I have watched Oscar and BAFTA award winning director, Stanley Kubrick’s modern day horror classic “The Shining” numerous times over the years. Each time I view it, I sit riveted in front of my television screen, knowing full well the ending, but still opting to take the descending journey into madness with the Overlook Hotel’s caretaker, Jack Torrance. I would imagine most who watch the film know that Torrance is portrayed by three time Academy Award winner Jack Nicholson, who, per his usual, acquits himself excellently in the role. In this film based on bestselling author Stephen King’s novel, there is, however, another actor that perhaps not as many people know about. The actor I am referring to is Philip Stone, the subject of this blog, and the man who appears as former Overlook caretaker, Delbert Grady. A role, that while there is no denying is short in terms of its screen duration, is paramount in regard to putting Nicholson’s character on a destructive path from which there is no return.
Philip Stone was born on April 14, 1924 in Kirkstall, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. The only difference between his birth name and the one he used as a professional actor was the removal of the letter ‘s’ from his last name, thus changing it from Stones to Stone. Those who were familiar with him, no doubt spotted him throughout the years in a variety of roles. In fact, in addition to being a prolific stage actor, his resume lists 106 different television and film productions that he was a part of during his career, including roles on television shows such as: “The Avengers” as Dr. Richard J. Tredding; “Coronation Street” as Detective Sergeant Sowman; “The Rat Catchers” as Brigadier Davidson; and as Sir John Gallagher on the show “Justice.” He also played: the father of Malcolm McDowell’s villainous character Alex, in “A Clockwork Orange;” portrayed real life German general, Alfred Jodl, in the film “Hitler: The Last Ten Days;” was the Lyndon family lawyer, Graham, in “Barry Lyndon;” and made an appearance as Captain Blumburtt in Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
Stone dropped out of school at a young age to go to work at the Jonas Woodhead & Sons engineering firm in Leeds where he lived. When his country needed him in 1943, he answered the call, and served admirably in the Royal Air Force, during the Second World War. Prior to his military service, his love of acting took shape when he attended some drama classes at Leeds College. After returning from the war, he made up his mind to become a member of the acting profession, and proceeded to go after roles with an unrelenting zeal.
His first big break came in 1947 when he landed a supporting part in the play “The Sleeping Clergyman,” which was being staged at the Criterion Theatre. Sadly, however, his dreams would be put on hold for several years, due to his contracting tuberculosis. After going through the necessary treatment, he returned to work at the engineering company, but acting remained his first love. In 1953, he began to both act in and direct local productions at the Leeds Arts Centre, where he would wind up meeting and marrying Margaret Pickard, with whom he would have three children. In 1960, he moved to London, to make his mark. It was in London, where his career as an in demand character actor in television and film truly began to burgeon, and continued to flourish from that moment onward, until his passing on June 15, 2003. For a time, he also ran his own production company, “Philip Stone Productions,”
While writing this blog, I stopped to ask myself the following question: What did I find so intriguing about Delbert Grady, that I would want to look into the life of the character actor who played him? At first it seems easy enough to dismiss Grady’s presence as nothing more than another vivid figment of Torrance’s imagination, like, for instance, Lloyd the Bartender (Joe Turkel). After all, Jack’s a recovering alcoholic, who’s been sober for less than a year, snowed in at a hotel, located miles from civilization and the nearest bar, even if he did feel like getting off the wagon to knock back some shots, or drink a few cold ones. In addition, the peace and quiet that was supposed to give him the requisite time to work on and complete his novel appears to be having the opposite effect; so who could really blame the guy if he was suffering from cabin fever – - regardless of how big the cabin is. Therefore why should I spend so much time reflecting on the conversation that Grady has with Jack in the bathroom?
Warning: For those of you who have not seen the film, and want to, there are spoilers contained throughout the remainder of the blog.
For starters, Jack not only enlightens Grady regarding the horrid manner in which Grady disposed of his own family, but he also tells him that he, Grady, was the former caretaker of the Overlook. At first Grady denies having any such memory of serving in that occupation, but when Torrance pushes him on the issue, he is none too pleased. The following exchange of dialogue, although simplistic in the words that are spoken, has always been one of the main catalysts for my contemplations about “The Shining” after each viewing.
“Mr. Grady, you were the caretaker here.”
“I am sorry to differ with you sir, but you are the caretaker, you’ve always been the caretaker. I should know sir, I have always been here.”
Rather than go into explanation, as to the meaning of the line, Grady informs Torrance that his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) has a special ability, one much greater perhaps than Jack has ever realized. Not only does he have an unusual gift, but he is attempting to use his ‘shining power’ to contact the Overlook’s cook, Dick Hallorann, (Scatman Crothers) to help save the day. Torrance admits that his son is a willful boy, but that a great deal of the blame falls on his wife, Wendy (Shelly Duvall) who interferes in things. After suggesting to Torrance that he speak with his family, he takes things a step further and says perhaps talking is not enough. Using cryptic language, thereby never actually using the words ‘murder’ or ‘kill,’ Grady informs Torrance that his girls didn’t like the Overlook, and one of them stole a pack of matches in an attempt to burn the hotel down. Furthermore, he lets Torrance know that he not only corrected her, but when his wife tried to keep him from carrying out his responsibilities, he corrected her as well.
If it were merely the one conversation Torrance had with Grady in the bathroom, preceded by several occasions of craving liquor so much that he conjured up a bartender named Lloyd, I would dismiss it all to be nothing more than meaningless delusions; the potency of Jack’s overactive imagination creating conversations he would forget about after a good night’s sleep . . . but not so fast. Danny and Wendy also see and hear strange ghostly images of figures from the Overlook Hotel’s notorious history. These ghostly figures let me as a viewer know that what is taking place is not just imagination, but the awakening of the dormant evil that is trapped inside the hotel. For example, Grady’s brutally murdered twin girls (Lisa & Louise Burns) appear to Danny several times throughout the movie, at one point imploring him to stay with them so they can all play together forever. There is also the tuxedo attired, injured man, (Norman Gay) who has blood caked down the front of his face, but still raises his cocktail glass to Wendy and says, “great party isn’t it,” Not to mention the literal river of blood that erupts forth from the elevator as Wendy is frantically searching the hotel to find Danny.
Why does Grady say those lines to Torrance in the bathroom? Why would Jack Torrance have always been the caretaker, and how has Grady always been with the hotel? There is no explanation given; it is left to the viewer to speculate. The same way, the final frame of the film, made my jaw drop the first time I viewed it, as the camera focuses in on a picture which reads: “Overlook Hotel, July 4th Ball, 1921.” The picture speaks theoretical volumes, but, just like the conversation, offers no clear cut, concise information. The only concrete thing I was able to take away from the photo was that Jack Torrance looks exactly the same in 1921 as he does in the present; once again leaving further speculation up for discussion. I would love to hear any of your thoughts regarding those or any other aspects of the film.