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John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man (Vintage) Paperback – January 8, 2008


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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Vintage paperback, 2008 edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375702954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375702952
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,850,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Employing a nonchronological, prismatic approach to the life and career of acclaimed British playwright Osborne, Heilpern (theater critic at the New York Observer) steps behind the curtain to find an abyss, a soul in anguish: "I feel such despair... desolation, hopelessness," Osborne wrote in his journal. Stunned by the death of his father when he was a child, the 15-year-old Osborne was expelled from school in 1943 after hitting the headmaster. In London, he was soon attracted to the theater, where he could "camouflage his own lower-class roots." While touring as an actor, he wrote four full-length plays before the collapse of his first marriage gave him the material for the autobiographical Look Back in Anger (1956), expressing such "immensity of feeling and class hatred" that it altered the course of English theater. He followed with The Entertainer in 1957 and other successes, including his 1963 Oscar-winning screenplay for Tom Jones. As Heilpern probes Osborne's caustic creativity and his volatile relationships with his wives, he layers in myriad intimate details, paralleling the playwright's life with his dramas: "Osborne dreaded loss—a legacy of his father's death—and loss seeps through his plays." Writing with verve and sensitivity, he skillfully interweaves a wealth of excerpts from Osborne's letters and private journals. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Osborne and "angry young man" are inseparable. From the moment his monumental play Look Back in Anger entered public consciousness in the mid-1950s, irreversibly changing British and post-World War II theater, his life was never the same. New York Observer drama critic Heilpern's sympathetic, fascinating biography covers the playwright's poverty-stricken childhood, hate-filled mother-son relationship, abortive acting career, many marriages (unhappy except for the last one), troubles with an estranged daughter, and sad final years, plagued by debt and poor health. When Look Back in Anger emerged in 1956, many critics couldn't believe an Englishman wrote it. With its "un-English" raw emotions amply displayed, it must be an American's work, they thought. A watershed in theatrical history, it became a national phenomenon that captured the restless mood of Osborne's volatile generation. Other plays followed, including, most significantly, Luther and Inadmissible Evidence , but none surpassed Look Back in Anger in impact. Thanks to full access to Osborne's private notebooks, Heilpern presents an often disturbing portrait of a complex, emotionally beleaguered man, tormented by self-doubt and self-loathing, who suffered from bouts of depression that left him, at times, spent and disillusioned, and who, though legendarily bellicose, could also be charming, sweet, and sensitive. A must for theatrical and literary collections alike. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Cleaver on May 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was trying to think of appropriate superlatives to describe my involvement with this biography. I guess that is why I read so many biographies-- to get into someone else's life for a while. Back to superlatives (like excellent and outstanding)-- I have throughly enjoyed living JO's life with him. No, it is not in strict chronological order and no, it is not your average biography, it is a terrific read. The secret is the style, which I find unique. It is conversational and in the order it needs to be to make a point or explain a time period. I really feel as if I can describe JO's personality and the way he would react to a situation-- not that I would necessarily like him, but I KNOW him. Most biographies do not give you that depth. This one gave me true insight into what it was like to be the "bad boy" of the London theater and then to live the rest of your life never getting near where you were in your 20's. He was very complex, but aren't we all if studied sufficiently? The gift of this book is that you understand his complexity because it is so well described and documented.

This ranks up there with the best biographies I read-- like "Team of Rivals" and "Alexander Hamilton". You should read it. You will only gain from the experience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on March 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
The most striking characteristic of British playwright, John Osbourne, is his fickle emotional well-being. At least, that's the way biographer John Heilpern described him in a roundabout way. The famous actor-turned-playwright, Oscar winner, and prime pivotal subject in British theater, lead a life more colorful than any play ever written.

As a child, Osbourne was already causing trouble as he was expelled from school at age 15 for hitting the headmaster-five years after his father had died of tuberculosis. Osbourne was known to throw fits of anger and depression, and never healed from his father's devastating death. He was left with a mother who put food on the table by working as a barmaid.

In his earliest years, Osbourne had become attracted to theater (where he could camouflage his lower-class roots) and toured for a short time as an actor. During this time he wrote four full-length plays and married the first of five wives. His first divorce gave him the material for his best-known script, Look Back in Anger, which held an intense undertone of class hatred. British theater critics were stunned to learn Osbourne was British, as they had assumed by his scripts that he was American.

The biography continues with the story of Osbourne's estranged daughter, his other four wives, and his downfall with drugs and alcohol, which ended his life on Christmas Eve, 1994, where he confessed his last written words, "I have sinned."

Heilpern, a New York Observer drama critic, writes a fascinating and sympathetic biography, one where Osbourne was portrayed as a charming, sweet man that collected teddy bears, but also the emotionally tormented man who threw his teenage daughter out and never spoke to her again.
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1 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Raymond C. Brooks on March 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Somewhat disapointing so far. The NYT/New Yorker made it sound more "edgy"
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