Without a profession, one Limassol man spends half his life outside the country tracking down the stars of yesteryear. THEO PANAYIDES meets him
People want to know what you do. It’s inevitable. ‘What line of work are you in?’ they ask. It’s an ice-breaker, it’s a conversation-starter – which is why I can only assume that Hermes Angeloudis has stopped many a conversation in its tracks by admitting that he does nothing, and never has done.
He studied Law, but never practised (“never needed it”). Back when he lived in London – as he did for over 30 years – he often worked in charity shops like Oxfam in the afternoons, but it wasn’t exactly a job. “I used to go and work for them for no money, because it made me feel good. [But] of course it was glamour in the evenings, theatre in the evenings, getting up late in the morning, and the time flies…”
‘Glamour’ is a key word with Hermes. If he ever writes a book about his life – and he might, someday – its title might be ‘Glamorous Times’ or ‘Glamorous People’, he muses dreamily. Or ‘The People I Met’, he adds as an afterthought. He’s met lots of people, especially movie stars. “I met Joan [Collins] 30 years ago, I have a photo with her,” he’ll say. Or perhaps: “The Kim Novak story. Do you want to hear the Kim Novak story?”.
Not that he’ll tell his stories to just anyone. “I respect my privacy,” he tells me, sitting in the bar of the Four Seasons in Limassol (it’s mid-afternoon; we’re the only people there). “I don’t want to be interesting because I’m with a star, or diva, at a party. Not my style”. His gestures are flamboyant, his face shrewd and pouchy but still quite youthful, beneath a mop of gold-and-silver hair. He won’t give his precise age – but I calculate around 65, given that he went to university at the height of Swinging London. “The 60s was fabulous, absolutely fabulous!” he enthuses. “I wouldn’t change it for the world”. His lifestyle wasn’t exactly that of a starving student. “Lots of parties,” he recalls, “lots of beautiful things. Lovely flat. Lots of friends who liked the cinema, and theatre, and ballet, and the opera”. He saw Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Covent Garden. He saw the Rolling Stones at their peak. “Carnaby Street and all that. Premieres, film stars.”
The only small fly in the ointment were his actual university studies. He never had much interest in Law. What he really wanted was to be a dancer – but his family in Limassol wouldn’t hear of their only son doing anything so louche and un-respectable. Looking back, says Hermes, that’s his only regret in life – that he gave up his dream for unworthy, rather craven reasons, because his parents opposed it and he didn’t want to lose their financial support. “If you tell me that now, I’ll say ‘To hell with the money, I’ll work hard and do it myself!’. But then it was a different time”. He never became a dancer – though he’ll dance like a dervish at nightclubs and parties – so instead he became a film obsessive. “It was the nearest to what I wanted to do,” he sighs. “But it was from the outside looking in”.
Is it fair to call him an obsessive? How big a part of his life is cinema?
“The cinema, once upon a time, was the biggest part of my life,” he confirms.
Was it serious, though? Or just a hobby?
“What pleases me becomes serious. I don’t have to show anybody else my collection”. He has hundreds of film books, 1,800 DVDs and 17 albums of movie-star photos, many of them autographed. “And you will not see in my collection Brad Pitt [or] Angelina tres jolie. These are irrelevant for me. Completely irrelevant, I’m sorry to say”. Hermes sighs, and takes a sip of tea: “I like glamour. And glamour is gone”.
His interest resides in films and film stars from the 1940s to the 1960s, not earlier (he’s not too keen on Marlene Dietrich) and certainly not later. He ranges from the days of Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland to the era of Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale – both of whom he’s met, Ms. Cardinale in the past few years when a re-issue of The Leopard played at the National Film Theatre in London. It was announced that she wasn’t going to sign any autographs, but Hermes accosted her as she was leaving and dangled a beautiful publicity photo – the star in her voluptuous youth – in front of her. “An exception for this gentleman!” declared Claudia, charmed. Sophia Loren was years earlier, when she was signing copies of her autobiography in Selfridges. Please put ‘To Hermes’, requested our hero. “My darling, they won’t let me!” lamented Sophia, and clasped his hand tightly. “Ms. Loren,” smiled Hermes, holding her hand in his, “this is more than enough, thank you”.
That, of course, is the caveat – that almost all his ‘meetings’ with stars have been fleeting encounters, often at stage doors or book signings. Hermes bristles at any suggestion that he’s just an autograph hound (he only approaches “people I like”) – but it’s also true that, when he claims it’s ‘not his style’ to appear at a party with a movie star, he doesn’t explain how he’d ever be able to do that, even if he wanted to.
Saying this, however, is to miss the point – and the point is class. “Lifestyle is something you can change,” says Hermes Angeloudis wisely, “but class is like bone structure: you’re born with it, you can’t change it”. How, after all, did he gain access to Joan Collins’ dressing room? “I give flowers,” he explains. “Nobody can resist flowers. And then I arrive, and I have beautiful pictures of them from my collection – original black-and-whites. Nobody can say no”. Hermes is classy. He doesn’t pester, he seduces – and actors (who, of course, have to seduce for a living) respond to that.
That, I suspect, is why he hates the undignified free-for-all of today’s celebrity culture – because Hermes charmed the stars, showed them respect, plied them with beautiful things. Hedy Lamarr was notoriously reclusive – but he sent her a hamper of food and a bouquet of flowers on her birthday, and she sent back an autograph (“No woman can resist to be remembered on her birthday”). “Julie Christie sent me a letter from Russia,” thanking him for the beautiful flowers, with a few lines of chit-chat about life in Moscow. “Faye Dunaway was lovely with me, a lovely autograph, a lovely photograph”.
