Thursday 29 December 2011

As I Please: The Dear David Letter

Dear David,
There have been for these last nine days no respondents acclaiming or defending Nothing Personal. And this, surely, is the point.
I praised Don Parties On, and praised it in print, because I thought it good. I dispraised Nothing Personal because I thought it bad; and thought it, moreover, a minor scandal that the Ensemble had put it on when better plays were available.
You and Kristin however have said I panned it solely because I was a jealous of you, and a sad, sad man with a fameless, frustrated life. This would make some emotional sense if the play had any defenders, but there are none. Where are they? I ask you to drum up a hundred quickly lest your libellous claim that I had no motive but jealousy further enkindle the present, irritable situation.
I said one Williamson play was good, and, a year later, another Williamson play was bad because, what, I was jealous of you? and always have been? Please take some thought about this. An apology, appropriately worded, would be accepted.
In the meantime let us look at the revived Nation Review and your part in its extinction. When your lawyer's letter came in the printer/publisher Peter Isaacson said, 'I haven't budgeted for litigation!', cursed my 'love-hate relationship' with you,  kicked a chair and soon closed down the paper for a 'six-week Christmas break' after only ten issues. It never came back; and the subsequent shrivelled careers of Hepworth, Mungo, Cook and Leunig then followed, and within two years, the death of its layout-creator and food writer Sam Orr (Richard Beckett) at 52.
To say you did not 'sue' the paper may be technically correct, but by God you did the pivotal thing, after only six issues, in extinguishing it.
And a lot of fine writing consequently never occurred. I remember Les Murray mournfully asking when it was coming back, since he had never been paid a dollar a word before.
A sad, sad business. And why? Because I had said you had stolen the phrase 'a long thin streak of pelican shit' from Alex Buzo who used it in Norm And Ahmed thirteen years before and grumbled to me about it. You correctly pointed out it was in the common tongue. And thus extinguished the great adventure, probably, of The Nation Review.
You do harm, David. You do harm you do not acknowledge to other writers' careers. Bryan Brown was shaping up as a good correspondent, Laurel McGowan, Tony Morphett, Lex Marinos, Peter Jensen, Fred Hollows. You pre-emptively stepped on the neck of a lot of good writing. But, heck, how little does that matter when compared with the derivation of 'pelican shit' as Australian invective? The pelican shit outweighs it all; outweighs Fred Hollows; everything. Follow the thread. Follow the thread.
Kristin's odd view that any critic of any of your plays must be sad, lonely, jealous or mad is very, very close in its reasoning to the longtime Soviet policy of gaoling dissidents in lunatic asylums and should, I suggest, be reconsidered before it is repeated. For it does raise the question, does it not, since she is so protective of your work, of how much she did of your work.
A lot of 'research', she implies, for Nothing Personal, whatever that means. How much research for what else? And how much dialogue? For Sons Of Cain, for instance, which seems to be based on her years at The National Times? Did you give her fair credit for this in the programme? What credit was that? Perhaps the two of you should answer this one separately.
It's entirely possible none of this would have happened if you had simply held tight to your millions and not compained too vividly when a play of yours was criticised; and if Kristin had been more truthful -- and less triumphalist -- in her memoir. Or if you had given her what she first wanted, an acting career. 'I wanted to be his Monica Vitti,' she told me once. And I think it is true.
As thus the whirligig of time, as the Earl of Oxford once said, brings in his revenges.
Over to you.
Bob Ellis
P.S. Anyone wanting to see more of this correspondence will find it under my piece Tall Poppies: David Williamson's Nothing Personal in these pages now, and, later, under 'December 2011'.
P.P.S. David replied to this under Tall Poppies, and I replied to him in the column now called The Williamson Moment, but my words all vanished in the computer. I will try to rewrite them in the next few hours.
P.P.P.S. They are now rewritten. For further correspondence, see the ever-augmenting As I Please below.


At 29 December 2011 at 19:37 , Blogger J.G.Cole said...

