A New Biography that Captures the On-stage virtuosity and off-stage Drama of Laurence Olivier
Informed by unparalleled access to archival materials, including the 50-hour complete Olivier audio archive, and interviews with those closest to the actor, including Joan Plowright, author Philip Ziegler offers the definitive account of one of the most important legends of stage and screen.
by Phillip Ziegler
shortlisted for the Sheridan Morley Prize
“Ziegler is an elegant, unfailingly lucid writer, his manner brisk and incisive.”
—Simon Callow, The Guardian
“Enthralling. I took it on holiday and could hardly bear to finish it . . .Tremendous.”
—Libby Purves, The Times.
“A triumph … It succeeds, as far as is humanly possible, in bringing alive on the page Olivier’s magnetic theatrical presence, which those who saw him act will never forget.”
—John Carey, the Sunday Times
Brilliant, vicious, magnetic, dedicated, and bitterly competitive, Laurence Olivier was endowed with a talent unchallenged by his contemporaries. In a new biography,acclaimed writer and biographer Phillip Ziegler examines the life of one of the most famous—and infamous—actors in history in OLIVIER (06/10/14 * Quercus * MacLehose Press * $35.00 * HC).
From the complete Olivier audio archive, which Phillip French of The Guardian called “fifty hours of reminiscences packed with grumpy, obscene frankness,” Ziegler includes previously unreleased interviews, introducing readers to Olivier through his own words. Working closely with Olivier’s wife, Joan Plowright, son, Tarquin, and friends, Ziegler has crafted a colorful, thoughtful portrait of a man who was larger-than-life.
A complicated and controversial figure, Olivier has been characterized as many things over his long and celebrated career: bully, lush, tireless worker, genius, philanderer, a star, and once, in his own words, “a hollow man.” Ziegler reveals an intensity in Olivier that in his personal life manifested itself as an explosive temper, but on the screen translated to what Ralph Richardson called a “splendid fury,” when he took on Hamlet, Richard III, and Heathcliff. “It was the danger that produced the excitement of his performances,” wrote John Mortimer. (115)
Ziegler chronicles Olivier’s life as he navigates celebrity, love, divorce, and—above everything—his art. Olivier maps the huge territory of Olivier’s cultural influence through his acting, directing, and work at the helm of the National Theater: work that would influence generations of actors after him. Celebrities, intellectuals, and artists who shaped the times they lived in, fill its pages: Noel Coward, Marilyn Monroe, Maggie Smith, William Gaskill, John Osbourne, and of course, Vivien Leigh.
Oliver and Leigh’s very public affair and tumultuous marriage rivaled in drama, passion, and ultimate tragedy the numerous famous lovers the two portrayed on the screen; according to Olivier, Leigh once almost casually remarked in 1949: “I don’t love you anymore.” “I felt as if I had been told that I had been condemned to death,” Olivier wrote. (176) Ziegler portrays the fierceness of their relationship, as it grew and changed over decades, with personal and professional highs and lows, jealousies, abuse, mental illness, and divorce.
Simon Callow writes in The Guardian, “For Philip Ziegler, the fascination of the life lies in its last 20 years. Many biographies run out of steam towards the end; this one gains momentum as soon as Olivier creates the National theatre, which is seen to be the climax of his life and career, as well as its tragic undoing.”
Terry Southern once remarked in an interview that his ideal version of the theater was “if you could just have Olivier’s soliloquies” (The Paris Review). With insight and detail, Ziegler creates a complete portrait of Olivier, as both heroic and tragic figure, that will invite readers to revisit Olivier’s great performances with renewed understanding and awe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: PHILIP ZIEGLER is an award-winning writer best known for his biographies of politicians, royalty, and soldiers. Ziegler was born in December 1929 and was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, where he received First Class honors in Jurisprudence and won the Chancellor’s Essay Prize. After national service in the Royal Artillery he joined the Foreign Service and served in Vientiane, Paris, Pretoria and Bogota. By this time he had written biographies of the Duchess of Dino and the British Prime Minister, Henry Addington. In 1967 he resigned from the Foreign Service to join the publisher Collins, where he was editor-in-chief until 1979, when he retired to become a full-time writer. His biography subjects include King William IV, Lord Melbourne, Lady Diana Cooper, Lord Mountbatten, King Edward VIII, Harold Wilson, Rupert Hart-Davis and Osbert Sitwell, and most recently, Edward Heath.In 1991 he was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and he is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Historical Society. He lives in London and is married, with three children and ten grandchildren.
In an interview, Ziegler said about writing Olivier: “I have always been stage-struck and have wanted to write a theatrical biography—at the age of eighty I felt I could at last indulge myself. Olivier was by far the most tempting subject because he was not merely a great (the greatest?) actor but a major director and one of the most important movers-and-shakers on the theatrical scene . . . I believe his contribution was massively important and that the theatre we enjoy today would be quite different and less rich if he had never existed.” (VivAndLarry.com)
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER: QUERCUS PUBLISHING, INC. publishes under the imprints Quercus, MacLehose Press, Quercus Children’s Books, Jo Fletcher Books, and Heron Books. We publish a range of high quality commercial, literary, and translated fiction; as well as nonfiction, illustrated, science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult, and juvenile titles. Quercus North America is distributed by Random House.
ABOUT THE IMPRINT: MACLEHOSE PRESS is devoted to the translation of literature and crime fiction into English, and to the publication of a very few outstanding writers in English. The Press has already broken new ground with the #1 bestselling success of the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson and with many other critically acclaimed books including translations from Italian, Spanish, Polish, Icelandic, French, and Arabic.
The imprint was founded by Christopher MacLehose. Christopher was previously Publisher of the Harvill Press for 21 years. During his illustrious career he has published works by Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Peter Høeg, Henning Mankell, Haruki Murakami and W.G. Sebald. In 2006, Christopher was given the LIBF Lifetime Achievement Award for International Publishing.
Author: Philip Ziegler
Publisher: Quercus Publishing, Inc. (US/CA)
Imprint: MacLehose Press
Agent: Caroline Dawnay, United Agents
On sale: July 10, 2014