Laurence Olivier
Overview
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 (icon; 22 May 1907 11 July 1989) was an English actor, director, and producer
Theatrical producer
A theatrical producer is the person ultimately responsible for overseeing all aspects of mounting a theatre production. The independent producer will usually be the originator and finder of the script and starts the whole process...

. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond
Jill Esmond
Jill Esmond was an English actress and first wife of Sir Laurence Olivier.-Early life:Esmond was born Jill Esmond Moore in London, the daughter of stage actors Henry V. Esmond and Eva Moore. While her parents toured with theatre companies, Esmond spent her childhood in boarding schools until she...

, Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh, Lady Olivier was an English actress. She won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire , a role she also played on stage in London's West End, as well as for her portrayal of the southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, alongside Clark...

, and Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

. Actor Spencer Tracy
Spencer Tracy
Spencer Bonaventure Tracy was an American theatrical and film actor, who appeared in 75 films from 1930 to 1967. Tracy was one of the major stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, ranking among the top ten box office draws for almost every year from 1938 to 1951...

 said that Olivier was 'the greatest actor in the English-speaking world'.

Olivier played a wide variety of roles on stage and screen from Greek tragedy, Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 and Restoration comedy
Restoration comedy
Restoration comedy refers to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 signalled a renaissance of English drama...

 to modern American and British drama.
Quotations

If I wasn't an actor, I think I'd have gone mad. You have to have extra voltage, some extra temperament to reach certain heights. Art is a little bit larger than life — it's an exhalation of life and I think I you probably need a little touch of madness.

As quoted in Laurence Olivier (1979) by Foster Hirsch, p. 166

Never. The shot is too big for the cannon - On filming Shakespeare, before he did it.

As quoted in Olivier (2005) by Terry Coleman

I think that bloody old National nearly killed me - On the Royal National Theatre

As quoted in Olivier (2005) by Terry Coleman

Like coming for a living - On acting to a live audience

As quoted in Olivier (2005) by Terry Coleman

Encyclopedia
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 (icon; 22 May 1907 11 July 1989) was an English actor, director, and producer
Theatrical producer
A theatrical producer is the person ultimately responsible for overseeing all aspects of mounting a theatre production. The independent producer will usually be the originator and finder of the script and starts the whole process...

. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond
Jill Esmond
Jill Esmond was an English actress and first wife of Sir Laurence Olivier.-Early life:Esmond was born Jill Esmond Moore in London, the daughter of stage actors Henry V. Esmond and Eva Moore. While her parents toured with theatre companies, Esmond spent her childhood in boarding schools until she...

, Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh, Lady Olivier was an English actress. She won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire , a role she also played on stage in London's West End, as well as for her portrayal of the southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, alongside Clark...

, and Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

. Actor Spencer Tracy
Spencer Tracy
Spencer Bonaventure Tracy was an American theatrical and film actor, who appeared in 75 films from 1930 to 1967. Tracy was one of the major stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, ranking among the top ten box office draws for almost every year from 1938 to 1951...

 said that Olivier was 'the greatest actor in the English-speaking world'.

Olivier played a wide variety of roles on stage and screen from Greek tragedy, Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 and Restoration comedy
Restoration comedy
Restoration comedy refers to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 signalled a renaissance of English drama...

 to modern American and British drama. He was the first artistic director of the National Theatre of Great Britain
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

 and its main stage is named in his honour. He is regarded by some to be the greatest actor of the 20th century, in the same category as David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

, Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage was an English actor and theatre owner. He was the younger brother of Cuthbert Burbage. They were both actors in drama....

, Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean was an English actor, regarded in his time as the greatest ever.-Early life:Kean was born in London. His father was probably Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk, and his mother was an actress, Anne Carey, daughter of the 18th century composer and playwright Henry Carey...

 and Henry Irving
Henry Irving
Sir Henry Irving , born John Henry Brodribb, was an English stage actor in the Victorian era, known as an actor-manager because he took complete responsibility for season after season at the Lyceum Theatre, establishing himself and his company as...

 in their own centuries. Olivier's AMPAS
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures...

 acknowledgments are considerable: twelve Oscar nominations, with two awards (for Best Actor and Best Picture for the 1948 film Hamlet
Hamlet (1948 film)
Hamlet is a 1948 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, adapted and directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier. Hamlet was Olivier's second film as director, and also the second of the three Shakespeare films that he directed...

), plus two honorary awards including a statuette and certificate. He was also awarded five Emmy awards
Emmy Award
An Emmy Award, often referred to simply as the Emmy, is a television production award, similar in nature to the Peabody Awards but more focused on entertainment, and is considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards .A majority of Emmys are presented in various...

 from the nine nominations he received. Additionally, he was a three-time Golden Globe
Golden Globe Award
The Golden Globe Award is an accolade bestowed by the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association recognizing excellence in film and television, both domestic and foreign...

 and BAFTA
British Academy of Film and Television Arts
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts is a charity in the United Kingdom that hosts annual awards shows for excellence in film, television, television craft, video games and forms of animation.-Introduction:...

 winner.

Olivier's career as a stage and film actor spanned more than six decades and included a wide variety of roles, from the title role in Shakespeare's Othello
Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night to the sadistic Nazi dentist Christian Szell in Marathon Man
Marathon Man (film)
Marathon Man is a 1976 thriller film based on the novel of the same name by William Goldman. The film was directed by John Schlesinger, and stars Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, and Laurence Olivier. The original music score was composed by Michael Small....

and the kindly but determined Nazi-hunter in The Boys from Brazil
The Boys from Brazil (film)
The Boys from Brazil is a 1978 British/American science fiction/thriller film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. It stars Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, with James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen and Steve Guttenberg in supporting roles...

.
A High church
High church
The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

 clergyman's son who found fame on the West End
West End theatre
West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of London's 'Theatreland', the West End. Along with New York's Broadway theatre, West End theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English speaking...

 stage, Olivier became determined early on to master Shakespeare, and eventually came to be regarded as one of the foremost Shakespeare interpreters of the 20th century. He continued to act until the year before his death in 1989. Olivier played more than 120 stage roles: Richard III
Richard III of England
Richard III was King of England for two years, from 1483 until his death in 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty...

, Macbeth
Macbeth of Scotland
Mac Bethad mac Findlaích was King of the Scots from 1040 until his death...

, Romeo
Romeo Montague
Romeo is one of the fictional protagonists in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is the son of old Montague and his wife, who secretly loves and marries Juliet, a member of the rival House of Capulet...

, Hamlet
Prince Hamlet
Prince Hamlet is a fictional character, the protagonist in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. He is the Prince of Denmark, nephew to the usurping Claudius and son of the previous King of Denmark, Old Hamlet. Throughout the play he struggles with whether, and how, to avenge the murder of his father, and...

, Othello
Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

, Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya is a play by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. It was first published in 1897 and received its Moscow première in 1899 in a production by the Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski....

, and Archie Rice in The Entertainer
The Entertainer (play)
The Entertainer is a three act play by John Osborne, first produced in 1957. His first play, Look Back in Anger, had attracted mixed notices but a great deal of publicity. Having depicted an "angry young man" in the earlier play, Osborne wrote, at Laurence Olivier's request,about an angry middle...

. He appeared in nearly sixty films, including William Wyler
William Wyler
William Wyler was a leading American motion picture director, producer, and screenwriter.Notable works included Ben-Hur , The Best Years of Our Lives , and Mrs. Miniver , all of which won Wyler Academy Awards for Best Director, and also won Best Picture...

's Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights (1939 film)
Wuthering Heights is a 1939 American black-and-white film directed by William Wyler and produced by Samuel Goldwyn. It is based on the novel, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The film depicts only sixteen of the novel's thirty-four chapters, eliminating the second generation of characters. The...

, Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

's Rebecca, Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

's Spartacus, Otto Preminger
Otto Preminger
Otto Ludwig Preminger was an Austro–Hungarian-American theatre and film director.After moving from the theatre to Hollywood, he directed over 35 feature films in a five-decade career. He rose to prominence for stylish film noir mysteries such as Laura and Fallen Angel...

's Bunny Lake Is Missing
Bunny Lake Is Missing
Bunny Lake Is Missing is a 1965 British psychological thriller film directed and produced by Otto Preminger, who filmed it in black and white widescreen format in London. It was based on the novel of the same name by Merriam Modell. The score is by Paul Glass and the opening theme is often heard as...

, Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough
Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough , CBE is a British actor, director, producer and entrepreneur. As director and producer he won two Academy Awards for the 1982 film Gandhi...

's Oh! What a Lovely War
Oh! What a Lovely War
Oh! What a Lovely War is a musical film based on the stage musical Oh, What a Lovely War! originated by Charles Chilton as a radio play, The Long Long Trail in December 1961, and transferred to stage by Gerry Raffles in partnership with Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop created in 1963,...

, and A Bridge Too Far, Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Joseph Leo Mankiewicz was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Mankiewicz had a long Hollywood career and is best known as the writer-director of All About Eve , which was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six. He was brother to screenwriter and drama critic Herman J...

's Sleuth, John Schlesinger
John Schlesinger
John Richard Schlesinger, CBE was an English film and stage director and actor.-Early life:Schlesinger was born in London into a middle-class Jewish family, the son of Winifred Henrietta and Bernard Edward Schlesinger, a physician...

's Marathon Man
Marathon Man (film)
Marathon Man is a 1976 thriller film based on the novel of the same name by William Goldman. The film was directed by John Schlesinger, and stars Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, and Laurence Olivier. The original music score was composed by Michael Small....

, Daniel Petrie
Daniel Petrie
Daniel Mannix Petrie was a Canadian television and movie director.Petrie was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, the son of Mary Anne and William Mark Petrie, a soft-drink manufacturer. He moved to the United States in 1945...

's The Betsy
The Betsy
The Betsy is a 1978 film made by the Harold Robbins International Company and released by Allied Artists. It was directed by Daniel Petrie and produced by Robert R. Weston and Emanuel L. Wolf with Jack Grossberg as associate producer. The screenplay was by William Bast and Walter Bernstein, adapted...

, Desmond Davis' Clash of the Titans
Clash of the Titans (1981 film)
Clash of the Titans is an American 1981 fantasy–adventure film involving the Greek hero Perseus. It was released on June 12, 1981 and earned a gross profit of $41 million domestically, on a $15 million budget , by which it was the 11th highest grossing film of the year. A novelization of the film...

, and his own Henry V
Henry V (1944 film)
Henry V is a 1944 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The on-screen title is The Cronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France . It stars Laurence Olivier, who also directed. The play was adapted for the screen by Olivier, Dallas...

, Hamlet
Hamlet (1948 film)
Hamlet is a 1948 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, adapted and directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier. Hamlet was Olivier's second film as director, and also the second of the three Shakespeare films that he directed...

, and Richard III
Richard III (1955 film)
Richard III is a 1955 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare's historical play of the same name, also incorporating elements from his Henry VI, Part 3. It was directed and produced by Sir Laurence Olivier, who also played the lead role. The cast includes many noted Shakespearean actors,...

