What Can We Learn From Celebrity Past Couples?

If you think rocky celebrity unions (and the public’s obsession with them) are a contemporary phenomenon, here’s Stephen Galloway’s bestselling book about celebrity marriage. Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh will tell you otherwise.

“They were as famous lovers as Burton and Taylor or Bogie and Bacall, but their love seemed closer to hate,” writes the former editor-in-chief of The Hollywood Reporter.really crazyBorn just five days before the Oscars,” came just five days before another high-profile couple took the hot-blooded seat. “They seemed to have everything; and yet in their own minds they were doomed to a mental illness that transformed their relationship from dream to nightmare.

Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder, which later became known as manic depression (she was diagnosed by the same psychoanalyst who, according to Gore Vidal, advised Tennessee Williams to give up both writing and sex so she could “become a good team player”). As our critic noted, Galloway is “the first author to combine this often-told story with interpretations by contemporary mental health professionals”, which brings new sensibility to the comprehensive analyzes of the Olivier-Leigh alliance.

“People thought Vivien was crazy and alcoholic,” Galloway said in a phone call. “They certainly didn’t sympathize with the fact that he had a very serious illness that changed his behavior.”

What was it like being a detective on the trail of someone else’s relationship for four and a half years? “It was fascinating,” said Galloway, who was fascinated by Olivier’s archives at the British Library and Leigh’s at the Victoria and Albert Museum. “At the same time, you ask yourself morally, am I doing the right thing? Is it legitimate to publish and not just access your most private letters?”

As for what he discovered about love by digging through his treasures of old correspondence and diaries—the kind of hard-copy trail that a future biographer of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, for example, wouldn’t find—Galloway was thoughtful. “What you learned is tragic,” he said. “How, even in the biggest, most consuming attraction, a little bit of sand in an oyster can turn into a black pearl. How, if you’re not careful, little things can be built and built until this rock falls and ruins the relationship. I don’t know how it hinders it. It’s a cautionary lesson.”

Elisabeth Egan is editor at Book Review and author of “A Window Opens.”

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