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1. Perdita : The Literary, Theatrical,
$30.00
2. Dig Infinity: The Life and Art
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3. Stephen Sondheim : A life
$17.99 $2.63
4. Leaving a Doll's House : A Memoir
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5. Tom Stoppard: A Life
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6. Design for Living : Alfred Lunt
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7. Conversations With Miller
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8. Look To The Lady: Sarah Siddons,
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9. Jerome Robbins : His Life, His
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10. Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh
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11. Conference of the Birds: The Story
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12. Memoirs of an Amnesiac
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13. Dorothy Heathcote's Story: Biography
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14. Three Tragic Actresses : Siddons,
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15. Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the
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16. Eleonora Duse : A Biography
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17. No Author Better Served: The Correspondence
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18. The Selected Letters of Tennessee
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19. My Double Life: The Memoirs of
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20. 'Love Me Or Kill Me': Sarah Kane

1. Perdita : The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson
by PAULA BYRNE
list price: $27.50
our price: $18.15
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Asin: 1400061482
Catlog: Book (2005-03-22)
Publisher: Random House
Sales Rank: 79016
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2. Dig Infinity: The Life and Art of Lord Buckley
by Oliver Trager
list price: $30.00
our price: $30.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1566491576
Catlog: Book (2002-05)
Publisher: Welcome Rain Publishers
Sales Rank: 335639
Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars
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Reviews (5)

2-0 out of 5 stars Somebody should have like, hipped an editor, Lord and Lady.
Like so many bios today, there's a good book in here somewhere. But as wrought, Dig Infinity is an absurdly long, poorly edited work. Oliver gets all kinds of facts wrong and is egregious when it comes to people's names (Preston STURGIS? CINDY Miller for Donald O'Connor's sidekick instead of SIDNEY Miller? And that's just two). What a shame that such a great subject and such obviously hard work have actually done the impossible...made Lord Buckley boring. The best way to read this book is to skip much of Trager's endless and repetitive analysis of his Lordship's work and just peruse the oral histories.

5-0 out of 5 stars A most immaculately hip biography
Oliver Trager did such a fine and thorough job on _The American Book of the Dead_ that I had high hopes for his biography of the great Lord Buckley. It's even better than I expected.

Trager's approach is suited to his subject. Rather than write a straightforward biography -- which would be difficult in any case because there are so many unanswered and unanswerable questions -- Trager has opted to tell His Lordship's life story through a sort of montage of mostly oral history. For this purpose he has interviewed, apparently, just about every living person on this sweet swingin' sphere who knew the Hip Messiah or was directly influenced by him in some way, and supplemented the interviews with excerpts from articles and other sources.

This approach makes the book read a bit like an extended episode of "Biography," flipping back and forth between the interviewees' reminiscences and the author's comments. It's not at all hard to follow; Trager even uses a different typeface for his own comments so we can tell what's narrative and what's not, and each interviewee/writer is clearly named at the beginning of each excerpt. (Each is introduced the first time one of his or her comments appears. If you forget who somebody is, you can flip to the back of the book and look up his first appearance; there's a list.)

It's about time somebody did a biography of The Lord of Flip Manor, and Trager's approach is highly appropriate to his subject. For example, by telling the story through the voices of others, he's able to present all the conflicting theories about Buckley's mysterious death without having to decide which one is most likely to be true. And more generally, since so much of Buckley's persona was realized through his interactions with other people anyway, it's fitting to present his life through the responses he created in the people around him. (You'll be amazed at the people he's influenced. Some of them are pretty obvious -- Robin Williams, Captain Beefheart, and so forth. But James Taylor? I've been listening to him for thirty years and I'd never have guessed -- and yet there's a song on _New Moon Shine_ that quotes directly from "God's Own Drunk.")

If you're a Buckley fan, you'll enjoy Trager's book. If not . . . well, I don't really know how to explain to you who and what Lord Richard Buckley was. Was he an entertainer? A saint? A scoundrel? A bodhisattva? A con man? A raconteur? A shaman? A swindler? An evangelist? A shameless moocher? An artist? An agent of God? A prankster? A drunk?

Well, yeah.

Above all, His Lordship was a sweet cat who blew a solid ace lick, and the way to meet him -- really the only way -- is to hear him. The book includes a CD with lots of good stuff on it, including several of His Lordship's raps and snippets from an interview with Studs Terkel. If you want to buy (or already own) the CD _His Royal Hipness_ (which is a re-release of _The Best of Lord Buckley_ and, if I'm not mistaken, the only Buckley CD currently available), don't worry about redundancy: the only overlap is in the two selections "The Nazz" and "People," and even these are different recordings.

Also worthy of mention: a very thorough discography and bibliography, and a selection of hard-to-find photographs.

I'm surprised by other readers' comments about poor copyediting/proofreading. Sure, I spotted a handful of typos, misspellings, and such, but I didn't think it was an unusually high number. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are in the transcriptions of the oral interviews -- references to e.g. "Tom Leherer [sic]" and "Betty [sic] Davis" and that sort of thing. (Also, readers who know what "erstwhile" means will be amused at one or two points, notably the introductory remarks on former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten.)

And I don't think the format looks "pasted together" at all; on the contrary, I think Trager has done a marvelous job combing through many, many hours of interviews and putting the bits into coherent order.

On the other hand, I have to admit that there are a few things that could have been better handled. For example, there are many references to Buckley's "hat trick" during the first portion of the book, but we don't find out what the "hat trick" actually _was_ until something like page 182. At least a topical index would have been helpful here (though frankly it's not a job I'd have cared to tackle).

It would also have been nice if, in summarizing Lord Buckley's influence on the world of literature, Trager had thought to mention Spider Robinson, who works a Buckley reference into just about every science fiction novel he writes and who has probably done more than anyone else to keep Buckley's influence alive among SF fandom.

But it's always possible to pick on little omissions with a work like this. Trager has made a massively successful effort on a monumental task -- a task that, for him, is clearly something between a labor of love and a vision quest. God swing him.

2-0 out of 5 stars Great Subject--Poor Presentation
Lord Buckley certainly deserves to be the subject of at least one major study, and for that reason alone, we should be grateful "Dig Infinty" exists and we should thank its author for the public service he renders. But as the other reviewers here have indicated, the book itself is rather slapdash: it's poorly edited and highly repetitive. A shorter, more concentrated, and zippier text would have done much more work on Buckley's behalf. To this I must add that one of the bigger weaknesses of the book is the author's own miscalculation of Buckley in general. For the author, Buckley seems to provide some sort of acid test, a way of telling the cool from the uncool. And because of this overarching "hippie" ethos, Buckley becomes for the author a kind of "in" currency, a fetish if you will, something that can be traded and used as a sort of tool. Buckley, of course, was the antithesis of this "acid test" or "usefulness," and because of the author's own wish to use Buckley to portray his own insider's perspective, we have to wonder just how well the book portrays Buckley. In short, Buckley worked for inclusion, but the book falters in its purposeful stance on exclusion.

4-0 out of 5 stars His Lordship deserves such fealty
A fascinating if disjointed study of the art [mostly] and life [not as much as one would wish, but it's tough to catch up with the detritus of vaudeville and walkathons] of one of the most original and most influential comedian/orators ever to grace a stage, a view that people ranging from George Harrison to David Bowie to Frank Zappa to Steve Allen to James Taylor to Lenny Bruce all shared. Anyone who hears Lord Buckley -- and there's a half-hour audio CD included with the book so you can sample his hipsemantic style -- has to become curious about the man himself. This book finally helps to explain, and paints a fan's-eye picture of a gone cat who sweetly and profoundly decided to regard everyone he met as a potential member of his own Royal Court. I start with five stars for the subject and dock it one for the overly repetitive and pasted-together oral-history format, which skips around too much for comfort, and for the publisher's lousy copyediting and proofreading job.

