Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Remembering Lloyd Bochner

Lloyd Bochner has recently died. He was eighty-one. But if you are now asking yourself: “Lloyd who?” and feel guilty you don’t know who he was, don’t beat up on yourself, for I’ve so far met no-one who knew who Lloyd Bochner was. But this may simply be a reflection on me, since, by a man’s friends, ye may know him.

For the record, Lloyd Bochner was a television and film actor who, in the words of the Guardian’s obituary
“……….played mostly suave villains and heroes for more than five decades, but one of his best-known appearances came in a 1962 episode of the Twilight Zone.

In the episode of the sci-fi series entitled To Serve Man, Bochner played a government cryptographer, Michael Chambers, assigned to decipher the contents of an enigmatic book left behind by an alien. The aliens help mankind, and humans depart daily to their planet on spaceships. Chambers decides to visit, having abandoned the translation task. Before stepping aboard he is weighed, as are all passengers, when suddenly his assistant appears with devastating news of the aliens' culinary preferences: "It's a cook book!" But it's too late. Chambers is hustled inside.

The scene acquired almost a cult following over the decades, and was voted 11th in a TV Guide poll of the 100 best television episodes ever.

Bochner's next best-known role was in Dynasty. He appeared only in 1981-2 as scheming tycoon Cecil Colby, rival to Blake Carrington, who dies of a heart attack while making love to his tempestuous screen wife, played by Joan Collins.

It was on stage that Bochner first attracted attention in Canada, where he won two Liberty awards, the nation's highest acting honour. He was born into a middle-class Canadian Jewish family in Toronto, and as a young boy began acting in radio plays. During the war, he served with the Canadian navy before entering Toronto University, where he obtained a degree in sociology.

Bochner appeared at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Ontario for six seasons, once playing Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure, opposite James Mason. In 1951 he moved to New York and made his mark the following year playing a British army officer in the NBC serial drama, One Man's Family.

Bochner went to Hollywood in 1960 and obtained good television parts, usually as a supporting actor. He was in the adventure series Hong Kong as the island's police chief with Rod Taylor as the journalist hero, and turned up in other popular classics such as Dr Kildare, Perry Mason, The Man From Uncle, Mission: Impossible, Columbo, Murder, She Wrote, and Battlestar Galactica. He made regular appearances in NBC's Richard Boone Show.

His films provided useful parts but no big starring role. Among them were: The Night Walker (1964) with Barbara Stanwyck, Tony Rome (1967) and The Detective (1968), both with Frank Sinatra; Point Blank (1967), with Lee Marvin, The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) and the comedy The Naked Gun 2½; The Smell of Fear (1991), in which he parodied his Twilight Zone "cook book" scene. His last film was The Commission (2003)………………..”

Now that you know who Lloyd Bochner was, you can talk about him to someone you wish to impress with your arcane knowledge at the next wine-and-cheese party you attend.

While I did know who Lloyd Bochner was, I didn’t know much about him, and always thought him to be upper-class English because of the way he spoke. So I was surprised to learn he was of Canadian provenance.

So then, why did Lloyd Bochner sound so upper-class English? Perhaps it has to do with the generation of North Americans to which he belonged, and the generations of earlier. I think of actors like Ray Milland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, and Katherine Hepburn, who spoke in a manner very close to the English of the English upper classes - an English no longer heard in the cadences of today’s Hollywood luminaries.

And what of the English themselves - the ones of today? Whenever a citizen of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave tries to imitate an English person he will inevitably speak, like, la-di-da - in the way of Prince Charles or the Queen. And perhaps you, too, think the English speak like Prince Charles or the Queen, or, as did the English film eminances of old, like David Niven, John Mills, Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness, and Richard Todd. But were you to visit England you’d find its denizens speak mostly in the proletarian tones of Jude Law, Clive Owen, or Michael Caine. This isn’t to say that all today’s English talk proletarian, for there are educated gents like Tony Blair who speak sort of upper-class, but not really, not the way his predecessors of past generations - like Winston Churchill or Harold Macmillan, unabashedly of the upper class - spoke.

The English language, like languages everywhere, as with everything else - perhaps even as with God - is constantly changing, and will reflect dissolving class barriers, evolving values, different technologies, and human migration. Expressions like “a furrowed brow” or “cultivating a friendship” reflect the times when agriculture was the main economic activity. Today, instead of talking with our colleagues, we “interface” with them, and rather than spending time with our friends, we prefer to “surf the net”, because, well, computers have taken over from agriculture as the main way we earn our daily crust. And think of computer-based words like “cyberspace”, “cybersickness”, “keypal”, or “screenager”. Our grandparents would never have heard of them. Think of……………well, you get the picture?

How, by the way, did the American accent, with its emphasised burring ”r”, get to be this way, seeing that the first migrants from Europe were English, and so would have stamped indelibly their imprimatur on the English language in the New World? Well, it is because those first English migrants pronounced similarly their “r”s , since that was the way English was spoken in England in the 1600s – the time of Shakespeare. Think also of quintessentially American words like “apartment”, “quit”, and “gotten”. You will find them sprinkled throughout the pages of Shakespeare’s plays. So, in many ways, American English is an older form of English, at least older than the English spoken in today’s England.

Incidentally, Lloyd Bochner was born on July 29 1924, and died October 29 2005.

Just thought you’d like to know.