Confessions of an Actor and An Open Book
It’s hard to imagine two autobiographies more different than Laurence Olivier’s Confessions of an Actor and John Huston’s An Open Book. Both men were screen legends from Hollywood’s classical era, who reached great heights in their respective fields. When it comes to setting down their lives in their own words, however, the experience awaiting the reader couldn’t be more different.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of stereotyping actors. Yet, as evinced from his style of writing, Laurence is more concerned with creating an esoteric emotion rather than relaying a clarity of thought. This may be an approach that satisfies the author, but it leaves the reader feeling puzzled. Confessions of an Actor reads like the product of an actor with a frazzled brain, who isn’t interested in details or clarity. It’s difficult to turn the pages when you haven’t made much sense of the page you’re on. In the end, Laurence only seems to be a shadow of the larger than life roles he played.
I was hoping to find some deep insight from this mighty thespian and occasional director. Instead, I spent most of the time reading passages over again trying to figure out what he was talking about. Does he even have a point? What is this chapter about? Is there any purpose to this book? These questions kept coming up as I read.
Confessions of an Actor puts things together with no sense of chronology or relatedness. The greatest revelation into Laurence’s work is his penchant for changing his appearance with a fake nose to help him find the character he is trying to become. I finished the book disappointed that he didn’t fill it with that special magical light he brings to movies.
John Huston, on the other hand, is a natural and gifted storyteller. An Open Book is basically one great story after another. Each chapter reads like a movie, ending with either a significant observation or a cliffhanger moment that keeps you enthusiastically turning the pages. John’s life is anything but dull. This is a veritable collection of rip roaring adventures from a man who truly did great things. When he relates his war experiences, or opinions of the anti-communist blacklisting in Hollywood, you really feel you are listening to an authority figure.
When I read an autobiography, I want to read honest accounts that let me into a bygone era. John shares his great admiration for his many friends and speaks modestly about his own achievements. He never sounds apologetic about his shortcomings either. Even when he glosses over a significant part of his life, he does it with flair. There is a picture in the photo section of his adopted Mexican son, Pablo. This is a great story that is only afforded two paragraphs. Throughout the book there isn’t a trace of bitterness for things that didn’t turn out favorably.
After reading both these books, I asked myself who I’d rather sit down and have dinner with. The answer of course is John Huston. Laurence’s writing makes the actor seem stuffy and a bit insecure. He’s neither elegant or enlightening with his words. John is a master storyteller who knows how to keep his audience captivated. Dinner with him every night of the week would be a real treat.