. He also preserved his Othello
Othello (1965 film)
Othello is a 1965 film based on the National Theatre's staging of Shakespeare's Othello staged by John Dexter. Directed by Stuart Burge, the film starred Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay, and Joyce Redman, providing film debuts for both Derek Jacobi and Michael...

on film, with its stage cast virtually intact. For television, he starred in The Moon and Sixpence
The Moon and Sixpence
The Moon and Sixpence is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, told in episodic form by the first-person narrator as a series of glimpses into the mind and soul of the central character, Charles Strickland, a middle-aged English stockbroker who abandons his wife and children abruptly to pursue his desire...

, John Gabriel Borkman
John Gabriel Borkman
John Gabriel Borkman is the penultimate composition of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, written in 1896.-Plot:The Borkman family fortunes have been brought low by the imprisonment of John Gabriel who used his position as a bank manager to illegally speculate with his investors' money...

, Long Day's Journey into Night
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Long Day's Journey Into Night is a 1956 drama in four acts written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill. The play is widely considered to be his masterwork...

, Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead Revisited (TV serial)
Brideshead Revisited is a 1981 British television serial produced by Granada Television for broadcast by the ITV network. The teleplay is based on Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited...

, The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is a tragic comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its dramatic...

, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a play by Tennessee Williams. One of Williams's best-known works and his personal favorite, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955...

, and King Lear, among others.

In 1999, the American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

 named Olivier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, at number 14 on the list.

Early life

Olivier was born on 22 May 1907 in Dorking
Dorking
Dorking is a historic market town at the foot of the North Downs approximately south of London, in Surrey, England.- History and development :...

, Surrey
Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

, England. He was raised in a severe, strict, and religious household, ruled over by his father, Gerard Kerr Olivier (1869–1939), a High
High church
The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

 Anglican
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 priest whose father was Henry Arnold Olivier, a rector. Olivier took solace in the care of his mother, Agnes Louis (née Crookenden; 1871–1920, and herself the younger sister of High Anglican vicar George Pelham Crookenden), and was grief-stricken when she died (at 48) when he was only 12. Gerard Dacres "Dickie" (1904–1958) and Sybille (1901–1989) were his two older siblings. His uncle was Sydney Olivier, 1st Baron Olivier
Sydney Olivier, 1st Baron Olivier
Sydney Haldane Olivier, 1st Baron Olivier, KCMG, CB, PC , was a British civil servant. A Fabian and a member of the Labour Party, he served as Governor of Jamaica and as Secretary of State for India in the first government of Ramsay MacDonald...

, a career civil servant and Fabian
Fabian Society
The Fabian Society is a British socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the 19th century and continuing up to World...

 who ended up as a Governor of Jamaica and as Secretary of State for India
Secretary of State for India
The Secretary of State for India, or India Secretary, was the British Cabinet minister responsible for the government of India and the political head of the India Office...

 in the first government of Ramsay MacDonald
Ramsay MacDonald
James Ramsay MacDonald, PC, FRS was a British politician who was the first ever Labour Prime Minister, leading a minority government for two terms....

.

In 1918, his father became the new church minister at St. Mary's Church, Letchworth
Letchworth
Letchworth Garden City, commonly known as Letchworth, is a town and civil parish in Hertfordshire, England. The town's name is taken from one of the three villages it surrounded - all of which featured in the Domesday Book. The land used was first purchased by Quakers who had intended to farm the...

, Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

 and the family lived at the Old Rectory, now part of St Christopher School
St Christopher School, Letchworth
St Christopher School is a boarding and day co-educational independent school located in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. Established in 1915 shortly after Ebenezer Howard founded Letchworth Garden City, the school is a long-time proponent of progressive education...

. He was educated at the choir school of All Saints', Margaret Street
All Saints, Margaret Street
All Saints, Margaret Street is an Anglican church in London built in the High Victorian Gothic style by the architect William Butterfield and completed in 1859....

, London. He played Brutus in his school's production of "Julius Caesar" at the age of 9, where Ellen Terry
Ellen Terry
Dame Ellen Terry, GBE was an English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Among the members of her famous family is her great nephew, John Gielgud....

 noted he was "already a great actor". At 13 he went to St Edward's School, Oxford again appearing in school drama productions: he was a "bold" Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1590 and 1591.The play begins with a framing device, often referred to as the Induction, in which a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunken tinker named Sly into believing he is actually a nobleman himself...

(selected for a schools' drama festival at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a 1,040+ seat thrust stage theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated to the British playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is located in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon - Shakespeare's birthplace - in the English Midlands, beside the River Avon...

, Stratford) and Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that was written by William Shakespeare. It is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1596. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta...

, played "very well, to everyone's disgust", as Olivier noted in his diary. After his brother, Dickie, left for India, it was his father who decided that Laurence—or "Kim", as the family called him—would become an actor.

Early career

Olivier, 17 years old, attended the Central School of Speech and Drama
Central School of Speech and Drama
The Central School of Speech and Drama was founded in London in 1906 by Elsie Fogerty to offer a new form of training in speech and drama for young actors and other students...

, tutored by Elsie Fogerty. In 1926, he joined The Birmingham Repertory Company
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Birmingham Repertory Theatre is a theatre and theatre company based on Centenary Square in Birmingham, England...

. At first he was given only minor tasks at the theatre, such as bell-ringing; however, his roles eventually became more significant, and in 1927 he was playing Hamlet and Macbeth. In 1928, he was cast to play Captain Stanhope in the Apollo theatre's first production of Journey's End
Journey's End
Journey's End is a 1928 drama, the seventh of English playwright R. C. Sherriff. It was first performed at the Apollo Theatre in London by the Incorporated Stage Society on 9 December 1928, starring a young Laurence Olivier, and soon moved to other West End theatres for a two-year run...

, a play which would expand his career. He always insisted that his acting was pure technique, and he was contemptuous of contemporaries who adopted method acting
Method acting
Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances...

 popularised by Lee Strasberg
Lee Strasberg
Lee Strasberg was an American actor, director and acting teacher. He cofounded, with directors Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, the Group Theatre in 1931, which was hailed as "America's first true theatrical collective"...

.
Olivier married Jill Esmond
Jill Esmond
Jill Esmond was an English actress and first wife of Sir Laurence Olivier.-Early life:Esmond was born Jill Esmond Moore in London, the daughter of stage actors Henry V. Esmond and Eva Moore. While her parents toured with theatre companies, Esmond spent her childhood in boarding schools until she...

, a rising young actress, on 25 July 1930; their only son, Simon Tarquin was born on 21 August 1936. Olivier was, however, from the beginning not happy in his first marriage. Repressed, as he came to see it, by his religious upbringing, Olivier recounted in his autobiography the disappointments of his wedding night, culminating in his failure to perform sexually. He temporarily renounced religion and soon came to resent his wife, though the marriage would last for ten years. Despite this supposed resentment, Olivier remained in congenial contact with Esmond until his death (as documented by their son Tarquin in his book My Father Laurence Olivier), accompanying her to Tarquin’s wedding in January 1965.

He made his film debut in The Temporary Widow and played his first leading role on film in The Yellow Ticket
The Yellow Ticket
The Yellow Ticket is a 1931 drama film based on a play by Michael Morton, produced by the Fox Film Corporation and directed by Raoul Walsh. The film starred Elissa Landi, Lionel Barrymore and featured Boris Karloff...

; however, he held the film in little regard. His stage breakthrough was in Noël Coward
Noël Coward
Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".Born in Teddington, a suburb of London, Coward attended a dance academy...

's Private Lives
Private Lives
Private Lives is a 1930 comedy of manners in three acts by Noël Coward. It focuses on a divorced couple who discover that they are honeymooning with their new spouses in neighbouring rooms at the same hotel. Despite a perpetually stormy relationship, they realise that they still have feelings for...

in 1930, followed by Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

in 1935, alternating the roles of Romeo and Mercutio with John Gielgud
John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

. Olivier did not agree with Gielgud's style of acting Shakespeare and was irritated by the fact that Gielgud was getting better reviews than he was. His tension towards Gielgud came to a head in 1940, when Olivier approached London impresario Binkie Beaumont
Binkie Beaumont
Hugh 'Binkie' Beaumont was a British theatre manager and producer, referred to as the "Eminence Grise" of the West End Theatre. He was one of the most successful manager-producers in the West End during the middle of the 20th century...

 about financing him in a repertory of the four great Shakespearean tragedies of Hamlet
Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

, Othello
Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

, Macbeth
Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...

and King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

. However, Beaumont would only agree to the plan if Olivier and Gielgud alternated in the roles of Hamlet/Laertes, Othello/Iago, Macbeth/Macduff, and Lear/Gloucester and that Gielgud direct at least one of the productions, a proposition Olivier bluntly declined.

In 1939, Olivier starred in a production of No Time for Comedy
No Time for Comedy
No Time for Comedy is a 1940 comedy-drama film based on the play of the same name by S. N. Behrman, starring James Stewart, Rosalind Russell, Genevieve Tobin and Charles Ruggles.-Plot summary:...

, by S.N. Behrman in a Katharine Cornell
Katharine Cornell
Katharine Cornell was an American stage actress, writer, theater owner and producer. She was born to American parents and raised in Buffalo, New York.Cornell is known as the greatest American stage actress of the 20th century...

 production with them both in leading roles. It was his first prominent role on Broadway.
The engagement as Romeo resulted in an invitation by Lilian Baylis
Lilian Baylis
Lilian Mary BaylisCH was an English theatrical producer and manager. She managed the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theatres in London, and ran an opera company, which became the English National Opera , a theatre company, which evolved into the English National Theatre, and a ballet company, which...

 to be the star at the Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

 in 1937/38. Olivier's tenure had mixed artistic results, with his performances as Hamlet and Iago
Iago
Iago is a fictional character in Shakespeare's Othello . The character's source is traced to Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio's tale "Un Capitano Moro" in Gli Hecatommithi . There, the character is simply "the ensign". Iago is a soldier and Othello's ancient . He is the husband of Emilia,...

 drawing a negative response from critics and his first attempt at Macbeth receiving mixed reviews. But his appearances as Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

, Coriolanus
Coriolanus (play)
Coriolanus is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1605 and 1608. The play is based on the life of the legendary Roman leader, Gaius Marcius Coriolanus.-Characters:*Caius Martius, later surnamed Coriolanus...

, and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night were triumphs, and his popularity with Old Vic audiences left Olivier as one of the major Shakespearean actors in England by the season's end.

Olivier continued to hold his scorn for film, and though he constantly worked for Alexander Korda
Alexander Korda
Sir Alexander Korda was a Hungarian-born British producer and film director. He was a leading figure in the British film industry, the founder of London Films and the owner of British Lion Films, a film distributing company.-Life and career:The elder brother of filmmakers Zoltán Korda and Vincent...

, he still felt most at home on the stage. He made his first Shakespeare film, As You Like It
As You Like It (1936 film)
As You Like It is a 1936 film, directed by Paul Czinner and starring Laurence Olivier as Orlando and Elisabeth Bergner as Rosalind. It is based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name...

, with Paul Czinner
Paul Czinner
Paul Czinner was a writer, film director, and producer.Czinner was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary. After studying literature and philosophy at the University of Vienna, he worked as a journalist. From 1919 onward, he dedicated himself to work for the filming industry as writer, director and...

