Two artists left us this week.
LeRoy Neiman died last Wednesday at age 91. Neiman was a painter. While you may not have known him, you likely knew his art. Sports was one of his favorite subjects and Neiman leaves us with vividly colorful interpretations of events such as the Super Bowl, horse races, heavyweight boxing title matches, and especially the Olympics. In addition to this, Neiman painted celebrity portraits and depictions of moments in culture, such as Bobby Fischer playing chess and Frederico Fellini directing 8 ½ .
More than any of that, his art is perhaps most widely known as appearing in Playboy. Neiman’s paintings, sketches, and watercolors caught Hugh Hefner’s eye back in the 1950s. Hefner then brought Neiman in to work on Playboy…and Neiman remained a fixture in the magazine ever since. One of Neiman’s very first and most enduring contributions to the magazine was Femlin, the sketch of the sexy brunette that has appeared on every one of the “Party Jokes” pages since 1955. A great many of Neiman’s paintings of sports and celebrities also graced the pages of the magazine with regular frequency, adding to Playboy’s sensibility of class and style…which it does have despite what anyone might say.
Neiman wasn’t popular with critics, who dismissed his paintings as magazine illustrations with inflated senses of self-worth. He eschewed such cynical criticism, instead viewing himself in the mold of French Impressionists. That’s not a particular tough comparison to see, looking at his paintings with their thick brushstrokes and vivid colors, taking inspiration from the culture of the day, much as Renoir did with cafes and racetracks. As he said,
“Maybe the critics are right,” he told American Artist magazine in 1995. “But what am I supposed to do about it — stop painting, change my work completely? I go back into the studio, and there I am at the easel again. I enjoy what I’m doing and feel good working. Other thoughts are just crowded out.”
I can think of no better way to be.
The second loss was that of Victor Spinetti at age 82. Spinetti was an actor who appeared in several films and theater productions, often in comedic roles. More than anything, however, Spinetti was the one actor to appear in every single one of The Beatles films, thus making him a fixture in Beatle history. For example, you may remember him as the pretentious television director in A Hard Day’s Night.
In real life though, Victor Spinetti was not at all pretentious. I got to see him in Las Vegas in 2007 at Beatlefest. Spinetti evidently embraced his connection to The Beatles and appeared at numerous fan conventions to talk of his lifelong friendship with the band. In person, he was charming, funny, and most reverent about The Beatles. The only person I heard him say anything disparaging about was Heather Mills. Even then, he would catch himself, place his hand over his mouth, and then say, “Sorry! I’m dishing.” He then put out the call for us to meet him in the bar afterward and he’d tell us behind-the-scenes tales of life with Heather Mills if we bought him drinks.
One startling revelation the actor made was that there was another Beatles film being planned for after Magical Mystery Tour. It was an adaptation of Lord of the Rings.
Yes, you read that correctly. In The Beatles rendition, Paul McCartney would play Frodo, John Lennon would be Sam, and I can’t remember which of the other two would be Merri and Pippen. Spinetti was tapped to play Gandalf. He began reading reading the Tolkien saga but found it not to his liking. He mustered up the nerve to speak to John Lennon about it.
“John, I’m afraid I just can’t get together with this stuff,” Victor said.
“Me neither,” John Lennon said. “It’s a bunch of rubbish, isn’t it?”
Thus the project died. I must admit, I’m curious as all get-out as to what it would have been like.
“The Beatles are magical beings and are protected,” Spinetti said towards the end of his stage time at Beatlefest. “And by our association with them, we are protected as well.”
Whatever the case, Victor...I hope you're with George and John right now.
Two artists that will be missed. They are already missed by a great many, I'm certain.
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