The London theatre in the late spring of 1907 was not at its most refulgent. The dramatic big guns were conspicuously silent: there was no play by Shaw, no Ibsen, no Chekhov; not even a Pinero or a Maugham. The nearest approach to a modern play of serious import was Galsworthy’s respectable but uninspiring “The Silver Box”. Even “The Mikado” had been banned by the Lord Chamberlain, who feared it might offend the visiting Japanese Crown Prince. Among the leading actors and actresses: Irving had died two years before, Ellen Terry was in New York, Viola Tree in Germany, Gerald du Maurier was to be seen, but in a play which The Times dismissed as “noisy, rackety, rubbishy tomfoolery”. Marie Tempest was the only superstar doing work which enhanced her reputation.
But it was not just the paucity of great plays and players which menaced the London scene. There was a remoter but, viewed in the longer term, more ominous threat to the future of the theatre. By 1907 Chaplin had already made his ﬁrst short silent ﬁlm; D. W. Griﬃth had started work in Hollywood. Several London theatres were interspersing plays with ﬁlms; even the Old Vic showed every Saturday night “moving landscapes and seascapes” to enraptured audiences. The ﬁrst theatre entirely devoted to ﬁlms, the Balham Empire, opened in the summer of 1907. Many more were planned: by 1914 there would be more than one hundred cinemas in Manchester alone. Could the traditional theatre resist this competition? Some thought not. Within twenty-ﬁve, at the most thirty years, prophesied one pessimist, there would be no live acting on the stage in London.
Ralph Richardson had been born in 1902; John Gielgud in 1904; Laurence Kerr Olivier was born on 22 May, 1907.
There was nothing in his ancestry to suggest he would take to the stage. The Oliviers were French Huguenots who had settled in Britain early in the eighteenth century. They ﬁtted comfortably into the minor gentry or professional classes; soldiers and clergymen predominating. Laurence Olivier’s uncles were a talented lot, among them a colonial governor, who became a lord, and a successful society portrait painter. Laurence saw little of them, however; his father, Gerard – “Fahv”, as he was usually known in the family – was far the youngest of the siblings and also the least successful. He was sent down from Oxford, got a dismally bad degree at Durham, became a preparatory schoolmaster, opened his own school, failed to make a success of it, then switched course, was ordained and in 1904 became curate at St Martin’s, Dorking. Some years before, he had married the sister-in-law of his headmaster, Agnes Crookenden, who had hoped for a life of modest comfort as a schoolmaster’s wife and instead found herself living in penury on the exiguous stipend earned by a run-of-the-mill Anglican priest.
She accepted her fate bravely. Where her husband was strident, bad-tempered and somewhat stupid, Agnes was quiet, resolute and long-suffering. She bore without complaint the burdens that life and the Revd Mr Olivier imposed on her and settled down to give her family as comfortable and secure a life as possible. Her eldest daughter, Sybille, was born in 1901 and a son, christened Gerard after his father but for most of his life known as Dickie, followed in 1904. Laurence was there- fore much younger than his siblings, unplanned and, by his father at least, unwanted. Gerard, in the opinion of his younger son at any rate, considered Laurence a bothersome addition to a family that was satisfactorily complete without him. Sybille, whose recollections of their childhood are generally somewhat rosier than those of her younger brother, conﬁrmed that Gerard seemed resentful of Laurence’s existence. There was something about the child’s seeming stolidity and baby plumpness that drove him almost to frenzy, she remembered. If Laurence was eating too slowly or too much his father would erupt: “Baby or not, he bores me and I’ve had enough!” He would turn on the terriﬁed child and shout: “You! Have you ﬁnished at last? Get out!”
It is only fair to the Revd Mr Olivier to say that Laurence, or Paddy, as he came to be called because of his explosive temper, does not seem to have been a prepossessing child. He realised that his mother would be on his side in any confrontation with his father and, according to one family friend, “learned deliberately to provoke his father’s wrath in order to produce more love and attention from his mother”. Perhaps in response to his father’s hostility he felt an urgent need to ingratiate himself with all around him. Everyone likes to be liked, but Olivier’s craving for popularity was both exaggerated and enduring. “He’s coy, he’s vain, he has tantrums, he needs to be wooed,” said his friend and admirer Elia Kazan many years later. Still more, he needed to woo. “I had by nature a very unfortunate gift of ﬂirtatiousness,” he told Mark Amory, whose many hours of taped interviews with Olivier provide an important element of this book. He cited this as proof that he was a born actor: so he was, but it is equally possible to see it as a defence mechanism, strengthened if not created by the realisation that he was being rejected by the one man from whom he had the right to expect support.