, however, Olivier disliked it, thinking that Shakespeare did not work well on film.

Laurence Olivier saw Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh, Lady Olivier was an English actress. She won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire , a role she also played on stage in London's West End, as well as for her portrayal of the southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, alongside Clark...

 in The Mask of Virtue in 1936, and a friendship developed after he congratulated her on her performance. While playing lovers in the film Fire Over England
Fire Over England
Fire Over England is a 1937 London Film Productions film drama, notable for providing the first pairing of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. It was directed by William K. Howard and written by Clemence Dane from the novel Fire Over England by A. E. W. Mason. Leigh's performance in the movie...

(1937), Olivier and Leigh developed a strong attraction, and after filming was completed, they began an affair.
Leigh played Ophelia to Olivier's Hamlet in an Old Vic Theatre production, and Olivier later recalled an incident during which her mood rapidly changed as she was quietly preparing to go on-stage. Without apparent provocation, she began screaming at him, before suddenly becoming silent and staring into space. She was able to perform without mishap, and by the following day, she had returned to normal with no recollection of the event. It was the first time Olivier witnessed such behaviour from her.

The move to Hollywood

Olivier travelled to Hollywood to begin filming Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights (1939 film)
Wuthering Heights is a 1939 American black-and-white film directed by William Wyler and produced by Samuel Goldwyn. It is based on the novel, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The film depicts only sixteen of the novel's thirty-four chapters, eliminating the second generation of characters. The...

as Heathcliff
Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)
Heathcliff is a fictional character in the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Owing to the novel's enduring fame and popularity, he is often regarded as an archetype of the tortured Romantic hero whose all-consuming passions destroy both himself and those around him.Legend has stereotyped...

. Leigh followed soon after, partly to be with him, but also to pursue her dream of playing Scarlett O'Hara
Scarlett O'Hara
Scarlett O' Hara is the protagonist in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and in the later film of the same name...

 in Gone with the Wind
Gone with the Wind (film)
Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American historical epic film adapted from Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer-winning 1936 novel of the same name. It was produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Victor Fleming from a screenplay by Sidney Howard...

(1939). Olivier found the filming of Wuthering Heights to be difficult but it proved to be a turning point for him, both in his success in the United States, which had eluded him until then, but also in his attitude to film, which he had regarded as an inferior medium to theatre. The film's producer, Samuel Goldwyn
Samuel Goldwyn
Samuel Goldwyn was an American film producer, and founding contributor executive of several motion picture studios.-Biography:...

 was highly dissatisfied with Olivier's overstated performance after several weeks of filming and threatened to dismiss him. Olivier had grown to regard the film's female lead, Merle Oberon
Merle Oberon
Merle Oberon was an Indian-born British actress best known for her screen performances in The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Cowboy and the Lady . She began her film career in British films as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII . She travelled to the United States to make films for Samuel...

, as an amateur; however, when he stated his opinion to Goldwyn, he was reminded that Oberon was the star of the film and already a well-known name in American cinema. Olivier was told that he was dispensable and that he was required to be more tolerant of Oberon. Olivier recalled that he took Goldwyn's words to heart, but after some consideration realised that he was correct; he began to moderate his performance to fit the more intimate film medium and began to appreciate the possibilities it offered.

The film was a hit and Olivier was praised for his performance, with a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor
Academy Award for Best Actor
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

. Leigh won the Academy Award for Best Actress
Academy Award for Best Actress
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

 for Gone with the Wind, and the couple suddenly found themselves to be major celebrities throughout the world. They wanted to marry, but at first both Leigh's husband and Olivier's wife at the time, Jill Esmond, refused to divorce them. Finally divorced, they were married in simple ceremony on 31 August 1940 with only Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an American actress of film, stage, and television. In a career that spanned 62 years as a leading lady, she was best known for playing strong-willed, sophisticated women in both dramas and comedies...

 and Garson Kanin
Garson Kanin
Garson Kanin was a prolific American writer and director of plays and films.-Film and stage career:...

 as witnesses. Olivier's American film career flourished with highly regarded performances in Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice (1940 film)
Pride and Prejudice is a 1940 film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel of the same name. Robert Z. Leonard directed, and Aldous Huxley served as one of the screenwriters of the film. It is adapted specifically from the stage adaptation by Helen Jerome in addition to Jane Austen's novel...

(both 1940).
Olivier and Leigh starred in a theatre production of Romeo and Juliet in New York City. It was an extravagant production, but a commercial failure. Brooks Atkinson
Brooks Atkinson
Justin Brooks Atkinson was an American theatre critic. He worked for The New York Times from 1925 to 1960...

 for The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

wrote, "Although Miss Leigh and Mr Olivier are handsome young people they hardly act their parts at all." The couple had invested almost their entire savings into the project, and its failure was a financial disaster for them.

They filmed That Hamilton Woman
That Hamilton Woman
That Hamilton Woman, originally titled Lady Hamilton, is a 1941 black-and-white British historical film drama which takes place during the Napoleonic wars, produced and directed by Alexander Korda for Alexander Korda Films.-Production:...

(1941) with Olivier as Horatio Nelson
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB was a flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was noted for his inspirational leadership and superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which resulted in a number of...

 and Leigh as Emma Hamilton
Emma, Lady Hamilton
Emma, Lady Hamilton is best remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson and as the muse of George Romney. She was born Amy Lyon in Ness near Neston, Cheshire, England, the daughter of a blacksmith, Henry Lyon, who died when she was two months old...

. With Britain engaged in World War II, the Oliviers returned to England, and in 1944 tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 was diagnosed in Leigh's left lung
Human lung
The human lungs are the organs of respiration in humans. Humans have two lungs, with the left being divided into two lobes and the right into three lobes. Together, the lungs contain approximately of airways and 300 to 500 million alveoli, having a total surface area of about in...

, but after spending several weeks in hospital, she appeared to be cured. In the spring, she was filming Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) when she discovered she was pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage. She fell into a deep depression which reached its nadir when she turned on Olivier, verbally and physically attacking him until she fell to the floor sobbing. This was the first of many major breakdowns related to manic-depression, or bipolar mood disorder. Olivier came to recognise the symptoms of an impending episode—several days of hyperactivity followed by a period of depression and an explosive breakdown, after which Leigh would have no memory of the event, but would be acutely embarrassed and remorseful.

War

When World War II broke out, Olivier intended to join the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

, but was still contractually obliged to other parties. He apparently disliked actors such as Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton was an English-American stage and film actor, screenwriter, producer and director.-Early life and career:...

 and Cedric Hardwicke
Cedric Hardwicke
Sir Cedric Webster Hardwicke was a noted English stage and film actor whose career spanned nearly fifty years...

, 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 of Lieutenant
Lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 Olivier RNVR
Royal Naval Reserve
The Royal Naval Reserve is the volunteer reserve force of the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom. The present Royal Naval Reserve was formed in 1958 by merging the original Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve , a reserve of civilian volunteers founded in 1903...

, as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

 but was never called to see action.

In 1944 he and fellow actor Ralph Richardson
Ralph Richardson
Sir Ralph David Richardson was an English actor, one of a group of theatrical knights of the mid-20th century who, though more closely associated with the stage, also appeared in several classic films....

 were released from their naval commitments to form a new Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

 Theatre Company at the New Theatre (later the Albery, now the Noël Coward Theatre
Noël Coward Theatre
The Noël Coward Theatre, formerly known as the Albery Theatre, is a West End theatre on St. Martin's Lane in the City of Westminster. It opened on 12 March 1903 as the New Theatre and was built by Sir Charles Wyndham behind Wyndham's Theatre which was completed in 1899. The building was designed by...

) with a nightly repertory of three plays, initially Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

's Peer Gynt
Peer Gynt
Peer Gynt is a five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, loosely based on the fairy tale Per Gynt. It is the most widely performed Norwegian play. According to Klaus Van Den Berg, the "cinematic script blends poetry with social satire and realistic scenes with surreal ones"...

, Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

's Arms and the Man
Arms and the Man
Arms and the Man is a comedy by George Bernard Shaw, whose title comes from the opening words of Virgil's Aeneid in Latin:"Arma virumque cano" ....

and Shakespeare's Richard III
Richard III (play)
Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1591. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified...

, rehearsed over 10 weeks to the accompaniment of German V1
V-1 flying bomb
The V-1 flying bomb, also known as the Buzz Bomb or Doodlebug, was an early pulse-jet-powered predecessor of the cruise missile....

 'doodlebugs'. The enterprise, with John Burrell as manager, eventually extended to five acclaimed seasons ending in 1949, after a prestigious 1948 tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The second New Theatre season opened with Olivier playing both Harry Hotspur and Justice Shallow to Richardson's Falstaff
Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. In the two Henry IV plays, he is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is...

 in Henry IV
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , and Henry V...

, Parts 1 and 2, in what is now seen as a high point of English classical theatre. The magic continued with one of Olivier's most famous endeavours, the double bill of Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

' Oedipus
Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

and Sheridan's
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan was an Irish-born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years he was also a Whig Member of the British House of Commons for Stafford , Westminster and Ilchester...

 The Critic
The Critic (play)
The Critic: or, a Tragedy Rehearsed is a satire by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It was first staged at Drury Lane Theatre in 1779. It is a burlesque on stage acting and play production conventions, and Sheridan considered the first act to be his finest piece of writing...

, with Olivier's transition from Greek tragedy to high comedy in a single evening becoming a thing of legend. He followed this triumph with one of his favourite roles, Astrov in Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya is a play by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. It was first published in 1897 and received its Moscow première in 1899 in a production by the Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski....

.

Kenneth Tynan
Kenneth Tynan
Kenneth Peacock Tynan was an influential and often controversial English theatre critic and writer.-Early life:...

 was to write (in He Who Plays the King, 1950): "The Old Vic was now at its height: the watershed had been reached and one of those rare moments in the theatre had arrived when drama paused, took stock of all that it had learnt since Irving, and then produced a monument in celebration. It is surprising when one considers it, that English acting should have reached up and seized a laurel crown in the middle of a war."

In 1944, Olivier filmed Henry V
Henry V (1944 film)
Henry V is a 1944 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The on-screen title is The Cronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France . It stars Laurence Olivier, who also directed. The play was adapted for the screen by Olivier, Dallas...

, which—in view of the patriotic nature of the story of the English victory—was viewed as a psychological contribution to the British war effort.

In 1945 Olivier and Richardson were made honorary Lieutenants with ENSA
Entertainments National Service Association
The Entertainments National Service Association or ENSA was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War II. ENSA operated as part of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes...

, and did a six-week tour of Europe for the army, performing Arms and the Man
Arms and the Man
Arms and the Man is a comedy by George Bernard Shaw, whose title comes from the opening words of Virgil's Aeneid in Latin:"Arma virumque cano" ....

, Peer Gynt
Peer Gynt
Peer Gynt is a five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, loosely based on the fairy tale Per Gynt. It is the most widely performed Norwegian play. According to Klaus Van Den Berg, the "cinematic script blends poetry with social satire and realistic scenes with surreal ones"...

and Richard III
Richard III (play)
Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1591. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified...

for the troops, followed by a visit to the Comédie-Française
Comédie-Française
The Comédie-Française or Théâtre-Français is one of the few state theaters in France. It is the only state theater to have its own troupe of actors. It is located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris....

 in Paris, the first time a foreign company had been invited to play on its famous stage. When Olivier returned to London the populace noticed a change in him. Olivier's only explanation was: "Maybe it's just that I've got older."

