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