The Times once wrote of Simon: “Callow is not simply a terrific actor who happens to write - you could as well call him a terrific writer who happens to act.”
Simon has written acclaimed biographies of Charles Laughton and Orson Welles. He is currently at work on the third volume of his life of Welles. In addition he has written Being an Actor, Shooting the Actor, Love is Where it Falls, an account of his friendship with the great play agent Peggy Ramsay, and My Life in Pieces, an alternative journalistic autobiography. He has also written several shorter books: Shakespeare on Love, Oscar Wilde and His Circle, Dickens' Christmas, and The Night of the Hunter.
Simon’s latest book, Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World was published on the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth, the 7th February 2012, by HarperCollins. Get your copy here.
Using the Restoration comedy, "The Recluse" as a guide, Simon Callow discusses the techniques of acting in Restoration theatre. The book is based on the BBC Master Class series.
Few actors are more eloquent, honest or entertaining about their life and their profession than Simon Callow. Being an Actor traces his stage journey from the letter he wrote to Laurence Olivier that led him to his first job, to his triumph as Mozart in the original production of Amadeus. This new edition continues to tell the story of his past two decades onstage. Callow discusses his occasionally ambivalent yet always passionate feelings about both film and theatre, conflicting sentiments partially resolved by his acclaimed return to the stage with his solo performances in The Importance of Being Oscar and The Mystery of Charles Dickens, seen in the West End and on Broadway in 2002. Being an Actor is a guide not only to the profession but also to the intricacies of the art, told with wit, candour, and irrepressible verve by one if the great figures of the stage.
This edition is completely revised and expanded, with entirely new material detailing Callow's relationship with the theatre in the twenty years since Being an Actor first appeared.
"Acclaimed actor and writer Simon Callow captures the essence of Charles Dickens in a sparkling biography that explores the central importance of the theatre to the life of the greatest storyteller in the English language.
From his early years as a child entertainer in Portsmouth to his reluctant retirement from ‘these garish lights’ just before his death, Dickens was obsessed with the stage. Not only was he a dazzling mimic who wrote, acted in and stage-managed plays, all with fanatical perfectionism; as a writer he was a compulsive performer, whose very imagination was theatrical, both in terms of plot devices and construction of character.
Like many actors, Dickens felt the need to be completed by contact with his audience. He was the original ‘celebrity’ author, who attracted thousands of adoring fans to his readings in Britain and across the Atlantic, in which he gave voice to his unforgettable cast of characters.
In Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World, Callow brings his own unique insight to a life driven by performance and showmanship. He reveals an exuberant and irrepressible talent, whose ‘inimitable’ wit and personality crackle off the page.”
‘Callow writes with great authority and elegant insouciance, which makes this “biography with a twist” very entertaining.’ - The Independent on Sunday
‘Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World is a comprehensive biography as enthralling as one of his own performances’ - The Literary Review
This biography follows Charles Laughton from his parents' hotel in Scarborough to his climactic assumption of the role of King Lear in Stratford at the end of his life. The reader discovers a hugely talented and complex man, a legend in his own lifetime, who nonetheless counted himself a failure.
“Multi-talented Simon Callow, who has triumphantly brought Charles Dickens to audiences worldwide in his award-winning show The Mystery of Charles Dickens, now brings him to life on the page, lovingly re-creating the phenomenon of Christmas that fascinated the great novelist. From the ancient world of Christmas Past, Callow works his pleasurable way through a Victorian riot of wassail, plum pudding and mistletoe -- not forgetting Christmas as a time to remember those less fortunate. Packed with evocative illustrations, this literary Christmas cracker has as its novelty filling the complete text of A Christmas Carol, with a memorable cast including Ebeneezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, whose toast,'God bless us, every one!' will for ever sum up the spirit of Christmas.”
“A lovely marriage of author and subject Bookseller Simon Callow delights in a traditional Dickensian celebration - with all the jollity that it entailed.” - Good Book Guide
'The best theatrical memoir of our day' - Sunday Times
When Simon Callow first met Peggy Ramsay he could hardly have suspected that his encounter with the near-legendary play agent would blossom into passionate love. There was the age difference for one thing: Callow was barely 30, Peggy was in her seventies. And then there was Aziz, the handsome but mercurial Egyptian with whom Callow was already deeply in love. For the next eleven years, until her death in 1991, Peggy and Callow conducted their intensely exhilarating liaison in meetings and passionately unbridled letters. In this extraordinarily revealing memoir, Simon Callow tells the story of their unusual relationship in a book that captures the fiery intensity and reckless gestures, the bliss and the tenderness, as well as the anguish, of their love. A love which during its compulsive course was to reverberate with tragedy. In "Love Is Where It Falls", Callow paints a memorable portrait of a fascinating woman with the most graceful of touches. It is by turns moving, inspiring, funny, and heartbreaking - and a courageously intimate tribute.
"'This extraordinary memoir brilliantly evokes one of the most formidable and influential figures in recent British cultural history, Peggy Ramsay, muse, patron and scourge of the post-Look Back in Anger generation... Those of us who loved her will be astonished by the vivid accuracy of Simon Callow's portrait; but even those ignorant of her existence will surely be touched, fascinated and challenged' Christopher Hampton, Sunday Times
'Callow has allowed Peggy to play the leading role in this book and she emerges triumphantly: perceptive, funny, unexpected and passionately devoted to her truth about the art she loved the most' John Mortimer, Observer
Winner of the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography.
