“The question mark is a very important aspect of living.” —Albert Finney, March 1982
Albert Finney lives in a cul-de-sac.
It is a tiny, quiet street of connecting houses, white and neat, with the odd tricycle obstructing the narrow footpath. Finney’s home is on the left, the one with the yellow window boxes and no name on the bell. He’s in, you can tell; the jazz of Johnny Hodges and Gerry Mulligan comes wailing through the heavy door, bursting the morning calm.
It is Sunday in Chelsea, and Albert Finney is dressed for an easy day, a day like the day before, a day without work. A time when he lives less dangerously, less intensely than when he’s otherwise engaged.
This is a comfortable setting for this uncomfortable man whose hands are too large, whose face proclaims its forty-six years without vanity or shame. It is a home for someone who doesn’t see why he needs a home, who can always call on room service in hotels, places where they’ll fix the leaking roof and you never have to phone the plumber. And yet he’s lived here for three years now, his housemate, Diana Quick, having decorated, knocked down walls while Albert was away, painted the living room apricot, put a gracious sofa across from the fireplace and an easy chair just beside the glowing hearth.
In this British household there is no stuffiness, no airs just a casual sensibility accented by Finney’s mellifluous Lancashire baritone, a voice unlike London in its smooth, musical tone. Though Diana, like Albert, has spent her life in theater (she’s best known in America for her lead in Brideshead Revisited), there are no mementos of the stage in evidence, nothing grandiose, simply things meant to be enjoyed. Like the embroideries from Machu Picchu, where they traveled last year, where Albert, as ever, was more interested in what the place did to him than exploring the ruins.
Finney is now setting the white marble-topped dining table, meticulous as ever, a pride of careful movements, wiping a wine-glass that looks fragile beside his imposing frame — economical gestures from an unextravagant man, Diana emerges from the kitchen. Albert arranges the last plate and snubs out a Marlboro. A switch from Bloody Marys to wine. It is dinner at the Finney household.
Four people consume an elegant fruit course, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, greens, vegetable purée and bottles of Orvieto, Bordeaux and champagne. Caramelized pears appear and disappear. Then, biting off the end of a fine Havana cigar, Albert excuses himself and descends to the basement, where he sprawls out upon a black leather couch to digest his meal before the TV, which was replaying the big football match at Wembley between Liverpool and Tottenham. It is Sunday in England, and men and boys are letting their roasts settle to the vision of youths kicking rubber balls. Tomorrow is the office, the factory, the routine. There is no lathe for Albert to turn on Monday, no movie or play or script that seems provocative. Tomorrow he’ll go see his horses.
By remote control, he switches back and forth between the soccer game and an old war drama, a bit of Forties flag-waving called Compass Rose, replete with every cliché endemic to its ilk. Albert is restless and sticks more and more to the movie. Acting as long as he has, he seems to anticipate each line, mouthing the likes of “I may never see you again, will I?” almost automatically. Across from him, diagonally across the room and to the right of the Sony, is a relic of Compass Rose‘s vintage: a chalkboard mounted on a pole, surrounded by brightly colored metal, with lettering that announces, Albert Finney, Bookmaker. It was his father’s betting board, his stock in trade, the symbol of the profession he failed to pass on to his son, the son who invited him from the north to the West End twenty years ago, the son who met him at the train station and walked him past the marquee for Billy Liar, the marquee with the son’s name up in lights. And when the son pointed and asked, “Well, Dad, what do you think?” the old man replied, “Not bad, not bad. I never thought I’d have my name in lights.”
Albert quits the film as the credits roll. He’s back to sport, but they’re already in the locker room. Enough of this. Upstairs. Let’s have some port, what do you say?
“What I do is resist seeming to be one thing,” Albert Finney is saying. “I may be deluding myself, but there is a sense of the rogue and vagabond, the strolling player, seeing what comes up — where do I want to go next, how do I feel. It actually means I don’t have to fit within society, into a particular mold. I like the sense that one might still be surprised by life.”
It is all said thoughtfully, if a bit matter-of-factly. Finney assays his life, this career in progress, with the detached objectivity of a critic viewing an old drama. He has considered it often, pondered long and hard; questions, questions, questions; a curiosity outstripping any compulsion for knowledge of self. “I think one always has doubts,” he says. “I always hated it when anybody suggested there ain’t no doubt. I mistrusted that.”