Bob Ellis, let me be the first to congratulate you for securing first spot on the Drum!
Well done old man!!!
2056 hits.
More than I have ever any year!
And to think that those hits were unaided by your own conversational additions is quite simply.....remarkable!

Oh, as an is my view that this Williamson business be kept private.
It seems a most private affair Bob.
Best keep it that way.
Was it Byron?
"what deep wounds ever closed...without a scar?"

Anyway, well done on that Drum thing.
I suggest another where you heap upon yourself, in a riotous, gluttonous, display of self-approbation, all of the praise that is rightfully yours.....
that, or, roll naked through the wildflowers of Triumph.....

That sort of thing.
I look forward to reading it.

At 29 December 2011 at 19:39 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

What a fine fellow you are.

Let's do lunch at Macchiavelli's.

At 29 December 2011 at 22:45 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

To JG Cole :

I've given up on trying to agree with your excellent posts vis a vis Pobjie's article on the Drum. The moderation is very strange indeed and a "rhapsody of caprice" as you put it so well.

And I agree with Bob : what a fine fellow you are!

Happy New Year to all, and to Bob and JG in particular.

At 29 December 2011 at 22:49 , Blogger J.G.Cole said...

Indeed I am Bob Ellis!

But I shall not lunch with you at Macchiavelli's.
The food is lovely but the decor and clientele are....not to my liking.

At 29 December 2011 at 22:57 , Blogger J.G.Cole said...

Hello Doug, just reading your post now.
You too huh?
It is an abomination!
I gave up after about 6 failed attempts!
We shall need to roll up our sleeves next year Doug and beat down these Dull conservative buffoons....

May the new year see you happier and healthier!
My best wishes to you.

At 30 December 2011 at 18:15 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never quite understood the popularity of Williamson's plays... except that they had an appeal to the most common denominater of all... Mr and Mrs Fish-Chips from Revesby. (with gravy)
While I like fish and chips, I would not praise it as having a smoked salmon with potato salad quality.
But, you never know; didn't Uncle Vanya get a drubbing as well, comparing it to a plate of borscht?

At 31 December 2011 at 16:33 , Blogger Terrance Propp said...

Your hatred of women and jealousy of other people is transparent. You hate Gillard because she won't let you in her office.

At 31 December 2011 at 17:14 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No, I never asked to be in her office. Her quarrel with me over the Bakhtiyaris whom she refused to help save, finished whatever relationship we had, which was one phone call long, and what she did to the teachers put the cork in it, and provoked from me an article in March 2010 that called for her deselection.

If I hated women I would not have co-written with Margaret Throsby her famed oration In Being A Woman, nor written for Jane Lomax-Smith the televsion speech that got her elected, nor urged on the Labor Party the election of Maxine McKew as Prime Minister.

What you have just said is libellous. I never sue, but I ask you to retract it.

Do it now.

At 31 December 2011 at 17:17 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

To oosterman:

They are 'popular' because they are the plays that people who don't go to the theatre now, for whatever reason, go to as a Christmas treat. They are a brand name like Andrew Lloyd Webber or ABBA tgat is recognised by people who don't follow the arts.

How this came about I have talked of in The Williamson Moment, above.

At 31 December 2011 at 17:18 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Sorry, 'On Being A Woman'.

At 1 January 2012 at 18:11 , Blogger Terrance Propp said...

Sorry Bob, I retract my commnet, but it remains curious that many of your articles denigrate women - such as the silly claim they can't write political scripts. Women have been denied equal representaion in politics for mhundreds of years so it stands to reason they are also less represented in cinematic political activity until recently. (Note the best war film of recent times was directed by a woman - The Hurt Locker).

You could acknowledge that our best political commentators are women - Michelle Gratton, Annabel Crabb, Virginia Trioli, Throsby, Leigh Sales, Lyndel Curtis, Louise Yaxley et al.

And I stand by the claim about Gillard. You were a mainstay of Beazley's world but excluded by Latham & Gillard, hence (in my view), your bitterness.

