Patrick O'Connor

The Strange Charisma of Stardom

Gielgud's Letters


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 564pp £20 order from our bookshop

IF JOHN GIELGUD had not made his career as an actor J and director, he might have been a writer, for his eye and ear took in everything so clearly that when he describes plays, people and events the reader is immediately there with him. The earliest letter here is a note to his mother in 1912, before he was eight, telling her that ‘Aunt Nell’ (Ellen Terry) is coming to Brighton to lecture on Shakespeare’s Women. The last – written when he was ninety-five, dying, and rather sad – is to one of his closest friends, the American academic George Pitcher; in it he affirms, ‘I think of the past with nostalgia and, as ever, much affection.’ In between, Gielgud became one of the greatest figures in twentieth-century theatre, and enjoyed life with a zest that came from remarkable energy and an unswerving belief in the theatre, not just as a profession or art, but as an essential part of humanity. Maybe that sounds pretentious, but Gielgud never is.

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