There is no certainty to Finney, just an abundance of vague mysteries that sometimes puzzle his colleagues and that he embellishes with unpredictable flights across the public eye. There he was, a star before his twenty-fifth birthday, the finest of his generation, they attested, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a film that revolutionized British cinema, already under his belt; Luther, a smash in London and on Broadway; Tom Jones awakening an entire generation to the virtues of youthful, bawdy lust. Approbation and multipicture deals danced seductively around his unswelled head. Lawrence of Arabia? He had already turned it down. David Merrick wanted him to stay in New York? Forget it. Well, what do you want to do, Albert? What is it you want?
Albert left the iron glowing hot and took off around the world. The brightest young performer around, written up everywhere as destined to be the leading man of the era, packed a bag and headed through Fiji, Pago Pago, the West Indies, Italy, Greece — anywhere he decided to move. A year of self-exile before it was fashionable for movie stars to make themselves scarce.
He did return, of course, to the stage, rebounding from the failure of Night Must Fall, a disastrous film made before he left, by winning Britain’s award as best actor in 1966. Then, he escaped to the south of France to shoot Two for the Road with Audrey Hepburn. But something, it seemed, was still missing.
So a year was spent on Charlie Bubbles. It is the only film Finney has directed — a year of his life behind the camera, starring in front of the camera, producing the project from start to end. It was a highly personal, beloved affair, this ninety-one-minute tale of a successful writer, wary of and alienated from his good fortune, seeking his roots, ultimately floating away on a bouquet of balloons. It was an exceptional film treated unexceptionally by audiences. “If they reject Charlie Bubbles, they reject my feelings, attitudes and everything around me,” Finney had warned. And so he withdrew again, thinking things out on Corfu, surfacing in the black comedy Gunshoe and making a surprising sensation in the musical Scrooge. But for six years there were no West End performances, the leading stage actor of London brooding offstage. Unprovoked, disinterested, waiting for good shows.
Then, in 1972, a funny thing happened. A little play — a harsh, naturalistic domestic drama called Alpha Beta — opened starring Albert Finney. The juices, the adrenaline, came seeping through the veins, slowly at first, a percolation followed by a pressured surge. Acting, all at once, was relevant again. The turmoil of performance, its ecstasy, watching the audience respond to him. Revitalization. He even dressed up like a grotesque oil slick to play Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express. Praised for this impersonation, this triumphant big-screen return, Albert did the obvious; he stayed out of movies for six years and devoted his life to the National Theater — repertory, the major Shakespeare roles, modern masterpieces — and felt fulfilled. He even recorded, in 1977, an album of his songs for Motown. And then, abruptly it seems, he absented himself from the stage once more and came to America to do five pictures — Looker, Wolfen, Loophole, Shoot the Moon and Annie — back to back.
Even to Albert Finney this odd pilgrimage defies pat explanations. He tries to fill in the gaps, or, at times, evade them, a cautious man propelled by instinct and contradiction. “When I took the year off after Tom Jones, I don’t know why. I suppose I wanted to travel a bit,” he explains. “It may have been that I didn’t know what I wanted; I was afraid of what I wanted to do next, ’cause I was hot. Jesus, it suddenly seemed important what I did next, so I said to hell with it. So I didn’t do shit. I didn’t have to do anything next.
“And I always wanted to wander,” he goes on. “I also think I’m good as an actor. I’m not saying I can act terrific or great, but I can act good. And what I’ve always believed is that I’ll get a job.”
The problem, though, is whether the job is worthy. There’s no denying Finney loves his craft, can relate, with enchanted wonder, the elevation of spirit that occurs when he gets to “inhabit other life forms.” But at times it seems too easy; acting devoid of creation, devoid of control, can be a coast. He has done excellent work in projects unworthy of his talents — Looker and Wolfen, for instance, the sort of films Orient Express director Sidney Lumet guesses Finney does “for the bucks”— but he seems wary of whatever doesn’t carry him to the brink. His coworkers talk without hesitation of his remarkable commitment, but he seems unstimulated by parts, by lines that lack the sort of intensity that can be duplicated in everyday life.