He had other traits which gave his father reason to disapprove of if not dislike him, as he admitted in his autobiography. As a child, he was a compulsive liar. To conceal the truth was almost an automatic reﬂex. Once he touched the scorchingly hot handle of the bread-making machine, causing the dough to sink and burning himself severely. He must have known that, if he had explained what had happened, he would have received sympathy for the pain he was suffering rather than a scolding; nevertheless he clung to his story that he had never touched the machine and tried to conceal his burn. He never hesitated to lie if he thought it would bring him some advantage and showed considerable skill in practising his mendacity. He found it easy to convince his nursery schoolmistress that his presence was needed at home and that therefore he must leave early.
The habit of lying he shed quickly, though throughout his life he allowed himself to embroider the truth with picturesque but invented detail. The temper which had earned him his nickname, however, stayed with him all his life. His roar, “reminiscent of a Bull of Bashan”, which his sister remembered from his infancy, was to reverberate for seventy years or more. His explosions were all the more terrifying for being unpredictable. Once, dining with the actor Laurence Harvey, he had been notably dulcet throughout the evening. Then Harvey ridiculed in turn Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud and Paul Scoﬁeld. Olivier erupted, “How dare you! Call yourself an actor? You’re not even a bad actor. You can’t act at all, you fucking, stupid, hopeless, snivelling little cunt-faced arsehole!” He then stormed out: it was as true to his character that next day he repented and sent Harvey a bouquet of twenty-four red roses.
There were other, more estimable traits that were evident in his infancy. If he started on some enterprise he would not stop, he would plug away at a childish puzzle until he had resolved it – even though it was in theory intended for someone of twice his age. Nothing would deter him. It was said that Edmund Kean, opening in the ﬁrst night of “The Merchant of Venice” in the early nineteenth century, found himself the wrong side of the Thames without the money for the toll and swam the river so as to get to the theatre in time. “Even if he didn’t do it I’m sure, if it had been necessary, he would have done,” wrote Olivier approvingly. “As, indeed, I would. Determination.” “He was the most disciplined man I’ve ever met,” said the director Franco Zeﬃrelli. “His discipline is the ﬁrst secret of his success . . . Steel discipline, and merciless with himself and others – no excuses, no weakness.” Translate this to life in the nursery, allow for a few childish tantrums, and the picture emerges of an alarmingly resolute child, one who might take some time to decide upon his course of action but who, once commit- ted, could only with the greatest diﬃculty be diverted. Looked at another way, of course, tenacity became obstinacy. He could be infuriat- ing, his sister remembered: “he had a habit of saying ‘No’ slowly and loudly and, however much one might coax or threaten, he remained unshakeable.” The Olivier “No”, ﬁnal and unchallengeable, would break the nerve of many an actor or director before his career was done.
His mother, who seems to have been in charge of his early education, was determined that he should go to the choir school of All Saints, Margaret Street. All Saints was an Anglican church so high as to seem to its more austere neighbours dangerously tainted with the odour of Rome. It had one of the best, if not the best choir in London and this, coupled with the excellent reputation of the schooling, meant that there was stiff competition for places. Olivier’s brother was already there, and for two years Mrs Olivier battled to secure a place for her younger son. In the meantime the boy was subjected to a series of indifferent preparatory schools – an experience which he much disliked. The ﬁrst was a boarding school in Blackheath, predominantly for girls, to which Olivier was despatched at the age of six. He was so miserable that a kindly aunt who lived nearby had to be persuaded by the school to take him in “in case my perpetual crying should do me an injury”. The tears were certainly genuine: no doubt, too, they were enhanced by that instinct towards the histrionic which so often led Olivier to turn into a performance something which otherwise might have been unexcitingly run of the mill.
Finally, in 1916, at the age of nine, he was admitted to the All Saints choir school. It was soon evident that he was not going to shine as a scholar: “Handwriting poor. Spelling careless. Composition slovenly. Arithmetic disgraceful,” was the harsh judgment at the end of one of his earlier terms. Things improved, but not to any great extent; the fact was that the work did not interest him and he was therefore not disposed to take much trouble over it. The same was not true of games, where he longed to excel but lacked the talent. He was “totally inept”, wrote his brother with some brutality: “Even at the tender age of twelve I had protective qualms about him coming to the school. Not only qualms on his behalf, but on my own, since I didn’t fancy being embarrassed by a younger brother who didn’t ﬁt in.”
