March 04, 1991 12:00 PM

by Rex Harrison

We’re in luck, Harrison fans! Sir Rex (he was knighted three years ago) seems in this book to have dropped by to chat. And good company he is—droll, opinionated, his tartness relieved by flashes of tenderness.

Between his debut, at 16, in repertory theater in Liverpool, and a “rapturous reception” 65 years later onstage in Somerset Maugham’s The Circle in New York City, Sir Rex notes all the major career events: the 1936 London production of French Without Tears that made him a star; the New York City stage successes of Anne of the Thousand Days and Bell, Book and Candle; such films as Major Barbara and Vie Foxes of Harrow. And, of course, his creation, on stage and screen, of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady.

He speaks at length of working with Alan Jay Lerner, Fritz Loewe and Moss Hart-lyricist, composer and director of My Fair Lady—to create the sing-speak technique required for an actor with no gift for song. He also reports on the painstaking shaping of the show, the Broadway run, the making of the film. Fascinating, all of it.

No modesty constrains Sir Rex. He cites admiring reviews often, vents displeasure boldly: In The Agony and the Ecstasy, Charlton Heston was “too wooden.” Charles Laughton was inconveniently large: “You couldn’t share a shot with Charles, there was no room.” The Duke and Duchess of Windsor: “I once had [them] to lunch…. she was awful, and totally unfeminine, and he was excessively stupid.”

About his six marriages, Sir Rex is on the whole discreet. Three of them, one to Lilli Palmer, rate little more than names and dates. About actress Rachel Roberts, he is downright bitchy: “Left wing…drunk and disorderly behavior…suicidally depressed.” But he is moving about actress Kay Kendall, whom he married knowing she was terminally ill and lost to cancer two years later. From 1979 on, however, he seemed content with No. 6, Mercia Tinker.

Sir Rex says diet, exercise and steady employment keep old age at bay. “You’ve probably been wondering,” he says, preparing to leave, “how I manage to totter on at the advanced age of eighty-two…. I do have a strong motivation for keeping fit—I want to go on working as long as I can.”

We remember suddenly, shocked, that Sir Rex died last summer, of cancer. He was not yet 83, and was just putting the finishing touches to this book. We knew, of course. All this lively reminiscing just made us forget. (Bantam, $21.95)

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