... Read more
Now approaching her 60th birthday, Olivia Newton-John still exudes star power and timeless glamour. She has sold 60 million records around the world, topped the charts multiple times, and is known all over the world for her role as Sandy opposite John Travolta in Grease. But behind the successful singing and film career lies the story of a remarkable survivor. Olivia’s life has been repeatedly touched by trauma, heartache, personal tragedy, and her own life-threatening cancer. Tim Ewbank’s revealing biography charts the highs and lows of her career, and the personal crises that have affected her personal life—but never defeated her.
Customer Reviews (4)
Olivia A Biography
Been a fan of Olivia's since 1974. This is a must have for any fan of Olivia's.
Despite being a fan of Olivia's music, particularly her early folk / country music, I'd never really known much about her story until I bought this book. I was vaguely aware that Olivia had been on the music scene for a while prior to her 1971 debut album, and I knew that she didn't really make much impact after the monumental success of her Physical album from 1981, though I was familiar with some of her later music and I knew that she'd survived breast cancer. So when I saw this book, I was very interested but not at full price. When I eventually had the opportunity to buy a copy at a bargain price, I didn't hesitate.
When reading a celebrity biography, I always check to see what input the celebrity has. Conspicuously, although the author claims to have interviewed her twice, Olivia is absent from the list of credits. I therefore assume that neither of those interviews were in connection with the book, although the author probably made use of the material from those interviews. As things turn out, it doesn't seem to matter much. The author clearly respects Olivia and seems to have treated her fairly.
Although I knew that Olivia's life hadn't always been happy, I didn't realize just how much sadness she had to cope with. In her personal life, her parents divorced while she was still a child in an era when divorce was rare. As an adult, she had three miscarriages as well as breast cancer to cope with, all of which contributed to the breakdown of her first marriage. Later, one of her boyfriends vanished without trace, never to be seen again dead or alive. She had been a friend of Karen Carpenter, who died tragically young, then eventually had the worry of seeing her own daughter suffer the same illness, though she was able to overcome it after a long battle. One way or another, all these problems affected Olivia deeply, but while she sometimes considered quitting the music business altogether, she continues to record and perform as and when it suits her.
Like her personal life, her musical career has had its ups and downs. Olivia made plenty of good contacts in the London music business, particularly with Cliff Richard and the Shadows, before seizing what appeared to be a great opportunity to start her career in America as the lead singer of a manufactured pop group. Things didn't work out as planned so Olivia returned to London and soon afterwards began her solo career. The most productive years of her career are covered extensively, from her folksy early albums up to her 1985 album Soul kiss. Along the way, the author discusses the controversy that Olivia unwittingly caused in the world of country music. There is an unfortunate error in the book where the author mentions Jack Jones when he means George Jones at one point, though further down the same page he correctly specifies George. I didn't learn anything much from this particular chapter, although it reinforced my long-held belief that Olivia's brief incursion into the world of country music was hugely influential. If you're unfamiliar with this part of Olivia's story, it makes for fascinating reading.
Grease, in which Olivia co-starred with John Travolta, gets plenty of coverage. It certainly transformed Olivia's image in the minds of many people, but it is clear from the book that Olivia was never entirely happy with her previous goody-goody image. Despite its phenomenal success, Olivia never established herself as a Hollywood actress. Her next movie, Xanadu, yielded a successful soundtrack but the movie itself was a flop, although it has since apparently acquired cult status. After that, a movie that re-united her with John Travolta was a total flop. Although Olivia has acted in movies since then, her chances of Hollywood success have long since disappeared.
Olivia's last major commercial success was her 1981 album, Physical, which wasn`t connected to any movie.. Four years elapsed before the release of Soul kiss, which was not a success. Subsequent albums don't get a lot of coverage in this book. One of them (Back with a heart, Olivia's one-off return to country music in 1999) isn't mentioned at all except in the discography, while most of the others only get brief mentions. I would have liked more coverage of these albums, but I suspect that most people who read this book aren't all that bothered.
I suspect that this book may not tell the whole Olivia story, but maybe Olivia will eventually tell her own story. Meanwhile, I found it an interesting and entertaining read and, even despite some minor quibbles, have no hesitation in awarding it five stars.
The BEST biography out there about ONJ !
I would first like to address Mr. Bobby Morrow's review.
Terribly insensitive review.It's one thing to review a book for its content (or lack thereof), but to belittle Olivia Newton-John in the process serves no purpose.
