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Birthday: May 22, 1907
Place: Dorking, Surrey, England, UK
Height: 5' 1"
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| Laurence Olivier — Sir Laurence after 1947, Lord Laurence after 1970 — has been variously lauded as the greatest Shakespearean interpreter of the 20th century, the greatest classical actor of the era, and the greatest actor of his generation. Although his career took a rather desperate turn toward the end when he seemed willing to appear in almost anything, the bulk of Olivier's 60-year career stands as a sterling example of extraordinary craftsmanship.Olivier was the son of an Anglican minister, who, despite his well-documented severity, was an unabashed theater lover, enthusiastically encouraging young Olivier to give acting a try. The boy made his first public appearance at age nine, playing Brutus in an All Saint's production of Julius Caesar. No member of the audience was more impressed than actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, who knew then and there that Olivier had what it took. Much has been made of the fact that the 15-year-old Olivier played Katherine in a St. Edward's School production of The Taming of the Shrew; there was, however, nothing unusual at the time for males to play females in all-boy schools. (For that matter, the original Shakespeare productions in the 16th and 17th centuries were strictly stag.) Besides, Olivier was already well versed in playing female roles, having previously played Maria in Twelfth Night. Two years after The Taming of the Shrew, he enrolled at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, where one of his instructors was Claude Rains. Olivier made his professional London debut the same year in The Suliot Officer, and joined the Birmingham Repertory in 1926; by the time Olivier was 20, he was playing leads. His subsequent West End stage triumphs included Journey's End and Private Lives. In 1929, he made his film debut in the German-produced A Temporary Widow. He married actress Jill Esmond in 1930, and moved with her to America when Private Lives opened on Broadway. Signed to a Hollywood contract by RKO in 1931, Olivier was promoted as "the new Ronald Colman," but he failed to make much of an impression onscreen. By the time Greta Garbo insisted that he be replaced by John Gilbert in her upcoming Queen Christina (1933), Olivier was disenchanted with the movies and vowed to remain on-stage. He graduated to full-fledged stardom in 1935, when he was cast as Romeo in John Gielgud's London production of Romeo and Juliet. (He also played Mercutio on the nights Gielgud assumed the leading role himself.) It was around this time that Olivier reportedly became fascinated with the works of Sigmund Freud, which led to his applying a "psychological" approach to all future stage and screen characters. Whatever the reason, Olivier's already superb performances improved dramatically, and, before long, he was being judged on his own merits by London critics, and not merely compared (often disparagingly) to Gielgud or Ralph Richardson. It was in collaboration with his friend Richardson that Olivier directed his first play in 1936, which was also the year he made his first Shakespearean film, playing Orlando in Paul Czinner's production of As You Like It. Now a popular movie leading man, Olivier starred in such pictures as Fire Over England (1937), 21 Days (1938), The Divorce of Lady X (1938), and Q Planes (1939). He returned to Hollywood in 1939 to star as Heathcliff in Samuel Goldwyn's glossy (and financially successful) production of Wuthering Heights, earning the first of 11 Oscar nominations. He followed this with leading roles in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), MGM's Pride and Prejudice (1940), and Alexander Korda's That Hamilton Woman (1941), co-starring in the latter with his second wife, Vivien Leigh. Returning to England during World War II, Olivier served as a parachute officer in the Royal Navy. Since he was stationed at home, so to speak, he was also able to serve as co-director (with Ralph Richardson) of the Old Vic. His most conspicuous contribution to the war effort was his joyously jingoistic film production of Henry V (1944), for which he served as producer, director, and star. Like all his future film directorial efforts, Henry V pulled off the difficult trick of retaining its theatricality without ever sacrificing its cinematic values. Henry V won Olivier an honorary Oscar, not to mention major prizes from several other corners of the world. Knighthood was bestowed upon him in 1947, and he served up another celluloid Shakespeare the same year, producing, directing and starring in Hamlet. This time he won two Oscars: one for his performance, the other for the film itself. The '50s was a transitional decade for Olivier: While he had his share of successes — his movie singing debut in The Beggar's Opera (1953), his 1955 adaptation of Richard III — he also suffered a great many setbacks, both personal (his disintegrating relationship with Vivien Leigh) and