He could speak William Shakespeare's lines as naturally as if he were "actually thinking them", said English playwright Charles Bennett, who met Laurence Olivier in 1927. One of Olivier's earliest successes as a Shakespearean actor on the London stage came in 1935 when he played "Romeo" and "Mercutio" in alternate performances of "Romeo and Juliet" with John Gielgud. A young Englishwoman just beginning her career on the stage fell in love with Olivier's Romeo. In 1937, she was "Ophelia" to his "Hamlet" in a special performance at Kronberg Castle, Elsinore, Denmark. In 1940, she became his second wife after both returned from making films in America that were major box office hits of 1939. His film was Wuthering Heights (1939), her film was Gone with the Wind (1939). Vivien Leigh and Olivier were screen lovers in Fire Over England (1937), 21 Days Together (1940) and That Hamilton Woman (1941). There was almost a fourth film together in 1944 when Olivier and Leigh traveled to Scotland with Charles C. Bennett to research the real-life story of a Scottish girl accused of murdering her French lover. Bennett recalled that Olivier researched the story "with all the thoroughness of Sherlock Holmes" and "we unearthed evidence, never known or produced at the trial, that would most certainly have sent the young lady to the gallows". The film project was then abandoned. During their two-decade marriage, Olivier and Leigh appeared on the stage in England and America and made films whenever they really needed to make some money. In 1951, Olivier was working on a screen adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's novel "Sister Carrie" (Carrie (1952)) while Leigh was completing work on the film version of the Tennessee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). She won her second Oscar for bringing "Blanche DuBois" to the screen. Carrie (1952) was a film that Olivier never talked about. George Hurstwood, a middle-aged married man from Chicago who tricked a young woman into leaving a younger man about to marry her, became a New York street person in the novel. Olivier played him as a somewhat nicer person who didn't fall quite as low. A PBS documentary on Olivier's career broadcast in 1987 covered his first sojourn in Hollywood in the early 1930s with his first wife, Jill Esmond, and noted that her star was higher than his at that time. On film, he was upstaged by his second wife, too, even though the list of films he made is four times as long as hers. More than half of his film credits come after The Entertainer (1960), which started out as a play in London in 1957. When the play moved across the Atlantic to Broadway in 1958, the role of "Archie Rice"'s daughter was taken over by Joan Plowright, who was also in the film. They married soon after the release of The Entertainer (1960).IMDb Mini Biography By: Dale O'Connor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
|Joan Plowright||(17 March 1961 - 11 July 1989) (his death) 3 children|
|Vivien Leigh||(31 August 1940 - 6 January 1961) (divorced)|
|Jill Esmond||(25 July 1930 - 29 January 1940) (divorced) 1 child|
Roles in Shakespeare adaptations
A handsome man with a magnificent speaking voice
Often played noble and fiercely proud leaders and royalty figures
Often directed himself in his films
Rich smooth voice
1985: When presenting at the Oscars, he forgot to name the Best Picture nominees. He simply opened the envelope and proclaimed, "Amadeus (1984)".
Even with his noble titles, he refused to carry on a conversation with anyone who wouldn't address him as "Larry."
10/97: Ranked #46 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list.
Knighted in 1947, made life peer in 1970, awarded the Order of Merit in 1981.
Directed 2 actors to Oscar nominations: Himself (Best Actor, Henry V (1944)); Best Actor, Hamlet (1948); Best Actor, Richard III (1955)), and Jean Simmons (Best Supporting Actress, Hamlet (1948)). He won an Oscar for his turn in Hamlet, making him and Roberto Benigni the only two actors to have directed themselves in Oscar-winning performances.
Wife #1 Jill Esmond named Vivien Leigh --wife #2--as co-respondent in her 1940 divorce from Olivier on grounds of adultery. Leigh named Joan Plowright --wife #3--as co-respondent in her 1960 divorce from Olivier, also on grounds of adultery.
In the book "Melting the Stone: A Journey Around My Father" by his son Richard Olivier, Richard describes Laurence as being more interested in his work than in his children; he never looked back fondly on his career and would actually become depressed when he didn't have a job.
His father, a clergyman, decided Laurence would become an actor.
2001: Ranked tenth in the Orange Film Survey of greatest British actors.
Ex-brother-in-law of race car driver Jack Esmond.
Godfather of Victoria Tennant.
Attended The Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
While performing a live production of "Hamlet" he completely blanked during the "to be or not to be" soliloquy. He then sat down and remained there until he remembered the lines.
2004: His film version of Shakespeare's Hamlet (1948) is still, to date, the only film of a Shakespeare play to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and the only one to actually win an Oscar for acting (Olivier for Best Actor).
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890- 1945". Pages 837-843. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
He was voted the 20th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Said once that he always visualized the physical appearance of a character that he was going to play before he did anything else.