Where he did ﬁt in was in the choir. Not everyone agreed. “Larry hath an ugly voice,” lisped the organist. “Enormouth, yeth, my goodness yeth. But Dickie ith the really muthical one.” Others were less censorious. “He has a ﬁne voice and much ability,” was the more usual verdict, and though he rarely featured as a soloist he was one of the elite who were regularly considered for the role. He had become used to ceremony in his father’s church and relished the smells, bells and rich ﬂummery at All Saints. At home, he and his brother had used to drape eiderdowns around themselves and indulge in orgies of bowing and intoning; he would have liked to do the same things at All Saints but made do with watching others perform the rituals. The music, too, he found fulﬁlling. The musical education was as ambitious and as rigorous as any in the country and Olivier acquired a knowledge of religious music which enriched his life. The aura of sanctity hung over All Saints. If Olivier, at this point of his life, had been asked what he proposed to do when his education was behind him he would almost certainly have replied that he intended to become a priest. He would have taken it for granted that his father held the same view. If anything this would have been a disincentive, but Olivier was not so perverse that he would have gone against his own strong inclinations just for the satisfaction of frustrating his father.
But the choir school made a still more signiﬁcant contribution to Olivier’s future. The vicar of All Saints, Father Henry Mackay, was an energetic theatregoer and he had recruited as a master Father Geoffrey Heald. Heald was an amateur actor of distinction, both he and Mackay had friends in the theatre world, and the result was that All Saints enjoyed a reputation for its acting far beyond that of most comparable schools. Heald identiﬁed Olivier as being a boy with both potential as an actor and an eagerness to perform, and Olivier responded to his encouragement with rapturous enthusiasm. “I had complete faith in this man,” Olivier said many years later. “I was devoted to him, and I think he was very fond of me.” Too fond, in the opinion of one of Olivier’s biographers, Michael Munn, who suggested that Heald had physically molested his young pupil and left a permanent psychological scar. There is no evidence to support this and Olivier’s words suggest the contrary. Far from pursuing small boys it seems that Heald’s tastes were robustly heterosexual. He made something of a fool of himself a few years later when he fell in love with the actress Edna Best, star of the successful “The Constant Nymph”, and pursued her with conspicuous but unrequited zest.
Heald gave Olivier his ﬁrst chance to shine on the stage when he produced “Julius Caesar” at the end of 1917. Olivier, who was only in his second year, was originally assigned the humble part of First Citizen but, in a general shuﬄe, was recast in the more important role of Brutus. Few twelve-year-old boys can have been more acclaimed on their debut. As usual, the school had drawn a distinguished audience. The Duke of Newcastle, a prominent benefactor of All Saints, presented Olivier with a copy of “Julius Caesar” taken from his own library and inscribed “As a souvenir of the splendid performance”. Johnston Forbes-Robertson, renowned actor-manager and the foremost Hamlet of his generation, wrote to Heald praising Olivier’s “pathetic air of fatalism which was poignantly suggestive – remarkable in one so young”. Most striking of all, Ellen Terry – in most people’s view the leading actress of the age – noted in her diary that the boy who had played Brutus was “already a great actor”. A year later she was still remembering his “wonderful” performance.
More successful still was Olivier’s last appearance at All Saints, as Katherina in “The Taming of the Shrew”. The role of the heroine in this detestable play is one of the most diﬃcult in the Shakespearean repertoire. Olivier handled it with astonishing aplomb. Ellen Terry was there again and wrote that she had “never seen the part played as well by any woman”, while the enormously inﬂuential Russian director Theodore Komisarjevsky – surely a most improbable spectator at a schoolboy performance in London? – praised “the sincerity, the seriousness and the simplicity of the acting” and in particular acclaimed the “especially impressive Katherina”. He was “wonderful – a bad-tempered little bitch,” remembered Sybil Thorndike, who was then in the early stages of her resplendent theatrical career, “and he looked just like his mother in the part – gypsy-like”. Sybille too remarked how closely he modelled Katherina on their mother – not in personality, because there had been nothing shrewish about Agnes Olivier, but in her manner of speech and her movements. Their father came to one of the performances, “and he had to get up and leave, so shaken was he to see Larry re-creating Mother down to the last detail”.
It was re-creation because, after a brief illness, Agnes Olivier had died in 1920. For any twelve-year-old boy the death of a mother must be a fearful blow; for Olivier, frightened and remote from his father and, as a result, cherished with particular determination by the warm-hearted and affectionate Agnes, it seemed that his world had been obliterated. He was given the news by Father Heald, wept brieﬂy, then remained dry-eyed. Throughout his life he was given to extravagant displays of grief or joy; this was one of the few occasions in which he did not externalise his emotions. “I’ve been looking for her ever since,” he remembered many years later. “I can’t think I’ve ever loved anybody quite as much . . . My mother was my life really, she was my entire world.” Olivier believed that, dreadful though it was, the experience fortiﬁed him for the future; others might feel that it extinguished in him the capacity for unequivocal love, the lack of which impoverished his emotional existence. The biographer is well advised to avoid glib psychological pronouncements, but it is diﬃcult not to feel that the loss of his mother when he was at his most vulnerable did do him lasting damage. His personal loss may, of course, have been the world’s gain. The deprivation which he endured may in itself have been an important factor in shaping the personality of that most complete of actors.
He was sustained by the support of his brother and sister. Fifty years later he was to reproach his own children for their perpetual bickering. “It’s so hard for me to understand you three,” he said. “My family was the happiest family ever in the world. We all absolutely adored and worshipped each other.” Things can hardly have been as rapturous as that, but Sybille and Dickie stood by their younger brother and restored to him some of the sense of intimacy and belonging of which his mother’s death had deprived him. Sybille in particular assumed many of the responsibilities of a mother. Agnes Olivier’s last words had been “Be kind to Larry”. Her husband paid them scant attention; Sybille took them to heart and did her best to obey them.
By now Olivier’s time at All Saints was almost ﬁnished. “His work has improved and he is taking more pains,” the report for the Lent term 1921 noted approvingly. He had been made a monitor, “which will, I hope, help to develop a stronger sense of responsibility”. Evidently it did. “A most satisfactory term,” recorded his ﬁnal report. “He has proved quite eﬃcient as a monitor and has developed considerably. He is a very nice boy and we shall miss him greatly.” The boys were not all as enthusiastic. “He was not altogether a nice boy . . .” one contemporary remembered, “a bit of a bully.” “No-one could trust him to be constant,” another complained. “He would be your great pal one day, and then turn round and try to humiliate you the next.” Physically, he had a long way to go. “He was thin and bony with knobbly matchsticks for legs,” remembered one boy of his generation. His hair grew low out of his forehead which, combined with his thick eyebrows, “gave him a decidedly mole-like appearance”. Such photographs of him as survive are less unﬂattering: he seems an obviously good-looking child. But he was naturally ungainly: when he played games he was “as awkward as a cow trying to balance on a wire”, the future actor Laurence Naismith remembered. Olivier himself was dissatisﬁed by his appearance and uneasy about his standing with the other boys. He was inclined to slink furtively around the edge of groups, reluctant to draw attention to himself yet wishing to be close to the heart of things.
On the whole, though, he had enjoyed his time at All Saints. His elder brother had moved on to Rugby and it had been his mother’s hope that Larry would follow him. Perhaps, if she had lived, he would have done so – her small private income made a substantial contribution to the family’s ﬁnancial situation – but left to himself the Revd Gerard concluded that he could not afford it. Instead he settled for St Edward’s, Oxford, a school which admitted clergymen’s sons at a preferential rate of £60 a year and, as a result, boasted a disproportionate number of clerical offspring among its 230 pupils. The high moral tone which one might have hoped this would produce was sadly lacking: all minor public schools have their ups and downs and St Edward’s in 1921 was badly down. Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, was one of the few old boys of distinction. No dispassionate observer surveying the school at that period would have been likely to predict that many of the current vintage would join him in the halls of fame. In fact, as well as Olivier, the school boasted the future ﬁghter-pilot hero Douglas Bader. Bader, who was two years younger, was imprudent enough to push Olivier under the water in the school swimming pool. Olivier complained to the President of his form room that Bader had been “intolerably saucy”. Bader was beaten and Olivier was allowed to administer two of the strokes. “I simply loathed myself,” he remem bered. “I didn’t hurt him at all, of course; he just got up, grinned and left.” Bader bore no grudge but soon afterwards got his own back by bowling Olivier for a duck in a match where four runs were needed for victory and the last man was in. It was an incident typical of an undistinguished athletic career. Olivier longed to be good at cricket, but never rose above the Fifth XI. In his last year he took to rowing, but had left it too late to make any real mark. “I wish to God that I’d been a wet bob. I adored it,” he maintained, but though his eldest son was one day to be successful as an oarsman it does not seem likely that Olivier’s own failure to take it up deprived British rowing of any signiﬁcant talent.
Under an incompetent headmaster, discipline at St Edward’s had been neglected and the boys, in effect, were left to their own devices. Those devices were often mischievous. “It was a terrible school,” recalled a contemporary of Olivier’s whose father had been a master there. “The boys ran the school and it was quite horriﬁc.” The Rugby of Tom Brown’s School Days may have been a little turbulent, but, at least in Olivier’s view, it was a proper public school. At St Edward’s: “I felt unhappy and awkward and misplaced . . . I hated it all the time.” He convinced himself that he was disliked by the other boys and, by behaving as if he were, succeeded at least in part in making it true. Probably he exaggerated his misery. In Bader’s view he was not in the least un-popular: “He was perhaps introspective, lived within himself, and he had the sort of artistic make-up that might have made him think he was unpopular.” In his own eyes, however, his period at St Edward’s was both unpleasant and a waste of time. The sooner he could escape from it the better.
In fact the schooling cannot have been as bad as all that. It was at St Edward’s that Olivier learned the value and satisfaction of hard work. “A man’s prime interest in life must be his work,” he told his ﬁrst wife many years later. He did not ﬁnd the work at St Edward’s congenial, nor was he well suited to it, but he buckled down. He was not a notably clever boy but was endowed by nature with an extraordinarily retentive memory which, for a schoolboy faced with examinations, is quite as valuable as intellectual powers. To his mild surprise he won the Senior History Prize and was rewarded with a handsome copy of Kipling’s Kim; nothing sensational as academic achievements go but proving that he could more than hold his own.
It was curious that he tried to avoid featuring in the one ﬁeld in which he felt conﬁdent he could excel. When it was suggested that he might act in the school play, he refused. He believed it would make him still more unpopular; already, he complained, he was known as “that sidey little shit Olivier”; if he seized the limelight on the stage his reputation would be still worse. This may not have been the whole story: the master in charge of the school plays had taken against him and it seems that the antipathy was mutual. Whatever the explanation, his resistance was overcome. He agreed that he would act in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and was assigned the role of Puck. It was typical of him that, having ﬁnally accepted that he must play, he at once began to deplore the inadequacy of his role. “This dismally wretched part, this utterly hopeless, so-called opportunity,” he stormed. It was as typical that he resolved to make something special of it. He ﬂung himself into the role and, in a way that was going to become maddeningly familiar to fellow performers over the next sixty years, attracted attention far greater than his part would have been expected to command. “By far the most notable performance,” judged the school magazine. “He seemed to put more ‘go’ into it than the others.” “He was the only one in the cast who was really exciting – a born actor,” a fellow schoolboy recalled. Contrary to his fears his success earned him popularity; his last months at St Edward’s were relatively happy.
They had need to be, for his life at home, such as it was, was fast disintegrating. His sister Sybille had gone on the stage. It soon became clear that her talents were limited and that she would never make a successful actress. Her father deplored her failure and was still more disapproving when, without his blessing, she married a man whom he felt unsuitable. Laurence Olivier became involved in her disgrace; his father discovered that he had known of the affair, but had failed to report it. Dickie was not there to share the blame since he had left home to plant tea in India. To cap it all, the Revd Gerard remarried. “I didn’t feel sore on my mother’s behalf,” Olivier recalled many years later, “because I knew my mother was saint enough to wish him to be happy. He was very miserable and dreadfully lonely.” It seems that at the time Olivier was rather less accepting. Sybille wrote that her brother resented the affection that their father lavished on his new wife. “Really, the old man is impossible,” Olivier would grumble. “Why can’t he think of our feelings sometimes?” Fortunately his new stepmother, Isabel or “Ibo” as she was generally known, was a woman of generosity and perception who understood Olivier’s feelings and sympathised with them. Thanks to her, the atmosphere at home was not insufferable, but Olivier was still anxious to escape from it as soon as possible. He was now seventeen. It was time to decide the pattern of his future life.
