MONTY PYTHON DOES VANITY FAIR
by Hans ten Cate (special thanks to photographer Art Streiber, Aaron Rath, Kim Metzger of Digital Fusion, and Finnish cartoonist Timo Kokkila)
Saturday, 6 March 2004

The March 2004 issue of Vanity Fair

This month's Vanity Fair features the Monty Python chaps in one of its famous montages. The March 2004 issue is on magazine racks already, so hurry if you want to get your hands on a rare portrait of all six (yes I said six) members of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The photograph, by entertainment photographer Art Streiber, is part of this year's installment of a Vanity Fair tradition called The Hollywood Portfolio. The 41 page spread honors the best, brightest, and biggest stars in the movie business. The Pythons are featured on the last two pages in an awesome photo that can only best be described as "Not Quite Dead Yet." All five Pythons are pictured in coffins wearing suitably Pythonesque attire: Michael Palin is dressed as a lumberjack and holding a map of Finland; John Cleese is the desk announcer with newspaper; Terry Jones, dressed as a Pepperpot, has a handbag and a blonde; Eric Idle is seen playing his guitar; and Terry Gilliam is holding a dustpan with late Graham Chapman's ashes in it.

The photo generated some chatter on PythOnline recently, which prompted Finnish fan Timo Kokkila to send us a marvelous story about Finland's evening-newspaper, Ilta-Sanomat, which assumed Palin's lumberjack and Finland map to be a tongue-in-cheek comment on Finland. Obviously missing the reference to the Finland song, the journalist rang up the Finnish ambassador to the UK who commented “perhaps they're poking fun at our map... I should know more about this Pyyton. I must say, that I'm not an expert. I really haven't followed their work.” All together Finlandphiles!

Hopefully many fans got a chance to read some of Eric Idle's 2003 journal, which he faithfully shared daily during his Greedy Ba$tard Tour. Scattered throughout the 80 journal entries is the fascinating tale of the Vanity Fair photo shoot. Below is the story, in Eric's own words. Incidentally, Eric wrote to tell us the other day that William Morrow Publishing had bought the rights to the Greedy Bastard Tour diary and would likely be publishing it by next year...

October 21

...Even tonight my wife has had desperate calls from Vanity Fair: the Pythons won't return their calls for a photo session. Of course they won't. Mike's in the Himalayas, Terry Jones is filming in Lincolnshire, Terry G. is under the Weinsteins in Austria. (Now there's a musical The Weinstein's in Austria. The Mound of Music!) This photo session is never going to happen. Dream on Haydon baby...

Photo: Eric Idle Credit: copyright and courtesy of Art Streiber (www.artstreiber.com)

November 18

...Vanity Fair emailed last week and asked for my sizes and terrible visions of costumes ran through my mind - are they expecting us to dress up? Mind you, now that I think of it, it might be hilarious if we were all photographed in drag at our ages. A group of pissy old women, made up to the nines and looking like a bunch of old actresses. Wouldn't that be funny? With a caption: The Men who Made the Life of Brian...

November 27

...The big news is that I was right about the Python re-union picture. I thought there was zero chance we'd all get together for a photo in Vanity Fair. John is still sick and has canceled his re-scheduled trip to Vancouver so we won't all even be in two pictures. We are to be photographed in different parts of the world and stuck together by computer. Quite a reunion. I never believed John would fly all the way up to British Columbia for a photo. Why would he? I sure wouldn't. So they are going to settle for a virtual re-union. Some kind of collage. I'm sorry Graydon dear but I did warn you. I once surmised that if there was a finite amount of decisions that a group of six people might agree to during a single lifetime, then Monty Python used all of them up during the first fifteen years. Now all that's left are the no's. Like getting heads first and statistically following it up with all tails. (See T. Stoppard.)...

Photo: Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman, Credit: copyright and courtesy of Art Streiber (www.artstreiber.com)

December 1

...I'm all bathed and ready to pose naked for Vanity Fair (bollocks Ed) when I get the message at the last minute it's been cancelled. This is really ridiculous. But I laugh and put my clothes back on. I was kinda hoping to be the new Ashton Kutcher but I guess the old one is still doing too well. This saga continues...

