We gave it an A-
This brisk autobiography by the director Tony Richardson has to count as one of his triumphs—like the movies Tom Jones, The Entertainer, A Taste of Honey, and Mademoiselle, and stage productions including John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Chekhov’s The Seagull. But he apparently regarded The Long-Distance Runner: A Memoir (Morrow, $25) as one of the numerous disasters that the book itself nonchalantly describes. ”It’s shit and very boring but I’m doing it as a kind of exercise,” he told his daughter Natasha Richardson. In her foreword she says she found it, six years later, in a dusty cupboard in his Los Angeles house on the day he died of AIDS at age 63 in November ’91. So it’s not clear who chose the title, an allusion to The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, the novel by Alan Sillitoe that Richardson filmed and that helped define his generation of Angry Young Men in Britain during the ’50s.
This doesn’t seem to be a book about a lonely man. Like a lot of theatrical and Hollywood memoirs, it elbows its way through a crowd. The anecdotes—many slapstick, some poignant—star, among others, Osborne, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Yves Montand, Tallulah Bankhead, Tennessee Williams, John Gielgud, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, and Mick Jagger. There’s a lot of drinking, a lot of sulking, some nicely evoked moments of theatrical magic, and lots of aggressive eccentricity. Richardson is wistful about his ex-wife, Vanessa Redgrave (”always wonderful in her generosities, her impulsiveness, and her mistakes”), and rueful about his affair with Jeanne Moreau, which sabotaged his marriage to Redgrave.
There’s no introspection or brooding in the book, which was finished about the time his illness was diagnosed, and no hint in it of how he might have contracted AIDS. But the key to Richardson may lie in his lyrical description of the moors that surrounded the Yorkshire town where he grew up: ”They were the testing ground, the moors. From them came strength and independence and freedom.” The son of a pharmacist, Richardson escaped his drab and dutiful lower-middle-class background with less bitterness than many of his angry young contemporaries. He hated the British class system, which partly accounts for his love of America, where he eventually settled. But the iconoclasm in the book isn’t scorching—he defies cineasts by preferring color movies to black and white; he thinks the Hollywood studio films of the ’30s and ’40s are overrated; he dislikes San Francisco, Australians, Canadians, and the BBC. The dominant note is restlessness—as if he carried the lonely moors with him wherever he went, as if he were never running toward the crowds and triumphs but away from them. A-