Claire Bloom

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Claire Bloom Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 2/12/16

Interviewed by the journalist Michael Shelden in 2002, the then 71 year old actress made it clear that enough was enough. Fixing him with her sharp gaze, she leaned back in her chair and declared, “Freedom is marvellous. There are other things in life besides men.”

It would appear that Clair Bloom has been true to her words in the more than intervening decade that has elapsed since this interview. Guest television appearances in ‘Doc Martin’, ‘The Bill’ and ‘Doctor Who’, in addition to her role in The King’s Speech bare testimony to her consistently strong work ethic.

Nevertheless, whilst she seemingly pursues the merits of an alternative lifestyle, the fact remains that for decades, her life was inextricably interwoven with many men. If she’s tired of it all, then frankly, it’s little wonder.

In her twenties, Bloom undoubtedly led a charmed life. Almost overnight, she rose from middle-class obscurity in Finchley to international stardom, playing the leading lady to Richard Burton, Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier. Her elegant beauty was celebrated in the pages of Vogue and Time; and her acting talent was praised by Kenneth Tynan as “pure gold.”

However, careers inevitably ebb and flow and she undoubtedly lost direction, struggling to save three difficult, volatile marriages, each more demanding than the last; indeed, her divorce from her third husband – American novelist Philip Roth – was so acrimonious that he bombarded her with faxes demanding the return of every penny he had spent on her and sarcastically suggested a “fine” of $62 billion for her alleged violation of their prenuptial agreement.

It took almost 20 years for Bloom to get Roth out of her system. They spent years feeding each other’s anxieties and debating their future, and the question of marriage was put off again and again. They lived together in a state that varied from open hostility to quiet domesticity. She tolerated his many emotional outbursts and depressions and nursed him through several illnesses.

The following link describes the depths to which the couple’s union would eventually plumb. That either party could devote such time to writing about their shared experience is one thing, but choosing to publish their respective works is another.

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A common theme permeating so many lives is parental desertion. Many of Bloom’s emotional disasters had their origin, she believes, in the early defection of her father. Born Patricia Claire Blume in Finchley, North London, on February 15, 1931, her grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Her father, Eddie, was born in Liverpool, and her mother, Elizabeth, was a Cockney.

Eddie was addicted to cards and lost so many jobs they were forced to move house constantly. When Claire was 16, he emigrated, divorced Elizabeth and remarried. His daughter never got over it.

Five years later, by which time Claire had become a star, Eddie returned to London with his new wife and came to visit her. ‘He introduced her as my stepmother,’ she said. ‘Recoiling as though I had seen a cobra, I said that I had no stepmother, as my own mother was still alive. When they invited me to supper, I refused.‘Three days later, Eddie died in his sleep. ‘My callous behaviour in the theatre killed him. I afterwards learned he had known he had a serious heart condition. His visit home had been, quietly, to say goodbye,’ said Bloom.

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In 2013, Bloom was awarded a C.B.E., an announcement she would describe – after a glittering career – as “the icing on the cake,” actress Claire Bloom said this week. Speaking from Cornwall, where she was filming for the television series ‘Doc Martin,’ the 82-year-old star said she was “thrilled. It’s certainly lovely news. It is a very nice feeling to be recognised. I have worked hard and tried to do good things.” Although she would acknowledge the CBE “for services to drama” encompassed her whole career, she remained particularly proud of her performance as Blanche Dubois in a 1974 West End production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ “It was such a glorious play,” she said. “I’m so pleased to have been part of such a masterpiece.”

Recommended listening

Desert island Discs (BBC Radio 4) 10/9/82

Recommended viewing

Limelight (1952)

Look Back in Anger (1959)

Charley (1968)

Adapted from Daniel Keyes’ novel ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ Cliff Robertson is Charly, a 30 year old mentally handicapped individual sweeping floors in a Boston bakery. His innate sweetness makes him an obvious target for both the bigoted dolts he works with and the ambitious scientists who see him as the human equivalent of Algernon, a mouse they’ve surgically -yet impermanently – smartened up. Switching their focus from animal to human being, the neurosurgeons operate on our hapless subject, and t Charley gradually develops a genius IQ.

Now seeing the world and its inhabitants for what they are, Charly experiences fame and falls in love with his teacher – Claire Bloom – yet their happiness together is threatened by the scientific programme.

The pace of the film is rather frenetic, and Bloom’s blossoming love for her student after his aborted rape attempt, strikes a discordant note. Nevertheless, the emotional intensity of her final scenes are heart wrenching and poignant in equal measure.

Cliff Robertson, then a novice actor, purchased the rights to the story and personally shepherded it through to filming, first playing the role in a tv play version “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon” (1961) that aired on The United States Steel Hour, which saw him nominated for an Emmy Award. One can see what drew Robertson to make such personal investment in the project for “Charly” is undoubtedly a choice role and the he would duly bag the Best Actor Oscar award the following year.

The film received a rare terrestrial screening on the BBC in the early 70’s and I would not have the opportunity of revisiting it until 2016. It was thought provoking to me as a young man, and resonates even more now I’m old, or should I say middle aged? Well – maybe, assuming I can live to well over a hundred.

Recommended reading


Claire Bloom - Pictures & images