5-0 out of 5 stars Lord Buckley Lives ! ! !
I have to give this book 5 stars on the subject alone. Its about time that someone sat down and took the time and effort to let Lord Buckley's story be told once again. - - I do have a problem with the narrative style of the book, but its probably moreso a matter of taste... Rather than telling the story, the author basically reprints one interview after another... and kinda pastes his sources together so Lord Buckley's story is told in the interviewee's own words... Many of these interviews come straight from the pages of magazines and radio interviews with people who knew him and they're strung together to create a sense of a coherent dialogue. The end result... some fascinating stories (I almost fell off the bed in laughter a few times... Lord Buckley's sick off stage pranks and antics often rivaled his actual act) but lot of repetition and choppy reading. I also felt that the author merely glanced over his childhood and evolution into the entertainment world, though in all fairness much of the information has probabably been lost to posterity. - - Overall, its a fascinating subject, the CD alone is worth the cost of the book... and the book really will pull you into Lord Buckley's sick world. - - Interviewees seem to include a cast of thousands... from Royal Court members to hiers of the legacy from the Rock and Roll and Comedy World... Move over Lenny Bruce, His Lordship is back ! ! !

CD includes some interviews by Studs Turkel, The Nazz, Murder, Ode to a Policeman... about 34 minutes... Well worth it ! - - ... Read more


3. Stephen Sondheim : A life
by MERYLE SECREST
list price: $14.95
our price: $10.17
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0385334125
Catlog: Book (1999-06-08)
Publisher: Delta
Sales Rank: 137616
Average Customer Review: 3.15 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

In the first full-scale life of the most
important composer-lyricist at work in musical theatre today, Meryle Secrest, the biographer of Frank Lloyd Wright and Leonard Bernstein, draws on her extended conversations with Stephen Sondheim as well as on her interviews with his friends, family, collaborators, and lovers to bring us not only the artist--as a master of
modernist compositional style--but also the private man.
Beginning with his early childhood on New York's prosperous Upper West Side, Secrest describes how Sondheim was taught to play the piano by his father, a successful dress manufacturer and amateur musician. She writes about Sondheim's early ambition to become a concert pianist, about the effect on him of his parents' divorce when he was ten, about his years in military and private schools. She writes about his feelings of loneliness and abandonment, about the refuge he found in the home of Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein, and his determination to become just like Oscar.
Secrest describes the years when Sondheim was struggling to gain a foothold in the theatre, his attempts at scriptwriting (in his early twenties in Rome on the
set of Beat the Devil with Bogart and Huston, and later in Hollywood as a co-writer with George Oppenheimer for the TV series Topper), living the Hollywood life.
Here is Sondheim's ascent to the peaks of the Broadway musical, from his chance meeting with play-
wright Arthur Laurents, which led to his first success--
as co-lyricist with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story--to his collaboration with Laurents on Gypsy, to his first full Broadway score, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And Secrest writes about his first big success as composer, lyricist, writer in the 1960s with Company, an innovative and sophisticated musical that examined marriage à la mode. It was the start of an almost-twenty-year collaboration with producer and director Hal Prince that resulted in such shows as Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, and
A Little Night Music.
We see Sondheim at work with composers, producers, directors, co-writers, actors, the greats of his time and ours, among them Leonard Bernstein, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Robbins, Zero Mostel, Bernadette Peters, and Lee Remick (with whom it was said he was in love, and she with him), as Secrest vividly re-creates the energy, the passion, the despair, the excitement, the genius, that went into the making of show after Sondheim show.
A biography that is sure to become the standard work on Sondheim's life and art.
... Read more

Reviews (27)

3-0 out of 5 stars Satisfying, but not completely.
Secrest is a fine writer, although I think her very straightforward style seems a bit pedestrian in the face of her fascinating subject; much like with her Frank Lloyd Wright biography. I wish she had been more attentive to Sondheim's personal life, since his work has been dealt with better elsewhere, and the book really works best when it looks at the man who shapes the artist. A good job, but not as monumental as we Sondheim freaks wished for and needed.

3-0 out of 5 stars A mess, but for now it's the only mess we have
If you want to learn about Sondheim's life in detail, this is the most thorough account. Although there are books that are mostly about his work in which you can also find biographical information, this is the first and (thus far) only biography. That's the only reason why I'm giving three stars to this generally shoddy book.

What's wrong? First, there is an astounding number of factual errors.

In addition to the outright errors, Secrest also makes many misleading, imprecise, or incomplete statements. Loose ends and chronological confusions abound.

Some of the people Secrest quotes also make statements that are factually incorrect, and neither she nor her editors (who must take a good share of the blame) caught these mistakes. All of this suggests that she knows little about musical theatre in general or Sondheim's work in particular. She actually gets major plot details of Sondheim's shows wrong. Unbelievable.

There are also numerous places where she makes statements that contradict what she writes elsewhere.

All these problems seriously call into question how much of the material here that isn't public knowledge can be trusted. You end up wondering how someone who is so clearly unqualified persuaded the people at Knopf to give her this assignment, much less how she got Sondheim to cooperate. She must talk well, but she certainly doesn't write well.

Which brings us to the final problem: She isn't a very good writer.

Still, if you want a Sondheim bio, this is it. Since Secrest had access to Sondheim and to many of his friends and associates, I'm sure that some of what she writes is accurate. But if you read this, you should just realize that a good deal of what is here is unquestionably wrong.

3-0 out of 5 stars Okay, but the definitive book on SS has yet to be written
Secrest has written a book on Sondheim that skims the surface and gives a broad overview. It rarely has insights, however, except a few "anaylses" of the musicals themselves that often border on the ludicrous (such as how many references to S&M there are in his works). There are misspellings of people's names, wrong dates, and some confused plot descriptions as well. But most of all, she seems too polite and distanced from her subject, offering facts but not insight or exploration. I'm not asking for National Enquirer-style dirt, but there is more on the inner-workings and intrigue of such works as "Merrily" in Craig Zadan's "Sondheim & Company," which unfortuantely is out of print, I believe. Furthermore, Secrest is often a confusing writer. She switches pronouns without always making it clear who is now doing the talking, or includes an out-of-context quote without explaining its meaning or context. She also repeats herself in several spots, making me think she revised one segment while forgetting what she had written just a page later or earlier. In short, this book needed an editor, as well as a more probing and insightful author. Most biographies suffer from excessive speculation. This one has just the opposite flaw.

1-0 out of 5 stars derivative, banal, plodding, unauthoritative
The prospective purchaser of "Stephen Sondheim: A Life" is likely to be misled by this remark: "people seem to be missing the point--this isn't a critical biography, but a personal one". In fact, until she undertook to write it, the author of this book had no personal or professional relationship with its subject whatsoever. It is a thing anyone sufficiently motivated could throw together, and I can't in good conscience recommend it. I can and do recommend Craig Zadan's "Sondheim & Company", and for those interested in musical theatre in general, Richard Rodgers's "Musical Stages" and Alan Jay Lerner's "The Street Where I Live".

5-0 out of 5 stars Stephen Sondheim: A Life
Meryle Secrest presents a balanced, authoritative, comprehensive view of Sondheim. Secrest does "get" Sondheim: the man, the composer, the lyricist. She also "gets" his musicals, both as chronicler and as listener. Virtually all Sondheim screenplays, plays, musicals, and individual songs are intelligently discussed. Extensive and intimate interviews with Sondheim provide the basis, but alternative outlooks from his principle collaborators, associates, friends, and enemies also appear. (Insights of his peers are not present since Sondheim has no peers.) The book carries an inside, but not reverent feel. Sondheim's troubled relationship with his mother leading to extensive therapy, his difficulty in coming to grips with his homosexuality, and his periods of self doubt and perceived failure are sensitively covered. Secrest does not hesitate to call attention to perceived shortcomings, but her undisguised love and admiration for her subject continually shine through. The book is geared toward an audience with a serious interest in Broadway musicals with emphasis on beauty and meaning in lyrics. Secrest does footnote her interviews and references meticulously, but I would also have enjoyed a discography and a listing of his songs by musical as elements of an appendix. I especially enjoyed the insight on Leonard Bernstein. ... Read more


4. Leaving a Doll's House : A Memoir
by Claire Bloom
list price: $17.99
our price: $17.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0316093831
Catlog: Book (1998-04-01)
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Sales Rank: 213150
Average Customer Review: 2.56 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

Writing with grace, wit, and remarkable candor, actress Claire Bloom looks back at her crowded life: her accomplishments on stage and screen; her romantic liaisons with some of the great leading men of our era; and at "the most important relationship" of her life--her marriage to author Philip Roth. of photos. ... Read more

Reviews (9)

3-0 out of 5 stars For Roth junkies only; a guilty pleasure
Ok, I admit and I am embarrassed--I ate this book up like a pint of Haagen-Daz. And afterwards, I felt about the same as I do when I look at the empty ice cream container: a little shamed, vaguely nauseous, highly satisfied. I am a huge Philip Roth fan, a collector of his signed first editions, etc., so you have to take this reveiw with a grain of salt. Ms. Bloom, or whoever ghosted it, is much better writer than I had anticipated and the pages flew by (just one more spoonful...). Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Gore Vidal, Rod Steiger--it was interesting to read what felt like highly redacted versions of who these men were in Ms. Bloom's life. She does seem to reserve a certainy clarity and honesty for her depiction of Roth, for better or worse, than she seems willing to give to these other men. I, frankly, believe most if not all of what she wrote about Roth, and it is tantalizing to watch the threads of her fact with him reverberate in his fiction. (Sylphid, the harp-playing harpy in "I Married A Communist" is very openly Bloom's daughter with Rod Steiger). So if you are a Roth fan and are interested in a painful dissection of his fiction, you should probably put this on your shelf...though don't expect HIM to appreciate it.