professional (1957's The Prince and the Showgirl, which failed despite the seemingly unbeatable combination of Olivier's directing and Marilyn Monroe's star performance). In 1956, Olivier boldly reinvented himself as the seedy, pathetically out-of-step music hall comic Archie Rice in the original stage production of John Osborne's The Entertainer. It was a resounding success, both on-stage and on film, and Olivier reprised his role in a 1960 film version directed by Tony Richardson. Thereafter, Olivier deliberately sought out such challenging, image-busting roles as the ruthless, bisexual Crassus in Spartacus (1960) and the fanatical Mahdi in Khartoum (1965). He also achieved a measure of stability in his private life in 1961 when he married actress Joan Plowright. In 1962, he was named the artistic director of Britain's National Theatre, a post he held for ten years. To periodically replenish the National's threadbare bank account, Olivier began accepting roles that were beneath him artistically, but which paid handsomely; in the early '70s, he even hawked Polaroid cameras on television. During this period, he was far more comfortable before the cameras than in the theater, suffering as he was from a mysterious bout of stage fright. He also committed two more directorial efforts to film, Othello (1965) and Dance of Death (1968), both of which were disappointingly stage-bound. In 1970, he became Lord Olivier and assumed a seat in the House of Lords the following year. Four years later, suffering from a life-threatening illness, he made his last stage appearance. From 1974 until his death in 1989, he seemingly took whatever film job was offered him, ostensibly to provide an income for his family, should the worst happen. Some colleagues, like director John Schlesinger, were disillusioned by Olivier's mercenary approach to his work. Others, like Entertainer director Tony Richardson, felt that Olivier was not really a sellout as much as he was what the French call a cabotin — not exactly a ham: a performer, a vulgarian, someone who lives and dies for acting. Amidst such foredoomed projects as The Jazz Singer (1980) and Inchon (1981), Olivier was still capable of great things, as shown by his work in such TV productions as 1983's Mister Halpern and Mister Johnson and, in 1984, King Lear and Voyage Round My Father. In 1979, he was once more honored at Academy Awards time, receiving an honorary Oscar "for the full body of his work." His last appearance was in the 1988 film War Requiem. With so many books on Laurence Olivier available, it is hard to recommend any one as the definitive portrait of the man. His two autobiographical works, however, 1984's Confessions of an Actor and 1986's On Acting, would be an excellent place to start.
- When presenting at the Oscars in 1985, 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."
- Ranked #46 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
- Knighted in 1947, made life peer in 1970, awarded the Order of Merit in 1981.
- Father, with Esmond, of Tarquin Olivier.
- Interred at Westminster Abbey, London, England, UK. He was only the second actor to receive this honor, along with the 19th century Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean.
- Was seriously considered for what became Marlon Brando's role in The Godfather (1972).
- He and Roberto Benigni are 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 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.
- Family nickname "Kim."
- His father, a clergyman, decided Laurence would become an actor.
- Ranked tenth in the 2001 Orange Film Survey of greatest British actors.
- Son-in-law of actress Eva Moore. She was Jack and Jill Esmond's mother
- 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.
- His film version of Shakespeare's Hamlet (1948) is still, as of 2004, 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 (Laurence Olivier for Best Actor).
- Father of four children: sons Tarquin Olivier and Richard Olivier, and daughters Julie Kate Olivier and Tamsin Olivier.
- 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.
- He is considered by many people to be the greatest English-speaking actor of the twentieth century, even more so than Marlon Brando and Spencer Tracy.
- Said once that he always visualized the physical appearance of a character that he was going to play before he did anything else.
- His acting in Hamlet (1948) is discussed by Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.
- The Olivier Theatre, the largest theatre in the new National Theatre complex on the south bank of the Thames, opened on October 4, 1976 with Albert Finney playing 'Christopher Marlowe' 's Tamburlaine The Great, directed by 'Peter Hall' . The Queen officially opened the National Theatre on October 25th. 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. Ironically, the Olivier Theatre is walled with concrete that so deadens sound, actors now use microphones during performances, something unthinkable for a great stage actor known for his ability to project his voice to the top balconies of the largest theaters.
