04 January 1974: Evening Standard

The Artist's Life and Eliza

Miss Diana Rigg first met her husband, Menachem Gueffen, over a backgammon table after a dinner party at a friend's house in London.

"I lost then but I win now," said Miss Rigg. Her husband added quickly: "I let her win now." At this Miss Rigg gave a sharp "What!" worthy of Lady Macbeth. Married life has not tamed Miss Rigg and she obviously has no intention of letting it do so.

But she is happy, transparently, and the soft-spoken, gentle Israeli has brought her a new tranquility. They enjoy each other's company. At lunch over oysters at Odins this week they told stories and jokes, one complementing the other.

They share a sharp sense of humor.

He is boyish-looking and handsome with long hair and small moustache. They've recently been together in Israel and in Teheran at the Film Festival there. Other celebrities with them in Teheran were Gregory Peck, Trevor Howard, Christopher Lee and Ann Miller.

"Ann Miller!" exclaims Miss Rigg. "We had to get up at four in the morning some days to fly to Persepolis or Shiraz and there she'd be at the airport, her make-up absolutely perfect. She found a nice Indian gentleman to carry the luggage."

When overwhelmed with hospitality, Miss Rigg was in doubt this was a male-oriented society. "Very much so."

In Israel they visited the wounded in hospital and they went aboard an Israeli Navy boat in Haifa Bay. "The Navy insisted on my singing," said Miss Rigg. "So I sang things like Michael Row the Boat Ashore and My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean."

All this happened on the way home from Los Angeles where Diana made the TV series Diana which she clearly regards as having been a disaster and blames herself rather too much for.

But there were some brighter moments during the stay in California, They went to Las Vegas to see Minnelli and Elvis Presley. Miss Rigg found Elvis's saving grace was the fact "he ambushes himself all along the line."

Both have more serious commitments at hand. Menachem Gueffen has an exhibition of his paintings at the O'Hana gallery in Mayfair on January 15 and Miss Rigg will appear in the West End in the spring as Eliza Doolittle in a new production of Pygmalion.

Had marriage to an artist influenced her own work? Miss Rigg was certain that it had. "I'm a late developer as far as painting is concerned. There were the early days when one went to the art gallery in Leeds or went on Sundays to the Tate. Now Menachem and I go to exhibitions a great deal and he talks about the pictures.

"It is the distillation of it I find the most fascinating. The number of strokes an artist uses to create an effect. The similarity with acting is the number of strokes you need to create an effect on the stage, to create a 'moment' like those Olivier moments that you never forget. To get it down to a fine art. When I look back on myself in the theatre I realise I'd been so busy and so determined the canvas should be absolutely filled. I didn't have the courage to leave spaces.

"I think the painting is a perfect equasion to performing. You have to learn the powers of distillation. I've always worked too hard and been too busy. Too anxious to show off. The way Menachem has shown paintings to me have clarified the process to myself."

And had acting and Diana influenced Menachem in his paintings? he smiles and says that he is forced by explaining to phrase the idea in his head.

The restaurant is emptying by now but we stay on for nearly another hour as he talks about the varying streams of modern art. He finally talks at length about a picture of a Jewish bride which will be one of those at the exhibition.

"I'm trying to put the female form to more complicated uses."

He smiles a roguish smile and added, "You can't blame me for that." His wife smiled tolerantly. Or it looked tolerant.

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