Height: 5' 10"
He could speak
Shakespeare's lines as naturally as if he were "actually thinking them", said English playwright Charles 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 Giulgud. A young English woman 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". Her film was "Gone With The Wind." Vivien Leigh and Olivier were screen lovers in "Fire Over England" (1937), "21 Days
Together" (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" that was called "Carrie" while Leigh was
completing work on the film version of the Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire". She won her second Oscar for bringing Blanche DuBois to the screen. "Carrie" 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 the career of Sir Laurence Olivier that was 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", 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 in the film as well. They married soon after the release of "The Entertainer" (1960).
Joan Plowright (1960 - 1989) (his death)
Vivien Leigh (1940 - 1960) (divorced)
Jill Esmond (I) (1930 - 1940) (divorced)
When presenting at the Oscars in 1985, he forgot to name the Best Picture nominees. He simply opened the
envelope and proclaimed, "Amadeus"
Even with his royal titles, he refused to carry on a conversation with anyone who wouldn't address him as "Larry".
(October 1997) Ranked #46 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list.
Knighted in 1947.
Made life peer in 1970.
Father of producer 'Tarquin Olivier'
Interred at Westminster Abbey, London, England, UK.
He was nominated for an Emmy in the same year (1974), in the same category, for two different 1973 performances- James Tyrone in "Long Day's Journey Into
Night", and Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice".
Turned down the role of Humbert in Lolita (1962).
Awarded the Order of Merit in 1981
His ancestors were originally from France,
they fled to England around the 17th century. The reason being they were Protestants known as Huguenots who were treated badly by the Catholics.
Was seriously considered for what became Marlon Brando's role in Godfather, The (1972).
"Acting is illusion, as much illusion as magic is, and not so much a matter of being real."
"Without Acting I Cannot Breathe".
"Of all the things I've done in life, directing a
motion picture is the most beautiful. It's the most exciting and the nearest than an interpretive craftsman, such as an actor can possibly get to being a creator."
"If I wasn't an actor, I think I'd
have gone mad. You have to have extra voltage, some extra temperament to reach certain heights. Art is a little bit larger than life - it's an exhalation of life and I think I you probably need a little touch of
"Work is life for me, it is the only point of life - and with it there is almost religious belief that service is everything."
In 1979: "You must have - besides intuition
and sensitivity - a cutting edge that allows you to reach what you need. Also, you have to know life - bastards included - and it takes a bit of one to know one, don't you think?"
"What is acting but
lying and what is good lying but convincing lying?" - In 'Confessions of an Actor: An Autobiography, ' 1982
In 'Confessions of an Actor: An Autobiography': "You must have - besides intuition and
sensitivity - a cutting edge that allows you to reach what you need. Also, you have to know life - bastards included - and it takes a bit of one to know one, don't you think?"
"Relax your feet". (the only acting advice he would ever give).
Forty-Ninth Parallel (1941) £2,000 (for 2 weeks)
Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:
Actor, director, producer. (b. May 22, 1907, Dorking, England; d. July 11, 1989.) The man commonly
referred to as the greatest actor of the century never thought of himself as much of a screen actor, but "just another player," as screenwriter William Goldman reported. A clergyman's son-with no interest in
inheriting the family businessOlivier began acting in his teens (making his stage debut at 15, playing Kate ! in "The Taming of the Shrew"), and was encouraged to study at London's Central School of Speech
Training and Dramatic Arts. From there, he joined the Birmingham Repertory Company and debuted on Broadway in 1929. The dark, handsome performer enjoyed stage successes in both New York and London, including the very
successful "Journey's End" and "Private Lives," but he also had many failures, and real respectability eluded him. Moreover, Olivier's performances in his first American films, Friends and Lovers and
The Yellow Ticket (both 1931), were indifferently received, and he lost the male lead in Queen Christina (1933), which would have costarred him with Greta Garbo.
Back in England, Olivier won notoriety in John
Gielgud's production of "Romeo and Juliet" (in which they swapped the roles of Romeo and Mercutio), and then as a very modernized, Freudian-influenced Hamlet. Throughout the remainder of the 1930s, he became
one of England's leading stage actors and established a romantic screen persona in Fire Over England (1937), The Divorce of Lady X (1938), and Q Planes (1939). He returned to Hollywood with Vivien Leigh (whom he'd met
when they costarred in Fire Over England. She was hired to star as Scarlett O'Hara, while he played Heathcliff in Samuel Goldwyn's lavish production of Wuthering Heights (1939, directed by William Wyler); his brooding,
intense performance-the credit for which Olivier always gave to director Wyler-brought the vibrant Englishman his first Oscar nomination and international acclaim besides. Olivier became known for his amazing prowess at
exposing characters' inner selves with his meticulous exploitation of external details: accents, physical impairments, and makeup. (Upon learning that his Marathon Man costar Dustin Hoffman had stayed awake for two days
to look properly exhausted in one scene, he told the younger actor, "You should try acting, my boy. It's much easier.")
