In addition to his illustrious acting career, the late, great Peter O’Toole was a consummate storyteller. His late-night talk-show visits are legendary, largely because they reveal a level of old-school celebrity monkeyshines it’s hard to imagine today. While modern celebrities’ drunken shenanigans are typically followed by a call for an intervention, O’Toole’s inebriated nights seemed deeply charming, whether in his own stories or those told about him by his famous friends. As a guest, O’Toole was wry, witty, and frankly a kind of fabulous you just don’t see much these days. It’s impressive to watch.
So let us remember Peter O’Toole as he would want to be remembered: smoking a cigarette and riding a camel on to the Late Night with David Letterman stage. In one of his most impressive talk show visits, O’Toole explained how the appearance of “messianic determination” in his Lawrence of Arabia character was actually the result of a startled camel, the questionable combination of brandy and milk, and his friendship with Omar Sharif.
O’Toole also waxed nostalgic with Letterman years later about Network’s Peter Finch. The line “So we bought the bar” is essentially dropping the mic in an era where dropping anything would have been seen as a sign of incompetence. Attending the wrong funeral as they did though, that can happen to anyone.
Friend and fellow raconteur Michael Caine opened up during a Letterman interview about one magical weekend during which he and the Man Friday star woke up fully clothed in bed, having lost an entire Sunday. (At the 4-minute mark below.)
Even Ryan Gosling has an O’Toole story, after the Venus star allegedly flirted with Gosling’s sister at the 2006 Academy Awards. The image of O’Toole picking up and handing out Oscar-shaped glitter is a winning one.
Of course, not all of O’Toole’s talk-show appearances involved a jacket deemed irreversibly unclean by cleaning professionals. Some of them had him making tiny pieces of cinematic history, like when he sat down with Orson Welles and passionately dissected Hamlet on the BBC’s Moniter in 1963.
It’s a fact worth celebrating that O’Toole was one of the very few who both mastered his craft and fed a camel Heineken with equal panache. The man was legendary, and he told his own legend with relish.