CONFESSIONS OF AN ACTOR: An Autobiography by Laurence Olivier
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Theater legend, movie star, scandalous adulterer, beleaguered cuckold, National Theatre kingpin, battler against one disease after another: Olivier's life is really far too full for a relatively short autobiography like this one--and the result is a disjointed, episodic memoir indeed, with Sir Laurence (a renowned raconteur) forever leaping ahead of his story to follow a thematic line of anecdotes. Nor is this the most simpatico of self-portraits: self-deprecating, roguish, and flip, Olivier is a bit too much the off-stage performer ever to generate much warmth--even when he's sharing guilt and anguish. But, all that said, no show-biz reader will be able to resist this frisky, winking mega-chat with the century's preeminent actor--who cheerfully acknowledges his ambitious, show-offy, cowardly, flirtatious nature right from the start: all Saints school circa 1923, where the gifted choirboy/actor (a motherless vicar's son) was known, for good reason, as ""that sidey little shit Olivier."" Training and provincial rep followed (hilarious opening-night anecdotes); then minor West End successes, above all Private Lives with Noel Coward--who was ""distinctly growly"" when Larry accepted a Hollywood offer. Meanwhile, the surprisingly religious young Olivier plunged from virginity into a sexually incompatible first marriage, a ""nearly passionate"" homosexual liaison . . . and then the heated infatuation with also-married Vivien Leigh--with whom he shared the Romeo and Juliet disaster in America. Once the illicit lovers were wed, however, things improved: the Henry V film (fascinating on-location details); the Old Vie seasons with Richardson (amusing contrasts to the version in Ralph Richardson, p. 1092); Oedipus, with that famous scream (his inspiration was an ermine caught in a trap); the acrobatic Hamlet. But then Vivien became, by turns, unloving, noisily unfaithful, and wretchedly unhinged--and after a decade of care and forbearance (one violent outburst), Olivier at 50 finally put his own career first (""Selfishness is almost like a gift with me""), finding a new life with young Joan Plowright and with directorship of the National Theatre. After 1960, then: triumphs as director/actor; the onset of years of near-paralyzing stage fright; conflicts and ""treachery"" in NT politics; cancer, thrombosis, muscle disease; the peerage (very reluctantly accepted); and continuing work in TV and films--but hot on the grueling stage . . . though a comeback (!) is not ruled out. A shapely piece of writing? Not at all. An endearing personality? Not always. But the raw material here--professional and personal--is inherently rich in momentum and import. And Lord Olivier, if occasionally coy to the point of obscurity, succeeds in making this a spirited, characteristically sly performance--with acid (filming with M. Monroe), candor (premature ejaculation), and an unabashed self-delight that remains undimmed at 75.

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster