Read Blessings in Disguise by Alec Guinness Online


The cast list of distinguished actors who have become distinguished authors is short, and indeed as far as my own reading goes, I can't think of anyone who rivals Sir Alec Guinness as both an actor of the utmost distinction and a writer of uncommon literary achievement. 'Blessings in Disguise', which was originally published in 1986, is Sir Alec s autobiography. It is a prThe cast list of distinguished actors who have become distinguished authors is short, and indeed as far as my own reading goes, I can't think of anyone who rivals Sir Alec Guinness as both an actor of the utmost distinction and a writer of uncommon literary achievement. 'Blessings in Disguise', which was originally published in 1986, is Sir Alec s autobiography. It is a profoundly rich, subtly delineated series of sketches of self and others (among the latter, internationally famous British actors such as Gielgud and Richardson)....

Title : Blessings in Disguise
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ISBN : 9781585790319
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 264 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Blessings in Disguise Reviews

  • Gary Inbinder
    2019-05-19 23:38

    The memoir, for the most part, covers approximately 50 years (1930-1980) of the life and career of one of Britain’s greatest actors. It begins with scenes from a Dickensian childhood—a mostly absent mother, a despised Army officer step-father, frequent moves one step ahead of creditors, and boarding schools. The narrative also jumps around, from childhood, to middle-age, back to youth, and then to middle and the beginning of old age, and includes a spiritual journey running parallel to the actor’s career. It also includes an interesting hiatus from acting during WWII, when Guinness served as an officer in the Royal Navy.The narrative includes insightful observations on the acting profession, including distinctions made between more traditional and contemporary approaches to the craft, the differences between acting on stage and in film, the inconveniences and occasional dangers of working on location and in various venues. (Guinness may have come close to death or serious injury in films more times than he did as an LSI commander in WWII).The memoir includes reminiscences, and in some cases whole chapters devoted to great actors known to most readers, such as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and Edith Evans, or those who would now be known mainly to devotees of early to mid-twentieth century British theater, such as Ernest Milton and Martita Hunt.Regarding the title, Guinness gives examples of such “blessings,” and at least one is worth mentioning. During his first season at the Old Vic, the young and relatively unknown Guinness was given a character role in a major production. Ruth Gordon was brought in from America as leading lady. During their first read-through Ms. Gordon put down her script and called out to the director, Tony Guthrie, “Tony! Tony, I can’t act with this young man. Would you get another actor for the part, please?” She then suggested the flamboyant old character actor Ernest Thesiger to replace Guinness. Guthrie thought highly of Guinness, but he wouldn’t go against his star. Guinness was fired, and received only three pounds for his troubles. (He was promised seven pounds a week for the run of the play.)Young Alec Guinness was humiliated, devastated and what’s worse, broke. But one of his mentors, Dame Edith Evans consoled him with her support and good advice: “I’ve heard what happened this morning and I’m sorry. But you know, it’s probably just as well. You are not quite right for the part. In another ten years perhaps, but not now. I came down to tell you that I believe in you; Tony (Guthrie) believes in you—and I know Johnny Gielgud does. In ten years’ time you won’t be playing parts like Mr. Sparkish, unless you want to. By then you should have your name in lights, but, more importantly, you will be a good actor. That’s all. Good night.” Needless to say, Dame Edith was prophetic. This well-written memoir is highly recommended for Guinness admirers as well as anyone interested in the 20th century British theater and cinema.

  • GoldGato
    2019-04-25 03:59

    This first volume in the trio of memoirs by Alec Guinness ranks high on my list as one of the best memoirs I've read. The writing equates to the acting of Guinness...refined, detailed, absorbing. In fact, it wasn't until I first read this book that I became a fan of his film acting (usually it's the other way around). I even flew in to watch his last stage performance, which says something about his way with words.Enter EGO from the wings, pursued by fiends. Exit EGO.His very first chapter wastes little time explaining his confusion as to his true paternal parentage, his mother's violent marriage, and the characters he meets as a little boy.She was an impoverished Miss Havisham...there was no cobwebbed wedding-cake but under her bed she did have a partially-eaten rice pudding...He has a sense of humour throughout and he describes the heck out of everything. Very enjoyable. Along with David Niven's books, this is one of the few autobiographies I would ever consider re-reading.Book Season = Year Round (we shall not cease from exploration)

  • David
    2019-05-12 21:40

    Odd but charming memoir. Picked this up on a whim, don't remember where or when. Did not like it at first, so it sat around gathering dust for a while. But I knew it had to be interesting, because how could it not be? Eventually started reading it again and it held my interest. In the end, I enjoyed it, but still find it as odd as it is charming. You get some funny stories, and some touching ones, and a bit of a peek behind the scenes of theater and movies, but if you can make head or tail of it as a whole, please explain it to me.

