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Tears of a clown, by Robin Usher
The year was 1980, after the home-turf triumphs of his brilliantly theatrical one-man stage shows, Betty Blokk Buster Follies, Wonder Woman and Sacred Cow. The omens for success in London, and possibly Broadway a few months later, had looked good.
Why, even the legendary director Hal Prince said as much, while insisting that Livermore be as bold as ever and not think twice about including his unapologetically vulgar character, Vaseline Amalnitrate, in his show at the Phoenix Theatre.
The auditorium was packed. Stephen Sondheim was there and so was a relatively unknown Julian Clary who sat transfixed in the front row. He loved every minute of the bawdy burlesque, but not everyone did. Within two minutes of conjuring the foul-mouthed Vaseline Amalnitrate, some people in the audience loudly protested.
This is one of the more painful and humiliating episodes recounted in the performers autobiography Chapters and Chances, launched in Sydney yesterday.
One punter stood up and yelled, "Ill give you two weeks in this town!" followed soon after by a lady in the dress circle calling for "more wit without the filth, please!". Another heckler interjected: "When are you going to stop being disgusting and say something funny?" The rest, as they say, is theatre history. The reviews talked of "deportation" to Botany Bay for the "Aussie invader" while the media back home had a field day reporting his demise.
There were plenty of tears in the Livermore camp, but, like so much of the entertainers singular career, no sooner did one door slam than another opened. These days, Livermore, who lives in Wentworth, New South Wales, is philosophical, even sanguine, about career pitfalls, not least the disappointments of his musicals Ned Kelly and Big Sister, and the detractors quick to write him off. He amusingly mentions how Germaine Greer bluntly told him at a party that his version of Lou Reeds Walk on the Wild Side was awful.
The book also recalls how, in the
mid-1970s, Harry M. Miller told rival producer Eric Dare that Livermore
"lacked charisma" this of the marvel-making entertainer
whose shows at the Bijou in Sydneys Balmain were attracting
busloads of fans and sold out night after night. (Miller emerges in
Livermores eyes as a hard-headed businessman nothing
less, nothing more.)
In April next year, Livermore hopes to recapture some of the old magic. Hes been cast in Mel Brookss hit musical The Producers, in the role of the erstwhile entrepreneur Max Bialystock. In the meantime, we have the long-awaited life story. Chapters and Chances, co-written by his partner Rob McMicking, is packed with photographs and lavishly presented. It charts the fertile and fallow patches, not just the star turns in Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show, Betty Blokk Buster Follies and Firing Squad, but also his personal life, the lure of restaurant management, cooking, gardening and an abiding love of nature. There are photos of family, friends, colleagues, lovers and mentors and of his Blue Mountains paradise, Pirramirra (Aboriginal for "moon and stars").
One of the books most touching passages tells of his former partner, Gary Edwards, a talented chef, and the Blue Mountains restaurant they ran called La Sala. After a long illness, Edwards died in 1995 at the age of 32. It forced Livermore to confront his own mortality. "I worked on the book for a very long time," he said. "In the end, you have to get it all out and be true to yourself . . . I was greatly encouraged by my editor who said. Remember, the reader is on your side.
"Ive never kept a journal and, often, in the process of recollecting different events, I had the sense of How did that happen? . . . There was never a plan as such and there are many sides to a story. The things Ive written about happened and I didnt want to deny things."
Its a career of peaks and troughs, thrills and spills. The performer not only seized opportunities, but created them be it the outlandishly fierce Betty Blokk Buster or the chauvinistic old codger Leonard. Spurring him on were those producers prepared to take a gamble, notably the aptly named impresario Dare. He got behind Livermores one-man entertainments with the canny decisiveness of a mogul backing one of Hollywoods most saleable stars.
When Dare saw a publicity photo of Livermore cheekily clad in a skimpy apron that exposed his bare bum, he asked if the as-yet-un-named character could be included in the show. The photo had been done for a lark and, on this near-accidental basis, Betty Blokk Buster was born in Carlton. "It came together haphazardly and I had no idea what was being created," says Livermore, of his first one-man vaudeville directed by Peter Batey. It was big and bold and Livermore cast himself as a ringmaster of sorts. His shows in the 70s and early 80s were skilful, expressive and daring. But, for all the triumphs, there were periods of soul-searching and, to his fans at least, a feeling that hed gone into exile when the going got tough.
