The Real Life of Laurence Olivier
There are two ways of making an attempt on Laurence Olivier’s life.
The first, and the most obvious is his biography, with his long and wonderful carrer meticulously mapped out. Specialists tried to describe some things that happened during Olivier’s life. There are many articles taken from contemporary reviews, or some reminiscences of colleagues, actors, as well (‘in addition to his initial genius for acting, his imagination and meticulous concentration with which he approaches every part he plays, he has always had, and still has, the physical attributesof a romantic star’, said Noel Coward). After his death a diary and some letters were found in a drawer; in one letter his former wife, Vivian Leigh, noted: ‘Darling, don’t forget to water the flowers and eat your summer pudding. Love, Viv.’ The biography, the science of who we are, of what we ought to be mustn’t become a gossip subject. To understand Olivier,his controlling principles and his sensibility, we could go towards his roots, his origins, starting with what we all know he was and see the inevitability and force of destiny; we may see the evolution of a genius, its stem and leaf and, of course flower. His ancestors were churchmen and schoolmasters and his father, Gerard Kerr Olivier, experimented with both avocations. His mother, Agnes Louise Crookenden, a headmaster’s daughter, died of a cancer in 1920, when Olivier was 12, and his solitariness – his sense that something essential was missing in his life – stemmed from that moment. ‘I’ve been looking for her ever since’, he said of his absent parent; ‘Perheaps with Joanie, I’ve found her again’. She wasn’t a mother he wanted –so much as a Holy Mother. Before going to St.Edward’s, in Oxford, Olivier had been for at least four years a choirboy at All Saints, in Margaret Street, London.
With high Anglo-Catholic services and his father’s regular sermons and pofessional admonitions about sin and evil, we may say that there was a deep religious sense in his work. 35449vmr13cqh4n
Beyond the Englishness, the heroism, beyond the changes in his appearance was the fact that what mattered was inside: the sensibility, the spirit.
The real life of Laurence Olivier, and we may say that his life has been contained within his art, has been a preoccupation for many writers as well as critics. Everybody knows Laurence Olivier as an extraordinary and complete actor. He played Shakespeare’s heroes at the Old Vic with Ralph Richardson; he alternated Mercutio and Romeo with John Gielgud. He was the Hamlet, the Henry V, the Richard III, the Othello, he also made a film with Marilyn Monroe, ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ (Olivier and Monroe: ‘the most exciting combination since black and white’); he surprised everybody, directly after the war by wanting to play Archie Rice, the mapped-out music hall in The Entertainer.
He married Vivian Leigh. They did appear as Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, but it was a catastrophy. Her voice was inaudible in the huge American theatre, and the roles Olivier did chose for her, Shaw and Shakespeare’s Cleopatra for example, were beyond her.
Vivian’s triumph came with the role Blanche, from A Streetcar Named Desire, which ‘tipped her over into madness’. She went through electro-convulsive shock therapy, and was also diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis. Her ilness filled Olivier with resentement and guilt. The Oliviers played the role of adoring couple in public and dreaded being left alone together. mq449v5313cqqh
It is absurd to think that the richness of a man’s life can ever be exposed in words, no matter how many, no matter how rich in sense they would be. These lines should only stand as a witt, and give a mere immage of what the inner force of this particular man lead him to.