My Life in Pieces: An Alternative Autobiography
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An alternative autobiography of the well-loved actor and man of the theatre.
In My Life in Pieces Simon Callow retraces his life through the multifarious performers, writers, productions and events which have left their indelible mark on him.
The story begins with Peter Pan – his first ever visit to the theatre – before transporting us to southern Africa and South London, where Callow spent much of his childhood. Later, he charms his way into a job at the National Theatre box office courtesy of his hero, Laurence Olivier – and thus consummated a lifetime’s love affair with theatre.
Alongside Olivier, we encounter Paul Scofield, Michael Gambon, Alan Bennett and Richard Eyre, all of whom Callow has worked with, as well as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness, David Hare, Simon Gray and many more.
He writes too about figures he did not meet but who greatly influenced his life and work, figures such as Stanislavsky, Nureyev and Cocteau, as well as Charles Laughton and Orson Welles. And he even makes room for not-quite- legit performers like Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howard – and Mrs Shufflewick.
The result is a passionate, instructive and beguiling book which, in tracing Simon Callow’s own ‘sentimental education’, leaves us enriched by his generosity and wisdom.
'an engaging passionate book which will augment Callow's growing status as a national treasure.' Guardian
'...not simply a terrific actor who happens to write. You could as well call him a terrific writer who happens to act' The Times
'essential... a gift for transforming personal experience into blazingly intelligent, objective, critical appreciation' Observer
'first rate... the best writer-actor we have' David Hare
'Simon Callow combines zest, originality and passion and has elegantly turned his views and life in the theatre into an astonishing memoir' Richard Eyre
drawled my Actions and my Cuts. This estimable gentleman likes to give the impression that directing is the least of his interests, a slightly vexing interruption of his elegant social life. Actually, he’s a rather good director. * All the scenes I was involved in take place on a movie set, so naturally they were shot at Burbank. Any movie location is a little confusing – you can never be sure what’s real and what was put there by the designer – but films about film-making are severely
Queer as Folk, which, in telling it like it is (at least for the young and pretty), broke so many taboos that almost everything else was left looking pretty silly. Russell T. Davies’s stunningly witty and truthful script was an account of what it is to be part of the scene today. But of course, many – perhaps most – gay people aren’t part of that scene. There is a gay world elsewhere. Early in the 1970s, as part of a theatre company called Gay Sweatshop, I appeared in a little play by Martin
fervent years; Gielgud and Richardson, in particular, became much loved as they ventured in extreme old age into plays by David Storey and Harold Pinter. But there was a clear shared sense that no one was going to replace these living national treasures: we were watching a gorgeous sunset without hope of a repeat. It was not the individuals that were dying, it was an entire view of acting and of actors. Above all what was disappearing was the idea that the actor was at the centre of the event;
I continue to think of as his greatest performance (though there is some competition): Major Flack in Privates on Parade, where he endowed the erratic field commander with a touch of madness which was both hilarious and touching, and ascended at times almost to tragic proportions: he made us deeply pity the absurd man. In a way, it was the King Lear he didn’t quite manage to give when he finally came to play it. Perhaps the most affecting but also the saddest moment in the book is contained in
the delivery so impeccable, that one was swept away on a small tidal wave of merriment. ‘Poor Laughton!’ he said to me once, ‘he was so ill at the end, they had to have lorry drivers shipped in for him from the East Coast!’ and then laughed till he almost wept, as did I. Equally, he could suddenly be moved to tears of sadness by the memory of something which suddenly struck him. It was all part of the lightning speed of his mind, his instant responsiveness to thought. His heart and his mind