  • Evan
    2019-05-13 04:56

    FINAL: OK, well, what I wrote before still holds. This was a pleasant, witty, observant autobiography, though perhaps it's more about what's going on around Guinness than inside his head. Some people might find it shallow; the man was an awfully conventional and level-headed stiff-upper-lip sort of chap. But the era he documents fascinates me, and the portraits he draws (in literary terms) of the primadonna theatrical eccentrics around him are delicious. He doesn't stick to a rigid linear chronological narrative, but rather goes from thought to thought, batting things around in different eras---but he always pursues each thought to its conclusion. I rather like this way of writing; it assumes the reader already knows something (which in this case, I do) but also doesn't torture us in having to wait for the chronological event to be finished up later in the book. I enjoyed the section also about his service as a naval ship commander in the Mediterranean in WWII. Some of it sounds like the comedy of errors material that could easily have served as grist for any of the many Ealing Studios comedy classics in which he starred in the late '40s and early '50s. There also are interesting anecdotes about the making of the 1967 film, The Comedians, adapted by Graham Greene himself from his novel, which in and of itself is of great interest to me because "The Comedians" is a favorite novel of mine and the movie is a fascinating misfire. All in all, a great summer read.---(earlier comments:)The late Sir Alec Guinness was in many great movies, but there are three that I adore him for: 1949's "Kind Hearts and Coronets" and 1950's "The Lavender Hill Mob" -- my favorite two of the ironic and witty Ealing Studios comedies of the '40s and 50s (back when they knew how to write smart comedy) -- and 1960's "Tunes of Glory," in which he plays a bastard bully Scottish officer, Jock Sinclair. "Tunes of Glory" is intelligent, literate, emotionally tart adult drama with the kind of gravitas that really no longer exists in movies. Anyway, there were two masterful performances given in 1960: Guinness in this film, and Lawrence Olivier (later Lord) as washed-up music hall performer Archie Rice in "The Entertainer" (another example of extinct adult film drama). Either one of them should have won the Academy Award for best actor of 1960 but didn't (Olivier was nominated; Guinness wasn't; in any case, both had won statuettes previously).I digress at the outset, in order to justify why I'd want to read an autiobiography of Guinness. As it happened, the man wrote several, at least three that I know of, and I only know this because those three showed up on the clearance shelf for $2 apiece at Half Price Books in the last few days.This one is the earliest of those, and it whisks us back effortlessly to Guinness' sort-of Dickensian boyhood and his early brushes with the early 20th century British theater. But first, the great actor apologizes, refreshingly, for the embellishments of his Ego; he disarms and charms the reader right off the bat. The wit sparkles from the first sentence and the storytelling is free and deft and smooth as silk. He knows how to stick to a chronology but not rigidly so, unlike most stilted biographers today, so that he manages to complete a thought but not belabor the point -- telling us about a person's later life while he relates their earlier days. There's great satisfaction in this approach and genuine regard for the reader in it. Guinness was an actor who wrote better than 99 percent of people who call themselves writers.We're introduced early on to eccentrics and theater folk who took the young Guinness to their hearts and wings; marvelous stories of a washed-up old recluse who once entertained, so she claimed, before Russian royals (Guinness calls her a Mrs. Havisham; he doesn't much pretend to hide the Dickens influences and atmosphere he uses to frame the tale; his first major role was as Pocket in the 1946 version of "Great Expectations," after all). And then there's the story of how his roses sent to the renowned stage actress Sybil Thorndike got him an exclusive peek backstage to see how thunder and rain special effects were made -- with Thordike herself turning the metallic crank. I'm very early into the book and already it's an intoxicating, winning and utterly irresistible read by the kind of man who must have been an amazing dinner conversationalist (or monologuist, for who would do anything other than listen?). I'm already confident enough in this to give it five stars. PAGE 77: "'Measure for Measure', with Charles Laughton, Flora Robson and James Mason was the finest evening of Shakespeare I had as yet experienced..."This actually makes me damn-near weep to think about: Laughton, Robson and Mason on the same stage at the same time. It makes me pissed that we will never see anything like this again, and that I never saw it...

  • Gina Dalfonzo
    2019-04-24 05:03

    Alec Guinness was as gifted a writer as he was an actor, and that's saying something. Shining through this memoir are his great wit, his humility (rare in a star of his magnitude!), and his gift for seeing the good in almost everyone -- a fortunate gift for him, because some of the people he knew were absolute horrors. There was the poet who refused to speak to him for two years after he said he liked Beethoven; the actress who declared she couldn't act with him and got him fired from his first leading role; the actor who decked him as he walked through a door, just because he (the decker) was in a bad mood. Sir Alec treats most of these as little more than amusing quirks. I'd probably be on the psychiatrist's couch, sobbing and tearing my hair out. But his friendships were deeply important to him -- made clear in the lovely last line ("Of one thing I can boast; I am unaware of ever having lost a friend") -- and he was able to see the big picture with these people, and balance the good and the bad. His generous, affectionate, and forgiving spirit taught me some things that will be helpful in my own life and relationships.His description of actress Edith Evans is typical: "When I think of her now . . . my mind see-saws between gratitude for what she was, her enormous generosity in big things, and exasperation at her meanness in small ones, amusement at her egocentricity, reverence for her artistry, and astonishment at her occasional lapses into artistic blindness, which almost amounted to dishonesty. If I think of, and record, a pettiness or silliness in Edith's behaviour, I can always cheerfully outweigh it with five times as many actions of human warmth, affection and wisdom. . . . Let me put two of her different sides back to back, so to speak, like bookends and then cap her large, generous action with the gesture of beautiful thoughtfulness and kindness she showed me."And he enjoys telling a good story on himself as well as on others. Some of his stories of theatrical mishaps and wartime blunders made me laugh aloud.Guinness doesn't even attempt to tell this story in any kind of order. Chapters are organized around various people who were important to him, with a couple of exceptions (there's one chapter on his conversion to Catholicism, and another on his war service). He jumps back and forth in time, and from place to place, stringing together anecdotes haphazardly. You'll get several pages about his experiences in Cuba, and then all of a sudden we're in Spain, by way of Ireland. By the same token, he'll suddenly plop down a character in the midst of his narrative, and not get around to introducing him or her until later. But I got used to all of this quickly, and the book as a whole was so enjoyable, it didn't bother me. This book heightened my appreciation for Alec Guinness as an actor, a writer, a Christian, and a human being. It must have been a joy to know him. All those friends were very blessed indeed.

  • Elyse Hayes
    2019-04-27 20:38

    Charming, self-effacing autobiography. A delightful read. Chock full of amusing anecdotes about famous and not-so-famous and often eccentric people he knew. Covers his early years, his stint in the Navy, as well as his acting career. I very much enjoyed this book, and his "voice," but I was a little disappointed, because I was hoping he would share his conversion (to Roman Catholicism) story. He only mentioned religion fleetingly. Looking forward to reading the other autobiographical works he wrote (My Name Escapes Me is the one after this).

  • Anup Sinha
    2019-05-10 02:58

    I love Alec Guinness but I admittedly didn't get a lot out of his book. Had I been familiar with the theater scene in England during his youth, I am sure I would have enjoyed it more but I ended up skimming most of it. He didn't talk much about his big movies that I wanted to hear about and his writing style is pretty dry.

  • Tim Ganotis
    2019-04-22 01:42

    Not my favorite. This is the second Guinness autobiography I've read, and I want to like him, but he just comes across as a grouchy, picky, old man. I couldn't care less about his theater experiences in the 1930s (or British theater in general), though his wartime stories and later film parts were interesting. A decent book, but not for me.