Did you actually say that you presume the publishers may have shelved her own effort at a biography because she "droned on about cancer"?That's not just insensitive and cruel, it's also in very bad taste.
You're obviously a fan; otherwise you wouldn't know about the "turbulent" Kramer years--so why all the personal digs on what you perceive as Olivia's "blandness."Again, your comments are invective and do not apply to the book itself.
Olivia built her career on luck, raw talent, charm and beauty.Perhaps had she slathered herself in PR-generated smut to sell herself, she wouldn't seem so bland to you.I'm sure Olivia is quite pleased that, during the height of her popularity, she didn't have to pose nude for a coffee table magazine in order to keep the public interested in her.
Indictments against Olivia in your review include the inference about Matt Lattanzi being on the payroll.For what?His silence about his sexuality or Olivia's?Are you one of Olivia's "gay" fans who secretly and steadfastly holds that Olivia is gay and resents her for not coming out of the closet?Is that what you mean by saying there is nothing but "pre-approved, sugar-coated" boring revelations offered in the book?I see.You want dirt.You want scandalous.You want the Sandra Dee image blasted away so that we, the entitled public, can finally see Olivia in all her disgusting humanness.If you want to know about the real underbelly that lies behind every squeaky-clean celebrity, there's plenty of fodder out there to satisfy your appetite.
But you're right.Olivia is very private and nearly fetishistic about maintaining her privacy and keeping it separate to prevent it from encroaching on her public image.To her, her public persona is another entity.And, as a public figure, she gives her audiences her all.But when the media pushes too hard, she's proven she knows how to push back.A UK "This is Your Life" host had the gall to bring up the ugly subject of Bruce Welch on live-TV.Olivia was visibly shaken by the question.Her expression of shock and disbelief relayed how uncomfortable she was and she handled the situation by telling the host she didn't want to talk about unpleasant memories from the past.
Finally, as an Olivia fan, you should be very aware of the dearth of genuinely well-written material about Newton-John.Never before has there been a more articulate, well researched, thoroughly detailed and professionally produced biography about the artist.Branson-Trent's plagiarized project in Xerox is atrocious and little else has ever been published about ONJ that stands out enough to warrant your harsh review of Ewbank's book.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
The book is flawless.Whether a committed fan of Olivia or just someone somewhat familiar with her career will be fascinated by the convergence of strange and fortunate circumstances that made Newton-John a star.As a child, she was awkward and terribly shy--traits that followed her throughout her teens and 20s.But she loved to sing and, for that, she was recognized as something special.Encouraged by her mother, her sister, faculty at school and friends, she was literally pushed along the path of stardom.Chance encounters during her travels put her in touch with people like Cliff Richard, who immediately recognized something special about her.He had a series on UK-TV at the time and thought including Livvy in one show would boost his ratings.The letters poured in after her appearance and she became a staple on his show.
Then Cliff hired her as one of his backup singers for a world tour, where she learned how to perform in concerts.Cliff's backup band were famous in their own right:The Shadows.Bruce Welch and John Farrar, two members of the Shadows, decided to give Olivia a chance to record a few songs in their studio.Of all the songs she recorded during those sessions, Farrar and Welch decided that Olivia's cover of "If Not For You" had the best shot.They sent her on the road with an armload of promo 45s so she could introduce herself to radio station disk-jockeys.(This was before the present-day practice of recording conglomerates telling radio stations what they can play).The record became a hit.What are the odds?The single even made its way to the US.
Following that first hit, there were additional singles that got airplay.Another album followed, with a cover of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."That also hit the US, but it established Olivia as a recording star in Japan.Her third album in the UK was called "Music Makes My Day."One track selected for single release completely flopped in the UK.But it, too, was released in the US and Japan.It shot to #1 on the US Country & Western charts.The song was "Let Me Be There."
All this time, up until and during the period "Let Me Be There" was released, Olivia was firmly ranked as a folk singer in the UK.Suddenly, Olivia had parallel careers going on.While her label in England continued to promote Olivia's folk songs, the song "Let Me Be There" made her a country & western performer in the States.In England, she sang folk songs in the International Eurovision Contest (representing Britain) and released folk song "Long Live Love"; but at the same time, in the United States, she released country song "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)," which also was a hugely successful follow-up hit.Crazy, right?Television appearances in England featured Olivia dressed in flowing, frilly gowns; while her US appearances on TV showcased her country side by having her wear blue jeans and checkered blouses.
