Book Review:  “Truly, Madly”…Sadly

Publication date:  March 2022

Category:  Performing Arts; Rich & Famous Biographies; Actor & Entertainer Biographies.

Review, short version:  Three out of four roses.

Review, long version:

A woman and a man. 

Big egos, big insecurities, big romance.

Infidelities, notoriety, divorces, abandoned families, mental illness, more infidelities, more divorces, heartbreak.

All the elements of a blockbuster movie.

But when all these elements are combined in real life…

More often than not, the outcome is…

The book is Truly, Madly:  Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, and the Romance of the Century by Stephen Galloway.

I added the “Sadly” in my post’s title because that’s how it ends.  And I already knew that, but…

It was even sadder than I’d realized.

The “Romance of the Century” in the book’s title was what the French would call une grande passion – a great passion, a can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other attraction between two people.

Une grande passion is très épuisant:

Very exhausting.

Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) was a British actress, famous for starring as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).

Laurence “Larry” Olivier (1907-1989) was a British actor, famous for both his roles on stage and in films.

Their romance was not just big – it was headline-making, dramatic, loving, despairing, sometimes loud, sometimes whimpering.

And for more than two decades, millions of people found it…

Fascinating.

When they met, both Leigh and Olivier were married to others and each had a young child.  They abandoned their families and ran away together, which might work well in a movie script but in real life, a lot of pain was inflicted on innocent bystanders.

But – Leigh died 55 years ago.  Olivier died 33 years ago.  

Why, I wondered, write a book now about these two people when – according to some online sources – nearly half the world’s population is under 30?  Which means half of the people in the world were born after both Leigh and Olivier were gone, and plenty of them have never or barely heard of the actors and seen their movies?

Olivier starring in “Hamlet,” 1948.

The logical place to go for answers was author Galloway’s website, but it appears he doesn’t have one.

Next, I looked online for magazine and newspaper articles about Galloway.  I found book reviews, but nothing about the why now?

I did find a 45-minute podcast, StoryBeat, on YouTube.  And while Galloway did talk about Truly, Madly at length, the show host didn’t ask and Galloway didn’t say why he wrote about Leigh and Olivier.

And why now?

Galloway did offer this about Truly, Madly:

“The book was an exploration of not so much love, as passion.”

“I wanted the book to be a biography of their marriage, not two biographies.”

I guess my why now? will go unanswered.

Leigh and Olivier are tragic figures, Leigh due to suffering from bipolar disorder that was then called “manic depression.”  It was little understood, there were no medications for it, and as one article put it:

Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” 1951.

“Leigh’s moods would swing from vertiginous highs to debilitating lows.  During the highs, she never seemed to sleep and would indulge in extraordinary excesses, sexual and material; during the lows, she could barely function.”

Olivier’s suffering was due in part to watching Leigh suffer and being unable to help her, and also from dealing with her highs and lows.  After 20 years of marriage (1940-1960), they separated, then divorced.  Both continued to work, Olivier achieving much, Leigh achieving much less due at least in part to her illness.

Leigh and Olivier:  une grande passion

Intense.  Extreme.  Overwhelming.  

And from my perspective, exhausting.

Better to read about it, than to live it.

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