Rex Harrison

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Rex Harrison Pencil Portrait
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Last update : 30/7/15

Carole Landis was a vibrant, beautiful 20th Century Fox starlet of the 30s and 40s. Starring in films like Moon over Miami (1941) or My Gal Sal (1942) with Rita Hayworth, she was a favorite GI pin-up during the World War II era. Her career would be tragically curtailed when she was found dead in her apartment on July 5, 1948. The coroner’s verdict was suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills, but her family has remained unconvinced for decades.

She had hosted a lavish Fourth of July party, followed by an intimate dinner with her on-off lover, the actor Rex Harrison. He was the last person to spend time with her, and the first one to find her body. He reportedly lied to the police, and told them he was just friends with Carole. In reality, the pair had been involved in a widely known extra-marital affair. At the time, Harrison was married to the actress Lilli Palmer. Landis and Harrison had broken up, only to be reunited – but probably not reconciled – at the time of the party.

Throughout his life, the man forever associated with the character of Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady,” would act like a bounder and garner a reputation as a highly disagreeable character. That’s as may be – and in life, it’s up to acquaintances and family members to reach their own conclusions – yet on occasions, his behaviour would ‘cross the line,’ and his cavalier attitude towards women and ‘affairs of the heart’ would lead to two suicides. Harrison, a connoisser of fine wines, and a man who dressed with more panache than any of his movie contemporaries, would discover that emotional discord can end in events far more serious than broken crockery.

The actor was married six times. Six times!!! These statistics are trotted out by biographers and journalists without emphasising his blithe attitude towards matrimony. Just how many times does one have to ‘tie the knot’ before the realisation hits home that marriage is not for everyone? At the risk of antagonising the man, if Harrison had been asked to compare wives, what on earth would he have said? – that life with wife number three was 15% less satisfying than with wife number five? That whilst wife number two was more in tune with his personal sense of humour, she was less inclined to socially network than wives number one and three? Perhaps wife number four was more domestically adept, but less adventurous than wives number three and five in the bedroom? And finally, by the time of his marriage to wife number six, perhaps he was too old and tired to consider a seventh nuptial. When considered in such a manner, the sheer absurdity of relationships comes sharpely into focus.

Everyone encounters problems at some point, but unfortunately, moving onto something new always appears the more attractive proposition. It seems that ‘something new’ can never conceivably be infinitely worse than the old relationship, yet it often turns out that way. Millions also believe that staying in a bad marriage because “you don’t want to look like a failure” is kind of dumb. I couldn’t agree more, except that defining what constitutes a ‘bad marriage’ is infinitely more difficult than one might presume. Perhaps your partner appears unrecognisable from the person you first met, but maybe you’ve become the sort of self centred shit you wouldn’t recognise if you tried. So if you’re struggling here, imagine the worst possible day in your business life – a car breakdown, a missed job interview, a highly sought after contract that fails to materialise, and train delays on the journey home. Now take two scenarios – one with your married partner of ten years standing, and the second with a ‘hot date,’ someone you’ve only been out with on a handful of occasions. There are two ways to recount the events of the day. The first will entail venting one’s spleen, the encounter ending in a blazing row, and the other will involve recounting the day’s events in a crestfallen manner, and then making love. No prizes for guessing the recipients of each behavioural approach. Now consider reversing the approach – and the near Herculean task of actually doing it – and suddenly there are echoes of the person your partner fell in love with. Simple in theory, yet in reality, unbelievably difficult to implement.

Fortunately, for some men, their sixth decade will bring forth a degree of wisdom – an appreciation of the family unit and in particular their partner, a rapidly dwindling fascination for the opposite sex, a loss of interest in the material world (an irreversible view immune from any lottery win), and a finely tuned sense of perspective on both important and insignificant events. Add a final dash of self awareness – yes they can be ‘involved’ with anyone, but in this modern age of social media dating that’s hardly revalatory, and in any event very few relationships inspire ‘self improvement’ – and suddenly, they’re closer to the finished article than ever before. Alternatively, they can simply move onto the next dose of ‘newness,’ and wonder within a year why every domestic aspect to it appears more than vaguely familiar. The two primary conclusions we can draw from Rex Harrison’s six marriages are that (a) he never changed/modified his behaviour and attitudes and (b) umpteen women thought that they could ‘change him.’

