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May 19, 2006

John Osborne

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Once upon a time I was a big fan of the British "angry young man" playwright John Osborne. "Look Back in Anger" ... "Inadmissable Evidence" ... What were the others? Anyway, I probably identified a bit: youthful torment and grandiose bitterness, all that. But Osborne really did have an amazing talent for juicy invective and bloody abuse.

I see that the 50th anniversary of "Look Back in Anger" is upon us. I also see that John Heilpern has written a biography of Osborne that has just come out. I'm sorry to learn that Osborne was as bitter and abusive in real-life as his characters could be on the stage. What an awful man. All in the name of protecting his own sensitivity and creativity, no doubt.



posted by Michael at May 19, 2006


Have these artists no pity on us who like the arts? Stories like this makes one wonder if the key to an 'artistic' temperament is a total inability to consider anyone other than oneself. I remember as a teenager thinking that artists were beings of superior wisdom and insight who could guide me through life. Well, as with many other things, I've gotten more cynical about artists with each passing year--but I just can't keep up.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 20, 2006 7:15 PM

"I have made no secret of my detestation of your odious companion. I know that the only reason you spend even a few reluctant hours here is so you can cadge more money from me in order to pursue this squalid and ludicrous shopgirl's liaison with him and his drunken dreary friends ... Never did a mother deserve such a daughter. Such sublime selfishness must have its match! Less art more meat. I will not continue to be treated in this way by someone as criminally commonplace as yourself."

Wow! He sounds like Charles Laughton in The Barretts Of Wimpole Street. Imagine growing up with a father who could be played by Charles Laughton!

And yet, on the other hand, part of me would simply love to be told off in such gloriously theatrical terms. "My detestation of your odious companion..." "A squalid and ludicrous shopgirl's liaison..." "I put it to you..." Who the hell starts a sentence with "I put it to you..."?

The amoral aesthete in me wants to know: Are his plays as good as his abusive letters?

Posted by: Brian on May 21, 2006 3:18 AM

FvB -- They never stop surprising, do they?

Brian -- Yeah, imagine that for a father, yikes. It does make for some very juicy dialogue and some meatily vicious writing, though. He could never yank together much of a story, unfortunately, but if you don't mind that, the two plays of his I mentioned ("Look Back in Anger" and "Inadmissable Evidence") are the juiciest. He seemed unable to get it much after those, although he made a lot of money doing the screenplay for "Tom Jones." As far as I'm concerned, his best work is vol. 1 of his autobiography, "A Better Class of Person." It's mostly about his awful mother and how much he hated her, and it's pretty compulsive reading -- appalling but galvanizing. But it's an autobio -- I wonder if you don't already have to be interested in the guy to get interetsed in the book. But what a performance it is.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 21, 2006 3:02 PM

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