"The influence my father had on my life is immense," Nick explains. "He helped develop my creative skills, (writing poetry when I was 5 years old). He helped me connect with people in the film industry. But most importantly, he showed me how to be a good human being and gave me the roots of the philosophy I developed over the decades.
Len Maley was a kind and gentle man. An actor, a singer, a poet. He encouraged young Nick to be sensitive, artistic, expressive and imaginative. As a freelance performer in the entertainment industry, he also demonstrated that life could be lived without the security of “a proper job”. Nick grew up mixing with performers, back stage or watching numerous theatre shows. At 7 he knew the words to every song, every joke, and play acted for all the other kids at school.
“We lived in my Grandparent’s house In Wembley, Middlesex, and I remember one day when a strange machine arrived and was positioned in the living room. They explained to me it was a magic box that you watched things on. It was a black and white television and that opened up the world of movies for me,” Nick explains. “I had been to the cinema before that. But we didn’t have much money. So those visits were not often. That TV brought into the house stars like Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, as well as heros I could act out like William Tell and the Cisco Kid. My imagination flourished.
"My grandmother had an ornate brass clock on the mantlepiece. I remember hiding it in the garden when I was 7. It was a bomb and I was the guy sent to diffuse it. I did a good job of dismantling it. Unfortunately it never worked right after that.”
PHOTO: Nick at a birthday party for one of the three girls who lived next door to his grandparents (where he lived). Linda, Desna and Sandra, PLUS all the local kids. The lady at the back is believed to be the girl's mother.
Nick says, "Of course, I'm the one in front with the silly smile."
“ I guess I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be center stage,” Nick Recalls. “I would stand before the class and entertain the other kids. I thought I would be an actor or comedian and a began acquiring the skills I would need for that.” Nick’s father taught him stage make-up to take part in school plays, which ultimately would lead to a career in the movie industry.
A few years later Nick and his parents moved to nearby Kingsbury. When Nick’s father was home he would read classic sci-fi and fantasy stories to Nick. “It was a VERY artsy environment and I grew up with no expectation of living a normal life”.
Eventually, Len used connections he had made whilst working on the movie OLIVER to open doors that lead Nick from teaching at drama school to making movies. But he died before he saw Nick achieve success in that field. “I adored my dad and really wanted him to be proud of me. But he passed before STAR WARS or any of the other movies I became known for. He had a very gentle placid nature that inspired much of my philosophy of life. I miss him to this day”.
The other half... Whilst recovering from cancer surgery in 2010, Nick wrote his first book WORDS & PICTURES. He says that during that time he reflected more on the influence of his mother Doris...
Nick recalls... “My mother was a bookkeeper. About as far removed from being in show business as you can imagine. She was very practical. She would say that she had been a dancer. But I never saw photos or any program to support that claim. She changed her name to Leslie and, whilst my father toured with theatre companies, It was mum who went to work like regular folks and brought home the cash that paid for food and clothes and other essentials. I think on that now and realize what a burden that was for her. But she was a strict woman and, as a kid, I really didn’t think she loved me at all.
Mum had a number of psychological issues. Our lives really revolved around her moods. She never let us forget how hard she worked for us. She would pick fights with my father constantly. Not over money as you might think. But over jealousy and wanting 100% of his attention. It was tough."
" I learned to manipulate situations to keep the peace but Mum would continually belittle my abilities and achievements and I grew up thinking I was just a burden to her. I left home at 18. It was as early as I could and our relationship became somewhat estranged.”
“When my mother died in 2005, I flew to England to organize the funeral. When I was going through her stuff I found all the old family albums. it was a difficult, emotional, time as you would expect. It made me remember all the hurtful times. But with the perspective of an adult, I saw her role in my life with greater appreciation. Those photos showed an affection that I had somehow missed as a child. I saw the countless birthday cakes she had made for me with extravagant themes and meticulous detail. I remembered all the costumes she sewed for me, (as we had no money for store bought outfits). There were LOTS of them. Cowboy, Indian, Pirate, Roman. "
“ I remembered those trips to zoos that reinforced my love of animals and trips museums that developed my apreciation of art. Stuff that broadened my mind and helped form the guy I am today. Quite suddenly it was clear that she must loved me... but was too caught up in her own needs to display that until much later in life.
Now, when I examine my own motivations and relationships, I realize that much of my later actions follow a deep desire for love and appreciation that probably has it’s seed in my relationship with my mother. As a Head of Department making movies like KRULL and HIGHLANDER, my creativity had to be tempered by balancing the budget. Maybe that was my mother’s influence too. In her later years she tried so hard to close the gap between us. In preparing a eulogy for her, I finally came to peace with our relationship. "
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Originally posted 8/15/09
DocDraconis: asked “What's the story of how you came to work in the entertainment industry?”
Nick replies: My bio touches on this. It really starts when I was a small child. Infants first learn their values and interests from family members and other people that they come in contact with. My father, Len Maley, was a singer and actor, a very gentle, sympathetic personality that everyone loved and I idolized him. After the Second World War he had trained at the Old Vic School which was the most prestigious drama school in England at that time. It was akin to the National Theater. Although he never achieved fame, he worked pretty regularly and so I grew up in the theater surrounded by actors and showgirls and technicians.
