Dud­ley Moore, Cook’s ‘sex thim­ble’ part­ner – and hugely tal­ented mu­si­cian – died happy in New Jersey Wil­liam Cook

In his last years, an ail­ing Dud­ley Moore fled Hol­ly­wood, and a stormy mar­riage, for sub­ur­ban New Jersey. Wil­liam Cook meets the clas­si­cal mu­si­cians who took him in and re­vived his love of the pi­ano

The Oldie - - NEWS -

It is fif­teen years since Dud­ley Moore died, aged just 66, but the mere men­tion of his name is still guar­an­teed to raise a smile. Sure, Peter Cook cracked the best jokes in Not Only… But Also, but it was Dud­ley’s clown­ing that made Pete & Dud so ir­re­sistible. With­out Dud­ley’s warmth and bon­homie, Bri­tain’s great­est dou­ble act would have been too clever by half. Ev­ery­one loved Cud­dly Dud­ley, the 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 hor­rid de­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease, pro­gres­sive supranu­clear palsy (PNP), which even­tu­ally killed him.

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

Rena and Brian are both clas­si­cal mu­si­cians. Rena was born in Philadel­phia, and 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 Bran­deis 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 best sketches were writ­ten with Dud­ley, and I soon learned that Dud­ley had left the copy­rights in th­ese works in Rena’s care. He’d done this to help fund the char­ity Rena runs with Brian, Mu­sic For All Sea­sons, which takes mu­sic into places where peo­ple are con­fined, such as prisons and hospi­tals; their lat­est project is a song­writ­ing pro­gramme with mil­i­tary vet­er­ans. As we worked to­gether on that book ( Trag­i­cally

I Was An Only Twin – the ti­tle of Peter’s abortive au­to­bi­og­ra­phy) and its se­quel ( Good­bye Again – the ti­tle of his ITV se­ries with Dud­ley), I got to know Rena and Brian pretty well. I went to stay with them in New Jersey, in the house they’d shared with Dud­ley. This year, I met up with them again on one of their fre­quent trips to London. Over din­ner at my home in Ruis­lip, they told me about their re­la­tion­ship with this gifted and enig­matic man.

Rena first met Dud­ley thirty years ago when she was work­ing as a mu­sic colum­nist for the New York Times. Dud­ley was play­ing a pi­ano recital with the New Jersey Sym­phony Orches­tra. She’d been sent to in­ter­view him. Dud­ley had al­ways been a bril­liant pian­ist but, since he be­came a star in Be­yond The Fringe, clas­si­cal mu­sic had played sec­ond fid­dle. Now he was try­ing to re­vive his clas­si­cal ca­reer. It was clear 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. They hardly ever dis­cussed his act­ing. All they talked about was mu­sic, which was how Dud­ley liked it.

Raised on a coun­cil es­tate in Da­gen­ham, 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 show that was sched­uled for a brief run at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val trans­ferred to the West End, then on to Broad­way. Out of that show evolved his part­ner­ship with Peter Cook, on TV and in the cin­ema, and then a few years as an un­likely Hol­ly­wood sex sym­bol.

Now, with his film 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 her hus­band soon be­came an equally close friend.

‘Mu­si­cally, he had a lot in com­mon with Brian,’ says Rena.

It was re­mark­able how much they shared. They both came from the London sub­urbs, they’d both been gifted mu­si­cians from an early age, they’d both felt sti­fled by the Bri­tish class sys­tem, and they’d both set­tled in the US. They even had mu­si­cal friends in com­mon – they’d both worked with John Dankworth and Cleo Laine.

When Rena set up Mu­sic For All Sea­sons, she asked Dud­ley to be Hon­orary Chair­man. Dud­ley said he didn’t just want an hon­orary role – he wanted to be ac­tively in­volved. Mu­sic For All Sea­sons needed funds and Dud­ley wanted to do more recitals.

Dud­ley sug­gested play­ing the Grieg pi­ano con­certo as a fundraiser, at Carnegie Hall. Rena trav­elled to Dud­ley’s home in LA to re­hearse with him, play­ing the or­ches­tral part on one of his three grand pianos.