- Wanted desperately to stage Guys and Dolls (1955) in the early 1970s as he dreamed of playing Sky Masterston, 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 governors, 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, Olivier 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 million by Look Magazine in its February 23, 1971, issue (an amount equivalent to 0 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.
- Was nominated for Broadway's 1958 Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "The Entertainer," a role he recreated in an Oscar-nominated performanve 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."
- Modelled the accent for his character of George Hurstwood, an American living in turn of the last century Chicago in Carrie (1952), on Spencer Tracy.
- 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
- The first thespian to receive both a Best Actor Oscar (for Hamlet, 1948) and a Worst Actor RAZZIE (for Inchon in 1982).
- Is portrayed by Andrew Clarke in _"Blonde" (2001) (mini)_ , by Anthony Higgins in Darlings of the Gods (1989) (TV) and by Anthony Gordon in Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980) (TV)
- When Olivier 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, his only movie 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.)
- Won three Best Actor Awards from the New York Film Critics Circle: as the eponymous protagonists of Shakespeare's The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (1944) and Hamlet (1948), and as the mystery writer in Sleuth (1972).
- Lord Olivier perfected an Italian accent in order to play Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but director Francis Ford Coppola wanted Marlon Brando for the part.
- Luchino Visconti wanted to cast him in the title role of the Italian prince in Gattopardo, Il (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's 10 nominations and Spencer Tracy's eight nominations 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 13 (11 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.)
- His performance as Richard III in Richard III (1955) is ranked #39 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
- 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 million in 1979 for Inchon, approximately million in 2006 dollars) whereas the other theatrical knights were not.
- According to the April 21, 1958, edition of "Time Magazine," as an addendum to its cover story on Alec Guinness, in 1957, Olivier turned down a Hollywood offer of 0,000 for one motion picture. Instead of making the movie and pocketing the dosh (worth approximately .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 6 in 1957 dollars at the contemporaneous exchange rate, or 6 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, Vivien 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, thus, Olivier from even worse embarrassment.
- Olivier 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 eye and amorous intentions wandered and roamed outside of the marital bedchamber. Olivier had to accompany Leigh 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.
- Was the first actor made a peer of the realm (the second, and only other, being Richard Attenborough) 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 Shakespeare). Guiness, 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 heavy fall in March 1989, Olivier endured his final operation, a hip replacement. His sister Sybille died the following month at the age of eighty- seven. 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 quarter past eleven in the morning of 11 July 1989, he had been ill for the last twenty- two years of his life.
- On 20 October 1989, 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'Toolethe 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 eighteenth-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 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." The 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 The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (1944). Its quiet resolution was the choir singing "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" from "Cymbeline."
- Underwent hyperbaric radiation treatment for prostate cancer in June 1967, at St Thomas' Hospital, London. On 7 July 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.
- While playing Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" at the National Theatre in July 1970 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.
- In April 1983 Olivier 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 went to Washington where, after a showing of King Lear (1983) (TV), President 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.
- He last appeared on the stage in Trevor Griffiths's play "The Party" at the National Theatre in 1973, 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 in New York on Broadway in Lerner & Lowe's Camelot (1967), hosted a New York reception for Olivier to honor his third marriage, to Joan Plowright. Olivier was in New York to appear on Broadway in the play Becket (1964), the film version of which would bring Burton his third Academy Award nomination.
- Offered parts in "Coronation Street" (1960) and "Doctor Who" (1963).
- Was the first person to direct himself to a Best Actor win (in Hamlet (1948)).
- The 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 Laurence Olviier, 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 (1965) 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.
- Olivier 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 Candians in Quebec were pro-German. That is 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, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King declared that only volunteers would be shipped off to Europe.
- Is portrayed by Julian Sands in Kenneth Tynan: In Praise of Hardcore (2005) (TV)
- When Olivier first arrived in Hollywood in 1932, his height was measured at exactly five feet ten inches and his weight at 145 lbs.
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