Cover image for Gielgud : a theatrical life
Gielgud : a theatrical life
Croall, Jonathan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Continuum, 2001.

Physical Description:
xii, 579 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
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Format :


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PN2598.G45 C76 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Based on interviews with over 100 friends and colleagues who worked with Gielgud, this biography covers Gielgud's childhood amongst his famous Terry relations, his early struggles as a young actor, his triumphs in Shakespeare at the Old Vic and his late flowering as an Oscar-winning film star.

Author Notes

Jonathan Croall is now a full-time writer and editor specialising in the theatre.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

As much a monolith as a man by the end of his life, Sir John Gielgud was, from the beginning of his career in the 1920s, an active, energetic workaholic. By turns actor, director, and producer, he was always proceeding to the next project before he had finished its predecessor. By the time of his death, he had appeared in hundreds of plays, hundreds of movies, and countless television programs. His voice and face were instantly identifiable, and there was something reassuring about his gentle, intensely civilized, slightly abstracted demeanor. Such a major force in British and American theater deserves a similarly imposing biography, and he receives one in Croall's exactingly researched work, based on full access to Gielgud's papers, letters, and books--and showing it. Witty and well-written as well as well-researched, Croall's fine and complete portrait of the man and his endearing charm often reads more like a novel than like nonfiction. --Jack Helbig

Publisher's Weekly Review

Three-quarters of the way through this elegant, finely researched biography it comes as something of a shock to discover that its subject, one of the greatest actors of the last century, had a mischievous sense of humor. Once, just before sweeping onstage in a 1961 production of The Cherry Orchard, Gielgud handed a fellow actor a cucumber and whispered, "Put that somewhere for me, will you?" This moment is a great relief in part because Croall takes Gielgud so seriously that he seldom conveys the warmth and humor that the actor so often brought to his parts. Despite that shortcoming, Croall, editor of the National Theater's magazine StageWrite since 1991, has done tremendously thorough and sensitive work, making extensive use of his interviews with more than 100 of Gielgud's co-stars and colleagues, and selectively using such sources as memoirs, journals and press clippings, never substituting them for his own interpretations or observations. Gielgud made his mark on the British stage early on only three years after his 1921 London stage debut as a walk-on soldier in Henry V, at the age of 20 he was cast as Romeo and worked in theater, radio, film and television almost until his death in 2000 at age 96. Although Croall is most interested in Gielgud's professional accomplishments, he also provides a well-observed sense of the actor's personal life, including his long-term relationship with the handsome and reclusive Martin Hensler. Croall also renders, without sensationalism, Gielgud's anguish when the tabloid press reported his humiliating 1953 arrest for cruising a public men's room (audiences, more forgiving than journalists, greeted him with a standing ovation when he appeared on stage soon after the incident). Other biographies of Gielgud will no doubt be forthcoming, but Croall has set a high standard. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When Sir John Gielgud died last year at the age of 96, he left a legacy that included almost 80 years as an actor/director/producer. He worked in film, radio, and TV, but most agree that the theater was his life. Despite being born with a "theatrical spoon in his mouth" (his great-aunt was the famed actress Ellen Terry), Gielgud had to struggle. He was an unlikely matinee idol, but he eventually emerged as a popular interpreter of Shakespeare and influenced many of the "greats," especially Laurence Olivier. However, despite Gielgud's theatrical achievements, it would be over 60 years before he was "discovered" by mainstream audiences in the film Arthur. This is a painstakingly researched biography, and the first of several recent British efforts to be published in the United States. It's not yet clear whether or not this will be the definitive work, but it is far-reaching (Croall interviewed over 100 Gielgud friends and colleagues) and complete and captures the dichotomy that was John Gielgud. Recommended. Rosellen Brewer, Monterey Cty. Free Libs., Salinas, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The first full-length biography of Sir John Gielgud since his death in May 2000 after almost 80 years of productivity--indeed the first since Ronald Hayman's John Gielgud (CH, Apr'71)--Croall's effort is detailed, balanced, and well written. It evokes a vivid sense of the actor, his times and contemporaries, and his landmark stage performances (and his failures); chronicles his directorial accomplishments and covers careers in radio, films, and television; and provides a wonderful appreciation of an artist devoted to his craft and immersed in the history and tradition of the theater. Croall also offers insights into his personal life and his unique, essentially shy personality. Croall's objective biography reinforces the myriad reasons why Gielgud was such an important classical and modern actor, striving to stay abreast of what was new in theater while returning frequently to the classics, in particular Shakespeare. Regrettably the few errors in the British edition were not corrected (e.g., "Katherine" for Katharine Cornell; "Gipsy" for Gypsy Rose Lee; Pauline Chase identified as the original Peter Pan instead of Nina Boucicault). Though poorly documented, reliable nonetheless; nicely illustrated. Recommended for all theater collections and readers at all levels. D. B. Wilmeth Brown University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. vii
Prologuep. xi
Part 1 Early Stages 1904-1929p. 1
1 A Terry Childhoodp. 3
2 Gielgud Minorp. 14
3 Atkins, RADA and Playfairp. 28
4 Oxford Apprenticeshipp. 47
5 Coward, Chekhov and Komisarjevskyp. 62
6 Man about Townp. 75
7 The Search for Stardomp. 86
8 Mrs Pat and Lilian Baylisp. 96
Part 2 Lord of the West End 1929-1937p. 111
9 The Old Vicp. 113
10 Matinee Idolp. 131
11 Young Producerp. 148
12 Richard of Bordeauxp. 161
13 Hamletp. 174
14 Saint-Denis and The Seagullp. 190
15 Enter Larryp. 203
16 A Prince on Broadwayp. 220
Part 3 Shakespeare in Peace and War 1937-1948p. 235
17 Actor-Managerp. 237
18 Binkie, Earnest and Elsinorep. 257
19 Barker and King Learp. 277
20 ENSA and Macbethp. 289
21 The Haymarket Seasonp. 306
22 Travelling Playerp. 323
Part 4 Rise and Fall 1948-1968p. 339
23 Rattigan, Fry and Burtonp. 341
24 Stratford and Peter Brookp. 355
25 From Hollywood to Hammersmithp. 369
26 Dark Daysp. 382
27 One Man and His Showp. 400
28 Othello to Albeep. 416
29 A Sense of Directionp. 432
Part 5 Indian Summer 1968-2000p. 447
30 Oedipus and Homep. 449
31 Peter Hall and Pinterp. 462
32 The Road to Bridesheadp. 478
33 Late Stagesp. 489
34 'Major Movie Star'p. 501
35 Swan Songsp. 514
Conclusionp. 531
Chronologyp. 534
Source Notesp. 546
Bibliographyp. 551
Acknowledgementsp. 556
Indexp. 559