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Malcolm Levene

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Goodbye, Ken Russell...

Posted: 12/01/11 07:00 PM ET

It seems a little weird to read that Ken Russell has passed. Having met him on a number of occasions some years ago, he came across as someone who would always be with us. I recall him being amusing, quirky and eccentrically fussy. At that time, I was running my fashion retail business in London's West End. As I recall, Ken was recommended to visit my shop by a film costume designer with whom I'd done business.

My clothes were somewhat quirky; some said they brought a smile to their face. I made sure eccentricity was always present in the atmosphere; I placed unusual art around the clothes, and the attitude of my staff was friendly, informed and quietly sophisticated. Shopping there was like being at home, yet nicer. There was a family atmosphere in which familiarity did not breed contempt, and which cemented a feeling of trust and authenticity. It was in this spirit that Ken told me that his son had just been born.

His then wife, the actress Hetty Baynes, would often come in with Ken holding their baby. Hetty was always charming and well turned out. Although Ken was a big man, both physically and vocally, he carried it off with aplomb. His taste was very specific, and given his not-easy-to-fit shape, he was very fussy and not willing to compromise. Maybe that's a quality a film director needs while on the set. His determination, to attire himself in items of clothing that were untypical for a chap of his stature was admirable. In fact, his quiet insistence made it difficult to either say no, or dissuade him in any way whatsoever. This is a hallmark of a good leader.

Ken Russell's ability to talk you into believing he was right, even if you thought the reverse, was remarkable. He never seemed to force you to agree with him. He had charm, wit, a friendly manner and little or no ego on display. I believe these qualities are essential to any leader. My avid love of film and fascination with film directors never wanes. In those days numerous film directors, producers and actors frequented my retail establishment, none compared with the affable Ken Russell, who I remember fondly. It's probably time for me to revisit Mr. Russell's films. The films I recall best are, "The Devils," "Women in Love," "Gothic" and "Altered States," and each of them are worth another look.

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