By Brad Dison
Today we have the world at our proverbial fingertips. We can locate and order almost anything we desire via our smart phones with little effort. We can push a single button in checkout to pay for the items, and in a couple of days our order arrives at our homes. Before the age of online shopping, however, things were not so easy.
In 1973, Philip, a Welsh actor, was hired to play a role in a comedy film called The Girl from Petrovka. The script was based on the 1971 book of the same name by George Feifer. Philip, ever the professional, wanted to get a copy of the book to prepare himself to play the character. It would be another couple of decades before the invention of the internet so Philip had to search for the book the old-fashioned way.
Philip took the train into London and stopped at the first bookstore he saw. He perused the shelves of books but was unable to find a copy of The Girl from Petrovka. He asked an employee but still came away empty-handed. Unlike in the modern era when booksellers can pull up their entire inventory on a computer screen and quickly learn whether or not they have the book, booksellers in the 70s could do little other than help customers search for the requested book. He visited another bookstore with the same result. Then another and another. Still no book.
Philip knew that the director would direct him in the part, but he wanted to understand the character. He had to have a copy of the book. He continued searching bookstores in vain. Late into the evening a defeated Philip took the tube—what we Americans call the subway—back to his home. Being that the book was released just two years prior, Philip assumed the book would be widely available.
Philip was running out of time. As the date of filming grew closer, Philip’s determination to get a copy of the book grew. After another unsuccessful search, Philip boarded the train for the return trip home. He made his way into the train car and sat down. He casually looked around the car and noticed something in the seat next to him. To his amazement, it was a copy of The Girl from Petrovka. He looked around the train car again fully expecting the owner of the book to return. Impatiently, he waited. He had searched countless bookstores unsuccessfully only to find an abandoned copy of the book sitting beside him on the tube. Finally, Philip picked up the book and thumbed through it. He noticed that someone had made handwritten notes in the book but that was fine with him. He finally had the book.
Philip studied the book carefully before production began on the movie and used it throughout filming. When filming ended, Philip kept the book on his bookshelf as a memento from the movie.
Sometime after the film’s release, Philip met George Feifer, the author of The Girl from Petrovka. They casually discussed the book and the film. He told George of his difficult search for the book prior to filming. George explained that he had lost his only copy of the book. He told Philip that he had been editing the book for the American market, which included altering certain English words into their American spellings. George told Philip that he had lost the book on the tube. Philip remembered that the book he found on the tube contained handwritten notes.
Months later, Philip and George met again. This time, Philip brought his copy of the book along. George looked at several pages and confirmed that after Philip’s fruitless search in bookstores, Philip had found George’s lost copy of The Girl from Petrovka.
In 1993, Philip was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts. He has worked on a staggering 144 films and television productions dating back to 1960. At 84 years old, Philip shows no sign of slowing down. His most recent work was on the 2022 film entitled “The Son.” His most notable character was as the serial killer named Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 film “The Silence of the lambs.” Philip’s full name is Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins.
Source: “Why Confounding Coincidences Happen Every Day.” NPR, February 9, 2014, npr.org/2014/02/09/274075349/why-confounding-coincidences-happen-every-day, accessed May 2, 2022.