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Peter Lawford

Peter Lawford

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Also Known As: Peter Sidney Ernest Aylen Died: December 24, 1984
Born: September 7, 1923 Cause of Death: cardiac arrest
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: actor, producer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A dashing and handsome English-American actor, Peter Lawford enjoyed a brief stint as a matinee idol in the 1940s before becoming better known as an in-law of the Kennedys and a member of "The Rat Pack" during the 1960s. Benefitting greatly from the dearth of handsome male talent in Hollywood during World War II, Lawford gained notice for appearances in such films as "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) and "Son of Lassie" (1945). More roles followed throughout the 1950s, although it was his marriage to Patricia Kennedy â¿¿ sister of John and Robert Kennedy â¿¿ as well as his association with Frank Sinatraâ¿¿s iconic cadre of carousers that brought Lawford lasting fame. Years after JFKâ¿¿s assassination, rumors about Lawfordâ¿¿s scandalous adventures with the president, his being the last person to speak to a despondent Marilyn Monroe before her tragic death, and a bitter falling out with Sinatra, became the stuff of legend. Less glamorous was Lawfordâ¿¿s decline in the film industry, several failed marriages, and chronic alcoholism. With the halcyon years of "Oceanâ¿¿s Eleven" (1960) far behind him, the aging actor made due with the occasional film role and guest turns on such TV fare as "The Doris...

A dashing and handsome English-American actor, Peter Lawford enjoyed a brief stint as a matinee idol in the 1940s before becoming better known as an in-law of the Kennedys and a member of "The Rat Pack" during the 1960s. Benefitting greatly from the dearth of handsome male talent in Hollywood during World War II, Lawford gained notice for appearances in such films as "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) and "Son of Lassie" (1945). More roles followed throughout the 1950s, although it was his marriage to Patricia Kennedy â¿¿ sister of John and Robert Kennedy â¿¿ as well as his association with Frank Sinatraâ¿¿s iconic cadre of carousers that brought Lawford lasting fame. Years after JFKâ¿¿s assassination, rumors about Lawfordâ¿¿s scandalous adventures with the president, his being the last person to speak to a despondent Marilyn Monroe before her tragic death, and a bitter falling out with Sinatra, became the stuff of legend. Less glamorous was Lawfordâ¿¿s decline in the film industry, several failed marriages, and chronic alcoholism. With the halcyon years of "Oceanâ¿¿s Eleven" (1960) far behind him, the aging actor made due with the occasional film role and guest turns on such TV fare as "The Doris Day Show" (CBS, 1968-1973) and "Fantasy Island" (ABC, 1977-1984). A bit player in a fascinating chapter of American pop-culture, Lawford would most likely be remembered less for his acting credentials than for the legacy encapsulated in author James Spadaâ¿¿s unofficial biography, Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets.

Born Peter Sidney Ernest Aylen on Sept. 7, 1923 in London, England, he was the only child of May Aylen and Lieutenant-General Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford. Peterâ¿¿s life was one filled with scandal from the very beginning, as both his mother and father were married to other people at the time of his conception. Lawfordâ¿¿s birth name came from Captain Ernest Aylen, Mayâ¿¿s husband at the time, who was also a subordinate officer to General Lawford. The divulgence of the affair resulted in a pair of divorces and the wedding of May to Lawford took place a year after he was born, at which time Peter was given the surname of his biological father. Largely a result of his fatherâ¿¿s military career and due in part to his parentsâ¿¿ wish to escape the gossip of London, Peter was raised abroad, primarily in France. Never formally educated, he was tutored by various caregivers and by his mother, who tended to focus his studies on the arts. The seven-year-old Lawford made his film debut with a small role in the English comedy "Poor Old Bill" (1931), after a visit to the filmâ¿¿s set led to the boy being cast in the picture. A life-altering accident occurred when, at age 14, Peter ran into a glass door and severely lacerated his right arm. The resulting nerve damage would nearly cripple the arm for life, in addition to preventing Lawford from being eligible for military service as an adult.

