Friday, November 19, 2010

Alec Guinness, Hiccups and the Pope

In an autobiography, British actor Alec Guinness (aka Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars) recalled a very odd audience with the Pope in Blessings in Disguise (Pleasantville NY: Akadine Press, 2001), p. 46—

[In 1958, four days before the death of Pope Pius XII, British actor Alec Guinness was allowed to join an audience with the Holy Father, in a group that consisted primarily of plastic surgeons. Guinness stood “near the end of the line next to a middle-aged American couple,” where] I didn’t grasp what the Pope said to me...but I assumed it was about surgical alterations to the face and not about theatrical make-up; but I did catch every word said by the Americans. They both kneeled to kiss the Fisherman’s Ring, and then the man burst into loud sobs, the tears coursing down his face. The Pope [who was suffering from hiccups] patted him, took his hand, saying the Italian equivalent of “There! There!” and the man grasped his white cassock. The wife explained her husband away with a motherly smile. I imagined her to be a woman who would not have permitted him to buy his own shirts, socks or underpants. “He’s so moved, Your Holiness,” she said. “It is such an honor to meet you. Isn’t it, dear? He’s always like this on great occasions. Aren’t you, dear? Oh, he’s very moved! And just think, Your Holiness—we’ve come all the way from Michigan!” The Pope mastered a hiccup. “Michigan?” “Sure, Michigan.” “I know Michigan,” the Pope said, and managing to free himself from the plastic surgeon’s grip he raised a hand in blessing: “A special blessing on Michigan!” Those were probably the last words of English he spoke. The entourage sped him away from the audience chamber. His private doctor followed, glowering at each of us in turn as he passed.