The Olivier Theatre, the largest theatre in the new National Theatre complex on the south bank of the Thames, opened on 10/4/76 with Albert Finney playing Christopher Marlowe's "Tamburlaine The Grea"t, directed by Peter Hall. The Queen officially opened the National Theatre on October 25. Years later, Michael Caine met his former co-star at the theater named after him, and asked him if he could get in for free. No, he could not, answered Olivier, but he told Caine that he would work on it.
Wanted desperately to stage "Guys and Dolls" in the early 1970s, as he dreamed of playing Sky Masterson, but after stringing him along for several years, the board of governors of the National Theatre vetoed any chance of a production. After years of being hamstrung by the board, Olivier resigned as artistic director in 1973 without being able to name his successor. The governors appointed Peter Hall, founder of the National Theatre's great rival, the Royal Shakespeare Company, as director to replace Olivier. The move is widely seen as an insult to Olivier, who had given up an incalculable fortune in potential earnings in the commercial theater and in motion pictures to make his dream of a National Theatre a reality. However, he was honored by having the largest auditorium in the under-construction National Theatre building named after him. "Guys and Dolls" was eventually staged by the National Theatre in 1982.
Was chosen to play Antonio in Queen Christina (1933) but was rejected by Greta Garbo after an initial meeting at the studio. The part later went to Garbo's former lover John Gilbert, whose career had hit bottom after the advent of sound. In his autobiography "Confessions of an Actor," Olivier says that he understands why she behaved the way she did, but in Felix Barker's 1953 "The Oliviers - A Biography," it was plain that Olivier and his career were hurt by being rejected by the biggest star in Hollywood. Olivier had had to sail from England to America, and then sail back, all under the harsh glare of the Hollywood publicity machine.
His oldest son Tarquin Olivier was 10 months old when Olivier left his mother, actress Jill Esmond, for Vivien Leigh in 1937. Despite Olivier virtually ignoring him after marrying Joan Plowright in 1961, Tarquin was extremely forgiving in his 1993 memoir "My Father Laurence Olivier." Tarquin contends that the rumors about his father were becoming more outrageous with each new biography and dismissed the stories that Olivier had had affairs with Danny Kaye and Kenneth Tynan as "unforgivable garbage."
His oldest son by Jill Esmond, Tarquin Olivier, says in his 1993 memoir "My Father Laurence Olivier" that he was shocked when meeting his father in California in the early 1980s that he was dissatisfied with his career and felt something of a failure. Olivier belittled his own achievements and held up the career of Cary Grant as the paradigm of greatness. Grant, who had a fortune estimated at $70 million by Look Magazine in its February 23, 1971, issue (an amount equivalent to $300 million in 2003 dollars), was the person who presented Olivier with his career achievement Oscar in 1979. The two were acquaintances, never friends.
According to Olivier in his autobiography "Confessions of an Actor," when he went to Hollywood in the early 1930s as the "next Ronald Colman", one studio wanted to change his name to "Larry Oliver." He often wondered what his career would have been like if he kept that less-distinguished name, whether his career would have been as sorry as the name.
According to producer Robert Evans, he could not obtain insurance for Olivier to appear in Marathon Man (1976). He went ahead with Olivier despite the obstacle. Evans and the rest of the production members, particularly Dustin Hoffman, were quite charmed by the man Hoffman called "Sir." Several years earlier, Evans -- as chief of production at Paramount -- had given the go-ahead to offer Olivier the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but Olivier was unable to accept the role due to illness.
In his 1983 autobiography "Confessions of an Actor," Olivier writes that upon meeting Marilyn Monroe preparatory to the commencement of production of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), he was convinced he was going to fall in love with her. During production, Olivier bore the brunt of Marilyn's famous indiscipline and wound up despising her. However, he admits that she was wonderful in the film, the best thing in it, her performance overshadowing his own, and that the final result was worth the aggravation.
Life-long friend of Ralph Richardson, whom he met and befriended in London as a young acting student during the 1920s, he was dismayed that Richardson expected to play Buckingham in his film of Shakespeare's Richard III (1955). Olivier wanted Orson Welles, another friend, to play the role but could not deny his oldest friend. In his autobiography, Olivier says he wishes he had disappointed Richardson and cast Welles instead as he would have brought an extra element to the screen, an intelligence that would have gone well with the plot element of conspiracy.
Orson Welles wrote his novel Mr. Arkadin (1955) during an extended stay with Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh. Welles was appearing at Olivier's St. James theater in London at the time in his fabled production of Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), which had been produced by Michael Todd in New York. Todd, who later made the film without Welles participation, had offered to produce a film version of "Macbeth" to be directed by and starring Olivier, but he died in 1958 before the plans could be finalized.
