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What does a chicken know of bombs?

David Thomson: A Key to Brando, 5 December 2019

The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando 
by William J. Mann.
HarperCollins, 718 pp., £22, November 2019, 978 0 06 242764 9
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... Named Desire. Brando wasn’t an easy sell: the producer, Irene Selznick, favoured the movie star John Garfield. Marlon was a shade too young for Stanley, who is a war veteran. He was clearly hard to manage. But he had a mixture of brute and poet that Kazan urged on Selznick and Tennessee Williams.That was just the start, for in rehearsal Kazan built up ...


Alan Bennett: Finding My Métier, 4 January 2018

... friend of Patrick’s, he talked mostly to him, but Princess Margaret didn’t confine herself to John Gielgud and Paul Eddington but to her credit wanted to meet the boys in the play, which she did, though I suspect most of them had no idea who she was. In 1984 Snowdon took pictures of me for (I think) the Sunday Times after the shooting of A Private ...

Bereft and Beruffed

Michael Dobson: Shakespeare’s Last Plays, 6 June 2019

Shakespeare’s Lyric Stage: Myth, Music and Poetry in the Last Plays 
by Seth Lerer.
Chicago, 276 pp., £20.50, November 2018, 978 0 226 58254 2
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... the 20-year-old actor Gabriel Spencer instead of being killed by him), but Thomas Middleton and John Fletcher both died in their mid-forties, Francis Beaumont at thirty, while Henry Porter (whose Two Angry Women of Abingdon influenced The Merry Wives of Windsor) may have been still younger when he was killed in a duel by ...

Et in Alhambra ego

D.A.N. Jones, 5 June 1986

Agate: A Biography 
by James Harding.
Methuen, 238 pp., £12.95, April 1986, 0 413 58090 3
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Subsequent Performances 
by Jonathan Miller.
Faber, 253 pp., £15, April 1986, 0 571 13133 6
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... to give the audience a new idea. It is easiest to make such changes when the playwright is dead. John Osborne and Peter Nichols did not want Miller to alter their plays, but he was more fortunate when he directed Robert Lowell’s version of Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound. Since Miller did not want to set this play in the Caucasus, with an actor tied to a ...

Olivier Rex

Ronald Bryden, 1 September 1988

by Anthony Holden.
Weidenfeld, 504 pp., £16, May 1988, 0 297 79089 7
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... is the 16th book about Laurence Olivier, and his foreword tells of two more biographers, John Cottrell and Garry O’Connor, too intent on their own deadlines to discuss their common quarry with him. All this activity may puzzle the lay person. Holden’s final pages report Olivier alive, as well as can be expected at 81, residing tranquilly in the ...


Alan Bennett: Selling my hair on eBay, 6 January 2022

... Shrew was about. My co-star in the Shakespeare and who played Beecham in The Chiltern Hundreds was John Scaife, a friend whom I lost sight of after university and only this last year discovered had become a distinguished molecular biologist at Edinburgh, but died young (in the 1990s) from Aids.17 January. Rupert returns from a walk with Owen, his brother, and ...


Alan Bennett: A Round of Applause, 7 January 2021

... understand the poems in the LRB, or new poems generally, and what catches my eye in the poem ‘John’s and Sam’s’ by Steve Ely is not the poem itself but its footnote, explaining that John and Samuel Smith’s breweries are located on the River Wharfe near Tadcaster, upstream from the former eel fishery of ...

The History Boy

Alan Bennett: Exam-taking, 3 June 2004

... Osbert Sitwell – to the boys these must have been names only, familiar to the principal players, John Gielgud and Paul Eddington, but as remote to the rest of the cast as historical figures in Shakespeare. This omission was partly because with only four weeks to rehearse there wasn’t time to tell them more but also because in those days actors were ...

In His Pink Negligée

Colm Tóibín: The Ruthless Truman Capote, 21 April 2005

The Complete Stories 
by Truman Capote.
Random House, 400 pp., $24.95, September 2004, 0 679 64310 9
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Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote 
edited by Gerald Clarke.
Random House, 487 pp., $27.95, September 2004, 0 375 50133 9
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... face lifted for the fourth time – the Doctors say no more), then Cecil [Beaton] and John Gielgud came to stay with us, and we went to Venice on Arturo Lopez’s yacht … Oh yes, I forgot Noel Coward – he fell in love with Jack. Jack hated it All. Later, in his thirties, he would tire also of the Greeks: ‘The children are so ...

Seductress Extraordinaire

Terry Castle: The vampiric Mercedes de Acosta, 24 June 2004

‘That Furious Lesbian’: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta 
by Robert Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 210 pp., £16.95, June 2004, 0 8093 2579 9
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Women in Turmoil: Six Plays 
by Mercedes de Acosta, edited by Robert Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 252 pp., £26.95, June 2003, 0 8093 2509 8
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... snaggle-toothed performances. In Jacob Slovak (1923), the one de Acosta play to have some success (John Gielgud appeared in a short-lived London production), Mercedes again depicted doomed heterosexual love. The heroine is a New England village girl who has a clandestine affair with her shopkeeper father’s Jewish assistant. (The drama was meant to be an ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1998, 21 January 1999

... of the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the land enclosed was added to existing farms, but in 1809 John Hulton used the land allotted to him from the enclosure of Marske Moor in Swaledale to create a new farm, Cordilleras. The farm and most of the fields round about were named after places in South America, Valparaiso, Cotopaxi, Sierra Pedragosa and so ...

Love with Time Let in

Barbara Everett: ‘The Winter’s Tale’, 8 January 2004

... male figure in these scenes is Autolycus. The best Leontes (probably) of the last century, John Gielgud, once wrote to Peter Brook that he would love the opportunity to double Leontes with Autolycus; and Autolycus, for all the obvious differences, can be seen as a surrogate Leontes. He alone, of the three seniors, has some spellbinding mastery not ...

Eric’s Hurt

David Craig, 7 March 1985

Eric Linklater: A Critical Biography 
by Michael Parnell.
Murray, 376 pp., £16, October 1984, 0 7195 4109 3
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... artist, Peter Ustinov). His plays were produced in the West End, by Tyrone Guthrie, Ustinov, Gielgud. He won medals for two of his children’s books, and the War Office commissioned books from him, as did Drambuie and Rio Tinto Zinc. His works were finally issued by Cape in a collected edition named after his beloved Orkney, his stories in a collected ...


Ronald Bryden, 10 December 1987

The Life of Kenneth Tynan 
by Kathleen Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 407 pp., £16.95, September 1987, 9780297790822
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... into Lorenzo’s eyes, ‘a sea-lion awaiting a fish’. He almost resented actors such as Gielgud, whose movement had no animal quality for him to catch. Like film cameras, he preferred actors with thinking bodies to those whose heads control their performances. Implicitly, this committed him to preferring a cinematic realism on the stage – in the ...

Drab Divans

Miranda Seymour: Julian Maclaren-Ross, 24 July 2003

Fear & Loathing in Fitzrovia: The Bizarre Life of Writer, Actor, Soho Dandy, Julian Maclaren-Ross 
by Paul Willetts.
Dewi Lewis, 403 pp., £14.99, March 2003, 1 899235 69 8
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... a programme about literary life in Britain during the Second World War; the contributors included John Betjeman and Cyril Connolly. The show was stolen, however, by a figure in a voluminous overcoat and dark glasses, whose recollections were delivered slowly, deadpan, between puffs on a large cigar. A month later, at the age of 52, Julian Maclaren-Ross died ...

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