A 2007 biography of Olivier, Lord Larry: The Secret Life of Laurence Olivier by Michael Munn
Michael Munn
Michael Munn is a British author and film historian.His biography of Steve McQueen has been described as preposterous, and doubt cast on his biographies of Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, and David Niven....

, claims that Olivier was recruited to be an undercover agent inside the United States for the British government by film producer and MI5
MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 operative Alexander Korda
Alexander Korda
Sir Alexander Korda was a Hungarian-born British producer and film director. He was a leading figure in the British film industry, the founder of London Films and the owner of British Lion Films, a film distributing company.-Life and career:The elder brother of filmmakers Zoltán Korda and Vincent...

 on the instructions of Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

. Munn's main source was Hollywood producer Jesse Lasky, who believed that "Larry...was drumming up support, and doing it with the British Government's sanction".

According to an article in The Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning broadsheet newspaper distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally. The newspaper was founded by Arthur B...

, David Niven
David Niven
James David Graham Niven , known as David Niven, was a British actor and novelist, best known for his roles as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days and Sir Charles Lytton, a.k.a. "the Phantom", in The Pink Panther...

, 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. 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."

Post-war years

In 1947 Olivier was made a Knight Bachelor
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

 and by 1948 he was on the Board of Directors for the Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

 Theatre, and he and Leigh embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand to raise funds for the theatre. During their six-month tour, Olivier performed Richard III
Richard III (play)
Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1591. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified...

and also performed with Leigh in Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan was an Irish-born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years he was also a Whig Member of the British House of Commons for Stafford , Westminster and Ilchester...

'sThe School for Scandal
The School for Scandal
The School for Scandal is a play written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It was first performed in London at Drury Lane Theatre on May 8, 1777.The prologue, written by David Garrick, commends the play, its subject, and its author to the audience...

and Thornton Wilder
Thornton Wilder
Thornton Niven Wilder was an American playwright and novelist. He received three Pulitzer Prizes, one for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and two for his plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, and a National Book Award for his novel The Eighth Day.-Early years:Wilder was born in Madison,...

's The Skin of Our Teeth
The Skin of Our Teeth
The Skin of Our Teeth is a play by Thornton Wilder which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It opened on October 15, 1942 at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, before moving to the Plymouth Theatre on Broadway on November 18, 1942...

. The tour was an outstanding success, and although Leigh was plagued with insomnia
Insomnia
Insomnia is most often defined by an individual's report of sleeping difficulties. While the term is sometimes used in sleep literature to describe a disorder demonstrated by polysomnographic evidence of disturbed sleep, insomnia is often defined as a positive response to either of two questions:...

 and allowed her understudy to replace her for a week while she was ill, she generally withstood the demands placed upon her, with Olivier noting her ability to "charm the press". Members of the company later recalled several quarrels between the couple, with the most dramatic of these occurring in Christchurch
Christchurch
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the country's second-largest urban area after Auckland. It lies one third of the way down the South Island's east coast, just north of Banks Peninsula which itself, since 2006, lies within the formal limits of...

 when Leigh refused to go on stage. Olivier slapped her face, and Leigh slapped him in return and swore at him before she made her way to the stage. By the end of the tour, both were exhausted and ill, and Olivier told a journalist, "You may not know it, but you are talking to a couple of walking corpses." Later he would comment that he "lost Vivien" in Australia. The success of the tour encouraged the Oliviers to make their first West End
West End of London
The West End of London is an area of central London, containing many of the city's major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings, and entertainment . Use of the term began in the early 19th century to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross...

 appearance together, performing the same works with one addition, Antigone
Antigone (Sophocles)
Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first...

, included at Leigh's insistence because she wished to play a role in a tragedy.

Leigh next sought the role of Blanche DuBois
Blanche DuBois
Blanche DuBois is a fictional character in Tennessee Williams' 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire...

 in the West End
West End of London
The West End of London is an area of central London, containing many of the city's major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings, and entertainment . Use of the term began in the early 19th century to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross...

 stage production of Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams
Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams III was an American writer who worked principally as a playwright in the American theater. He also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, essays, screenplays and a volume of memoirs...

's A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire (play)
A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. The play opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947, and closed on December 17, 1949, in the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The Broadway production was...

, and was cast after Williams and the play's producer, Irene Mayer Selznick
Irene Mayer Selznick
Irene Mayer Selznick was an American theatrical producer.Born Irene Gladys Mayer in Brooklyn, New York, she was the daughter of future MGM studio mogul, Louis B. Mayer and his first wife, Margaret Shenberg....

, saw her in The School for Scandal and Antigone, and Olivier was contracted to direct. Leigh would go on to star as Blanche in the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, earning her second Academy Award for Best Actress
Academy Award for Best Actress
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

.

In 1951, Leigh and Olivier performed two plays about Cleopatra, William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607. It was first printed in the First Folio of 1623. The plot is based on Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives and follows the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony...

and George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

's Caesar and Cleopatra
Caesar and Cleopatra (play)
Caesar and Cleopatra, a play written in 1898 by George Bernard Shaw, was first staged in 1901 and first published with Captain Brassbound's Conversion and The Devil's Disciple in his 1901 collection, Three Plays for Puritans. It was first performed at Newcastle-on-Tyne on March 15, 1899...

, alternating the play each night and winning good reviews. They took the productions to New York, where they performed a season at the Ziegfeld Theatre
Ziegfeld Theatre
The Ziegfeld Theatre was a Broadway theater located at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 54th Street in Manhattan, New York City. It was built in 1927 and, despite public protests, was razed in 1966....

 into 1952. The reviews there were also mostly positive, but the critic Kenneth Tynan
Kenneth Tynan
Kenneth Peacock Tynan was an influential and often controversial English theatre critic and writer.-Early life:...

 angered them when he suggested that Leigh's was a mediocre talent which forced Olivier to compromise his own. Tynan's diatribe almost precipitated another collapse; Leigh, terrified of failure and intent on achieving greatness, dwelt on his comments, while ignoring the positive reviews of other critics.

In January 1953, Leigh travelled to Ceylon
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 to film Elephant Walk
Elephant Walk
Elephant Walk is a 1954 Paramount Pictures film, directed by William Dieterle, and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, Peter Finch and Abraham Sofaer....

with Peter Finch
Peter Finch
Peter Finch was a British-born Australian actor. He is best remembered for his role as "crazed" television anchorman Howard Beale in the film Network, which earned him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor, his fifth Best Actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and a...

. Shortly after filming commenced, she suffered a breakdown, and Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film production and distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still...

 replaced her with Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond "Liz" Taylor, DBE was a British-American actress. From her early years as a child star with MGM, she became one of the great screen actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age...

. Olivier returned her to their home in England, where between periods of incoherence, Leigh told him that she was in love with Finch, and had been having an affair with him. She gradually recovered over a period of several months. As a result of this episode, many of the Oliviers' friends learned of her problems. David Niven
David Niven
James David Graham Niven , known as David Niven, was a British actor and novelist, best known for his roles as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days and Sir Charles Lytton, a.k.a. "the Phantom", in The Pink Panther...

 said she had been "quite, quite mad", and in his diary, Noël Coward
Noël Coward
Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".Born in Teddington, a suburb of London, Coward attended a dance academy...

 expressed surprise that "things had been bad and getting worse since 1948 or thereabouts."

Leigh recovered sufficiently to play The Sleeping Prince with Olivier in 1953, and in 1955 they performed a season at Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England. It lies on the River Avon, south east of Birmingham and south west of Warwick. It is the largest and most populous town of the District of Stratford-on-Avon, which uses the term "on" to indicate that it covers...

 in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Macbeth
Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...

and Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, and possibly George Peele, believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593. It is thought to be Shakespeare's first tragedy, and is often seen as his attempt to emulate the violent and bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries, which were...

. They played to capacity houses and attracted generally good reviews, Leigh's health seemingly stable. Noël Coward
Noël Coward
Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".Born in Teddington, a suburb of London, Coward attended a dance academy...

 was enjoying success with the play South Sea Bubble
South Sea Bubble (play)
South Sea Bubble is a play by British actor and playwright Noël Coward. It was written in 1949 but not performed until 1951. The play was moderately successful but failed to match the popularity of Coward's pre-war hits.-Background:...

, with Leigh in the lead role, but she became pregnant and withdrew from the production. Several weeks later, she miscarried and entered a period of depression that lasted for months. She joined Olivier for a European tour with Titus Andronicus, but the tour was marred by Leigh's frequent outbursts against Olivier and other members of the company. After their return to London, her former husband Leigh Holman, who continued to exert a strong influence over her, stayed with the Oliviers and helped calm her.

In 1958, considering her marriage to be over, Leigh began a relationship with the actor Jack Merivale
John Merivale
John Herman Merivale , also known as Jack Merivale, was a British theatre actor, and occasional supporting player in British films.-Biography:...

, who knew of Leigh's medical condition and assured Olivier he would care for her. She achieved a success in 1959 with the Noël Coward comedy Look After Lulu, with The Times critic describing her as "beautiful, delectably cool and matter of fact, she is mistress of every situation."

In December 1960 she and Olivier divorced, and Olivier married the actress Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

, with whom he later had three children: Richard Kerr (b. 1961), Tamsin Agnes Margaret (b. 1963), and Julie-Kate (b. 1966).

In his autobiography he discussed the years of problems they had experienced because of Leigh's illness, writing, "Throughout her possession by that uncannily evil monster, manic depression, with its deadly ever-tightening spirals, she retained her own individual canniness—an ability to disguise her true mental condition from almost all except me, for whom she could hardly be expected to take the trouble."

Shakespeare trilogy

After gaining widespread popularity in the film medium, Olivier was approached by several investors (namely Filippo Del Giudice
Filippo Del Giudice
Filippo Del Giudice, , born in Trani, Italy, was an Italian film producer.In 1933 he fled fascist Italy for England and entered films four years later when, with Mario Zampi, he founded Two Cities Films.-External links:...

, Alexander Korda
Alexander Korda
Sir Alexander Korda was a Hungarian-born British producer and film director. He was a leading figure in the British film industry, the founder of London Films and the owner of British Lion Films, a film distributing company.-Life and career:The elder brother of filmmakers Zoltán Korda and Vincent...

 and J. Arthur Rank
J. Arthur Rank
Joseph Arthur Rank, 1st Baron Rank was a British industrialist and film producer, and founder of the Rank Organisation, now known as The Rank Group Plc.- Family business :...

), to create several Shakespearean films, based on stage productions of each respective play. Olivier tried his hand at directing, and as a result, created three highly successful films: Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III.

Henry V

During the Second World War, Olivier made his directorial debut with a film of Shakespeare's Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

. At first, he did not believe he was up to the task, instead trying to offer it to William Wyler
William Wyler
William Wyler was a leading American motion picture director, producer, and screenwriter.Notable works included Ben-Hur , The Best Years of Our Lives , and Mrs. Miniver , all of which won Wyler Academy Awards for Best Director, and also won Best Picture...

