Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Name droppings III

In my previous scribbling, I managed to spew out a list of highly regarded Irish actors in a thinly disguised gambit that, by merely mentioning their names, I would somehow become associated with their talent and celebrity. These included the likes of Maureen O’Hara, Pierce Brosnan, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Kenneth Branagh, and Brendan Gleeson. I didn’t even get around to such other internationally known Irish-born thespians as Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brenda Fricker, Michael Gambon, Colm Meany, Milo O’Shea, and Stephen Rea.

(In deference to The Missus, I should point out that the American movie star Grace Kelly had her family roots in County Mayo. Another American celebrity with Mayo forebears is Regis Philbin.)

From the American point of view, the dirty little secret about all this Celtic acting talent is that most Yanks don’t even realize that these people are Irish. Most Americans assume that a native English speaking actor with a non-American accent is English. Except for people in the western U.S., who think that such actors come from Boston.

There is another actor you may have heard of and, unless you happen to be Irish yourself, you may not even realize that he too is Irish. His name is Patrick Bergin.

I first became familiar with Mr. Bergin when my friends Dayle and Jim and I went to see Bob Rafelson’s Mountains of the Moon for one of our monthly “Movie Nights” in 1990. In this wide-screen epic adventure, Bergin played the 19th-century explorer Capt. Richard Francis Burton, who along with Lt. John Hanning Speke, spent months tramping all over East Africa trying to find the source of the Nile River. The film was interesting, involving and well photographed. But it had some kind of strange effect on Dayle. She became completely infatuated with Bergin’s bearded adventurer character. The only explanation she could give was to utter something about the scars on his leg. I guess it is a woman thing. Anyway, from that day on Jim and I knew that we would have to see every Patrick Bergin movie that would happen to be playing at the same time as Movie Night. As it turned out, there has been only one to date: the truly awful Highway to Hell, in which Bergin played Satan. He was in suitably swashbuckling form in 1991’s Robin Hood, but that one got lost because it had the bad luck to follow immediately after Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and wound up on Fox TV and on home video. Somehow we missed his turn as Julia Roberts’s psychotic husband in Sleeping with the Enemy and Love Crimes and Patriot Games and Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace.

But despite a paucity of Patrick Bergin films, Jim and I have never stopped kidding Dayle about her lustful admiration for the actor. When I started spending time in Ireland, I joked with her that if I ran into him, I would have to get his autograph for her. The joke threatened to become reality when I noticed that he was scheduled to appear on a book panel at the Listowel Literary Festival, which I attended two years ago. I was all set to pounce on the poor man and get his John Hancock, but his panel was scheduled for Sunday afternoon and conflicted with a first holy communion in County Mayo. Dayle’s a good friend but she wasn’t worth testing Ireland’s new divorce law.

Amazingly, a second opportunity reared its head. Last year, for Valentine’s Day weekend, The Missus and I treated ourselves to a gala benefit tribute to playwright John B Keane. in Tralee for the Listowel Literary Centre. It was such a big deal, we both let our favorite hairdresser Sean work his magic on us and I rented a tux. (Movie note: no man of baby boomer age can put on a tuxedo without immediately going into a James Bond impersonation. It’s just something coded into our DNA.) The evening was grand. John B, who has written millions of plays just by transcribing conversations he hears in his own Listowel pub, was in lovely form. One of his plays, The Field, became a film starring Richard Harris. Among the luminaries feting John B was Niall Toibin, who has had small parts in Ryan’s Daughter, Eat the Peach, and Far and Away, and who has the long-running role of Father Mac on TV’s Ballykissangel. But the star attraction for me was one Patrick Bergin. It turned out that he had been filming a John B Keane-based movie in County Wicklow called, oddly enough, Durango, which turned up the following year on American TV. He even brought a “clip,” which turned out to be something unintelligible and which looked like a shaky home movie about cows that could have been dubbed The Blair Cattle Project.

Anyway, as the evening wound down, I saw my chance to pounce on the hapless actor. Of course, he was seated down in front of the stage with the A List guests, while The Missus and I were off in Siberia with the loopy doctor from Ballybunion and the insurance salesman from Cork and other Z List guests. The night finished up the way most Irish nights finish up, i.e. with two-thirds of the people chatting madly while the other third makes its way to the bar to buy a round. Through this obstacle course, I eased my rented-tuxedo-clad body toward the center dais, nearly knocking over poor old John B in the process. Persistence paid off. Eventually I found myself coming up behind Mr. Bergin, who was listening silently but appreciatively to a very attractive woman with a plunging neckline who (now I could be mistaken about this) seemed to be using him for support so that she didn’t fall down. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if I might trouble him for an autograph. He nodded, and I produced the pen and paper I had thought to bring along. He did not utter a single word, and there was something in his eyes (now I could be mistaken about this) that suggested that perhaps he himself had had a drink or two. I explained that the autograph was for a good friend in the States who had been a fan ever since Mountains of the Moon. At this, his eyebrows arched and there was a slight, knowing smile on his lips. Apparently, he had heard this before. In fact, probably many times before. Maybe he had just been hearing it from the woman with the plunging neckline who was standing there, perturbed that I had interrupted her conversation.

With my prize in hand, I made my way back to Siberia. Wending my way through the crowd gave me time to ponder what Patrick Bergin knew that I didn’t about the magical effect that leg scars seem to have on women.

-S.L., 31 August 2000

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