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A hefty histrionic appraisal of a Surrey-born reverend's son who became the ""best bloody actor in the world"" and a lord to boot. Casting aside his ecclesiastical upbringing, Olivier opted instead for drama school in London and subsequent training with the Birmingham Repertory Theater. His first West End leading role as Harold was followed by critical acclaim in Journey's End and Private Lives. Feeling bored in Hollywood in the early '30's, Olivier was impressive back at the Old Vic with a ""provocative"" Hamlet in 1936--the first in a line of dramatic tours de force succeeded by his 1944 Richard III, 1955 Macbeth and 1964 Othello. An occasional and discriminating film actor (Wuthering Heights: Rebecca; Sleuth), ""Larry O"" left an indelible cinematic mark when he adapted Shakespeare to the screen as producer-director-star of Henry V, Hamlet (AA) and Richard IlL Characterized by critic James Agate as ""a comedian by instinct and a tragedian by art,"" Sir laurence is feted here equally for his interpretative skill and for his influence as a co-director of the Old Vic in the '40's and the first Director of Britain's National Theater through the '60's. Cottrell's study is most effective chronicling, role by role, the growth of an actor who became ""a central pillar in the history of the English theater, a Roscian baron. . . assured of a place alongside. . . Garrick and Irving and Kean."" The man himself--that ""hilarious, often bawdy, raconteur. . . and impulsive joker""--remains pretty much of an energetic enigma. Substantial and well-documented--the play's the thing here too.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1975
Publisher: Prentice-Hall