In 1934, a friend brought fledgling actress Vivien Leigh to see Theatre Royal, where she would first lay eyes on Laurence Olivier in his brilliant performance as Anthony Cavendish. That night, she confided to a friend, he was the man she was going to marry. There was just one problem: she was already married—and so was he.
Truly, Madly is the biography of a marriage, a love affair that still captivates millions, even decades after both actors' deaths.
Maybe, given time, they would have worked out a balance, like the narcissistic leads of Kiss Me, Kate, but ticking beneath them was Leigh’s bipolar disorder, which manifested itself variously as violent mood swings, tumultuous affairs and, on occasion, psychotic breaks ... It is here, I think, that Galloway, the former executive editor of the Hollywood Reporter, lifts himself clear of previous chronicles, including Olivier’s own self-lacerating memoirs, by supplementing firsthand accounts with retrospective diagnoses by experts like Kay Redfield Jamison and by tracing a genetic link to Leigh’s great-uncle, housed in a Kolkata asylum for much the same symptoms. More lucidly than ever, we can see how, in the grip of her own brain chemistry, Leigh quite literally lost her mind.
A workmanlike and ultimately sorrowful dual biography of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh ... In its final chapters, the book is deeply harrowing, not least because mental illness remained a misunderstood scandal in mid-20th-century Western culture ... Truly, Madly, to its benefit and detriment, at times reads as an inspired feat of collation ... As biography, however, this approach often produces a muddle ... Truly, Madly has passages of overstatement and florid speculation ... Truly, Madly comes alive as a book, and it is a gripping and terribly sad reading experience.
There have been many, many previous biographies of Leigh and several of Olivier...But Galloway, the former executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter, is perhaps the first author to interpolate this oft-told story with commentary from contemporary mental-health experts, like Kay Redfield Jamison, the psychologist who herself suffers from bipolar disorder and wrote An Unquiet Mind. He accomplishes this smoothly, in a contribution to the LarViv literature that is — if not strictly essential — coherent, well-rounded and entertaining. To the couple’s tale of passion he adds compassion, along with the requisite lashings of gossip ... Galloway clearly spent significant time in the archives (though frustratingly, a chunk of Leigh’s side of her correspondence with Olivier remains on the loose). Galloway splices this material seamlessly with old interviews and enough new ones with those Of That Era, such as Korda and Hayley Mills, to inject some pep and freshness ... It’s an enjoyable, disorienting sensation — as the Oscars now hemorrhage viewers and relevance — to find a time capsule from when movies and their stars didn’t just stream into our living rooms along with all the other space junk, but seemed the very center of the universe.