Sir Ralph Richardson
(1902 - 1983)

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Sir Ralph was one of a series of great acting Knights from the middle of the 20th Century; his peers were Gielgud and Olivier. He was born Ralph David Richardson was born in Gloucestershire on December 19, 1902. His father taught art at Cheltenham Ladies' College. The son of a Quaker father and a Roman Catholic mother, Ralph Richardson lived with his mother after she left the family home in Gloucestershire, and was raised Catholic by her. When he was a teenager, Ralph enrolled at Brighton School to take up the easel and follow in his father's brushstrokes. However, after receiving an inheritance of 500 pounds, he abandoned art school to pursue his real love: creating verbal portraits as an actor.

Richardson began his acting career at age 18, performing in Shakespearean plays with a touring company. By 1926, he had graduated to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and, four years later, appeared on the stage of England's grandest of playhouses, London's Old Vic. He gained prominence in a series of West End productions of modern plays, including Somerset Maugham's Sheppey (1933) and J.B. Priestley's Cornelius (1935). His first film, The Ghoul (1933), was about a dead professor (Boris Karloff) who returns to life to find an Egyptian jewel stolen from his grave. Richardson, portraying cleric Nigel Hartley, is there on the night Karloff returns to unleash mayhem and mischief.

War descended and despite fairly busy work (about 10 films since the Ghoul and numerous plays) he joined up, like many of his fellow actors, to serve in the British forces. Richardson managed to successfully combine his acting work with holding down the rank of Lt Cmdr in the Fleet Air Arm. Here he both served and acted with Larry Olivier in the Old Vic throughout the war. He made a couple of films during this period, including ‘The day will dawn’ (1942) The Volunteer (1943) and The Silver Fleet (1943), as a self-sacrificing Dutch patriot.

In the 1950s he received further acclaim with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company, appearing as Prospero and Volpone. He was knighted in 1947 for his work on stage and screen.

He made numerous quality films combining the skills of stage with the screen. Among them was Carol Reed's ‘The Fallen Idol’ (1948) in which Richardson won the Best Actor Award from the U.S. National Board of Review for his portrayal of a butler suspected of murder. In 1949 he starred in ‘The Heiress’ – here he plays a cold and emotionally abusive father to Olivia De Havilland. De Havilland went on to win the American Academy award, Ralph was nominated but did not win best supporting actor.







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