, Carol Reed
Carol Reed
Sir Carol Reed was an English film director best known for Odd Man Out , The Fallen Idol , The Third Man and Oliver!...

, and Terence Young. The film was shot in Ireland (because it was a neutral country), with the Irish plains serving for the fields of Agincourt and the Irish army providing extras for the battle scenes. During the shooting of one of the battle scenes, a horse collided with a camera that Olivier was operating. Olivier had had his eye to the viewfinder; and, when the horse crashed into his position, the camera smashed into him, cutting his lip and leaving a scar that would be visible in later roles.

The film opened to rave reviews; it was the first widely successful Shakespeare film, and was considered a work of art. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor, but the Academy, in Olivier's opinion, did not feel comfortable in giving out all of their major awards to a foreigner, so they gave him a special Honorary Award. Olivier disregarded the award as a "fob-off".

Hamlet

Olivier followed up on his success with an adaptation of Hamlet. He had played this role more often than he had Henry, and was more familiar with the melancholy Dane. However, Olivier was not particularly comfortable with the introverted role of Hamlet, as opposed to the extroverts that he was famous for portraying. The running time of Hamlet (1948) was not allowed to exceed 153 minutes, and as a result Olivier cut almost half of Shakespeare's text, excising Rosencrantz and Guildernstern completely. He was severely criticised for doing so by purists, most notably Ethel Barrymore
Ethel Barrymore
Ethel Barrymore was an American actress and a member of the Barrymore family of actors.-Early life:Ethel Barrymore was born Ethel Mae Blythe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second child of the actors Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew...

; Barrymore stated that the adaptation was not nearly as faithful to the original text as her brother John's
John Barrymore
John Sidney Blyth , better known as John Barrymore, was an acclaimed American actor. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III...

 stage production from 1922. Ironically, Ethel presented the Best Picture Oscar that year—and was visibly shaken when she read,"Hamlet".

The film became another resounding critical and commercial success in Britain and abroad, winning Olivier Best Picture and Best Actor at the 1948 Academy Awards. It was the first British film to win Best Picture, and Olivier's only Best Actor win, a category for which he would be nominated five more times before his death. Olivier also became the first person to direct himself in an Oscar-winning performance, a feat not repeated until Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni
Roberto Remigio Benigni, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI is an Italian actor, comedian, screenwriter and director of film, theatre and television.- Early years :...

 directed himself to Best Actor of 1998 for Life Is Beautiful
Life Is Beautiful
Life Is Beautiful is a 1997 Italian film which tells the story of a Jewish Italian, Guido Orefice , who must employ his fertile imagination to help his family during their internment in a Nazi concentration camp.At the 71st Academy Awards in 1999, Benigni won the Academy Award for Best Actor and...

. Also, Olivier remains the only actor to receive an Oscar for a Shakespearean role. Olivier, however, did not win the Best Director Oscar that year.

Richard III

Olivier's third major Shakespeare project as director and star was Richard III
Richard III (1955 film)
Richard III is a 1955 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare's historical play of the same name, also incorporating elements from his Henry VI, Part 3. It was directed and produced by Sir Laurence Olivier, who also played the lead role. The cast includes many noted Shakespearean actors,...

.
Alexander Korda initially approached Olivier to reprise on film the role he had played to acclaim at the Old Vic in the 1940s. This role had been lauded as Olivier's greatest (rivalled only by his 1955 stage production of Macbeth
Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...

and his performance as the music hall
Music hall
Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment which was popular between 1850 and 1960. The term can refer to:# A particular form of variety entertainment involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and speciality acts...

 performer Archie Rice in The Entertainer
The Entertainer (film)
The Entertainer is a 1960 film adaptation of the stage play of the same name by John Osborne, which told the story of a failing third-rate music hall stage performer who tried to keep his career going even as his personal life fell apart....

), and is arguably his greatest screen performance. During the filming of the battle scenes in Spain, one of the archers actually shot Olivier in the ankle, causing him to limp. Fortunately, the limp was required for the part, so Olivier had already been limping for the parts of the film already shot.

The film was critically well received (Olivier would be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for the fifth time). Korda sold the rights to the American television network NBC
NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

, and the film became the first to be aired on television and released in theatres simultaneously. Many deduce that from the enormous ratings that the NBC transmissions received, more people saw Richard III in that single showing than all the people who had seen it on stage in the play's history.

The Entertainer

After World War II, apart from his Shakespeare trilogy, Olivier had made only sporadic film appearances. In 1957, he directed and acted in The Prince and the Showgirl
The Prince and the Showgirl
The Prince and the Showgirl is a 1957 American film produced at Pinewood Studios starring Marilyn Monroe and co-starring Laurence Olivier who also served as director and producer.The film was released on 13 June 1957...

with Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was an American actress, singer, model and showgirl who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s....

.

In the second half of the 1950s, British theatre was changing with the rise of the "Angry Young Men
Angry young men
The "angry young men" were a group of mostly working and middle class British playwrights and novelists who became prominent in the 1950s. The group's leading members included John Osborne and Kingsley Amis.The phrase was originally coined by the Royal Court Theatre's press officer to promote John...

". John Osborne
John Osborne
John James Osborne was an English playwright, screenwriter, actor and critic of the Establishment. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre....

, author of Look Back in Anger
Look Back in Anger
Look Back in Anger is a John Osborne play—made into films in 1959, 1980, and 1989 -- about a love triangle involving an intelligent but disaffected young man , his upper-middle-class, impassive wife , and her haughty best friend . Cliff, an amiable Welsh lodger, attempts to keep the peace...

, wrote a play for Olivier entitled The Entertainer
The Entertainer (play)
The Entertainer is a three act play by John Osborne, first produced in 1957. His first play, Look Back in Anger, had attracted mixed notices but a great deal of publicity. Having depicted an "angry young man" in the earlier play, Osborne wrote, at Laurence Olivier's request,about an angry middle...

, centred on a washed-up stage comedian called Archie Rice, which opened at the Royal Court
Royal Court Theatre
The Royal Court Theatre is a non-commercial theatre on Sloane Square, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is noted for its contributions to modern theatre...

 on 10 April 1957. As Olivier later stated, "I am Archie Rice. I am not Hamlet."

During rehearsals of The Entertainer, Olivier met Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

, who took over the role of Jean Rice from Dorothy Tutin when Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson
Cecil Antonio "Tony" Richardson was an English theatre and film director and producer.-Early life:Richardson was born in Shipley, Yorkshire in 1928, the son of Elsie Evans and Clarence Albert Richardson, a chemist...

's Royal Court production transferred to the Palace Theatre
Palace Theatre, London
The Palace Theatre is a West End theatre in the City of Westminster in London. It is an imposing red-brick building that dominates the west side of Cambridge Circus and is located near the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road...

 in September 1957. Later, in 1960, Tony Richardson also directed the screen version with Olivier and Plowright repeating their stage roles. Olivier received his fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for The Entertainer.

Olivier married Plowright on St. Patrick's Day, 1961.

National Theatre

Olivier was one of the founders, and the inaugural director, of the National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

. He became first NT Director at the Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

 before the South Bank
South Bank
South Bank is an area of London, England located immediately adjacent to the south side of the River Thames. It forms a long and narrow section of riverside development that is within the London Borough of Lambeth to the border with the London Borough of Southwark and was formerly simply known as...

 building was constructed with his opening production of Hamlet
Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

in October 1963.

During his directorship he appeared in twelve plays (taking over roles in three) and directed nine, enjoying particularly remarkable personal successes for his performances in Othello
Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

(1964), The Dance of Death
The Dance of Death (play)
The Dance of Death is a play in two parts written by August Strindberg in 1900.-Plot:In Part I, Edgar and his wife Alice live in a granite fortress on a desolate island. Bored and embittered, they torment each other with petty intrigues and well-worn accusations...

(1967) and Long Day's Journey into Night
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Long Day's Journey Into Night is a 1956 drama in four acts written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill. The play is widely considered to be his masterwork...

(1971). Reportedly, some felt that his tenure as the director of the NT was marred by his jealousy towards other performers when he manoeuvred to block famous names like John Gielgud
John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

 and Ralph Richardson
Ralph Richardson
Sir Ralph David Richardson was an English actor, one of a group of theatrical knights of the mid-20th century who, though more closely associated with the stage, also appeared in several classic films....

 from appearing there, although young actors like Michael Gambon
Michael Gambon
Sir Michael John Gambon, CBE is an Irish actor who has worked in theatre, television and film. A highly respected theatre actor, Gambon is recognised for his roles as Philip Marlowe in the BBC television serial The Singing Detective, as Jules Maigret in the 1990s ITV serial Maigret, and as...

, Robert Lang
Robert Lang (actor)
Robert Lang was an English actor of stage and television. Laurence Olivier invited him to join the new National Theatre Company, at the Old Vic, Robert Lang was already earning high praise as an actor. From 1971 until his death he was married to Ann Bell, best known for her portrayal of Marion...

, Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith
Dame Margaret Natalie Smith, DBE , better known as Maggie Smith, is an English film, stage, and television actress who made her stage debut in 1952 and is still performing after 59 years...

, Sheila Reid
Sheila Reid
Sheila Reid is a Scottish actress, best known for her performance as Madge Barron in Benidorm.-Career:Reid has had a long and distinguished career in theatre, film and television, and worked with Laurence Olivier at the Royal National Theatre. In 1980, she played the long-suffering wife of Trevor...

, Christopher Timothy
Christopher Timothy
Christopher Timothy is a Welsh actor, television director and writer. Timothy is possibly best known today for his role as James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small; more recently he has starred as Dr. Brendan 'Mac' McGuire in the British television drama Doctors...

, Alan Bates
Alan Bates
Sir Alan Arthur Bates CBE was an English actor, who came to prominence in the 1960s, a time of high creativity in British cinema, when he demonstrated his versatility in films ranging from the popular children’s story Whistle Down the Wind to the "kitchen sink" drama A Kind of Loving...

, Frank Finlay
Frank Finlay
Francis Finlay, CBE is an English stage, film and television actor.-Personal life:Finlay was born in Farnworth, Lancashire, the son of Margaret and Josiah Finlay, a butcher. A devout Catholic, he belongs to the British Catholic Stage Guild. He was educated at St...

, Derek Jacobi
Derek Jacobi
Sir Derek George Jacobi, CBE is an English actor and film director.A "forceful, commanding stage presence", Jacobi has enjoyed a highly successful stage career, appearing in such stage productions as Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, and Oedipus the King. He received a Tony Award for his performance in...

 and Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins
Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins, KBE , best known as Anthony Hopkins, is a Welsh actor of film, stage and television...

 (both of whom understudied Olivier) made their names there during the period. Olivier's career at the National ended, in his view, in betrayal when the theatre's governorship decided to replace him with Peter Hall in 1973 without consulting him on the choice and not informing him of the decision until several months after it had been made.

Othello

Olivier underwent a transformation, requiring extensive study and heavy weightlifting, to get the physique needed for the Moor of Venice
Othello (character)
Othello is a character in Shakespeare's Othello . The character's origin is traced to the tale, "Un Capitano Moro" in Gli Hecatommithi by Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio. There, he is simply referred to as the Moor....

