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"JUNIOR ANGEL"

AS FILM

OLIVER TWIST

A

NINE - YEAR - OLD

boy, shining from his bath and wrapped in

his father's old dress

ing gown, hopped down- stairs to kiss his mother

good night, and hopped into the most coveted .child film role in the world.

To the talent scout dining with his parents, fair-haired, fragile, John Howard Davies was the Oliver Twist he had been searching for. "He looked like a junior angel. From the moment I saw him I recognised my Oliver

Twist."

The search had been carried on throughout Great Britain, by Press, film and radio and more than 1,500 children had been interviewed and audi- tioned. Cincguild producer director team, David Lean and Ronald Neamc, who made "Great Expectations" had given up hope of finding a suitable boy for "Oliver Twist." Ap- parently there was not an under-nourished child left in England.

John found himself precipi- tated into a world of luxury

and make-believe. A studio limousine called for him each morning and delivered him home again.

Perhaps the most appealing story ever written, Dickens's "Oliver Twist," was aimed at

social reform, the first tilt at child, delinquency, and its cause, neglect. However, an American Zionist Organisation, calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, claiming that the part of Fagin "was the worst carica- ture of a Jew ever depicted,'' threatened to boycott the film.

This brought to a head the simmering enmity between the British and American film in- dustries.

Morris Helprin, vice-presi-

dent of London Film Produc- tions and a lieutenant of Sir Alexander Korda in America,

charged that American film distributors were aiding and abetting boycott of British films. He said he did not be- lieve that the Zionists were responsible.

x An acrimonious reply came from Eric Johnston, U.S. film negotiator. "There is no boy- cott," he said. "English films just aren't up to standard."

In the meantime,-the-Sons ot Liberty, by picketing theatres,

caused the withdrawal of "An Ideal Husband," "Anna Kare nina," and "Mine Own Execu- tioner." "Hamlet" was also picketed, but continued to play

to full houses.

Jewish . organisations throughout the world slated the trouble-making Sons of Lib- erty. All the same, British film distributors decided to wait until "the trouble blew over" and "The Fallen Idol," "Bon

nie Prince Charlie." and "The Winslow Boy" were not sub- mitted to the U.S. "Oliver Twist," originally scheduled to screen there in September of last year, has still not been offered to American film houses.

None of this controversy has worried "Oliver Twist" himself.

Far from being the frail .waif

he portrays," John Howard Davies is a normal, wiry, in- quisitive child, with a ferocious appetite. During the making of the. film he grew two inches and gained six pounds.

John was too young to have read the book, and had no particular desire to act. But, according to director Ronald Neame, he took to his difficult

ILLUSTRATED BY JAMES PHILLIPS

part as though it were just an- other imaginative game - a game that sometimes took possession of him as he fled in terror from his pursuers down the dark lanes of a vanished London, or edged along a roof coping with the murderous Bill

Sikes, as the ielon attempted to escape from the police and the angry mob crowding the street

below. ,

Though John had no pre- vious stage experience his fam- ily is rich in theatrical* mem- ories. His great-grandmother,

billed as 'The Great Zaeo" was the first woman ever to be shot from a catapult in a circus. Her husband was an actor manager. John's grandfather was an impresario and his par- ents are both film script-writers and journalists.

The child himself, though presented to their Majesties the King and Queen, Queen Mary and Princess Margaret, and consistently praised by critics, is still more engrossed in his own small-boy world than in

his sudden fame.

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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