At the beginning of 1918, when he was 14 years old, Archie Leach began to keep a diary. It didn’t last long—diaries are work, and he gave up after about four months—but his writing from that time is fascinating and instructive. There is no mention of his mother, who had been institutionalized since he was 11 and who he believed to be dead. There are only a few passing references to his father, an alcoholic suit presser. What fills the diary is theater—the music hall in Archie’s native Bristol, England. Many days he cuts school: “Roamed … & went to the pictures. Empire [Theater] in evening.”

There are several things clear from the diary. Like most teenagers, Archie is interested only in what Archie is interested in. There is not a single mention of anything going on in the outside world. World War I, for instance.