Having traveled to California with his mother, Lawford picked up a small role in his first U.S. motion picture, "Lord Jeff" (1938), and began pursuing an acting career in earnest. With Americaâ¿¿s entry into World War II in 1941, many of Hollywoodâ¿¿s leading men had enlisted for service. Lawfordâ¿¿s once debilitating injury then became a boon, when studios execs put out the word to recruit handsome male talent for the suddenly shrunken pool of actors. Signed to a contract with MGM Studios, the young actor quickly made small appearances in a slew of films, including "Mrs. Miniver" (1942) and "A Yank at Eton" (1942), usually cast as either a dashing military officer or an effete snob. A more notable role came as a concerned young gentleman out to uncover the sinister secret of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945), followed by his first leading role in "Son of Lassie" (1945), opposite June Lockhart. Although groomed for stardom by MGM throughout the 1940s, none of Lawfordâ¿¿s performances â¿¿ perfectly adequate as they were â¿¿ in films like "Good News" (1947), "Easter Parade" (1948), "Little Women" (1949), and "Royal Wedding" (1951) succeeded in cementing his reputation as a major box office draw or particularly memorable leading man.

As the studio system began its slow decline throughout the 1950s, so too did Lawfordâ¿¿s film career. After MGM opted not to renew his contract, he made his first picture away from the studio opposite Judy Holiday in the musical-comedy "It Should Happen to You" (1954), a Columbia Pictures release directed by George Cukor and featuring a young Jack Lemmon in one of his earliest screen roles. Looking to the still-young medium of television, Lawford rolled the dice as the star of two series. First, as an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist on the short-lived sitcom "Dear Phoebe" (NBC, 1954-55), then as Dashiell Hammett's sophisticated sleuth Nick Charles on "The Thin Man" (NBC, 1957-59). Known as one of Tinseltownâ¿¿s more active playboys during his early years, having dated Lana Turner and other MGM lovelies, Lawford, for all outwardly intensive purposes, gave up bachelorhood when he married Patricia Kennedy in 1954. Of English aristocracy himself, Lawford had married into one of Americaâ¿¿s royal families with the highly-publicized union. Being a part of the Kennedy family opened many doors for Lawford, in addition to attracting the attention of those intent on gaining access to the halls of power themselves. People like Frank Sinatra, who suddenly revived his friendship with Lawford after effectively putting and end to it years earlier in a fit of jealousy concerning his ex-wife, Ava Gardner.

Back in Sinatraâ¿¿s good graces, Lawford became a part of that legendary clique known as "The Rat Pack," performing on the stages of Las Vegas with pals Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. A string of Sinatra movies, like the light-hearted romps "Oceanâ¿¿s Eleven" (1960) and "Sergeants Three" (1962) followed. It was a heady time for Lawford, who was dubbed the "Brother-in-Lawford" by Sinatra after John F. Kennedy was elected U.S. President. Years later, speculation and rumors about Lawford arranging trysts for Kennedy â¿¿ among the most infamous being Marilyn Monroe â¿¿ ran rampant, although he had deftly maneuvered to keep the scandalous activities away from the press and his intimidating father-in-law at the time, Joseph Kennedy. Inevitably, the house of cards Lawford had built around himself was bound to fall apart. After fathering four children with Patricia, losing brother-in-law JFK to an assassinâ¿¿s bullet, and once again being ex-communicated by Sinatra over a perceived slight, Lawford at last admitted his numerous affairs to his wife. They were divorced in 1966. The actor married for a second and third time â¿¿ each marriage briefer than the last â¿¿ before beginning a nine-year relationship with the much younger Patricia Eaton, who Lawford would eventually wed in 1984.