Call it destiny or fate, but the recurring pattern to emerge in Livermores life is one where things could have turned out very differently. For instance, had Livermores musical Ned Kelly premiered anywhere other than in Adelaide, the show may have had more than one chance. The out-of- town tryout system long-established in the United States has never worked in Australia. Almost inevitably, when opening night comes, so does crunch time.
History would also consign another of Livermores brash, panto-dame musicals, Big Sister, a larrikins opera, to the dubious archive marked "Australian musical not to be released". It was, however, a bighearted, tuneful, raw and distinctly Australian piece, but the odds of a long commercial run were stacked against it. A company had been formed to raise the finances, but it was soon dubbed a commercial flop. As Livermore notes, the showgoing hordes at that time didnt so much go to Parramatta, in western Sydney, as pass through it. These noble efforts came after the performer had tasted the fruits of staggering success.
Busloads of people, many of them women, came to his one-man shows, first at the Balmain Bijou, then at Her Majestys in Sydney. His name was up in lights, a star in his own right and he had put his theatrical stamp and stamina on Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. The role of Herod, as written, lasts a few minutes but, true to form, Livermore expanded it into a nine-minute bravura turn, which made audiences marvel at his energy and theatrical might.
More spectacularly, he interpreted FranknFurter as a debauched, dangerous creature fashioned in the guise of Bette Davis. It cemented Livermores reputation as an electrifying stage personality with the talent and flair to lead a company. Away from the greasepaint and lights, Livermore, who is charming, watchful and somewhat shy, doesnt mind being one of the crowd but, on stage, its an altogether different matter. He was not cut out to be merely part of an ensemble as his one-time mentor, the late Hayes Gordon, soon realised.
Livermore had been part of John Sumners repertory company in Melbourne, but it was clear that some of the grand singularity of Gordon Chater and Barry Humphries, whom Livermore worked with for a short time at the Phillip Street Theatre, had rubbed off, developing his stamina and independence. If Ned Kelly in Adelaide was a dream gone sour, then Sacred Cow in London was a full-blown nightmare. He found the experience hard to live down, but, before too long, he was up on the precarious high-wire again, literally, in the musical Barnum, a role enabling him to lick his wounds and entertain as best he could.
Time and again, the hard knocks have toughened Livermores creative resolve. "The carnival is not over!" he declares at one point, partly in response to a review I wrote of his show Leonards Last Hurrah at the Sydney Opera House a few years ago. Audiences stayed away, it lost money and led to an artistic re-think. Critics and commentators feature a lot in Chapters and Chances, for good and bad, exposing his strengths and vulnerabilities as an artist. Regs recollections also reveal that, without him, the history of Australias performing arts would be a great deal poorer and far less colourful.
Reg Livermore has courted controversy on and off the stage throughout his career. But the row over his autobiography was created well before the books publication.
Livermore was awarded an Australian artists creative fellowship worth $132,000 by the Keating government in 1994. The controversial award did not stipulate a date by which work was to be completed. Criticism against the grant centred on Livermores successful career. It was claimed the money should have gone to an artist struggling to become established. It was also claimed that the song-and-dance mans Blue Mountains house was worth nearly $2 million at the time. The creative fellowship awards ceased in 1996 after constant criticism that they too often went to personal favourites of the prime minister. The pianist Geoffrey Tozer received two awards that covered a total of 10 years. Livermores autobiography has finally appeared nine years after he received the award and will sell for $65 a copy. In the meantime, Livermore will star in the award-winning Mel Brooks comedy, The Producers, with Tom Burlinson when the $8 million production opens at the Princess Theatre in April.
Interview from George Negus Tonight, 6/17/04
GEORGE NEGUS: Tonight, a real superstar of the Australian musical stage, a bloke who, right from the outset of his astounding career, clearly knew exactly what he wanted to do.
REG LIVERMORE: I had some sort of a dream and I just headed for it.
