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Olivier Paperback – 12 Sep 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: MacLehose Press (12 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857051202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857051202
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 3.7 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 921,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

'Without adulation, sentimentality and or sneer, layer by layer as the 82 years of Olivier's life flow by Ziegler painstakingly uncovers a portrait of a real man. It is enthralling. I took it on holiday and could hardly bear to finish it ... tremendous' Libby Purves, The Times. (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, Sunday Times. (Sunday Times)

'An elegant and increasingly compelling book' Simon Callow, Guardian. (Guardian)

'Philip Ziegler's splendid biography confirms the contention that Lord Olivier OM is as great a figure in the history of the English theatre as David Garrick or Sir Henry Irving' Economist. (Economist)

'Philip's book is the Larry I knew' Tarquin Olivier. (Tarquin Olivier)

About the Author

Philip Ziegler was a diplomat before becoming an editorial director at the publishers William Collins. His many books include acclaimed biographies of Laurence Olivier, William IV, Lady Diana Cooper, Lord Mountbatten and Harold Wilson, as well as the classic history of the Black Death.


Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. G. Harris TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Nov. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Olivier is a biography of the great man which leans more towards the factual than the analytical. It is primarily a biography of his professional life with relatively short sections dedicated to his childhood and to his declining years.

The picture which comes across is not an unfamiliar one for a man seen as great through his achievements.Visionary and charismatic, but also prepared to be insensitive to the point of cruelty with those who are not, or who are no longer, useful to him. As a study in leadership, it is fascinating, as while Olivier had many of the characteristics of a great leader, he had the added benefit of the power of the expert. As well as having the vision, he was also viewed as the greatest at doing the job of those he was leading, namely acting.

Being too young to have seen the great man on stage, it is difficult to understand the awe in which he was held. The screen performances have a distinct odour of cured porcine, and it would be interesting to know the balance between these simply portraying an acting style to the taste of a different age, as against being those of a stage actor struggling with a different medium. The fact that contemporary and possible peer, Gielgud's performances do seem to stand up better suggests that the latter is true.

The relationship with Gielgud is one of the most interesting parts of the book, which portrays rivalry, petty jealousy, but also mutual admiration and acts of great kindness; Gielgud's gift of a sword bequeathed to him by a great actor of the past, Olivier's defence of Gielgud when there were attempts to bar him from the Garrick club on account of his homosexuality. In the end, the picture is of Olivier the greater actor-director, Gielgud the greater human being.
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I eat up anything by Philip Ziegler and this was a double pleasure as Olivier fascinates me. Having said that, Mr Ziegler is such a good writer that my conceptions of Olivier underwent a vast change. Brilliant actor he may have been but as a man I don't think I would have liked him very much. The book is fascinating and I learnt a great deal, swiftly turning the pages as I always do with this man's work, and ultimately ending up feeling vaguely upset at the great man's weaknesses which he hid so well, his illnesses and injuries were something I knew nothing about. For anyone like me who is fascinated by this man this is well worth a read.
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When I was growing up, I was led me to believe that Olivier was a great man, someone to look up to and admire. A great actor indeed (I saw him once in The Master Builder at the Old Vic), but Ziegler's book has the ring of truth about it and brings outa very different sort of person, warts and all. After reading this book it's not so easy to admire Olivier - he comes across in the book as arrogant, uncouth, uncharitable ... and yet, and yet, perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with genius? Anyway a fascinating read, a story well told, full of insights.
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Have just finished reading Zeigler's book on Sir Laurence Olivier. I was lucky enough to work for L.O.P.Ltd. for 3 years in the early sixties when Sir Laurence was involved with the Chichester Theatre and I found him a charming, friendly man who treated me with courtesy and charm. I was expecting a book which would go into greater detail about Sir Laurence's stage and film performances and was very disappointed when so much of his work was missed out from the book. It would have been helpful to have an index listing his performances but again this was missing. I thought the chapters on the National Theatre were too long so that other aspects of his activities had to be missed out. There was also no real mention of his fight to save the St.James's Theatre where he and Vivien Leigh had been involved. A very mixed up book which I would not recommend to anyone who wanted more facts about Sir Laurence and his works.
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Ziegler's tome seems an unnecessary addition to an already crowded bookshelf of retrospective literary works on the life and career of arguably the greatest English actor of his generation. The early stuff has already been more thoroughly covered by other biographers and by Olivier himself. The later years are sketchy and seem to be too sensitive to the likely reactions of his widow and children. Indeed the viewpoint of his widow (Joan Plowright) is too often the author's guideline to the interpretation of events to make this a totally unbiased account. The National Theatre years are given a much more accurate and incisive analysis in his protoge Michael Blakemore's book STAGE BLOOD. Ziegler's work adds nothing new to the existing wealth of biographies and memoirs of this unique twentieth century theatrical force. A major disappointment.
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I couldn't help feeling disappointed by this book especially in view of the good reviews it received.

It would have been better if Ziegler had left out everything before and after Olivier's time at the National Theatre and called his book 'Olivier and the National Theatre'. For it is this section which is by far the strongest and most interesting as it goes into great detail on this period of Olivier's life.

Everything else is told in scant detail, particularly the last 15 years of Olivier's life which Ziegler races through in a mere 30 pages.

I found it difficult to keep tracks of events as there was often little reference made to dates and when there were they caused confusion as they appeared out of sequence. The biography lurches awkwardly and abruptly from one stage of Olivier's career to another with each new chapter as though the book were an anthology with each segment written by a different author.

The lack of detail was often frustrating, For example Ziegler mentions that Olivier had just done a film (what film?) or a play (which play?) and whatever people may say about Donald Spoto's biography (which I much preferred) no one could ever accuse that biographer of failing to provide an adequate amount of detailed research.

There are many significant plays and particularly films in Olivier’s career that are either skimmed over or omitted altogether.

Other reviewers have pointed out the factual errors in this biography, one in particular that stood out for me was Ziegler's assertion that during Olivier's farewell party on the set of 'Marathon Man' Dustin Hoffman 'proposed a toast to "a great soldier, a great warrior" but not to "a great actor"...
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