London: Despite sharing the accolades as the greatest actors of their generation and appearing onstage together in 1935, a poisonous rivalry seemed to have soured Alec Guinness’s view of Laurence Olivier, it has been revealed.
Guinness thought his fellow thespian as cruel, unpleasant, destructive and pretentious.
The spat was revealed in Guinness’s personal diaries, part of an archive acquired by the British Library, the Daily Mail reported.
Although he praises Lord Olivier as “technically brilliant” and “a total actor”, he adds: “He was always very conscious of the audience and his own powers over them.”
Even on the day after Olivier’s death in July 1989, Guinness apparently couldn’t bring himself to join the public tributes unreservedly.
In his diary, he branded Olivier “unpleasant, possibly even vindictive.”
Later entries included snide observations about Olivier’s performances, notably his “trick” for making Shakespeare memorable by reading it like “flashes of lightning.”
An indication that the venom and cattiness was not simply one way came when Guinness recalled a clash in 1983, when Olivier either failed or feigned not to recognise his wife at a party.
Guinness thought Olivier was joking at first when he asked her name. “Oh yes,” Olivier had said.
“Merula Salaman. Isn’t she some sort of relative of yours?”
“My wife for the last 45 years,” Guinness replied. He duly records: “I could see Joan Plowright [Lady Olivier] in the room, and, bitchily, I couldn’t resist asking, ‘Is Joan here?’ ‘Over there,’ he said. ‘Do point her out,’ I said, and then moved away.”
Guinness’s 900 letters and more than 100 volumes of diaries were compiled during a lifetime in acting.