82 (passed away Jul. 11th, 1989)
May. 22nd, 1907
Dorking, Surrey, England, UK
Laurence Olivier's Main TV Roles
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).
- 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 (I)' (qv), 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.
- Actor 'William Redfield' (qv), a friend of 'Marlon Brando' (qv) who played Guildenstern in the 1964 'Richard Burton (I)' (qv) _Hamlet (1964/I)_ (qv) directed by 'John Gielgud' (qv), 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 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.
- In his 1983 autobiography "Confessions of an Actor," Olivier writes that upon meeting 'Marilyn Monroe' (qv) preparatory to the commencement of production of _The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)_ (qv), 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.
- 1973: He last appeared on the stage in 'Trevor Griffiths' (qv)' 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.
- He was originally cast in 'Burt Lancaster' (qv)'s role in _Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)_ (qv).
- Said once that he always visualized the physical appearance of a character that he was going to play before he did anything else.
- 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.
- 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' (qv) playing 'Christopher Marlowe (I)' (qv)'s "Tamburlaine The Grea"t, directed by 'Peter Hall (I)' (qv). The Queen officially opened the National Theatre on October 25. Years later, 'Michael Caine (I)' (qv) 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.