AN ACTOR AND HIS TIME by John with John Miller John Powe Gielgud


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Like Sir John's previous, less formal volume of reminiscences (Distinguished Company, 1973), this modest, rather impersonal autobiography is Pleasant, intelligent, terribly courtly. . . and a wee bit dull. Gielgud runs down his career chronologically here, production by production, with occasional jumps forward to follow the path of a friendship. The family was theatrical, of course, with great-aunt Ellen Terry and grandmama Kate (""slightly jealous of Ellen's enormous fame""); and 17-year-old John, though ""mannered and rather effeminate,"" eschewed Oxford for the stage. By 1929 he had worked with Edith Evans (""the finest actress of our time,"" though Sybil Thorndyke was ""the greater woman""), was Hamlet at the Old Vic--and a star. The '30s and '40s brought nearly all the great Shakespeare roles, work with legendary directors (Komisarjevsky, Granville Barker), Hamlet at Elsinore in 1939 (rain, German sailors in the audience), and Gielgud's own unassuming tries at direction. Brief discussion, too, of film work--pleasant labor, except for the ""dubbing, which I really hate""--and recent forays into Pinter and other untraditional territory. Throughout, Sir John has reasonable things to say about roles and plays (fuller such explorations in Stage Directions, 1963), with emphasis on old-fashioned values (""I do not like Shakespeare to be acted in any period later than Jacobean""); and he's disarming when confessing his ""feather-headed"" love of theatricality, so unlike his serious chum Ralph Richardson. But readers looking for high spirits, passion, or drama will be disappointed: Gielgud offers only a few choice anecdotes (bankrupt Orson Welles filming Chimes at Midnight is best), and he's ever-so-careful not to say ill of anyone (though broadly comic Olivier was ""inclined to be obstinate"" as Malvolio in JG's Twelfth Night). Quietly interesting fare for theater buffs, then; otherwise--likable, but a speck too genteel to hold the stage.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Potter--dist. by Crown