GEORGE NEGUS: G'day. Welcome to another GNT Thursday night profile. Well, what do you say about tonight's chosen one that hasn't been said arguably much better by hundreds of others? But the fact is it was probably in the cards, the stars, the tea-leaves and just about any other wacko stuff that predicts these things, that Reg Livermore was probably born to be an outrageously flamboyant star of the stage. He grew up in a theatrical family who lovingly encouraged his quote/unquote 'expressive urges'. Not an eyebrow was raised when young Reg took to dressing up in his sister's clothes. His credits represent a gigantic slice of Australian musical theatre history. From 'Hair' and 'Jesus Christ Superstar' to 'The Rocky Horror Show' in which he made the infamous role of Frank-N-Furter his own forever. His full-on performances and personal warmth have invariably seduced audiences and won over hard-headed critics.
After a few years rest from hoofing the boards, keeping busy as a TV presenter and writing his autobiography, these days, our Reg is back where he was always meant to be onstage, in what he considers his most challenging role yet. We'll be asking Reg about that and other things Livermore in a tick. But first, let's see how the kid from Parramatta took his first steps on the stairway not to heaven, but to stardom.
REG LIVERMORE: On my father's side, he had five sisters very gregarious girls and everybody seemed to sing and dance. During the war years the Second World War years when I was a toddler, I just got caught up in this sort of home entertainment business. And it seemed to me that entertainment really was where I wanted to place myself in life. I didn't have my own theatre, but a playmate had a playroom under the house he lived in. And I thought, "This is a very fine theatre for me." So I more or less took it over. And then I'd rope in the local kids, all my friends, and write shows and we'd put them on. And we then moved sort of up the ladder a bit by hiring local halls. I was determined and I had some sort of a dream and I just headed for it.
I did my stretch of schooling. I went for the five years. In those days it was fifth year and that was when you finished. But I didn't get enough subjects to go to university because I was still being urged that perhaps I should become a dentist or a doctor or something ridiculous. So I went back again. Basically, the reason I went back was the school play 'Othello' which was a great opportunity for me. So I carried it off extremely well and I just packed up and left school. That was it. I didn't go back after the last night.
Not long after I left school, I did my audition for the Phillip Street Theatre and they gave me the job. While I was working there, I started to attend the classes that Hayes Gordon was holding every weekend. And suddenly I'd found a real reason to be doing what I was doing. He gave me a technique that I could fall back on for all of my life and an attitude about my work.
I was always very lucky that there was always a job for me and I went wherever the jobs took me, whether it was to Melbourne, to Adelaide, around Sydney, whatever. I was working in the theatre. I was working in radio studios.
(FOOTAGE FROM 'CRACKERJACK', ABC TV, 1966 PLAYS)
'Crackerjack' covered the spectrum, really, in terms of entertaining. There was things for the kids, games, pop stars who'd come on and sing a number. They thought I would probably be the ideal person to host this show because I could do sketches, I could do a bit of compering. And so away I went into television.
I got to the stage when I was sort of heading towards 30 that I realised that I'd actually done everything. I'd done the full circle. And what was I going to do now?
(FOOTAGE FROM 'HAIR', ATN 7, 1969, PLAYS)
Harry Miller's production of 'Hair' hit Sydney in mid-1969. And I found myself as one of the tribe in 'Hair'. That was a great moment. I could see that if I went on that stage in that show, I would in fact free myself.
JIM SHARMAN, DIRECTOR, 'HAIR': Because he's got such a blasting energy, it seemed to liberate something in him which I think was great for the show but also, I suspect, great for Reg.
REG LIVERMORE: Something got into me. Something wild. Truly wild. I don't think I could control it. This really was a performance quite unlike anything that had been seen on that stage.
GEORGE NEGUS: Reg, great to see you.
REG LIVERMORE: Thank you, George.
GEORGE NEGUS: It always is. You really can't stand entertaining people, can you? You really hate getting up there and making a galah of yourself.
REG LIVERMORE: It's taken me to some strange places, I have to say.
GEORGE NEGUS: Indeed. Was it inevitable? It seems, looking at that wonderful montage, those recollections of bits and pieces of your past like that, was it inevitable that you would go on the stage?
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, I think so. I know so, really. I knew so from when I was a toddler that high. As I intimated...
GEORGE NEGUS: How did you know? Very few of us know that early what we want to do. How did you know that you wanted to be Reg Livermore, entertainer?
REG LIVERMORE: Well, initially because I was in that close-knit family who were all singing and dancing, and I was part of it, and I wasn't seeing much else of life. It just became the most natural thing for me to do every day more or less. Every day there was an opportunity...
GEORGE NEGUS: It's better than having a family full of accountants, isn't it?
