O'Connor, Garry 1938–
O'Connor, Garry 1938–
PERSONAL: Born January 31, 1938, in London, England; son of Cavan (a singer) and Rita (a singer; maiden name, Odoli-Tate) O'Connor; married Victoria Meredith-Owens, May 25, 1970; children: Tobias Cavan, Joseph Owen, Emily Margaret, Frederick Garry, Peter Alexander, Juliet Elizabeth. Education: King's College, Cambridge, B.A., 1961. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—King's Sutton, North Banbury, Oxfordshire, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bloomsbury USA, 175 5th Ave., 3rd Fl., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Stage director and writer. Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, stage director, 1963–66, director of Stratford Studio, 1963–64; Royal Court Theatre, London, England, director, 1965, Traverse, Edinburgh, Scotland, director, 1966; writer, 1968–. Drama teacher at London Drama Centre and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 1963–67. Military service: British Army, Educational Corps., 1956–58; became sergeant.
AWARDS, HONORS: Arts Council award, 1978.
Le Theatre en Angleterre (title means "Theatre in England"), French translation by Georgette Illes, French Information Service, 1968.
French Theatre Today, Pitman (London, England), 1976.
The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Maggie Teyte, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1979.
Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982, expanded edition, Applause (New York, NY), 1998.
Darlings of the Gods: One Year in the Lives of Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1984.
(Editor) Olivier: In Celebration, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1987.
Sean O'Casey: A Life, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1988.
The Mahabharata: Peter Brook's Epic in the Making, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1990.
William Shakespeare: A Life, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1991.
Campion's Ghost: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Donne, Poet, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1993.
Alec Guinness: Master of Disguise, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1994.
The Secret Woman: A Life of Peggy Ashcroft, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1997.
William Shakespeare: A Popular Life, Applause Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Paul Scofield, Macmillan (London, England), 2001, published as Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, Applause Theatre/Cinema Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Alec Guinness: A Life, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Universal Father: A Life of Pope John Paul II, Bloomsbury USA (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of articles, book reviews, and theatre reviews to Theatre Quarterly, Queen, Financial Times, London Sunday Times, and Times Literary Supplement; contributor of feature articles to Mail on Sunday, 1999–.
The Musicians (two-act), produced in London, England, 1969.
I Learnt in Ipswich How to Poison Flowers (two-act), produced in Ipswich, England, 1969.
Different Circumstances (two-act), produced in Oxford, England, 1974.
Semmelweis (two-act), produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, at Edinburgh Festival, 1975.
Dialogue between Friends (one-act), produced in London, England, 1976.
Campion's Ghost (radio play based on O'Connor's novel), broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 1998.
ADAPTATIONS: Darlings of the Gods was televised as a mini-series, 1992.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Cecilia Champaigne, a chapter novel; a new play, The Return of the Archbishop.
SIDELIGHTS: Garry O'Connor is best known for his writings about actors and playwrights, including the festschrift he edited for Sir Laurence Olivier's eightieth birthday, Olivier: In Celebration. Other subjects from stage and screen include Paul Scofield, Sir Ralph Richardson, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, playwright Sean O'Casey, and perhaps the most famous of all: William Shakespeare. In addition to biographies, O'Connor is the author of the novel Campion's Ghost: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Donne, Poet, a fictionalized life of poet John Donne amid the religious controversies of Elizabethan England. First published in 1993, Campion's Ghost was adapted by O'Connor as a radio drama broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1998.
O'Connor has penned a biography of Paul Scofield, arguably one of the most accomplished actors of the twentieth century. "Apart from an early monograph, this is the only book written about Scofield," O'Connor once explained to CA, "and I have been fortunate enough to enjoy his warm cooperation and approval." In Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons O'Connor looks at both the career and personal life of the highly respected Scofield, an actor who "never wanted for roles, working full time with successful stage companies paying living wages," noted Dany Margolies in Back Stage West. Scofield, in fact, retained a down-to-earth attitude toward his talent and profession, frequently commuting "by train from his Sussex home to do what he deliberately calls 'my job,'" reported John Knight in the Contemporary Review. Using interviews with Scofield's theatre colleagues, plus contemporary reviews, O'Connor constructs a picture of Scofield as an actor whose "natural demeanor, his disappearance into roles by virtue of his emphasis on characterization, continue to make him a worthwhile subject of study and admiration," Margolies commented.
O'Connor's Sean O'Casey: A Life is the first full-length biography about the quarrelsome and controversial Irish playwright. As Dennis Donoghue commented in the New York Times Book Review, O'Casey was, "among the modern Irish writers, … the most cantankerous, and had the readiest propensity to feel aggrieved." One of the achievements of the biography is O'Connor's successful illumination of the contradictions between O'Casey's account of his life in his six-volume autobiography and its actual facts. Paul Johnson called the biography "an absorbing account of the man and the playwright" and "wholly convincing" in the Times Literary Supplement, while Donoghue praised the book as "continuously interesting," if "not impeccable." One caveat, noted Donoghue, is the book's lack of critical reflection on O'Casey's plays. Critical consideration of the plays is rendered necessary, according to the reviewer, because "the general run of O'Casey's writing is wretched."
