Postcards from the Edge Mary Kenny
The producer is a creepy disaster of a person but he did launch the Irish film industry, says Mary Kenny
A man may have flaws – deep flaws – and yet may have done some good in the world.
The film mogul Harvey Weinstein has been publicly pilloried for some time now – accused by scores of women of committing a range of sexual misdemeanours and assaults. And yet, some say that the person who effectively launched the thriving Irish film industry is one Harvey Weinstein.
Thirty years ago, in 1990, two Hollywood Oscars went to Daniel Day-lewis and Brenda Fricker for their performances in My Left Foot – the story of the disabled writer Christy Brown and his extraordinarily devoted mother.
The film was also nominated for best picture, best director and best screenplay. It was Harvey Weinstein who first spotted the potential in the Christy Brown story, and enabled the movie to be made.
Daniel Day-lewis, who played Christy Brown, has said that Weinstein is a ‘disaster’ as a person – and yet he was a genius in picking scripts and producing great movies.
Brenda Fricker, now 75 – who gave a great performance as Christy Brown’s mother – agrees with that assessment: ‘He was creepy. He was a bull of a man – you couldn’t not see him when he entered a room – and you could also see the sweaty pores of his skin. But, yes, a kind of a genius in the creation of Miramax.’
She experienced no sexual overtures from Weinstein, because, she reckons, she was already too old for the likes of the Hollywood mogul. But what she recalls is that, before Weinstein supported My Left Foot, the Irish film industry was completely in the doldrums. That Oscar win made all the difference.
Brenda travelled back from Los Angeles with Bob Geldof; they were drinking so much champagne on the flight that they nearly lost the Oscar statuette. Geldof said to her, ‘Now we have a film industry in Ireland. And it’s down to Harvey Weinstein.’
When I was a schoolgirl in Dublin, there was a successful laundry business called the Swastika, which employed 600 people. The Swastika laundry’s vans drove around the city displaying the full Swastika logo, while delivering the sheets, shirts and various linens it so efficiently laundered.
When the German writer Heinrich Böll visited Ireland in the 1950s, he was horrified to see this Nazi symbol so prominently on view.
When someone suggested to the laundry’s owner that he should change his swastika symbol – after it became associated with Adolf Hitler – he retorted, ‘Let the other fellow change. I had it first!’
Brian Donnelly, senior researcher with the Irish National Archives, has now uncovered the story of the Swastika laundry, founded in 1912 by a businessman called John W Brittain. When Brittain visited the Great Industrial Exhibition in London in 1910, he noticed the swastika was featured as an ancient Hindu symbol, associated with ‘goodness and excellence’. So he thought it an apt logo for his new business.
Later, in the 1920s and ’30s, one of his laundry-van horses became a successful showjumper at Dublin’s famed Horse Show, winning many rosettes as Swastika Rose, ridden by Peggy Morgan Byrne, a renowned equestrienne.
Brittain’s son inherited the flourishing laundry business after he died in 1937, and it continued to prosper and expand. In 1957, it laundered over a million household and personal articles.
The domestic washing machine changed laundering habits and the Swastika closed in 1987. By then, the name had long accrued a degree of toxicity. How sad that a symbol once used for good luck – Kipling’s books were decorated with an ancient Indian swastika – can never really be used again.
An arty friend recommended that I visit Vienna, because the art galleries were the best in the world – most especially the Kunsthistorisches Museum. So I did – and they are indeed fabulous.
There’s another aspect of Vienna that is terrific, too: wooden seats in the street. All cities should have street seats for weary oldies, and not those hard steel and aluminium ones which freeze your derrière. Wood is warm and so restful. Bravo Vienna!
We’ll be hearing a lot more Scottish voices in Parliament during the coming times. And the accents of the North of England, too. It’s nice to hear more ‘speech diversity’ in the public realm, reflecting all regions and classes.
One of the aspects of Prince Andrew’s TV interview that fascinated me was the way he speaks. He doesn’t have the old-style manner of aristocratic speaking (like Prince Charles and Nicholas Soames), in which ‘house’ is pronounced ‘hice’. Andy’s speech is emphatically more neutrally middle-class.