Thursday 21 November 2019

This Man's Life: The ghosts of Dermot Morgan, Ronnie Drew and Jane Fonda haunt me

Ronnie Drew
Ronnie Drew
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Ghosts, to me, aren't necessarily spooky beings that disturb your repose on stormy nights, appearing on creaky staircases in white bed sheets.

To me, ghosts are more like memories.

Every time I pass Neary's pub on Chatham Street I see Ronnie Drew. I remember bumping into The Dubliners' front man on Christmas Eve many moons ago and having a pint with him outside on the street as the Yuletide shoppers rushed past madly buying the last of their Xmas pressies.

He was more concerned with the eternal verities. On one drink, he had more charisma than a million modern pop stars. The reason I say one drink is that because of his reputation, I expected Ronnie Drew at Christmas to be a bit like WC Fields at the same time of year. ("Christmas at my house," WC once said, "is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we'll be seeing six or seven.") So every time I go past Neary's, there he is, Ronnie, standing there holding a pint, some of it on his beard, his measured sentences unfurling with a voice very much, as someone once said, like "the sound of coal being crushed under a door". I have a similar sense of ghostly nostalgia every time I venture through the doors of The Shelbourne.

The late Dermot Morgan will always be in the right-hand corner of the old restaurant having a large breakfast - talking nineteen to the dozen about everything that entered his brilliant mind. (I had brekkie with Morgan years before he found fame with Father Ted.)

The late Terry Keane will forever be upstairs in the lobby area of The Westbury hotel, too. Once upon a time in the mid 1990s, it was just before closing time in the Westbury. Julia Roberts had just gone to bed. The waitress frostily said to Terry and me that we would have to be residents to get another drink.

"Darling, we are residents," she said.

"Room 419 and 525..." I added, without blinking.

Five minutes later, a faux-smiling manager marched over to point out that there are no such rooms as 419 and 525 in the hotel. Terry charmed him, and we soon got our drinks after closing anyway.

Terry was a real character. They don't make them like her any more. Nor will they ever again, I imagine. She put Charlie Haughey on the phone to me one afternoon (Terry didn't do mornings in the office) in the old Sunday Independent office in Middle Abbey Street. I think he hung up on me in boredom. My father, who hated Haughey, wanted to know when I told him what was I even doing talking to "that bollocks Haughey". Whether he was a bollocks or not, I think it was a pity that a Charles Haughey autobiography was never to land - like one of his eagles - on a publisher's desk.

I'm off to London tomorrow to interview a famous rock star in Claridge's Hotel. This brings me back to another one of my ghosts. On the admittedly rare occasions I am in the fine hotel in Brook Street in Mayfair, Jane Fonda is forever sitting serenely in a suite upstairs as I turn, lamentably, into a Yellow Pack Dr Sigmund Freud. (For the record, Jane Fonda is not a ghost and is very much alive at 79 years of age.)

The interview didn't start well, but got better. I gave her a present of a Van Morrison interview about spirituality and music from Uncut magazine that I hoped she would find interesting. She obviously thought the gesture odd; because she put the mag down and said nothing. In fairness, she was there to discuss her new memoir, My Life So Far. In it, we learn that Jane was only 12 when her mother, Frances Seymour, took her own life. She had voluntarily sought help at a mental asylum after Henry Fonda had asked for a divorce. Hating any displays of emotion, Henry hid the truth from Jane, saying her mother died of a heart attack. Jane found out the reality several months later while reading a movie magazine.

"It is like living under a dark cloud if your mother killed herself, and your parents didn't really know how to show up for you," she said. Jane added that she never once discussed her mother's suicide with Henry Fonda. "I never talked about it with anybody," she said.

How did that make you feel?

"Anxious. Sad. Lonely."

Her famous father, she added, had "problems communicating his feelings. Like the character he played in On Golden Pond, [the film in which he played Jane's father]. Many of us have had difficult relationships with our parents. And the kind of father my father was is very, very common. When your parents are not capable of loving you, it is not that they are cruel or mean or that they don't want to, it's that they just do the best they can - but what a child needs is for a parent to really countenance her," she said. "To really see her for what she is, not for what they wish she was."

And when that doesn't happen you're made to feel that you're just not good enough?

"Which I felt," Jane said, "and that in order to be loved I had to be perfect. Then, when you hit adolescence it becomes difficult. You become disembodied. You have to hide. And you feel that, when you're in a relationship, you have to try to be perfect..."

I asked Jane Fonda how did she feel for the first 20 or so years of her life.

"That I was doomed to die early and alone. I just didn't envisage a future for myself."

Sunday Independent

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