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Letters Hardcover – April 20, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 665 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (April 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679426108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679426103
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,040,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kenneth Tynan, gifted controversialist, effeminate womanizer, emphysema-ridden smoker, and purveyor of eros for the intelligentsia, died too young, in 1980. Yet he crammed his life and writing with passion. Tynan's Profiles are a masterful mix of observation, wit, and intellectual ferocity, and happily, this glittering collection of letters is marked by the same qualities. Edited by his wife Kathleen, they are a strong delight from the very first entry (one of many castigating editors) to his final communiqué, a verse marking his son's birthday, which ends: "NOW THAT YOU'RE NINE, / I'M SURE YOU'LL BE FINE-- / FUNNY, AND FINE, AND CLEVER-- / AND I SEND MY LOVE FOR EVER."

Tynan is never one to be restrained by received values. In 1943, aged 16, he is already dashing off an amorality play: "The whole point of it, I feel, is that the Devil is horrified by the goodness of God and considers him immoral." (In a later missive, he claims that Christ was "something of a criminal flop"--when it came to His earthly career, at any rate.) And a really good day for the young overachiever consists of chatting with an amiable Communist, listening to a skeptic on Anglo-American relations, and going to the flicks with two girls; "Necked with both--both have filthy minds but are pretty and well-spoken," he reports. "We therefore got on excellently."

Throughout, Tynan is magnificently aware of his strengths--beginning one epistle with "Credit title: this is a damned good letter"--and profligate with his bon mots. Detailing one sexual conquest, he waggishly confides, "I have not yet decided whether I am the fly and she the flypaper, or I the fly and she the ointment." He's also capable of going from the ironic to the lyrical, though it's sometimes difficult to tell the two apart. When Tynan tells one of his many Oxford girlfriends, "I feel a sort of divine compassion for the whole human race when I'm with you--because they aren't," he seems utterly sincere, but it's hard to avoid the note of taunting superiority. Nonetheless, this collection really comes into its own in Tynan's university years, for postwar Oxford "was fast, piratical and quite clever," and he was among the best and brightest. The mere thought of his being one of C.S. Lewis's students gives one pleasurable pause.

Tynan's early accomplishments are almost legendary, and this book will only fuel the flames. After he graduated, his success both in the theater (which he saw as central to public life) and journalism seems to have come easily, but these letters prove how tireless he was. They also are important as cultural and social history. Here are Tynan's earnest and acidulous takes on his famous debate with Truman Capote over the moral responsibility of the writer; the scandal that eventuated from his use of the word fuck live on the BBC; as well as his sincere defense of pornography and struggle against censorship. This last, unfortunately, led to his squandering his talents on the mass-market naughtiness of Oh! Calcutta. Writing to his wife Kathleen, Tynan claims, "I know that nobody ever changed history with a letter...." Many audacious examples in this collection prove him wrong. --Kerry Fried