In her autobiography, "Limelight and After," Claire Bloom claims that her lover Olivier merely went through the motions during their affair in the mid-1950s. She thought Olivier seduced her as that was what a great actor was supposed to do.
Was gradually forced out of his position as head of the National Theatre by the board of directors after the board vetoed a production of Rolf Hochhuth's 1968 play "Soldaten" ("Soldiers"). The controversial play, championed by National Theatre dramaturge Kenneth Tynan, implied that Winston Churchill had arranged the death of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, prime minister of the Polish government-in-exile, and the fire-bombing of civilians during World War II. Olivier, who revered Churchill, backed his dramaturge, but Tynan was sacked and Olivier's position was undermined, thus compromising the independence of the National Theatre. After unsuccessfully canvassing Albert Finney, Olivier tried to interest Richard Burton in taking over the National Theatre after his imminent retirement from the post. Burton declined, seeing the great Olivier forced out of his beloved theater that he had built over two decades and for which he had become the first actor peer.
Turned down the role of Humbert in Lolita (1962). He originally agreed with Stanley Kubrick, his director on Spartacus (1960), to appear in his film of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial classic, but dropped out on the advice of his agent. Ironically, Kubrick shared the same agent.
The Society of London Theatre renamed The Society of West End Theatre Awards, which had been launched in 1976, "The Laurence Olivier Awards" in his honor in 1984. The annual awards are considered the most prestigious in the London theater world.
Appeared with John Gielgud in Romeo and Juliet (1936) in which he and Gielgud alternated the roles of Romeo and Mercutio. Gielgud got the better reviews in the lead of Romeo, which spurred Olivier on to become a better actor.
1958: Was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "The Entertainer," a role he recreated in an Oscar-nominated performance in the film version of the same name, The Entertainer (1960). This was his only nomination for a Tony, an award he never won.
Olivier delivered one of the more eccentric acceptance speeches in 1979, upon receiving an Oscar statuette for Lifetime Achievement. His rundown of thanked Academy bigwigs, colleagues and friends included kudos to "my very noble and approved good masters," a quote from Shakespeare's "Othello," Act I, Scene 3, line 77. (Olivier had received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for the role in 1966, losing out to Lee Marvin.) Characterizing the acceptance speech, John J. O'Connor of the 'New York Times' wrote, " Olivier lapsed into a curiously rambling, slightly sticky, extended metaphor about stars and firmaments."
His ancestors were originally from France, but they fled to England around the 17th century as they were Protestants known as Huguenots, who were being persecuted by the majority Catholics.
Was named the #14 greatest actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends list by the American Film Institute.
Is portrayed by Andrew Clarke in "Blonde" (2001), by Anthony Higgins in Darlings of the Gods (1989) (TV) by Anthony Gordon in Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980) (TV), and by Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn (2011).
When he went to Hollywood in the early 1930s, studio executives wanted him to change his name to "Larry Oliver." He said that later on in his highly successful career, he would muse with his friends about what might have become of him, what kind of career he would have had, if he had changed his name to "Larry Oliver," as that name connoted a different type of actor. Actually, there was an American actor with that name who appeared six times on Broadway between 1930 and 1965, most notably in Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday." The "real" Larry Oliver repeated his Broadway performance as the politician Norval Hedges in the 1950 movie version of the play, (Born Yesterday (1950)), his only film appearance (a senator on Broadway, Larry Oliver's character had been demoted to a Congressman for the film, but he was again bumped up to the Senate in the 1956 "Hallmark Hall of Fame" teleplay).
Lord Olivier perfected an Italian accent in order to play Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), and was signed to play the role. However, at the last moment he fell ill and was replaced by Marlon Brando.
Luchino Visconti wanted to cast him in the title role of the Italian prince in The Leopard (1963), but his producer overruled him. The producer insisted on a box-office star to justify the lavish production's high budget and essentially forced Visconti to accept Burt Lancaster. A decade later, the two Oscar-winning actors competed again for the role of another Italian prince, Mafia chieftain Don Corleone, in The Godfather (1972), ultimately losing out to Marlon Brando, Oliver's only rival for the title of world's greatest actor.
Generally considered the greatest Macbeth of the 20th century for his second stage portrayal of the role in the 1950s, he had hoped to bring "The Scotish Play" to the big screen in the late 1950s, but the failure of his movie Richard III (1955) to make back its money frustrated his plans. Producer Michael Todd, Elizabeth Taylor's third husband, told Olivier in 1958 that he likely would produce the film with Olivier as Macbeth and Olivier's real-life wife Vivien Leigh as his Lady, but that hope died in the plane crash that claimed Todd's life. Thus, the infamous "Macbeth curse" prevented the greatest actor of the 20th century from realizing his dream. Movie critic Pauline Kael, who considered Olivier the "wittiest actor" in film history, considered it a tragedy and said that it showed that there was something fundamentally wrong with the commercial filmmaking industry, that it could deny such a great talent a chance to make such a potentially significant film. Olivier never directed another Shakespearean film after the "failure" of "Richard III."
