Friday, December 2, 2011

The unveiling of Oscar Wilde's newly cleaned grave - hot on the trail of Rupert Everett

Actor Rupert Everett, guest of honor at the ceremony 

Let me just start this post by saying that my intentions are occasionally misguided, like when I saw some tweets Wednesday morning saying that Rupert Everett would be the guest of honor at the unveiling of Oscar Wilde's newly cleaned tombstone. My thoughts, as I hurriedly got dressed and dashed to the metro, were of Everett singing "I'll Say a Little Prayer for You" to Julia Roberts in "My Best Friend's Wedding" and of how pleased my daughter would be if I was able to see the British actor and not at all about the momentous ceremony marking the 111th anniversary of the Dublin playwright's death.

Since no one on Twitter seemed to be clear about the exact timing, I rushed to the information office at Pere Lachaise cemetery and almost slammed into some French photographers asking for the location of Wilde's grave. Upon learning that the ceremony was due to start in fifteen minutes on the opposite side of the cemetery, I set off at a rapid pace hoping that I wouldn't get lost in the maze of graves like I normally do. But luck was with me because I arrived, huffing and puffing, just in time to see Rupert Everett talking with a small group of reporters. Whipping out my notebook, I headed over to hear what he had to say.

Oscar Wilde's newly cleaned grave surrounded by a glass partition
 to remind fans to pay it the unblemished respect that it deserves.

Everett, who openly declared his homosexuality in 1989, is a passionate and eloquent spokesman for Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and poet who was imprisoned in London for two years and reviled for his "gross indecency" with other men. Explaining that Wilde has long been a role model and inspiration to him, Everett said that he hopes that fans will respect the newly cleaned tombstone that was previously covered with pink and red lipstick kisses left by ardent admirers. While admitting that Wilde may have been amused because he liked attention, Everett added that he would have probably preferred for his tomb to be clean and beautiful because he loved perfect clothes and perfect houses.



After addressing the crowd briefly in French, Everett switched to English to read a passage from "De Profundis," the letter Wilde wrote to lover Alfred Douglas while imprisoned in England. Everett, who referred to the author as his patron saint, has acted in several Oscar Wilde plays and the screen adaptation of "The Importance of Being Earnest" and will portray Wilde in an upcoming film. It's a movie that I look forward to seeing. Not because it will star Rupert Everett but because it will tell the tragic tale of a man who rose so high and then sunk so low.

In the final years of his life, Oscar Wilde spent his days as a flâneur, wandering the boulevards of Paris on his own. He was spat upon by English people vacationing in the French capital and died destitute at the age of 46.

When asked about his experiences versus those of Wilde, Everett pointed out that it's still difficult to be openly gay, particularly for a sports person or a young movie star, even though political correctness may lead one to believe otherwise.

If leaving your mark on Oscar Wilde's grave is still on your list of things to do while in Paris, please kiss the glass and not the tomb because lipstick degrades the stone. Let's show the author's tomb the respect it deserves.

10 comments:

  1. Happy to see that the headstone was cleaned up. When I saw it in May, I was thinking how disrespectful the public can be.
    nancyb

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  2. I never liked the kisses, and of course, they were probably from men mostly. Actually I don't remember them being there when I was in Pere Lachaise, but I only ever visited once--to see Victor Noir after reading the John Berger piece.

    I so admire your scurrying out of the 16th to get clear across town to see this ceremony. You have so much more gumption than I might.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this story, for making that particular trek and for linking to "De Profundis" which, based upon a quick scan, I'll very much look forward to reading.

    Thankfully, times have changed, but many yet remain to be liberated.

    Peter and Mike, Your Friends in Boston

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  4. Nancy, I didn't see the tomb when it was covered with kisses because our French guide didn't take us there when we toured Pere Lachaise. I just hope that the tomb stays free of lipstick because the glass wall isn't very high. The Irish government and Wilde's grandson went to great lengths to have it cleaned.

    Joseph, According to the grounds people at Pere Lachaise, most of the kisses came from women. Everett said that Wilde associated kisses not only with love but also with danger and death.

    Scurrying out of the 16th was no problem because I've always enjoyed watching Rupert Everett in movies. I like him even more after having had the opportunity to hear him speak.

    Peter and Mike (my dear "friends in Boston") Standing next to Oscar Wilde's grave and listening to Everett read a passage from "De Profundis" was extremely moving, as was listening to him respond to questions about parallels between his life and Wilde's. I've always liked Everett, the actor -- but I like Everett, the man, much more. He's a passionate, eloquent spokesperson. My only regret is that I enjoyed listening to him so much that I followed him around like a stalker (and I was kind of obvious because I was wearing my burgundy colored trench coat in a sea of black). Since it was a spur of the moment decision to go to the cemetery, I hadn't thought about anything that I could ask him. Little did I expect to be standing right in front of him... with nothing to say.

    Are you familiar with Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince"? Everett said that his mother used to read it to him at bedtime.

    And yes, thankfully times have changed, but as Everett said, much of it is superficial and due to political correctness. The more accepting attitudes of my children and their friends give me hope for the future. Fortunately, we've come a long way since the time when Oscar Wilde's wife changed their children's last names from Wilde to Holland so that they wouldn't be connected with their father.

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  5. I think I would rather just kiss the grass. :)

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  6. Something else to add to my 'things to see' list when I finally make it to Paris. It must have been a very interesting morning.
    Only the other day we were watching Rupert Everett as the headmistress in St Trinians! He looks much better in the flesh!

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  7. Kate, But what about the dog pooh? I still can't believe that I misunderstood Rupert Everett and thought that he was telling fans to kiss the grass rather than the glass! Thank goodness that I finally figured it out.

    Steph, It was, indeed, a very special morning. I would highly recommend a visit to Pere Lachaise, if you have the time. There is so much history associated with the place that it's well worth a visit.

    I haven't ever seen St Trinians - it looks like a fun movie to watch on a grey Parisian day. After looking at Rupert Everett's photo from the movie, I can assure you that he looks a lot better in real life than he does as the headmistress!

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  8. What a great post! You got some good shots of Rupert Everett. He looks rather dashing with the beard. I really like his work. He was funny as the shallow playboy in "An Ideal Husband," another Wilde adaptation.

    I'm glad that the tomb is being protected from vandalism, but I must say I don't like the glass wall. It's not good for pictures. Oh well.

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  9. It took me a minute to recognize Rupert Everett with the beard - but he is dashing! My daughter, however, isn't convinced about his new look and prefers him without the facial hair.

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  10. He was a genius and he was harshly treated, he certainly touched my heart I was also born in Dublin although I am hetrosexual I have no trouble that my hero was a gay man I will love him forever, he gave us such lovely reading . God bless you Oscar Wilde x

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