. It is said that he bellowed at a herd of cows for an hour to get the deep voice that was required. John Dexter
John Dexter
John Dexter was an English theatre, opera, and film director.- Theatre :Born in Derby, England, Dexter left school at the age of fourteen to serve in the British army during World War II. Following the war, he began working as a stage actor before turning to producing and directing shows for...

's 1964 stage production of the play was filmed
Othello (1965 film)
Othello is a 1965 film based on the National Theatre's staging of Shakespeare's Othello staged by John Dexter. Directed by Stuart Burge, the film starred Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay, and Joyce Redman, providing film debuts for both Derek Jacobi and Michael...

 in 1965, securing Olivier his sixth Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The production was a huge public success as it also was with most of the critics. Franco Zeffirelli said of Olivier's acting: "It's an anthology of everything that has been discovered about acting in the past three centuries." Even so, it has not gone without criticism: in 1997, director Jonathan Miller
Jonathan Miller
Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller CBE is a British theatre and opera director, author, physician, television presenter, humorist and sculptor. Trained as a physician in the late 1950s, he first came to prominence in the 1960s with his role in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with fellow writers and...

 called it "a condescending view of an Afro Caribbean person".

Three Sisters

Olivier's final film as director was the 1970 film Three Sisters, based on the Chekhov play
Three Sisters (play)
Three Sisters is a play by Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov, perhaps partially inspired by the situation of the three Brontë sisters, but most probably by the three Zimmermann sisters in Perm...

 of the same name, and his 1967 National Theatre production. It was, in Olivier's opinion, his best work as director. The film was co-directed by John Sichel
John Sichel
John Peter Sichel was a British director of film, stage and television, and, later in life, a film, television, and theatre trainer....

.

In addition, his most fondly remembered National Theatre performances at the Old Vic were as Astrov in his own production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya is a play by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. It was first published in 1897 and received its Moscow première in 1899 in a production by the Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski....

, seen first in 1962 at the Chichester Festival Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre, located in Chichester, England, was designed by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, and opened by its founder Leslie Evershed-Martin in 1962. Subsequently the smaller and more intimate Minerva Theatre was built nearby in 1989....

, of which he was the founding director; his Captain Brazen in William Gaskill
William Gaskill
William 'Bill' Gaskill is a British theatre director.He worked alongside Laurence Olivier as a founding director of the National Theatre from its time at the Old Vic in 1963...

's December 1963 staging of George Farquhar
George Farquhar
George Farquhar was an Irish dramatist. He is noted for his contributions to late Restoration comedy, particularly for his plays The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux' Stratagem .-Early life:...

's The Recruiting Officer
The Recruiting Officer
The Recruiting Officer is a 1706 play by the Irish writer George Farquhar, which follows the social and sexual exploits of two officers, the womanising Plume and the cowardly Brazen, in the town of Shrewsbury to recruit soldiers...

; Shylock
Shylock
Shylock is a fictional character in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.-In the play:In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who lends money to his Christian rival, Antonio, setting the security at a pound of Antonio's flesh...

 in Jonathan Miller
Jonathan Miller
Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller CBE is a British theatre and opera director, author, physician, television presenter, humorist and sculptor. Trained as a physician in the late 1950s, he first came to prominence in the 1960s with his role in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with fellow writers and...

's 1970 revival of The Merchant of Venice; and his definitive portrayal of James Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill
Eugene O'Neill
Eugene Gladstone O'Neill was an American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature. His poetically titled plays were among the first to introduce into American drama techniques of realism earlier associated with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Swedish...

's Long Day's Journey Into Night, produced in December 1971 by Michael Blakemore
Michael Blakemore
Michael Howell Blakemore OBE is an Australian actor, writer and theatre director. In 2000 he became the only individual to win Tony Awards for best Director of a Play and Musical in the same year for Copenhagen and Kiss Me, Kate....

. These last two were later restaged for television, and telecast both in England and in the United States.

He played a droll supporting role as the ancient Antonio in Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli KBE is an Italian director and producer of films and television. He is also a director and designer of operas and a former senator for the Italian center-right Forza Italia party....

's 1973 production of Eduardo De Filippo
Eduardo De Filippo
Eduardo De Filippo was an Italian actor, playwright, screenwriter, author and poet, best known for his Neapolitan works Filumena Marturano and Napoli Milionaria.-Biography:...

's Saturday, Sunday, Monday, with his wife Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

 in the starring role of Rosa. His final stage appearance, on 21 March 1974, was as the fiery Glaswegian, John Tagg, in John Dexter's production of Trevor Griffiths
Trevor Griffiths
Trevor Griffiths is an English dramatist.Raised as a Roman Catholic, he attended Saint Bede's College, before being accepted into Manchester University in 1952 to read English...

's The Party.

The only appearance he made on the stage of the new Olivier Theatre was at the royal opening of the new National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

 building on 25 October 1976.

Later career

Olivier immersed himself even more completely in his work during his later years, reportedly as a way of distracting himself from the guilt he felt at having left his second wife Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh, Lady Olivier was an English actress. She won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire , a role she also played on stage in London's West End, as well as for her portrayal of the southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, alongside Clark...

. He began appearing more frequently in films, usually in character parts rather than the leading romantic roles of his early career, and received Academy Award nominations for Sleuth (1972), Marathon Man
Marathon Man (film)
Marathon Man is a 1976 thriller film based on the novel of the same name by William Goldman. The film was directed by John Schlesinger, and stars Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, and Laurence Olivier. The original music score was composed by Michael Small....

(1976; Supporting Actor) and The Boys from Brazil
The Boys from Brazil (film)
The Boys from Brazil is a 1978 British/American science fiction/thriller film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. It stars Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, with James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen and Steve Guttenberg in supporting roles...

(1978). Having been recently forced out of his role as director of the Royal National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

, he worried that his family would not be sufficiently provided for in the event of his death, and consequently chose to do many of his later TV special and film appearances on a "pay cheque" basis. He later freely admitted that he was not proud of most of these credits, and noted that he particularly despised the 1982 film Inchon
Inchon (film)
Inchon is a 1982 war film about the Battle of Inchon, considered to be the turning point of the Korean War. The film was directed by Terence Young and financed by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon. It stars Laurence Olivier as General Douglas MacArthur, who led the United States surprise...

, in which he played the role of General Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. He was a Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the...

.

In 1966, Olivier portrayed the Mahdi
Mahdi
In Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will stay on Earth for seven, nine or nineteen years- before the Day of Judgment and, alongside Jesus, will rid the world of wrongdoing, injustice and tyranny.In Shia Islam, the belief in the Mahdi is a "central religious...

 (Mahommed Ahmed
Muhammad Ahmad
Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah was a religious leader of the Samaniyya order in Sudan who, on June 29, 1881, proclaimed himself as the Mahdi or messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith...

), opposite Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston was an American actor of film, theatre and television. Heston is known for heroic roles in films such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, El Cid, and Planet of the Apes...

 as General Gordon
Charles George Gordon
Major-General Charles George Gordon, CB , known as "Chinese" Gordon, Gordon Pasha, and Gordon of Khartoum, was a British army officer and administrator....

 in the film Khartoum
Khartoum (film)
Khartoum is a 1966 film written by Robert Ardrey and directed by Basil Dearden. It stars Charlton Heston as General Gordon and Laurence Olivier as the Mahdi and is based on Gordon's defence of the Sudanese city of Khartoum from the forces of the Mahdist army during the Siege of Khartoum.Khartoum...

. The next year, he underwent radiation treatment for prostate cancer
Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. Most prostate cancers are slow growing; however, there are cases of aggressive prostate cancers. The cancer cells may metastasize from the prostate to other parts of the body, particularly...

 and was also hospitalised with pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

. For the remainder of his life, he would suffer from many different health problems, including bronchitis
Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the large bronchi in the lungs that is usually caused by viruses or bacteria and may last several days or weeks. Characteristic symptoms include cough, sputum production, and shortness of breath and wheezing related to the obstruction of the inflamed airways...

, amnesia
Amnesia
Amnesia is a condition in which one's memory is lost. The causes of amnesia have traditionally been divided into categories. Memory appears to be stored in several parts of the limbic system of the brain, and any condition that interferes with the function of this system can cause amnesia...

 and pleurisy
Pleurisy
Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, the lining of the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. Among other things, infections are the most common cause of pleurisy....

. In 1974, at age 67, he was found to have dermatomyositis
Dermatomyositis
Dermatomyositis is a connective-tissue disease related to polymyositis and Bramaticosis that is characterized by inflammation of the muscles and the skin.- Causes :...

, a degenerative muscle disorder, and nearly died the following year, but he battled through the next decade.

In 1968, he starred as Piotr Ilyich Kamenev, the Soviet Premier, in the movie version of The Shoes of the Fisherman
The Shoes of the Fisherman
The Shoes of the Fisherman is a 1963 novel by the Australian author Morris West, as well as a 1968 film based on the novel.The book reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for adult fiction on 30 June 1963, and became the #1 bestselling novel in the United States for that year, according...

along with Anthony Quinn, Leo McKern, John Gielgud, and Oskar Werner. The movie was nominated for two Academy awards, and was produced during the height of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. One of Olivier's enduring achievements involved neither stage nor screen. From October 1973 in the UK, Thames Television
Thames Television
Thames Television was a licensee of the British ITV television network, covering London and parts of the surrounding counties on weekdays from 30 July 1968 until 31 December 1992....

 began to transmit The World at War, a 26-part documentary on the Second World War, narrated by Olivier.

His last decade did contain three notable roles for television. In 1981 he appeared in Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead Revisited (TV serial)
Brideshead Revisited is a 1981 British television serial produced by Granada Television for broadcast by the ITV network. The teleplay is based on Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited...

, the final episode of which revolved entirely around Olivier's character Lord Marchmain, patriarch of the Flyte family, as he came home to die. The next year Olivier was cast in the much-praised television adaptation of John Mortimer
John Mortimer
Sir John Clifford Mortimer, CBE, QC was a British barrister, dramatist, screenwriter and author.-Early life:...

's stage play A Voyage Round My Father
A Voyage Round My Father
A Voyage Round My Father is an autobiographical play by John Mortimer, later adapted for television.The first version of the play appeared as a series of three half-hour sketches for BBC radio in 1963. It then became a television play with Ian Richardson playing Mortimer, Tim Good as the young...

, in the role of Clifford Mortimer, the author's blind father. In 1975 he appeared as an aging British barrister, opposite Katharine Hepburn, in a British TV production of Love Among the Ruins. Finally, in 1983 Olivier played his last great Shakespearean role, King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

, for Granada Television. For Voyage, Olivier received a BAFTA nomination, but for the final episode of Brideshead Revisited and for King Lear he won Emmys
Emmy Award
An Emmy Award, often referred to simply as the Emmy, is a television production award, similar in nature to the Peabody Awards but more focused on entertainment, and is considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards .A majority of Emmys are presented in various...

 in the Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor categories, respectively.

When presenting the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards for 1984 (held 25 March 1985), he absent-mindedly presented it by simply stepping up to the microphone and saying Amadeus. He had grown forgetful, and had forgotten to read out the nominees first.

