Frankly, my dears, I don't believe a word
On "Damn you, Scarlett O'Hara: The private lives of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier" by Darwin Porter and Roy Moseley
"Having been professionally perusing books now for upwards of 25 years, I’ve cast my cold eye over everything from Salman Rushdie to Living With A Deviated Septum.
But for sheer muck-raking, crazy speculation and innuendo, Damn You, Scarlett O’Hara takes the absolute Custard Cream. The veritable Garibaldi. The McVitie’s Hobnob.
Larry and Viv, you may hitherto have thought, were a pair of 20th-century theatrical and cinema icons.
He won two Oscars for his Shakespearean performances, founded the National Theatre and ended up in the House of Lords. She earned immortality as the heroine of Gone With The Wind and as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Darwin Porter and Roy Moseley will have none of this. This book subjects the Oliviers to ridicule and contempt, the like of which I have never known.
It claims that Larry was a shameless and rampant coke-snorting rent boy-turned-predatory homosexual. Viv was a gibbering manic-depressive nympho who liked to be taken roughly by everyone, from the Oxford Boat Club to a taxi driver in the Libyan desert.
I found all this somewhat surprising because, as luck would have it, I once wrote a biography of Olivier myself (The Real Life Of Laurence Olivier is still on sale at the National Theatre and my royalties are occasionally as much as £70 a year).
I’d spent ages interviewing Larry’s former colleagues and contemporaries. I examined the archives. I did the legwork.
Yet nowhere did I come across evidence that Olivier had leapt into bed with Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Novello, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Cornel Wilde, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton, to name a few - though Porter and Moseley name so many willing partners from the Golden Age of Hollywood, it is a mystery that they omitted Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi.
This book, therefore, is easy to mock. So let’s mock.
What particularly made me chuckle was the dialogue, which is so crass it is like a bad forgery.
It seems inconceivable, for example, that Sir Lewis Casson and his saintly wife, Dame Sybil Thorndike, would have referred to anyone as a ‘p****-teaser’, or even known what one was.
Nor would Sir Ralph Richardson have said of Olivier that he was the kind of chap ‘certain British gents like to sodomise’.
Distinguished actors such as Charles Laughton are made to appear, in this book, as filthy and foul-mouthed. Details appear to be wrong - dates, addresses, London topography, cockney slang...
The whole enterprise is awkward and anachronistic. So perhaps it is best to disregard the book as biography and re-classify it as an imaginative interpretation obsessed by sex.
It is still scandilous beyond belief. Vivien Leigh, we are told, left her convent school and was soon entertaining, we are told, Howard Hughes, Claude Rains and Claude Rains’s wife, Isabel Jeans, Leslie Howard, Beatrice Lillie, and the dancer Gene Kelly. When she first met Olivier he was with the composer Ivor Novello. ‘You’ve already had him, you poof,’ she said. ‘Now it’s my turn.’
While it was true that the passion flaring up between Larry and Viv also drove them asunder - how could they ever settle down and be domestic? - I don’t think it unravelled quite like this.
Needless to say, we get a lot on the alleged affair with Danny Kaye - ‘Whenever Kaye was in London, Larry went to live with him’. Has this been verified by Olivier’s widow, Joan Plowright?
As Princess Margaret is dead, she can’t verify whether she joined Kaye and Olivier in threesomes.
Larry, incidentally, was no stranger to royalty. Another of his supposed conquests was Prince George, the Duke of Kent.
He’d apparently found favour with the Duke because he, Larry, had personally smuggled out of Lisbon secret papers relating to Wallis Simpson’s Nazi connections.
‘You really must be rewarded,’ says the Duke. ‘I’m here in a suite at the Dorchester. Please come over right away.’
This is bonkers, isn’t it? On and on it goes. What Porter and Moseley seem to have gambled on is that as the dead are not protected by the laws of libel, you can say what you want about them with impunity.
They even slip in a bizarre story about Tony Curtis, who’d allegedly ‘asked that the details not be published until after his death’, which, happily for the authors, happened last September.
It’s fortunate that I am still alive, otherwise Porter and Moseley would surely have concocted that when I attended Olivier’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey, in October 1989, I was at it in the pulpit with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, anyone who remains living goes curiously unmentioned.
Damn You, Scarlett O’Hara launches a dangerous new genre, which can be called bioporn. Let’s hope nobody is taken in by a single word of it."
Basically a book claiming to show the details of Vivien's and Larry's personal lives that most people don't know.
What I think:
1/ Just as I don't like people poking their noses into my private life, I personally have never shared with some people that fascination with somebody's personal life. I stay away from gossipy people, rarely read magazines, scandals, biographies... When I like an actress, for example, all I need to know is some basic background information, such as, Vivien's a British actress with French and Irish blood, most acclaimed for the 2 roles Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche DuBois, which earned her 2 Oscars, she got married twice- the most significant husband was Laurence Olivier, and had bipolar disorder and some other illnesses such as tuberculosis which caused some difficulties for her work, etc. That's enough. I don't need to know details about her life, about whom she had sex with or what she said about somebody or whatever. The only thing that matters is that she's a great actress, a legend, an ambitious and strong-willed person who could inspire me and be a role model in that sense.
2/ As written a couple of days ago, in the blog entry about Marilyn Monroe, I find it difficult, even impossible, to take seriously and have some respect for those who claim to reveal things most people don't know about someone who has died and who is unable to defend themselves. Doesn't that sound easy? Some people just say whatever they want about dead celebrities to earn money and share some fame, and perhaps even get some pleasures from ridiculing, lying about and painting in a negative light someone who is much more talented and well-known. Just pathetic.