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Alec Guinness Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trade Mark (4) | Trivia (63) | Personal Quotes (35) | Salary (4)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 2 April 1914Marylebone, London, England, UK
Date of Death 5 August 2000Midhurst, Sussex, England, UK  (liver cancer)
Birth NameAlec Guinness de Cuffe
Height 5' 10" (1.78 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Alec Guinness de Cuffe was born on April 2, 1914 in Marylebone, London, England. While working in advertising, he studied at the Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art, debuting on stage in 1934 and played classic theater with the Old Vic from 1936. In 1941, he entered the Royal Navy as a seaman and was commissioned the next year. Beyond an extra part in Evensong (1934), his film career began after World War II with his portrayal of Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946). A string of films, mostly comedies, showed off his ability to look different in every role, eight of them, including a woman, in one movie alone, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). His best known recent work was as the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) and its sequels. He earned a Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and an Honorary Academy Award (1980) for "advancing the art of screen acting through a host of memorable and distinguished performances". Academy nominations have included The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) (actor); The Horse's Mouth (1958) (screenplay); Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) (supporting) and Little Dorrit (1988) (supporting). He was awarded Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in the 1959 Queen's Honours List for his accomplishments in theater and the film industry. Sir Alec Guinness died at age 86 of liver cancer on August 5, 2000.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Spouse (1)

Merula Salaman (20 June 1938 - 5 August 2000) (his death) (1 child)

Trade Mark (4)

Known for playing multiple complex characters and changing his appearance to suit.
Often played noble and fiercely proud leaders and authority figures
Often worked with David Lean and Ronald Neame
Deep smooth voice

Trivia (63)

