The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan Paperback – 16 Sep 2002
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The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan reveals afresh the sparkling, undimmed loquacity of the man who turned theatre criticism into an art form in its own right. It is also a desperate, harrowing tale of a tormenting talent on a tragic trajectory, described by Tynan's second wife Kathleen, in her superb biography The Life of Kenneth Tynan as "electrically charged, but not earthed". Magnificently edited by John Lahr, himself a cherishable talent whose own authoritative New Yorker profiles are collected in Show and Tell, the journals cover the decade he spent in England and, latterly, California from 1971 to 1980, when he was buoyed up by commercial success of his sex revue, Oh! Calcutta, yet could not secure funding for a proposed movie project. A self-styled ergophobe, in writing with a stammerer's eloquence of his blockage, he still failed to budge it, and so occupied himself with starry socialising, political rumination, and the well-turned sentence. He describes his complicated relationship with Sir Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre, where he worked as dramaturg; he recounts inadvertently watching explicit pornography in the presence of Princess Margaret, the moment saved only by Peter Cook's ad-libbed funny-voice commentary; and he relishes the discovery that his career as a national critic had been initiated entirely due to a mistaken identity. Most affecting, though, are his appreciation of performers, always preferred by Tynan to the words themselves. Phil Silvers performing after a stroke, the vaudevillian genius of Max Wall, and the charm of Jacques Tati are all fulsomely described, and with commensurate flair.
And then there's the sex. As Tynan's health deteriorated (hereditary emphysema, exacerbated by heavy smoking), his anally-fixated sado-masochistic sexual demands, already related in his first wife Elaine Dundy's autobiography, Life Itself!, increased, as did his preoccupation with death. In truth, the diaries were his Green Room, a rehearsal space for the aphoristic nuggets with which he studded his public writing. Too intellectually uptight, perhaps, to be an artist, Tynan's tragedy was to realise this, and these gilded, chastening diaries allow us a voyeuristic, thrilling glimpse at the ever-absorptive reflection of this grand, inconsolable narcissist. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A diary crammed with Class A gossip." -- Guardian, 21st September 2002
"it is the incidental details, the confessions, the asides and the opinions that make the diaries so addictive." -- Daily Telegraph 5th October 2002
'Combines sex, style, philosophy, gossip, remorse, defiance, brilliance, anxiety and dread' -- Simon Callow, Sunday Times
'I must join the club in my praise of The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan' -- Steven Berkoff, Observer
'Like the dazzling Tynan himself, quite irresistable ... treat yourself to the diaries of this dashing and stoical hedonist' -- Washington Post
'No one, they say, ever erected a statue to a critic, by Tynan has bequeathed something even larger: a legendary life' -- Michael Billington, Guardian
'One of the publishing sensations of the year' -- Daily Telegraph
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Top Customer Reviews
This witty and irreverent collection (from 1970 until Tynan's death a decade later) not only gives the reader tales of Tynan's many famous friends (Princess, Margaret, Peter Cook, Richard Burton to name but three) but also an insight into his passions for theatre, the arts and the female bottom.
Tynan's extra-marital affair with the eclectic Nicole is riveting,at one point their exploits involve a bizzarre use of vodka, as are his Wildean quips and observations.
Tynan seems to emulate his hero Wilde during his final years in the USA by living and dying beyond his means. The destitute and near-starving family are somehow able to jet off to Europe for a party of month-long holiday, though.
All in all, Tynan's diaries are sad, truthful and curt but are also wry, entertaining and relevant. It's a great read that most will get through in little more than a single sitting. Essential.
There is a great deal here about Tynan's inability to write. This is hard to figure out, because particularly in the letters he is always coming up with really wonderful ideas for serious writing projects, yet he is always looking for reasons not to work on them and takes refuge in projects which are short-term in nature and apparently of much less significance in the longer term. Then there are the movies, and the plays such as Oh! Calcutta! which may have seemed quite daring at the time, but which I don't think anyone will remember.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The diaries themselves make for very entertaining reading. There is plenty of celebrity gossip and, as befits writing not meant for public consumption, a good deal of invective. Sir Peter Hall, referred to throughout as 'P. Hall' is dealt with particularly harshly, and the relationship between Laurence Olivier and Tynan is fraught with ambiguity. There is also Tynan's almost comical political naivete; while there is certainly much that can be said for socialism and sexual liberation, Tynan's blatant hypocrisy (there are several references to his employing servants and nannies) and his very middle-class hatred of anything at all tainted by being middle-class, does not make for a convincing advertisement. I can only imagine how awful his 'spanking film', which he spends several years trying to find backers for, would have been. But these are, believe it or not, minor cavils, and actually add to the enjoyment of looking over Tynan's shoulder as he unburdens himself of his daily thoughts. (He certainly does not let himself off lightly, frequently despairing over his lassitude.) And the concluding entries, shadowed as they are by the reader's (and Tynan's) knowledge of his imminent death, are genuinely moving. I trust and hope there is more Tynan to be reissued soon. He's a fine companion.
Here's part of an entry I sent to several of my friends, Tynan is describing a conference he's attending: " Many of the panelists cease, on achieving panel membership, to speak English. Instead they speak panelese. Otherwise intelligent men, with delicately nurtured minds and impeccable intellectual credentials, are transformed by the proximity of a microphone into pundits, saying things like:
`Hopefully we shall be making some insightful and non-judgmental contributions in the area of relating to the paranoia of urban lifestyles and the banalisation of caringness.'"
I was hugely entertained and enlightened by reading this book. One caveat: Tynan enjoyed spanking women. He found it very sexually exciting and he loves describing various assignations. (Neither of his wives was a fan of this particular fetish). The accounts of his relationship with Nicole and others isn't shocking but it is boring.
If you sail over those passages, you'll find Mr. Tynan a witty companion for many evenings.
Not only was Tynan a highly skilled writer of prose, but as a critic he saw things for what they were, even if the majority disagreed. He gives Warren Beatty's pretentious and mystifyingly overrated film Shampoo the swift kick to the rear that it deserves, and even finds a fault with Paddy Cheyefsky's Network that I had not detected prior to reading his assessment of the film in his diaries. Tynan also has his say on economics ("Inflation rides high and I believe intentionally" he writes in 1973) and a myriad of other subjects including his preoccupation with spanking.
Overall, these diaries reveal a melancholy soul who found some solace in writing about his life and its disappointments in his journal. Most published diaries promise more than they deliver. Not Tynan's. His diaries are a compelling read.