As the 1960s drew to a close, Lawford â¿¿ who no longer enjoyed the benefits of the studio system, the Rat Pack, or the Kennedy family â¿¿ found both his professional and personal life floundering. Picking up acting work wherever he could find it, he once again appeared on screen with Jack Lemmon, albeit this time with Lemmon as the star and Lawford in a supporting role for the romantic-comedy "The April Fools" (1969). Always a heavy drinker, the actorâ¿¿s increased alcohol consumption over the years and a growing dependency on drugs were making it more difficult for him to find work. Other than the odd TV game show appearance or series guest spot, Lawford managed to land the occasional role in film projects like the little-seen thriller "Rosebud" (1975) and the boxing melodrama "Body and Soul" (1981). A faded celebrity, more famous for being famous rather than for any notable screen performance, his final film appearance was in the comedy "Where is Parsifal?" (1983) a British-French co-production featuring Tony Curtis and Orson Welles. Having paid no heed to doctorsâ¿¿ repeated warnings that he needed to stop drinking, Lawford died from a heart attack brought on by kidney failure and cirrhosis of the liver on Dec. 24, 1984, mere months after marrying longtime girlfriend Patricia Eaton. Actor Peter Lawford was 61 years old.

By Bryce Coleman

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Where Is Parsifal? (1984) Montague Chippendale
2.
 Body and Soul (1982) Big Man
3.
 Angels Brigade (1980)
4.
 Mysterious Island Of Beautiful (1979) Gordon Duvall
5.
 Fantasy Island (1977) Grant Baines
7.
 Rosebud (1975) Lord Carter
8.
 That's Entertainment! (1974) Narration
9.
 The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) Roger Cross
10.
 They Only Kill Their Masters (1972) [Lee] Campbell
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1924:
Moved with parents to Deauville at age one to avoid scandal of their divorces
1930:
Family returned to London because of worldwide Depression
1931:
Film debut in "Poor Old Bill" (as a result of mother's political association with Sir Thomas Paulson who owned major interest in Elstree Studios)
1932:
Returned to France where he appeared in several films
1937:
Moved to Hollywood
:
Had travelled three times around the world by age 15
1938:
US film debut (bit part), "Lord Jeff" at age 14
1939:
Worked as gas station attendant, then parked cars and became manager of the parking lot in West Palm Beach, FL
1942:
Returned to Hollywood; disqualified from military service because of teenage injury to right arm; worked as usher in a Westwood, CA movie theater
1942:
Played a pilot in "Mrs. Miniver"
:
Appeared briefly in 22 films from 1942-43
1943:
Signed to MGM contract (for one year with second year option at $100 per week with 40 weeks guaranteed)
1951:
First learned of scandal concerning his parents' divorce scandal and his own paternity
1952:
MGM contract not renewed
1954:
Starred in and produced first TV series, "Dear Phoebe"
1954:
Reportedly introduced John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe to each other
1956:
Bought Louis B. Mayer's former Santa Monica beach front estate for $95,000
1957:
Starred in TV series, "The Thin Man"
1960:
Joined Frank Sinatra's "Rat Pack"
1960:
Became an American citizen in order to vote in 1960 election for brother-in-law John F. Kennedy
1960:
Formed Chrislaw production company with Milton Ebbins which produced "The Patty Duke Show" and the film, "Johnny Cool" (both 1963) (date approximate)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"Peter Lawford's tenure at MGM is one of the best examples of how an MGM contract could both elevate and sabotage a performer's career. Peter's association with the studio put him in some of the best, most expensive, most popular films produced in the United States in the 1940s. With few exceptions, however, his roles were secondary and demanded little more of him than that he look handsome and act charming.

