Laurence Olivier: A Biography

Donald Spoto, Author HarperCollins Publishers $23 (460p) ISBN 978-0-06-018315-8
Knight of the realm, embodiment of England, great Shakespearean actor and movie star, Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) was saddled with self-loathing, chronic guilt over failed relationships and sexual ambivalence. His 10-year affair with Danny Kaye drove Olivier to suicidal thoughts, reports Spoto, biographer of Hitchcock and Tennessee Williams. A magnificent, moving biography worthy of its protean subject, this resonant portrait defines an actor whose personal upheavals fueled his intense realism on stage and screen. Never close to his cold father, an Anglican priest, Olivier lost his mother at 12. This childhood, suggests Spoto, created an emotionally inaccessible man who channeled his passion into his art. Olivier envied the success of his first wife, actress Jill Esmond, a lesbian. The tragedy of his failed marriage to Vivien Leigh, victim of mental instability and electroshock, was totally avoidable, insists Spoto. In third wife Joan Plowright, a young, lively actress, Olivier found maternal endorsement and encouragement. Critical acumen matches psychological insight in this biography. Photos. BOMC alternate; author tour. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/03/1992
Release date: 02/01/1992
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