TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (12)
|Also Known As:||Laurence Kerr Olivier,Sir Laurence Olivier (Lord Olivier)||Died:||July 11, 1989|
|Born:||May 22, 1907||Cause of Death:||natural causes|
|Birth Place:||Surrey, England, GB||Profession:||Cast ... actor director producer|
roduced, directed and starred in the critically acclaimed film, and his delivery of the famed St. Crispinâ¿¿s Day speech became a rallying cry for the countryâ¿¿s ongoing war effort. The filmâ¿¿s 1946 U.S. release would earn him Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Picture, and though he won neither, his top-to-bottom helming of the project would earn him an honorary Academy Award in 1947. Also that year, King George VI knighted Olivier, making the couple "Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier."
Despite the fairy tale mystique surrounding the legendary couple, all was not well in their household. Leigh increasingly suffered violent tantrums that she would not remember afterward, and to make matters worse, during production of "Caesar and Cleopatra" (1945) she suffered a miscarriage. Tuberculosis compounded her physical and mental health issues; she grew distant and jealous of Olivierâ¿¿s successes and paranoid about his affairs, both imagined and real, at one point telling him matter-of-factly she was no longer in love with him. Seeking respite, Olivier strayed with any number of rumored partners even as he enabled her own long-term affair with actor Peter Finch, whom he hired for the Old Vic company after its 1948 tour of Australia. That year, he made history with his big-budget Shakespearean film adaptation of "Hamlet" (1948), in which he became the first director to direct himself to a Best Actor Oscar.
The Oliviers continued their stage collaborations; notably he directed her in the 1949 West End production of Tennessee Williamsâ¿¿ "A Streetcar Named Desire." He settled into a kind of caregiver role for his manic-depressive, bipolar wife, arranging a project of his own, the Wyler-helmed illicit-love tragedy "Carrie" (1952), to travel with her while she made "Streetcar" (1952) in Hollywood. Her co-star Marlon Brando later wrote he eschewed a tryst with Leigh out of respect for Olivier, but oddly, David Niven claimed in his autobiography that he witnessed Brando kissing Olivier at the coupleâ¿¿s mansion. (Though long a subject of rumor and controversy, Olivierâ¿¿s third wife, Joan Plowright, would acknowledge his libertinism and bisexuality in a 2006 radio interview). Leigh was back with Finch in Ceylon in 1953 for the film "Elephant Walk" (1952) when she suffered a full-blown break, causing her to be hospitalized and be given a lifelong regimen of electroshock therapy, which would render her even more alien to Olivier.
He earned another Oscar nomination for his villainous "Richard III" (1955), and followed it up with a Marilyn Monroe mismatched-pair fantasy, "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), which he also directed. Meanwhile, he had commissioned West End enfant terrible John Osborne to write him a drama that could contemporize his own image. Osborne produced "The Entertainer," which had Olivier as an unpleasant, archaic song-and-dance man still working Britainâ¿¿s crumbling dance-halls, metaphorical of an Imperial society in decay. He began a relationship with his onstage daughter, Joan Plowright. She would star with him in the 1960 film adaptation, which would earn Olivier yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination. He and Leigh would divorce that year, leading to Olivier and Plowright marrying in 1961. With the dissolution of the Old Vic company in 1962, he would soon oversee another regeneration called the National Theatre Company, with Olivier serving as its first director. Under his tenure, it would nurture a new generation of talent, including Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Alan Bates and Anthony Hopkins. The Nationalâ¿¿s production of "Othello" would become the 1965 film, for which Olivier and his three co-stars would all win Oscar nominations.