Public interest in William Shakespeare soared in 1999 following several well-received film adaptations of his plays and the Academy Award-winning comedy-drama, Shakespeare in Love. That same year, O'Connor produced William Shakespeare: A Popular Life. In these pages, the biographer stated, he endeavored to "give Shakespeare a life, not only as a historical figure … but the dimension of one who is still living." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that O'Connor had accomplished at least part of this task, stating that the book deals in "two major departures from typical Bardology." The first is in O'Connor's speculations on Shakespeare's thoughts as the playwright developed his dramas; "second, he draws upon the thoughtful opinions of those who have worked closely with the plays." As "an idiosyncratic overview" of Shakespeare, summed up a contributor to Publishers Weekly, "the book's a gem, but its speculative aspects remain ungrounded." To Karen E. Sadowski in the Library Journal, William Shakespeare: A Popular Life "gives a fresh spin to Shakespeare's life and work."
In 1996 O'Connor produced the first full-length biography of an actress remembered by many for her senior-citizen stage and screen roles in the late twentieth century. Dame Peggy Ashcroft appeared in the movie A Passage to India and in the television mini-series Jewel in the Crown when she was in her eighties, but before those successes she had a long and storied stage career, playing Juliet, Hedda Gabler, and other leading roles in modern classics from Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, and Marguerite Duras. O'Connor's The Secret Woman: A Life of Peggy Ashcroft examines a public figure who zealously guarded her personal life while being hailed as one of the most influential actresses of her generation.
The Secret Woman aroused a storm of controversy in the British press after its release in 1997. "One would be hard-pressed to conceive of a more eye-catchingly perverse biography than this," stated critic Graham McCann. Writing in New Statesman & Society, McCann pointed out that the offstage lives of actors are "notable only for prolonged periods of unadulterated dullness." Outwardly, Ashcroft fit the stereotype; she discreetly championed social causes but devoted most of her precious spare time to more mundane pursuits: gardening, correspondence, and the occasional cricket match. But in O'Connor's version of the actress's life, Ashcroft displays "sexual dynamism" in entertaining a "legion of lovers," including an extramarital affair with the black American actor-activist Paul Robeson in the 1930s. "O'Connor seems to catch the feel of the lady rather well," remarked London Daily Telegram critic Denis Quilley in support of the biographer's approach to his subject. Praising in particular O'Connor's ability to "understand … the vulnerability of the actor," Quilley concluded of The Secret Woman that it "is well researched and well documented and gives a good overall view of Peggy's life and work."
O'Connor profiled another legendary presence from film and theater with Alec Guinness: A Life. This biography is "filled with amusing anecdotes and quotations, and plenty of delicious gossip," noted Variety reviewer Allison Burnett. Guinness was a person who scrupulously and jealously guarded his private life, but within the biography, O'Connor concentrates on the aspects of the actor's life that could be knowable, remarked Burnett. He looks for the person behind the multitude of famous roles, and even concludes that Guinness's three volumes of memoirs serve as "just one more set of disguises, another strategy for concealing his secret self from others and distancing it from himself," commented Richard A. Blake in America. As an actor, Guinness was happy to be "celebrated for his invisibility," Burnett stated. O'Connor carefully examines facets of Guinness's life such as his bisexuality and the effect it had on his life and career, his conversion to Catholicism, his professional work habits, and the moral and social aspects of his personal life and career. In some of these areas, such as the apparent snobbishness he demonstrated toward other Catholics, Guinness does not fare well. O'Connor is a "thorough, but not a generous biographer," Blake remarked. Ultimately, Blake concluded, Guinness was best known for his art and not his life.
Turning from the secular to the religious, O'Connor applied his biographer's precision and observation to one of the twentieth century's more prominent pontiffs with Universal Father: A Life of Pope John Paul II. In what Library Journal reviewer John-Leonard Berg called an "insightfully written and thoroughly researched text," O'Connor explores the life of Pope John Paul within four distinct chronological phases of the Pope's life: 1920–46, 1946–78, 1978–90, and 1990–2005. Within each phase, O'Connor relates important events and developments in the Pope's life, and he provides telling anecdotes as well as documented facts. The author bolsters his biography with a number of scholarly resources and personal interviews that have not been widely utilized in the mainstream press. O'Connor also includes a chronology of the Pope's life and career, as well as information on the variety of documents that John Paul wrote. Berg concluded that the work is a "timely and remarkable biography" to be "sought after by serious readers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, April 14, 2003, Richard A. Blake, "Sir Chameleon," review of Alec Guinness: A Life, p. 24.
Back Stage West, June 27, 2002, Dany Margolies, review of Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, p. 7.
Contemporary Review, June, 2002, John Knight, "Paul Scofield: A Disappointing Biography," review of Paul Scofield, p. 375.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), March 8, 1997, Denis Quilley, "But Love Was Always Her Driving Force."
Library Journal, November 1, 1999, Karen E. Sad-owski, review of William Shakespeare: A Popular Life, p. 82; May 15, 2005, John-Leonard Berg, review of Universal Father: A Life of John Paul II, p. 124.
New Statesman & Society, April 11, 1997, Graham McCann, review of The Secret Woman: A Life of Peggy Ashcroft, p. 49.
New York Times Book Review, July 3, 1988, Denis Donoghue, review of Sean O'Casey: A Life, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1999, review of William Shakespeare: A Popular Life, p. 77.
Times (London, England), March 8, 1997, Michael Arditti, "Theatre's Lady of Virtue—Some of It Easy."
Times Literary Supplement, May 6, 1988, Paul Johnson, review of Sean O'Casey, p. 495.
Variety, April 14, 2003, Allison Burnett, review of Alec Guinness, p. 32.