I actually finished reading the latest Olivier bio a few days ago. According to that, Olivier had one homosexual fling but that seems to have been it--no affairs with Noel Coward or Danny Kaye. But Olivier had a feminine side--his Richard III flirts outrageously with the viewer, continually batting those hypnotic eyes. Some forms of genius seem to require a certain form of bisexuality--if not literally expressed than dramatically expressed.
Along with John Barrymore, Olivier is probably my favorite actor, and I've been rewatching his films recently. If your familiar with Chekhov's Three Sisters, I recommend tracking down his film adaptation from 1970. You need to be familiar with the play because the sound quality on the DVD is quite substandard, and it's hard to make out what people are saying sometimes.
I'm inclined to agree with you. Olivier says in his own autobiography that he was tempted once but never actually went the whole hog. I don't see why he should have lied.
I've always been disappointed in Olivier's film work. I don't think he ever quite got the hang of movie acting. My own favourite grand old British thespian is Sir John Gielgud.
With the exception of Bunny Lake Is Missing, Olivier wasn't really suited for playing actual people onscreen--he's better suited to play Kings, noblemen, or weirdos. On the other hand, his Husrtwood in Sister Carrie is said by many to be his best performance on film, and Hurstwood is a very down-to-earth character. Having not seen the film yet (I want to read the Dreiser novel first) I can't say for sure. But he was definitely an odd sort of screen actor, though that's part of why I like him. Roger Lewis wrote a typically unhinged book on Olivier that's worth looking through if you've ever got time to kill, though his earlier book on Peter Sellers is much better.
I love Lewis's book on Sellers.
Do you know the album track where Sellers recites A Hard Day's Night in the style of Lord Larry's Richard III?
Yes--I remmeber thinking that Sellers didn't sound quite like Olivier as I remembered him in Richard III, but perhaps my memory was faulty.
I'm glad you loved Lewis's Sellers bio--it's probably the best biography of a film star I've ever read.
And what is strange is that, for all the revelations about what a monster he was, I finished Lewis's book loving Sellers more than ever.
For me, Sellers not Olivier is the greatest British actor of the 20th century.
Lewis would probably agree with you on that point. Some of the negative reviewers missed the point that Lewis may have portrayed Sellers as a shit of superhuman stature, but he also made the greatest case for Sellers's artistry. No one else went to the trouble to track down forgotten films like The Blockhouse to show how Sellers's genius manifested itself. If I have any regrets, it's that Sellers hit it big in the US, while Spike Milligan remains pretty much unknown here (though he did have an influence on people like the Firesign theatre troupe).
I believe the Blockhouse is out on DVD- I must try and track it down.
Thanks to Lewis I had a look at some of Sellers' less well known movies. The one that really impressed me was Hoffman.
I'm not sure that international stardom did Sellers much good. Almost all his best work- including the two Kubrick movies- was done in England. The prime exception (and it's one of my favourite movies of all time) is Being There.
So maybe it's as just as well that Milligan never made it to Hollywood. They'd have blanded him out, I think.
2006-09-09 10:17 pm (UTC)
I agree that mega-stardom probably rotted Sellers. I should have clarified that I wish Milligan had had achieved some of the fame Sellers enjoyed, but but more as a comedian than as a movie star--in the sense that the Pythons made it big in the US. Had PBS decided to run the Q series, or if the Goon Show had been more widely promoted here, Milligan would have found himself with an even larger fanbase to work with, in the same way that the Pythons were able to fund their later films because they knew they'd make money in America.
Milligan got/gets a raw deal over here as well. For some reason (political correctness?) the "Q" series never gets re-run on TV- and I don't believe it's available on DVD either. At the time of its airing I thought it was funnier and considerably more radical than Python, but memory fades and I've no way of testing whether I was right or not.
It is thanks to you that every single time I get out cheese from the refrigerator I remember your blog and think, like a mantra: "The cheese will save me."
Forever more it will be in my mind! Help me!