RALPH RICHARDSON: An Actor's Life by Garry O'Connor

RALPH RICHARDSON: An Actor's Life

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Though he may well be the world's most extraordinary actor (and a beguilingly elusive personality), Sir Ralph's quiet life and relatively undramatic career don't lend themselves to full-scale biography. Thus, O'Connor (The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Maggie Teyte, 1979) has fashioned instead a sometimes-charming, sometimes-strained montage portrait, flashing back and forward between the Richardson life-history and Richardson today--in TV interviews, in edgy, offbeat conversations with O'Connor. And, throughout, O'Connor fills many paragraphs with musings on ""the two Ralph Richardsons"": the clever, secretive, showily eccentric public man; the shy poet inside. On Sir Ralph's slow-building, up-and-down career, O'Connor is crisply anecdotal and stage-savvy for the most part, though a bit too anxious to argue against the critics who have observed Richardson's limitations. (Especially unpersuasive: the claim that Richardson's disastrous 1952 Macbeth was somehow ""prophetic"" of future acting styles.) He gives detailed attention to the great Peer Gynt, to the Old Vic management-collaboration with Olivier in the 1940s: ""The game-playing grew more elaborate, barely able to contain Olivier's expanding ambition."" And there's tasteful treatment of Richardson's sad first marriage (to an invalid)--though longtime wife #2 ""Mu"" remains firmly in the background. Those looking for a 1982 backstage chronicle rich in scandal and momentum, then, will have to wait for Olivier's memoirs (to be reviewed in the October 1 issue). And this rather overblown profile lacks the shape and eloquence of the New Yorker-length one by the late Kenneth Tynan--whom O'Connor attacks somewhat cattily (and sometimes wrongheadedly). But all of Richardson's finest moments, many of them in recent plays, are elaborately saluted here; the interview material is often quirkily amusing (Richardson unabashedly upsets the crockery to avoid an unwanted question); and, while it may not make for steadily engrossing reading, O'Connor's oblique approach undeniably seems suited to his other-worldly, still-elusive subject.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum