Just in case you thought celebrity unions (and the public’s obsession with them) were a contemporary phenomenon, Stephen Galloway’s bestselling book on the marriage of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh will tell you otherwise.
“They were lovers as famous as Burton and Taylor or Bogie and Bacall, but their kind of love was more like hate,” writes the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter in “Truly, Madly,” released just five days earlier. came. the Oscars landed another high-profile couple in the marital hot seat. “They seemed to have it all; and yet they were devastated in their own minds, doomed by a mental illness that they didn’t understand was turning their relationship from the stuff of dreams into a living nightmare.
Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder, then known as manic depression (it was diagnosed by the same psychoanalyst who, according to Gore Vidal, advised Tennessee Williams to give up both writing and sex so that he could be “transformed into a good team player”). As our critic noted, Galloway is “perhaps the first author to interpolate this oft-told tale with commentary from contemporary mental health experts,” bringing new sensibility to exhaustive analyzes of the Olivier-Leigh alliance.
“People thought Vivien was just crazy and an alcoholic,” Galloway said in a telephone interview. “They had absolutely no sympathy for the fact that she was in possession of a very serious illness that changed her behavior.”
What was it like to be a homicide detective for 4.5 years following someone else’s relationship? “It was fascinating,” said Galloway, who delved into Olivier’s archives at the British Library and Leigh’s at the Victoria and Albert Museum. “At the same time, ask yourself morally: am I doing the right thing? Is it legitimate to not only access their most intimate letters, but also publish them?”
Galloway was pensive about what he realized about love by examining a wealth of old correspondence and diaries—the sort of paper trail that might not be available to a future biographer of, say, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. “What you learn is tragic,” he said. “How, even with the greatest, most all-consuming pull, a little bit of sand in the oyster can become a dark pearl. How, if you’re not careful, little things can build and build until this boulder falls over and crushes the relationship. I don’t know how to prevent it. That is a cautionary lesson.”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and author of ‘A Window Opens’.
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