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Gielgud: A Theatrical Life, 1904-2000
Jonathan Croall
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.

paperback, good condition, 2001 578 pages, age spot in edge
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