3-0 out of 5 stars Philip Roth gave me a lousy divorce settlement...
I picked up this autobiography not out of any particular interest in Claire Bloom the actress (I'll say Claire Bloom the writer resembles Claire Bloom the actress : competent, well-spoken, attractive but so narcissistic it is difficult to empathize with her), but rather intrigued by her relationship with Philip Roth, an author I admire but find maddeningly misogynistic.

Bloom the writer is no more convincing than Bloom the actress at depicting a depth of feeling. She tells us she loved Roth, Richard Burton, her mother and her daughter. Yet mother and daughter both get short shrift (when Roth didn't want the daughter around, the daughter was out on her ear). First and second husbands get little attention (not famous enough ? there is something of the groupie about Ms. Bloom).

She names her autobiography after « A Doll's House » but is this ironic ? She portrays herself as the original doormat-wife and mistress and then asks her audience to sympathize with her inability to get her husbands to respect her. She moans about unfaithful husbands but delights in telling her readers how she cuckolded Richard Burton's wife. Pot, meet kettle.

The book's main source of interest is its description of Philip Roth's mental breakdown. This is fascinating for Roth readers - however humiliating it must have been for Roth the man to endure (and now to have exhibited in public by his ex-wife).

1-0 out of 5 stars Waaaah!
Waaaaah! I had an unhappy love affair and now I think I'll make the world feel sorry for me because this has never happened to another single human being in the history of human relations! Waaaaah!

(You don't see Roth trying to exorcise his demons by acting, do you? He knows his strengths, as should Miss Gloom.)

1-0 out of 5 stars Hysteria in Bloomland
Relationships are sticky things, and people standing outside of a particular one can never completely emphathize and get the full picture. That being said, as a reader of Bloom's memoir, one feels darned ready to pass judgment, and not so much on the men (especially Philip Roth) who have messed up parts of her life. The way in which the book was written, its tone, its texture, leads me to believe that it is Bloom herself that is being unjust and slanted in judgment. For some reason she seems to gravitate toward men who she knows will screw her over. The most significant beau is Roth. Everyone knows he's the bad boy of contemporary American letters, and it's a good thing, too. It feeds his writing in unbelievable ways, ways in which might earn him a Nobel someday (if there's any justice in the world). And perhaps Bloom's wonderful acting ability is fueled by her emotional problems too. Art, like relationships, is indeed an unstable and unpredictable thing, but reading Bloom complain--almost whine--about how she's been wronged as a victim really grates on this reader. If her turmoil does fuel her art, then perhaps that old saying about sausage is true: if you really like it, you don't want to see how it is made.

2-0 out of 5 stars Ho hum
Hmm. I agree with the other reviewers who say that there is no depth or reflection here. It is quite a catalogue of woes, and there is a sincerity and honesty in the telling. But.... As a piece of writing, it is not at all distinguished, and there is not much nourishment as in something left to reflect on, observations worth mulling over, whether in agreement or disagreement. It is, sadly, like some of the worst celebrity autobiogs on the shelves. Which is a pity, because I think with better editorial direction this could have been a far better book. ... Read more


5. Tom Stoppard: A Life
by Ira Bruce Nadel, Ira Nadel
list price: $29.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0312237782
Catlog: Book (2002-06-01)
Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan
Sales Rank: 431513
Average Customer Review: 3 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

Tom Stoppard is, arguably, the greatest living English playwright. His work, from the early Jumpers to the film Shakespeare in Love to the current Invention of Love has changed the landscape of drama. Witty, erudite, passionate, abstract, clever, his works are like no one else's. Who is Tom Stoppard-the Czech-born son of Jews who became the singularly English man of letters? In this vibrant, critical portrait, Ira Nadel weaves life and works into a fascinating chronicle of Stoppard's world on English and American stages. Peopled with such characters as Diana Rigg, John Wood, and Billy Crudup, the book untangles Stoppard's genius against the backdrop of Broadway and London's West End. ... Read more

Reviews (2)

1-0 out of 5 stars Unauthorized Bio
Nadel has clearly done his homework in his reading about the theatre and plays generally. But he also unfortunately, and probably in order to fill in many gaps, provides us with far too many of unnecessary details-- such as the street number of the house where Stoppard's father was born, but little valid information about Tom Stoppard as an an author,-- though we're given much useless information about other characters- or the very plays he's supposed to explore for and with us. If you haven't read all the plays, you will find the book heavy, literally and figuratively.

Praise, when given, often seems grudging-- we are told, in the acknowlegments, that the playright was generous, as told Nadel by Stoppard's sister. But that generosity isn't shown in the body of the biography , though we're given many petty details, such as Stoppard being often late or disorganized.

In writing his unauthorized bio,Nadel,by definition, had to leave out much: what he was unaware of, what he couldn't explore, and what he didn't understand. He appears unaware of Stoppard's aim of creating a theater of ideas as more than a theater of action.

At over 500 pages, this biography is too long and repetitive. (And surely, somewhere, there could have been traces of humor, considering Nadel was writing about a most witty author...)

Being left with many unanswered questions, in spite of its topic, I found this book disappointing.

5-0 out of 5 stars REALLY NOW, WHO IS TOM STOPPARD?
Precisely who is the man who gave us such disturbing and erudite plays as "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern," "The Real Thing," and most recently "The Coast Of Utopia"? He is arguably the foremost dramatist of our time, but what makes Tom Stoppard tick?

We'll not find the answers to these questions in a biography of the playwright by Ira Nadel, although that is not due to lack of research as there are almost 100 pages of references and indices included in this rather weighty tome.

Perhaps the best one can do in assessing another human being is to hazard guesses based on observation. There are observations aplenty in this highly readable portrait of an enigmatic genius who, almost singlehandedly, has altered the face of 20th century drama.

For Stoppard, born Tomas Straussler in 1937, it has been a far journey from his home in Czechoslovakia to Hollywood, Broadway, and London's West End. Readers take this journey with him, observing Stoddard's evolution into a playwright concerned with morals and politics, noting the ups and downs in his personal life, and seeing his connectedness to his past.

Critic/biographer Nadel has done an exemplary job in documenting the life of a contradictory figure. Yet, the question lingers: precisely who is Tom Stoppard?

- Gail Cooke ... Read more


6. Design for Living : Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne
by MARGOT PETERS
list price: $30.00
our price: $20.40
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375411178
Catlog: Book (2003-10-14)
Publisher: Knopf
Sales Rank: 188754
Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

From the much-admired biographer of Charlotte Brontë, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and the Barrymores (“Margot Peters is surely now . . . our foremost historian of stage make-believe”—Leon Edel), a new biography of the most famous English-speaking acting team of the twentieth century.

Individually, they were recognized as extraordinary actors, each one a star celebrated, imitated, sought after. Together, they were legend. The Lunts. A name to conjure with. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne worked together so imaginatively, so seamlessly onstage that they seemed to fuse into one person. Offstage, they brawled so famously and raucously over every detail of every performance that they inspired the musical Kiss Me, Kate. At home on Broadway, in London’s West End, touring the United States and Great Britain, and even playing “the foxhole circuit” of World War II, the Lunts stunned, moved, and mystified audiences for more than four decades. They were considered to be a rarefied taste, but when they toured Texas in the 1930s, the audience threw cowboy hats onto the stage.

Their private life was equally fascinating, as unusual as the one they led in public. Friends like the critic Alexander Woollcott (whom Edna Ferber once described as “the little New Jersey Nero who thinks his pinafore is a toga”), Noël Coward, Laurette Taylor, and Sidney Greenstreet received lifelong loyalty and hospitality. Ten Chimneys, their country home in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, “is to performers what the Vatican is to Catholics,” Carol Channing once said. “The Lunts are where we all spring from.”

