These biographies of John Gielgud by Jonathan Croall and Sheridan Morley are quite hard to tell apart. They are of much the same size, bear handsome pictures of the actor in old age on the front of their dust-jackets, and are, inevitably, affectionate and indulgent towards their subject. As Dirk Bogarde remarked when Croall consulted him about the work in hand, 'everybody adored him, so the book might make rather flat reading.' Morley's title emphasises that his version is authorised, and the implication is that his rival's is not, though it appears that Croall also sought and obtained the actor's consent to his enterprise. Not good enough, says Morley: it was his version that Gielgud thought of as the 'Book'. He was impatient to see it, but it did not get written. Meanwhile 'other books about him began to appear with increasing frequency and sometimes even with his cautious blessing.' Irritating, no doubt, but one had the satisfaction of knowing that 'none was able to deal in any detail with his private life, not least because by now John had given me all his own letters and private papers.' Despite the actor's impatience to see it, Morley resolved not to publish or even write his book while its subject was alive. His motive was, it seems, not so much to thwart rival biographers as to avoid damaging his hero's reputation by bringing up the matter of his homosexuality and, in particular, discussing the court case of 1953.
LRB 21 June 2001 | PDF Download