Book Review: ‘Loitering With Intent: The Child’ by Peter O’Toole

Earlier today, I went to my university to pick my graduation gown, my marshalling card and my tickets for the graduation ceremony. My initial plan was to go there, pick the stuff quickly and go back home to do more interesting stuff. But, when I arrived, there was this very long line, so my plans obviously changed. I had brought with me this autobiography of Peter O’Toole: Loitering With  Intent that I’ve been reading since Bristol (mid-May). And, while waiting in line, I actually had time to finish it. Now that I’m back home, I think a review is in order!

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Loitering With Intent: The Child is the first volume of Peter O’Toole’s memoirs. It was published in 1997. The actor talks about his childhood, teenagehood, life during the war (including his highly comprehensible hate toward Adolf Hitler), his process to enter the RADA, his early stage career, and more about his early life. And for this limited period of time, he had a lot to say (320 pages)!

My verdict: this is one of the best autobiography books I’ve read in my life. The good thing about autobiographies is that they are written the way the celebrity wants to, contains maybe more unedited anecdotes than in a biography book and, most of all, who knows Peter O’Toole better than Peter O’Toole himself?!

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A young Peter O’Toole!

I remember, when the Irish-born actor died in 2013, I was quite sad about it. I hadn’t seen many of his films (still have a lot to see) and didn’t like the fact that the last great classic actors were, one by one, leaving us (Joan Fontaine passed away just the following day). Anyway, I didn’t sleep a lot on this December night thinking too much about this sad departure.

Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of Thomas Edward Lawrence in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is, to me one, of the most impressive examples of acting abilities. And these are not limited. He is simply fascinating to watch, almost as if he was a god or something we can not totally understand. His voice (that magical voice), his mannerisms, the way he walks, the way he interacts with the other actors, the way he embellishes the already stunning desert landscapes are the objects of a mesmerizing magnetism…! But I don’t want to talk too much about that as I’m supposed to review the film for a blogathon next July.

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Anyway, when I borrowed this boo,  I wondered if he’ll be as fascinating as he seem to be on-screen. And he was! But there is a bonus: Peter O’Toole was also very human and his memoirs don’t make him appear like an “inaccessible” person. On the contrary, he sounds like someone we can rely on and who can inspire us in many ways. He writes with a humour that I had rarely encountered with autobiography books before and a highly entertaining vocabulary. Ok, I read a French version of the book (because that’s what they had at the library) so it was a translation of Peter O’Toole’s words, but I feel it was a legit one. The second volume, Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice, however, only exists in English. To come back to Peter O’Toole’s humour, I laughed a lot when I read his writing. It was both witty and adorable, but also brought back to my memory some personal anecdotes of my childhood. Peter O’Toole was a born teller as he makes an ordinary life story sound very interesting, even for those who weren’t there when it happened.

Another quality of this book is the fact that it is not just Peter O’Toole (auto)biography. Indeed, it’s also a book about his family: his mother Constance, his sister Patricia and, most of all, his father Patrick “Pat” O’Toole; a book about his friends and co-workers; and about Adolf Hitler. The Nazi leader is pretty much at the center of his life story and it’s fortunately in order to demolish him and make him sound like a completely ridiculous man (which he was). I hope nobody has objections against that! Peter O’Toole lived the war in England when he was a child and some of his stories make us realize we are pretty lucky. Well, I am. Therefore, the book is also very informative and teaches us a lot about the war in England and how life was back then. It’s a personal and historical autobiography.

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Loitering with Intent: The Child is kind of written in chronological order, but the author often comes back in time or takes a break with a chapter comparing his life with Hitler’s one. Some could find it confusing. I did at some point (sometimes I was not 100% sure how approximately old he was when some event occurred), but generally it didn’t bother my reading so much.

So, should you read this book? Well, obviously yes!

I rate this book ****1/2  because it’s almost perfect!

If you haven’t read it yet, I hope this review will make you want to do so. You are in for a treat! 🙂

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After picking my graduation gown and tickets at school, I went to the library to give back the book and I borrowed two more biography books: David Bowie: Strange Fascination by David Buckley (already started it – so far so good) and Carole Lombard: Twentieth- Century Star by Michelle Morgan! I hope to eventually review them as well. 🙂

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Lyndsy Spence’s New Book: These Great Ladies

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Prolific author Lyndsy Spence has recently published her new book: These Great Ladies. This author, who’s fascinated with 20th century’s ladies, chose to present us a portrait of eight aristocratic women whose lives can certainly seduce our curiosity. Lyndsy Spence explores the lives of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, Mariga Guinness, Sylvia Ashley (who, interestingly for us, was married to Douglas Fairbanks and Clark Gable), Joan Wyndham, Enid Lindeman, Venetia Montagu, Irene Curzon and Jean Massereene.

Mrs. Spence always knows how to choose original and creative biography subjects. Through her books, she gives life to these personalities that might be a bit forgotten nowadays. We learn a lot from her material, and that is always a great pleasure.

These Great Ladies certainly is a book that sounds highly appealing. If like me, you are curious to read it, you can buy it on Amazon now.

Lyndsy Spence’s other books are The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life, Mrs. Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford, the Thirties Socialite, Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen, The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne, and, of course her annual Mitford Society books that she writes in collaboration with several authors.

