From Publishers Weekly
When Guinness died in 2000, his widow designated Read (Alive!
) as the actor's authorized biographer, and the results are mixed. Read doesn't allow his friendship with Guinness to interfere with an honest account of some unsavory aspects of the actor's personality (e.g., his frequent cruelty to his wife). But Read's treatment of his subject's professional career is spotty—while Guinness's early years in London theater are well represented, some of his best films from the 1950s are barely mentioned, and even his most famous role, as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars
and its sequels, gets less than 10 pages. Instead, Read offers repeated, lengthy speculations about his subject's sexuality. Anecdotal evidence and cryptic diary entries do suggest Guinness may have wrestled with an attraction to men, and might even on occasion have acted upon it and felt guilty afterward, but the issue probably doesn't require quite so much attention. Read fares better in discussing other aspects of Guinness's emotional life, including his ambivalence toward the mother who conceived him out of wedlock, and an adult conversion to Roman Catholicism. Readers hoping for the usual celebrity biography filled with the star's encounters with other stars, however, will likely be disappointed. B&w photos.
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The authorised life of a truly great actor by a highly accomplished novelist, historian and journalist, who happened also to be a friend of the actor and his family. This is a perfect meeting between author and subject matter, Read's prose being comfortably equal to the abundance of material he had to work with, including many private letters as well as various published sources, notably two volumes of diaries. The result is a highly readable account of a private individual who loomed large in public consciousness across the generations, the actor who won an Oscar as Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai being better known to many either as George Smiley or as Ben Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.
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