The evening was damp and cool. Even for late November in Dublin.
I had never visited James Joyce's city by the snot green sea -- until this gloomy day in 1975. The hotel clerk had recommended a pub on the corner for a quick meal.
I cannot quite remember how it happened, but I ended up sitting in the corner next to another table where an older fellow was holding court with some other drinkers. He looked as if he had spent quite a few years tippling the local whiskey.
But it took only a few words to realize he reminded me of someone. One of my favorite actors. For good reason. It was him. Peter O'Toole. In the flesh. And a bit in his cups.
He ended up pulling me into this little bit of pub theater -- with chats about the weather. The relative merits of Yeats and Thomas. Which of his leading ladies he found most attractive.
All mixed together with a laugh that was infectious -- even a bit melodically feminine -- and a self-deprecating smile that was far more manipulative than genuine. A veritable actor's workshop.
It was not a conversation. More like a monologue. The type of bit usually acted out on the apron of a stage. But the actor, whose non-naturalistic style I had come to admire in Lawrence of Arabia, had me in his hand for the two hours we all sat there.
When the curtain came down, we all bundled up and scurried off into the night. For me, it was the ultimate Dublin experience.
I have since discovered that other tourists tell almost exactly the same story about the same pub. Apparently, it pleased Peter O'Toole to be seen in his natural environment -- sharing life with his fellow passengers on a doomed voyage of life.
If I had to pick my favorite O'Toole production. There would be plenty of candidates -- with The Lion in Winter and Beckett coming near the top. He had a real ear for creating Henry II -- both young and old.
But my true favorite would be My Favorite Year -- a comedic spoof on his own career. It is one of the last movies I can remember where a full theater laughed uncontrollably at witty lines.
It was also shamelessly nostalgic for a more innocent era.
The ending probably sums up O'Toole's career as well as anything I could write.
The way you see him here -- like this -- this is the way I like to remember him.We'll miss you, Peter. Thank you for giving us so much to remember.
I think if you had asked Allen Swann what is the single most gratifying moment in his life, he might have said this one right here.
Like Alfie says: "With Swann, you forgive a lot."