John Osborne: A Patriot for Us

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Random House, Jun 1, 2007 - Dramatists, English - 528 pages
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John Osborne (1929-1994), unapologetic rebel and original Angry Young Man, defined England in many controversial ways. As iconoclastic as Shaw or Wilde, he 'blow-torched his way into our lives', changing the face of modern British theatre in 1956 with Look Back in Anger. An actor turned playwright, there was about him the public showmanship of his own tragic invention, Archie Rice in The Entertainer. But Osborne hid his anguished nature and immobilizing depressions from the outside world in his secret notebooks. This startlingly candid, authorized but intimate and informal biography is the first to have access to these sensational notebooks and private letters. Osborne was born in rented rooms in Fulham, in 1929, to a tubercular father and a barmaid mother. An ailing child, he learned to box and was expelled from school for hitting his headmaster. At fifteen, he began as a lowly journalist for Gas World and fled to join a repertory theatre company where he learned not only the craft that would change his life and revolutionize British theatre, but also how to reinvent himself. Five times married, to actresses Pamela Lane, Mary Ure and Jill Bennett, and critics Penelope Gilliatt and Helen Dawson (he was supposed to have hated critics), his private life generated its own tumult and drama, farce and pathos. This impeccably researched biography includes personal interviews with scores of friends and enemies, among them a bombshell of a confession from Osborne's alleged male lover, and the first public comments from Osborne's estranged daughter, treated by her father with Lear-like madness. Heilpern, a theatre critic himself, defines Osborne's unique, contradictory genius and shows beneath it the hopelessly romantic English melancholic, a defiant individualist neither of the right nor the left, an ogre with charm, a Roundhead and a Cavalier, a radical who hated change, an embattled patriot for certain threatened English values - its language, music, customs and even its prayers.John Osborne died on Christmas Eve, 1994. This is an essential, unorthodox, moving and extraordinarily frank portrait of the man, the playwright and his era.

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About the author (2007)

Born in Manchester and educated at Oxford, John Heilpern wrote award-winning interviews for the Observer before becoming a Times columnist in New York. He has worked with Peter Hall at the National Theatre and with Michael Bennett on Broadway. He is the author of a classic book about the theatre, Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa, and of How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway - Writings on Theatre and Why it Matters. He now lives in Manhattan where he is drama critic of the New York Observer.

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