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).

  • 'Truman Capote' (qv) pronounced his last name "Oliver.".
  • Wife #1 'Jill Esmond (I)' (qv) named 'Vivien Leigh' (qv) --wife #2--as co-respondent in her 1940 divorce from Olivier on grounds of adultery. Leigh named 'Joan Plowright' (qv) --wife #3--as co-respondent in her 1960 divorce from Olivier, also on grounds of adultery.
  • Attended The Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
  • He wrote in his autobiography, "Confessions of an Actor," that sometime after World War II, his wife 'Vivien Leigh' (qv) 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 (I)' (qv) in the 1950s, according to Bloom's own autobiography) as Leigh's attentions wandered and roamed outside of the marital bedchamber. Olivier had to accompany her 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)_ (qv). In order to do so, he accepted a part in 'William Wyler' (qv)'s _Carrie (1952)_ (qv), which was shot at the same time as "Streetcar". The Oliviers were popular with Hollywood's elite, and 'Elia Kazan' (qv) and 'Marlon Brando' (qv) 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' (qv)--the original stage Blanche DuBois--as she WAS Blanche. Olivier himself had directed Leigh in the part on the London stage.
  • In her autobiography, "Limelight and After," 'Claire Bloom (I)' (qv) 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.
  • The first thespian to receive both a Best Actor Oscar (for _Hamlet (1948)_ (qv)) and a Worst Actor Razzie (for _Inchon (1981)_ (qv)).
  • 1958: Was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "The Entertainer," a role he recreated in an Oscar-nominated performance in the film version of the same name, _The Entertainer (1960)_ (qv). This was his only nomination for a Tony, an award he never won.
  • 4/21/58: According to "Time Magazine," as an addendum to its cover story on 'Alec Guinness' (qv), in 1957 Olivier turned down a Hollywood offer of $250,000 for one motion picture. Instead of making the movie and pocketing the cash (worth approximately $1.7 million in 2005 terms), Olivier preferred to take on the role of Archie Rice in 'John Osborne (II)' (qv)'s _The Entertainer (1960)_ (qv) (a role written specifically for him) at the princely sum of 45 per week (worth $126 in 1957 dollars at the contemporaneous exchange rate, or $856 in 2005 terms).

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