"Peter was undeniably talented, and he showed promise when forced to stretch himself. But MGM had so many extraordinarily gifted performers that someone with relatively modest abilities, like Peter, was expendable. 'Most of the time I spent sunbathing in my backyard,' he said. 'Every now and then the postman would throw a new script through the front door which I'd be obliged to do whether I wanted to or not.'" --James Spada ("Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets" 1991)

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Lana Turner. Actor. Had eight month relationship in 1944.
companion:
June Allyson. Actor. Met while filming "Two Sisters From Boston (1946).
companion:
Ava Gardner. Actor. Dated in 1946.
companion:
Sharman Douglas. Socialite. Dated 1949; engaged 1950; he broke off engagement after four days; daughter of American ambassador to the court of St. James in London.
companion:
Jean MacDonald. Reporter. Society reporter for "Honolulu Star Bulletin"; met while Lawford on route to film "Kangaroo" in Australia (1951); engaged 1952.
companion:
Judy Holliday. Actor. Met while filming "It Should Happen to You" (1953).
wife:
Patricia Kennedy. Radio and TV production assistant. Married April 24, 1954, divorced January 1, 1966; John F. Kennedy's sister; worked as production assistant on Kate Smith's radio program (1949) and Father Peyton's "Family Rosary Crusade"; mother of Lawford's four children.
companion:
Geri Crane. Model. Together 1968-70; 23 years Lawford's junior.
wife:
Mary Rowan. Dancer. Married October 30, 1971 at age (circa) 21, divorced January 2, 1975; daughter of comedian Dan Rowan; met during 1971 taping of "Laugh In" on which Lawford was a guest.
wife:
Deborah Gould. Aspiring actor. Married June 24, 1976; divorced; 27 years Lawford's junior.
wife:
Pat Seaton. Married July 1984 in hospital where Lawford was operated on for bleeding ulcer; together from 1976 when Seaton was 17; co-author of "The Peter Lawford Story".
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Sydney Lawford. Lieutenant general. Born November 16, 1865; died February 15, 1953; knighted for heroism in WWI; appeared as character actor in 1940s films ("The Amazing Mr. Nordill", "The Suspect", "Kitty"); married May Bunny Aylen September 11, 1924 after birth of their son; was Ernest Aylen's commanding officer.
mother:
May Lawford. Journalist, actor. Born 1883, died January 23, 1972; married first husband Harry Cooper in 1902 (committed suicide); married second husband Ernest Vaughan Aylen (major in Royal Army Medical Corps); divorced Aylen in 1923 after birth of her son Peter fathered by Aylen's commanding officer Sir Sydney Lawford; Aylen gave name to May's son; married Lawford 1924; wrote column for London newspapers on her international travels in 1928; signed MGM contract in 1950 as an actor and consultant "on all things British"; appeared in two MGM films ("Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" 1945 and "Hong Kong" 1952); as Lady May Lawford or Mary Somerville appeared on TV in the late 1950s (on "Matinee Theatre", "Climax!" and her son's series, "The Thin Man" 1957).
son:
Christopher Kennedy Lawford. Actor, producer. Born on March 29, 1955; mother Patricia Kennedy; received a degree from Boston College Law School in 1983; has appeared on TV commercials and in films "Impulse" (1990), "Run" and "The Doors" (both 1991) and as a regular on the ABC daytime soap "All My Children".
daughter:
Sydney Lawford. Born August 25, 1956; mother Patricia Kennedy.
daughter:
Victoria Frances Lawford. Born November 4, 1958; TV coordinator for Very Special Arts (affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts for the disabled); mother Patricia Kennedy.
daughter:
Robin Elizabeth Lawford. Born July 2, 1961; mother Patricia Kennedy.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Peter Lawford Story" Carroll & Graf
"Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets" Bantam Books
"Bitch! The Autobiography of Lady Lawford As Told to Buddy Galon" Branden
"Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Showbiz Party" Doubleday
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Contributions

JStafford ( 2006-03-23 )

Source: Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham.

Peter Lawford once lived at 625 Palisades Beach Road in Santa Monica, California - a house formerly owned by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer. President John F. Kennedy was a guest here during the 1960 Democratic National Convention. He would also use the house to rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe. (Source) Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham

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