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Pamela Moberg

Margot Fonteyn portrait

48 posts in this topic

canbelto, I agree with your second paragraph, and I have no problem with noting how Tito affected Fonteyn's career. Much more than that -- i.e. ""This is the story of how the most famous dancer that England has ever produced was deceived and betrayed by those closest to her"-- is unseemly, I think. Of course I haven't seen the film and I may be wrong, but it sounds to me like dirt for dirt's sake. If the focus was Tito -- if the subject was Panamanian history, for example -- this level of detail might be appropriate.

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We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Had Fonteyn not written her own autobiography/memoir, then I would agree that press should focus on what is onstage. Had she simply written that she was married to a person and that their relationship was between them, that should have been the end of it. However, once she wrote an extensive version of her own life including the marriage, and wrote a version that could be disputed, she opened up the subject.

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Well......Fonteyn was a public figure, now dead. Many books have been written, and films made, celebrating her art. She was the wife of a diplomat and politician; she wrote that memoir; she was a performing artist and international star who lived a rich, full life in the theatre and out of it. (Note: I haven’t seen this documentary yet.) Without condoning the way any particular biographer has chosen to go about his or her business, I'd say a candid look at the life and art is a legitimate enterprise. And the biographer isn’t obligated to follow the subject’s efforts at spin control.

papeetepatrick writes

(There was a piece along these lines in the late 70's by Croce that said this exact same thing, the quote was close to this: 'It doesn't matter if the gossip is true or not, but that it is just gossip.' )

She said that about Lynn Seymour’s autobiography, I think. It wasn't all it could have been, but I liked it better than she did.

Tab Hunter made not a single picture as good as either of these, and yet every single one is incredibly well-documented, and even made interesting thereby (including his brief tryst with Nureyev; perhaps some didn't want to know about that, but Hunter doesn't seem to mind, and I sincerely doubt he was 'betraying Rudy' in any serious sense.)

That was a good book. Nureyev would probably be tickled pink at the idea that people are still interested in his amours after all this time, and I don't think he would have minded Hunter's candor.

canbelto writes:

The inevitable truth is that he prolonged it because of his astronomical medical bills, and extravagant lifestyle. Fonteyn had to go out and dance every night, often in much pain, so Tito could live the good life.

True, as far as it goes, but I suspect that Fonteyn’s appetite for the stage was at least as large as Tito’s appetite for luxury. I don’t mean that she would necessarily have gone on for as long as she did without the financial imperative driving her on, but she was a stage animal in her way as much as Nureyev in his -- and he certainly didn't need the money.

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True, as far as it goes, but I suspect that Fonteyn’s appetite for the stage was at least as large as Tito’s appetite for luxury. I don’t mean that she would necessarily have gone on for as long as she did without the financial imperative driving her on, but she was a stage animal in her way as much as Nureyev in his -- and he certainly didn't need the money.

I don't doubt Fonteyn wasn't a stage animal, but the astronomical medical bills are no doubt a huge reason why she went on dancing for so long. Also, if it hadn't been for Tito's gambling/spending/expensive tastes, Fonteyn might have been able to retire in some dignity and comfort, rather than living in a roofless shack. That is just something so awful that I can't help but think that Tito was essentially an irresponsible, faithless playboy, and I don't think that just because Fonteyn was fanatically loyal to her husband that biographers should necessarily show the same loyal and sympathy for Tito. In other words, Fonteyn's biography may be a huge love letter to her husband, but I don't think that we should take her word for granted just because it's her word.

If the documentary paraded a bunch of Tito's lovers, I'd say that yes, that's gossipy exploitation. But to come to the conclusion that Tito was a charming good-for-nothing playboy, I'd say that's the truth. No doubt it would have hurt Fonteyn to hear that, but it's what many of her close friends (including Ashton and Nureyev) thought, and sometimes, well, the truth hurts.

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If the documentary paraded a bunch of Tito's lovers, I'd say that yes, that's gossipy exploitation. But to come to the conclusion that Tito was a charming good-for-nothing playboy, I'd say that's the truth. No doubt it would have hurt Fonteyn to hear that, but it's what many of her close friends (including Ashton and Nureyev) thought, and sometimes, well, the truth hurts.

One danger of the candid biography is that people may come away believing that they know The Truth, and you never know that. Ashton and Nureyev knew her well, but that doesn't mean they knew everything. "Close friends" are not always as close as believed (or in some cases, advertised). But I think we've been tough enough on Tito and perhaps should move on from this. :speechless-smiley-003:

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One danger of the candid biography is that people may come away believing that they know The Truth, and you never know that. Ashton and Nureyev knew her well, but that doesn't mean they knew everything. "Close friends" are not always as close as believed (or in some cases, advertised). But I think we've been tough enough on Tito and perhaps should move on from this.

