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Also Known As: Reginald Carey Harrison Died: June 2, 1990
Born: March 5, 1908 Cause of Death: pancreatic cancer
Birth Place: Lancashire, England, GB Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Stagestruck from boyhood, suave British actor Rex Harrison joined the Liverpool Repertory Theatre at the age of 16, beginning a 66-year career that would culminate with his final performance on Broadway, May 11, 1990, three weeks prior to his death. Best known for his Tony- and Oscar-winning portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "My Fair Lady", he made his West End debut in "Getting George Married" (1930) and his Broadway debut in "Sweet Aloes" (1936), but it was a two year run on the London stage in Sir Terrence Rattigan's "French Without Tears" that made him a star. Appearances in other sophisticated comedies, S N Behrman's "No Time for Comedy" and Noel Coward's "Design for Living" (both 1939), established him as what Coward himself called "the best light comedian in the world--after me." Harrison's feature debut came in "The Great Game" (1930), and starring turns in movies like "Night Train to Munich", (1940) "Major Barbara" (1941) and "Blithe Spirit" (1945) brought him to the attention of Hollywood, leading to a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox. He scored a major triumph as the King in "Anna and the King of Siam" (1946) and recorded another success...

Stagestruck from boyhood, suave British actor Rex Harrison joined the Liverpool Repertory Theatre at the age of 16, beginning a 66-year career that would culminate with his final performance on Broadway, May 11, 1990, three weeks prior to his death. Best known for his Tony- and Oscar-winning portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "My Fair Lady", he made his West End debut in "Getting George Married" (1930) and his Broadway debut in "Sweet Aloes" (1936), but it was a two year run on the London stage in Sir Terrence Rattigan's "French Without Tears" that made him a star. Appearances in other sophisticated comedies, S N Behrman's "No Time for Comedy" and Noel Coward's "Design for Living" (both 1939), established him as what Coward himself called "the best light comedian in the world--after me."

Harrison's feature debut came in "The Great Game" (1930), and starring turns in movies like "Night Train to Munich", (1940) "Major Barbara" (1941) and "Blithe Spirit" (1945) brought him to the attention of Hollywood, leading to a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox. He scored a major triumph as the King in "Anna and the King of Siam" (1946) and recorded another success with "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), but subsequent films performed poorly at the box office, although Preston Sturges' "Unfaithfully Yours" (1948) later acquired a cult status. Actor and studio parted company by mutual agreement, and Harrison returned to Broadway, earning a Tony for his 1948 performance as King Henry VIII in Maxwell Anderson's "Anne of the Thousand Days". Continued acclaim followed for his work in T S Eliot's "The Cocktail Party" and John van Druten's "Bell, Book and Candle" (both 1950). He directed and starred in "The Love of Four Colonels" (1953) and a revival of "Bell, Book and Candle" (1954) and helmed "Nina" (1955), all for the London stage. He made his Broadway directing debut with "The Bright One" (1958).

Despite having, in his own words, a vocal range of "one-and-a-half notes", Harrison talked his way through the numbers of Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" (1956), directed for the stage by Moss Hart, and became the darling of the critics, playing the show for two years in New York and another in London. His waspish professor of phonetics was "crisp, lean, complacent and condescending until at last a real flare of human emotions burns the egotism away," wrote Brooks Atkinson in THE NEW YORK TIMES, and the success of "My Fair Lady" once again brought Harrison important film offers. He earned his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Julius Caesar in "Cleopatra" (1963), stealing the picture from his more famous co-stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Reprising Higgins for the 1964 film version of "My Fair Lady" opposite Audrey Hepburn brought him a Best Actor Oscar and international fame, and "Dr. Dolittle" (1967) introduced him to a new generation of moviegoers as he shamelessly enjoyed himself playing the fanciful jungle gentleman who conversed with wildlife.

