Diaries 1970-1983

By Christopher Isherwood

Harper. 875 pp. $39.99

The British-born novelist and screenwriter Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) was a California transplant who knew everyone worth knowing in the worlds of books and movies — aside from his screenplays for such films as “The Great Sinner” and “Rage in Heaven,” he wrote the stories on which the musical “Cabaret” was based — and poured his wealth of experiences into his diaries. The entries in this, the third and final volume of the diaries to be printed, range from high gossip to mundane gripes.

In March 1973, Isherwood attended a preview of a new production of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” with Faye Dunaway as Blanche and Jon Voight as Stanley. To Isherwood, Dunaway was “excellent, about as good a Blanche as you could expect.” Voight, however, had fussily ordered tapes of “dialect from New Orleans,” which he tried to imitate. The result was that “many of Tennessee’s best lines were lost because Voight was trying to speak with his mouth full of spittle.” A few days later, Isherwood visited his dissolute friend Truman Capote, whom he found in a condition verging on wreckage: “He seems very sick, says he vomits constantly. He’s swollen up enormously, and looks very old, rather like Churchill.”

Isherwood doesn’t exempt himself from his lash. A couple of years later, he quotes the entirety of a note he received: “To Mr. Isvewood, from a kid on Mabery Rd. From you complaining your a sourbud of the year!!!!!! If you don’t like the noise down here on Mabery, than go away! You can’t stop a whole street of kids, just cause of you! Take your books and move away, far away.”

‘Liberation: Diaries, Vol. 3: 1970-1983’ by Christopher Isherwood (Harper Collins )

Loud kids in the neighborhood notwithstanding, Isherwood describes this period (when he was in his early 70s) as “one of the happiest times of my life,” partly because he loves and is loved by his partner, the artist Don Bachardy. At the end of this volume, after the diary entries have stopped, an editorial note explains that Bachardy “was with him, drawing him, when Isherwood died.”

— Dennis Drabelle