In this new biography, Margot Peters catches the magic of Lunt and Fontanne—their period, their work, their intimacy and its contradictions—with candor, delicacy, intelligence, and wit. She writes about their personal and creative choices as deftly as she captures their world, from their meeting (backstage, naturally)—when Fontanne was a young actress in the first flush of stardom and Lunt a lanky midwesterner who came in the stage door, bowed to her elaborately, lost his balance, and fell down the stairs—and the early days when an unknown and very hungry Noël Coward lived in a swank hotel in a room the size of a closet and cadged meals at their table to the telegram the famous couple once sent to a movie mogul, turning down a studio contract worth a fortune (“We can be bought, my dear Mr. Laemmle, but we can’t be bored”).

We follow the Lunts through triumphs in plays such as The Guardsman, The Taming of the Shrew, and Design for Living; through friendships and feuds; through the intricate way they worked with such playwrights and directors as S. N. Behrman, Robert Sherwood, Giraudoux, Dürrenmatt, Peter Brook, and with each other.
Margot Peters captures the gallantry of two remarkably gifted people who lived for their art and for each other. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were once described as an “amazing duet of intelligence and gaiety.” Margot Peters re-creates the fun and the fireworks.
... Read more

Reviews (4)

3-0 out of 5 stars Where is the magic ?
Never having seen Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne onstage, I, like the author, Margot Peters, cannot explain what made them exceptional. Ms. Peters, whose previous book, "The House of Barrymore", is a fascinating and definitive biography of the great theatrical siblings, Ethel, Lionel and John Barrymore, disappointed this reader with her dual portrait of the Lunts.
The author thoroughly documents their triumphs, tours, friendships and quirks, yet their theatrical charm and power eludes her pen and is never found on the page.

Unlike in the previously mentioned bio, here she simply cannot capture the vitality of the times, places and people she is writing about throughout this volume. The author might have checked with Shakespeare for more insight into the truth about actors on the stage: "These our actors,/ As I foretold you, were all spirits, and/ Are melted into air, into thin air...".

I guess you had to be there during Broadway's great years to understand their alchemy.

2-0 out of 5 stars Left wanting more
The biography was not about this famous couple as real people; rather it was a recitation of their newspaper reviews for each production. I have been to their home and taking the tour brought me firmly into their world. Reading this book did not.

3-0 out of 5 stars two extraordinary actors
DESIGN FOR LIVING is a biography of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, extremely popular husband and wife stage actors in the first half of the 20th century. Author Margot Peters provides, in exhaustive detail, the histories of the Lunts many successful stage productions, mostly by now underremembered writers like Noel Coward and Robert Sherwood. Throughout their careers, the Lunts enjoyed good reviews from New York critics but were often chastised for choosing inferior plays. Even though I enjoyed learning about the Lunts, I didn't really understand what would have led them to make these choices after reading the book.
Peters also comes up a bit short when discussing the Lunts acting technique... (she shouldn't be faulted too much or this though, working from secondary sources). Repeated references are made to how they made everything seem "fresh" and "spontaneous", but we don't know how they really got their teeth in a character.
Peters notes that other biographers of the Lunts have claimed that both Alfred and Lynn engaged in gay relationships without providing any evidence. Peters also provides no evidence, but also provides no evidence that the Lunts had any intimate life with each other. After reading DESIGN FOR LIVING, I came away feeling that I knew the Lunts well as actors but very little as people. Probably how they would have wanted it.

2-0 out of 5 stars Query
I reviewed this book 2-3 weeks ago when it first came out. Why hasn't my review been posted? ... Read more


7. Conversations With Miller
by Mel Gussow, Arthur Miller
list price: $22.95
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Asin: 1557835969
Catlog: Book (2002-09-27)
Publisher: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation
Sales Rank: 489834
Average Customer Review: 5 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

CONVERSATIONS WITH MILLER offers a personal and revealing account of one of the major playwrights of our time. Arthur Miller is revealed in deep and candid conversation with the highly regarded dramatic critic, Mel Gussow. In this series of interviews, which took place over 40 years, Miller is astonishingly forthcoming about his creative sources, his accomplishments and his disappointment; about his staunch resistance to the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950's; about his private life including his five-year marriage to Marilyn Monroe. The result is an intimate portrait of a cultural giant who is both refreshingly down to earth and a fiercely original writer and thinker. ... Read more

Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars providing insight
This collection of a series of interviews will give anyone interested in Miller's plays insight into his themes and thought processes, and how his personal life has impacted on his writing. The conversations are engaging and thought-provoking. ... Read more


8. Look To The Lady: Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, And Judi Dench On The Shakespearean Stage (Georgia Southern University Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Lecture Series)
by Russ McDonald
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Asin: 0820325066
Catlog: Book (2005-02-28)
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Sales Rank: 544457
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Book Description

Look to the Lady examines the careers, talents, and styles of three women who were acknowledged, each in her time, as the greatest interpreter of Shakespeare's heroines: Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Judi Dench. In the eighteenth century, Siddons was celebrated for playing Shakespeare's tragic women in a heroic, even "sublime" style. Terry, who reigned over the late nineteenth-century stage, had a softer, "beautiful" style and is remembered best for her roles in Shakespeare's comedies. Dench, who still performs, has amassed a more varied résumé than either of her predecessors. Not only has Dench had the advantages of variety offered by film and television roles, says Russ McDonald, but she may also command a greater artistic range.

One of McDonald's interests is in the ways Shakespearean performance influences, and is influenced by, critical and popular appraisal of the works. He also discerns parallels and distinctions in the approaches of Siddons, Terry, and Dench to the vocation of acting—specifically to Lady Macbeth and other great Shakespearean roles.Look to the Lady also helps us to better understand the place and function of the theater in British national life and what constitutes "great acting" at various historical moments. Further, by examining across time the varied attitudes of actors, critics, and audiences toward Shakespearean texts and roles, McDonald offers insights into how external forces combine with the inherent appeal of the plays to keep them fresh and new centuries after they were first written and performed.

Throughout, McDonald blends learned commentary on the history and culture of the stage with entertaining details about the appearance, personality, genealogy, and private life of each actor. Including some rarely seen images and drawing on previously untapped reviews and anecdotes, this is a lively introduction to the burgeoning field of performance criticism. ... Read more


9. Jerome Robbins : His Life, His Theater, His Dance
by Deborah Jowitt
list price: $40.00
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Asin: 0684869853
Catlog: Book (2004-08-11)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Sales Rank: 10382
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Book Description

In this authoritative biography, Deborah Jowitt explores the life, works, and creative processes of the complex genius Jerome Robbins (1918-1998), who redefined the role of dance in musical theater and is also considered America's greatest native-born ballet choreographer.

Granted unrestricted access to an enormous archive of personal and professional papers that included journals, correspondence, sketches, photographs, production notes, contracts, and more, Jowitt also interviewed more than one hundred performers and others who had collaborated with Robbins. Her book gives insights into his lively curiosity, his volatile temperament, and his constant striving for perfection, revealing not just how others saw him, but -- through the thoughts, feelings, and passionate outbursts he put down on paper over the course of almost eight decades -- how he saw himself.

His career was closely tied to the development of both ballet and musical comedy in America. The only son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he began as a modern dancer and Broadway chorus boy. He joined Ballet Theatre shortly after its founding in 1940 and the New York City Ballet when it first became known by that name in 1948; his choreography, beginning with the smash hit Fancy Free in 1944, contributed to the emerging profile of both companies. He created ingenious numbers for lighthearted musicals like On the Town and High Button Shoes, but his imprint on West Side Story and later on Fiddler on the Roof helped lift the Broadway musical to a level in which dancing illuminated character and plot.

Jowitt recounts how this richly creative life in the theater and out of it was shaped by Robbins's affairs with both men and women, his close friendships with other major artists ranging from Robert Graves to Robert Wilson, and the political and artistic climate of the times he lived in. Her investigation of his career includes the brief existence (1958-1961) of his own immensely successful company, Ballets: U.S.A.; his travails "doctoring" such musicals as Funny Girl and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; his more experimental work directing plays during the 1960s; his attempt in the aborted Poppa Piece to come to terms with his Jewish heritage and his appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; and the final glorious period beginning in 1969, when he returned to the New York City Ballet to work again beside the man he considered a mentor, George Balanchine.