Harrison devoted most of his remaining years to his first love, the stage, taking parts in such diverse plays as Luigi Pirandello's "Henry IV" and Rattigan's "In Praise of Love" (both 1974). He co-starred with Claudette Colbert in a Broadway production of "The Kingfisher" (1978), and, after returning to Broadway in "My Fair Lady" (1981), garnered some of the best reviews of his career for a Broadway revival of "Heartbreak House" (1983), later captured for posterity in a 1985 Showtime cable special. Harrison portrayed Lord Grenham in London and Broadway productions of "Aren't We All?" (1984-85) and Grand Duke Cyril Romanov in the NBC miniseries, "Anastasia: The Story of Anna" (1986). He last appeared on the London stage in "The Admirable Crichton" (1988) and bowed out in a Broadway revival of W Somerset Maugham's "The Circle", playing eight times a week just prior to his June 1990 death. The oft-married man dubbed 'Sexy Rexy' by Walter Winchell never wanted to be anything but an actor and never intended to retire. "He died with his boots on, no doubt about it," said "The Circle" producer Elliot Martin.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 American Lifestyles (1987) ("On Stage" - "Show Business: The Postwar Years")
2.
 Ashanti (1979) Brian Walker
3.
 The Fifth Musketeer (1979) Colbert
4.
 Time to Die, A (1979) Von Osten
5.
 Crossed Swords (1978) Duke Of Norfolk
6.
 Adventures of Don Quixote, The (1973) Don Quixote
7.
 Staircase (1969) Charlie Dyer
8.
 A Flea in Her Ear (1968) Victor Chandebisse/Poche
9.
 The Honey Pot (1967) Cecil Fox
10.
 Doctor Dolittle (1967) Dr. John Dolittle
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1924:
Was member of Liverpool Repertory Theatre
1930:
London stage debut as Honorable Fred Thripplehorn in "Getting George Married"
1930:
Film debut, "The Great Game"
1936:
Broadway debut as Tubbs Barrow in "Sweet Aloes"
:
Became stage star in Terrence Rattigan's "French Without Tears"
1938:
Had supporting part in King Vidor's "The Citadel", based on the A J Cronin novel
1939:
Acted onstage in S N Behrman's "No Time for Comedy" and Noel Coward's "Design for Living"
1940:
Starred in Carol Reed's "Night Train to Munich"
1941:
Offered brilliant turn opposite Wendy Hiller in Gabriel Pascal's "Major Barbara"
:
Served in Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
1945:
Portrayed Charles Condimine in David Lean's film version of Coward's "Blithe Spirit"
1946:
Signed by 20th Century-Fox to seven year contract
1946:
Scored major triumph as the 19th Century Siamese King Mongkut in his Hollywood debut, "Anna and the King of Siam"; years later Rodgers and Hammerstein would offer him the role of the King in their musical version of the tale, but other commitments prevented him from accepting
1947:
Followed with another film success, "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", opposite Gene Tierney
1948:
Starred as a music conductor who plots to kill his adulterous wife in Preston Sturges' comedy "Unfaithfully Yours"
1948:
Returned to Broadway as Henry VIII in Maxwell Anderson's "Anne of the Thousand Days"; earned first Tony Award
1950:
Received acclaim for his performances in T S Eliot's "The Cocktail Party" in London and in John van Druten's "Bell, Book and Candle" on both sides of the Atlantic
1953:
Directed and appeared as the Man in Broadway production of "The Love of Four Colonels"
1956:
"My Fair Lady" opened on Broadway with Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle; received TOny Award for Best Actor in a Musical
1958:
After two years on Broadway, reprised "My Fair Lady" in London
1960:
Played Doris Day's husband in "Midnight Lace"
1963:
Earned first Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Julius Caesar in "Cleopatra", stealing the film from his more famous co-stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
1964:
Acted in "The Yellow Rolls-Royce"; screenplay by Rattigan
1964:
Reprised Higgins for film version of "My Fair Lady" opposite Audrey Hepburn; won Best Actor Oscar
1965:
Reteamed with director Carol Reed to play Pope Julius II in "The Agony and the Ecstacy"
1967:
Portrayed title role in "Doctor Dolittle"
1974:
Played title role in Luigi Pirandello's "Henry IV" on London stage and Sebastian Crutwell in Rattigan's "In Praise of Love" on Broadway
1977:
Appeared as Caesar in Broadway production of "Caesar and Cleopatra"
1978:
Returned to drawing-room comedy for Broadway production of "The Kingfisher", opposite Claudette Colbert
1979:
Filmed last feature, "A Time to Die" (released in 1983)
1981:
Reprised "My Fair Lady" on Broadway
1983:
Received much critical acclaim for his portrayal of the aging Captain Shotover in Broadway revival of Shaw's "Heartbreak House"; Walter Kerr of THE NEW YORK TIMES called it "the best work the actor has ever done"; filmed for Showtime in 1985
:
Played Lord Grenham in "Aren't We All?", first in London and then on Broadway; again teamed opposite Claudette Colbert
1986:
Portrayed Grand Duke Cyril Romanov in NBC miniseries, "Anastasia: The Story of Anna"
1988:
Last appearance on the London stage, "The Admirable Crichton"
:
Performed the part of Lord Porteus in W Somerset Maugham's 1920s comedy "The Circle" on Broadway up unitl three weeks prior to his death
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Liverpool College: -

Notes

Harrison was the first actor to win Tony Awards in the dramatic and musical categories. Subsequent dual winners in clude Zero Mostel, Robert Morse and Matthew Broderick.

"We had grown accustomed to his face. It was wrought so artfully. The slit eyes of superior amusement, the lines that mockery etched at the corner of eye and nostril and mouth, the generous and skeptical lips--these were the features and the weapons that Rex Harrison created to win his audience and his knighthood. His was the mobile mask of high comedy. . . . His polish was his performance. He was the noble egoitist, the sympathetic cad" --Andrew Sinclair (from review of Harrison's "A Damned Serious Business" in THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, January 6, 1991)

Made a Knight Bachelor, the most common type of knighthood, in July 1989

"Originally I had a block about appearing in a musical. I went to a voice teacher for a while, but that did no good. My range is about one and a half notes. I ended up talking the musical numbers, which was revolutionary at the time.

"The lyrics are extremely intricate. They move along like a precisely acted scene. If you miss a word--heaven help you--the orchestra rattles past like an express train, and you've got to run like the devil to catch up." --Rex Harrison, quote recalled in THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 3, 1990

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Marjorie Noel Collette Thomas. French teacher. Married in 1934; divorced in 1942; mother of Noel.
wife:
Lilli Palmer. Actor. Born on May 24, 1914; married on January 25, 1943; divorced in 1957; mother of Carey; died on January 27, 1986.
wife:
Kay Kendall. Actor. Born on May 21, 1926; married from June 1957 until her death from leukemia on September 6, 1959.
wife:
Rachel Roberts. Actor. Born on September 20. 1927; married in 1962; divorced in 1970; committed suicide in 1980.
wife:
Joan Elizabeth Rees-Williams. Actor. Daughter of Labor peer Lord Ogmore; previously married to actor Richard Harris with whom she had three sons; married in 1971; divorced.
wife:
Mercia Tinker. Married from 1978 until his death.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Reginald Harrison. Cotton broker.
mother:
Edith Carey Harrison.
son:
Noel Harrison. Actor. Born on January 29, 1936; mother, Marjorie Thomas.
son:
Carey Harrison. Mother, Lilli Palmer.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"A Damned Serious Business" Bantam Books
"Rex Harrison: A Biography" Viking
"Rex"
"If Love Be Love"
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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