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, exactly. Exactly. And you know, my father, he was working in, um, the movie business, you know, managing theatres. And so, you know, we were able to see films for nothing, whenever we wanted to go up there to the Cremorne Orpheum. And, um, yes, it was all entertainment. It was all show business. Of course I wanted to be one of those make-believe characters or the real people you could see in a theatre. You know, my mind was set on being a Laurence Olivier, in the English tradition of the classic actors. Not that there was a great opportunity for that sort of thing in this country.
GEORGE NEGUS: How much of it are you doing for Reg, for Reg Livermore, and how much for the audience? Is it a self-gratifying thing? Or do you really, really want people to leave the theatre feeling as though you've entertained them?
REG LIVERMORE: It's for them. It's really for them. I have certain expectations of myself, as they probably have of me. So, you know, there is that element, obviously. But it's not, "Gee, I did well tonight." I never think that. The applause doesn't really mean a great deal either. I'm glad to see people happy enough or, you know, satisfied sufficiently to clap you. But in the end, it's for them. That's the reason I get up there. I must say, I love it. I resent it but I love it.
GEORGE NEGUS: You resent it?
REG LIVERMORE: I sometimes resent it.
GEORGE NEGUS: What do you mean by that? That's a contradiction in terms. It sounds a bit that way.
REG LIVERMORE: It seems like that. But the older you get, you know, the more difficult it becomes in terms of the energy. Now, you know, my body is probably breaking down, but my energy isn't.
GEORGE NEGUS: Your body is trying to keep up with your energy all the time.
REG LIVERMORE: Yes, you know, and it's the energy and everything that goes with that energy, which is the performer that says "You've got to do that."
GEORGE NEGUS: How much of you do you put into it and how much do you simply interpret what you think the writer or the producer or the director wants Reg Livermore to be?
REG LIVERMORE: Well, you know, up until a certain point in my career, I certainly followed the instructions.
GEORGE NEGUS: Did what you were told.
REG LIVERMORE: Yes, exactly. But once those things started to happen in the '60s, right through the '70s and up till now, the opportunity was more than, you know, obvious that I had to take this thing and I had to bring myself to it. So there's very little I can do these days that wouldn't actually be Reg.
GEORGE NEGUS: Did you see yourself as breaking any theatrical moulds?
REG LIVERMORE: No.
GEORGE NEGUS: You didn't?
REG LIVERMORE: No.
GEORGE NEGUS: Because this stuff we'll see in a moment even more outrageous stuff was off the wall, over the top.
REG LIVERMORE: But I think I was just reflecting the times. You know, I wasn't like that off the stage. Um...
GEORGE NEGUS: No, actually that's true. We've known each other a long while. I've never thought of you as being...
REG LIVERMORE: Off the wall.
GEORGE NEGUS: 'Normal', whatever that is.
REG LIVERMORE: No, I think it was just the times were right and I was right for the times. And I had an imagination, a real imagination for the sorts of things that I was attempting.
GEORGE NEGUS: But 'Hair' was a breakthrough, wasn't it? That was a soil-breaking role for you. How important was it?
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, it was the most important thing that happened, as it was the liberating factor. Because the things that I'd been doing were in that traditional mould that I'd set out for myself and also that were available in this country. That was all it was possible to do and I did them all. But it wasn't freeing. It was going to become cramping of my style rather than liberating. But 'Hair' just there it was. There was this space. I had to be part of that space.
GEORGE NEGUS: You got to let your hair grow long and take your clothes off in public.
REG LIVERMORE: I did all that.
GEORGE NEGUS: Wonderful stuff. Let's see what happened after 'Hair'.
(FOOTAGE FROM 'JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, 1971, PLAYS)
REG LIVERMORE: I eventually played King Herod in 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. And that was another great sort of defining moment theatrically for me and for the audience.
(FOOTAGE FROM 'THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW', 1974, PLAYS)
And then suddenly it was 'The Rocky Horror Show' and there I was Dr Frank-N-Furter. That, firmly and finally, I think, established me as the star that I always believed I ought to be, that I wanted to be in this country.
JIM SHARMAN, DIRECTOR, 'ROCKY HORROR SHOW': It seemed obvious when we were doing it that Reg would play Frank-N-Furter. He gave it a kind of Bette Davis spin, I suppose. It was certainly a much more aggressive version of it than I'd seen previously. And theatrically, it was also thrilling.