Up till then he had assumed, without thinking very much about it, that he would follow his father into the church. He was still a ﬁrm believer and attached great importance to regular attendance, but he had by now concluded that he did not have a suﬃciently strong vocation to take the plunge. In one account of his feelings at the time he says that he contemplated following his brother to India; elsewhere, he says that he considered the possibility of an Asian exile but rejected it. Whichever may have been true, it seems to have come as a complete surprise to him when one evening the question of his future life came up and he mentioned the possibility of a career abroad. “Don’t be such a fool,” said his father: “You’re going on the stage!” “Am I?” stammered Olivier. “Well, of course you are.”
His father had decided not only on Olivier’s career, but also on how he was to equip himself for it. Olivier was to go to the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, an institution where his sister Sybille had studied some years before and which was run by a formid- able lady called Elsie Fogerty. There was a snag, however. No money was available to cover the cost of his tuition. Olivier would have to secure not only a scholarship but an additional bursary as well, so as to pay for his upkeep. He trailed off to the Albert Hall where Miss Fogerty was selecting her future scholars. In the innumerable auditions that he was to endure through his acting life Olivier almost always chose Mark Antony’s speech over the corpse of Julius Caesar, but for this ﬁrst effort he offered Jacques’s “All the world’s a stage” from “As You Like It”. He rendered this with immense fervour and much gesticulation – too much so in Miss Fogerty’s view. It was not necessary, she observed, to make fencing passes when delivering the words “sudden and quick in quarrel”. Nevertheless she liked what she heard: the scholarship was Olivier’s and, after some debate, an additional bursary was thrown in as well.
The emphasis in the Central School was much more on Speech Training than Dramatic Art. Peggy Ashcroft, who joined the same term as Olivier (rarely can any drama school have welcomed two such talented recruits at the same time), went so far as to say that the teach- ing of acting was virtually non-existent. So far as speech went, however, Miss Fogerty’s training proved invaluable. It provided the foundation for a lifetime’s achievement. Olivier throughout his career was famed for his breath control. “Larry has a longer breath than anybody I know,” said Sybil Thorndike. “He could do the Matins exhortation ‘Dearly Beloved Brethren’ twice through in one breath. Lewis [her husband, Sir Lewis Casson] could do it in one and a half.” To be able fully to control one’s voice is not necessarily the most important element in acting, but without it all the other elements will be irreparably diminished. Olivier’s powers were phenomenal. His ability was innate, but it was Miss Fogerty’s early training which developed it.
Not everyone was as perceptive as Miss Fogerty. One teacher is said to have written to Olivier’s father urging him to withdraw his son: “He’s no good. He looks like a farm boy.” His appearance, indeed, still verged on the uncouth. His hair grew down to his brow, he had buck teeth. Miss Fogerty disconcerted him by putting the tip of her ﬁnger at the base of his hairline and running it down to the top of his nose. “You have a weakness here,” she pronounced. Olivier attributes to this gnomic utterance his passion for disguise: for many years at least, he was ill at ease with his own appearance and sought to conceal it with false noses or other such devices.
Uncouth or not, his talent was obvious. Together with Peggy Ashcroft he won the gold medal for best actor of the year. They performed a scene from “The Merchant of Venice” for the beneﬁt of Athene Seyler, the celebrity imported for the occasion to award the prizes. According to Olivier, Ashcroft played Portia. Miss Seyler remembered it rather differently. Olivier was growing a beard for the part of Shylock “and Peggy, who was also playing a man, put on a false beard – so these two young people both looked idiotic. I couldn’t tell, of course, how good they were.” At all events, Olivier graduated with a First Class Dramatic Certiﬁcate adorned by a star. It was a satisfactory end to his education. Now it remained to put that education to good use. He had no doubts or inhibitions. Whether or not he had been taken by surprise by his father’s announcement that he was to go on the stage, he had, he told Peter Hall many years later, wanted to be an actor from the age of nine. Now the dream had become reality. From that moment his ambitions were boundless. “Don’t you realise?” he blurted out to a friend. “I want to be the greatest actor in the world.”
Excerpted from Olivier by Philip Ziegler. Copyright © 2013 by Philip Ziegler.
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block, London, W1U 8EW.
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