Olivier continued to be selective with film in the 1960s. His leading roles became less frequent but affecting, as with "Term of Trial" (1962), in which he gave a heartbreaking performance as a high school teacher whose life is turned upside down when a spurned student accuses him of seducing her; and his understatedly cool detective in "Bunny Lake is Missing" (1965). Olivier had also begun taking film-stealing supporting roles, in which he often played villains. He played Johnny Burgoyne, the dashing nemesis of the colonials Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in George Bernard Shawâ¿¿s Revolutionary War drama "The Devilâ¿¿s Disciple," (1959); thwarted Douglas again as the scheming, draconian general Crassus in Stanley Kubrickâ¿¿s epic "Spartacus" (1960); an Islamic would-be messiah in "Khartoum" (1966); a Soviet premier in "Shoes of the Fisherman" (1968); and, later, as the nefarious Dr. Moriarty in the revisionist Sherlock Holmes adventure "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" (1976).
The late 1960s would begin a series of health crises for Olivier, starting with treatment of prostate cancer, but he would nevertheless be prolific in bringing the stage to mass media in the 1970s. He oversaw the translation of the Nationalâ¿¿s productions of Chekhovâ¿¿s "Three Sisters" (co-starring Plowright) into a theatrical film and Eugene Oâ¿¿Neillâ¿¿s "Long Dayâ¿¿s Journey Into Night" (1973) into a TV-movie for broadcast on ITV in the U.K. and ABC in the U.S, earning him an Emmy. However, he relinquished helm of the theater soon thereafter amid some contention with its board, just a few years before the company moved into the new Olivier Theater. In 1974, he barely survived the onset of the muscle disease dermatopolymyositis, but returned the next year with the TV-movie "Love Among the Ruins" (ABC, 1975), playing a barrister charged with defending a woman he fell in love with years ago, both now in their twilight years. Both he and Katherine Hepburn won Best Actor Emmys for a "special" broadcast. He would also bring Tennessee Williamsâ¿¿ "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and William Ingeâ¿¿s "Come Back, Little Sheba" to NBC in 1976 and 1977, respectively.
His selective, age-adjusted cinematic outings brought continued accolades, notably three more Oscar nominations for his manipulative cuckolded husband in the cat-and-mouse thriller "Sleuth;" ice-blooded Nazi dentist, famously torturing Dustin Hoffman via check-up in "Marathon Man" (1976); and as a dry, unflappable Nazi hunter in "The Boys from Brazil" (1978). He received a second honorary Oscar the following year for his body of work. He also stood out as an old pickpocket shepherding the two smitten adolescents in Venice in "A Little Romance" (1979) and as the vampire hunter Van Helsing in the 1979 remake of "Dracula." His work as Neil Diamondâ¿¿s orthodox Jewish father in the remake of "The Jazz Singer" (1980), however, was viewed as overwrought and mawkish. He won another BAFTA Best Actor nomination for "A Voyage Round My Father" (1983) opposite Alan Bates, and won yet another Emmy that year for his turn as "King Lear" (ABC). Worried about his estate, he peppered his later yearsâ¿¿ work with glorified cameos â¿¿ some in projects he knew to be awful, as with "Inchon" (1981) and "Clash of the Titans" (1981), but others in higher-quality fare like "The Bounty" (1985). In 1984, the top awards for British theatrical awards were renamed the Laurence Olivier Awards. His infirmities became evident during the March 1985 Academy Awards telecast, when he capped the evening presenting the Best Picture Oscar, but inadvertently sidestepped the tradition of running down the nominees first and simply stated the winner, "Amadeus." He appeared in the "Entertainer"-reminiscent Granada TV series "Lost Empires" (PBS, 1987) about the decline of U.K. vaudeville, for which he earned his last Emmy nomination, then made a final cameo as an old soldier in Derek Jarmanâ¿¿s stylistic "War Requiem" (1989). He died on July 11, 1989, at his home in Steyning, West Sussex. His burial at Westminster would rival British state funerals, televised nationally throughout the U.K.
By Matthew Grimmmissioned by the British government, he next mounted his most ambitious production, a Technicolor version of Shakespeareâ¿¿s "Henry V" (1944). He p
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