In G.B.S. AND THE LUNATIC (Atheneum, $6.95) LAWRENCE LANGNER describes his dealings with Bernard Shaw in the course of the Theatre Guild’s production of Shaw’s plays. The mere list of these plays is astonishing; the Guild did all the best ones and a number of others that have never received any great regard from either critics or public. Some of the productions were highly successful; others were flat failures. According to Langner, the Guild never made a nickel of profit on either type, although Shaw, who was a canny and stubborn businessman, infallibly did. Shaw also wrote constantly to his producers letters of advice, complaint, objection, refusal, encouragement, and courtly abuse, depending on the success or failure of the current play and the suggestions of Langner and the Guild in regard to it. He was adamant against cuts (invariably desired by Langner), against opening just before a presidential election (he was, Langner concedes in retrospect, quite right on this), and against writing random trifles for publicity purposes. It is almost pitiful to see Langner, twenty years after his first collision with the inflexible Shaw, still pleading hopefully for permission to shorten a slow second act and being peremptorily forbidden to cut a single sacred word. The book ends with a long, often amusing account of the making of the musical comedy My Fair Lady. It is typical of Langner’s innocence and optimism that he believed Shaw would have loved this transformation of Pygmalion, although everything in this book demonstrates that nothing made Shaw madder than having people tinker with his plays.
GOD’S OWN JUNKYARD (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $4.50, cloth; $2.95, paper), by PETER BLAKE, is by intention a horrid picture book. Its subtitle is “The planned deterioration of America’s landscape,” and while Mr. Blake’s peppery text and carefully chosen photographs of billboards, junkyards, and slums do not prove the planning, they prove the deterioration with no possible shadow of doubt. The thing is a hair-raiser. In THE WORLD OF THE PAST (Knopf, $20.00, 2 vols. boxed) JACQUETTA HAWKES has assembled selections from the writings of archaeologists, observers, travelers — anybody, in short, who has got down on paper something worth reading about the remote past. The amount of literary digging that must have gone into this editing is depressing to calculate, but the result is admirably varied coverage of every phase and area of archaeology. Miss Hawkes’s own introduction to the collection is as well worth reading as anything in these two handsome books.
CARLO CASSOLA’S novels are reportedly very popular in Italy, and one can see why. His latest, AN ARID HEART (Pantheon, $4.95), is based on the uncertainties of young people confronted by the partial breakdown of the old formal rules of chaperonage and arranged marriage, a breakdown which permits individuals to take new liberties and make new decisions, but punishes them by the same old rules if their decisions turn out to be wrong. Evidently this social ambiguity is a real problem in Italy, where Mr. Cassola’s novel must have a direct bearing on the experience of a good many readers. How much the book can mean to non-Italian readers is questionable. An Arid Heart is a sound, sensible book of the kind that does not travel well.
Except that copying is strictly forbidden, FURMTURE OF CLASSICAL GREECE (Knopf, $20.00) rather resembles those books of cabinetmakers’ designs published in the eight-1 eenth century. It is the work of the designer, decorator, and satirist T. H. ROBSJOHN-GIBBINGS and his colleague, Carlton W. Pullin; and its effect is to arouse a violent yearning to own the light, sturdy, graceful wood and leather pieces that Mr. Robsjohn-Gibbings has spent thirty years reconstructing from antique representations. Mr. Robsjohn-Gibbings’ account of getting his furniture photographed against proper Greek settings is amusing as well as informative.
Art books need not be expensive to be good is the boast of the publishers of 150 MASTERPIECES OF DRAWING (Dover, $2.00), selected by ANTHONY TONEY. This is perfectly true if one sticks to black and white and avoids living artists who might ask for a royalty. Pisanello to SaintAubin, and all very fine.