REG LIVERMORE: It did sort of leave me deranged, I suppose, some nights because I'd been in a total fantasy land, an absolute fantasy land. And with all those people lapping it up, and screaming and clapping you on, it was very hard to think that you were a normal sort of person.
(FOOTAGE FROM 'BETTY BLOKK BUSTER FOLLIES', 1975, PLAYS)
After 'Rocky', Eric Dare asked me if I'd be interested doing a one-man show. I started writing a few sketches and designed what it was going to be. And out of this came 'Betty Blokk Buster Follies'. A success, so big a success, it never ever crossed my mind that anything like that could actually happen to me or to anyone in this country an Australian doing his own thing on that scale. Leonard was a character I created as a nod to Roy Rene Mo our early 20th-century comic. In fact, he became my most enduring character, because he could say anything.
People talk about, "Where do you get this energy? Where's this energy coming from? Are you on pills?" I say, "No, I'm not on pills. I can't help it. It's just a fire that comes inside my belly when I walk on the stage."
I was very excited to go to London, taking a show which was a compilation of all the one-man shows I'd done in Australia. It was called 'Sacred Cow'. And the West End was something that I'd had in my secret dreaming. I obviously offended them. My style of entertainment was a bit raw. I used to come onstage and people would laugh and I hadn't done anything, and so it was hard going. In a way, I didn't care. I was glad to put that dreaming to rest.
GEORGE NEGUS: We'll talk about failure in a minute.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah. Righto.
GEORGE NEGUS: And flops and things like that. Must have been a blow. But who's your favourite character? Is it Frank? Frank-N-Furter?
REG LIVERMORE: No. Well, it was at the time. You know, I thought I should be paying Harry Miller for having engaged me. But which characters are my favourite? I think you do them and you leave them.
GEORGE NEGUS: You become the character at the time...
REG LIVERMORE: And I get everything I can out of them every nuance, every subtlety, every sort of aspect that I want to know about and might be able to convey to the audience or not. But the thing is once they're done, they're done.
GEORGE NEGUS: Yeah. I saw 'Betty Blokk Buster' with my mum.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah.
GEORGE NEGUS: And Leonard outraged... My mum actually said to me in the Bijou Theatre in Balmain, "I'm not sure I should be here."
GEORGE NEGUS: That was the way her generation reacted... But she would not move a muscle. She loved the whole thing and became an instant Reg Livermore fan.
REG LIVERMORE: She'd have been happier if she'd been there with a girlfriend.
GEORGE NEGUS: Probably. Being there with her son was a bit tricky.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah. Yes.
GEORGE NEGUS: She wasn't supposed to get the jokes or think the swearing was funny.
REG LIVERMORE: That's right. I think, generally speaking, men should've been there by themselves, not with their wives. You know, because either one of the party would be uncomfortable.
GEORGE NEGUS: 'Cause you were breaking down barriers, weren't you, and prejudices and narrow-mindedness?
REG LIVERMORE: I seemed to be. Mmm. Just by, um, talking about these... the issues openly. But once again, I didn't even know I was doing that, particularly. Because I'd had all that upbringing with the Phillip Street Theatre you know, topicality I think that that sort of came into the essence of my 'Betty Blokk Buster Follies' and all the other shows. They were like... revues. I mean, you know, in simple terms, they were revues.
GEORGE NEGUS: So, despite the big 'E' entertainment factor, you actually felt you were saying something that needed to be said?
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, yes, I did. I did. Because of the issue of whether comedy is just comedy for its own sake, or whether it's based on something serious. And that's what I believe that what I was offering was humorous because people could relate to it, and that... because it had a serious core. And therefore some things are funnier because of that.
GEORGE NEGUS: Why do the characters have to be so most of them, anyway so high camp, if that's the term? I mean, how do you describe them?
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, I don't know. 'Outrageous' was the word that was used at the time. 'Outrageous' what's that? Well, because...
GEORGE NEGUS: But dressing up in high heels and fish-net stockings...
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah, but they weren't all in high heels or fish-net... Frank-N-Furter was.
GEORGE NEGUS: Just the ones we remember.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah. All my women were in high-heel shoes, because I had that model of shoe that I'd worn in 'Rocky Horror Show' and I took it and had copies made in different colours for all the women I played in my own shows.