Again, apologies if earlier post offended, but as they say, prove me wrong.

Cheers, TP

At 1 January 2012 at 22:21 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No, I was not excluded by Latham or Gillard, I regarded the one as a time-bomb and the other as a drongo and stuck with Carr, Debus, Howes, Rann and Shorten who were sane. What you have said is libellous and I never sue.

I didn't say women could write histories of politics -- Hilary Mantel and Antonia Fraser and Rose Tremain and Marguerite Yourcenar Joan Didion are astonishing at it -- I only said they are no good at writing that sort of backroom dialogue, so far, and this should be noted.

I believed this till it was pointed out to me that Abi Morgan who wrote The Iron Lady also wrote The Hour, which is an absolutely splendid political backroom thriller, set in the BBC in 1956.

So I do feel a little abashed.

Yet she is the only one so far to have come up to the level of Sorkin, Dobbs, Bolt, Vidal, Caswell, Miller, Kushner, Weiner, Heslob, Willimon, Peter Morgan and Ian David.

And it's worth asking why.

Or perhaps you disagree.

At 1 January 2012 at 22:28 , Blogger Christian J. said...

While we are on the subject of women maybe you would like to have a look at their efforts on a particular nasty forum that has reasonably been exposed.

Nothing over the top except the extermination of men and abuse of boys. Minor really compared to an article that Bob wrote stating his opinion.

Well done Bob, you must of hit just the right note.

At 1 January 2012 at 22:51 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Must have.

At 2 January 2012 at 01:26 , Blogger MG said...

Bob, that's a bit of hogshit about Williamson being responsible for the demise of 'Nation Review'. Surely as the publisher for its last 2-1/2 years, 1978-1980 (25% of its history) I earned the blame for its demise. I took the decision to close it down with its December 1980 edition due to its last funds being seized by a 'financial adviser' (discovered to be an undischarged bankrupt) and his subsequent publishing of a short-lived magazine called "NR-The Ferret" with content pirated from earlier editions of Nation Review. Peter Isaacson later conned himself into publishing the equally short-lived new weekly, The Review, (which only you recall as the 'revived Nation Review'). Did "Mungo, Cook and Leunig" and Beckett all write for the Isaacson attempt? And does it matter? Unlike your generous contributions, each of those had not written for Nation Review during my time as they had rewarding positions in mainstream media. Your personal dispute with Williamson aside, the market for an independent, quality journal (weekly or monthly) remains difficult in Australia. Even with the funds Morrie Schwartz has injected into his "The Monthly", its paid-circulation appears to be only marginally above my best edition of Nation Review in 1980. Regards, Geoffrey Gold

At 2 January 2012 at 02:00 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

No, it was The Review I spoke of, brought out in October, November and December of 1981 by me, Hepworth, Beckett, Mike Morris, John Hindle, and, you're right, not Peter Samuelson, Peter Isaacson, with the usual contributions by Mungo, Cook and Leunig, and some 'name' columnists employed, like The Spectator diarists, on a rotating basis, Bryan Brown, Chris Haywood, I THINK Judy Davis, Marinos, I forget who else, and some specialist columnists, Fred Hollows on indigenous affairs, Tony Morphett and Peter Jensen and The Sunburnt Christian on religion, Les Murray contributing poems, and so on.

You I remember well. You cut our wages by I THINK eighty percent, and drove us all away from the original masthead which you acquired from I THINK Richard Walsh for a song, and after you closed it down we determined on a resurrection under the old title, The Review, which it had before it amalgamated with The Nation, and after it stopped calling itself The Sunday Review.

How unpleasant to hear from you again.

Yes, it did matter. It was for those few issues the best such paper since Smith's Weekly, and Isaacson's decision to end it after David intervened was some small fraction of a national tragedy.

Had it survived I think Beckett would have too, and Hepworth, my great friend and my children's honorary grandfather, died a happier man.

And so it went.


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