“He was bored by Tom Jones,” says its director, Tony Richardson, “Albert thought it wasn’t an interesting part, it was reactive, that all he had to use was his personality. And he found that frustrating. He wanted to tear into passion. The part didn’t give him the opportunities of Hamlet or Macbeth.”
But that was, after all, years ago, this disdain. A time when this energized Finney, crammed with ingenuity, was determined, as director Karel Reisz recalls he said, “to use everything I’ve breathed into my lungs.” He was intolerant of mediocrity, destined for bigger things, to take the big roles and own them. And though Finney still strives, covets challenge, can strip bare emotionally for Shoot the Moon or risk Daddy Warbucks’ tap-dancing, a sort of calm has finally set in. The worst is behind him now; he’s exorcised his Hamlet, survived Macbeth, endured all the inevitable comparisons with the holy men of the British stage. He even “threatens” to direct a sequel to Charlie Bubbles. The fire is under control. And it can even be stoked.
“One needs to be propositioned,” he says, “by a script, by an idea, by a situation. You need it to make you say, ‘Come one, come on — you need this.’ Like Alice with the cookie that said, ‘Take me.’
“I don’t relish that one is performing to order, though,” he went on. “But one shouldn’t get too serious about it. One is actually a performer, a juggler, a sword swallower. It is a sort of a sideshow, isn’t it? One takes part now and again; people may drift in and out. But I do want to be thought of as giving value for money. They come along, they buy it, they like it.”
It is pouring, and we’re on our way to Epsom, site of Britain’s most prestigious horse race, site of the stables that house some of Albert Finney’s thoroughbreds. About an hour out of London we drive, Funney handling his blue-gray Mercedes sports car with skill, quickly over slick roads, till we reach the undulating track. Here, horses race on grass, galloping over soft hills, coping with uncertain terrain.
“When we were making Annie, I went to the races regularly,” Finney says, hanging a left onto an unpaved path. “The most I ever bet is $2000, but generally, considerably less. And I don’t believe in simply betting. One prefers a knowledgeable gamble.”
There is the gambler in Finney, albeit a conservative one, the type not bent on self-destruction but on fair risk. Albert doesn’t take too many chances, but when he does, he often comes up a cropper. Like doing Tom Jones for a percentage of its revenue rather than a set fee; or, through the company he owns, Memorial Enterprises, producing Lindsay Anderson’s classic films If and O Lucky Man; or, while working in America, entering Super Bowl betting pools with minimal investment and, in one case, achieving a return of over $10,000. There is always a love of sport, anywhere.
“I remember when I was playing Broadway, each Sunday morning a bunch of us would go over to Downey’s at eleven — it was before the legal opening, but we had friends — lunch there, go up to Yankee Stadium, see the Giants, have a few drinks from the flask,” he says. “The trick then was to find some girls to come home and cook dinner, say, while we watched the West Coast game on the television and partied some more.”
That was fun, wasn’t it, but horses are serious business, a mettle of achievement, a cloak of joy for the bookmaker’s son. There is nothing dilettantish about his concern for his equine property. Though he speaks adoringly of the four foals (three fillies and a colt) he’s had lately by Seattle Slew, these “babies” will be educated as well as loved. Pulling into the driveway of his trainer’s house, the aroma of wet ground and the nearby stalls is like a tonic to Finney.
“How’s he doing?” Albert asks John Sutcliffe, who cares for the animals with that especial closeness that trainers always have. Out the window, a fox scrambles across the forest-bounded lawn. John is reassuring about the colt, which is recovering from a knee problem and is slowly returning to racing form. It is 10:30 a.m., the chatter is about victors and losers at recent races, and champagne is poured. There’d been a good deal of drinking the previous night, though Albert shows no ill effects. “Champagne is good for a hangover,” he reassures, and we depart for the five-furlong practice run, standing in wind and rain, mud on shoes and trousers, as a dozen horses are put through their paces. Finney watches intently; the colt is moving well. He is cheered.
More champagne at John’s house now, more talk of tomorrow’s meet at Cheltenham, a jumping meet, attracting the cream of society as well as hordes of Irishmen whose horses are good at that sort of thing. Albert will be in the VIP pavilion; he must remember to bring his dinner jacket for the evening festivities. It will be a day without work tomorrow. A last glass of champagne before the ride back to Chelsea.