GEORGE NEGUS: But, see, playing a woman, in itself, you know, turned a few, you know, heads. Curled a few eyebrows.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah, but... But it was more... I was a pantomime dame. You know what I mean? Hairy legs, hairy armpits, hairy chest. You know? I wasn't trying to be a woman or to pass. I was just... from the pantomime dames.
GEORGE NEGUS: London.
REG LIVERMORE: OK.
GEORGE NEGUS: I mean, that must have been devastating. There you were you thought, "The next logical step for me, professionally and theatrically, is to hit the big time in London." And you did and you got booed off stage. No less. I mean... boy.
REG LIVERMORE: (Chuckles) Well...
GEORGE NEGUS: Must have left a big dent.
REG LIVERMORE: It certainly did. I didn't see it as "This is my next goal," you know, to make the big time. In my imagination, I'd made the big time. I'd done it here. That was the only difference. See, it goes back also to the time I went to England as a young man, you know, wanting to make my career, and I realised if I was going to do it, I'd have to do something about the way I talk change my vowel sounds. I'd have to become English. So where is Reg, you know, the boy from Australia? He gets lost. He's drowned. He's buried. And I didn't want to do that, so I came home. And I go back to London and the same thing happens. Now I am raw Reg from Australia, and unacceptable. So, tough.
GEORGE NEGUS: So what was the emotional and psychological impact of that dreadful four-letter word 'flop'?
REG LIVERMORE: I felt terrible, especially as I had to do the show for, let's say, three weeks after those dreadful notices came out in England. And that was very difficult. When I said I walked onstage and they laughed, it wasn't because I was funny. I hadn't done a thing. I'd come on seriously dressed in a dinner suit with black cape to sing 'Captain Jack' and they're laughing, screaming with laughter. And I'm thinking, "There must be somebody behind me doing something."
GEORGE NEGUS: "I'm not that good. I don't get laughs that easily."
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah.
GEORGE NEGUS: But eventually, you know, you got quite worn out by the level of work you'd been involved in, didn't you? And you decided, like, almost a sea change was required.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah.
GEORGE NEGUS: Anyway, let's look at the next stage, because you moved to the lovely Blue Mountains, which is the point in both our lives when we met.
REG LIVERMORE: That's right.
GEORGE NEGUS: Let's see what happened to the energy when you went to the Blue Mountains.
REG LIVERMORE: I was able to turn my back on the theatre for five years, in fact, and just direct all my energies and my creativity to the garden. I hadn't been doing anything. I was almost a slob by that stage, after five years. I thought, "If I don't do something soon, I'll never do anything again."
(FOOTAGE FROM BURKE'S BACKYARD, CTC PRODUCTIONS, 1989, PLAYS)
And then along came 'Burke's Backyard' and 'Our House'. And there I was, umpteen years after 'Crackerjack', resuming my television career as a presenter. It was a great gig. I only worked two or three days a fortnight. At the same time as doing television, I could appear at the local theatre restaurant in Katoomba and do my one-man shows three times a week. It was a perfect life. Perfect life.
When I heard that 'The Producers' was going to be presented in Australia, I thought, "Now, surely that's a part I could play the Max Bialystock role." And Mel Brooks and the American creative team chose me to play the role.
I don't have to do too much. I certainly don't have to sit in a corner, you know, talking myself into it that's for sure. In fact, before it starts, I'm rather dreading the first notes of music. I'm thinking, "Oh, God. Here we go."
I'm 65. I've got the biggest role, probably, I've ever had in my life in the biggest show I've ever been in in my life. And people are enjoying what I do. This is a very, very demanding role. I can't think of anybody else in the country who would be mad enough to do it. The stage is where I live, basically. That's my furnace, you know? That's what gets me going and fires me and, you know, I love doing it.
I'm always chuffed when people say that I'm a generous performer. And I think if that's one of the characteristics that I'm remembered by that "He was a generous performer" that means, "He gave. He gave."
GEORGE NEGUS: We'll talk about the wonderful Max in a moment. But when we met, you were... you'd hurled yourself full speed into that garden.
REG LIVERMORE: Mmm.
GEORGE NEGUS: And I felt quite privileged, because you let us into your home, with television cameras and stuff like that. Your private life has always been really, really private and important.
