Sir Dudley Moore did two degrees — one in academics of music and one in composition. “I was an organ scholar. That was my official title. Then I became an extended organ scholar,” Dudley said laughing during one of my interviews. Though only 5’2” inches tall, he was a ladies’ man and nicknamed by the press “The Sex Thimble”.
At 18, Dudley won a scholarship to the prestigious Magdalen College at Oxford University. “Then I met Peter Cook and we formed Beyond the Fringe which was really the start of things for me.” Peter Cook was from aristocracy while Dudley Moore was from the working class.
In the mid-'70s their comedy team performed in the Tony Award-winning sequel to "Beyond the Fringe" retitled “Good Evening “ on Broadway. One night while Peter and Dudley were guest hosts at "Saturday Night Live," I was introduced to them backstage.
“Did you like doing 'SNL'?” I asked Dudley.
“I don’t think Peter was too happy about it. He didn’t like to do anybody else’s material, really. But I had no problems with that. I fiddle around with it and make it my own. “
After the performance, the cast went over to producer Lorne Michael’s apartment in the haunted Osborne. Peter was noticeably absent. Dudley’s self-effacing manner and working class irreverence made him popular with competitive macho comedians and propelled him to stardom. I remember laughing with him, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Buck Henry, Heather MacRae, Lorne Michaels and Lorne’s then wife, Rosie Schuster until 5 a.m. We all drank while John Belushi snorted.
Because Chevy Chase enjoyed hanging out with Dudley, he recommended Dudley for a part in "Foul Play."
“I’m probably giving away my own notices,” Chase said, and he was right. “Foul Play” was Dudley’s first American movie, and he stole the film from Chase.
“You always know with certain people they will find their role,” Dudley’s agent, said. “The only question is when?”
The rest was history: “Six Weeks,” “Lovesick,” “Romantic Comedy,” “Micki and Maude,” “Santa Claus—the Movie,” “Like Father Like Son,” “Ten” and “Arthur” and its sequel. For “Arthur” he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor, and for “Micki and Maude” he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical Comedy.
By the mid-‘70s Dudley divorced his first of four wives, the glamorous actress Susie Kendall. When he moved to New York he married the talented Tuesday Weld and had a son, Patrick.
Over the years Dudley and I stayed in touch. When I moved to Hollywood, we frequently saw each other. By now I was sad over a love affair that ended badly. Dudley had praised his therapist so I called him at his home in Venice, California. He returned my call from Paris and recommended I see his therapist Evelyn Silvers, the former Mrs. Phil Silvers, for both private and group sessions.
When I asked if therapy helped his creativity, Dudley said,” Oh, I think it’s helped a great deal, especially the work I did with Evelyn. She was instrumental in helping me find myself and making me feel what I am is just fine. This is a difficult message to get across to anybody if they’re not willing to hear it.” Dudley paused. “Being in Evelyn’s group was most helpful — a real, healing experience.”
Evelyn Silvers was the woman behind the man, Dudley Moore. He showed her all of his offered scripts. Evelyn greenlighted the script of “Ten” and recommended “Arthur” and “Arthur 2.”
Evelyn knew Dudley’s insecurities stemmed from his tortured childhood, his diminutive height and his club foot that he inherited from his father.
Born in Dagenham, Essex, the cockney soul of working class England, Dudley’s muse was music. At 5, he began playing the piano. At 6, his left foot became permanently twisted and consequently his left leg below the knee was withered.
Musically Dudley was not always confident, but he felt secure about comedy. He had had to learn to make others laugh to protect himself from his peers who ridiculed his club foot. (Years later he became president of Step, an organization for handicapped people with lower limb deficiencies.)
In the late '70s when I first visited Dudley’s beach house in Venice, I saw how his height haunted him. In the middle of his kitchen he had a pine bar stool—a sophisticated high chair– placed by the butcher block table. Obsessed with women who towered over him, he fell in love with Susan Anton 5’11” and Brogan Lane 5’5” who became his third wife. His fourth wife, Nicole Rothschild, was also taller than him, and gave him a son, Nicholas.
When I asked what he attributed his success to, Dudley said, “Just make a nuisance of yourself which is basically what I did. I was 38 when I came here. I didn’t do ‘Ten’ until I was 44. ‘Arthur’ was 1981. All of the films I did in this period had a sense of euphoria. That is what I feel life is about as opposed to living death. That striving that you see in ‘Ten’ and that active resignation of Arthur was very attractive to me. Arthur resigned himself to the fact that he used to drink too much, but yet he was a very active guy. I think that’s basically what you want out of life.”
In 1987 I moved to New York and did not see Dudley again until he played a concert at Carnegie Hall. I had the privilege of being his guest and of hearing his virtuoso. Not long after this concert, I was flown to Hollywood to interview him. This was the last time I saw my friend, Dudley Moore.
Then he was fired for not remembering his lines. There was the gossip that he had become an alcoholic. I knew this was not true. No, something was seriously wrong with Dudley.
In 1999, Dudley announced he was suffering from the terminal, degenerative disorder progressive supranuclear palsy whose early symptoms were similar to alcoholism and was a kind of Parkinson’s disease. Dudley’s love of life had been taken from him; he no longer felt that sense of euphoria he did when he filmed “Arthur.”
He was no longer the striving, active guy he had been and had admired. His life had become one of living death that he had referred to while talking about Arthur.
About this time I called Dudley in L.A. and discovered he was living in N.J. with the N.Y. Times music critic, Rena Fruchter and her family. They had become close friends after she had interviewed him. Dudley physically was unable to visit me in N.Y. This was the last time we spoke.
In June 2001, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Mute, wheelchair bound, Dudley attended the ceremony in Buckingham Palace to collect his honor.
On March 27, 2002, at age 66, beloved cuddly Dudley Moore, who made a nation laugh while he suffered, died. Rena Fruchter was holding his hand.
Instead of remaking one of his hits like “Arthur,” why doesn’t Hollywood do a film about his life? If England’s Queen can honor Dudley Moore, why can’t America and his fans?