George Rose: Death in the Caribbean

Actor George Rose travelled an unusual path from Bicester to Broadway. He lived in West Hampstead for the best part of a decade while he learned his craft from great actors and directors such as Tyrone Guthrie, Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook and John Gielgud. And after a very successful career on the stage, he died a tragic death in the Caribbean.

George was born in 1920 in the market town of Bicester, 15 miles north of Oxford. The son of a family butcher, he was educated at Oxford High School and went to see plays in the city every week. George left school at 16 to work as a secretary at Oxford University and then tried farming. After serving in the Army during WWII, George studied music at the Royal School of Music where he saw an advert for singers at the Old Vic and joined the company. With a letter of recommendation from Lawrence Olivier he got a one-year acting scholarship at the Central School of Speech and Drama; which was then at the Royal Albert Hall, moving to Swiss Cottage in 1957. Rose worked in Shakespeare at Stratford before joining Peter Brook’s productions at the Haymarket and the Phoenix theatres.

By 1948 Rose was living at 49 Howitt Road in Belsize Park before moving to 109 West End Lane in 1951. He stayed in West Hampstead and was at 21 Lymington Road in 1957, leaving by 1959.

He made his New York debut in the 1946 production of Henry IV, Part 1. He did two further Broadway productions, Much Ado About Nothing (1959), and A Man for All Seasons in 1961, when he moved permanently to New York. Rose became very successful on Broadway and won two Tony awards for his performances in a revival of My Fair Lady (1976) and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1986). He was particularly good at comedy roles ranging from Shakespeare to light opera, and in 1981 he appeared in The Pirates of Penzance with Kevin Kline and singer Linda Rondstadt.

Friends loved him for his warmth and eccentricities. Fellow actor Paul Scofield said George had ‘a smile like a big log fire’. In New York, George lived in a flat in Greenwich Village which he shared with a lynx, a mountain lion and other wild animals. His working life was devoted to theatre while his spare time was spent reading, cooking and listening to his collection of 17,000 records.

About 1979, George bought a holiday home in Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Friends warned him about the dangers of living there but he loved the country life as a break from New York. In 1984 he adopted a fourteen-year-old local boy called Juan and in 1986 made him heir to his $2 million estate.

In May 1988, the New York Times reported that George had been killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, but the local police soon said it was not an accident. Juan, now 18, his natural father and two other Dominican men confessed to having murdered the actor for fear that Rose had turned his attentions to a younger boy and was about to alter his will. The police said George had been held prisoner for eight hours. The men faked the car crash to try and hide the fact that George was beaten to death. They did not stand trial for the murder, though all but Juan were imprisoned for several years.

A few days before his death George had asked an American friend on the island to take him to see a lawyer as he wanted to change his will as he realised that Juan did not really care for him. But he never made the meeting. In a private settlement after George’s death, the penniless Juan received the house in Sosua, which he promptly sold and then he disappeared. He reappeared on the island in 1997, the year the three men were released from prison.

The Dominican authorities gave out little information about the murder as they wanted to protect the valuable tourist industry. This meant George’s friends and family were unaware of the details of his death for some time.

In June 1988, 800 people gathered in New York’s Shubert Theatre to celebrate George Rose’s life in a memorial service. Theatre producer Joe Papp referred to him as a Broadway legend. Henry Fonda once described his artistry as a marvel, and Jack Lemmon said Rose’s performances had given him the most pleasure in theatre. Cleo Laine, who appeared with him in Edwin Drood, recalled his singing and encyclopaedic knowledge of music. Lynn Redgrave said he taught her everything she knew about playing comedy and was the first person she phoned when she arrived in New York. In 1964, after George stole the grave scene from Richard Burton when they played together in Hamlet, Burton humorously said ‘Never share the stage with animals, children or George Rose’.

George Rose also appeared in more than 30 films – his IMDb entry lists 76 performances in film and TV between 1952 and 1988, and this does not include his many stage performances. Alix Kirsta wrote a very good article about Rose in the Sunday Times on 25 May 1997 which is available (along with many photos) on her website.

