Olivier: The Authorised Biography by Terry Coleman - review by Sheridan Morley

Sheridan Morley

Acting Out Of His Skin

Olivier: The Authorised Biography


Bloomsbury 607pp £20 order from our bookshop

Who needs another biography of Laurence Olivier? I have just counted eight on my shelf, not to mention the memoirs of his third wife Joan Plowright and those of his elder son Tarquin, his own two (disappointing) volumes, an account of an ill-fated Old Vic tour of Australia, Donald Spoto’s bizarre and still unproven allegation of a gay affair with Danny Kaye, and several lives of Vivien Leigh.

But what makes Terry Coleman’s new biography compulsive is that its author is the first to have been given access to the actor’s own private papers as well as to his last family, and the result is to a large extent the autobiography that Olivier himself could somehow never manage to write.

True, it’s not perfect: a good theatrical proofreader could surely have picked up on the fact that in 1935 the Shearer opposite whom MGM wanted Olivier to film Romeo and Juliet is likely to have been Norma rather than Moira, and equally that Operette, despite its title, was not French

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