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She also writes for BBC News Magazine, Social & Personal, Vintage Life, The Lady, and Daily Express.

Book Review: Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters (Meredith C. Macksoud)

For almost two years now, I’m only reading biography books (except for half of Wuthering Heights, The Moment of the Wedding and 1984). I find these fascinating (if they are well-written) and they allow me to discover interesting stuff about the personalities I admire.

Remember when I wrote that article on my love for Arthur Kennedy? Well, I obviously was curious to see if a biography of him had been written. And there’s one! And I’ve read it! Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters was written by Meredith C. Macksoud and published in 2003. It is the only existing biography of the actor.

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What made me want to buy the book were the many great reviews on Amazon. Also, because it is the only one that has been written so far, I wasn’t left with many choices if I wanted to discover more about my favourite character actor.

I built a strong opinion of the book while reading it. That’s why I wanted to share my thoughts with you here.

While being a great read, Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters contains its ups and down.

The book can be praised for not being a gossipy one, and that’s a great thing. How are dreadful those biographers who try to discover celebrities deepest secrets and make them accessible to the public? Those biographers to whom we’d like to say: “leave them alone a minute!” Macksoud certainly wrote her book by paying a deserved respect to Mr. Kennedy. However, I feel she forgot to share things with a certain balance. Indeed, it is normal, when we read a biography, to expect some information about the star’s personal life. This is normal, no? We are curious.

I was first disappointed by the fact that not much was written about his childhood. We enter quite rapidly in his acting life. Then, the book is almost a filmography. All his movies (except the less significant ones which are later discussed in the appendix) are presented one by one. The author makes a synopsis and then talks about the context of the production, Arthur Kennedy’s performance, his relations with the movie team and other significant anecdotes. The author, of course, also explores his important stage career and many interesting information about his collaborations with Arthur Miller are presented to us. What I liked less about all this is that there’s nothing between that. She moves from one film to another without really discussing what was going on in Kennedy’s personal life while he was making those movies, what were his hobbies, his activities, the events he attended, etc. Yes, there’s a bit of it, but not enough for me. But then, in the last chapter, a bunch of facts about his private life is thrown to us. I feel as this was not very well dispatched. What also bothered me is the fact that Macksound takes time to resume the films from the beginning until the end. Because of the many spoilers contained in those synopses, I had to skip many parts of the book. I think she should have used these words to write directly about Kennedy instead of writing those unnecessarily long synopses.

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But don’t get me wrong, the book was a real enjoyment despite all this. Meredith C. Macksoud successes at writing informative and complete historical contextualizations. These help us situate the movies in time. I also feel that she completely understands what type of man and actor Arthur Kennedy was. She perfectly seizes his essence and this is very well expressed in her introduction. That’s why the book was a very agreeable one to read. I might not have learned as much as I would have liked, but this was a great beginning.We also feel that this biography was written by someone who admires the man and not someone who wanted to write about him just to make money. The author is, sometimes, at the verge of subjectivity (which is never too good for a biographer), but she manages not to fall too deep in this trap.

The book is also truffled with a series of photos, which is also appreciated as it allows us to make a visual association with the film that his discussed. However, I would have liked to see more pictures of Kennedy outside the films (on the set, with his family, at home, etc.), more rare photos. That is another clue showing us that Macksoud’s main objective was to stick to Arthur’s professional career. This, of course, depends on which kind of book you want to write. And I believe she successfully wrote about his life in films. She describes well Kennedy’s devoted work for each one of his performances.

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Another great thing about Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters is that it has been family approved. Arthur Kennedy’s daughter wrote the foreword and the last chapter, Remembrances of Laurie Kennedy. This is the most personal part of the book, the one that allows us to understand who Kennedy was to his relatives in relation to who he was to his public. Laurie’s words are those who make us smile the most and they are a great addition to the book.

Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters is one not to miss if you love Arthur Kennedy. Despite its faults, it remains a convincing read and, most important, it will give you many reasons to be fond of Arthur Kennedy. The best thing I learn about Arthur is the fact that he was a professional, but also a very humble man. He wasn’t complicated. He was that kind of man who was beautifully simple and with whom we would have liked to spend a few quiet and agreeable hours. I feel he was very clever and he knew how to use to transpose this cleverness to his always top-notch on-screen performances.

So, for being an entertaining, agreeable, informative (to a certain level), but not perfect book either, I give a *** 1/2 to Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters!

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I had a lot to say about it, I hope I didn’t forget anything! I also hope some of you will be curious to read the book and share your thoughts about it!

For those who haven’t read my tribute to Arthur Kennedy, I invite you to read it here.

Before leaving you, I have to mention: last Thursday, in class, we watch The Man from Laramie on the big screen! This was the second Kennedy’s movie we were watching in this course (the first one was Some Came Running), so I was obviously thrilled. The Man from Laramie is not my favourite Kennedy’s film, but I believe he gives one of his strongest performances. And to see it on the big screen made it much better than seeing it on a little computer screen. The image was so beautiful and the sound was impressive!

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Now, what I’d like to discover are interviews with Arthur Kennedy! If you know where I could find some, please tell me. So far,  my little researches haven’t been very successful!

See you soon!