Reportedly hated working on Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) so much, Guinness claims that Obi-Wan's death was his idea as a means to limit his involvement in the film. Guinness also claims to throw away all Star Wars related fan mail without even opening it.
Father of actor Matthew Guinness and grandfather of Sally Guinness.
He was one of the last surviving members of a great generation of British actors, which included Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson.
"de Cuffe" is his mother's surname; he never knew the identity of his father (source: obituary, Daily Telegraph, 7 August 2000).
He was awarded the Companion of Honour in the 1994 Queen's Honours List for his services to drama.
He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1955 Queen's Honours List for his services to drama.
He was awarded Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in the 1959 Queen's Honours List for his services to drama.
He was a huge fan of the television series Due South (1994).
Despite popular belief, he never uttered the line "May the force be with you" in any of the Star Wars films (the closest he came was "the force will be with you").
He was voted third in the Orange Film 2001 survey of greatest British film actors.
The qualities he claimed to most admire in an actor were "simplicity, purity, clarity of line".
He made his final stage appearance at the Comedy Theatre in London on May 30, 1989, in a production called "A Walk in the Woods", where he played a Russian diplomat.
His widow, Merula, died on October 17, 2000, just two months after her husband.
In his last book of memoirs, "A Positively Final Appearance", he expressed a devotion to the television series The Simpsons (1989).
His films were studied by Ewan McGregor in preparation for his role as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) to ensure accuracy in everything from his accent to the pacing of his words.
Received an honorary D.Litt degree from Oxford University in 1977 and an honorary D.Litt degree from Cambridge University in 1991.
Was a Grammy nominee in 1964, in the Spoken Word category, for the album "Alec Guinness: A Personal Choice" (RCA Victor Red Seal: 1964), on which he read a selection of his favorite poems.
Had starred as Eric Birling alongside Sir Ralph Richardson in the first-ever showing of "An Inspector Calls" at the New Theatre in London on October 1, 1946.
He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Special Award in 1989 (1988 season) for his outstanding contributions to West End Theatre.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith, pg. 198-199. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387.
Has been succeeded in two of his roles by actors from Trainspotting (1996). Guinness portrayed Adolf Hitler in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973). Robert Carlyle portrayed Adolf Hitler in Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003), while Ewan McGregor succeeded him in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Ewan McGregor was not the only actor in the Star Wars prequels to study his performances. The voice for the character Watto was modeled after Guinness's performance as Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948).
Though he often spoke critically of Star Wars, the three leads, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, have always spoken very fondly of him, praising him as being a very professional actor who was always respectful to the people he worked with.
Reportedly answered one Star Wars fan's boast that he had seen the first movie over a hundred times, with a nod and the words "Promise me you'll never watch it again.". The boy was stunned, but his mother thanked Guinness.
His favourite hotel in London was the Connaught, in which he always stayed whenever visiting the city.
A heavy smoker for most of his life, he finally managed to give up the habit in his last years.
One of his last jobs was providing the voice (his first and only voice-over) for a cartoon character on a British television ad campaign by the Inland Revenue advising the public about the new tax return forms which were to be introduced. He said in his diary of the recording (made on March 30, 1995) "I did it feebly.".
George Lucas said Guinness was very patient and helpful to him during the filming of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), even to the point of getting the other actors to work more seriously.
Harrison Ford said that Guinness helped him find an apartment to stay at when he arrived in England to film Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977).
Won Broadway's 1964 Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "Dylan", in which he played the title character, poet Dylan Thomas.
Both he and his wife Merula converted to the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s.
Following his death, he was interred at Petersfield Cemetery in Petersfield, Hampshire, England.
Has appeared with Kay Walsh in five films: Oliver Twist (1948); Last Holiday (1950); The Horse's Mouth (1958); Tunes of Glory (1960) and Scrooge (1970).
Despite being two of Britain's most distinguished actors of their generation, he appeared in only two films with John Mills: Great Expectations (1946) and Tunes of Glory (1960).
Great-grandson Otis Marlon Simeon Guinness-Walker, born in 1995.
Celebrated his 62nd birthday during the filming of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) in Tunisia, where the Tatooine scenes were filmed.
Was considered for the role of Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (1974), which went to Albert Finney.
In certain prints of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), a film in which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, his last name is misspelled "Guiness".