Just to add ONE more note and then I'm done: when I was citing Ashton and Nureyev, I was just voicing two prominent examples of the I-dont-like-Tito-club. I believe it was much, much larger, and the list was much, much longer. And I do see a kind of willful defense of Tito in Fonteyn's memoirs, that seemed like spin control. What I found disturbing was how Fonteyn blamed all their marital troubles (the ones she admits to) on herself.

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"It would be nice to hear your opinion" Indeed, there were some opinions. Your views branched out all over the place; it was very comforting to hear that so many had such strong opinions. The film really is worth seeing and no doubt it will in due course be broadcast everywhere so hopefully there will be more views.

Yes, I agree that there was about too much Tito and too little ballet.

Still, I do feel sorry for her, she was worth a better and more dignified end to her life.

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Well, I saw the whole thing, and I must say I loved it. I didn't find it exploitative at all. There's some wonderful pictures of Margot as a young woman. Incredible footage of a 1937 Giselle. I had no idea footage like that even existed. There's a great rehearsal scene of Birthday Offering, in which Ashton tries to show Margot the right way to arabesque. It was hilarious. There's also a color version of Margot's Rose Adagio that I've never seen before, as well as the pdd from Nutcracker, which I'd never seen before. Wonderful stuff.

I finished the documentary with a tremendous sense of admiration for Margot. What an incredibly brave, strong-willed, self-sacrificing woman. She wasn't perfect, but I sensed that everyone who ever knew her admired her. The documentary starts off very melodramatically, but I thought it settled into a balanced, tasteful, heartfelt tribute to this incredible woman. Sure it was sad hearing that Tito's son Roberto was even more of a freeloader than Tito himself, but when I finished the documentary I even felt sympathy for Tito, despite the fact that he was a philandering freeloader. He didn't know any better. And if there is such a thing as karma, Tito certainly got his comeuppance, as cruel as that sounds.

There are truly wonderful anecdotes that said so much about Margot. Keith Money tells of how Margot used to see stoned teenagers and would run inside to feed them. Really insightful interviews from everyone, from Robert Gottlieb to Keith Money to Tito's children. Lynn Seymour looks incredibly beautiful.

Keith Money by the way ends the documentary with a very opinionated take on the "gala" the Royal Ballet staged for Fonteyn when she was broke and dying of cancer.

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I recently saw the whole thing and I thought it was, as a whole, a fine effort. I don’t see how a ballet fan can afford to miss it. It does focus more on the personal and on subjects that couldn’t be discussed freely in Fonteyn’s lifetime, but that was obviously the point of making the documentary in the first place. There’s wonderful footage that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The tone is a trifle melodramatic, but familiar to those who saw Palmer’s previous Callas documentary; this one is in much the same vein. The picture is a lot harder on the family Arias than Meredith Daneman is in her book – there’s nothing in Daneman about any codicils to Fonteyn’s will or thumbprints – I don’t believe she discusses Fonteyn’s will at all, in fact. I assume that’s because she needed on them for information about Fonteyn’s last years – the movie relies more on the testimony of Phoebe Fonteyn and the book relies mainly on Querube Arias (who’s also seen in the film). I must say they do seem like a creepy lot, even worse than one had previously suspected. Fonteyn’s son-in-law was really an item for the record books. And I have to admit that I was appalled by the shot of Fonteyn’s burial place. On the other hand, they must have had something to keep Fonteyn paying the bills all those years.

Gosh, Nureyev was attractive. Even after all this time those shots of him in his youth make my jaw drop.

In re Nureyev: the movie quotes a dancer as observing him “explode” in a rehearsal upon hearing of a miscarriage by Fonteyn, if I heard her correctly. Daneman’s book quotes Fonteyn’s gynecologist as stating that she never had a miscarriage, so there should obviously be a question mark. Evidence of the unreliability of company gossip.

A few sad reflections, after watching the interview with Pamela May, on the ravagings of old age.

Very moved by the segment with Clive Barnes, where he gets teary remembering a performance by Fonteyn and the evanescence of such beauty.

Fonteyn really had a beautiful backbend, didn't she? Very deep, and she can do them very quickly or slowly with a lovely limpid motion. Yummy.

canbelto writes:

I even felt sympathy for Tito, despite the fact that he was a philandering freeloader. He didn't know any better. And if there is such a thing as karma, Tito certainly got his comeuppance, as cruel as that sounds.

Yes, it must have been difficult for a man so obstinate about preserving his independence -- sexually and geographically, if not financially -- to suddenly be so utterly and absolutely in the hands of others, especially his wife.

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Yes, it must have been difficult for a man so obstinate about preserving his independence -- sexually and geographically, if not financially -- to suddenly be so utterly and absolutely in the hands of others, especially his wife.
So difficult that he managed to have a mistress of sorts who was by his side in his wife's house, while his wife travelled the globe in order to finance what turned out to be all three of them.