This meticulously researched and elegantly written story of a life's work is illuminated by photographs, enlivened by anecdotes, and grounded in insights into ballets and musical comedies that have been seen and loved all over the world. ... Read more


10. Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh
by Alexander Walker
list price: $12.95
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Asin: 0802132596
Catlog: Book (1989-10-01)
Publisher: Grove Press
Sales Rank: 46327
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Reviews (10)

5-0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography!
This is without a doubt the definitive biography of the gorgeous and extremely talented Vivien Leigh. This book chronicles her life and the experiences that shaped her as a person as well as an actress. This book follows Vivien from her birth in India through her passionate romance with Laurence Olivier, the stage and screen roles that made her a star, all the way to the final and turbulent years of her life. She was indeed an intelligent and strong willed woman. Alexander walker does an excellent job of presenting the life of one of the most talented and breathtaking actresses Hollywood has ever known. This book is poignant, interesting, tasteful and highly recommended! Once you start reading it, you'll have an impossible time putting it down.

5-0 out of 5 stars More than just Scarlett O'Hara!
To the best of my knowledge, this is the most recent biography of Vivien Leigh, famed star of Gone With The Wind. It is probably the most comprehensive, as well, and is much kinder to her memory than any of the other biographies I have read. Walker makes a point of showing that Vivien had a mental illness and was not "insane" and, probably due to the fact that it was written so recently, it examines the lasting effects of Vivien's marriage to Olivier and includes various quotes from his autobiography. This book made me appreciate Viven Leigh's talent more than her beauty and realize what a profound impact she had on the theatre and motion picture industry. Vivien Leigh was more than just Scarlett O'Hara, she was a brave, fascinating, and extremely talented (I believe the most talented actress ever) woman. Definitely worth reading!!!

2-0 out of 5 stars Vivien Leigh Was Too Vibrant For A Book This Dull!
This book drags on and on for pages and is written in a fussy style that gets irritating after awhile. No gossip, no juicy tidbits, devotes too much time to her stage career and tells nothing of interest about the most beautiful actress the screen has ever known. The author repeatedly reminds the reader about Vivien's fondness for gin and tonics, and believe me, you WILL need a few to get through this.

3-0 out of 5 stars a tad disappointing
As a fan of Vivien Leigh, I was hoping for a biography that would delve more into her personal life. Instead, it dragged with pages and pages dedicated to mostly her career. However, if you can breeze through the boring parts, the rest is worth it.

5-0 out of 5 stars A life in turmoil
"Vivien" is proof positive that there can be a well-written, well-researched, realistic yet understanding biography of a messed-up star. This book could have been a sordid tangle of tabloid sensationalism, but Alexander Walker carefully crafts it into a tapestry.

Vivien Leigh was one of the most memorable actresses of the twentieth century, playing the headstrong Scarlett O'Hara. Yet Vivien was not as strong or indomitable as she appeared onscreen. The book starts with a poetic interlude during a peaceful time in her life, with several guests attending a dinner, then shifts back to her girlhood. Her first marriage fell as her fame rose, and she soon met the man she would fall in love with, her also-married costar Lawrence Olivier. But Vivien's life, despite her fame and idyllic life, was never a happy woman, her mental problems plaguing her to the end of her life.

Very few authors are able to strike a balance between admiration and reality; they'll either idolize the object of their biography, or pour vitriol on them. Walker does neither. While he acknowledges Vivien's faults, he also seems to care about her and her struggles. Nothing could more poignantly convey Vivien's pain than when she shrieked at a nurse, "I'm not Scarlett, I'm Blanche!" (Blanche being a character she played who went mad).

Vivien herself is a vivid presence from the first pages onward. Her struggles with mental illness are done with great delicacy, as is her relationship with Olivier. He himself is almost as strong a presence, even though he ultimately could not stay with her; another impressive real-life presence is Jack Merivale, the understanding younger man who remained with her until her untimely death. The scene where Merivale brings Olivier to his dead ex-wife's beside is another extremely effective anecdote.

The writing style is lush for a biography. Quite uniquely, there is also a lot of focus on Vivien's movies as well as her personal life, especially her dogged pursuit of roles that she desperately wanted to play. The pictures are well-suited for this book -- they're clear, elegant, well-laid out, relevant to the different parts of Vivien's life, and balanced well between her on-screen roles and her personal life. Walker keeps these pictures of her roles grounded by mentioning what was going on in Vivien's life while she filmed the movie.

Alexander Walker's biography of Vivien Leigh is a treasure for all of her fans. Without being sordid ior adoring, he creates a believable biography about a troubled, talented and passionate actress. Outstanding read. ... Read more


11. Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa
by John Heilpern
list price: $20.95
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Asin: 0878301100
Catlog: Book (1999-11)
Publisher: Routledge
Sales Rank: 639034
Average Customer Review: 4 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

Conference of the Birds is John Heilpern's true story of an extraordinary journey. In December 1972, the director Peter Brook and an international troupe of actors (Helen Mirren and Yoshi Oida among them) left their Paris base to emerge again in the Sahara desert. It was the start of an 8,500-mile expedition through Africa without precedent in the history of theater. Brook was in search of a new beginning that has since been revealed in all his work--from Conference of the Birds and Carmen to The Mahabharata and beyond. At the heart of John Heilpern's brilliant account of the African experiment is a story that became a search for the miraculous. ... Read more

Reviews (1)

4-0 out of 5 stars The Conference of the Birds
I have owned - and read - this book for many years. For anyone who has had an interest in delving in to the world of theatre which is on the very edge of discovery, read this book. Take a group of ethnically diverse actors, a carpet, a pair of boots, a very rough idea and a collection of small African villages, some of whom have never encountered anyone from outside their own small community, and you have the perfect mix for rediscovering the true meaning of theatre. At one and the same time massively amusing and wonderfully inspiring, enter into the world and the mind of the 20th century's most creative forces - Peter Brook. ... Read more


12. Memoirs of an Amnesiac
by Oscar Levant, Oscar, Levant
list price: $12.95
our price: $9.71
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Asin: 0573606986
Catlog: Book (1989-08-01)
Publisher: Samuel French Trade
Sales Rank: 31245
Average Customer Review: 5 out of 5 stars
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Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars More than just a nut case
In this book, the hypochondriac genius of movies, radio, television, and the concert stage delivers all the neurotic humor expected. But the author, a talented writer as well as one of the great pianists of the 20th century, also succeeds at conveying the ambience of the artistic world of the 1920s through 1950s. His insights about his contemporaries, including celebrated conductors, musicians, composers, and actors, are fascinating.

5-0 out of 5 stars Laughing All The Way To The Nuthouse...
This has always been one of my favorite books. I recall reading it for the first time as a pre-teen, and chuckling at his OUTRAGEOUS stories. I'm probably among the last generation that remembers this brilliant man, which is a shame. In the days of the great "talk shows", like Jack Paar, etc.., Oscar Levant was always one of the most coveted, and controversial, guests. I remember seeing him on t.v., as a kid, & being fascinated by this odd looking man who, though I quite honestly didn't get 90% of what he was saying, was obviously someone truly unique. This book has all his irreverent humor, the humor even evident in his telling of his long battle with mental illness, and his extreme, then un-named "obsessive-compulsive" disorder. His brutal honesty about his ordeal was unheard of at that time, and was long before the trend of todays celebrities, who do everything but hawk their x-rays on informercials. There's many names in this book that you will recognize, and his telling of his encounters with various celebrities is not always in their favor, and will have you rolling on the floor. He was literally thrown off the air in the 1950's, for a remark he made on a live talk show, pertaining to Marilyn Monroe and her conversion to Judaism, which is recounted in this book, but can't be repeated here. But at the time, the staid 1950's, it must have had the audience awestruck in utter shock at his outrageous (and incredibly humorous) statement. This is just a fabulous book about one of the greatest wits of this century, the man who started out as an incredibly accomplished and respected pianist, he was most known for his rendition of good friend Gershwins "Rhapsody In Blue", and became something more than just a clown. Totally touching, hysterical, and honest, this book will have you falling in love with dear, lost, brilliant Oscar. In todays, for the most part, [dissapointing] "celebrity" climate, we sure could use the likes of him again.