  • David
    2019-05-04 23:03

    Totally charming memoirs, but NOT an autobiography. Mostly reflections on people he's known through the years. Lots of information on Guinness, but mostly in context of his relationships with other people. Very little info on his movie career -- just about 25 pages.

  • Neal Alexander
    2019-05-11 22:01

    A Radio 4 portrait of Alec Guinness claimed that he used to humiliate his wife in front of house guests, and that he opened a celebratory bottle of champagne after his mother’s funeral. So I was surprised by how much time I had for him by the end of this book. Not least because of his navy service in WWII: getting a landing craft across the Atlantic in winter, never mind taking it - and its successor after being shipwrecked in a storm - through two years of combat.Although not always sympathetic – he admits a fondness for the ‘bitchy remark’ – he does makes himself the butt of several stories. Like the theatre director telling him he was no actor and to get off the f-ing stage, or, when out to see a play, proud of his new officer’s uniform, being handed a ticket by a lady who thought was a commissionaire.This makes some trumpet-blowing acceptable. Like an argument which Peggy Ashcroft had about him with a director of a production of The Seagull. She’d commented on how Guinness made the audience believe he was pulling on a real rope when just miming. The director pooh-poohed, saying that of course there was a real rope. There wasn’t. It’s hard to disagree with him about acting. Here he’s sympathizing with Alan Bennett’s hatred of ‘great acting’. “I know what he meant: the self-importance, the authoritative central stage position, the meaningless pregnant pause, the beautiful gesture which is quite out of character, the vocal pyrotechnics, the suppression of fellow actors into dummies who just feed, and the jealousy of areas where the light is brightest, above all the whiff of, ‘You have come to see me act, not to watch a play.’”In 1955, arriving jetlagged in LA for his first Hollywood film, he couldn’t get a restaurant table till a young actor took pity on him and invited him to join his group. In the car park, the young actor couldn’t resist pointing out his new gift-wrapped sports car. “In a voice I could hardly recognise as my own” Guinness prophesied that he would die within four weeks if he drove it. Which he did: James Dean, of course.

  • Joseph R.
    2019-05-21 00:39

    Two things drew me to read this book. One is Alec Guinness's conversion to Catholicism. The other is his work on films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and (of course) Star Wars. So naturally I am interested in his autobiography.The book is a little odd in its structure. Each chapter covers an event (like his early childhood with just a mom or his conversion or his service in World War II) or a person important in his life. Many of the people were friends from the 1930s and 1940s, so the chapters often cover the same time span but with different stories. The book is a little choppy and definitely weighted towards his younger days.In his younger days he was focused on theater acting. Films were a nice side bonus but most of his work was on the stage. The stories are about fellow actors, though the famous ones (Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, etc.) are mostly side characters; other more personal friends are his focus. They are all interesting enough but I doubt I will remember them.Guinness's film career has passing mentions throughout the book (for example, the director David Lean is referenced several times but only one or two small stories are told). I'm much more familiar with that part of his work, so I was a little disappointed not to hear more about film makers and film craft. Also, Star Wars is barely mentioned, mostly as a well-paying job. The part of his career I am most interested in was not given any depth or expansion.His conversion is discussed primarily in one chapter, but bits of the story (including the conversion of other friends) crop up in other chapters. He ends the book by saying his proudest claim is that he never lost a friend. Maybe that is the true unifying thread in the book--the important thing in his life is the blessings he's had through the people he's encountered. I'd probably appreciate the book more if I'd read it with that expectation rather than my own.

  • Simon Mcleish
    2019-05-22 01:52

    Originally published on my blog here in September 2000.All too often actors' anecdotes amount to "You should have seen me in (whatever). I was wonderful." Alec Guinness, however, carries the opposite approach to such an extreme in his memoirs that you wonder how he ever became a success. His humility sometimes comes over as a little affected, but does at least leave room for him to write positively about many of his colleagues, legends of the twentieth century theatre and film.Rather than opting for a straightforwardly chronological approach, Blessings in Disguise is organised in a thematic manner. Most of the "themes" are accounts of his relationships with particular people, such as Ralph Richardson, though one of the longest sections is about the way in which his religious convictions evolved until he was received into the Catholic church.My major criticism of Blessings in Disguise as a memoir of Alec Guinness is that it concentrates on his stage acting to the almost total exclusion of his film roles. Given that vastly more people have seen just one of the films in which he appeared (Star Wars) than will ever have seen him on stage, and given the esteem in which his film acting is held, this is to be regretted. To take the example just cited, Star Wars is mentioned only once in the book, in the context of an imaginary interview in which Alec Guinness says that it effectively means he could be reasonably comfortable for the rest of his life. Interesting issues such as what he thought of George Lucas - and even more with reference to other films, what he thought of David Lean, with whom he famously fell out - are ignored.On the whole, I enjoyed the anecdotes (though the early sections are a bit difficult to get through), but would have preferred a more balanced account of the life and personality of one of the twentieth century's greatest actors.

