A little-known fact about the late Australian comedy legend, Barry Humphries (1934-2023) – renowned for his iconic portrayal of the flamboyant Dame Edna Everage on both stage and television – was that he entertained the notion of playing Aleister Crowley on screen.
The film was the idea of John Symonds, author of the Crowley biography “The Great Beast.” Symonds had known Crowley, acted as his literary agent in his later years, and was appointed his co-literary executor after Crowley’s death. Opinion is divided on the merits of “The Great Beast.” Did it lead to a revival of interest in the Magus or was it the final nail in the coffin of his demonisation?
In a letter dated 22 January 1996, held in a private collection in Australia, Humphries wrote to Symonds saying: “Of course I am interested in ‘The Beast.’ I think it has great possibilities but it will have to wait. I need to read the book again and would like to immediately subscribe to the reprint. However, my problem is time. I have to write a new television series and a film, so, alas, this project may have to wait until next year. I hope you understand.”
Symonds did not, annotating the letter with the comment: “As for the film of 666 of which BH would play the part of AC, nothing would come of it; he [BH] is totally unreliable.”
Whether a Symonds controlled film about Crowley is a good idea, is certainly questionable. It is highly unlikely he possessed the creative vision, technical skill, storytelling prowess, and deep understanding of the cinematic language to make a success of it (and that is before even bringing up his understanding and thoughts about Crowley). However, there can be little doubt Humphries would have been perfect to write and star in the role.