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Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness

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Alec Guinness: 5-Film Collection... Remembered for his work in sweeping epics, classic dramas, and as Obi-Wan Kenobi... more info $39.98was $39.98 Buy Now

Oliver Twist: The Criterion Collection... Expressionistic noir photography suffuses David Lean's Oliver Twist with a... more info $26.99was $39.95 Buy Now

The Horse's Mouth: The Criterion... Every artist needs a canvas. The irascible Gulley Jimson (Alec Guinness) is... more info $19.99was $29.95 Buy Now

Tunes Of Glory: The Criterion Collection... In the aftermath of World War II, Major Jock Sinclair is being replaced as the... more info $19.99was $29.95 Buy Now

Cromwell DVD Based on the life of Oliver Cromwell, "Cromwell" (1970) depicts the harrowing... more info $14.99was $14.99 Buy Now

Murder By Death DVD Playwright Neil Simon throws in everything but the kitchen sink in this... more info $8.99was $14.99 Buy Now



Also Known As: Sir Alec Guinness Died: August 5, 2000
Born: April 2, 1914 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: actor, advertising copywriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Sir Alec Guinness, acting's preeminent master of disguise, first drew attention as Fagin, providing a wonderfully Dickensian performance that totally concealed the actor within in David Lean's "Oliver Twist" (1948). His most dramatic display of versatility came playing eight roles, including a woman, in "Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949), a film that established him beyond a shadow of a doubt as an expert at make-up and deception. Whether he was an English prime minister (Disraeli in "The Mudlark" 1950), an Arab prince ("Lawrence of Arabia" 1962), a despicable despot (Hitler in "The Last Ten Days" 1973) or an Indian professor ("A Passage to India" 1984), Guinness demonstrated a chameleon-like ability to disappear so completely within the role that filmgoers forgot they were watching an actor and saw the character instead. A founding member of the Ealing Film Studios repertory company, he gained wide popularity in their string of bright British comedies and was particularly appealing as the shy inventor in Alexander Mackendrick's "The Man in the White Suit" (1951). He secured an Oscar nomination as Best Actor in "The Lavender Hill Mob" (1951) but also excelled in dramatic portrayals, earning a Best...

Sir Alec Guinness, acting's preeminent master of disguise, first drew attention as Fagin, providing a wonderfully Dickensian performance that totally concealed the actor within in David Lean's "Oliver Twist" (1948). His most dramatic display of versatility came playing eight roles, including a woman, in "Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949), a film that established him beyond a shadow of a doubt as an expert at make-up and deception. Whether he was an English prime minister (Disraeli in "The Mudlark" 1950), an Arab prince ("Lawrence of Arabia" 1962), a despicable despot (Hitler in "The Last Ten Days" 1973) or an Indian professor ("A Passage to India" 1984), Guinness demonstrated a chameleon-like ability to disappear so completely within the role that filmgoers forgot they were watching an actor and saw the character instead.

A founding member of the Ealing Film Studios repertory company, he gained wide popularity in their string of bright British comedies and was particularly appealing as the shy inventor in Alexander Mackendrick's "The Man in the White Suit" (1951). He secured an Oscar nomination as Best Actor in "The Lavender Hill Mob" (1951) but also excelled in dramatic portrayals, earning a Best Actor Academy Award for his thoughtful rendering of an English soldier bureaucrat in David Lean's "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957). His love for Joyce Carey's ribald novel "The Horse's Mouth" led him to adapt it for the screen in 1959, a labor which earned him an Academy Award nomination for the only screenplay he would ever write. The film also afforded him an outrageous turn as its monstrously comic painter Gully Jimson. That same year, Queen Elizabeth II also knighted him for his achievements on stage and screen.

Guinness resisted any temptation to move to Hollywood, preferring instead his native England where he often appeared on stage between movies. He tackled a variety of modern parts in addition to much of the Shakespeare canon and, though rarely treading the boards in the USA, did win a Tony Award for portraying Dylan Thomas in "Dylan" (1964). Success was his own worst enemy, and the decade following Lean's "Dr. Zhivago" (1965) was his most lackluster as he suffered through a spate of poor films and showy parts (i.e., "Cromwell" 1970, in which our sympathies wrongly go to his Charles I). He rebounded as the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas' "Star Wars" (1977), receiving an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor (and 2-1/4 percent of the films profits). "Star Wars" introduced him to a new generation of moviegoers and his line "May the force be with you" found its way into the popular lexicon.

