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'Dreamchild's' Browne: Actress In Wonderland

October 19, 1985|RODERICK MANN

"I think 'Dreamchild' is one of the three best things I've ever done," said Coral Browne, "so I'm upset that they're not advertising it more. I volunteered to commit a nuisance and get myself arrested outside the theater but nobody seems keen on the idea."

Those who know this British grande dame claim that she usually dismisses her work with a shrug, so such enthusiasm is unusual. She's encouraged that some of the critics have already agreed with her--"a gem of a performance by Coral Browne," noted Variety.

In "Dreamchild" (at the Beverly Center Cineplex), Browne plays Mrs. Alice Hargreaves who, as a 10-year-old child, was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's classic book "Alice in Wonderland." The film, based on fact, depicts her as an 80-year-old woman arriving in America to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Carroll's birth (in the film Carroll--whose real name was the Rev. Charles Dodgson--is played by Ian Holm).

"When I first read the script, I adored it," said Browne, relaxing at her home. "Peggy Ashcroft was also being considered for the role, and the question was could I look old enough? Fortunately, in the end they thought I could.

"I'm very keen on the piece and I want it to succeed," she continued. "Since I married Vinnie (actor Vincent Price) 11 years ago and moved here, I've really been offered nothing I truly wanted to do. I had to go back to England to make this one. Here it seems if you're over 29, they'd be happy for you to go to Forest Lawn and not hurry back."

She got "Dreamchild," she thinks, because of her success in John Schlesinger's brilliant TV film "An Englishman Abroad" (also made in Britain). This told the true story of her encounter with British spy Guy Burgess in Moscow in 1958, when she was touring the Soviet Union with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The film won her the best actress award in Britain two years ago.

If "Dreamchild" is one of the three best things she's done, surely "An Englishman Abroad" must be another?

"No," she said. "That wasn't a performance, really. I was simply playing myself. The other two things I'm pleased with are 'Macbeth,' which I did in New York, and 'The Waltz of the Toreadors,' which I did in London."

Browne, whose films include "The Killing of Sister George" and "The Ruling Class," is now crossing her fingers that the public will give her new film a chance.

Said she: "Surely there must be some people who want a fair film which isn't about dreadful teen-agers struggling on the back seats of cars."

A DILEMMA OVER HORNS: Reindeer, it seems, are not the easiest creatures to handle--particularly if you want eight of them to gallop in harness drawing a sleigh.

"That was the hardest part of making 'Santa Claus: The Movie,' " said Ilya Salkind, who with Pierre Spengler co-produced the film (the same pair that brought the "Superman" movies to the screen). "Reindeer just aren't used to working together as a team. We had to train them for months."

Another problem, which nobody envisioned when the film was first discussed, is the fact that reindeer antlers drop off in the winter and it is some time before they grow out again. "We had to gear our entire shooting schedule around the time when they had horns," Salkind said. "It would have been disastrous if they'd dropped off in the middle of the picture."

"Santa Claus: The Movie," which premieres in New York on Nov. 20 and opens nationwide seven days later, has Dudley Moore as Santa's chief elf, John Lithgow as a greedy toy manufacturer who tries to corrupt him and David Huddleston as Santa himself. The film was directed by Jeannot Szwarc.

"It cost a lot," said Salkind ($50 million, he claims), "but we knew it had to be done on a large scale to work."

And what happened to the reindeer when the film finished?

"If we'd sent them back to Lapland where they came from, they'd have wound up as steaks," Salkind said. "So we set them free in English parks."

QUOTE: From Sting who, flying to London the other day for his 34th birthday, announced that he plans to try to climb Mt. Everest with an expedition in the '90s:

"It's always been an ambition of mine to stand on the roof of the world. Besides, what else is there left to do?"

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