If asked what I know about Jack Hawkins I’d point out his association with military figures on screen, The Bridge On The River Kwai, the fact that I never turn the dial when I come across him on television, his distinct voice and sadly his subsequent death from throat cancer.
There’s so much more that I didn’t know. Thankfully I came across a copy of Jack’s self penned story.
Jack starts the book with a rather sobering scene of his decision to give up his wonderful voice as he began his fight with cancer in 1966. From there he journeys back to his early years as a young boy with an obvious talent for the stage. By the time he was eighteen he was in New York on Broadway in 1929. It may have been during the prohibition era but that didn’t deter him from learning how to make bathtub gin.
Prior to his enlistment for WW2 I had no idea that he had been married to Jessica Tandy. I thought she had been married to Hume Cronyn for all eternity. It was during the war that he wound up in far off locales in charge of entertainment for the troops. It was also while in uniform that he met Doreen Lawrence whom he would marry and remain with till his death in 1973.
While he doesn’t touch on all the films he does go into detail on two that he seemed to be quite proud of. The Cruel Sea and Mandy. There are stories of William Holden on Kwai and Robert Mitchum on Rampage that raised a smile as I turned the pages. He would speak fondly of Tyrone Power and working with both him and Henry Hathaway on The Black Rose. Included is a wonderful story of his working with a bow and arrow and luckily impressing the crew with his marksmanship.
Once he had lost his voice he would be dubbed in some of his later appearances in films like Shalako by actor Charles Gray. Pal David Niven was one of the first to comfort him when he lost his voice. Ironically, Niven would lose his own and have to be dubbed as well in his final on screen roles.
Hawkins turns in a very engaging read. It isn’t overly long but full of fun tales and a deep respect and admiration for his fellow actors like Olivier, Gielgud and those he would go on to work with in Hollywood. The one film I was surprised wasn’t discussed is Ben-Hur. When a film like that is omitted I can’t help but wonder if it has been left out for a negative reason. If this is the case then one has to respect Jack all the more.
He ends his story in the early seventies and in a very heartfelt prologue his wife Dee adds to the story of Jack’s final days and struggles with the disease that would claim his life. It’s a very emotional piece of writing that surely was not an easy thing to put down on paper.
Should you come across this book it will make a nice addition to the biography section of your film studies library. I know it did mine.