebrity age, propelled to the Outer Edges by the Internet. TMI in so much, but where’s the truth?PS, I thought Goran was gorgeous, too.

    • Oh yes, Olivier was quite dishy too. You know studio bossess thought he was too ugly to play Heathcliff and almost didn’t cast him. They were unable to appreciate his distinctive looks. Sound familiar over 70 years later?

  5. This was before one could watch everything on TV on the Internet, and I was in a situation where I refused to pay for cable tv and thus got only one tv station, the NBC affiliate 90 mi away. So I always wondered if the crush was perforce occurring because I didn’t have a lot of options to compare him with. There was a little more information about him on the Internet, but nowhere near so much as we have about Armitage now — to some extent the language issue complicated it, as he was a well known actor in his home country but the chance that I was going to learn Croatian in order to learn more about him was nil.He was apparently among the final three for the James Bond role in the round where Daniel Craig got it. I wonder what would have happened to his career had that happened. He was just in a very heart-breaking film with Ashley Judd about depression, and it was very good, and he was good, but the film was an extreme downer to watch.

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