In his autobiographical volumes, Guinness wrote about an incident at the Old Vic when, in the company of National Theater (which originally played at the Old Vic) artistic director Laurence Olivier in the basement of the theater, he asked where a certain tunnel went. Olivier didn't really know but confidently decided to take the tunnel as it must come out somewhere nearby, it being part of the Old Vic. In reality, the tunnel went under the Thames, and they were rescued after several hours of fruitless navigation of the dark, damp corridor. Guinness remarked that Olivier's willingness to plunge into the dark and unknown was characteristic of the type of person (and actor) he was. As for himself as an actor, Guinness lamented at times that he didn't take enough chances.
Went bald on top, and according to his "Time" magazine cover story of 21 April 1958, he was embarrassed by it but chose not to wear a hairpiece in private life. He told the "Time" writer that he had shaved the top of his head as a young man in his first professional acting engagement, playing a coolie. It never grew back properly after that, he lamented.
Had played the Fool to Laurence Olivier's first King Lear under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie in 1946 when he was 31 and Olivier was 39. Olivier was generally considered less-than-successful in the part due to his youth and relative lack of maturity in classical parts (though his contemporaneous "Henry V" was a smash and hinted at his future greatness as an interpreter of William Shakespeare). However, Guinness received raves for his acting. Both actors went on to knighthoods and Best Actor Oscars in their long and distinguished careers.
Was the subject of a cover story in "Time" magazine for the week of April 21, 1958, shortly after he won the Best Actor Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
In the last year of his life, Sir Alec had been receiving hospital treatment for failing eyesight due to glaucoma, and he had been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer in January 2000. By the time his liver cancer was discovered in July 2000, it was at an extremely advanced stage, making surgery impossible.
Had his first speaking role on the professional stage in the melodrama "Queer Cargo" (he did not appear in the film). At age 20, the tyro actor played a Chinese coolie in the first act, a French pirate in Act 2 and a British sailor in Act 3, a foreshadowing of the shapeshifting he would do in his cinema career, where he once played as many as eight roles in a single film (Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)).
Is the only person to receive a best acting nomination in any of the Star Wars movies.
Contrary to popular rumors, he did not hate working on the Star Wars films. What he hated was the fact that many of the Star Wars fans would only ever remember him as Obi-Wan Kenobi despite all the success of his previous roles.
Guinness was a member of the Old Vic group organized by John Gielgud in the early 1930s, which also included, among others, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle and Peggy Ashcroft.
He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.
Had played the role of Osric in John Gielgud's theatrical production of "Hamlet" in 1934. In Laurence Olivier's 1948 film version, this role was played by Peter Cushing, with whom Guinness appeared years later in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). The film was also Cushing's first collaboration with future Star Wars cast member Christopher Lee.
While filming The Swan (1956) in Hollywood, he met James Dean, just days before the young actor's death. Sir Alec later recalled predicting that Dean would die in a car crash: when Dean showed Guinness his newly-bought Porsche, Guinness advised him to "Get rid of that car, or you'll be dead in a week!". Guinness unfortunately proved right.
According to playwright Neil Simon, Alec was reading the script for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) while on set filming Murder by Death (1976) and commented that Star Wars may be a "good one".
Favorite actor of both David Lean and Ronald Neame. Had worked on many of both director's films.
During his service in the Royal Navy, he commanded a landing craft invading Sicily and Elba, and helped to supply soldiers in Yugoslavia.
Upon notification that he was to achieve a lifetime achievement Oscar, he was not keen but expressed thanks. He informed the Academy that there was no way he would even consider flying to California to pick up this award. Academy President Fay Kanin, asked Dustin Hoffman who was doing promotional work from Kramer vs. Kramer in London, to meet with Guinness and persuade him to attend. As both men had very similar attitudes to their past work, Guinness warmed up to the idea and agreed to attend.
Was considered by producer Hal B. Wallis for the lead role in Visit to a Small Planet (1960) at the same time with Danny Kaye and Jerry Lewis, the last one eventually getting the role.
Has appeared in several of David Lean's movies. In them, he has portrayed Englishmen, an Arab, a Russian and an Indian.
Preferred working on stage to appearing in films. He also preferred appearing in newer plays rather than the classics, so that his performance would not be compared to how previous actors had played the part.
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1559 Vine Street in Hollywood, California on February 8, 1960.
Though knighted, he did not like being referred to as Sir Alec Guinness.
His stepfather fought in the Irish War of Independence.
At a young age, Guinness received acting lessons from Martita Hunt, who dismissed him after two lessons, telling him he would never be an actor although lessons were resumed at a later date.
After Guinness won a two year scholarship from a dramatic academy, John Gielgud, one of the competition judges, offered him a role in his production of "Hamlet" in 1934.
His experiences with the Royal Navy involved shipping supplies to Yugoslav partisans during World War II.

