The Real Life of Laurence Olivier: Cloth Book

Roger Lewis, Author
Roger Lewis, Author Applause Books $25.95 (284p) ISBN 978-1-55783-298-6
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 282 pages - 978-1-55783-413-3
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Rather than offering a sequential record of the events of the great actor's life, Lewis's ferociously opinionated take on Olivier offers a collection of detailed descriptions of characters Olivier played, how he played them and the plots of the plays and films in which they appeared. Lewis asserts that Olivier's ""acting is autobiographical,"" that his characters are ""aspects of his own personality"" and that he suppressed ""a personal life in favour of a pretend life."" Olivier's second wife, Vivien Leigh, nonetheless takes up a good portion of the book, with Lewis adamantly insisting that ""she went mad for love"" of Olivier, and ""died of a broken heart,"" while her symptoms might more clearly indicate manic-depression and tuberculosis. (Lewis also indulges in a long diatribe about how terrible he personally considers the movie Gone with the Wind to be.) Many readers will find offensive Lewis's derogatory references to homosexuality (""Homosexuality is a mockery of nature; Olivier's duty was through acting to try and control nature"") and it is thus not surprising that Lewis seems loath to seriously consider whether Olivier had an affair with Noel Coward, although he hints that the liaison might have occurred. Though replete with footnotes, this overly stagey biography fails to illuminate its subject and may anger its potential readers. 50 photos. (Nov.)
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