Public Places: My Life in the Theater, with Peter O'Toole and Beyond

Public Places: My Life in the Theater, with Peter O'Toole and Beyond - Sian Phillips Phillips writes an enjoyable, anecdote-filled autobiography. It may have been more than a little galling for her, but she has clearly taken the advice that her primary readership will be people interested in a behind the scenes look of the life of her ex-husband Peter O'Toole, and she has structured the book accordingly, opening with an out-of-sequence account of the crucial period in that marriage, when O'Toole was seriously ill, and giving the lion's share of the pages and anecdotes to the 20-odd years of that marriage rather than her own life before and after.

My heart aches for the picture she paints of the results of O'Toole's negligence and verbal abuse upon her own self-esteem. However, Phillips appears also to have been blessed by many strong friendships and fairly solid family relationships - expectedly fractious at times with mother and eldest daughter, but in the end not disastrous. Writing this with a few decades of experience behind her, she seems to have arrived at both self-knowledge and perspective.

And she tells very good stories! John Gielgud features in a number of them, as well as Tennessee (Tom!) Williams, Edith Evans, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor - and her three cats. There were a number of hair-raising trips with O'Toole, one involving a trip by helicopter to the top of Angel Falls through and over very unfriendly and unforgiving terrain, and a visit, against all advice, with an isolated indigenous people in South America. Phillips appears to have taken great joy in making living spaces and gardens, and she remembers with remarkable vividness the details of her various homes and their renovations and decorations.

The photos, too, are good, one featuring her mounted atop a camel during the filming of "Lawrence" looking entirely queenly.

With O'Toole's fairly recent death, there will be a lot of biographical material published, and no doubt much of it will be "dude" celebration of the drinking days. Good to have a different, and authoritative, perspective.