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The Real Life of Laurence Olivier by Roger Lewis, An Actor and His Time by John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson: An Actor’s Life by Garry O’Connor, Sterling Publishing Co., New York, (800)367-9762, $19.95, paperback.

Olivier, Gielgud, Richardson–three of the greatest actors to ever tread the British stage. Although we are no longer able to witness their theatrical feats on-stage, we can read about the their glory days in a trio of biographies, recently acquired and re-published by Applause Books.

The Real Life of Laurence Olivier, by Roger Lewis; An Actor and His Time, by John Gielgud; and Ralph Richardson: An Actor’s Life, by Gary O’Connor provide theatre enthusiasts with enough material for several months of reading pleasure.

Lewis’ biography of Olivier, first published in England last year, was hailed as one of the most insightful biographies of the actor yet published. Lewis, a protégé of Wilde biographer Richard Ellman, established his reputation as a theatrical biographer last year with his The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (also available from Applause). His exploration of Olivier’s life delves into the complex personality of this brilliant but deeply troubled soul. Lewis captures the essence of the two major forces in Olivier’s life: his passion for the theatre and his all-consuming love for his wife, Vivien Leigh.

John Gielgud’s An Actor and His Time, compiled in collaboration with John Miller and John Powell, not only provides a synopsis of the actor’s own 70-year stage and film career, but also offers an insider’s intimate history of theatrical and film history. Through sharing his own charming reminiscences, Gielgud paints a vivid picture of the British stage, beginning with tales of one of the greatest of all British actresses, his great-aunt Ellen Terry and continuing up through his own golden years at London’s Old Vic theatre.

Although he is certainly not as well known to North American readers as Olivier or Gielgud, Richardson offers just as fascinating a character to study–both on the stage and off. His reluctance to have a book written about him provides some insight into his somewhat reticent character. This new edition of Ralph Richardson: An Actor’s Life, first published in 1982, has been expanded and updated, and now includes the author’s ‘Diary of a Biographer’, detailing Gary O’Connor’s somewhat difficult but rewarding relationship with his subject.

The fact that all three biographies were published concurrently is no mere chance. The lives of these three contemporary actors were closely intertwined. As Applause publisher Glenn Young remarked, ‘These three . . . ate at each other’s tables, drank each other’s wine, and together enriched the palate of our culture to appreciate a new vintage of theatre art. As great as each actor was on his own, it was the robust synergy among them that created the symposium of art whose memory lingers in the blood of artists and audiences across the world today.’

Leigh Ann Berry