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Harold Chapman's memories of Michael Gothard

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 04:45 am

At the Beat Hotel

In the book, ‘The Beat Hotel’, written by Barry Miles, there is just about one line about me ... 'In the attic there was a man who never spoke to anyone for two years.' That is how Allen Ginsberg saw me.

I have no idea what room Mike was living in, in the Beat Hotel, which is strange, but then I led my own bizarre lifestyle and I could have well been working only at night, wandering the streets of Paris documenting tiny cafes, etc. I did not know Dan Bush, [Michael's friend and room-mate] although I do know that there was an American in the hotel called Dan.

Mike Gothard … was a bit of an erratic traveller, and could well have gone backwards and forwards to Paris. In those days, travelling was so easy and cheap that one was constantly moving around, and I, for one, completely lost track of when I was staying in the Beat Hotel and when I was travelling around. Other people were the same. Although I used to rent a room and pay six months in advance, I would come and go at will.

During this period, I quite often never knew a person's surname. I always called them by the first name or a nickname. In this case, the word I always remembered him by was Mike. I never had regular contact with Mike but it was always chance meetings in Paris and London.

While in the Beat Hotel, Mike was making great progress in becoming an actor, and he was great friends with Gottfried John, a pacifist, who was living the room next to mine. He was a German and had refused to do his national service and had been sent to a home for juvenile delinquents. His mother, Ruth, who was a staunch pacifist, rescued him from the home. They fled out of Germany into France and found the Beat Hotel, which became their refuge.

The first time I met Gottfried John, I entered his room which was sparse and painted pure white and the wooden beams black and the only objects that attracted my attention, nailed to the beam, was a knuckle-duster, a flick-knife and a revolver... rather apt symbols for a pacifist! It turned out he was working as an extra dressing up in German uniform in Normandy, working on the set of the filming of ‘The Longest Day.’

I remember the role of Gottfried that I liked best when he played a paranoid Russian general in the James Bond film, ‘GoldenEye.’ Also, much to my amazement, his friend, Mike Gothard, played the villain in the James Bond film, ‘For Your Eyes Only’, which I find quite astounding, that the Beat Hotel should have two villains from a couple of James Bond films in it!

But then, the story of the Beat Hotel has never really been told! There is far, far more to tell about world-famous writers, artists, adventurers, movie stars, etc., than just the Beat Generation of Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso, etc.

One day, I was sitting in a cafe called Cafe St-Michel, just round the corner from the Beat Hotel, after the hotel had closed [the Beat Hotel closed early 1963], and was discussing with him the ideas of Marshall McLuhan about the Medium is the Message. McLuhan had described that the world was a global village, and we were all interconnected, and that the telephone was an extension of the central nervous system.

I explained that, one night, I was sleeping in a room in a hotel and had no idea where I was. A phone rang somewhere or other in the hotel and I found myself crawling along the floor, trying to find a notebook and a pencil; I was trying to explain how I was activated, robot-like, by the ringing of the phone bell.

'You freak me out,' Mike said.

In London

I ran into a friend of Mike’s in Paris, who told me about a tiny cafe Mike had bought in a seedy part of London which was very rough, and would I like to visit Mike in London ...

Mike had explained to me that the cafe barely made a living, because the only people that came in there were a rough crowd of young delinquents, engaged in all sorts of nasty activities, such as collecting protection money from small shopkeepers, small robberies, muggings and the like ... Naive as I was, I thought that that would be a wonderful opportunity to take pictures of these characters.

So, moving into the cafe and sleeping on a couple of tables at night, I helped out during the day serving behind the bar. I had my camera round my neck all the time, so that everybody would get used to it, and I should, once I had gained their confidence, be able to take photos of them ...

After about a week of this, I went out to get something from the car that I had parked out there. Scrawled on the dusty windscreen was ‘YOUR FACE NEXT’, and one tyre had been badly slashed. I decided to heed the warning and left, there and then, and returned to Paris.

I cannot remember the name [of the cafe in London] but the juke box was endlessly playing ‘Hit the Road, Jack’, which is all I really remember that could date it. I know it wasn't Ray Charles.

There is a more detailed account of the café here.

On acting

Mike was a man of few words, and was often quite tense and depressed. His early films seemed to express his moods. He always seemed to be himself in any movie or TV show that I ever saw.

There was a large gap until I met him again after I had seen his movie, 'La vallee.'

‘La vallée’

In a recent film [‘La vallée’, released in July 1972 in France] which I was a bit puzzled over, and wanted him to explain, he was more or less playing himself, a man of VERY few words. He was leading a small band of hippies on a trek in a tropical landscape situation in search of something or other which I couldn't quite understand.

Mike explained this as, 'we were asking questions, seeking answers, and only found more questions'. Which I thought summed up the movie to me.

Harold’s wife Claire, on the pronunciation of Michael’s surname

From you and [belsizepark] we learned that his surname was Gothard and not Goddard, so Harold must have remembered Michael's name as the more usual (at least in the UK, I think) surname of Goddard.


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