Swan­song sub­ur­bia in

The ex­tra­or­di­nary story of how Dud­ley Moore fled Hol­ly­wood (and four wives) to find happiness in a mod­est house full of mu­sic – and love

Irish Daily Mail - - It’s Friday! - Wil­liam Cook

FIFTEEN years have passed since Dud­ley Moore died, aged just 66, but the mere men­tion of his name is still guar­an­teed to raise a smile. Yes, Peter Cook cracked the best jokes in their BBC com­edy se­ries Not Only... But Also. But it was Dud­ley’s clown­ing that made Pete and Dud ir­re­sistible.

Ev­ery­one loved Cud­dly Dud­ley, the 5ft 2in Da­gen­ham ‘sex thim­ble’, which is why the story of his fi­nal years seems so cruel. His fourth mar­riage had bro­ken down, the film of­fers had dried up and he con­tracted a de­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease, pro­gres­sive supranu­clear palsy (PNP), which even­tu­ally killed him.

The great con­so­la­tion of his last decade was his friend­ship with a kind cou­ple, Rena Fruchter and Brian Dal­low, who helped re­vive his mu­si­cal ca­reer and even­tu­ally nursed him.

Rena and Brian are both clas­si­cal mu­si­cians. Rena stud­ied in Lon­don at the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic be­fore re­turn­ing to the US. Brian was born in Sur­rey, went to Amer­ica on a grad­u­ate schol­ar­ship and never came back.

They met at univer­sity in Mas­sachusetts and had four chil­dren.

I first met them in 2002, not long af­ter Dud­ley died. Peter’s widow, Lin Cook, had asked me to com­pile a book of her late hus­band’s best sketches.

A lot of Peter’s great sketches were writ­ten with Dud­ley, and I soon learnt that Dud­ley had left the copy­rights to th­ese works in Rena’s care. He had done this to help fund the char­ity Rena runs with Brian, Mu­sic For All Sea­sons, which takes mu­sic into places in­clud­ing pris­ons and hospi­tals.

Be­cause we worked to­gether on that book and its se­quel, I got to know Rena and Brian pretty well.

Rena first met Dud­ley 30 years ago when she was work­ing as a mu­sic columnist for the New York Times. Dud­ley was giv­ing a piano recital with the New Jer­sey Sym­phony Orches­tra. She had been sent to in­ter­view him.

DUD­LEY had al­ways been a bril­liant pi­anist but, since he be­came a star in the Oxbridge sketch show Beyond The Fringe, mu­sic had taken sec­ond place. Now he was try­ing to re­vive his clas­si­cal ca­reer.

He had some catch­ing up to do, but Rena en­joyed the con­cert. Dud­ley liked Rena’s ar­ti­cle. They stayed in touch and be­came good friends. They never dis­cussed Dud­ley’s per­sonal life — all they talked about was mu­sic.

Raised on a coun­cil es­tate in Da­gen­ham, East Lon­don, Dud­ley, who was born with club feet, had gone on to win an or­gan schol­ar­ship to Ox­ford Univer­sity.

He was work­ing as a jazz mu­si­cian when, in 1960, he was booked to ap­pear in Beyond The Fringe. A satir­i­cal show that was sched­uled for a brief run at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val trans­ferred to the West End, then Broad­way. Out of that show evolved his part­ner­ship with Peter Cook, on TV and in films, and then Dud­ley’s years as an un­likely Hol­ly­wood sex sym­bol.

Now, with his movie ca­reer on the wane, he was re­turn­ing to his first love, clas­si­cal mu­sic. For him, Rena’s in­ter­est in his mu­si­cian­ship was a breath of fresh air.

Dud­ley’s re­la­tion­ship with Rena was pla­tonic, and Brian soon be­came an equally close friend.

When Rena set up Mu­sic For All Sea­sons, Dud­ley sug­gested play­ing the Grieg piano con­certo as a fundraiser, at Carnegie Hall in New York. Rena trav­elled to Dud­ley’s home in Los An­ge­les to re­hearse with him, play­ing the or­ches­tral part on one of his three grand pi­anos.

Af­ter years of ne­glect, his clas­si­cal tech­nique was rusty. Rena helped him make up for lost time.

‘He pulled it off,’ she says. ‘He was de­ter­mined.’

The con­cert led to lots more book­ings. They toured the US and Aus­tralia to­gether.

Around this time, he started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a strange stiff­ness in one of his fin­gers. He was also be­com­ing un­steady on his feet.

The me­dia as­sumed he had a drink prob­lem (though he wasn’t a big drinker), invit­ing com­par­isons with Peter Cook, who had died in 1995 of a haem­or­rhage brought on by heavy drink­ing.

No one could work out what was wrong with Dud­ley, and he found no respite in his do­mes­tic life. He had been mar­ried four times, ini­tially to the ac­tress Suzy Ken­dall, then Tues­day Weld — with whom he had a son — and Bro­gan Lane. His fourth mar­riage, to Ni­cole Roth­schild, who was half his age, was stormy. Now things had gone from bad to worse.

In 1997, Dud­ley asked Rena and Brian if he could come to stay for a month or two, to sort out his health problems and get away from Ni­cole for a while.

He ended up liv­ing with them for two years. ‘He didn’t have many close friends,’ says Rena. ‘He was part of our fam­ily by then.’

Dud­ley loved spend­ing time with Rena and Brian’s chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. He had never been that close to his two sons. Here, he was like a favourite un­cle.

But his med­i­cal problems pre­vailed. It took more than a year to find out what was wrong, but even­tu­ally PSP was di­ag­nosed.

There was no cure, nor even any ef­fec­tive treat­ment. He would lose his co-or­di­na­tion, then his mo­tor skills, then his speech. Fi­nally, PSP would im­pair his breath­ing, re­sult­ing in pneu­mo­nia. At best, he might live for an­other eight years. He lasted four.

Dud­ley spent the next year liv­ing with Rena and Brian in Plain­field, a New Jer­sey town. He felt more at home there than in LA.

THE area re­minded him a lit­tle bit of Eng­land, Brian says. His home life in LA had been su­per­fi­cial and chaotic. Rena and Brian’s home life was more hum­drum but far more nur­tur­ing and rooted.

Dud­ley’s co-or­di­na­tion grew worse and worse. One day, he lost his bal­ance and top­pled over the ban­is­ters. He could no longer man­age the stairs. Luck­ily, the same day, a bun­ga­low next door came up for sale. Dud­ley moved in straight away, with his pi­anos.

He still came round for meals, un­til his ill­ness ren­dered him house­bound. He died in his New Jer­sey home in 2002, sur­rounded by his adop­tive fam­ily, and was buried in their lo­cal ceme­tery.

Rena and Brian still live in the same house to­day, with Dud­ley’s pi­anos in the liv­ing room.

So what sort of a man was Dud­ley? What was he re­ally like?

‘He was a deep thinker,’ says Rena. ‘He liked dis­cussing se­ri­ous top­ics.’ Ac­cord­ing to Brian, if celebrity hadn’t in­ter­vened, he would prob­a­bly would have ended up as a mu­sic pro­fes­sor.

But would he have been any hap­pier? Rena is not so sure.

‘He liked a lot of va­ri­ety,’ she says. ‘He was up for ad­ven­ture.’

OA VER­SION of this ar­ti­cle ap­pears in the cur­rent is­sue of The Oldie. Wil­liam Cook is the au­thor of One Leg Too Few — The Adventures Of Peter Cook and Dud­ley Moore (Ran­dom House).

Friends: Rena and Dud­ley, top. Above, Dud­ley’s bun­ga­low

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