‘As a jazz mu­si­cian, he was su­perb,’ says Brian. ‘I was al­ways very jeal­ous!’

Af­ter years of ne­glect, his clas­si­cal tech­nique was rather rusty. Rena helped him make up for lost time. ‘He pulled it off,’ she says. ‘He was de­ter­mined. He re­ally worked.’

The con­cert was a hit, which led to lots more book­ings. They toured the US and Aus­tralia to­gether. Fi­nally, Dud­ley was back do­ing what he’d first set out to do.

Around this time, he started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a strange stiff­ness in one of his fin­gers. He was also be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­steady on his feet. The tabloids as­sumed he had a drink prob­lem (even though he’d never been a big drinker), invit­ing in­vid­i­ous com­par­isons with Peter Cook, who’d died of a gas­tro-in­testi­nal haem­or­rhage, brought on by heavy drink­ing, in 1995.

No one could work out what was wrong with Dud­ley and he found no respite in his do­mes­tic life. His lat­est mar­riage (to Ni­cole Roth­schild, half his age) had al­ways been stormy. Now things had gone from bad to worse.

In 1997, Dud­ley asked Rena and Brian if he could come and 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. There was no one else around to give him the sup­port he now re­quired. ‘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’d never been that close to his two sons. Here, he was like a favourite un­cle.

It was a re­la­tion­ship he rel­ished.

‘He wasn’t Dud­ley Moore any­more – he was just Un­cle Dud­ley,’ says Brian. ‘We were the kind of fam­ily he’d never re­ally been able to have.’

Dud­ley was happy there, but his med­i­cal prob­lems pre­vailed. It took more than a year to find out what was wrong. Even­tu­ally a doc­tor in New Jersey di­ag­nosed PSP. There was no cure – there wasn’t even any ef­fec­tive treat­ment. He’d lose his co-or­di­na­tion; then his mo­tor skills; then his abil­ity to speak. Fi­nally, PSP would im­pair his breath­ing, re­sult­ing in pneu­mo­nia. At best, he might live 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,’ says Brian. The cli­mate was more like Eng­land; the ar­chi­tec­ture, too. 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 into this ‘ranch house’ straight away, with his grand 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.

‘He didn’t want to go back to LA – he wanted to stay in New Jersey,’ says Brian.

He was buried in their lo­cal ceme­tery,

an ocean away from Da­gen­ham.

Rena and Brian still live in the same house to­day. It’s not a grand house, but it’s full of char­ac­ter. The liv­ing room is given over to Dud­ley’s grand pianos. It’s a pleas­ant place to live, but there’s noth­ing swanky about it. It’s just a nice house in a leafy street in a quiet com­muter town.

So what sort of a man was Dud­ley? What was he re­ally like? ‘He was very se­ri­ous,’ says Brian. ‘He was a deep thinker,’ agrees Rena. ‘He liked lit­er­a­ture – he liked dis­cussing se­ri­ous top­ics, even though his im­age was light and friv­o­lous and triv­ial. I think that was partly why his friend­ship with our fam­ily de­vel­oped. He wasn’t a celebrity to us.’

So what would have be­come of Dud­ley, if celebrity hadn’t in­ter­vened?

‘He prob­a­bly would have ended up be­ing a pro­fes­sor of mu­sic,’ says Brian.

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

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

Dud­ley’s life was an in­cred­i­ble ad­ven­ture – the boy from Da­gen­ham who con­quered Ox­ford, Broad­way and Hol­ly­wood, and ended his days in a dor­mi­tory town in New Jersey, with an Amer­i­can woman who be­came one of his clos­est friends and an English­man who lived the qui­eter life that he might have led.

Wil­liam Cook is au­thor of ‘One Leg Too Few – The Ad­ven­tures of Peter Cook and Dud­ley Moore’ (Ran­dom House). He dis­cusses Pete and Dud with Elis­a­beth Luard in this month’s Oldie pod­cast

Dud­ley Moore and Rena Fruchter, 1996. She im­proved his rusty clas­si­cal tech­nique

Moore with Rena and Brian’s grand­daugh­ter, Cecily Dal­low, 1997

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