One of Olivier's last feature films was Wild Geese II
Wild Geese II
Wild Geese II is a 1985 British action-thriller film, based on the 1982 novel The Square Circle by Daniel Carney, in which a group of mercenaries are hired to spring Rudolf Hess from Spandau Prison in Berlin. The film is a sequel to the 1978 film The Wild Geese, which was also adapted from a novel...

(1985), in which, aged 77, he played Rudolf Hess
Rudolf Hess
Rudolf Walter Richard Hess was a prominent Nazi politician who was Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party during the 1930s and early 1940s...

 in the sequel to The Wild Geese
The Wild Geese
The Wild Geese is a British 1978 film about a group of mercenaries in Africa. It stars Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Krüger...

(1978). According to the biography Olivier by Francis Becket (Haus Publishing, 2005), Hess's son Wolf Rüdiger Hess
Wolf Rudiger Hess
Wolf Rüdiger Hess was the son of Rudolf Hess, an admirer of his godfather Adolf Hitler, an architect and a fixture of the post-war German far-right. He was also an outspoken critic of the investigation into his father's death, which he believed was a cover-up...

 said Olivier's portrayal of his father was "uncannily accurate".

In 1986, Olivier appeared as the pre-filmed holographic
Holography
Holography is a technique that allows the light scattered from an object to be recorded and later reconstructed so that when an imaging system is placed in the reconstructed beam, an image of the object will be seen even when the object is no longer present...

 narrator of the West End
West End theatre
West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of London's 'Theatreland', the West End. Along with New York's Broadway theatre, West End theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English speaking...

 production of the multimedia
Multimedia
Multimedia is media and content that uses a combination of different content forms. The term can be used as a noun or as an adjective describing a medium as having multiple content forms. The term is used in contrast to media which use only rudimentary computer display such as text-only, or...

 Dave Clark
Dave Clark (musician)
David 'Dave' Clark is an English musician, songwriter and record producer. He was the leader and drummer of the 1960s beat group The Dave Clark Five, the first big British Invasion band to follow The Beatles to America in 1964....

 rock musical
Rock musical
A rock musical is a musical theatre work with rock music. The genre of rock musical may overlap somewhat with album musicals, concept albums and song cycles, as they sometimes tell a story through the rock music, and some album musicals and concept albums become rock musicals...

 Time
Time (musical)
Time is a musical with a book and lyrics by Dave Clark and David Soames, music by Jeff Daniels, and additional songs by David Pomeranz.Derived from the 1970s musical The Time Lord by Soames and Daniels, it focuses on contemporary rock musician Chris Wilder, who has been transported with his backup...

. In the same year he appeared in two television mini-series, Lost Empires
Lost Empires
Lost Empires is a 1986 television adaptation of J. B. Priestley's novel of the same name, and starred Colin Firth, John Castle and Laurence Olivier. It was shown as a miniseries, and premiered on UK TV in October 1986.-Plot:...

opposite Colin Firth
Colin Firth
SirColin Andrew Firth, CBE is a British film, television, and theatre actor. Firth gained wide public attention in the 1990s for his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the 1995 television adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice...

 and Peter the Great (TV series)
Peter the Great (TV Series)
Peter the Great is a 1986 NBC television mini-series starring Maximilian Schell as Russian leader Peter the Great, and based on the biography by Robert K. Massie. It won three Primetime Emmy Awards, including the award for Outstanding Miniseries....

with Maximilian Schell
Maximilian Schell
Maximilian Schell is an Austrian-born Swiss actor who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Judgment at Nuremberg in 1961...

.

On 31 May 1987 the National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

 put on a 80th birthday tribute pageant, with Olivier, and his family in attendance. It was held in the National’s Olivier theatre with Alec McCowen
Alec McCowen
Alexander Duncan "Alec" McCowen CBE is an English actor. He is known for his work in numerous film and stage productions. He was awarded the CBE in the 1985 New Year's Honours List.-Personal:...

 as Richard Burbage, Edward Petherbridge
Edward Petherbridge
Edward Petherbridge is a British actor. Among his many roles, he portrayed Lord Peter Wimsey in several screen adaptations of Dorothy L...

 as David Garrick, Ben Kingsley
Ben Kingsley
Sir Ben Kingsley, CBE is a British actor. He has won an Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards in his career. He is known for starring as Mohandas Gandhi in the film Gandhi in 1982, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor...

 as Edmund Kean and Anthony Sher as Henry Irving. Peter Hall as Shakespeare, Peggy Ashcroft
Peggy Ashcroft
Dame Peggy Ashcroft, DBE was an English actress.-Early years:Born as Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft in Croydon, Ashcroft attended the Woodford School, Croydon and the Central School of Speech and Drama...

 as Lillian Baylis, Maureen Lipman
Maureen Lipman
Maureen Diane Lipman CBE is a British film, theatre and television actress, columnist and comedienne.-Early life:Lipman was born in Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the daughter of Maurice Julius Lipman and Zelma Pearlman. Her father was a tailor; he used to have a shop between the...

, Albert Finney
Albert Finney
Albert Finney is an English actor. He achieved prominence in films in the early 1960s, and has maintained a successful career in theatre, film and television....

, Julia McKenzie
Julia McKenzie
Julia McKenzie is an English actress, singer, and theatre director. She is best-known for her performance in Fresh Fields, but to current television audiences, she is best known for her role as Miss Marple in Agatha Christie's Marple...

 and Imelda Staunton
Imelda Staunton
Imelda Mary Philomena Bernadette Staunton, OBE is an English actress. She is perhaps best known for her performances in the British comedy television series Up the Garden Path, the Harry Potter film series and Vera Drake...

.

In 1988 Olivier gave his final performance, aged 81, as a wheelchair
Wheelchair
A wheelchair is a chair with wheels, designed to be a replacement for walking. The device comes in variations where it is propelled by motors or by the seated occupant turning the rear wheels by hand. Often there are handles behind the seat for someone else to do the pushing...

-bound old soldier in Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman
Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener and author.-Life:...

's film War Requiem
War Requiem (film)
War Requiem is a film adaptation of Benjamin Britten's musical piece of the same name.It was shot in 1988 by the British film director Derek Jarman with the 1963 recording as the soundtrack, produced by Don Boyd and financed by the BBC. Decca Records required that the 1963 recording be heard on its...

(1989).

Family and death

Olivier died at his home in Steyning
Steyning
Steyning is a small town and civil parish in the Horsham District of West Sussex, England. It is located at the north end of the River Adur gap in the South Downs, four miles north of Shoreham-by-Sea...

, West Sussex
West Sussex
West Sussex is a county in the south of England, bordering onto East Sussex , Hampshire and Surrey. The county of Sussex has been divided into East and West since the 12th century, and obtained separate county councils in 1888, but it remained a single ceremonial county until 1974 and the coming...

, England, from renal failure
Renal failure
Renal failure or kidney failure describes a medical condition in which the kidneys fail to adequately filter toxins and waste products from the blood...

 on 11 July 1989. He was survived by his son Tarquin from his first marriage, as well as his wife Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

 and their three children. He was cremated
Cremation
Cremation is the process of reducing bodies to basic chemical compounds such as gasses and bone fragments. This is accomplished through high-temperature burning, vaporization and oxidation....

 and his ashes interred in Poets' Corner
Poets' Corner
Poets' Corner is the name traditionally given to a section of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey because of the number of poets, playwrights, and writers buried and commemorated there. The most recent additions were a memorial floor stone unveiled in 2009 for the founders of the Royal Ballet...

 in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

, London. Olivier is one of only a few actors, along with David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

, Henry Irving
Henry Irving
Sir Henry Irving , born John Henry Brodribb, was an English stage actor in the Victorian era, known as an actor-manager because he took complete responsibility for season after season at the Lyceum Theatre, establishing himself and his company as...

, Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

 and Sybil Thorndike
Sybil Thorndike
Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndike CH DBE was a British actress.-Early life:She was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire to Arthur Thorndike and Agnes Macdonald. Her father was a Canon of Rochester Cathedral...

 to have been accorded this honour. Olivier is buried alongside some of the people he portrayed in theatre and film, for example King Henry V
Henry V of England
Henry V was King of England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422. He was the second monarch belonging to the House of Lancaster....

, General John Burgoyne
John Burgoyne
General John Burgoyne was a British army officer, politician and dramatist. He first saw action during the Seven Years' War when he participated in several battles, mostly notably during the Portugal Campaign of 1762....

 and Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding
Hugh Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding
Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding GCB, GCVO, CMG was a British officer in the Royal Air Force...

.

Fifteen years after his death, Olivier once again received star billing in a film. Through the use of computer graphics, footage of him as a young man was integrated into the 2004 film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a 2004 American pulp adventure science-fiction film written and directed by Kerry Conran in his directorial debut. The film is set in an alternative 1939 and follows the adventures of Polly Perkins , a newspaper reporter, and Harry Joseph "Joe" Sullivan ,...

in which Olivier "played" the villain.

Sexuality

Since Olivier's death, multiple biographers have produced books about him, several of which include the claim that Olivier was bisexual
Bisexuality
Bisexuality is sexual behavior or an orientation involving physical or romantic attraction to both males and females, especially with regard to men and women. It is one of the three main classifications of sexual orientation, along with a heterosexual and a homosexual orientation, all a part of the...

. Biographer Donald Spoto
Donald Spoto
Donald Spoto is an American celebrity biographer, Catholic theologian, and former monk. He is best known for his best-selling biographies of film and theatre celebrities such as Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, Ingrid Bergman, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly,...

 claimed that Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye was a celebrated American actor, singer, dancer, and comedian...

 and Olivier were lovers. Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

, Olivier's widow, denies the affair with Kaye in her memoir. Terry Coleman's authorised biography of Olivier suggests a relationship between Olivier and an older actor, Henry Ainley
Henry Ainley
Henry Hinchliffe Ainley was an English Shakespearean stage and screen actor. He was married three times to Susanne Sheldon, Elaine Fearon and the novelist Bettina Riddle, later Baroness von Hutten zum Stolzenberg...

, based on correspondence from Ainley to Olivier although the book disputes that there is any evidence linking Olivier sexually to Kaye. Olivier's son Tarquin disputed these rumours as 'unforgivable garbage' and sought to suppress them.

In her 2001 autobiography, Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

 wrote, "Larry tended to shower almost everyone he knew with endearments and demonstrative terms of address. In the same way as the macho Sean Kenny
Seán Kenny
Seán Kenny is an Irish Labour Party politician, who is a Teachta Dála for the Dublin North East constituency. Kenny was re-elected to the Dáil for Dublin North East at the 2011 general election, having previously served as a TD for the constituency from 1992 to 1997.A former executive officer in...

 had to put up with ‘Shawnie, darling’, and our son Richard had to endure 'Dickie-Wickie' for a short time, there is a published letter addressing his supposed arch-enemy, Peter Hall, as 'My dear Peterkins'. And Larry could say, 'I adored Danny Kaye', in exactly the same way as he said, 'I adored old Ralphie', without anyone suspecting Ralph Richardson
Ralph Richardson
Sir Ralph David Richardson was an English actor, one of a group of theatrical knights of the mid-20th century who, though more closely associated with the stage, also appeared in several classic films....

 of harbouring carnal desires for his own sex. — No man, alive or dead, has ever claimed to have slept with Larry, though the kiss-and-tell merchants of the female sex have tumbled over themselves to boast of a night or two, here or there."

