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Tom Courtenay Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (13) | Personal Quotes (10)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 25 February 1937Kingston-Upon-Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, UK
Birth NameThomas Daniel Courtenay
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Acting chameleon Sir Tom Courtenay, along with Sirs Alan Bates and Albert Finney, became front-runners in an up-and-coming company of rebel upstarts who created quite a stir in British "kitchen sink" cinema during the early 60s. An undying love for the theatre, however, had Courtenay channeling a different course than the afore-mentioned greats and he never, by his own choosing, attained comparable cinematic stardom.

The gaunt and glum, fair-haired actor was born Thomas Daniel Courtenay of modest surroundings on February 25, 1937, in Hull, East Yorkshire, England, the son of Thomas Henry Courtenay, a ship painter, and his wife Anne Eliza (née Quest). Graduating from Kingston High School there, he trained in drama at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. His reputation as an actor grew almost immediately with his professional debut in 1960 as Konstantin in "The Seagull" at the Old Vic. Following tours in Scotland and London with the play, Tom performed in "Henry IV, Part I" and "Twelfth Night" (also at the Old Vic) before assuming the title role of Billy from Albert Finney in the critically-acclaimed drama "Billy Liar" at the Cambridge Theatre in 1961. The story, which tells of a Yorkshire man who creates a fantasy world to shield himself from his mundane middle-class woes, was the initial spark in Tom's rise to fame.

The recognition he received landed him squarely into the heap of things as a new wave of "angry young men" were taking over British cinema during the swinging 60s. Singled out for his earlier stage work at RADA, he was eventually handed the title role in the war film Private Potter (1962), but it was his second movie that clenched stardom. Winning the role of Colin Smith in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Courtenay invested everything he had in this bruising portrayal of youthful desolation and rebellion. As a reform school truant whose solitary sentencing for robbing a bakery leads to a reawakening and subsequent recognition as a long distance runner, he was awarded a "Promising Newcomer" award from the British Film Academy, It was Courtenay then, and not Finney, who recreated his stage triumph as Billy Fisher in the stark film version of Billy Liar (1963). British Film Academy nominations came his way for this and for his fourth movie role in King & Country (1964). Vivid contributions to the films King Rat (1965), the ever-popular Doctor Zhivago (1965), which earned him his first Oscar nomination, and The Night of the Generals (1967) followed.

Despite all this cinematic glory, Courtenay did not enjoy the process of movie-making and reverted back to his first passion -- the theatre -- beginning in 1966. Displaying his versatility with roles in such classic works as "The Cherry Orchard," "Macbeth" (as Malcolm), "Charley's Aunt," "The Playboy of the Western World," "Hamlet," "She Stoops to Conquer," "Peer Gynt" and "Arms and the Man," he still found scattered work in films, including The Day the Fish Came Out (1967), A Dandy in Aspic (1968) and Otley (1969), but none matched his earlier brilliance. In 1971 he took a self-imposed, decade-long sabbatical from filming.

Forming a sturdy association with the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester that would last over a decade, he continued to impress with lead roles in "The Rivals" and "The Prince of Homburg". Following his huge success as the libidinous Norman in "The Norman Conquests" in London, he made his Broadway debut with "Otherwise Engaged" (1977) and earned a Tony nomination and Drama League Award in the process. It was his second Tony-nominated triumph in "The Dresser" in 1980-1981, however, that lured Courtenay back to films when he was asked to recreate the role for the large screen. The Dresser (1983) co-starred Tom as the mincing personal assistant to an appallingly self-destructive stage star played by Albert Finney (Paul Rogers played the role with Tom on Broadway) who struggles to get the actor through a rigorous performance of "King Lear". Both British actors received Oscar nominations but lost the 1984 "Best Actor" award to American Robert Duvall.

Since then Tom has appeared on occasion in TV and film roles -- usually in support. A few standouts include the films Let Him Have It (1991), Whatever Happened to Harold Smith? (1999), Last Orders (2001) and Nicholas Nickleby (2002), and the TV mini-series A Rather English Marriage (1998), for which he earned a British Television Award, and Little Dorrit (2008).

Over the years Sir Tom has excelled in solo stage shows as well. As a chronic alcoholic in "Moscow Stations," he won the 1994 London Critics Circle Theatre and London Evening Standard Theatre awards for "Best Actor". In 2002, he wrote the one-man show "Pretending To Be Me," based on the letters and writings of poet Philip Larkin. In the past decade he has continued to distinguish himself on both the classical ("King Lear," "Uncle Vanya") and contemporary ("Art") stages.

Courtenay's marriage to actress Cheryl Kennedy lasted about a decade (from 1973 to 1982). In 1988 he married Isabel Crossley, a stage manager at the Royal Exchange Theatre in London. He has no children from either marriage. In 1999, Sir Tom Courtenay was awarded an honorary doctorate from Hull University and in 2000 published his memoir "Dear Tom: Letters From Home", which earned strong reviews. Knighthood came a year after that.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

Isabel Crossley (August 1988 - present)
Cheryl Kennedy (12 January 1973 - 1982) (divorced)

Trivia (13)

Subject of the song "Tom Courtenay" by Yo La Tengo.
He was awarded Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in the 2001 Queen's New Years Honours List for his services to drama.
He was awarded the 1994 London Critics Circle Theatre Award (Drama Theatre) for Best Actor for his performance in Moscow Stations.
He was awarded the 1994 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor for his performance in Moscow Stations.
An Associate Member of RADA.
Graduated from RADA.
Was nominated for two Tony Awards as Best Actor (Play): in 1977 for "Otherwise Engaged," and in 1982 for "The Dresser," a part recreated in his Oscar-nominated performance in the film of the same name, The Dresser (1983).
Second cousin of British Actor Paul Popplewell.
Appearing in "The Home Place" by Brian Friel at the Comedy Theatre, London [May 2005]
London, England [January 2010]
Queen Elizabeth noticed Courtney's shyness when she met him at a Buckingham reception during the run of "Doctor Zhivago." The Monarch reportedly remarked, "Look at him, and to think he's just lead a revolution!".
Courtney's agent landed him the Max von Sydow role in "Hawaii" for $90,000 but the actor declined it.
Courtney was offered but rejected the title role in "Jesus of Nazareth" because he disliked the screenplay.

Personal Quotes (10)

The film business is absurd. Stars don't last very long. It's much more interesting to be a proper actor.
When I go out on stage I like to be aware that there are a lot of women there. They are generally the loudest laughers.
[speaking in 1961] "Take all this thing now about working-class actors and writers: it's simply a release of certain talents from that class."
I never did anything about my stardom, it never meant anything to me.
I don't want to peak too early. The worry is that you never know until it's all over whether you peaked at all - and then you're finished and it's too late.
There just doesn't seem to be a market for something with aspiration anymore.
[in a 1983 interview] I'm not sure that being a movie star appeals to many English actors. The main thing is to have something inspiring to do.
[on "Doctor Zhivago"] We were all sitting in a horrible hotel in Spain waiting for snow. In six months, I did only three weeks work... Indeed it was good money, but I felt I should be learning my raft, doing long speeches, and learning how to go loud and soft, and quick and slow, and how to keep the audience awake.
[on rejecting playing "Jesus of Nazareth"] If you were going to play one of the most powerful creatures who ever lived, you'd better have a well-written part. Also, I wondered if I ever did meet Jesus, whether He'd ask, 'Well, what was that supposed to be?'
[on his co-star Albert Finney in 1983] I used to be very in awe of him and was never comfortable in his presence. Of all people, he really gave me the willies because I didn't really know him.

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