5-0 out of 5 stars a must re-read
Luckily found this among my mother's books, the title caught my eye. When asked about it, my mother laughed softly. I thought, if it can make her laugh it must be funny; well it's the best humor, and I turned to a page and busted out laughing. It's more than that. I read the one I bought from time to time, and there is always a point of feeling I'm in the belly of a beast. Such integrity I'd never known, and never felt I could fit in this world 'til reading "Memoirs of an Amnesiac".

5-0 out of 5 stars Love The Wit!
This book is fun to read, and offers an interesting historical review, from Levant's delightfully twisted view. If Kevin Bacon is six degrees from everyone now, Levant was three in his time. His is simply the most fascinating mind I've had the pleasure of looking into.

I also recommend "The Unimportance Of Oscar", if you can find it (I got my copy from the used book section on Amazon). It's a continuation of the thoughts in this book.

5-0 out of 5 stars The memoirs of an amnesiac, the year 2000
oscar levant is a tragic figure; however, he gives the world-----suffering from its own mental illness-----a "hell" of a lot of hope. he was the player of the :"time" in respect to gershwin's music. his recording of Rhapsody in Blue was a best seller for 10 years. levant was a true music genius; i ,feel, the same could be said for his writing of music, not just the playing of music. he, likewise, could write "words" via his own books, with as much power as his music creations. the greatest "thing" of all was his ability to conquer "depression." i know, myself, how tough it is, because i lost 10 years of my life to the same thing he suffered for most of his life on again and off again. depression, now today, can finally be treated with medicine to restore the "chemical" inbalance which causes the "major" or "severe" depression to give up its hold on a person. besides all of his "wit" in writing, on the t.v. with jack paar, acting in american in paris,etc.-----i think he should be remembered, also, post-humously, for his gallant, personal "fight" to destroy the evils of mental illness, specifically: "depression." a movie of his life should be a project for some director to show the horrors of "deep" depression to much of the world, who to this day do not really understand "it." maybe a movie has been made; i am currently unaware of "one." i would love to play the lead "role" because, of my personal experiences with depression. i would not have to "act" the part; also, my father-----who suffered from depression, was named, strangely enough, "oscar." now would not that be poetic justice; oscar's son playing "oscar." i have read this book(his best, i belive) over 10 times; i can always come back to it when i need to have a great laugh: total recoil-----best chapter in all of book to make you laugh. people you do not have to believe me-----just go buy the book and/or check it out of library, and "go" for it. read it. i hope to run into levant in the "here," after; and listen to his great stories in "person" for the first time, if you get my "drift." till then, i will just have to "wait." but, then, there are probably others, also "waiting," like me..... ... Read more


13. Dorothy Heathcote's Story: Biography of a Remarkable Drama Teacher
by Gavin Bolton, Gavin M. Bolton
list price: $24.95
our price: $24.95
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Asin: 1858562643
Catlog: Book (2003-06)
Publisher: Trentham Books
Sales Rank: 1172841
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Book Description

Dorothy Heathcote is the most public drama-teaching figure in the world. She has taught classes of children in five continents. The numbers must run into millions. In addition, innumerable teachers have watched her teach in person or on video and television.

How did someone who left elementary school at 14 become a world authority? Heathcote has now asked Gavin Bolton, who has worked extensively - and co-authored several books with her to write that story. Dr. Bolton describes Dorothy Heathcote's upbringing, her work as a mill girl, her theater training, her unprecedented appointment to Durham and Newcastle Universities and her extraordinary rise to fame. He examines the basis for her genius and shows how being a wife and mother contributed to her work. ... Read more


14. Three Tragic Actresses : Siddons, Rachel, Ristori
by Michael Booth, John Stokes, Susan Bassnett
list price: $75.00
our price: $75.00
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Asin: 0521411157
Catlog: Book (1996-10-03)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Sales Rank: 745077
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Book Description

This innovative book examines the careers of three performers whose professional lives together spanned the period from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries, from the heyday of neoclassicism to the coming of realism. While the individual essays concentrate on the specific work of each actress, a wide-ranging introduction relates their collective achievement to social and cultural change. Vivid reconstructions of their interpretations and unique accounts of theatrical conditions place the art of three very different but pivotal figures in context. ... Read more


15. Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman
by Sally Peters
list price: $25.00
our price: $25.00
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Asin: 0300075006
Catlog: Book (1998-03-01)
Publisher: Yale University Press
Sales Rank: 968786
Average Customer Review: 4.75 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

In this critical biography of the man hailed as the second greatest playwright in the English language, Sally Peters explores Shaw`s background and beliefs, interests and obsessions, relations with men and women, and prose writings and dramatic art, and she reveals that he had a convoluted and extravagant inner life studded with erotic secrets. ... Read more

Reviews (4)

5-0 out of 5 stars Inside Shaw
If Bernard Shaw were not the second greatest playwright in the English language, this biography would not have such significance; and were it not for Shaw's multidimensional personality, this book would not possess so many fascinating dimensions. Sally Peters acknowledges her debt, and gives us a work without self-conscious authorship. It is a book that invites reading and rereading. Much has been made of Shaw's homosexuality; but Dr. Peters' focus is broader and deeper than that. A story, which often reads like the most engrossing fiction, Bernard Shaw: The Accent of the Superman, is a rewarding resource for any serious student of modern drama.

5-0 out of 5 stars Inside Superman
Peters, Sally. Bernard Shaw: The Accent of the Superman. New Haven: Yale University Press.

If Bernard Shaw were not the second greatest playwright in the English language, this biography would not have such significance; and were it not for Shaw's multidimensional personality, this book would not possess so many fascinating dimensions. Sally Peters acknowledges her debt, and gives us a work without self-conscious authorship. It is a book that invites reading and rereading. Much has been made of Shaw's homosexuality; but Dr. Peters' focus is broader and deeper than that. A story, which often reads like the most engrossing fiction, Bernard Shaw: The Accent of the Superman, is a rewarding resource for any serious student of modern drama.

4-0 out of 5 stars Was Shaw gay?
Was Shaw gay? Dr. Peters builds a convincing argument that he probably was and that he used his vast intellect to erect every possible defense against his homosexual leanings ever coming to sustained expression. I thought I knew Shaw but I will never again look at him again now that I have read this provocative volume. I am giving it only 4 stars, however, because even my interest (and I am a fan of Shaw) could not be sustained for the entire length of this discussion of Shaw's romances/flirtations/avoidances.

5-0 out of 5 stars Complete and wonderful
This is a complete and wonderful biography of Bernard Shaw. Dr. Peters has written a thorough and fasinating history of a complex man. For the definitive word on Shaw, read this book. ... Read more


16. Eleonora Duse : A Biography
by HELEN SHEEHY
list price: $32.50
our price: $21.45
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Asin: 0375400176
Catlog: Book (2003-08-19)
Publisher: Knopf
Sales Rank: 414662
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

A new biography, the first in two decades, of the legendary actress who inspired Anton Chekhov, popularized Henrik Ibsen, and spurred Stanislavski to create a new theory of acting based on her art and to invoke her name at every rehearsal.

Writers loved her and wrote plays for her. She be-friended Rainer Maria Rilke and inspired the young James Joyce, who kept a portrait of her on his desk. Her greatest love, the poet d’Annunzio, made her the heroine of his novel Il fuoco (The Flame). She radically changed the art of acting: in a duel between the past and the future, she vanquished her rival, Sarah Bernhardt. Chekhov said of her, “I’ve never seen anything like it. Looking at Duse, I realized why the Russian theatre is such a bore.” Charlie Chaplin called her “the finest thing I have seen on the stage.” Gloria Swanson and Lillian Gish watched her perform with adoring attention, John Barrymore with awe. Shaw said she “touches you straight on the very heart.”

When asked about her acting, Duse responded that, quite simply, it came from life. Except for one short film, Duse’s art has been lost. Despite dozens of books about her, her story is muffled by legend and myth. The sentimental image that prevails is of a misty, tragic heroine victimized by men, by life; an artist of unearthly purity, without ambition.

Now Helen Sheehy, author of the much admired biography of Eva Le Gallienne, gives us a different Duse—a woman of strength and resolve, a woman who knew pain but could also inflict it. “Life is hard,” she said, “one must wound or be wounded.” She wanted to reveal on the stage the truth about women’s lives and she wanted her art to endure.