In August 2006, on the radio programme Desert Island Discs
Desert Island Discs
Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4 programme first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It is the second longest-running radio programme , and is the longest-running factual programme in the history of radio...

, Plowright responded to the allegations of Olivier's mistresses and homosexual affairs, and if Plowright felt the need to defend her husband's memory by stating:
And then, referring separately to Olivier's battle with his "demons" which reached a peak in the long years of illness leading up to his death Plowright stated that:

Honours

Olivier was created a Knight Bachelor
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

 on 12 June 1947 in the King's Birthday Honours
Queen's Birthday Honours
The Queen's Birthday Honours is a part of the British honours system, being a civic occasion on the celebration of the Queen's Official Birthday in which new members of most Commonwealth Realms honours are named. The awards are presented by the reigning monarch or head of state, currently Queen...

, and created a life peer
Life peer
In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the Peerage whose titles cannot be inherited. Nowadays life peerages, always of baronial rank, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as...

 on 13 June 1970 in the Queen's Birthday Honours as Baron Olivier, of Brighton in the County of Sussex, the first actor to be accorded this distinction. He was admitted to the Order of Merit
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 in 1981, the first actor to be so honoured. The Laurence Olivier Awards
Laurence Olivier Awards
The Laurence Olivier Award is presented annually by the Society of London Theatre to recognise excellence in professional theatre. Named after the renowned British actor Laurence Olivier, they are given for West End shows and other productions staged in London...

, organised by The Society of London Theatre
The Society of London Theatre
The Society of London Theatre is an umbrella organization for West End theatre in London.- TKTS, Half-Price Theatre Ticket Booth:...

, were renamed in his honour in 1984.

Though he was a knight, a life peer, and one of the most respected personalities in the industry, Olivier insisted he be addressed as "Larry", which he made clear he preferred to "Sir Laurence" or "Lord Olivier".

Centenary

On 22 May 2007, to mark the centenary of Olivier's birth, Network Media and ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 released DVD libraries of his work:
Network Media—The Laurence Olivier Centenary Collection (10 discs):
  • Henry V
    Henry V (1944 film)
    Henry V is a 1944 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The on-screen title is The Cronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France . It stars Laurence Olivier, who also directed. The play was adapted for the screen by Olivier, Dallas...

    (1944)
  • Richard III
    Richard III (1955 film)
    Richard III is a 1955 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare's historical play of the same name, also incorporating elements from his Henry VI, Part 3. It was directed and produced by Sir Laurence Olivier, who also played the lead role. The cast includes many noted Shakespearean actors,...

    (1955)
  • King Lear (1983)
  • The Ebony Tower
    The Ebony Tower
    The Ebony Tower by John Fowles is a collection of five short novels with interlacing themes, built around a medieval myth: The Ebony Tower, Eliduc, Poor Koko, The Enigma and The Cloud.-The Ebony Tower:...

    (1984)
  • Long Day's Journey Into Night
    Long Day's Journey Into Night
    Long Day's Journey Into Night is a 1956 drama in four acts written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill. The play is widely considered to be his masterwork...

    (1973)
  • The Merchant of Venice
    The Merchant of Venice
    The Merchant of Venice is a tragic comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its dramatic...

    (1973)
  • Laurence Olivier Presents
    Laurence Olivier Presents
    Laurence Olivier Presents is a British television series made by Granada Television which ran from 1976 to 1978.The plays, with the exception of Hindle Wakes, all starred Laurence Olivier. Some of the plays were based on productions staged at the National Theatre during the period when Olivier was...

    (complete)
  • The South Bank Show
    The South Bank Show
    The South Bank Show was a television arts magazine show, originally made by London Weekend Television , presented by Melvyn Bragg, broadcast on ITV and seen in over 60 countries worldwide — including Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States...

    : Laurence Olivier, A Life
    (1982) featuring interviews with Olivier, John Gielgud
    John Gielgud
    Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

     and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
    Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
    Douglas Elton Fairbanks, Jr. KBE was an American actor and a highly decorated naval officer of World War II.-Early life:...



ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

Laurence Olivier Shakespeare Collection (7 discs):
  • King Lear (1983)
  • Henry V (1944)
  • Hamlet (1948)
  • As You Like It (1936)
  • Richard III (1955)
  • The Merchant of Venice (1973)


ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 – The Laurence Olivier "Icon" Collection (10 discs):
  • Henry V (1944)
  • Richard III (1955)
  • Hamlet (1948)
  • 21 Days
    21 Days
    21 Days, also known as 21 Days Together in the U.S., is a 1940 British drama film based on the short play The First and the Last by John Galsworthy. It was directed by Basil Dean and stars Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier and Leslie Banks...

    (1940)
  • That Hamilton Woman
    That Hamilton Woman
    That Hamilton Woman, originally titled Lady Hamilton, is a 1941 black-and-white British historical film drama which takes place during the Napoleonic wars, produced and directed by Alexander Korda for Alexander Korda Films.-Production:...

    (1941)
  • 49th Parallel
    49th Parallel (film)
    49th Parallel is the third film made by the British writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It was released in the United States as The Invaders. Despite the title, no scene in the movie is set at the 49th parallel, which forms much of the U.S.-Canadian border...

    (1941)
  • The Demi-Paradise
    The Demi-Paradise
    The Demi-Paradise is a 1943 comedy film made by Two Cities Films and distributed in the U.S. by Universal Pictures. It starred Laurence Olivier as a Soviet inventor who travels to England to have his revolutionary propeller manufactured, and Penelope Dudley Ward as the woman who falls in love with...

    (1943)
  • The Boys from Brazil
    The Boys from Brazil (film)
    The Boys from Brazil is a 1978 British/American science fiction/thriller film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. It stars Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, with James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen and Steve Guttenberg in supporting roles...

    (1978)
  • A Little Romance
    A Little Romance
    A Little Romance is a 1979 romantic comedy film, starring Laurence Olivier and Diane Lane in her film debut. It was directed by George Roy Hill. The screenplay is written by Allan Burns and George Roy Hill, based on a novel by Patrick Cauvin...

    (1979)
  • The Jazz Singer
    The Jazz Singer (1980 film)
    The Jazz Singer is a 1980 American musical remake of the 1927 classic The Jazz Singer. It starred Neil Diamond, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Lucie Arnaz and was co-directed by Richard Fleischer and Sidney J...

    (1980)


Both DVD sets include a Michael Parkinson
Michael Parkinson
Sir Michael Parkinson, CBE is an English broadcaster, journalist and author. He presented his interview programme, Parkinson, from 1971 to 1982 and from 1998 to 2007.- Early life :...

 interview with Olivier from the 1970s.

In September 2007, the National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

 marked the centenary of his birth with a Centenary Celebration. This told the story of Olivier's working life through film and stage extracts, letters, reminiscence and readings; the participants included Eileen Atkins
Eileen Atkins
Dame Eileen June Atkins, DBE is an English actress and occasional screenwriter.- Early life :Atkins was born in the Mothers' Hospital in Clapton, a Salvation Army women's hostel in East London...

, Claire Bloom
Claire Bloom
Claire Bloom is an English film and stage actress.-Early life:Bloom was born in the North London suburb of Finchley, the daughter of Elizabeth and Edward Max Blume, who worked in sales...

, Anna Carteret
Anna Carteret
Anna Carteret is a British stage and screen actress, born in Bangalore, India the daughter of Peter John Wilkinson and his wife Patricia Carteret . She is married to the television and film director Christopher Morahan and has often worked with him...

, Derek Jacobi
Derek Jacobi
Sir Derek George Jacobi, CBE is an English actor and film director.A "forceful, commanding stage presence", Jacobi has enjoyed a highly successful stage career, appearing in such stage productions as Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, and Oedipus the King. He received a Tony Award for his performance in...

, Anne-Marie Duff
Anne-Marie Duff
Anne-Marie Duff is an English actress best known for playing Fiona Gallagher in Shameless, and Elizabeth I in The Virgin Queen.-Early life:...

, Lindsay Duncan
Lindsay Duncan
Lindsay Vere Duncan, CBE is a Scottish stage, television and film actress. On stage she won two Olivier Awards and a Tony Award for her performance in Les Liaisons dangereuses and Private Lives , and she starred in several plays by Harold Pinter. Her most famous roles on television include:...

, Charles Kay
Charles Kay
Charles Kay is an English actor.Kay was born in Coventry, West Midlands, the son of Frances and Charles Beckingham Piff....

, Clive Merrison
Clive Merrison
Clive Merrison is a Welsh actor of film, television, stage and radio. He trained at Rose Bruford College.- Television :...

, Edward Petherbridge
Edward Petherbridge
Edward Petherbridge is a British actor. Among his many roles, he portrayed Lord Peter Wimsey in several screen adaptations of Dorothy L...

, Joan Plowright
Joan Plowright
Joan Ann Plowright, Baroness Olivier, DBE , better known as Dame Joan Plowright, is an English actress, whose career has spanned over sixty years. Throughout her career she has won two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award and has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy, and two BAFTA Awards...

, Ronald Pickup
Ronald Pickup
-Life and career:Pickup was born in Chester, England, the son of Daisy and Eric Pickup, who was a lecturer. Pickup was educated at The King's School, Chester, trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and became an Associate Member of RADA.His television work began with an episode...

, Michael Pennington
Michael Pennington
Michael Vivian Fyfe Pennington is a British director and actor who, together with director Michael Bogdanov, founded the English Shakespeare Company...

, Rory Kinnear
Rory Kinnear
Rory Kinnear is an award-winning English actor who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre.-Early life:...

, Samuel West
Samuel West
Samuel Alexander Joseph West is an English actor and theatre director. He is perhaps best known for his role in Howards End and his work on stage. He also starred in the award-winning play ENRON...

, Antony Sher
Antony Sher
Sir Antony Sher, KBE is a double Olivier Award winning South African-born British actor, writer, theatre director and painter.- Early years :...

, Billie Whitelaw
Billie Whitelaw
Billie Honor Whitelaw, CBE is an English actress. She worked in close collaboration with Irish playwright Samuel Beckett for 25 years and is regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of his works...

 and Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough
Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough , CBE is a British actor, director, producer and entrepreneur. As director and producer he won two Academy Awards for the 1982 film Gandhi...

. It was directed by Nicholas Hytner
Nicholas Hytner
Sir Nicholas Robert Hytner is an English film and theatre producer and director. He has been the artistic director of London's National Theatre since 2003.-Biography:...

. Prior to the evening celebration, a new statue of Olivier as Hamlet
Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

, created by the sculptor Angela Conner
Angela Conner
Angela Conner FRBS is a British Sculptor living and working in London. She has exhibited in many countries and has large scale sculptures in public and private collections around the world....

 and funded by private subscription, was unveiled on the South Bank, next to the National's Theatre Square.

Theatre credits and filmography

Further reading

  • Hall, Lyn, editor (1989). Olivier at Work: The National Years. Nick Hern Books/National Theatre. ISBN 1-85459-037-5

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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