“As a youth, it seemed relatively attractive to be the roaring boy,” he says on the highway. “You know, where you drank at the pub during lunchtime and then gave a performance. I went through a period where I thought, ‘Oh, yes, it’s terrific to be like that, to be John Barrymore,’ that kind of syndrome. I found the idea of it appealing, playing that role, but my system in those days — it’s got more hardened since — actually couldn’t cope with it. I used to go on these drinking sessions with various mates, and after a bit, they’d help me out of the bar so I could throw up somewhere.
“I guess it’s possible that it was a kind of escape hatch. If you’re regarded as someone of talent, expected to be an achiever, perhaps if you screw yourself up, they’ll say, “Well, if only he hadn’t become an alcoholic, he would have fulfilled the promise.’ But it didn’t happen for me because I simply couldn’t do it. I could not be John Barrymore.” It isn’t that Albert Finney is abstemious these days, only that he generally stays away from the hard stuff. He can imbibe quite seriously, but no one’s ever mentioned him in league with, say, Peter O’Toole. And it has never, by all accounts, affected the work. “Albert could drink a gallon of wine at night, be on the set the next morning and do everything perfectly the first time,” says John Huston, the director of Annie.
Yet there’s something about Finney, perhaps the tendency of his face to look tired when still, the tousled hair and crow’s-feet, the ofttimes slow, deliberate speech that makes some unnecessarily wary.
During the filming of Shoot the Moon, there is a scene, shot at night, in which Finney and Diane Keaton are leaving their car to attend an awards dinner. After shooting it, the two stars retired to Finney’s camper where he offered Keaton a glass of wine. She said no, but Albert poured one for himself. Suddenly, Alan Parker, the director, entered, saying the scene had to be redone; the cameraman suspected a technical problem. As Finney exited, Parker stared at his wineglass. Finney picks up the story: “Well, the car was an old automatic with the shift on the column,” he recalls, “and I hadn’t gotten it all the way into park, so it was actually in reverse. And as I got out of the car, it began to drift back, and whoooosh! Sorry. And Parker came up to me and got very angry because I’d been having a glass of wine — remember, I had thought the shot was done — saying I was treating everyone with disrespect. And I was terribly pissed off, because this was nonsense. I got angry at Parker, but then I got angry with myself afterward for being angry at him. It was an irrelevant incident — I don’t get angry that often.”
Yet there is a sense of bottled-up rage in Finney. Despite the extreme graciousness, good humor and wit, something still boils. This is still the man who twenty years ago halted a stage performance by screaming at a noisy patron: “I’m up here working, so if you won’t shut up, go home. And if you won’t, I’m going home.” The subject still rises now and again, current disclaimers notwithstanding, as it did one evening in his living room, in this dialogue with Diana Quick.
Albert: Do you think I get angry a lot?
Diana: I think you get quite angry, and I think you don’t often let it out.
Diana: You do let it out sometimes. You’re an aggressive driver, for instance. You’re always shouting at people….
Albert: I don’t think I’m an aggressive driver.
Diana: I think you get more angry than you know, sweetheart.
Albert: You threw that sweetheart in there.
Diana: You almost never erupt. I can only think of one occasion when I’ve seen you really blow…. But I don’t think you’ve got much to be angry about. That’s the truth of it. That’s what I mean about your being quite at terms with yourself.
But what is the secret of this newfound peace? From where does this approach stem?
The dialogue continues:
Diana: You do quite often respond like an ostrich to something that’s going on, on the theory that if you ignore it long enough, the problem will disappear.
Albert: And why shouldn’t I?
Diana: I’m not saying this is wrong or right. I’m just describing how you behave differently from how others might.
Albert: And what’s so savvy about confronting everything that may be an issue? What’s so thrilling about saying, “Now look here, where are we?” Why?
This is the creed, this reticence that sometimes manifests itself in extended monologues in the third person, as if he were talking about someone other than himself. “When asked a direct personal question to explain how he feels or thinks,” says Miss Quick, “he almost always says, ‘It may be possible that. . . “‘
Confusion, perhaps, is the cause. A genuine unwillingness to settle by this man who lived from suitcases for years, whose first, youthful marriage ended rapidly and produced a boy he was long estranged from; who during the Sixties was romantically linked, as they say, with a remarkably broad spectrum of famous women; who married Anouk Aimee in 1970 and produced no ring at the ceremony; who disdains politics because, “I don’t believe I could convince anybody that I completely believe anything.” Who changes, therefore he is.