Was the first thespian nominated for an acting Oscar in five different decades, from the 1930s through the 1970s, inclusive. Only Katharine Hepburn (1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1980s), Paul Newman (1950s, 1960s, 1980s, 1990s, and 200s) and Jack Nicholson (1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s) equaled this feat. In contrast, Bette Davis' ten nominations and Spencer Tracy's eight were spread over four decades (1930s through 1960s, inclusive) while Marlon Brando's eight nominations were bunched into three decades (1950s, 1970s, 1980s).
Was nominated 13 times for the Academy Award, nine times as Best Actor, once as Best Supporting Actor, twice for Best Picture, and once as Best Director. In the acting field, only Jack Nicholson and Katharine Hepburn with 12 acting nominations each (Nicholson: 8 Best Actor and 4 Best Supporting Actor nominations; Hepburn, all in the Best Actress category) and Meryl Streep with 16 (13 in the Best Actress category) have more acting nods than Olivier. (Bette Davis was nominated 10 times for an Academy Award, all of them Best Actress nods.).
2006: His performance as Richard III in Richard III (1955) is ranked #39 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.
John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson were considered equal to Olivier in the classical repertoire--and in Shakespeare. Gielgud was felt to have bested him due to his mellifluous voice, which Olivier himself said "wooed the world"--but it was widely felt that Olivier as a stage actor exceeded both of them in contemporary plays such as John Osbourne's The Entertainer (1960). He also was, by far, the better regarded movie actor, winning one Best Actor Oscar among 10 acting Academy Award acting nominations (all but one in the Best Actor category) versus one Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Gielgud (among two supporting nominations) and two Supporting Actor nods for Richardson. Olivier also was a movie star (commanding a salary of $1 million in 1979 for Inchon (1981), approximately $3 million in 2006 dollars), whereas the other theatrical knights were not.
4/21/58: According to "Time Magazine," as an addendum to its cover story on Alec Guinness, in 1957 Olivier turned down a Hollywood offer of $250,000 for one motion picture. Instead of making the movie and pocketing the cash (worth approximately $1.7 million in 2005 terms), Olivier preferred to take on the role of Archie Rice in John Osborne's The Entertainer (1960) (a role written specifically for him) at the princely sum of £45 per week (worth $126 in 1957 dollars at the contemporaneous exchange rate, or $856 in 2005 terms).
He discovered Peter Finch when Olivier and his theatrical company, which included his wife Vivien Leigh, were conducting a tour of Australia in 1948. Olivier signed the young Aussie to a personal contract and Finch became part of Olivier's theatrical company, traveling back to London with his new employer, where he made his name as an actor. Finch then proceeded to cuckold his mentor and employer by bedding Olivier's wife, Leigh. Olivier was personally humiliated but, ever the trouper, he kept the talented Finch under contract; Finch, who had been born in London, flourished as a theatrical actor after the career break given him by Olivier. Finch and Leigh carried on a long affair, and since Leigh was bipolar and her manic-depression frequently manifested itself in nymphomania, some speculate that Olivier subconsciously might have been grateful for Finch's attentions to his wife, as he occupied Leigh's hours and kept her out of worse trouble and, by extension, saved Olivier from even worse embarrassment.
He wrote in his autobiography, "Confessions of an Actor," that sometime after World War II, his wife Vivien Leigh announced calmly that she was no longer in love with him, but loved him like a brother. Olivier was emotionally devastated. What he did not know at the time was that Leigh's declaration--and her subsequent affairs with multiple partners--was a signal of the bipolar disorder that eventually disrupted her life and career. Leigh had every intention of remaining married to Olivier, but was no longer interested in him romantically. Olivier himself began having affairs (including one with Claire Bloom in the 1950s, according to Bloom's own autobiography) as Leigh's attentions wandered and roamed outside of the marital bedchamber. Olivier had to accompany her to Hollywood in 1950 in order to keep an eye on her and keep her out of trouble, to ensure that her manic-depression did not get out of hand and disrupt the production of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). In order to do so, he accepted a part in William Wyler's Carrie (1952), which was shot at the same time as "Streetcar". The Oliviers were popular with Hollywood's elite, and Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando both liked "Larry" very much (that was the reason that Brando gave in his own autobiography for not sleeping with Leigh, whom he thought had a superior posterior: he couldn't raid Olivier's "chicken coop," as "Larry was such a nice guy.") None of them knew the depths of the anguish he was enduring as the caretaker of his mentally ill wife. Brando said that Leigh was superior to Jessica Tandy--the original stage Blanche DuBois--as she WAS Blanche. Olivier himself had directed Leigh in the part on the London stage.