REG LIVERMORE: Mmm. Mmm.
GEORGE NEGUS: What were you protecting? (Chuckles)
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, just myself, I suppose. I mean... Yeah. And my sense of self.
GEORGE NEGUS: So there is another Reg?
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, yeah, there is.
GEORGE NEGUS: Reg that closes the gate, goes into the garden, spends time with your partner.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah. Well, you know... generosity, you know? You give, you give, you give. But in the end, you think, "I just want to be by myself, you know, be with myself, with my partner, and just do the things that most people do."
GEORGE NEGUS: You've never talked much about the fact that you've had gay relationships.
REG LIVERMORE: No, no.
GEORGE NEGUS: Your sexuality didn't appear to matter to people.
REG LIVERMORE: I don't think it did. I mean, one night at a preview of 'The Producers' you know, I start off singing in the first song, "There was a time when I was young and gay... but straight" and a women who was sitting next to Rob, my partner, said, "Oh, Reg, you've never been straight in your life!"
REG LIVERMORE: And so you think, "Well, I wasn't hiding anything."
GEORGE NEGUS: But isn't it good, because when we met, and I don't think I even raised your sexuality...
REG LIVERMORE: No, you didn't. No.
GEORGE NEGUS: In the early '80s, it wasn't the thing to do. Do you think that we've progressed, where these things are concerned, that we are a more tolerant society than we were?
REG LIVERMORE: I think so. I hope so.
GEORGE NEGUS: Were there tricky moments for you, though? In the past?
REG LIVERMORE: Not really. I wish I could say... No, I'm glad I can say that there weren't any tricky moments. But, as I say, it hasn't been an issue. And I've only been... I suppose I've been guarded about it, if that's the word, because of my father, who was in who obviously knows, but who was in the newspaper business and dealt with a lot of people every day. And he would be a sort of sounding board for what they thought about me. And I just didn't want him to have to answer questions on my behalf. 'Cause Dad would know what's on the newsstands. It was that sort of thing to protect him.
GEORGE NEGUS: But how did they handle it?
REG LIVERMORE: Fine. Fine.
GEORGE NEGUS: 'The Producers' is clearly an unbelievable hallmark for you.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah.
GEORGE NEGUS: Probably the greatest role, as you said yourself. Probably no other role like it.
REG LIVERMORE: Max Bialystock obviously we have a lot in common. We've both been in the theatre for a long time. We've both had our share of ups and downs. And, you know, we're survivors. So I can identify with him on those grounds.
GEORGE NEGUS: Bit autobiographical, to that extent?
REG LIVERMORE: Well, it could be. Yes. I'm not quite the scoundrel he is, because I'm on the other side he's the producer, I'm the performer.
GEORGE NEGUS: How terrifying was it for someone, even with your breadth and depth of experience over the years, to be doing a production by Mel Brooks?
REG LIVERMORE: It was hard to actually believe or give credence to the fact that this was... this man. When I did the audition, he said to me, "You're not going to ever be a credible Jewish New York producer. Don't waste your time trying. What I want people to do is say, 'That's our Reg up there. We love him.'" He just said, you know, "I want to see more of you. I want to see you."
GEORGE NEGUS: What do you think of doing when Reg Livermore can't do that, when you can't tramp the boards, when you can't throw yourself about, you know? What will you do?
REG LIVERMORE: Oh, I don't know. That's hard. Really hard. I don't want to teach...
GEORGE NEGUS: You're allowed to say, "That's a stupid question, George."
REG LIVERMORE: It's not a stupid question, George. It's just that I haven't had my back to the wall enough to think, "What am I going to do?" You know, "How resourceful will I be?"
GEORGE NEGUS: So it's largely dependent on...
REG LIVERMORE: Sandwich shop.
GEORGE NEGUS: A sandwich shop?
REG LIVERMORE: Well, I like sandwiches.
GEORGE NEGUS: You had a restaurant at one stage.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah. I don't want to do that anymore. Certainly not. But a sandwich shop may not be so bad. The hours are better.
GEORGE NEGUS: I find it hard to imagine.
REG LIVERMORE: Yeah.
GEORGE NEGUS: Reg, it's wonderful to see you.
REG LIVERMORE: Yes.
GEORGE NEGUS: Always is.
Yes. Thank you, George.