Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier

82 (passed away Jul. 11th, 1989)
May. 22nd, 1907
Born in
Dorking, Surrey, England, UK
5' 10

Laurence Olivier's Main TV Roles

Show Character(s)
Brideshead Revisited (UK) TV Show
Brideshead Revisited (UK)
The World at War (UK) TV Show
The World at War (UK)

Main Movie Roles

Guest TV Roles

[none found]


He could speak William Shakespeare (I)'s lines as naturally as if he were "actually thinking them", said English playwright Charles C. 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 (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 (I), 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).

  • He and 'Roberto Benigni' (qv) are the only two actors to have directed themselves in Oscar-winning performances.
  • 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.
  • Was chosen to play Antonio in _Queen Christina (1933)_ (qv) but was rejected by 'Greta Garbo' (qv) after an initial meeting at the studio. The part later went to Garbo's former lover 'John Gilbert (I)' (qv), 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.
  • Was in consideration for the role of Thomas More in _A Man for All Seasons (1966)_ (qv) but 'Paul Scofield (I)' (qv), who went on to win a Best Actor Oscar for his performance, was cast instead.
  • The filmmakers wanted him to play Clive Candy in _The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)_ (qv) (1943), but he was prevented from being furloughed from the Navy to take the role by Prime Minister 'Winston Churchill (I)' (qv), 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 _The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (1944)_ (qv). 'Roger Livesey' (qv) was cast instead. A generation later he played Olivier's father Billy Rice in _The Entertainer (1960)_ (qv), though he was less than a year older than him.
  • 2006: His performance as Richard III in _Richard III (1955)_ (qv) is ranked #39 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.
  • 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 (I)' (qv), 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' (qv) "The Party", in which he had to deliver a 20-minute soliloquy.
  • 'Orson Welles' (qv) wrote his novel _Mr. Arkadin (1955)_ (qv) during an extended stay with Olivier and his wife 'Vivien Leigh' (qv). 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)_ (qv), which had been produced by 'Michael Todd (I)' (qv) 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.

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