There was revived interest in Rose in January 2016, when Ed Dixon wrote and starred in a one man play Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose, which was performed in small theatres in New York. Dixon said he wanted to take the audience on his personal journey. In 1973, Ed had met and become friends with George who was 30 years older, when they toured together in The Student Prince. Dixon said, ‘He was famous and gay, powerful and gay, rich and gay. People couldn’t say no to George. His personality was overwhelming’. Dixon was in awe of Rose and the first hour of the play looked at his career with anecdotes and impressions of famous actors such as Laurence Olivier and Katharine Hepburn. In the last half hour Dixon tells how George had invited him to Sosua. Here, Ed said he felt uncomfortable with the young men at the house and he returned to New York. A short time later he heard about George’s death, and he was stunned and horrified as he learned the truth about his friend, mentor and idol.

Five Mother’s Day presents from West Hampstead

Seaching for a present for your mother (or the mother of your kids, or whoever you want to express your gratitude to)? We have been searching the snowy streets of West Hampstead for inspiration (and bagged you a couple of discounts along the way!)

Say it with flowers, Achillea style

First stop, a WHL favourite, Achillea Flowers on Mill Lane. It has its usual array of really beautiful bouquets of course, but for something a bit more special how about getting your mum a place at one of its workshops? Next up is “Dressing the table for Spring” (£100 with £5 off if you mention WHL) on 20th March. This includes all materials (and wine!) so your mum will come away with a beautiful table display and lots of ideas.

West End Lane Books suggested the latest novel by Elizabeth Strout, ‘Anything is Possible’, or Elinor Oliphant’s ‘Everything is Fine’. Fans of historical fiction might like ‘The Miniaturist’ (televised over Christmas) or ‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock‘. For something a bit more emotional, the shop has signed copies of Greg Wise’s book, co-written with his sister Clare, who died from cancer in 2016. If it is a cookbook you’re after then I liked the look of Anna Jones’ ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’.

Just the right weather to curl up with a good book!

Season Cookshop has done all the hard work and, in a very helpful window display, made suggestions for the tea, coffee or wine-drinking mother.  It also stocks Artisan du Chocolat’s delicious sea-salted caramels. I know, I know, salted caramel is as ubiquitous as a Keep Calm apron, but Artisan was one of the first to combine them and still one of the best.

Tea, coffee or … wine!

For more chocolate options head over to Zyla on Broadhurst Gardens where Zoe has a delicious selection available. She is also offering a Mother’s Day basket, which includes not only her chocolates (and I think a candle by local candle maker) but also a suitable book from… West End Lane Books (of course)!

And finally, if you are looking for something creative and ‘crafty’ try the Village Haberdashery. It has put together a selection of nine Mother’s Day present ideas. Plus on Mother’s Day itself, Annie will be popping prosecco and hosting a free paper-flower making table at the shop. No booking required – bring your mum, bring your kids, just come and relax.

The Petite Corée: Locals shouting about Korean twist

I was an early sceptic. Korean French fusion? In West Hampstead? Really? It sounded pretty risky – the sort of thing that Kitchen Nightmares are made of. The reality, thank god, is astonishingly good. This is partly because The Petite Corée’s food isn’t really Korean-French fusion.

Jae, the deadpan chef, though Korean, has trained in European restaurants and his cooking is achingly classic Western European; but, and it’s a critical but, there’s a Korean twist to every dish that’s handled with both flair and subtlety. He even made me love kimchee (when I mentioned that I wasn’t normally a big fan of kimchee, he asked if I was being racist – see “deadpan” above). This is high class food presented in a pared-back casual restaurant (no jacket required) presided over by Yeon, who runs the front of house.

The restaurant launched very quietly at the start of the year, and took a few weeks to get going as word of mouth slowly spread. It may be the only restaurant in West Hampstead that hasn’t yet had a negative comment tweeted about it, which is impressive given the fickle nature of many local diners!

The menu is reassuringly short, and has already had one seasonal change, which is a promising start. The Petite Corée is not a cheap restaurant – it’s catapulted itself right up into the high price bracket for the area – but for food of this quality, that isn’t going to put too many people off (and it also does a more competitively priced lunch deal!). I loved the smoked swordfish starter and my guinea fowl main course – perhaps one of the least Korean dishes on the menu – was beautifully balanced. However, the slow-roast pork belly with “Korean BBQ” jus is already established as the restaurant’s signature dish and rightly survived the first menu change.

