The following is a letter sent by former Monty Python member Michael Palin to Martin Lewis, producer of this weekend's Python 25th anniversary celebration at American Cinematheque in West Hollywood, explaining to festival attendees why he will not be able to come to the gala (although several fellow Pythons will attend). He is in London hard at work on a novel. (For information on the festival, which runs through Tuesday, call (213) 466-FILM . )
I am profoundly sorry not to be able to be with you in the lovely city of Los Angeles to join with you both, sorry, all, in paying tribute to the group that became a legend in their own lifetime. The Chi-Lites.
"Have You Seen Her?" will remain one of the most evocative statements of the confusion and alienation of modern life. Believe me, it isn't easy to achieve that kind of poetry and economy in a lyric. The Chi-Lites could so easily have tried to gild the lily. "Have You Seen Where the R101 Caught Fire in 1930?" would have added intrigue, danger and historical interest. "Have You Seen the Cat?" would have gone straight to the heart of a pet-food industry worth $236 billion a year. "Have You Seen Her Bottom?" would have cashed in on the sizzly sex appeal of a "Basic Instinct" or a "9 1/2 Weeks."
No, they kept it simple and they kept it true. How many of us, honestly, can say there has not been a time when we have turned to a friend or loved one, or even a baker or someone who works part-time for Boeing, and said, "Have you seen her?"
It's a universal message and will remain so until such time as no one on this Earth, man or woman, black or white, dumpy or skinny, vague or absolutely clearly focused, irritable or not irritable, massively endowed in the penis department or someone without a penis at all, will ever have to say, "Have You Seen Her?" ever again. That's when the Chi-Lites' work will be done.
I'm sorry, I do apologize, I'm writing this from England and the fax asking me to contribute to the festival was indistinct. It's one of the cruel inevitabilities of old age that one's eyesight goes and things that were crystal clear in the good old days when one dressed up as a woman for money are now mere shadows. It is a sad day indeed when one must rely on young native boys to read the dress size on the labels in Ralph Lauren.
However, there are benefits to being 25 years older than you were when you first began to wear women's clothing for money, and one of those is a miraculous improvement in long-term memory. I can now remember what I was wearing at the Treaty of Cambria in 1529, how pretty Bismarck was and how bloody fat Galileo got in his later years. He really let himself go.
So I sat down the other night with a few aides-memoire--one of Eric Idle's old legs, a gorgeous little rococo sewing box that Terry Gilliam accidentally trod on, Graham Chapman's police record, a picture of all of us with the comedian John Cleese--and let my mind drift back to that unforgettable day at Kim Novak's house in what was then Yugoslavia.
Kim was fixing me an omelet when the phone rang and she shouted to me to pick it up as she was expecting a call from her tennis coach. I grabbed the phone and heard a voice say: "How about getting together a series called 'Monty Python's Flying Circus,' with 45 shows, two in Germany, which could come second at the Montreux Television Festival and be shown all over the world?" To this day, I wish I knew whose voice that was.
The first programme to go out had the BBC switchboard jammed with a call, and we knew from then on that we had found our audience. We put a 24-hour armed guard on it and wrote a second show, which it also enjoyed.
Sadly, by then, boredom was creeping in. Terry Jones was the first to leave the group, saying he'd left a tap running. Terry Gilliam, whose brilliantly subversive animations had earned him the title "cleverdick," submitted some more material, but it was clear that the zing had gone out of his brilliantly subversive cartoons. Too young for cryogenics, too old for sex, this pathetic character took to taking strangers back to his North London mansion and calling them Derek--\o7 whatever\f7 their real names might have been.
With no one called Terry left in the group, the tax breaks we had all been enjoying came to an end. Eric Idle volunteered to change his name to Terry and even sent them a pink body stocking that had belonged to his mother. But the tax authorities wouldn't wear it. The remaining Pythons struggled on until John Cleese's insatiable sexual demands took their toll and doctors advised them to quit.
Recently, a further 42 shows that the group had forgotten they'd made turned up in a Programme Planner's Desk at the BBC during the hunt for Carlos the Jackal. Sadly, none of his shows survived.
\o7 --Michael Palin, London,