  • ^
    2019-05-12 00:34

    A keenly observed life of a very talented but modest man (b.1914 d.2000). Before reading this book I had known nothing of his peripatetic childhood from which his inner ambition to act was formed and nurtured. The social pictures Guinness paints of pre-WW2 family and theatrical life (he was ‘signed on’ at the Old Vic, London) in Southern Britain are fascinating; reading as a role call of the famous. That role call (too many names to mention here) continued well into the era of film. His versatility is well exemplified by the eight roles he played in Kind Hearts & Coronets (1949) through to his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy (1977 onwards). I was greatly cheered to read of his unstinting admiration for the work of the late Ronnie Barker (who, like Alec Guinness, was a master of timing).Guinness tells his story with a wonderful dry, self-deprecating sense of humour, and a keen sense of timing. He does not shy away from describing what he accepted and what he did not accept in his Christian faith, but also mentions inexplicable episodes such as when, in 1955, acting in his first Hollywood film, he meets James Dean who he warns not to get into his shiny new sports car. The following Friday, Dean dies in a driving accident.This is the first of three volumes of his autobiography. The other two were published much later: My Name Escapes Me in 1996, and A Positively Final Appearance in 1999.

  • Thordur
    2019-05-03 01:46

    This book is about the famous actor Alec Guinness. Actually today he is most famous today for a role in Star Wars. There are two lines about Star Wars in this book and about what happened to the salary for that movie. Anyway, this book tells you about stage acting and actors long gone. There is very little about movie-acting. What you find out here is that Alec was a soldier in WWII and never went to real battle, that he never knew his actual father and was most of his life wondering about who he was actually, and that he met James Dean a week before he died and told him not to drive that car (J.D. should have listened to that warning).This is a book for people who love theaters. So much about stage acting here.

  • Kathleen Basi
    2019-05-16 03:42

    We don't often think of actors as good writers, but Alec Guinness was. This memoir is threaded with light humor and frequent digs at himself. In each chapter he chooses an influential person or episode in his life to expand upon, and thus the book is not chronological, but more like a nice cozy chat with an old friend. It's testament to his gift for storytelling that I found his stories engrossing, even when they were about people I'd never heard of. This is a chance to get a peek into the mind of an entertainer from an entirely different era, one who hobnobbed with all the royalty of Hollywood's golden age, but seems somehow to have remained grounded and utterly ordinary--in the best sense. I very much enjoyed reading this book.

  • Edward O'Neill
    2019-05-21 00:45

    Gorgeous prose, precious memories.Guinness adores great writing, and it shows in his own carefully crafted, delightful impressions of the people, places and times he lived through.Great actors, small actors, admirals, sailors, royals--they're all here.You can see in Guiness's prose why he was a character actor: the observation of detail, the understanding of the person in his world, the habits, the dispositions, the gestures.This book also powerfully recounts Guinness's conversion to Catholicism--so it has a special use for those interested in religious conversion as a psychological (and human) phenomenon.

  • Surreysmum
    2019-04-24 04:48

    I liked the structure of this - either a person (Sybil Thorndike, Edith Evans) or a theme/period in Guinness' life (his service in the Navy, for instance) gets a chapter. It does, of course, allow him entirely to omit whole parts of his career (most of his film work, for instance, which he seems for the most part to have undertaken for the money. Star Wars is mentioned exactly once, in that context).Engagingly written, and another voice in that highly interesting chorus of voices from the Gielgud/Olivier era. On to the permanent shelf it goes.

