Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Book Review: Truly, Madly by Stephen Galloway

Pages: 416
Genre: Biography
Pub. Date: March 22, 2022
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "A sweeping and heartbreaking Hollywood biography about the passionate, turbulent marriage of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. 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. Vivien and Larry were two of the first truly global celebrities – their fame fueled by the explosive growth of tabloids and television, which helped and hurt them in equal measure. They seemed to have it all and yet, in their own minds, they were doomed, blighted by her long-undiagnosed mental-illness, which transformed their relationship from the stuff of dreams into a living nightmare. Through new research, including exclusive access to previously unpublished correspondence and interviews with their friends and family, author Stephen Galloway takes readers on a bewitching journey. He brilliantly studies their tempestuous liaison, one that took place against the backdrop of two world wars, the Golden Age of Hollywood and the upheavals of the 1960s — as they struggled with love, loss and the ultimate agony of their parting. "


Everyone has heard of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, but do they really know the ups and downs of their lives? In Truly, Madly, Galloway starts with Leigh and Olivier's childhoods and explores how their experiences impacted their adulthood.  Both Leigh and Olivier had unique childhoods with a few situations that shed some light on their behavior as adults.  The biography also explores how they met, their affair, their subsequent marriage, the movies they acted in both together and apart, as well as all that ensued.  Galloway takes us through the Golden Age of Hollywood up to the 1960s and Leigh's illness that eventually led to her untimely death.  Galloway also highlights their acting career, the ups and downs in Hollywood, as well as the political climate throughout the years and how that influenced their lives.   Stephen Galloway's Truly, Madly is a sensational Hollywood biography that is sure to entertain.

I have always admired Vivien Leigh as an actress, so it was wonderful to learn more about her childhood and young adulthood in Truly, Madly.  She was born in India, spent her childhood at a boarding school in England, and in turn, felt neglected. This obviously impacted her personality.  As time went on, slowly aspects of her mental illness would emerge, but she seemed to have most of the behaviors under control. Once she became a popular actress, she would struggle with it even more and many thought she was difficult to work with. Galloway takes us to the various sets of Leigh's movies, gives us some details regarding her experiences, and well as her emotional state. Leigh went undiagnosed with her bipolar disorder for years, so it broke me heart that she couldn't get the help she most desperately needed as well as escape the stigma of a mental illness. Leigh desperately wanted to keep Olivier's love that she underwent several rounds of electroshock therapy to "improve" herself. It's heartbreaking, really, and I like that in this biography Leigh isn't cast as some "crazy" woman. Towards the end of her life, she was obviously sick and needed medical attention.

I think knowing what this generation knows about bipolar and manic depression, we can better understand Leigh through a modern lens and appreciate her even more. She held it together without much help for so long and obviously the one person for the most part in her life that kept her motivated was Lauren Olivier.  During their marriage, Leigh suffered a few miscarriages, so obviously that contributed to her depression. Both Leigh and Olivier also didn't stay faithful to one another and as the years went by and I could see that their relationship was very complex and very tumultuous. Galloway truly brought their relationship to light, so much so that I forgot I was reading a biography at times. It was very dishy, but it was respectful to the actors and it also highlighted the different time periods, the politics, and how that impacted these two larger-than-life actors.

The sections about Olivier's life before and after Leigh were also interesting in Truly, Madly. I did not know as much about him, so it was intriguing.  He dominated the British stage for quite awhile, and it was interesting to see how that would tie into Leigh's interest in the stage as well versus Hollywood movie sets, which they both didn't enjoy.  His ability to perform Shakespeare was captivating as well as his talent in the theater. However, Olivier had his ups and downs as well when it came to his career and love life.  Despite all of his success (he was knighted by the queen!) and Leigh's stardom, it wasn't enough to keep both of them satisfied, at least at the same time.

If you are a movie buff, you will especially appreciate the details in Truly, Madly about the Golden Age of Hollywood and all the background information about the various successful movies, such as Gone with the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire, Rebecca, and more.  In addition to bringing their marriage to life, Truly, Madly also details the actors' lives on movie sets, their methods, and the drama that unfolded, especially when filming Gone with the Wind.  Fans of Old Hollywood will definitely enjoy this aspect of the biography.

So, if you are looking for a biography to get lost in that will entertain, but also inform you about a time now gone forever, look no further. I recommend Truly, Madly to movie buffs, Old Hollywood fans, or anyone curious about these two spectacular movie stars.

Are you a fan of Hollywood biographies? Is Truly, Madly on your TBR list? Let me know in the comments below.




  1. This does sound like a wonderful biography. Old Hollywood is always such an interesting time to read about.


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