1970: He became the first actor made a peer of the realm (the only others subsequently being Bernard Miles in 1979 and Richard Attenborough in 1993) when Harold Wilson's second Labour government secured him a life peerage to represent the interests of the theater in the House of Lords. He was elevated to the peerage as Baron Olivier of Brighton in 1970.
Alec Guinness played The Fool to his first Lear under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie in 1938 when he was 24 and Olivier was 31. 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). Guinness, however, received raves for his acting. Both actors would go on to knighthoods and Best Actor Oscars in their long and distinguished careers.
Alec Guinness wrote about an incident at the Old Vic when, in the company of 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. In reality, the tunnel went under the Thames, and they were rescued after several hours of fruitless navigation of the dark, damp corridor. Guiness 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, Guiness lamented at times that he didn't take enough chances.
Following a bad fall in March 1989, Olivier endured his final operation, a hip replacement. His sister Sybille died the following month at the age of 87. By early July his one remaining kidney was in a precarious state, and he was given a maximum of six weeks left to live. At the time of his death, at 11:15 a.m. on July 11, 1989, he had been ill for the last 22 years of his life.
10/20/89: A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey. Joan Plowright and the three children of his last marriage were the chief mourners, along with Tarquin, Hester, and Olivier's first wife, Jill Esmond, in a wheelchair. Olivier's trophies were carried in a procession: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. carried the insignia of Olivier's Order of Merit, Michael Caine bore his Oscar for lifetime achievement, Maggie Smith a silver model of the Chichester theatre, Paul Scofield a silver model of the National, Derek Jacobi the crown worn in Richard III (1955), Peter O'Toole the script used in Hamlet (1948), Ian McKellen the laurel wreath worn in the stage production of "Coriolanus," Dorothy Tutin the crown worn for King Lear (1983) (TV), and Frank Finlay the sword presented to Olivier by John Gielgud, once worn by the 18-century actor Edmund Kean. Albert Finney read from Ecclesiastes: "To everything there is a season . . . A time to be born and a time to die". John Mills read from I Corinthians: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels . . . " Peggy Ashcroft read from John Milton's "Lycidas." Gielgud read "Death Be Not Proud" by John Donne. Alec Guinness gave an address in which he suggested that Olivier's greatness lay in a happy combination of imagination, physical magnetism, a commanding and appealing voice, an expressive eye, and danger: "Larry always carried the threat of danger with him; primarily as an actor but also, for all his charm, as a private man. There were times when it was wise to be wary of him." He reminded the audience that Olivier has been brought up as a High Anglican, and said he did not think the need for devotion or the mystery of things ever quite left him. The climax of the service was Olivier's own taped voice echoing round the abbey as he delivered the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V (1944). Its quiet resolution was the choir singing "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" from "Cymbeline.".
6/67: Underwent hyperbaric radiation treatment for prostate cancer at St. Thomas' Hospital, London. On July 7 he discharged himself from the hospital, where he had been confined to bed with pneumonia as a complication of the cancer treatment, after Vivien Leigh died. In the following year he had his appendix removed.
7/70: While playing Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" at the National Theatre, he was hospitalized with pleurisy and a thrombosis of the right leg. In September 1974 he fell ill during a holiday in Italy with director Franco Zeffirelli, and after x-rays and blood tests back in England at the Royal Sussex Hospital he was diagnosed with dermato-poly-myositis, a rare muscle disorder. For three months he remained critically ill in the hospital, and was told he could never act on stage again.
5/83: He flew to New York to receive an award at the Lincoln Center, where Douglas Fairbanks Jr. described him as "one hell of an actor." The next evening, Olivier and Joan Plowright went to Washington where, after a showing of King Lear (1983) (TV), President Ronald Reagan gave a small dinner party for them at the White House. In the summer of that year Olivier again suffered from pleurisy, and stayed in St. Thomas's Hospital for three weeks for the removal of a kidney.
1973: He last appeared on the stage in Trevor Griffiths' play "The Party" at the National Theatre, a part in which he had to deliver a 20-minute soliloquy. He won rave reviews in the part.
Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck said that Olivier's 1964 turn as Othello at the National Theatre in London was the greatest performance he had ever seen. Though Olivier received an Oscar nomination in 1966 for his performance in the film version of the National Theatre production, many critics said that the performance captured on film was merely a shadow of what they had seen on stage. Other critics trashed the performance as rubbish, both on-stage and screen, accusing Olivier of making the noble Moor (Moors are considered Caucasian, that is, white under European classification systems developed in the 19th century) into a racist caricature akin to "Old Black Joe." For his part, Olivier had wanted to give Othello "Negritude" (Sammy Davis Jr. claimed that Olivier had come to see him perform multiple times and copied some of his mannerisms in his Othello) in order to comment on racism. He wanted the audience to dislike Othello until the very end, when he is destroyed by the tragedy Iago has hatched for him. Then, the audience would be complicit in Othello's destruction (as they had despised Othello too as a "negro" rather than as the white man in black face he had always been portrayed as by British actors), and their guilt at the destroyed innocent (and their shame over their own racism) would bring them to the point of catharsis. Olivier described it as pushing the audience away for most of the play before drawing them back into his palm.
Richard Burton, who was appearing on Broadway in 1960 in the original production of Alan Jay Lerner's and Frederick Loewe's smash musical "Camelot", hosted a New York reception for Olivier to honor his third marriage, to Joan Plowright. Olivier himself was appearing on Broadway in "Becket", in the title role, a part Burton would play in the 1964 film version (Becket (1964)). Playing the part on film that Olivier had originated on stage brought Burton his third Academy Award nomination, his first in 11 years.
Was the first person to direct himself to a Best Actor win (in Hamlet (1948)).
Actor William Redfield, a friend of Marlon Brando who played Guildenstern in the 1964 Richard Burton Hamlet (1964/I) directed by John Gielgud, writes in his 1967 memoir of the production "Letters from an Actor" that Brando had been considered the Great White Hope of his generation of American actors. That is, they believed that Brando's more naturalistic style, combined with his greatness as an actor, would prove a challenge to the more stylized and technical English acting paradigm epitomized by Olvier, Brando's rival as the world's greatest actor. Redfield would tell Burton stories of Brando, whom he had not yet met. Refield sadly confessed that Brando, by not taking on roles such as Hamlet, had failed to help American actors create an acting tradition that would rival the English.
His 1964 "Othello" at the National Theatre was acclaimed by many critics as the work of a master thespian operating at the top of his craft, but ironically, while playing the role on stage at the Old Vic, Olivier for the first time in his career became afflicted by stage fright. He had to ask other actors, particularly Robert Stephens, who played his Iago, not to look him in the eye, lest he be distracted and lose his ability to say the lines. Although he was afflicted by stage fright for the last 10 years of his stage career, he was determined to fight through it and not have it drive him from the stage. He succeeded, and last appeared on stage in 1974, in Trevor Griffiths "The Party", in which he had to deliver a 20-minute soliloquy.
He was asked by the the Ministry of Information to play the French-Canadian trapper Johnny in 49th Parallel (1941), a film commissioned by the Ministry to raise awareness of the Nazi threat in North America, particularly the U.S. However, it was intended for Canadian consumption also, as many French-Canadians did not want to be at war with Germany and did not want to fight. Vichy France was an ally of Nazi Germany, and many French-Canadians in Quebec were pro-German. That's the reason Olivier, the biggest star in the film, was asked to play a French-Canadian who tells the Nazi officer he is a "Canadian" and not "French". It was felt Oliver would intensify the film's value as pro-British propaganda in Quebec ("Olivier", of course, is a French surname; his ancestors were Hugenots). When Canada resorted to conscription to swell the ranks of its army, there were draft riots throughout Quebec, so intense was the feeling against the United Kingdom, which of course had subjugated New France less than 200 years before. Anti-war sentiment was so rife throughout Canada that Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King declared that only volunteers would be shipped off to Europe.
When Olivier first arrived in Hollywood in 1932, his height was measured at exactly five feet ten inches and his weight at 145 lbs.
Truman Capote pronounced his last name "Oliver".
According to Spartacus (1960) co-star Peter Ustinov, Olivier felt most comfortable acting when wearing a wig, a fake nose or having some other elaborate make-up put on. He often insisted on this, even when it wasn't particularly required for the role he played.
Was in frail health while filming The Boys from Brazil (1978), having recently undergone surgery for kidney stones.
The son of a high church Anglican, Olivier was a lifelong Conservative. In 1983 he wrote to congratulate Margaret Thatcher following her victory in that year's General Election. He declined the offer of a peerage from Harold Wilson's Labour government in 1967, despite Wilson's insistence that it was not a political honor. Olivier was finally persuaded when it was presented to him that he could best represent the interests of the National Theatre as a member of the House of Lords. (By that time, Olivier had lost some bruising battles withe the National's board of directors headed by the hereditary peer Oliver Lyttelton, 1st Viscount Chandos.) Wilson secured a life peerage for Olivier in the Queen's Birthday Honours of June 13, 1970, five days before he lost the general election to Edward Heath's Conservatives. When he took his seat in House of Lords, the Conservatives were in power. Aside from his maiden speech when he was introduced to the chamber, Olivier never spoke to the body again or used the Lords to help the National Theatre.