Almost everyone was lovely. James Stewart told his chauffeur to go round the block a few times till he’d signed every single person’s autograph. Peter O’Toole walked with Hermes to the stage door, chatting about his career. Lauren Bacall was admittedly a bit unpleasant, though not to Hermes personally – but someone else got a bit too close and she snapped “Don’t push!”, which made a bad impression. Dirk Bogarde (easily the actor with the greatest literary talent) was signing copies of his book in Harrods. Hermes stood in line, got the book signed, chatted a bit – then went home to his Knightsbridge flat where he found some lovely old photos of Bogarde, so he went back to Harrods, stood in line…
Out of nowhere, he asks: “Am I boring you?”.
Of course not, I reply, puzzled. It’s a strange interjection – but maybe it’s because he’s unearthing a very special part of his life, and he worries that it won’t mean as much to a stranger as it does to him. I’m sure it means a lot, for instance, that he finally reached Dirk Bogarde for a second time – and Bogarde, who’d been signing autographs non-stop for hours, looked at him and said: “It’s Hermes, isn’t it?”. Clearly he’d made an impression, stood out from the crowd. Hermes can honestly claim to have ‘met’ Dirk Bogarde.
And still the stories come. He almost got in a fight over Kim Novak, and once helped Gloria Grahame carry her shopping home from Hampstead tube station. “Now, Maggie Smith is a little bit different, but Judi [Dench] is very friendly. Ingrid Bergman – wonderful! I have a personal autograph from Elizabeth Taylor, which was my dream. For me she’s the biggest star, there’ll be nobody else like Elizabeth. I adore Elizabeth”. He met her twice, once in 1967 at the premiere of The Taming of the Shrew, the second time in the 80s when she was doing The Little Foxes in the West End. The second time he “prepared the ground,” as he puts it: he loitered outside the house where she was staying, got to know her bodyguards a little, then waited till she came out and presented her with a bouquet of red roses. She accepted the flowers. He asked permission to give her a peck on the cheek, and she consented. He gave her a kiss, they talked for a while – then she trilled “Darling, I’m late”, and took her leave.
It’s time to break out the S-word. That behaviour, I point out, might be deemed close to stalker-ish these days – but he shakes his head. Stalkers didn’t exist back then, he says; there were only fans. “It was a time when people were more relaxed. Now it’s paranoia.” And of course there’s something else – because Hermes was rich, and presumably looked rich. What movie star would say no to a rich admirer?
Needless to say, that’s a big reason why he’s never had to work for a living. So what does he do all day? Oh, “I wish there were 48 hours in a day!” he replies airily. There’s occasional business to administer, things to do and people to see – and he also travels a lot, spending only half the year in Limassol. He’s ‘done’ 38 out of 50 US states, he informs me, always crossing the Atlantic on the ‘Queen Mary 2’, though his reasons for travel are sometimes eccentric (he only visited North Carolina to see the Ava Gardner Museum). Doesn’t he get bored in Cyprus? “I do get bored, but then I put a nice film on, I phone nice friends. When you’re in Cyprus, you expect to be bored. But it’s my roots”. Besides, he adds, the seven months here only sharpen his anticipation for the five months abroad – he’s a bit like Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer. “I know Tennessee [Williams] by heart, all of his plays, because he fascinates me,” he raves, drawn into one of his frequent excited asides. “We have the same birthday, 26th of March”.
Maybe so – but there’s also a difference. Tennessee Williams was extreme and controversial, whereas Hermes Angeloudis is surprisingly moderate. Not dull, to be sure. He’s a party animal, and he likes the good life – yet he has no obvious vices. He doesn’t smoke or gamble, and he doesn’t drink much either. “I can’t stand whisky. A glass of wine, now and again. I hate beer, I’ve never liked beer, I find it a cheap drink”. He likes champagne and loves caviar, which he has shipped in from Russia – then again, I suspect he loves the concept of caviar as much as the thing itself. In a word, he doesn’t over-indulge. “I don’t go to excess,” he says simply. “I’ve never done excesses, even in personal things”.
Maybe that explains his unusual life, as if living vicariously through all those briefly-met movie stars – an ultimately private, low-profile man basking fleetingly in their glamorous spotlight. He lives quietly, doesn’t flaunt his money, doesn’t even own a car. “I treasure the most beautiful thing in the world – peace of mind”.
And how exactly does one find peace of mind?
“Beautiful classical music. A wonderful film. Nice company. Other, private things. Whatever. You know,” says Hermes earnestly, “I’m not a person who asks for too much. You might say to me, [that’s] because ‘I’m all right, Jack’!” He shrugs: “Yes. It just happened like this. But I appreciate what I have”.
Is he sunny or gloomy, as a person? “Never gloomy,” he replies instantly. “Always the sunny side of life. Always positive. Of course we have our bad days and good days, but I always try to think positively. Because, to be honest with you, Theo – I’ve been lucky. Touch wood”. And he raps briefly on the wooden table in the Four Seasons.
HERMES ANGELOUDIS’ TOP 10 FILMS OF ALL TIME
1. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958)
2. GASLIGHT (1944)
3. REBECCA (1940)
4. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
5. SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959)
6. A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)
7. VERTIGO (1958)
8. REAR WINDOW (1954)
9. DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)
10. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)