A rollicking, rich portrait of a life. And what a life! By one of today’s greatest living actors.
On Sale: November 4, 2008
Featuring: Christopher Plummer
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He was born a Canadian on a Friday the thirteenth in 1929—
the year of the Crash. His boyhood was one of privilege: an
ancestor was a Governor General; his great-grandfather Sir
John Abbott was Canada’s third prime minister and owned
railroads. There were steam yachts, mansions, and a life of
Victorian gentility and somewhat cluttered splendor.
Plummer tells how “this young bilingual wastrel, incurably
romantic, spoiled rotten, tore himself away from the ski
slopes to break into the big bad world of theatre, not from
the streets up but from an Edwardian living room down,” and
writes of his early acting days as an eighteen-year-old
playing the lead in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, directed by
the legendary Komisarjevsky of Moscow’s Imperial Theatre.
We see his glorious New York of the fifties, where life
began at midnight, with the likes of Arthur Miller, Carson
McCullers, Tennessee Williams, and Paddy Chayefsky, and how
Plummer’s own Broadway world developed and swept him along
through the last Golden Age the American Theatre would ever
remember . . . how the sublime Ruth Chatterton (“she might
have been created by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair
Lewis”) introduced him to the right people in New
York . . . how Miss Eva Le Gallienne gave Plummer his
Broadway debut at twenty-five in The Starcross Story (“It
opened and closed in one night! One solitary night! But
what a night!”). He writes about Miss Katherine Cornell
(the last stage star to travel by private train), who, with
her husband, Guthrie McClintic, added to what experience
Plummer had the necessary gloss, spit, and polish to take
him to the next level. Guthrie bundled Plummer off to Paris
for a production of Medea, opposite Dame Judith Anderson
(“a little Tasmanian devil . . . who with one look could
turn an audience to stone”).
Plummer writes about the great producers with whom he
worked—Kermit Bloomgarden, Robert Whitehead, and Roger
Stevens—about Lillian Hellman, Leonard Bernstein, Elia
Kazan (“If you weren’t careful, this chameleon of
chameleons might change into you, wear your skin, steal
your soul”), and the miracle that was the new Stratford
Festival in Canada, where Plummer blossomed in the classics
under the extraordinary Tyrone Guthrie. He writes about his
(too brief) encounters with his favorite geniuses, Orson
Welles and Jonathan Miller. He writes about his lifelong
friendships with Raymond Massey and the wild Kate Reid, and
with that fugitive from the Navy, “that reprobate and
staunch drinking buddy, the true reincarnation of Eugene
O’Neill, whose blood was mixed with firewater,” Jason
Plummer writes about his affairs and his marriages, and
about his daughter, Amanda, who “despite her slim looks and
tiny bones could raise tempests, guaranteed to loosen the
foundation of any theatre in which she chose to rage.”
We see him becoming a leading actor for Peter Hall’s Royal
Shakespeare Theatre, with a company of young talented
players, each destined for stardom—Judi Dench, Vanessa
Redgrave, Peter O’Toole, et al., collectively the future of
the English stage. The old guard was brilliantly
represented by Dames Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft and Sir
John Gielgud. Plummer, the only fugitive from the New
World, played Richard III, Benedick, and Henry II in Becket.
He writes about his film career: The Sound of Music
(affectionately dubbed “S&M”) . . . Inside Daisy Clover,
which brought him together with the beautiful Natalie
Wood . . . John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (Plummer
was Rudyard Kipling). He tells the story of accepting Sir
Laurence Olivier’s invitation to join the National Theatre
Company, playing in Amphytron directed by Olivier himself
(“a great actor but lousy director”), and writes about
falling deeply in love with and eventually marrying a young
actress and dancer, Elaine Taylor—to this day, his “one
Seamlessly written, with stories that make us laugh out
loud and that make real the fascinating, complex, exuberant
adventure that is the actor’s (at least this actor’s) life.
1 comment posted.
Re: In Spite of Myself: A Memoir
It's nice to see Christopher Plummer's book reviewed here. I've seen him on stage, besides numerous of his films, and he's marvelous in his roles. He was also featured in an interview on CBC's One on One, in which he was very forthcoming about his life. I'd really like to read his autobiography.
(Sigrun Schulz 11:19pm January 27, 2011)
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