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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 9 January 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 9 JANUARY 2016 13 emians on Hydra working and partying. The drinking, the smoking, the drug-taking, the sexual adventures with a constant stream of young foreigners created countless stories, myths and pure gossip. In the newest Leonard Cohen biography I'm Your Man by Sylvie Simmons, we get a glimpse of the levels of drug-taking and the effect this had on the various participants. During 1963, amid the partying and the drinking, George began the iconic Australian novel My Brother Jack. Daily, George pounded at the typewriter with Charmian sitting next to him correcting the typescript and helping him to remember life and events in Melbourne. Their routine was taxing. Every morning they would write until midday and then go down to the Katsikas cafe on the waterfront for lunch and wait for the ferry from Piraeus that would bring the mail and new artists and writers looking for adventure. There they would meet friends and George would regale them with stories about Australia and his adventures as a war correspondent; friends such as Peter Finch, Sidney Nolan, Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen (of So Long Marianne fame). It was during one of these conversations in 1963 that George was discussing his latest book with Leonard, and said, "I just don't know what to call it". "What's it about?" Leonard said. "My brother Jack," George replied. Leonard said: "There you are." In an interview for ABC radio in March 1980, Leonard Cohen said, "I knew George Johnston and his wife Charmian Clift very well because I lived in Greece in those days on the same island ... I guess it was from ‘60 to maybe ‘65 on Hydra. The Johnstons were there. There were just a few foreigners there in those days. “The Johnstons were central figures. They were older. They were doing what we all wanted to do, which was to write and to make a living out of writing. They were very wonderful, colourful, hospitable people. They helped me settle in. They gave me a table and chair and bed and really helped me out." Michael Cacoyannis (of Zorba The Greek fame) was another close friend of George and Charmian. They became close friends in 1956 when they were shooting the film Girl In Black (Το Κορίτσι με τα Μαύρα). Cacoyannis and the star of the film Ellie Lambeti spent much of their free time enjoying the hospitality of the Johnstons. The Johnston children are extras in this film. George and Charmian became friends with all the film crews that used Hydra as a backdrop for their films. There are wild rumours about what went on in the back room of the Katsikas store with Jules Dassin, Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins when they were there filming Phaedra. In 1963 Hollywood came calling when Robert Preston, Tony Randall and Walter Matthau came to film Island of Love. The entire Johnston family were paid extras in this film. George and Charmian spent eight years on Hydra, during which time there was an abundance of incidents and scandals permeating though the ex-pat community and on occasion making their way back to Australia. Both George and Charmian had a knack for incorporating in their fictional writings elements of their personal lives and this often aused friction and disbelief to each other and amongst readers and peers of the Johnstons. When My Brother Jack was published, unlike all his previous novels this one became a bestseller and won The Miles Franklin Award. At the beginning of 1964 George flew back to Sydney for the publicity tour and due a severe lack of money harmian and the children arrived back in Sydney on the Ellinis as assisted migrants from Greece. George set about writing the second part of the trilogy (and sequel to My Brother Jack), Clean Straw for Nothing. George by now was suffering terribly from the effects of the TB FEATURE that he had contracted years earlier, which was compounded by his inability to stop his incessant drinking and smoking. He spent quite some time in hospital. Charmian evolved into an extremely incisive essayist and wrote a weekly column for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Herald which soon attracted a cult-like status. She also worked on the script of My Brother Jack for ABC TV and appeared in a morning current affairs program with Anne Deveson on 2GB. This frenetic work ethic took its toll. The drinking and partying on Hydra had also caused a terrible deterioration in the overall health and stamina of both Charmian and George. When the Greek government was overthrown by a military junta in 1967, Charmian Clift became political and her writing reflected this, as she wrote extensively about her life in Greece. She also became vicepresident of the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Greece. Her daughter Shane, who of course spoke fluent Greek, was working as a secretary to Jim Calomeras at the Sydney Hellenic Herald. *Hydra: Songs and Tales of Bohemia will be held at the Hellenic Museum on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 January at 6.30pm for a 7.30pm start. On Saturday a special screening of Boy on a Dolphin will follow. For tickets visit www. eventbrite.com.au/d/australia-melbourne/hellenic-museum/?mode=search George Johnston and Charmian Clift in 1948.
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