BOOK REVIEW / What Larry was like as a dad: My father Laurence Olivier - Tarquin Olivier: Headline, pounds 16.99
Sunday 06 September 1992
Olivier had already fallen out of love with Tarquin's mother, Jill Esmond, by the time he was born in 1936. Though Tarquin omits to tell us this, we know from Donald Spoto's biography that Jill Esmond was a lesbian and the marriage only fleetingly consummated. Olivier, with typical insensitivity, took his new love, Vivien Leigh, to visit mother and baby in hospital (and later asked Jill Esmond if he could have Tarquin's pram back, for the baby Vivien was briefly, unsuccessfully, expecting). Tarquin's childhood knowledge of his father was therefore confined to occasional weekends, and even more occasional parental visits to school. There is a particularly harrowing account of waiting anxiously for his father to arrive for the Fourth of July, watched by other boys: when Olivier finally came, hours late, Tarquin was near tears.
Most of Olivier's paternal advice, such as it was, seems to have been about sex - the snares and dangers and delusions thereof: 'Just recognise that all the romantic ecstasies, all the rosie reveries . . . are basically, simply and solely wicked Old Nature's cold-blooded calculated bribe, to bring children into the world.' Not surprisingly, he worried that Tarquin would become gay: he insisted on urinating beside him, presumably to check appearances. (According to Tarquin, Olivier also had an obsessive interest in the female genitalia and 'seeing over and over again the designs of nature which were dedicated, among other things, to the enjoyment of men. His enthusiastic exposure to matters which his conscience had denied ever existed replaced his unnatural dread with a healthy deference.')
Later, when Tarquin was 20 and Olivier's marriage to Leigh was breaking down, they went on holiday together (the only time they ever did) and on the way back, Olivier watched a middle-aged woman crossing the road: 'See her?' he exclaimed, 'That woman? She's my age to the very day. Fifty: and who wants her? Where's the sex in her?'
Olivier said in his autobiography that he was always embarrassed by Tarquin and one can appreciate why: his son's adoration must have seemed a constant reproach. Even as an adult, Tarquin burst into tears when he learned that Joan Plowright was expecting a baby which would deprive him of his exclusive filial role, meagre though that had been. Thereafter he saw even less of his father than before, and Olivier even refused to read a travel book he wrote on the grounds that he was 'too busy'.
Squirm-making though this book is in so many ways, and arch and irritating in style, it gives a more vivid picture of Olivier offstage than either his own autobiography or the Spoto tome. Tarquin captures his father's gaiety, his rococo speech, his shameless showmanship, his rude remarks about other actors (especially Gielgud), and his schoolboy humour. It is a footnote to biography rather than a biography in itself, but not without a certain sickly interest.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish independence results live: Reunited kingdom - Scotland gives a clear 'No' in historic referendum
- 2 Scottish referendum results: David Cameron set to unveil major devolution of powers to England
- 3 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 4 Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams cast in Channel 4 drama about cyber bullying
Downton Abbey: Liam Neeson wants role as stableman in period drama
Star Wars 7 leaked photo of Adam Driver changes everything
The Walking Dead season 5 synopsis: Spoilers and existential questions revealed
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'