The dual nature of her career lasted only up until her next single, which managed to bridge the gap, establishing Olivia as a bona fide crossover pop act, enabling her to reach a far wider audience of record buyers.That particular next single was another one of those happy accidents.One more fluke:
While Olivia was recording 7 new country & western songs for her US "If You Love Me" album, she was also recording 7 new folk songs for her UK album called "Long Live Love."The "Love Live Love" LP ended up having 14 songs in all, the other 7 borrowed from the "If You Love Me" sessions.One song that appeared on both albums and released at the same time ended up in Olivia's hands by a stroke of luck.Songwriter Peter Allen was shopping a new ballad at the time, but no one was biting, saying the song was either too sad or simply not right for them.One Australian singer who was offered the song, Helen Reddy, thought the song would be perfect for Olivia.Olivia accepted the rather simple ballad, sang it in one take, and the rest is history.It became Olivia's signature song."I Honestly Love You" was her first #1 hit on the Pop charts in the US.
All kinds of strange curve balls came at Olivia, where she just happened to be at the right place at the right time.The most amazing opportunities simply landed on her lap.Who would have predicted that a mere three years after Helen Reddy offered Olivia "I Honestly Love You," Ms. Reddy would be hostess to a dinner party where Olivia and film producer Allen Carr were both guests?Who could have foreseen that Carr would just happen to sit across from Olivia at the dinner table, be completely enamored by her, and offer her the role of Sandy in "Grease"?
This is just the tip of the iceberg."Olivia: A Biography of Olivia Newton-John" is chock full of these nearly surreal details that occasioned the unbelievable 40-year career of this remarkable woman.
I highly recommend it both for fans and casual fans alike.
About the best you'll get.
A few years ago, Olivia Newton-John was commissioned to write her autobiography. This- it was called 'A Charmed Life'- she duly did but before too long she began to have doubts and shelved it. What I presume she means by this is that the publishers suggested she put a bit of fire into the book, instead of rehashing 'Grease' anecdotes, droning on about breast cancer and ignoring anything she can't sugar coat or they'd shelve the book themselves. Suffice to say, although the book was completed, it never showed...
Still, at least this paved the way for Tim Ewbank's 'Olivia'. Whether the guy is a fan of O's, I know not, but he's perfectly respectful to her though I don't think she was interviewed for the tome. He spends rather too many pages on Olivia's family's ancestory for my liking before a quick skip through the 60's before settling in on the 70's which was Olivia's golden time career wise. He's fairly thorough on this, though being a die hard fan, I'd have liked more info on her albums and the song selection involved. Indeed, Olivia's- to many fans minds- best album 'Totally Hot' gets the tiniest of mentions. Not on for such an important album...
Now he's onto the 80's and after 'Physical' there's not a lot to say, which is much how the rest of the world felt at least! After her marriage in 1984 and the birth of her daughter in 1986, Olivia semi-retired, occasionally resurfacing with some mistimed, uncommercial album or other project pretty much until today.
In 1992 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and after treatment went into remission. It says something about the rapid degeneration of her career that this is the last thing people remember about her! Then again, she does talk about it, for someone who's usually so private, an awful lot.
Skip forward to now and O is happy again. Last year she married 'health guru' John Easterling several times before going on to a new career plugging his drinks on TV. Easterling is seemingly perfect for Olivia. He's almost as pretty as her and even more bland!
Back to author Tim now. Although he's crafted a well written book with an interesting subject, he doesn't get close enough (or at all) to O to tell us die hard fans anything new. Most of his sources are suspect though Olivia's ex errant hubby Matt 'inbetween jobs' Lattanzi shows up speaking blandly with Olivia-approved tales that suggest he's still on the payroll.
What a coup it would have been to have gotten an interview with 'bad' boyfriend Lee Kramer, who shared some turbulent times with Olivia at the height of her success but, typically, he is barely mentioned either...
Still, if you like the odd Olivia record and are vaguely interested in her life- and she has had a remarkable life- this could be the book for you. For her biggest fans, though, 'Olivia' is predictable and has many stories and quotes that are directly lifted from ONJ websites. It really offers nothing insightful or new.
Perhaps the biggest compliment (or insult, I'm easy!) I can offer is that 'Olivia' is so bland and lacking any kind of spark that Olivia herself would be in raptures!
... Read more