“I’ve always found it very, very hard to get up in front of people and talk as me,” he says. “‘Cause what am I supposed to be? What do I represent when I get up as me? In this part of the twentieth century, we’re all supposed to be clear about what we are, the manifestations of me, the finding of me. But I think there are probably many me’s. And what I’m probably about is acknowledging that. .. There’s no deceit intended.”
“Finney!” the Language Master screamed. The assignments had just been collected from the grammar-school class, and one was missing. “Finney! You haven’t done your French. You’re here to learn, boy. Why haven’t you done your homework?”
“I’m excused from homework, sir,” a weak voice replied. “We’re doing the play.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon, please forgive me,” retreated the stern teacher. “I wouldn’t dare suggest that learning could interfere with your life as a schoolboy actor.”
This is remembered fondly, a sweet memory of an adolescence touched by good will. For here was Finney, a child just after the war, in this industrial town of Salford near Manchester, studying with earnest educators back from the battles, young men who’d missed years of their lives, determined to compensate vicariously with children’s minds. Four or five teachers wanted nothing more than to direct plays. And they encouraged Albert to act, then act more, till he accumulated the experience of fifteen productions. Perhaps it was desperation. It wasn’t that the youngster wasn’t bright — he simply seemed bored, twice failing his exams, getting left back, finding solace only in hiking, sports and fantasy life onstage.
It wasn’t that he disliked his home life either; indeed, the Finneys — mother, father, Albert and two elder sisters — were a tight clan. They’d been bombed out of their working-class neighborhood by the Luftwaffe and took a step upward toward a lower middle-class milieu of semidetached houses and off-street parking and lace-curtained windows. Albert even began calling his father, the bookmaker, a “commission agent.”
The father was a contained man too, introverted, with a dry sense of humor, proud of his family and willing to hire a car to drive to the country or shore whenever business was good. In Salford, simplicity is all, words aren’t wasted, a populace less impressed with what you’ve done than who you are. Like the time Albert called his dad to tell him about the honorary degree he’d just received. “A doctor of letters?” Albert Sr. said. “You haven’t even sent a post card in a year.”
But this son would not become Honest Albert, civility and prompt payment guaranteed. He could have used that sign in his basement, the betting board that always reminds him of alternatives. But there was a dramatic-minded headmaster with a keen eye for talent, who arranged a scholarship for Albert at the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. “There was no burning ambition to be an actor,” Finney says. “I thought, this is fine, I enjoy it. And there was no sense of going to get away; I was not shaking the provincial dust off my feet, because I didn’t suspect there was any.
“In fact, the only test I passed in school was geography, and that was because some places just seemed romantic to me. A movie like On the Town was very exciting. I saw it four times in three days. I really wanted to believe you could sing in the streets of New York and not be told to keep off the grass.”
So, warned by his father that “If anyone stops you on the street, say no,” seventeen-year-old Albert Finney left home for London. At RADA, he bloomed frighteningly fast. He turned down movie offers and stayed till graduation, winning the award for outstanding character and theatrical aptitude. He could’ve had anything he wanted. Even a new name. Such was his prowess and burgeoning fame that London’s Chronicle began a contest, challenging its readers to suggest a less plebian moniker for the Salford boy.
But Albert decided to take the craft further, to hone it at the Birmingham Repertory Company, to be a star away from the glare. Not for long. He attracted the notice of Britain’s top theatrical talents, among them Charles Laughton, who gave him his first West End part. By the next season, 1959, he was working with Laughton at Stratford-on-Avon. But it was not as distinguished as one would have hoped.
“He was just reaching the height of his powers, and he didn’t have the right parts,” says Tony Richardson, who then directed at Stratford. “Albert was like a young stallion chomping at the bit, wanting that big, enormous role, because he could really act his head off.”
