Letter from Keith Howes, 8/18/05: a 'broth of a boy'
I watched Zulu again last night and I don't think I hardly took a breath through the whole two and a quarter hours, certainly not during the second half. What a great piece of work, certainly on par with similar films by George Stevens, John Ford and even David Lean. I saw the film when it was first came out, loved it ; but now, with every film of its kind having computer generated effects, one can appreciate it even more: it is outstanding, with great camerawork, music, writing and performances. Every actor is given satisfying screen time. No shot is wasted.
I had always liked James Booth and was always puzzled as to why he didn't rise to the heights of Caine and Stamp: certainly he would have been a superb Alfie and Freddie Clegg in The Collector.
Maybe his being a bit too 'busy' and 'cocky' coupled with him being 'nearly handsome' prevented him from becoming an international star. Caine & Stamp had colonised that particular niche. Maybe also, his work in the theatre and his family were too important for him to abandon.
I met him once, in the bar at, I think, Pinewood studios where he was making 'Penny Gold', What a charmer! No pretentions, a good working actor, one of the boys, and under no illusions that the film he was making was, well, modest. But he had...charisma!
I was an interviewer for SHE magazine between 1970 and 1974 and I happened to meet James Booth after I'd finished interviewing someone who is now completely forgotten! (As you say, Romany Bain interviewed him for SHE in 1967. This was the only magazine that showed the completed interview to the subject before publication, giving them the right to change or correct anything at all. This meant, of course, that people who rarely spoke to the press would speak to us because accuracy and fair comment was respected).
Back to Zulu and your website, discovered by chance through a reference on the IMDB.
I thought your exposition of his role and performance was top notch, very perceptive and thought-provoking, especially the faint but palpable homoemotionalism/homoeroticism between the Booth and Paul Daneman characters.
I then went back to your site this morning- I had this tremendous urge to 'know' about James Booth!- and read it from top to bottom: riveting!
Searching out the latest news about him I was amazed to read that he had died, and that his funeral was the very day I watched Zulu. Yesterday! (His death doesn't seem to have reached the papers in Australia).
And now here I am, writing to a web-mistress! For the very first time (Welcome to the 21st century, Keith!) All this in one day. It's too much.
Diana, I think your work is so valuable: you obviously 'love' this man, and relish giving him the best platform possible. Your appreciation of his work is well rounded, vital and clear-sighted. I hope a proper evaluation of his work can one day take place: French Dressing, for example, is such a neglected work; and it would marvellous to see a print of The Hellions.
I'll drink a toast to Jimmy Booth tonight, and to his family; and send my best wishes to you and all his fans. He was a 'broth of a boy' as they say in Ireland.
If you're ever in Sydney please do contact me....