When I was in high school, most of my favorite movies were old movies: Casablanca, On the Waterfront, The Philadelphia Story, that kind of thing. As kind of a pre-hipster who hated to like anything that people my age liked (thanks, Santa Cruz), and movies like From Justin to Kelly and Gigli coming out during that time, you can see why I favored the classics.
Two of my favorites that I still have on VHS to this day were How to Steal a Million and Lawrence of Arabia. Though very different in tone, they both tell great stories with a charm and subtlety that you don’t often see in films coming out today.
Despite my convictions, I was still kind of a weirdo for liking them at the time. I remember trying to make a group of high school friends watch Lawrence at my parents house. It didn’t take long before they got bored and wanted to do something else, causing me to be offended, take it extremely personally, and wonder if they were really the type of people I wanted as friends if they couldn’t handle watching a masterpiece of film, even if it was almost four hours long.
During such an influential time, when my passion for acting was continuing to grow and develop, Peter O’Toole and his contemporaries were my icons and I got my inspiration and drive from watching them.
While doing a report on Audrey Hepburn for my U.S. history class (you know, like you do) and looking up her birth and death dates. At that moment, I realized that out of all of my favorite actors in those movies, Peter O’Toole was the only one still living.
Given this new information, I thought a lot about writing him a letter. If he was still around, I should take advantage of it and let him know how amazing I thought he was. I would tell him that I’ve seen many of his films and admire them very much, how they had been very special and influential to me as a young actor, praise him for his acting abilities, and thank him for being so inspiring to me.
Sadly, I promptly came up with a list of reasons why I shouldn’t write this letter. I convinced myself that it would probably be too hard to find an address, and that if I did find one that it would go to some kind of secretary/gatekeeper who would probably throw it away, and, most importantly, that it would be too dorky. I figured he’s probably surrounded by people who think he’s amazing, so even if I could make it work, one little letter from me isn’t going to mean anything.
For years after, the idea of writing a letter to Peter O’Toole kept popping back into my head. Knowing that he was getting older, I thought maybe I should say something before he’s gone, but I still kept telling myself that it would be lame and that he probably wouldn’t even read it.
When I woke up and saw the news this morning that he had passed away, I cried. Not just for the fact that we’ve lost a great contributor to American storytelling, but that I never sent that letter. I’m still not sure if he would have ever personally read it or not, but now I’ll never know.
From here forward, I will challenge myself to share my admiration for someone whenever I can, because people who do great work deserve to hear about it, even if it’s via their secretary and even if they’ve head it a million times. Who knows what happens after we die, but if there’s some chance that he’s hearing this, I hope he will know how much he meant to a young girl in a small town who wanted to be an actor.