Research at Harvard University does suggest that people who marry multiple times are more likely (than people who do not marry multiple times) to have personality traits and issues with emotional health, that make it difficult to maintain satisfying, long-term relationships. That can mean, even if you’re not looking for anything lasting, you won’t have much fun with a narcissist whose self-absorption and emotional detachment helped end several marriages. Pychologist Holly Parker, who teaches a course called “The Psychology of Close Relationships” at Harvard University, adds that; “If you are thinking about casually dating someone who has had multiple marriages, then there is likely no issue. But if you want to progress to a committed relationship, there’s more to think about.”

Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York psychiatrist and author who specializes in relationship issues, maintains how difficult it is to pigeonhole people. “There is no one-size-fits-all answer, because people get married and divorced for many different reasons,” she says. That said, she still would want to know how the marriages ended, what the person learned about himself at the end of each marriage, what his concerns are regarding future marriage, and what his relationship is like with his ex or exes, “which will shed much light on how things could go with you.”

By the numbers, it’s important to know how a once-divorced person has processed what went wrong, and whether he or she has done any work and gained insight toward correcting the problems. Twice-married people can indicate there are issues not understood or resolved, Saltz says. For those married three or more times, it’s more likely they have problems choosing someone appropriate or “staying the course” in intimate relationships.

Marcy Miller, author of “Rebooting in Beverly Hills: A Wise and Wild Path for Navigating the Dating World” (Bancroft Press), has been married four times. She contends it’s “absurdly judgmental” to assume anything from the fact that someone has had multiple marriages. Bless her – she would, wouldn’t she? Nevertheless, she allows that catching white lies should be “red flags” and believes you should Google your date, even after the first get-together, just to have more information. An interesting and rather obvious approach, but what if there is a dearth of facts available? Then, perhaps, we must rely on intuition. I don’t suppose I am any different from millions of people who have interacted with ‘attractive individuals’ – in the widest sense of the word – who simply didn’t ‘add up.’ Fortunately, the one attribute I possess that has NEVER let me down – and there have been times when much else has been failing – is my intuition. This form of instinctive understanding is at times, all we can rely on, especially with ‘evasive’ characters. Yet when we consider the life of Rex Harrison, there was much that he could not be evasive about, particularly in view of the Hollywood press. Never let that deter a woman mind you, especially when the prey is rich and famous. At times, there appears enough stupidity to do the rounds amongst both sexes, despite man’s more natural leanings in that direction.

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Blithe Spirit (1945)

The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947)

Midnight Lace (1960)

Oozing class, style and opulence, Doris day – in her second year of a remarkable seven year run as the biggest female box office draw in Hollywood – would film her last ever dramatic role at Burbank studios complete with authentic location shots of London. A psychological drama, Day plays Kit Preston, the elegant newlywed wife of British Financier Anthony Preston (Rex Harrison). Shortly after moving to one of London’s most sought after neighbourhoods, she is threatened by an unknown party. The tension mounts as the menacing phone calls continue, and her seemingly distracted husband Anthony appears unconcerned. Kit begins to doubt her own sanity, and the motives of everyone around her. A nail-biting thriller with a top-notch supporting cast that includes Myrna Loy, John Gavin, John Williams and Roddy McDowall, “Midnight Lace” has period charm, and sufficient tension to while away a rainy afternoon..

It’s an expensive production, from Harrison’s suits to the couple’s duplex flat in Grosvenor Square. It’s easy to imagine their wedding vows including the revised line “For richer and richer;” and when they plan to go on a delayed honeymoon trip to Venice, she casually buys a couple of hundred pounds’ worth of odds and ends, including a modest little negligee made of something called midnight lace. When he finds the demands of unexpected business at his big mining-stock holding company will not permit him to make the trip, he brings her a little piece of gondola-shaped jewelry, diamonds and rubies set in gold. Aaargh bless – just your ordinary suburban couple ……..

Inevitable red herrings keep us guessing for a while, and the film boasts Anthony Dawson as a sinister visitor but the culprit is fairly obvious by the last reel. Harrison is oily and disbelieving – a wife that profligate with money can surely handle the occasional crank phone call.

My Fair Lady (1964)

The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964)

The Agony and the Ecstacy (1965)