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And finance also the occasional revolution. Or political campaign. :)

I was particularly annoyed by a bit of spin control from Fonteyn’s sister-in-law, Rosario Arias, who remarked on how unusual it was for Tito, as a Latin male, to allow his wife to keep working and spend so much time on the road. She seemed to imply that it was big of him.

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Yes it was hugely generous of Tito to allow his wife to finance his mistresses, freeloading kids, and jetsetting life :)

Roberto Jr. was the one who really made my skin crawl. And so did Roland Petit.

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I was particularly annoyed by a bit of spin control from Fonteyn’s sister-in-law, Rosario Arias, who remarked on how unusual it was for Tito, as a Latin male, to allow his wife to keep working and spend so much time on the road. She seemed to imply that it was big of him.
Of all the rationalizations and self-justifications offered by interviewed members of the Arias family, that was at the top of my list, too.

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Forgot to add that I couldn’t believe the terrible wigs that Michael Somes had to wear. How right Nureyev was take a stand on that.

It would have been helpful if Fonteyn's partners had been identified for the dance excerpts, e.g., "Swan Lake with Michael Somes (date)". Somes, David Blair, David Wall, et al. make their appearances but if you didn't already know who they were you had to figure it out from the context.

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And finance also the occasional revolution. Or political campaign. :)

I do not believe Dame Margot Fonteyn personally financed any revolution or political campaign. The film contains many half-truths, misinterpretations and inventions. There are events that are reported that nobody could possibly have information on and I think it unwise to believe much of what was said in this film by people who you would have thought knew better than to make comments that cannot be sustained by fact. Is the ballet world really peopled by such common people whose remarks though covered in supposed fact have an edgy bitchy tone that you begin to think they spent their lives living with envy?

My experiences watching her on stage for almost 40 years, of talking with her and corresponding with her, is of a completely different person to that which emerges from both the film and the book that prompted it. I know from one friend who appeared in the film and knew Dame Margot extremely well, that his contribution was an edited comment lasting a minute taken out of context from a two hour interview. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "ENVY is the tax which all distinction must pay."

I find it more than odd that such a woman of style, culture and generosity of spirit and extraordinary charm, who made an as significant contribution to classical ballet as a muse and leading ballerina, could have ended up being portrayed in such a way. She deserves better.

Despite the inclusion of some very interesting film and moving comments made in the film, I am still left a feeling of what it might have been and the mere mention of it leaves a bitter taste.

Fonteyn was not my most favourite dancer, but she did inhabit roles so that you could believe she was living them and made all her best performances an astonishing event.

If you want to know about possible financing of Roberto Arias's political aspirations I suggest you visit, http://www.pophistorynow.com/scripts/April%2025,%201959.pdf and discover the probable involvement of a legendary American film star who had been a friend of Roberto Arias from childhood and involved in business with him. (Edited in anger and some despair)

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Thank you for those thoughts, leonid. John Wayne appears in the documentary, talking about his friendship with Arias. I would not be at all surprised if Tito tapped his friends with deep pockets.

I find it more than odd that such a woman of style, culture and generosity of spirit and extraordinary charm, who made an as significant contribution to classical ballet as a muse and leading ballerina, could have ended up being portrayed in such a way. She deserves better.

I thought that Fonteyn did come across as a woman of style, culture, generosity of spirit, and extraordinary charm, and as a great artist???

There was a missing presence in the film -- Ashton. We do see clips from interviews, and their relationship in the early days is discussed, but Ashton's role is neglected, IMO. Margot and Fred are as significant a story as Margot and Rudi, and there's not enough of it. It's possible that there wasn't enough good footage available, but I'd have liked to see a fuller representation of Fonteyn in the Ashton repertory beyond Cinderella, Marguerite and Armand, and Salut d'Amour.

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I have to say I agree with leonid. I only saw Fonteyn at the end of her career and I didn't know her, but I've talked to many dancers who did, and their view is remarkably consistent -- and quite different from the New Fonteyn we're getting these days. (I must say I'm glad so many viewers who liked the film could see the artist. I thought she'd been pretty much buried.) I wanted to see a lot more about the dancer and a lot less about the Arias family.

