Laurence Olivier Letter


Readers of this blog may be interested to see this short and somewhat terse letter from Laurence Olivier to theatrical bookseller Barry Duncan. which recently came into my possession.
Olivier was indeed ‘fully occupied’, as he was then playing the lead role in the Old Vic production of King Lear, which he was also directing. The play was being performed at the New Theatre because the Old Vic had been damaged by bombs during the Blitz and did not reopen until 1950. The New Theatre (now renamed the Noel Coward Theatre) was almost next door to Duncan’s bookshop, although the SW1 postcode on the envelope (below) indicates that the letter was posted from elsewhere – although not the home he shared with Vivien Leigh, as Durham Cottage is situated in Chelsea’s Christchurch Street, SW3.
Duncan is best known now as the author of The St. James’s Theatre: its Strange & Complete History 1835–1957 (London: Barrie & Rockliff, 1964) but at this time he ran a bookselling business specialising in theatrical material and old prints.
The actor would be knighted a few months later, in May 1947. ​I have written about Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Anton Walbrook here, but for those wishing to read more I can strongly recommend this website.


Catty man: Olivier in 1946
Posted in All, Film, Theatre.


  1. I think it was quite nice of Olivier to write anything at all to this gentleman. He could have ignored the request altogether. I take exception to your statement that his missives were “characteristically brusque.”He was extraordinarily polite and gracious in his dealings and responded to people of all stripes and means.

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Elizabeth, which made me rethink the wording of my post. Although there is ample evidence that Olivier could be brusque (and worse adjectives have been used), he could indeed be polite and gracious too, and I agree it was unfair of me to misrepresent his character by ignoring any reference to this. Hopefully at some future date I will find time to write a blog post encompassing more of his rich life and remarkable career.

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