10/76: On the opening night of the National Theatre, he gave a speech finishing with the words, "I thank you for your kind attention, and for the glory, and the luster, of your attendance". It was tinged with much hidden meaning as the few years leading to the opening had seen Olivier decline all attempts to involve him in the process of setting up the new building after much animosity between him and those in charge. It was the only time he ever set foot on the stage of the theatre which bears his name.
Attended St. Edward's School, Oxford, a top British Boarding school.
He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.
Addressed President John F. Kennedy's inauguration on 20 January 1961.
The filmmakers wanted him to play Clive Candy in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) (1943), but he was prevented from being furloughed from the Navy to take the role by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who didn't want the film to be made. Churchill didn't want to bolster the production with an actor and star of Olivier's calibre as it felt the movie was critical of a type of British patriot. Olivier was allowed to take a leave from the Navy to make a film about Shakespeare's patriotic King Henry V in Henry V (1944). Roger Livesey was cast instead. A generation later he played Olivier's father Billy Rice in The Entertainer (1960), though he was less than a year older than him.
Following the election of a new Labour government in the mid 1970s, Olivier found his tax rate almost doubled. Michael Caine advised him to to leave England, but Olivier was unwilling to do so. Caine then suggested he do every job offered to him - so Olivier appeared in many projects he otherwise would have passed on.
Ex-stepfather of Suzanne Farrington.
Was commissioned as a Lieutenant, and trained as a pilot, in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, but never called into service, and was ultimately released from his obligation in 1944. To show his solidarity with Allied servicemen, he made Henry V (1944).
Was director Luchino Visconti's first choice for the Prince in The Leopard (1963), but the Italian producers wanted an international box office star to make the film more marketable. Burt Lancaster, a Top Ten Box Office star in the U.S., was cast instead.
The Laurence Olivier Awards, first established in 1976 as The Society of West End Theatre Awards, were renamed in his honor in 1984, with Lord Olivier's permission. The Olivier awards are managed and financed by The Society of London Theatre. They are the British equivalent of the Tony Award. The award features a bust of Laurence Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937 and was designed by the sculptor Harry Franchetti.
Admitted to the Order of Merit in 1981,the first actor so honored in its 79-year-long history. The Order of Merit recognizes distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture. Admission into the order is the personal gift of the sovereign of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms and is limited to 24 living recipients at one time from these countries plus a limited number of honorary members. Seven years after Olivier's death, John Gielgud was made a member of the Order, the second actor so honored.
Was created a life peer on 13 June 1970 in the Queen's Birthday Honours as Baron Olivier, of Brighton in the County of Sussex, the first actor to be accorded this distinction.
Was created a Knight Bachelor on 12 June 1947 in the King's Birthday Honours, becoming at the age of 40 the youngest actor so honored. Sir Cedric Hardwicke, knighted at the age of 41, had previously held the record.
Jourdain Olivier, an ancestor, arrived in Britain in 1688 as chaplain to William of Orange.
Garson Kanin and Katharine Hepburn acted as witnesses for the Olivier's 1940 marriage to Vivien Leigh.
Olivier was knighted in July 1947 while working on "Hamlet.".
He was honored as Turner Classic Movies Star of the Month for April 2013.
Acting is illusion, as much illusion as magic is, and not so much a matter of being real.
Without acting I cannot breathe.
Of all the things I've done in life, directing a motion picture is the most beautiful. It's the most exciting and the nearest than an interpretive craftsman, such as an actor can possibly get to being a creator.
If I wasn't an actor, I think I'd have gone mad. You have to have extra voltage, some extra temperament to reach certain heights. Art is a little bit larger than life - it's an exhalation of life and I think you probably need a little touch of madness.
Work is life for me, it is the only point of life - and with it there is almost religious belief that service is everything.
[in 1979] You must have - besides intuition and sensitivity - a cutting edge that allows you to reach what you need. Also, you have to know life - bastards included - and it takes a bit of one to know one, don't you think?
[the only acting advice he would give] What is acting but lying and what is good lying but convincing lying?
Acting is a masochistic form of exhibitionism. It is not quite the occupation of an adult.
I'm England, that's all.
[on Method acting] All this talk about the Method, the Method! WHAT method? I thought each of us had our OWN method!
[to a young actress who complained she was not taken seriously because she was a blonde] But my dear, it was your decision!
[1/70] I don't know what is better than the work that is given to the actor - to teach the human heart the knowledge of itself.
The office of drama is to exercise, possibly to exhaust, human emotions. The purpose of comedy is to tickle those emotions into an expression of light relief; of tragedy, to wound them and bring the relief of tears. Disgust and terror are the other points of the compass.
[first address to the House of Lords, 1971] I believe in the theater; I believe in it as the first glamorizer of thought. It restores dramatic dynamics and their relations to life size.
