January 2, 2017


Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) b. Dorking, England.

Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier – Sir Laurence after 1947, Lord Laurence after 1970 has been variously lauded as the greatest Shakespearean interpreter of the 20th century. Olivier made his first public appearance at the age of 9, playing Brutus in an All Saint’s Production of Julius Caesar. Olivier enrolled at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, where one of his instructors was Claude Rains. That same year, he made his professional London debut in The Suliot Officer. He made his film debut in the German-produced A Temporary Widow (1929), and the following year married actress Jill Esmond, moving with her to America when Private Lives opened on Broadway. Signed to a Hollywood contract by RKO in 1931, Olivier failed to make much of an impression on screen, disenchanted with the movies he 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. Olivier made his first Shakespearean film, playing Orlando in Paul Czinner’s production of As You Like It (1936). Now a popular movie leading man, Olivier starred in such entertainment’s as Fire Over England (1937), The Divorce of Lady X (1938), Q Planes (1939) and 21 Days (1940). He returned to Hollywood to star as Heathcliff in Sam Goldwyn’s glossy production of Wuthering Heights (1939), earning the first of eleven Academy Award nominations. He followed this with leading roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Pride and Prejudice (1940) and Korda’s That Hamilton Woman (1941), co-starring in the latter with his second wife, Vivien Leigh. His most conspicuous contribution to the war effort was his joyously jingoistic film production of Henry V (1944) which he produced, directed and starred in. In 1947, the year knighthood was bestowed upon him, Olivier served up another celluloid Shakespeare, producing, directing and starring in Hamlet (1948). The 1950s was a transitional decade for Olivier; while he had his share of successes – his movie singing debut in The Beggar’s Opera (1953), his production of Richard III (1955) – he also suffered a great many setbacks, both personal and professional. Olivier deliberately sought out such challenging, image-busting roles as the ruthless, bisexual Crassus in Spartacus (1960) and the fanatical Mahdi in Khartoum (1966). He also achieved a measure of stability in his private life in 1961 when he married actress Joan Plowright. During this period, he was far more comfortable before the cameras than in the theatre, 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 (1969), both of which were disappointingly stagebound. In 1970, he became Lord Olivier and assumed his 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, he seemingly took whatever film job was offered him, some like Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth (1972) and John Schlesinger‘s Marathon Man (1976) proved worthy of the ageing actor.

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