Drawing on a lifetime of writing about theatre and film, Callow takes us behind the curtain and behind the camera to introduce us to the performers and performances that have shaped him as an actor and as a public persona. They include giants like Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Tommy Cooper, Charles Laughton and Laurence Olivier. The book reconstructs the highlights of his career, including his breakthrough roles as the foul-mouthed Mozart in Amadeus, and as Reverend Beebe in the film of A Room With a View, at the personal insistence of producer Ismail Merchant. The pieces are interspersed with commentaries on pantomime, nudity, homosexuality, and the many other aspects of a rich and varied life, both on and off the stage.
“Callow's not simply a terrific actor who happens to write. You could as well call him a terrific writer who happens to act.” - The Times
“Essential... a gift for transforming personal experience into blazingly intelligent, objective, critical appreciation.” - Observer
“First rate... the best writer-actor we have.” - David Hare, The Guardian
“A brilliant biography of the young Orson Welles, from his prodigious childhood and youth, his triumphs with the Mercury Theatre, to the making of CITIZEN KANE. Vivid, vastly entertaining, this is the definitive Wells biography.”
“Now in paperback, Callow's vastly entertaining chronicle of Welles's first 26 years seems even finer than it did in 1995. The author's ability to skewer his subject's evasions and lies while retaining critical affection for him is perhaps explained by the fact that Callow, an actor himself, understands the need to mythologise. Welles's innovative theatrical work in the 1930s has never been better described or analysed. Even such oft-told sagas as the War of the Worlds broadcast and the filming of Citizen Kane gain new dimension from Callow's intelligent treatment.” - Christine Buttery
The Observer’s Book of the Year, this is the second volume of Callow’s biography of Orson Welles.
The reason for the decline of Orson Welles's career is a hotly debated issue, but decline it certainly did. When Citizen Kane, his first film, opened in 1941, Welles was universally acclaimed as the most audacious filmmaker alive. But instead of marking the beginning of a triumphant career in Hollywood, the film still regularly voted the greatest ever made proved to be an exception in Welles's life and work. In 1947 Welles left America for Europe and lived for the best part of twenty years in self-imposed exile. Welles himself famously quipped 'I started at the top and worked my way down' - the second volume of Simon Callow's compelling biography tells the story of that complex and protracted descent from grace.
`Includes the personal detail and humour needed to bring such a glamorous, witty figure into a sustained and compelling close-up' – The Observer
'Callow's prose is fruity and precise' – The Daily Telegraph
`It is...passionate engagement with his subject that drives and sustains histbiography... compels the reader to follow the abundant detail.' – The Guardian
`..is promising to be the longest as well as the most brilliant of recent film biographies' – The Sunday Times
'A gratifulingly detailed account of Welles's industry and imagination that makes you gasp.' - The Times
`such a vast canvas may seem excessive... but it pays huge dividends.' – The Independent
"Callow is a match for his subject in terms of showmanship but he has gifts of analysis that eluded Welles" – The Sunday Times
One of literature's most flamboyant and witty personalities, the much-quoted Oscar Wilde captivated London society with his works of drama, poetry and fiction. His sharp social observation coupled with his elegant writing style assured him popular success both in Britain and the USA. Wilde was a pioneer of celebrity whose contributions to intellectual and artistic life swiftly secured him a place in high society. His friends and contemporaries included Aubrey Beardsley, Lillie Langtry, James McNeill Whistler, Sir Max Beerbohm and Ernest Dowson, but Wilde is perhaps best known for the circumstances of his love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas ('Bosie'). The subsequent libel case against Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, and Wilde's own tragic imprisonment made him a social exile and was to be his downfall. In this perceptive appraisal of Wilde and his circle, Simon Callow brilliantly captures the spirit of one of Britain's most celebrated, but ultimately tragic, literary figures.
A selection of Shakespeare's work focusing on the theme of love. From the passion of the sonnets, the poignant balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet to the bewitched love scene between Titania and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, this anthology cuts across age and class, taboo and prohibition.
"If music be the food of love, play on," says the lovesick Orsino in Twelfth Night, and Callow provides plenty food for thought in his selections. In a short and pithy introduction he remarks that "in making the selection for this volume, I was struck by how widely the notion of love appears in Shakespeare's work, by no means solely confined to the amorous or the sexual sphere". As a result, interspersed among selections on "Falling in Love", "Love Gone Wrong", and "Love Embraced", we have "The Many Forms of Love", including love of a brother from Hamlet, love of children from Macbeth, and even love of dogs from The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The selections are also supplemented by Callow's wonderfully portentous thoughts on particular passages and characters, and the whole volume is illustrated with other 50 thoughtfully chosen Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings.” – Lucy Snowe
A companion volume to Being an Actor, Callow's classic text about the experience of acting in the theatre, Shooting the Actor reveals the truth about film acting. The book describes his film work, from Amadeus to Four Weddings and a Funeral, from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls to Shakespeare in Love. Its centrepiece is a hilarious and sometimes agonising account of the making of Manifesto, shot in the former Yugoslavia. When Callow first met the film's director Du-an Makavejev to discuss the movie, they both got on famously. Months later the two were barely speaking.
Insightful and always entertaining, Shooting the Actor reveals more than any formal guide could about the process of filmmaking and the highly complex nature of being both actor and director.
This is an examination of "The Night of the Hunter," Charles Laughton's only outing as a film director. It looks at the symbolism of the piece, at Willa, her throat cut sitting in the Model-T Ford, and the Preacher, a silhouetted threat on the horizon.
"Having written an empathic biography of Laughton, Callow revisits his movie for this luminous monograph, giving a clean, forward-moving account of its origins and creation." - Uncut