It was a sour time. His marriage to actress Jane Wenham collapsed. Anxieties flowed like Irish whiskey. But things really picked up quickly. He hit on the West End with The Lily White Boys, was assured stardom by Billy Liar and became the hottest sex symbol in Europe when Saturday Night and Sunday Morning hit the screen. He at last had his vehicles; the choices were his. He could even chuck it all when he felt like it, now that he had finally achieved. As Arthur Seaton, the iconoclastic factory worker Finney played in Saturday Night used to proclaim, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”
These days, Albert Finney says he has four or five close friends, people in the theater. He had his mother and eldest sister flown to Los Angeles last year while he was filming, and a happy reunion it was. Finney is glad the trip came off, especially for his sister: “She’d been made redundant two years ago. The irony is, the company that made her redundant is going out of business. So let that be a warning: if you fuck with the Finneys. . . .”
Also spending considerable time with Finney in Hollywood was his son, Simon, a recent graduate in modern English history from Oxford. When the child was born, Finney says, he was “rather shocked that the sense of separateness was so strong.” For years, the boy saw his father infrequently, although over the past decade, a closeness ensued. Finney tries not to be defensive about this, but a listener senses doubt here too.
“I took quite an objective view of this little fellow,” he said late one evening, “and, of course, a certain conventional pride in achievement, that I helped make it. And perhaps what I was more conscious of was the surprise that it was not the all-embracing, grasping, illuminating moment of auteur that perhaps one had been led to believe. I became aware of the practicality of birth.
“I guess I kind of felt Simon would only be interesting to me if he were interesting. Or, if you will, that one’s offspring are possibly interesting or not — I don’t see that there’s any rule that they have to be. When we were together in California, it became sort of a confirmation that we got on, that he was a pal and buddy. I enjoyed being with him; I hope he enjoyed being with me. . . .
“But let me say this. If family is the basis of our society, if people are wondering why there’s violence, then it must be remembered that until relatively recently, the standards of family were adhered to more than right now. If that was the way it ought to be, why is the world such a fucking mess now? Because, it may be argued, perhaps family is more responsible for fucking up people than estranged parents are.
“I don’t think I’m into family. I’m not keen on promoting that tradition, perse. I don’t bemoan the lack of family. Perhaps I may in a few years, but. . . it’s the reality of my life.”
It is a late London Afternoon, and Finney has decided it’s time to take tea, Earl Grey, please, at Fortnum’s. It has been a busy day so far, a long lunch at a swank Italian restaurant, with Albert treated warmly by the owner and staff, despite the contrast of his black leather jacket with the elegant couture of the other customers. Pasta and fish and wine and grappa were lustily downed, a good cigar smoked, a brief Bing Crosby imitation sung remarkably well, and then it was off to the theater.
He’s producing a play now at the Queen’s, Another Country, all about the young men in school before the war, Britain’s next generation of leaders. He greets the young cast before the matinee, enjoying the dressing-room ambiance, encouraging the stars, joking with them, a little advice on makeup or whatever, all done without pomposity, without pretense, with genuine affection. The feeling seems mutual, even as he tells this admiring crew that he’ll miss this performance, as he’s had a touch too much to drink with his meal. Still, they bask in his approval.
And so at Fortnum’s, as the tea is brought by, the easy camaraderie of the cast gives way to some fawning. The waitress, a middle-aged matronly woman with too blond hair, recognizes Finney immediately and caters to him as if he were Prince Charles.
“D’you remember me, Mr. Finney?” she asks with excitement. “D’you remember, I used t’scrve yah where I used t’work?”
Albert examines her. There’s no flash of recognition in his eyes, but he sends her his most charming smile. “Of course I remember,” he responds, with the sort of cheer often reserved for old girlfriends.
The waitress beams, flushed with happiness. Albert gives her a sincere wink as she walks away, preserving his smile for days when she is sad. It was a kind gesture by Finney, and I later ask him whether he did, in fact, recognize the lady. He hems and haws, a bit embarrassed.
“Well, we used to have offices just across the road from where she used to work, so I kind of thought I knew her,” he says, somewhat unconvincingly. “I just assumed it was from there. What it was in that tearoom yesterday was a sense of discovery for both of us. I quite like feeling warmed by an exchange like that, because there’s a mutual recognition that we’d both been engaged in transactions before. It makes me feel nice, and if it makes her feel nice too — that’s doubly nice.” So real pleasure comes from the joy of others? Not so much from hearing the applause but from the satisfaction of having moved someone to feel? Albert pauses a moment, as he often does. “I suppose,” he replies, “It may be possible that one is the purveyor of possibilities.”