The prime of Miss Maggie Smith — which began with her stage debut in 1952 and continues today with her role as dowager Violet Crawley on PBS’ “Downton Abbey,” which returns Sunday — is covered lovingly in a new book.
“Maggie Smith: A Biography” by Michael Coveney (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99) examines her career in close detail through interviews with family members, colleagues and even Smith herself. Along the way Smith made many friends (Judi Dench), a few paramours (actor Rod Taylor asked her to marry him) and the occasional nemesis (Laurence Olivier vowed to never work with her again after “Othello”).
There are also tales of Smith’s sometimes stormy first marriage to actor Robert Stephens, including their backstage rows and his difficulty coping with her much bigger stardom, and Smith’s relationship with her cold mother, who was the model for the star’s Oscar-winning performance as a headstrong teacher in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” (1969).
Perhaps most revealing is Coveney’s retelling of his initial meeting with Smith, in which he told her of his plans to pen the bio. “Ooh, but there’s nothing to write about,” she said. “I haven’t done anything. I don’t know what it is I do.”