December 9

...Afterwards I am being photographed by Vanity Fair for the Python "reunion" montage. Apparently they are a bit pissed that I mentioned this in my diary. Perhaps it's the montage bit that gets them. Gosh if it leaks out that all those air-brushed divas are not actually in the same room together western civilization will collapse. I have very funny email from Terry G. that he and Mike and Terry J are posing together on Friday. Wish I was with them...

Photo: Terry Jones Credit: copyright and courtesy of Art Streiber (www.artstreiber.com)

December 10

CALL SHEET
Project: Monty Python
Shoot Date: Tuesday, December 9, 2003
Location: Blue Sky Studio 2325 3rd Street. Suite 434, San Francisco, CA 94107
Call Time: Talent @4:00pm

...After all my kvetching the Vanity Fair shoot was a lot of fun. I thought the curse of Python was going to strike again when the Limo company called up and said the car they were sending had crashed en route, but they soon had a replacement. I don't know how top secret all this stuff is, but suffice it to say the "costume" turned out to be a coffin. It should be quite a funny spread when it's all done and I was impressed by the speed and efficiency of their whole team. They stuck me in a night shirt and a dressing gown designed by an incredibly expensive designer whose name I have already forgotten. I know, I know. I'd make a terrible gay man. I'd like to join. It's all the rage but I think I'm just too old. Who wants to read "60 year old British virgin, seeks to swap sides. 1 previous wife, 1 current. Looking for similar in the Bristol area." It just doesn't have the appeal does it?

Photo: Michael Palin Credit: copyright and courtesy of Art Streiber (www.artstreiber.com)

"What a pity we don't have a night cap" I said as we admired me in my name-forgotten expensive designer night-gown. Instantly Kim Meehan, the stylist, whipped an expensive shirt off the rack, grabbed a pair of scissors and hacked it into an elegant night cap complete with tassel (pulled from a ski hat) in just a few minutes. Then she raced for the airport to fly to London to prepare wardrobe for Mike and the Terrys on Friday. The other costume I wore was a fabulous three-quarter length coat with teddy-boy velvet lapels. Very Rutles. Then they threw a bowler hat on me and handed me a furled umbrella so I suddenly looked like I was auditioning for a remake of the Remake of The Avengers. In the end the effect is kinda Renee Magritte meets Patrick McGee.

The amazingly swift and efficient photographer Art Streiber had been reading my Tour diary and opined I must write it at night since I sound so grumpy, but no, I replied, "I can be very sweet at night. I am naturally grumpy in the mornings." We immediately decide that I should have a guitar with me in my last resting place, and so one swift cell phone call to the unflappable Skip and he pulls my Baby Taylor off the bus and throws it into the back of a limo and voila we have a guitar. (It's the one Clint Black sent me to celebrate the birth of his daughter Lily Pearl.)

Diana Schmidtke, the "groomer" does her best to make me look attractive after-life and she herself is very attractive and actually quite breathtaking when she finally takes her coat off. Fabulously shaped as a matter of fact. She has a fascinating tattoo which disappears tantalizingly into her… Good job the wife was there. The trouble and strife arrived at the hotel just as I was leaving and we almost made our mistiming a classic. Tania was about to enter the "up" elevator as I stepped out of the "down" elevator. Another two seconds and we'd have missed each other. I think our lives are like that. It's amazing we ever met. But she came with me to the shoot so I was able to be the target of her dry comments as they groomed me. "Stay" I say. "I can't" she says "I have workmen in."

Photo: John Cleese Credit: copyright and courtesy of Art Streiber (www.artstreiber.com)

December 11

It was actually very sad watching Tania look at me in my coffin the other day on the Vanity Fair shoot. There is something deeply poignant about seeing your wife looking at you lying in a coffin. It's one of those experiences, like being crucified, that you won't ever forget. You think "So this is what it is like. The moment of death will be something like this. This time I'll get up and walk away but that time..." "Just remember that the last laugh is on you…" Disturbing and prescient. I saw Tania for the first time as a widow, like so many of our friends...

...And by the way I didn't enjoy much seeing pictures of John in his coffin. I was very moved. I really must like him then. Good to find that out before it's too late to tell him.