LONDON – Max Gash, supporting actor of a thousand films, tells the story of the Richard Burton classic The Medusa Touch.
The Medusa Touch. 1977 was an odd year. Something called Punk Rock Music was making ears bleed and for the first time ever garlic was imported into England. I shared a small bedsit with star of television Leonard Rossiter. At this time Rossiter was already a household name with his situational comedies, Rising Damp and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. He’d even worked with Kubrick but the fact was he was tighter than gnat’s chuff and so rather than getting a place of his own, he dossed with me, living exclusively on a diet of fried egg sandwiches, which he referred to why I’ll never know as “Banjos”.
I bumped into Richard Burton at the Pick n Mix in the Camden Woolworths. His fist tightly gripped a bunch of pear crops. ‘Ah Max!’ he said. I hadn’t seen him since we were in Where Eagles Dare and frankly I was surprised he recognised me, though in that film he had stabbed me in the neck and we had a laugh when he’d accidentally got the stage knife mixed up with the real one. He must have remembered because there was a hint of guilt in his eyes. ‘You working?’ he said.
The secret – learned from no less a talent as Michael Crawford – was never to come out and say no. ‘This and that,’ I averred.
Burton told me he had a part for me. A supernatural yarn called Whoopee! It’s Satan, they were filming in Elstree and on location in Kent. I only had a few days to prepare, but the part seemed substantial. Jack Gold was the director who I’d work with again on Escape to Sobibor. He rushed me through make up and at 8 o’clock in the morning I found myself on set, wrapped in bandages and hooked up to medical machines. Over the next few days it soon became clear that Burton had pulled a fast one. I was essentially body doubling the Welsh bastard while he got a snoot full in the adjacent hostelries. Every now and again he’d come in and sit off camera and say things like: ‘I shall bring the whole edifice down on their unworthy heads.’
Jack knew a dirty trick when he saw one and invited me to the wrap party. Munching on what the caterers had boasted was the largest scotch egg ever attempted, I bent an ear to Jack’s complaints about the production and the title Whoopee! It’s Satan, which he confided that he secretly thought was complete twat. Catching an eyeful of Lee Remick, who was pogoing to Kenny Nolan’s I like Dreamin’ and wanting to change the subject I said, ‘Did you use her much?’
Obviously the Scotch Egg filter in my mouth distorted my words out of all recognition.
‘The Medusa Touch!?’ Jack shouted. ‘Why that’s fantastic!’
And that’s how The Medusa Touch got its title.