From Library Journal

Tynan was educated at Oxford and went on to become an actor, writer, director, and the behind-the-scenes mastermind of Sir Laurence Olivier's National Theatre in England. He is perhaps best known on both sides of the Atlantic as a dynamic and merciless critic. The letters here collected by his wife, Kathleen, who died in 1995, include communiques to many of the literary, film, and theater giants of the century: Arthur Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Paul McCartney, J. Paul Getty, Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, and Tennessee Williams, among many others. Copiously footnoted so that each letter is in context with previous letters and with replies, Mrs. Tynan (The Life of Kenneth Tynan, LJ 10/1/87) has also interspersed text explaining Tynan's personal life and the social and political events occurring at the time the letters were written. A fascinating memoir, recommended for public and academic libraries, especially those with strong film and theater collections.?Katherine K. Koenig, Ellis Sch., Pittsburgh
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. Hawkins on May 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I think the above review needs a corrective. Tynan was the sharpest, funniest, and best-informed theatre critic of his generation. He was also a wonderful stylist, and a precocious one: many writers never write as well as Tynan did while still in his teens. These letters can be enjoyed simply for their manipulation of language, but there's more to them than that. Tynan always liked to think of himself as an outsider, as someone pushing the envelope; yet he also was entranced by the establishment at play, and he enjoyed lowbrow entertainment almost as much as Shakespeare and Sophocles. These letters demonstrate this bifurcation of character, making for a sort of un-selfconscious autobiography. Well worth buying for anyone who likes reading letters, and a must for Tynan fans. when can we have some more of his work reisssued?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ilprofessore on October 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
From Oscar Wilde to Evelyn Waugh to Chris Hitchens, every new generation in Britain seems to produce yet another variant of The Bright Young Thing. In that cold and often rainy climate, dazzling young men and women seem to bloom at an uncommon early age, all with an uncommon talent to charm, impress, and eventually outrage their elders. Incorrigible showoffs, one and all, they all seem to spring from the same public schools and universities. No better specimen of this garden variety than Ken Tynan who, at age eleven, saw fit to write the critic of a Birmingham newspaper, praising the talents of a minor movie actor named Bogart. Nine years later, immediately after the Second World War, Tynan had reached Oxford. By then, the young man had honed his act to the same brilliant polish as his predecessors: be it the eccentric clothing, the excessive drinking, the sexual conquests, the endless talk, the capacity to do all things day and night. He had read everything ever written, and still found time to act, direct, and write magazine articles and essays. The best letter writing in this collection--British precocity at its shining best--comes from those glorious school days before celebrity. Tynan, champion of the new and a lover of the popular arts--film in particular--was so in love with himself and life that he fearlessly celebrated an obscure actor, Frederick Volk's Othello, as one of the great theater performances of his lifetime. Why? Because it was so totally unlike anything that the establishment divas, Olivier, Richardson and Gielgud, were doing at the time. In the same manner, he knew the days of "the ginny baritone" Noel Coward, were over. Osborne, Wesker, and the rest, he wrote, had every right to come to take the great man's place.Read more ›
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Suzinne Barrett VINE VOICE on July 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Was disappointed in this exhaustive collection of letters. I'm a huge admirer of Kenneth Tynan - read his diaries around three times - but this just did not do it for me. I had high hopes for this book, and I like the stylish black and white presentation. But much of this is dry and businesslike. Anyone who knows anything about KT knows he had an outrageous sense of humor. And his range as a critic was distinctly wide - from the deep down lowbrow to the highest of highbrow. However, that predilection for life's ironies is not often found here.

Yes, there are some interesting letters, but much of it isn't engaging. One touching letter that comes to mind is one Mr. Tynan sent to The Hemlock Society. It was written toward the end of his life, and he was exploring the option of assisted suicide. Tynan was a very heavy smoker who actually was genetically wired for emphysema. Even while struggling for breath and against all his wife Kathleen's admonitions, he continued to smoke. Smoking was a symptom of the serious self doubt that followed him throughout his life. In the end, and without leaving the definitive artistic statement, Kenneth Tynan sadly expired at age 50 in July 1980.

It's so unfortunate that Kenneth Tynan is practically forgotten today, and all his work has been out of print for years. I consider myself lucky I was able to acquire most of his books before they disappear into oblivion.
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1 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 1998
Format: Hardcover
How did this collection of letters make it to print...when there are scores of personalities whose letters I'd love to read in a collection that haven't? These letters are very boring and he did not write to many notable people (a few to McCartney, Lennon and Olivier). Before you read about a theater critic, read what William Goldman said in his legendary book about Broadway THE SEASON, in the chapter titled "The Approvers." That tells you all about theater critics you need to know. THEN you can decide whether to read this one of Tynan's letters. I don't think this book would have made it to print if Tynan's wife hadn't been shoving it down publisher's and editor's throats. Dull, dull, dull, except for about five of the letters.
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