Olivier cemented his Hollywood reputation with skillful performances in
Hitchcock's Rebecca (Oscar-nominated) and Pride and Prejudice (both 1940), and scored with moviegoers across the Atlantic as the male star of That Hamilton Woman opposite Leigh, and then in the all-star war yarn 49th
Parallel (both 1941). After World War 2 began, Olivier asked William Wyler to direct him in a film version of Shakespeare's "Henry V," but Wyler turned him down and suggested Olivier direct it himself. He did,
and the resulting 1945 film was hailed as a milestone: the first serious and successful translation of Shakespeare to the screen. It won Olivier a special Oscar in recognition of outstanding achievement (and a Best
Actor nomination). Just a few years later he topped himself, directing and starring in an ambitious, moody adaptation of Hamlet (1948) that won four Oscars, including one for Best Picture and one for him as Best Actor.
He is the only performer in Oscar history to direct himself in an Academy Award-winning performance.
Olivier's stage work took precedence during the 1950s and 1960s, during which time he directed himself in only
two other films: the spellbinding Richard III (1955, Oscar-nominated) and The Prince and the Showgirl (1957, which teamed him with Marilyn Monroe). He played a few roles for other directors, notably appearing in Wyler's
Carrie (1952), which many critics consider one of his best performances. His portrayal of seedy vaudevillian Archie Rice in The Entertainer (1960, Oscarnominated, recreating his acclaimed stage role) began his
transition into character parts, and led to supporting roles in Spartacus (1960, as Crassus), Khartoum (1966, as the Mahdi), Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), although he still astonished
audiences in leading roles like the title part in Othello (1965) and the cuckolded mystery writer in Sleuth (1972, earning more Oscar nominations for the last two).
Film critic Pauline Kael once rhapsodized:
"Every time we single out the fea ture that makes Olivier a marvel-his lion eyes or the voice and the way it seizes on a phrase-he alters it or casts it off in some new role, and is greater than ever." In the
1970s Olivier accepted parts in a number of commercial films, bringing artistic authority-if a dubious mastery of dialects-to films like Marathon Man (1976, again Oscar-nominated), The Boys From Brazil (for which he was
Oscarnominated), and The Betsy (both 1978), and hamming delightfully in concoctions like A Little Romance (1979). His health grew worse, but he continued to work and was grateful to the movie industry for giving him a
chance to do so.
Some critics took Olivier to task for appearing in negligible films such as The Jazz Singer (1980), Inchon (1982, as General MacArthur!), and The Jigsaw Man (1984), but dissenting critic Richard
Schickel commented, "To those of us who believe that the best kind of heroism is to be found in the relentless practice of one's profession ... he now became a genuinely heroic figure." (Olivier explained,
quite candidly, that he was trying to earn enough money to provide for his young family.) He made occasional forays into television, winning five Emmy Awards; he was particularly active in later years, with acclaimed
productions of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1972) and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1976), the TV movies Love Among the Ruins (1975, opposite Katharine Hepburn), Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson (1983,
opposite Jackie Gleason), and The Ebony Tower (1984), and the miniseries "Brideshead Revisited" (1981), and "Lost Empires" (1986). Olivier's last great performance was, appropriately enough, King
Lear in a 1983 TV production that won him the last of his Emmy Awards and was considered a fitting valediction. Olivier was married to actresses Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh (1940-60), and Joan Plowright (1961 until his
death). He was knighted in 1947, and took a seat in the House of Lords in 1971. His autobiography, "Confessions of an Actor," was published in 1984.
OTHER FILMS INCLUDE:
1930: Too Many Crooks 1932: Westward Passage 1933: Perfect Understanding 1935: Moscow Nights (aka I Stand Condemned 1936: As You Like It 1938: 21 Days Together (with Leigh); 1943: The Demi-Paradise 1951: The Magic Box (cameo); 1953: The Beggar's Opera 1959: The Devil's Disciple 1962: Term of Trial 1965: Bunny Lake Is Missing 1968: The Shoes of the Fisherman 1969: Battle of Britain 1970: David Copperfield (telefilm), Three Sisters (also directed); 1972: Lady Caroline Lamb 1976: The Seven Percent Solution (as Prof. Moriarty); 1977: A Bridge Too Far 1979: Dracula (as Dr. Van Helsing); 1981: Clash of the Titans (as Zeus); 1983: Wagner 1984: The Bounty 1985: Wild Geese II 1988: War Requiem.