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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:||Cast ... actor producer|
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. Lawford gained notice for appearances in such films as "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) and "Son of Lassie" (1945). With the halcyon years of "Ocean'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 both for his acting credentials and for his presence during a fascinating bit of entertainment history.
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. Peter'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. Lawford's birth name came from Captain Ernest Aylen, May'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 father's military career and due in part to his parents' 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 film'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 America's entry into World War II in 1941, many of Hollywood's leading men had enlisted for service. Lawford'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 Lawford's performances - perfectly adequate as they were - 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 Lawford'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 Tinseltown'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 America'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 Sinatra'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 "Ocean'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 - among the most infamous being Marilyn Monroe - 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 assassin'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 - each marriage briefer than the last - 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 - who no longer enjoyed the benefits of the studio system, the Rat Pack, or the Kennedy family - 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 actor'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 doctors' 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
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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