I can not over estimate the influence and help my father was in those early years. It was only natural that I would take seriously the things those around me did. So I would play act a lot. Mimic the comedians my dad worked with and acquired a taste for pretty women at a young age. Whilst kids whose dads were mechanics might play with mechanical things, I was learning stage make-up at 7 years old and performing in all the school plays. I was much more interested in entertaining the other kids than studying at school and through that period my education somewhat passed me by.
I failed the “11 plus” exam that determined what level your education would continue at from 11 years on and still wasn’t really concerned when I started at a school better known for the murderers it produced than the standard of education.
When I was 13, I “starred” in a school play and got excellent reviews from the local paper. So I was sure I was going to be an actor.
When I was 14 I was so full of myself that I refused to be in the next school play... because I just didn’t like it! So I put on my own rival production, producing and directing as well as taking a lead role.
I felt that my life was on track. Then one of my teachers decided to set me straight. He explained to me that I was not as smart as I thought I was. He told me to give up art and drama... that it would amount to nothing and I’d never make any money doing that. He explained that I would spend my life working in a factory and advised me to concentrate on woodwork instead. I will always be grateful to this man as it was a HUGE wake-up call. He thought I was going to work in a factory? Was he crazy? Within 6 months I was top of my (mediocre) class in 6 subjects. No one could believe the difference. They moved me into a higher class and, although I struggled to catch up, I worked twice as hard as everyone else. I haven’t stopped.
When I was 15 my dad was teaching at Drama School. There were 3 classes of students for each of the 3 years. At the end of each term, each class had to put on a play. That meant 9 shows with 30 people in each and only a few days to teach them all their make-up. I earned pocket money following behind my dad as he designed the make-ups and I gave practical advice on mixing colors and sharpening eyebrow pencils. I have to admit that I learned a lot by the mistakes I made there.
When I was 16 I went on to a sixth form college. I grew a lot there, had a lot of fun and I started a drama group and produced three college reviews. (Thats me on the stool. I sometimes wonder what happened to those other guys?)
During this time my dad worked on the movie OLIVER for 16 weeks. OLIVER was the first film set that I visited and it was HUGE!. I carried that memory back to our low income housing estate (with a polystyerene brick from the set), and began fantasizing over the possibility of acting in movies.
When I was 17 I realized that people had lied to me when I was young... I WASN’T going to be tall and handsome! Having grown up in the business I had enough experience to know that if I wanted to act I could expect to wait another 20 years to become a character actor. I had to start thinking about other aspects of the business that might offer more success in less time. That Christmas, I did a 4 week show as a follow spot operator in a West End theater. That was a good experience but I didn’t see myself becoming a lighting tech permanently.
One day I was home when the phone rang. I answered it. Someone had got my dad’s number and was looking for personnel to do make-up for a show at the Royal Albert Hall. Dad was out and they didn’t know they were talking to a 17 year old kid. My mother was shocked when I talked for an hour about the job, negotiated the deal and took the booking... for the TWO of us. That was the first job where I WAS THE BOSS and I realized that maybe my future would lie in make-up.
As a result, my dad contacted the make-up artists that he had befriended on OLIVER and I applied for a union ticket which was essential to work on movies. Unfortunately they had not permitted any new members for 14 years so I wasn’t holding my breath.
When I was 18 I transfered to art college but my dad became very sick. Within a few months he was unable to work. I didn’t want him losing his job at the drama schools, so I stepped in and took over his classes. I thought it was a temporary measure but he was never able to return. Since I was now teaching at 6 drama schools including what became an annex of Middlesex University, I followed up my aplication to get a movie union ticket. This time I got a response. It told me that they had my info on file and would let me know if they needed anyone. Basically it was a "don't call us, we'll call you." letter.
People often tell me I am talented. I tell them, "Talent helps. But persistance succeeds. And this is a perfect example. I found out where the make-up artists held thier monthly union meetings and I showed up every month for two years. Eventually they got sick of telling me they didn't need me and invited me to an interview to be considered for that union ticket. At the interview I figured that they were sufficiently impressed that I was 20 years old and teaching at University that they let me in. But it was probably that they were sick of telling me to go away.
That was 1969. It sounds like the end of my story. But it was just the beginning. I was in movies... but continued to struggle to find work for many years.
My Dad died in 1973 at the age of 49. It was 3 years before I worked on Star Wars and he never saw any of the successes I had. I have always been grateful for his inspiration and aid in getting started in the industry. I would often work for very short periods. But I turned a blind eye to the risks that scare others away from freelance work. I have always thought that it is more of a risk to sacrifice your dreams for a “proper job”.
If there was a secret to my success it was perserverance. I strove to generate new opportunities and made the most of EVERY one that materialized. I was partly driven by an excessive ego and partly driven by the determination to prove that teacher was wrong. So even when things looked hopeless, I refused to give up. And I promised myself that day by day I would learn a little more, work a little harder and strive to be better than others could expect of me. I have lived my whole life by that principle.