To me, this is a model of how NOT to do a film about an artist. In a way, it's to be expected. There's always revisionism, often put together by people who weren't around at the time and are all too eager to believe that anyone who says something that isn't party line is telling The Truth. But the boat usually rights itself eventually -- in another ten years or so, there will be another round of books and films and these will present a fuller picture than was presented in the 1950s (not because Fonteyn lied about herself, but because she was discrete in a time when discretion was expected, not considered a mark of cowardice or hypocrisy), and a more balanced one than can sell copies in our Age of Dirt. It takes a lot of time to sort out who's jealous, who's clueless, who has an ax to grind -- or is desperately trying to keep something important a deep, dark secret -- and who's merely, honestly, misinformed, but it can be done :)

One thing I'd like to say about sources: using oral history, whether it's of the "I lived next to that man for 20 years and he's absolutely incapable of doing anything dishonest" variety or "everyone knew she was a slut and a drug addict" (or "I've never seen him so angry! The only possible explanation is that she had an abortion") is that such statements can't be relied upon and shouldn't be used without supporting evidence. They're opinions and opinions are often based on little more than an overheard phrase, or seeing someone at lunch with A Man Not Her Husband and jumping to a huge conclusion (they laughed conspiratorily and his hand touched hers for a moment....), and matching that with something else overheard. I couldn't count how many times heard ""But everyone knows that!" given as the reason for this or that story when I was researching the biography of Kronstam.

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Forgot to say -- we've been in a Revisionist era for a long, long time now. Fifty years or so. It's assumed that everyone was miserable, or had a secret, or was abused by one's parents, or all of the above. I'm waiting for the next generation of revisionism: "One Happy Fella, the Kafka Nobody Knew". . . .

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And finance also the occasional revolution. Or political campaign. :)

I do not believe Dame Margot Fonteyn personally financed any revolution or political campaign.

If you want to know about possible financing of Roberto Arias's political aspirations I suggest you visit, http://www.pophistorynow.com/scripts/April%2025,%201959.pdf and discover the probable involvement of a legendary American film star who had been a friend of Roberto Arias from childhood and involved in business with him. (Edited in anger and some despair)

I forgot to add, leonid, that my comment was intended with a certain amount of facetiousness and not entirely literally. (Smilies don't always do the job. :) ) However, I'm still inclined to think that some of Fonteyn's money was used for less than savory purposes, doubtless without her knowledge. Perhaps this will inspire someone to write another book, or perhaps a long article, disputing Daneman's conclusions. It would certainly be worth reading, I'm sure.

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It takes a lot of time to sort out who's jealous, who's clueless, who has an ax to grind -- or is desperately trying to keep something important a deep, dark secret -- and who's merely, honestly, misinformed, but it can be done

The way I view it is this: if someone has an axe to grind, they might have a very valid reason that is NOT jealousy, or dishonesty, or ignorance. For instance, let's say there's to be a documentary about Muhammed Ali. Now I happened to be mildly acquainted with a guy who's in the boxing business and for him, no greater man ever walked in shoes. Ali was the funniest, the kindest, the most bighearted guy you'll ever meet, the guy told me. He said he personally saw Ali pose for pictures and sign autographs while his hand was tremoring furiously for three hours. But you want to talk to Joe Frazier about Ali? I can guarantee Frazier has a lot of things to say about Ali that aren't very positive. :) And you can say that it's jealousy, it's spite, after all Ali did beat Frazier. But a lot of it could also be personal animosity, and that's valid. Ali certainly trash-talked a lot, he called Frazier a lot of names. So, if a documentary completely discounts anything Frazier has to say, I'd say it's a dishonest or incomplete documentary. Ok, Frazier might be bad-mouthing Ali, he might even be spreading gossip about Ali. But if Ali inspired that kind of animosity, then that says something about his character. He might be a wonderful person to his friends and fans, but everyone has a dark side, and Ali certainly took it out on his opponents.

I feel the same way about Margot Fonteyn (or Tito, for that matter). Yes there might have been a lot of people jealous about Fonteyn. There might have been a lot of people who thought Tito was a good-for-nothing freeloader. And they might be biased. But I don't think anyone can ever be truly unbiased.

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I saw it last night and can't believe I sat through the whole 2 and a half hours, and worst of all, bought the thing :toot: From the production point of view, it was put together so badly and had entirely too many talking heads.--and the use of music!---to emphasize a dramatic point the music became very loud. I was disappointed in the dance clips. When they showed the black and white clips of Sleeping Beauty on the first American tour they gave the impression these were the actual clips of that first performance--it wasn't--Robert Helpmann partnered her and it looked like Michael Somes in the clip.---and they are still playing that old Helpmann statement that during that appearance of the Rose Adagio she did not take the hand of the last prince---but, instead held a magnificent balance---it never happened--not at this performance. Instead of listening to Roland Petit's lack of gallantry it would have been nice if he could have come up with a clip of her in 'Demoiselle de la Nuit'. At the time, I subscribed to Richard Buckle magazine 'Ballet' and he had practically a whole issue dedicated to the ballet--and she looked at her most beguiling in the white cat costume.

In a word---it was tacky.

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does anyone know if this documentary is still available and if so, where?

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It appears to be available on Amazon, and I've seen it elsewhere.

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