Drawing on newly discovered material, including Duse’s own memoir, and unpublished letters and notes, Sheehy brings us to an understanding of the great actress’s unique ways of working: Duse acting out of her sense of her character’s inner life, Duse anticipating the bold aspects of modernism and performing with a sexual freedom that shocked and thrilled audiences. She edited her characters’ lines to bare skeletons, asked for the simplest sets and costumes. Where other actresses used hysterics onstage, Duse used stillness.

Sheehy writes about the Duse that the actress herself tried to hide—tracing her life from her childhood as a performing member of a family of actors touring their repertory of drama and commedia dell’arte through Italy. We follow her through her twenties and through the next four decades of commissioning and directing plays, running her own company, and illuminating a series of great roles that included Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, Marguerite in Dumas’s La Dame aux camélias, Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and Hedda in his Hedda Gabler. When she thought her beauty was fading at fifty-one, she gave up the stage, only to return to the theatre in her early sixties; she traveled to America and enchanted audiences across the country. She died as she was born—on tour.

Sheehy’s illuminating book brings us as close as we have ever been to the woman and the artist.
... Read more

Reviews (6)

4-0 out of 5 stars An actress beyond compare
The difficulty of describing delicacy in acting is one that Helen Sheehy has not entirely overcome, but otherwise she seems to have read and swallowed everything written about the great Duse and here, in this big Knopf biography (a genre all its own) she arranges the facts in that big sumptuous Knopf manner, with creamy photographs and the touch of class big book buyers love. Basically a conservative book, this book leads us to believe that no one of today is fit to tie Duse's shoes.

Sometimes Duse was foolish about men and about writing, and according to the standards of the day she was a bad mother, but other than that, she was sublime in every way. Sheehy claims that her appeal was a plastic one, that her rich warm smile illuminated her face, and took away the slightly doughy and overdone shadows her photos cast in composure. She loved to walk, to relieve stress, and she made one half-hour motion picture, back in the days before exhibitors' demands froze the motion picture into being more or less ninety minutes long. Sheehy says it's great, but by this time, the reader isn't sure whether or not to believe her, because everything is so superlative the tone is pitched too high.

3-0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfyingly distant
I've been a fan of the many theatre books published in recent years by Knopf under the astute editorship of Victoria Wilson and other editors at Knopf. This is not one of their more compelling. Even allowing for the absence of living witness interviewees still available for biographers of, say, the Lunts, I persistently sensed the writer of this book coalescing her picture of Duse from a psychological "mezzanine," rather than "front row," perspective. It is a strangely cold, unhumanized retelling of a striking human being that was anything but. Sheehy is either too awed and respectful of Duse, too afraid of the pitfalls of the so-called pathobiography, or just too uninsightful to bring Duse to life as a three-dimensional personality. She settles for a textbook writer's air of intimate remove, of calculated decorous unfamiliarity with the personality, rather than a biographer's symbiotic fusion that makes the reader feel emotionally with the biographee, whether the biographee's character is admirable or disreputable. Her quotation of Charles Chaplin describing a performance of Duse is in a few paragraphs a far clearer evocation of what specifically and technically made Duse compelling as an actor than anything Sheehy writes of Duse anywhere else in her book. The testimonials she recites of Lee Strasberg, Chekhov, et al. are offered as thirdhand hearsay, generalities to be taken on faith rather than evoking for the reader a clear, singular picture like Chaplin's. The book also reads somewhat desultorily and does not endow Duse's life with a sense of driving drama-- quite a shortcoming for a book about such a great actor. I started to read this book with great expectations and hopes and finally abandoned it more in disappointment than in anger, just wishing it had been better.

5-0 out of 5 stars A dove in flight
My interest in the art of Eleonora Duse grew urgently while I studied the theater of Gabriele D'Annunzio. Strangely Duse's legend had not done more than tantalyze me hitherto. Vague photographs in sepia written words in passing had so far only configured a distant actress that was oddly lackluster. My fascination had remained with the likes of Adrienne Lecouvreur and with Rachel long dead players at the Comedie Francaise. I had lusted for Andromaque and Athalie living feverish candlelit nights among Corneille Moliere and Racine. I had imagined attending one of Sarah's histrionic performances. It was while I read 'La Citta Morta' and 'Francesca da Rimini' that D'Annunzio made me glance closer at the great Duse, shy and transparent with her understated genius for acting. Unhurriedly this seemingly intangible donna assoluta was letting me know that Eleonora Duse was no theatrical bandwagon. She now haunted me a fascinating dove in flight. Her's she claims with a grin, is not the boom enchantment one orders with a Byzantine impetuosity the enraptured hand to the brow. Or the hot stage tear that streaks the bright rouged cheek. That in a scene all Duse is willing to offer is a sigh. Her signature is a beguiling penchant to vanish. This biographical account by Helen Sheehy is like her masterful biography of Eva LeGallienne, a triumph. Both biographies are the product of an inspired and consummate writer. Please look up her life story of LeGallienne if you want quality. Other sources are 'Duse' by William Weaver and 'The Mystic in the Theatre' by Eva LeGallienne herself a great actress and writer. Eleonora wants to say that her's and her's alone is the thespian refinement you invoke with a glance and the faintest of tragic smiles. Many believe Duse to be the parent of modern acting. Both Sheehy and LeGallienne narrate how Eleonora started in the theater from the smallest age, playing with her family of itinerant actors. Duse's was a ragged and browbeaten Commedia dell'Arte peddling town to town in late nineteenth century Italy. I believe poverty and this early perambulating scarred her. There were times when Eleonora watched local urchins tormenting her father, who was neither talented nor enterprising. Her first liaison was with Arrigo Boito who along with Verdi wrote for the opera. They had a daughter. Then soon appeared Gabriele D'Annunzio a genial master of words who enraptured Eleonora with his exquisite theater. Perhaps he loved La Duse he clearly benefitted from her for by the time their convoluted idyll paled she was the most discussed actress in Europe. The philandering playwright and the sublime actress were now both monstruously famous. Sheehy narrates brilliantly her support and torment for Gabriele, as well as her theatrical conquest of America. How lucky are we cinematography captures today in perpetuity the inspirations of our gifted actresses. Locked in a box for all to watch. How sad that time a beast has gobbled up the classical performances of the great Rachel and the incomparable theater of Eleonora Duse. The Italian actress who wore neither makeup nor camellias while portraying Dumas fils. The humble woman who inspired Chekhov and resurrected Ibsen. The one who showed Stanislavski what acting should be. All those theater nights are lost. But if you hold your breath and close your eyes you can see her. How easy it is to imagine Elenora on stage, betrayed and broken as Silvia Setalla in D'Annunzio's 'La Gioconda' Eleonora so evocative in 'La Femme de Claude' droll pert sinewy as Mirandolina in Goldoni's comic 'La Locandiera'. Duse, playing her beloved Ibsen in 'A Doll's House' and 'Hedda Gabler'. Later, an ecclectic and transcendent Eleonora as if transformed by the ocean in 'The Lady from the Sea' Go ahead, go on, you can do it, she'll again appear magically within your mind. Take a deep breath close your eyes and you'll soon find her, fey deft doomed wistful unforgettable, a devastating Marguerite in 'La Dame aux Camellias' a darting cloud in chiffon. Amid applause triumphing and shining, among tremedous curtain calls glowing, so evoking every French romantic nuance as she takes many bows. Regaling a teary audience with tragic glimpses and she gives up Armand. So naturally sketching every enchantment emoting every painful heartbeat. After Isadora Duncan's children died in Paris the dancer went about Europe desperately, hearing words of sympathy urges to be strong. Then she went to stay with Eleonora in her villa in the vicinity of Viareggio. By then Duse was semi-retired notorious for her books and a penchant for solitude. Cry cry, Duse told her, I'll sit by you in silence and won't interrupt your tears. I find this Helen Sheehy's biography, as well as Eva LeGallienne's account of the Duse she knew personally, the best informed and most sensitive protrayals of this unique woman.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Mother of Modern Acting
Lee Strasberg, Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, and dozens if not hundreds of others who had the privilege of seeing Duse on stage describe it as if they saw a saint, someone supernatural in her ability to convey thought, feeling, emotion, subtext and that extra something that's finally indescribable. The name Duse has been synonymous with the highest possible attainment in acting, even though she is little known outside the theater. Helen Sheehy has written a detailed, even scholarly biography that stands head and shoulders over the other previous bio in English, by William Weaver. Sheehy succeeds, as far as one can, at analyzing and dissecting otherworldly Genius. But the excellence of Sheehy's book also makes it an unbearable tease. Duse was a stage actress. No traces of her greatness remain, save one thirty minute film that is maddeningly difficult to obtain; for some reason, showings of the film are as rare as UFO sightings. In my mind the film has attained the status of a relic. And I've yet to see it. Frustration aside, Sheehy does much to unveil the very private views of her subject on art and life. I certainly wouldn't recommend this bio to anyone with only a casual interest in acting or theater; however, for anyone with a substantial interest in dramatic art, this bio is simply a must.

