by Richard "Bugs" Burnett
A veteran of stage and screen, London-born Louis was a wonderful actor, human being and raconteur. We chatted a few times over the years, usually over a cappuccino, and I interviewed him three times for profile stories.
About the time he appeared nude in John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes in London’s West End in 1967, he recounted the opening night incident that made sensational headlines:
“There I am in the nude onstage and my mom stands up in the audience and says, ‘Louis, put your pants back on!’ I thought I would faint on the spot. The story ran in newspapers around the world. My mom did interviews and there were paparazzi camped outside the house!”
Louis also knew a thing or two about making an entrance. Take the time Joan Collins arrived at his birthday party in Toronto where Collins was starring in the play Legends! at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in the autumn of 2006.
“Joan’s an old, old friend and she was in Toronto with her husband – he’s very nice and very young, he’s like 12 years old,” Louis said mischievously. “But I didn’t tell anyone at the party that she was coming because if she doesn’t come, then everybody’s disappointed. But there were lots of people there she knew and, of course, the doors open, every head turns and she’s Joan Collins.”
Louis also knew glamour: over the decades he met many movie stars, from Marilyn Monroe (“I wanted to protect her, she was very vulnerable”) to Marlene Dietrich. When he met my mom Diamond Lil at the premiere of Schwartz’s The Musical at the Centaur Theatre Company in March 2011, Louis pulled me aside and said, “Oh my God your mother is so glamourous!”
I once asked Louis who was the most glamourous actress he had ever worked with.
“I’ve worked with a lot of very famous stars, and I think one woman who had the glamour of another time was English actress Margaret Leighton,” he replied. “At the time we were doing the play Much Ado About Nothing on Broadway (in 1959) with John Gielgud. I was cast because I had good legs and looked good in pink tights! Maggie always had 1920s-style make-up and hair and looked impeccable at all times. She was so together, beautiful and charming. Maggie always was a lady, just perfect.”
Negin first moved to Montreal during its golden Sin-City era. “Though I lived in Toronto for 40 years, I always kept a tiny pied-a-terre in Montreal, at Carré St-Louis. Every time I felt the pressure was too much, I would run away back to Montreal and be very happy, go to a good restaurant, make love, drink wine. I’ve always had great affection for Montreal ever since I first came here when I was very young and dreaming of Hollywood. I arrived in Montreal and, my god, I was suddenly in nightclubs with showgirls, going out with gangsters, and I must have been about 15 years old!”
His favourite Montreal memory, he told me, “was my introduction to all the nightclubs. It was like being in a Jimmy Cagney movie, then suddenly it was all for real.”
The longtime muse of filmmaker Guy Maddin, Louis stripped naked one more time for his role in Maddin’s 2011 film Keyhole which starred Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini and Udo Kier.
“I think all actors are exhibitionist, to be honest,” Louis told me. “Everybody does the same number: ‘Oh, I have to think about it.’ But really they’re overjoyed! The thing that would kill you is if someone snickered or laughed at your body. Then I think I would just die a million deaths. But it doesn’t happen.”
A true Montreal original, Louis passed away early Friday morning. He was 93. My heartfelt sympathies to his husband Charles Dunlop, their friends and loved ones. Sleep well, Louis.