‘I didn’t want to be writing the story. I wanted to be the story.’
Hellraiser, drunkard, bon viveur, scoundrel: these descriptions of the actor Peter O’Toole are as common as the headlines that he attracted over his near half-century long career on film and on stage. From his extraordinary breakthrough performance as TE Lawrence in the Oscar-winning classic Lawrence of Arabia to his final great appearance in the Lord Dunsany adaptation Dean Spanley, O’Toole’s genius as an actor was only matched by his off-screen reputation for bad behaviour. After his death in 2012, the regard that his talent was held in was matched only by endless prurient stories about him, magnified and distorted by journalists and showbiz biographers. The time has come to redress this.
Using the recently acquired Peter O’Toole archive at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas and new interviews with O’Toole’s friends, colleagues and family, Who Are You: The Life of Peter O’Toole will be a major new biography and reassessment of one of the greatest British actors of the twentieth century. It will look beyond the tired stories of gossip and alcohol-fuelled scandal of Peter O’Toole’s life. Instead, it will explore his actions and choices in depth and offer a fascinating psychological portrait of an extremely complex man, using as much of his own voice as possible, including unmade screenplays written by him.
It will present the first public appearance of extracts from such previously unpublished documents as O’Toole’s unfinished third volume of memoir, Loitering With Intent: The Professional, correspondence with the likes of Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn and his hitherto unseen journals and diaries. Among the areas covered will be his stormy departure from the RSC to achieve international fame, his life-threatening illness and career slump in the 1970s, and the candid story of his highs and lows in the theatre, from Macbeth to Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, told in his own words.
The book will avoid the clichés and hoary anecdotes of previous biographies of O’Toole, and will instead offer a frank reassessment of both his career as an actor and turbulent personal life, written with sympathy and wit. As the title suggests, it will be a reappraisal of ‘the divided self’, and look at the tensions between everything from his nationality and his work to his key relationships. Above all, it will be the definitive account of a complex and fascinating man.
Alexander Larman is an author and journalist. His most recent book, The Crown in Crisis (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2020) is a revelatory history of the abdication saga, using new and previously unknown material to tell the thrilling untold story of the political and legal machinations that led to Edward VIII’s renunciation of the throne.
His previous books include Byron’s Women (Head of Zeus, 2016), an ‘anti-biography’ of the famous poet that focused on nine of the key women in his life, Restoration (Head of Zeus, 2016), a social and narrative history of the year 1...
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