<Lord Laurence Olivier | Films | Movies | Cinema | Biography of this British actor - Laurence Olivier
Lord Laurence Olivier
(1907 - 1989)

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Larry Olivier – the stage and screen actor who had nearly every accolade known to man heaped upon him. Undoubtedly the best Shakespearean interpreter of all time, perhaps the greatest classical actor of the era and one of the finest cinematic actors of his generation.

Laurence Kerr Olivier was born into an old but modest Anglican family on March 22nd, 1907 in Dorking, Surrey, England. His father was a stern minister with a closet fanaticism for plays and literature. So when Master Olivier inherited his fathers mania for the stage it was heartily encouraged, and he debuted in a parochial school production of ‘Julius Caesar’ at the age of 9. He was even invited to present a special matinee of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1922.

In preparation for a professional career in acting, Olivier studied at the Central School in London where one of his instructors was Claude Rains. He made his professional London debut in ‘The Suliot Officer’ and joined the Birmingham Repertory in 1926; by the time Olivier was 20 he had played the title role in Chekhov's ‘Uncle Vanya’ (1927). For many years he scorned the ‘silver screen’ actually not appearing in a film until 1930 - ‘Too many crooks’.

His subsequent West End stage triumphs included Journey's End and Private Lives. He married actress Jill Esmond in 1930, and moved with her to America when Private Lives opened on Broadway. They were destined to have just the one son, Tarquin, six years later.
Signed to a Hollywood contract in 1931, Olivier was promoted as "the new Ronald Colman," but he failed to make much of an impression onscreen. By the time Greta Garbo insisted that he be replaced by John Gilbert in her upcoming Queen Christina (1933), Olivier was disenchanted with the movies and vowed to remain on-stage.

This theatre breakthrough came in 1935, when he was cast as Romeo in John Gielgud's London production of Romeo and Juliet. (He also played Mercutio on the nights Gielgud assumed the leading role himself.) He was also becoming disenchanted with Gielguds style of acting Shakespeare and it was around this time that Olivier reportedly became fascinated with the works of Sigmund Freud. This led to his applying a ‘psychological’ approach to all future stage and screen characters. Whatever the reason, Olivier's already superb performances improved dramatically, and, before long, he was being judged on his own merits by critics, and not merely compared (often disparagingly) to Gielgud or Ralph Richardson.

He also made several films at this time without enjoying the medium, though he won some popularity for such films as Fire Over England (1937) and The Divorce of Lady X (1938), but it was William Wyler, directing him as Heathcliff in Hollywood's Wuthering Heights (1939), who taught him how to value film.

When World War II broke out, Olivier intended to join the Royal Air Force, but was still contractually obliged to other parties. He apparently disliked actors such as Charles Laughton and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who would hold charity cricket matches to help the war effort. Olivier took flying lessons, and racked up over 200 hours. After two years of service, he rose to the rank Lieutenant Olivier RNVR, as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm but was never called to see action.

A new biography of Olivier written by Michael Munn (titled Lord Larry) claims that in 1940, while still in America Olivier was recruited by Special Operations Executive as a agent to build support in the United States for Britian's war with Nazi Germany. According to the book Olivier was recruited by film producer and MI5 operative Alexander Korda on the instructions of Winston Churchill.

According to an article in The Telegraph David Niven, a good friend of Olivier's, is said to have told Michael Munn,

'What was dangerous for his country was that (Olivier) could have been accused of being an agent'.

This sounds ludicrous now in the light of history, but before America was brought into the war it didn't tolerate foreign agents. Niven continues...

"So this was a danger for Larry because he could have been arrested. And what was worse, if German agents had realised what Larry was doing, they would, I am sure, have gone after him."





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