By Terry Coleman
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805075366, 608pp.)
Publication Date: October 13, 2005
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Based on exclusive, unprecedented access, the definitive biography of Sir Laurence Olivier, the dashing, self-invented Englishman who became the greatest actor of the twentieth century
Sir Laurence Olivier met everyone, knew everyone, and played every role in existence. But Olivier was as elusive in life as he was on the stage, a bold and practiced pretender who changed names, altered his identity, and defied characterization.
In this mesmerizing book, acclaimed biographer Terry Coleman draws for the first time on the vast archive of Olivier’s private papers and correspondence, and those of his family, finally uncovering the history and the private self that Olivier worked so masterfully all his life to obscure. Beginning with the death of his mother at age eleven, Olivier was defined throughout his life by a passionate devotion to the women closest to him. Acting and sex were for him inseparable: through famous romances with Vivien Leigh and Joan Plowright and countless trysts with lesser-known mistresses, these relationships were constantly entangled with his stage work, each feeding the other and driving Olivier to greater heights. And the heights were great: at every step he was surrounded by the foremost celebrities of the time, on both sides of the Atlantic—Richard Burton, Greta Garbo, William Wyler, Katharine Hepburn. The list is as long as it is dazzling.
Here is the first comprehensive account of the man whose autobiography, written late in his life, told only a small part of the story. In Olivier, Coleman uncovers the origins of Olivier’s genius and reveals the methods of the century’s most fascinating performer.
Terry Coleman, who was selected by the Olivier estate to write Laurence Olivier’s biography, is a historian, novelist, and journalist. As special correspondent for The Guardian of London, he reported from seventy countries and interviewed eight prime ministers. His previous books include, most recently, The Nelson Touch, a biography of Horatio Nelson. He lives in London.