Personal Quotes (35)

[on how much he disliked working on Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) and his attempts to encourage George Lucas to kill off Obi-Wan Kenobi] And he agreed with me. What I didn't tell him was that I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo.
I shrivel up every time someone mentions Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) to me.
Failure has a thousand explanations. Success doesn't need one.
We live in an age of apologies. Apologies, false or true, are expected from the descendants of empire builders, slave owners, persecutors of heretics and from men who, in our eyes, just got it all wrong. So, with the age of 85 coming up shortly, I want to make an apology. It appears I must apologize for being male, white and European.
[in 1985 to The Guardian newspaper, on what he intends to do by the end of his life] A kind of little bow, tied on life. And I can see myself drifting off into eternity, or nothing, or whatever it may be, with all sorts of bits of loose string hanging out of my pocket. Why didn't I say this or do that, or why didn't I reconcile myself with someone? Or make sure that someone whom I like was all right in every way, either financially or, I don't know...
[replying to a writer whose script he rejected, who sent him a note saying "We tailored it just for you"] But no one came to take measurements.
I gave my best performances during the war, trying to be an officer and a gentleman.
I prefer full-length camera shots because the body can act better than the face.
I don't know what else I could do but pretend to be an actor.
Once I've done a film, it's finished. I never look at it again.
Getting to the theater on the early side, usually about seven o'clock, changing into a dressing-gown, applying make-up, having a chat for a few minutes with other actors and then, quite unconsciously, beginning to assume another personality which would stay with me (but mostly tucked inside) until curtain down, was all I required of life. I thought it bliss.
An actor is an interpreter of other men's words, often a soul which wishes to reveal itself to the world but dare not, a craftsman, a bag of tricks, a vanity bag, a cool observer of mankind, a child and at his best a kind of unfrocked priest who, for an hour or two, can call on heaven and hell to mesmerize a group of innocents.
Personally, I have only one great regret - that I never *dared* enough. If at all.
[To a group of reporters upon winning his Academy Award in 1958]: No doorstop shenanigans for me, boys. I have a nice mantel where I'm going to display it.
[during filming of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)]: Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young.
[on media reports of his income from the Star Wars films]: The Times reports I've made £4.5 million in the past year. Where do they get such nonsense?
[on the performances in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)]: The only really disappointing performance was Anthony Daniels as the robot - fidgety and over-elaborately spoken. Not that any of the cast can stand up to the mechanical things around them.
[while considering doing Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)]: Science fiction - which gives me pause - but it is to be directed by George Lucas, who did American Graffiti (1973), which makes me think I should. Big part. Fairytale rubbish, but could be interesting.
[on his first lunch meeting with George Lucas]: I liked him. The conversation was divided culturally by 8,000 miles and 30 years; but I think we might understand each other if I can get past his intensity.
The stage was my prime interest. I had no ambition to be a film actor, and a screen career seemed unlikely to come my way. I'd done a stage adaption of "Great Expectations" before the war and this had been seen by David Lean and Ronald Neame. I went into the navy during the war, and when I came out they were preparing their film [Great Expectations (1946)]. They remembered my performance on the stage and asked me if I'd go into their film as Herbert Pocket. I'd thought of film as a much greater mystery than the theater and I felt a need to begin in films with a character I knew something about.
[on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)]: The original script was ridiculous, with elephant charges and girls screaming round in the jungle. When David Lean arrived, with a new screenwriter, it became a very different thing. I saw Nicholson as an effective part, without ever really believing in the character. However, it paid off; it was a huge success and I got an Oscar for it, though I don't think it made an enormous difference in my career.
Essentially I'm a small part actor who's been lucky enough to play leading roles for most of his life.
Flamboyance doesn't suit me. I enjoy being elusive.
I am always ashamed of the slowness of my reading. I think it stems from the fact that when I come across dialogue in a novel, I can't resist treating it as the text of a play and acting it out, with significant pauses and all.
[on Laurence Olivier after the death of the only acting peer of the realm] Olivier made me laugh more as an actor [in eccentric comedy parts] more than anyone else. In my case, I love him in comedy and am not always sure about him in tragedy.
[his diary entry after viewing Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) for the first time] It's a pretty staggering film as spectacle and technically brilliant. Exciting, very noisy and warmhearted. The battle scenes at the end go on for five minutes too long, I feel, and some of the dialogue is excruciating and much of it is lost in noise, but it remains a vivid experience.
An actor is at his best a kind of unfrocked priest who, for an hour or two, can call on heaven and hell to mesmerize a group of innocents.
An actor is totally vulnerable. His total personality is exposed to critical judgment - his intellect, his bearing, his diction, his whole appearance. In short, his ego.
[Asked if he was a rich man]: No, not rich. Compared to striking miners and workless actors very rich: compared to successful stockbrokers and businessmen I expect I would be considered nearly poor.
[Asked if Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) had made him a fortune]: Yes, blessed be Star Wars. But two-thirds of that went to the Inland Revenue and a sizable sum on VAT. No complaints. Let me leave it by saying I can live for the rest of my life in the reasonably modest way I am now used to, that I have no debts and I can afford to refuse work that doesn't appeal to me.
[on Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)]: When it came to me in script form, I was in Hollywood on the last day of another movie and I heard it was a script by George Lucas, well that meant something; you know, American Graffiti (1973), this is a new generation, lovely. And then I opened it and saw it was science fiction and groaned, I thought "oh no, they've got the wrong man." I started to read it and I thought some of the dialogue was rather creaky, but I kept turning the pages, I wanted to know what happened next. Then I met George Lucas, fell for him, I thought he was a man of enormous integrity and bright and interesting, and I found myself involved and thank God I did.
[on winning the Best Actor award for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)] No doorstop shenanigans for me. I'll put the Oscar on my mantel, which I realize makes very dull copy, except that I'll put a mirror on the mantel so that I'll get a view of Oscar's back too.
I can walk through a crowd and nobody would notice at all.
[on Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)] Can't say I'm enjoying the film. New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper - and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable. I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me to keep going until next April.
[on playing Gulley Jimson in The Horse's Mouth (1958)] I try to get inside a character and project him - one of my own private rules of thumb is that I have not got the character until I have mastered exactly how he walks.

Salary (4)

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) £6,000
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) £6,000
Star Wars (1977) $150,000 + 2% of profits
Little Dorrit (1988) £180,000

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