Guinness scored his greatest television success in 1979 when he created the role of veteran spy George Smiley in John LeCarre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (aired in the USA on PBS' "Great Performances" in 1980) which he later reprised in "Smiley's People" (1982). Returning full circle to his cinematic beginnings with "Little Dorrit", an adaptation from Dickens, he earned yet another Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor in the role of William Dorrit, the title character's imprisoned father.

Although not retired from acting, he has worked less frequently in the 1990s, concentrating much of his time on his memoirs, published in two volumes, "Blessings in Disguise" (1985) and "My Name Escapes Me" (1997).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Mute Witness (1995) The Reaper
2.
 Foreign Field, A (1994) Amos
3.
 Kafka (1991) The Chief Clerk
4.
 Little Dorrit (1988) William Dorrit (The Dorrit House)
5.
 Handful of Dust, A (1988) Mr Todd
6.
 A Passage to India (1984) Professor Godbole
7.
 Lovesick (1983) Sigmund Freud
8.
 Return Of The Jedi (1983) Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi
9.
 Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980) Earl Of Dorincourt
10.
 Empire Strikes Back, The (1980) Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1934:
Stage acting debut as walk-on
1934:
Film acting debut in "Evensong"
1939:
Played Herbert Pocket in stage production of "Great Expectations" which he also adapted
1941:
Served in Royal Navy during WWII; Enlisted as able seaman; commissioned as lieutenant the following year
1942:
Given leave for New York stage debut on Broadway in "Flare Path", a propaganda play
1946:
Returned to films in David Lean's "Great Expectations"; began acting steadily in features
1948:
Drew attention as Fagin in Lean's "Oliver Twist"
1949:
Played eight parts, including a woman, in Robert Hammer's "Kind Hearts and Coronets"
1951:
Portrayed the inventor in Alexander Mackendrick's "The Man in the White Suit"
1951:
Nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for Charles Crichton's "The Lavender Hill Mob"
1953:
Starred as the captain with two wives in different ports in "Captain's Paradise"
1957:
Won Best Actor Oscar for his thoughtful rendering of an English bureaucrat soldier in Lean's "The Bridge on the River Kwai"
1959:
Scripted adaptation of Joyce Carey's "The Horse's Mouth"; also delivered a superb, monstrous rendering of lead character Gully Jimson; received Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay
1959:
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II
1962:
Reunited with Lean for "Lawrence of Arabia"
1964:
Played Marcus Aurelius in Anthony Mann's "The Fall of the Roman Empire"
1965:
Reteamed with Lean as Zhivago's brother in "Dr. Zhivago"
1970:
Portrayed Charles I in Ken Hughes' "Comwell"
1972:
Appeared as Pope in Franco Zeffirelli's "Brother Sun, Sister Moon"
1973:
Cast as Hitler in Ennio de Concini's "The Last Ten Days"
1977:
Played Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars"; received Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor; also given 2-1/4 percent of the profits by director George Lucas
1979:
Created role of John LeCarre's George Smiley in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" on BBC (aired in USA on PBS' "Great Performances" in 1980)
1982:
Reprised Smiley in "Smiley's People"
1984:
Final collaboration with Lean, played an Indian professor in the screen adaptation of E M Forester's "A Passage to India"
1985:
Received Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for role of William Dorrit in "Little Dorrit"
1985:
Published first volume of memoirs, "Blessings in Disguise"
1991:
Appeared as the chief clerk in Steven Soderbergh's fantasy thriller "Kafka"
1993:
Co-starred with Leo McKern, Jeanne Moreau and Lauren Bacall in the BBC production "A Foriegn Field" (aired in USA on PBS in 1994)
1997:
Published second memoir, "My Name Escapes Me"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art: - 1934

Notes

"I shrivel up a little every time someone mentions 'Star Wars' to me." --Guinness quoted in Talk, October 1999.

Guinness received an honorary doctorate (DFA) from Boston College in 1962.

He received an honorary doctorate (DLitt) from Oxford University in 1978.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Merula Salaman. Actor. Born on October 16, 1914; met Guinness in 1935; married on June 20, 1938; died on October 18, 2000.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Andrew Guinness. Banker.
mother:
Agnes Guinness.
son:
Matthew Guinness. Actor. Born in 1940; mother, Merula Salaman.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Alec Guinness: The Films" McFarland
"Blessings in Disguise" Alfred A. Knopf
"My Name Escapes Me" Viking
"A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal 1996-98" Haimish Hamilton
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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