Now over to my fellow reviewers (apologies, our photos aren’t the best, we may have been enjoying the wine list too much – there are much better ones at this excellent review).

I’ve never raved so much about a radish. The humble root vegetable, garnished with a flavoursome black sesame and yoghurt dressing, was the unexpected star of the starters – although the smoked swordfish with wasabi and lime dressing deserves an honourable mention. For my main course I had the steak. This was served with galbi – a soy-based Korean sauce, expertly rendered, which distinguished the dish from the rest of the NW6 rib-eye pack. The dollop of mashed potato beside it was the evening’s biggest triumph, however. I just about had room for an ice cream at the end. This is a friendly little eaterie with idiosyncratic, well-prepared food at a fair price. I’ll be back, especially during radish season.

"I've never raved so much about a radish"

“I’ve never raved so much about a radish”

The Petite Corée had a lot to live up to, having built up a steady stream of glowing reviews on Twitter and the WHL Forum. And it didn’t disappoint. We shared six starters between us, which was probably a good idea as we each got to taste everything without anyone suffering food envy. Highlights included mandu – pork dumplings drizzled with a deliciously sweet and sticky balsamic sauce, and a radish salad that was as good to look at as it was to eat. Each dish was a nicely-balanced combination of classic European and Korean cuisine, but without ever straying into gimmicky “fusion” territory. Special mention has to go to the mashed potato (I was gluttonous enough to steal a forkful from Tom), which in true French style tasted like it had been whipped with about 80% butter. Believe the hype: The Petite Corée is a great new neighbourhood restaurant.

Arancini with kimchee flavoured rice and mozzarella

Arancini with kimchee flavoured rice and mozzarella

In refreshingly minimalist decor, Petite Corée was a delightful dinner. Every dish was an inventive combination of simple ingredients that was great fun to try. I liked the simple uncluttered menu and as there were six of us we were all able to check out most of it. As a big Korean food fanatic, I was particularly pleased with the kimchee, although it was prepared and served in a less-traditional way: kimchee sauce on ‘un-kimcheed’ cabbage. Still, the result was gorgeous and gave me the satisfying kimchee kick that I’m addicted to. My pork belly main was sold as a korean BBQ dish. Whether it was Korean or not, it was lovely. What a gorgeous little restaurant, I couldn’t fault it to be honest and I can’t wait to go back.

I was impressed on my first visit to Petite Corée a few months ago, but this was on another level. Every single plate chef served up featured a collage of fascinating, powerful, yet nicely-nuanced flavours, with well-considered combinations and really delightful vegetables. And that mashed potato – divine! The starters were addictive and varied; my favourite was (predictably!) potato and rice gnocchi with wild garlic leaves, Parmesan and Korean chilli sauce. Balance was offered via a rather stunning radish salad, with enticing colours and a splendid bitter twist. My gurnard with rainbow chard and a spicy fish jus was delicious; clever use of spices adding waves of flavour whilst not overpowering the fish. Also served were eringi mushrooms, which I now know are also known as king trumpet or French horn mushrooms (among other things) – how marvellous! Great service and a very special chef – not surprised this restaurant is making a few local headlines.

Guinea fowl with asparagus

Guinea fowl with asparagus

I had walked past Le Petit Corée and glanced at the intriguing menu several times, so I was looking forward to giving it a try though not entirely sure what to expect. Would a French-Korean mash up work? In short, yes. All of the starters were excellent, particularly the pork dumplings and the swordfish, both of which had an invisible touch of Korea, providing a kick without overwhelming the delicate flavours. My sea bass main was beautifully cooked and the miso butter dressing worked really well. The only negative was a few small bones left in the fillet, which caught me by surprise. The sesame cream caramel to end was delicious, I’ll be goin’ back for more of that! Great service and a friendly atmosphere ensured a good time was had by all. I expect we’ll all be returning for at least one more night.

The Petite Corée
98 West End Lane
T: 020 7624 9209