5-0 out of 5 stars Insightful, artful biography of the mother of modern acting
As the New York Times has called this an "exemplary biography", there seems little reason to add a review by the average reader. However, you do not need to be an expert in theatre history to find this book a great read.

I had never heard of Duse before Sheehy's work, yet the author makes a convincing argument why the Italian actress is one of the founders of modern acting - a woman who presented a powerful, natural style of acting that George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chapin, and John Barrymore found overwhelming to behold. Duse created a compelling counterpoint to the highly stylized form perfected by Sarah Bernhardt and she presented a standard of a new acting for all performers in the twentieth century to emulate. Today, we are unaware as we watch film or television, that we are watching Duse's heirs.

Sheehy goes beyond her central thesis of Duse's acting career to describe a very flawed woman. Sheehy enumerates Duse's poor choices in lovers, her neglect of her daughter because of the girl's physical resemblance to Duse's discarded husband, her indulgence in self-pity and hypochondria, and her manipulative use of society friends for favors and loans. Sheehy does not shy away from her hero's defects, but neither does she wallow in them.

This book is of obvious value to people of the theatre or with special interest in Italian culture. For the general reader, it is an artful biography of a compelling and important cultural figure. ... Read more


17. No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider
by Samuel Beckett, Alan Schneider, Maurice Harmon
list price: $35.00
our price: $35.00
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Asin: 0674625226
Catlog: Book (1998-10-01)
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Sales Rank: 312432
Average Customer Review: 3 out of 5 stars
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Samuel Beckett's view of existence seems so remorselessly, brilliantly bleak that one doesn't expect much in the way of human warmth from his correspondence. Yet the letters he and director Alan Schneider exchanged over the course of three decades are full of wit and fellow feeling. The focus, to be sure, is on Beckett's plays, five of which Schneider premiered in the United States between 1956 and 1983. But that happens to be the perfect conduit for the playwright's praise (often directed at his acolyte) and disgust (often directed at his audience, his critics, and himself). When the initial American production of Waiting for Godot bombs in Miami, for instance, Beckett cheers Schneider on even as he pummels the ticket holders: "It is probable our conversations confirmed you in your aversion to half-measures and frills, i.e. to precisely those things that 90% of theatre-goers want. Of course I know the Miami swells and their live models can hardly be described as theatre-goers and their reactions are no more significant than those of a Jersey herd and I presume their critics are worthy of them." No Author Better Served conveys Beckett's sense of humility, which never failed him, even after Godot made him famous: "Success and failure on the public level never mattered much to me, in fact I feel much more at home with the latter, having breathed deep of its vivifying air all my writing life up to the last couple of years." It's also a wonderful document of his complete, sometimes nutty, always inspiring devotion to his art. --James Marcus ... Read more

Reviews (1)

3-0 out of 5 stars For hard-core fans. Others might be bored.
This book is a collection of correspondence, and like al collected correspondence, it must be taken with a grain of salt. Samuel Beckett was a brilliant, albeit incredibly self-indulgent author, and in this collection his personality is on full display. For example, he disregards bad reviews and cold audience reaction to his plays, because by and large he felt that they were not getting the joke, and that his writing was too complicated for the Philistines in the audience to appreciate.

Fans of Beckett will enjoy this book becuase it will help them understand who he was and where he was coming from in his absurd plays. Also, people who work in theater will be able to relate to the author-director relationship and understand how both artists shape what appears on stage. For those who are not Beckett experts (like myself), there is still much delight to be obtained from Beckett's prose. He won the Nobel Prize because he was an excellent writer, and this book provides otherwise unavailable pieces written by him -- his correspondence. However, unless the reader has a deep interest in one of the two corresponders it can get a little dry. ... Read more


18. The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Volume I: 1920-1945
by Tennessee Williams, Albert J. Devlin, Nancy M. Tischler
list price: $37.00
our price: $37.00
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Asin: 0811214451
Catlog: Book (2000-11-01)
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Sales Rank: 647428
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Book Description

Tennessee Williams wrote letters to his family, friends, and theatrical contacts as he wrote his plays; with an eye for precise detail;, self-deprecating humor, and lyric grace. Tennessee Williams's innovative approach and natural lyricism transformed American drama after World War II. Both major and minor works continue to be performed worldwide at the same time that his earliest (and previously unproduced) plays make audiences remember what theatrical excitement is all about. Now, the first volume of The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams takes the author from boyhood through high school, college, and tentative productions of fledgling work to screenwriting at MGM, culminating in his first major success with the autobiographical The Glass Menagerie in 1945. The letters detail, in the playwright's own words, the painful intensity of his early life as the Williams' family drama creates a template for the plays to come. Presented with a running commentary to separate Williams's sometimes hilarious (but often devious) counter-reality from truth, The Selected Letters, Volume I: 1920-1945 (which includes 330 letters out of nearly 2300 collected) has been meticulously edited by two of this country's premier Williams scholars. Albert J. Devlin, professor of English at the University of Missouri, and Nancy M. Tischler, Professor Emerita if Pennsylvania State University, author of the first critical study of Williams's work, Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan). Work on this project is being supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Volume II: 1945-1983 is scheduled for publication in 2002. With b/w photographs. ... Read more


19. My Double Life: The Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt (Suny Series, Women Writers in Translation)
by Sarah Bernhardt, Victoria Tietze Larson
list price: $25.95
our price: $25.95
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Asin: 0791440540
Catlog: Book (1999-02-01)
Publisher: State University of New York Press
Sales Rank: 161859
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Book Description

A translation of Ma Double Vie, the autobiography of the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was one of the classical theater's all-time greatest stars. ... Read more


20. 'Love Me Or Kill Me': Sarah Kane and the Theatre of Extremes
by Graham Saunders
list price: $24.95
our price: $24.95
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Asin: 0719059569
Catlog: Book (2002-07-05)
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Sales Rank: 351202
Average Customer Review: 4 out of 5 stars
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Book Description

Love Me or Kill Me is the first study of Sarah Kane, the most significant British dramatist in post-war theater. It covers all of Kane's major plays and productions, contains hitherto unpublished material and reviews, and looks at her continuing influence after her tragic early death. Locating the main dramatic sources and features of her work as well as centralizing her place within the 'new wave' of emergent British dramatists in the 1990's, Graham Saunders provides an introduction for those familiar and unfamiliar with her work.
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Reviews (1)

4-0 out of 5 stars Good intro to the works of Sarah Kane
I have no doubt in my mind, that Sarah Kane's influence will be compared to that of Beckett's, in about twenty or thirty years. Unfortunately, those of us in the United States have had little opportunity to see her works staged, as of yet. Nevertheless, Saunder's book provides a somewhat thorough overview of her works.
The book is divided into two parts. After a brief introduction, there is a discussion of each of her plays, and Saunders traces Kane's journey and development. Common themes are discussed, her movement toward stripping down language to the barest essentials, her reliance on image over the word, her destroying of the boundaries and limitations of theatrical structure, common characteristics of her characters, etc. Most of the time is spent on Blasted!, which I can understand, but I found the insight to be less in-depth on some of my favorite plays, including about a ten page discussion each for both Cleansed and Crave. It leaves one feeling that merely the surface has been scratched. However, new information was introduced, which did add to my enjoyment and understanding of the plays. The second half of the book includes a number of interviews with actors, directors, agents, and such, that had the opportunity to work directly with Kane. This section adds a different perspective from the first, and adds a much more personal approach that books of this sort are usually lacking.
Hopefully, this book will help direct some attention to Kane's work. It seems that we are the only country not invested in her works, and maybe this book will help de-mystify her for American audiences. Maybe this will help get her fellow playwrights some attention as well, such as Mark Ravenhill, Anthony Neilson, and David Greig. This book marks a positive step toward understanding the work of someone who innovated and challenged so much, that we will only fully comprehend her impact in the distant future. Its worth the read, and applause for Saunders for taking this crucial step. ... Read more


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