November 7, 2010
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The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan

by Kenneth Tynan, John Lahr, ed.

I can’t understand why I found these strangely beguiling diaries so compelling. Tynan was an important British theater critic in the 1950’s and 1960’s . When the diaries begin, in 1971, his career was largely over. Tynan knew everybody, loved to drop names, and was invited to swell parties, but he was not deeply interested in gossip and, in any case, the diaries, though promised to his daughter, were instead kept and filleted by Tynan’s widow. Tynan was passionate about many things, but in his diaries he seldom wrote much about what he saw on stage and said even less about his reading. He was a straight man surrounded by talented gays, a fact that intrigued him but about which he says little. He adored spanking (of all things), but in the early years he seldom mentions this passion and later, dying of emphysema and scouring the newspaper for sympathetic prostitutes, he does little beyond smile at his predicament.

Yet I read every word and relished many, and I have been looking forward to my evening visit with Tynan for weeks. This was yet another Michael Dirda recommendation – the Mitford-Waugh letters were this theme's kickoff – and rereading Dirda again I see that his reaction was oddly similar. In his diaries, Tynan is neither a lyrical nor a careful writer, and the persona he presents is not really someone you’re eager to seek out. But, once you know him, for all his melancholy and despite his desperation, you’re constantly eager to hear how the next day turns out.