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A finalist for the Sheridan Morley Prize that has been called "probably the best Olivier book for general readers" (Kirkus Reviews), Philip Ziegler's Olivier provides an incredibly accessible and comprehensive portrait of this Hollywood superstar, Oscar-winning director, and one who is considered the greatest stage actor of the twentieth century. The era abounded in great actors--Gielgud, Richardson, Guinness, Burton, O'Toole--but none could challenge Laurence Olivier's range and power. By the 1940s he had achieved international stardom. His affair with Vivien Leigh led to a marriage as glamorous and as tragic as any in Hollywood history. He was as accomplished a director as he was a leading man: his three Shakespearian adaptations are among the most memorable ever filmed.
And yet, at the height of his fame, he accepted what was no more than an administrator's wage to become the founding Director of the National Theatre. In 2013 the theatre celebrates its fiftieth anniversary; without Olivier's leadership it would never have achieved the status that it enjoys today. Off-stage, Olivier was the most extravagant of characters: generous, yet almost insanely jealous of those few contemporaries whom he deemed to be his rivals; charming but with a ferocious temper. With access to more than fifty hours of candid, unpublished interviews, Ziegler ensures that Olivier's true character--at its most undisguised--shines through as never before.
trend, “and that he was not about to do.”9 The new building opened at last in October 1976. “I really thought it was his National Theater and it was his building,” Hall recalled. He urged Olivier to take the center of the stage at the opening: “You have to open your building.” Olivier prevaricated. He was frightened of being at the center of anything, he said. “I think I can possibly undertake to get away with not more than a few ill-chosen words to start the thing going.” His qualms were not
paying Jill Esmond was an expense that he particularly resented. Derek Granger visited him in the hospital while he was recovering from having his kidney removed. He was sitting up in bed working out how much he had paid her since their divorce: “She’s cost me �75,000 a fuck!” he announced. Otherwise he barely thought of her. For Esmond it was very different. “I hear Daddy is not well . . .” she wrote to Tarquin. “I hope you will make a special effort to see him . . . I haven’t seen him much in
30/8/46; Jonathan Croall, Gielgud: A Theatrical Life (London: Methuen, 2000), p. 102. 15 Kiernan, Olivier, p. 49; Richardson, Evening Standard, 7/6/70. 16 G. W. Bishop, Barry Jackson and the London Theater (London: Arthur Baker, 1933), pp. 88–9. 17 S.O., biography, p. 76; Confessions, p. 65; L.O. to T.O., 21/2/52, Add Mss 88951/1/2. 18 Olivier: In Celebration, ed. Gary O’Connor (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1987), p. 23; M.A. tapes 36; Confessions, p. 74–5; Miles, Serves Me Right, p. 143. 19
are both very dear to me.”22 Olivier professed himself, and probably was, delighted by the prospect of becoming a father again at the age of fifty. He told the Daily Sketch that he thought he would prefer a girl; if it were one she would be called Katherine. He hoped that a child would cement his marriage and give Vivien Leigh a measure of stability. “Thought it might help her,” he told Tarquin. “I was worried I was sterile. Tests showed I’m as fertile as Hercules.” Perhaps the baby would have
Wolfit’s performance in Henry de Montherlant’s Malatesta. Wolfit, he concluded, was not up to the part; Olivier would have been the better choice. For some reason not immediately obvious to the layman Wolfit considered this line of criticism impermissible. “Can nothing be done about this man Tynan?” he asked Olivier. “What a generation of critics for bitter venom!” Olivier claimed to be outraged. “I don’t read Mister T. myself,” he told Wolfit (a statement that was not entirely accurate), “but