  • Korynn
    2019-05-15 02:59

    Alec Guinness is kind enough to reveal a little of his early home life before he becomes disgusted with his ego (which he introduces in a funny self-efacing introduction) and goes on to support the egos of people he admired, such as John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier and other folks only Anglophiles would know of. Sir Guinness also details a bit of his life during world war II and somewhat dismisses whatever discomfort his wife suffered during that period raising their child without him. Overall, written dryly but with tender humor.

  • Faith Hough
    2019-04-28 03:02

    I loved how he lived his faith, and his honest grumblings about his own failings. It's rare to find a good storyteller who can highlight the humor intrinsic in our human nature without ever seeming to complain about anyone else (except priests who give bad homilies, and I'm with him on that ;).On a secondary note, if you want to know how an introvert thinks, read this. (I'm pretty sure he was an INFJ, for you personality geeks like me.)

  • Stan Vukajlovich
    2019-05-11 03:54

    This book was given to me by Sue. I was very interested in learning more about Alec and I really enjoyed that part of the book. But the book focuses on his stage acting part of his career which was very interesting to read about and I can now understand what formed his unique character as an actor. It contained personal information about all these play actors I never heard of before and it often made me want to stop reading it but I'm very glad I did get through it.

  • H.Friedmann
    2019-05-02 03:37

    The focus of this autobiography is not so much the author, but the people in the author's life. Each chapter is devoted to describing various characters he has known, the author's own life on stage and screen being no more then a backdrop to these scenes, and while the telling is mostly linear, it often jumps forward in time to tell of his last encounters with them. All in all an engaging read, and different from other autobiographies I have read.

  • ^
    2019-05-02 04:52

    I very much enjoyed listening to Alec Guinness reading this; but as my only cassette player is in the car, I tended to miss bits when it was more important that I paid attention to the road, my driving, and other road users!I must have listened through some four times over several weeks to make sure that I caught everything; even though I've previously read, and enjoyed, the book (so knew the 'storyline'.

  • Kienie
    2019-05-18 21:39

    Well, this only took forever. I liked the individual stories, but they seemed like the sort to be shared with friends over dinner, not to be put in a book. Oh, they're well written, but there is a certain distance. I have no knowledge of most of the people and many of the plays he names, and while I can google everyone, it seemed futile after a point. This is someone's well written and casually interesting diary. But I wasn't really sucked in into their world. It remained a mystery to me.

  • Bill
    2019-05-04 01:33

    Impressed that Guinness seemed more interested in writing about his colleagues than himself, though I would have liked to read more about his great Ealing comedies. It was predictable that he didn't think much of Star Wars, other than the money. Less predictable that he'd start his memoir with an account of his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

  • Andrea
    2019-05-18 01:40

    As a child, I fell in love with Alec Guinness in his old movies. Reading his memoir was like discovering a sweet love note to his theatre days at the Old Vic, the fascinating actors he knew and loved, and especially his hilarious accounts of Edith Evans and Edith Sitwell. He was a man of humor and charm, humility, and a bloody fine writer.

  • Michael Kraft
    2019-05-08 21:47

    He was always aloof in his acting. But every role he played was great. He's done the same this first part of his autobiography. He doesn't always reveal a lot about himself, but he makes all around him seem great. His book is well written.

  • Tom
    2019-05-20 23:01

    Great getting some insight into eccentric thespians of yesteryear, however there is far too much reference to Catholicism, which bores me and took some of the edge off, not that this book is in the slightest bit edgy, but if that's your thing, WINNER.

  • Gavin
    2019-04-28 02:43

    Guinness published two volumes of diaries and this memoir. Of the three this memoir is far superior to the diaries, which I found a little dull. It is also an interesting period piece in its way, with anecdotes about many stage and screen legends.

  • Max Wilson
    2019-05-05 22:33

    Alec Guiness was a very intelligent, possibly very kind man. He was, of course, a superb actor. His autobiography, however, reminds me that I need to publish mine anonymously. It reads like a stack of postcards.

  • Gretchen
    2019-05-11 23:39

    Obi Wan, you know. Really an excellent, interesting biography, written BEFORE his Best Supporting nod for 'Litte Dorrit', so there's a lot of his life not included. Still, it's interesting, and he writes well.