[first address in the House of Lords, 1971] I believe that in a great city, or even in a small city or a village, a great theater is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture.
Surely we have always acted; it is an instinct inherent in all of us. Some of us are better at it than others, but we all do it.
We have all, at one time or another, been performers, and many of us still are - politicians, playboys, cardinals and kings.
The actor should be able to create the universe in the palm of his hand.
I often think that could we creep behind the actor's eyes, we would find an attic of forgotten toys and a copy of the Domesday Book.
[on whether he harbored any resentment at his forced retirement from the stage after he was fired by Britain's National Theater] I should be soaring away with my head tilted slightly toward the gods, feeding on the caviar of Shakespeare . . . An actor must act.
My stage successes have provided me with the greatest moments outside myself, my film successes the best moments, professionally, within myself.
[5/58, on playing Macbeth at age 30 and age 48] When you're a young man, Macbeth is a character part. When you're older, it's a straight part.
I like to appear as a chameleon. So all my career I've attempted to disguise myself.
I'm afraid I probably outrage the Method people.
[upon being awarded his second honorary Academy Award in 1979, an Oscar statuette for Lifetime Achievement, "for the full body of his work, for the unique achievements of his entire career and his lifetime of contribution to the art of film," presented by Cary Grant] Oh, dear friends, am I supposed to speak after that? Cary, my dear old friend for many a year - from the earliest years of either of us working in this country - thank you for that beautiful citation and the trouble you have taken to make it and for all the warm generosities in it. Mr. President and governors of the Academy, committee members, fellows, my very noble and approved good masters, my colleagues, my friends, my fellow students. In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosities, this particular choice may be found by future generations to be a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it - the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it - must be seen as a beautiful star in the firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth and the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow. From the top of this moment, in the solace, in the kindly emotion that it is changing my soul and my heart at this moment, I thank you for this great gift which lends me such a very splendid part in this, your glorious occasion. Thank you.
 Time I was gone. Time I was dead.
[on ex-wife Vivien Leigh] We were like brother and sister, just as she always wanted. But fortunately, occasional incest was allowed.
[on Spencer Tracy] I've learned more about acting from watching Tracy than in any other way.
[on Marilyn Monroe] There were two entirely unrelated sides to Marilyn. You would not be far out if you described her as schizoid; the two people that she was could hardly have been more different. She was so adorable, so witty, such incredible fun and more physically attractive than anyone I could have imagined, apart from herself on the screen.
[on Vivien Leigh] Apart from her looks, which were magical, she possessed beautiful poise; her neck looked almost too fragile to support her head and bore with it a sense of surprise, and something of the pride of the master juggler who can make a brilliant maneuver appear almost accidental. She also had something else: an attraction of the most perturbing nature I had ever encountered.
[on actress Ann Harding] The pretty and highly regarded Ann Harding, a woman of great charm, integrity and beauty.
[on Charles Laughton] The only actor of genius I've ever met.
[on Alec Guinness] He's an actor, that fellow, a superb actor. But over and above that he does his homework. However idiosyncratically I saw Alec playing a part, I would be very, very cautious about criticizing it, because I know that every point about it would be backed by a complete marshaling of all available evidence. He really does his homework.
[on Michael Caine] Wonderfully good company, ceaselessly funny and a brilliant actor.
[on Marilyn Monroe] A professional amateur.
[on needing to re-shoot their torture scene in Marathon Man (1976) because Method actor Dustin Hoffman had gotten excessively drunk the first time so he'd look really out of it] Oh, why doesn't he just *act*.
[on Marlon Brando] Brando acted with an empathy and an instinctual understanding that not even the greatest technical performers could possibly match.
[on Marilyn Monroe] Look at that face - she could be five years old.
People ask me why I'm playing in this picture. The answer is simple. Money, dear boy. I'm like a vintage wine. You have to drink me quickly before I turn sour. I'm almost used up now and I can feel the end coming. That's why I'm taking money now. I've got nothing to leave my family but the money I can make from films. Nothing is beneath me if it pays well. I've earned the right to damn well grab whatever I can in the time I've got left.
|As You Like It (1936)||£600 a week|
|Wuthering Heights (1939)||$20,000|
|The Moon and Sixpence (1959) (TV)||$100,000|
|Lady Caroline Lamb (1973)||£20,000 (for 5 days)|
|The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)||$75,000 (for 2 days)|
|A Bridge Too Far (1977)||$200,000|
|The Betsy (1978)||$400,000|
|The Boys from Brazil (1978)||$725,000|
|The Jazz Singer (1980)||$1,000,000|
|Clash of the Titans (1981)||$300,000|
|The Bounty (1984)||$100,000|
|Wild Geese II (1985)||$300,000|
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