Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 206 - 13 Ways to Admire Laurence Olivier

Day 12 of the A to Z Challenge at A Piece of My Mind Falls on Thursday Thirteen day.

That means thirteen ways to explore or contemplate something - which, in this case, means thirteen fabulous facts about Laurence Olivier.

Because L is for Laurence Olivier.

1 - Laurence Olivier built an unprecedented body of work to become one of the greatest - if not THE greatest - actors of the 20th century.

And he did it with all the glamour of an Old School matinee idol.

2 - Laurence Olivier - Oscar winner / BAFTA winner / Golden Globe winner / Emmy winner / Berlin film festival winner

5' 10"

Eyes - Gray/blue

Hair - Dark brown

Type - Athletic / worked almost continuously for six decades

He worked as an actor / Director / Producer

Worked in stage / Film / Television

3 - Larry grew up in Surrey in the south east of England, the son of Anglican minister Gerard Olivier and Agnes, the daughter of a headmaster.

"It would be possible to argue that the dilemma in Olivier was the Church vs. the Theatre. But his family, far from recoiling in puritanical disdain at the idea of drama, actively encouraged Olivier to perceive the theatricality of a religious life."

- Roger Lewis, The Real Life of Laurence Olivier

Next photo is straying into Not Safe For Work territory...

4 - Larry kept in tiptop shape for his exhausting theatre and film schedules, as he was known for taking risky dives from dangerous heights while onstage.

Here, a rare glimpse of an unguarded Larry swimming au naturel is one of my favorite shots of him.

5 - No matter how delicious Mr. Olivier might have been, he was strictly eye candy, ladies - because his heart belonged to three Mrs. Oliviers.

The first Mrs. Olivier - Jill Esmond, for 10 yrs

“I was some upset when Larry demanded changes because I believed I had been doing right well. I thought, during the first rehearsals, that I wouldn’t like this young nobody who was telling me, daughter of a stage family, how to play a scene. But I discovered that every change he suggested made the play that much better.”

- Jill Esmond, Screen Life

The second Mrs. Olivier - Vivien Leigh, for 20 yrs

"I saw him fifteen times in Hamlet, and I thought, 'That's the greatest actor in the world.' He taught me more about how actors should be, about how an actor should live, than anybody I can imagine."

- Vivien Leigh

The third Mrs. Olivier - Joan Plowright, for 29 yrs

"If a man is touched by genius, he is not an ordinary person. He doesn't lead an ordinary life. You kind of stand apart. You continue your own work and your absorption in the family."

- Joan Plowright

6 - His history of stellar performances and groundbreaking work in the theatre made him the perfect choice when the Laurence Olivier Awards were created to honor London's best and brightest.

Above, he played Romeo opposite Vivien Leigh's Juliet on stage.

7 - Remember my soft spot for a man in chains?


In 1953's The Beggar's Opera, Olivier's MacHeath is hammered into a set of irons when the highwayman is imprisoned at Newgate.

8 - I'm also quite fond of Larry's many roles which required him to bend the knee. He always did it in perfect style, as he does here before Elizabeth I in Fire Over England.

9 - Where do I start with his dreamiest roles? For me - a Gothic romance lover of the highest caliber - his Heathcliffe is his signature role, and the best Heathcliffe ever delivered.

10 - For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure, Olivier's Mr. Darcy is quite different from the iconic Colin Firth's - and is surprising, ingeniously nuanced and more endearing than is modernly played.

11 - His role as Admiral Lord Nelson isn't seen as often but is one of my favorites. The scenes between him and Vivien Leigh as they pursue their love despite considerable impediments never fail to go in directions one doesn't expect for a film of that time (1941.)

12 - And Larry was an awesome crier.

This scene - which plays until the 1:30 mark - from 1937's Fire Over England was shot when Larry was 30 years old, though he plays a youth.

At the time, Larry's delivery stretched the boundaries from mannered acting into a new naturalism. In fact his performance unsettled test audiences:

"I emoted too much, and in the American version they had to cut one of my scenes because the New York preview audience got the giggles."

- Laurence Olivier, On Acting

13 - I suspect that this iconic cry of 'Cry God for Harry! England and St. George!' in the film that he directed was quite possibly the defining moment of his astounding life.


Jeffrey Beesler said...

After reading your posts and examining the evidence you've lain here, there's no doubt in my mind why Lawrence Olivier is considered to be one of the greatest figures ever in acting.

Thanks for sharing, and it's a pleasure to meet you via A-Z!

Pamela said...

What a great post! He truly was a legend. Thanks for the video clips.

I am Harriet said...

What a nice tribute! He's one of those forgotten actors.

Akelamalu said...

I love Larry!

He scared me as Dr. Christian Szell, the evil dentist, in The Marathon Man though. :(

Xakara said...

He was a phenomenal actor I agree. Is it terrible of me however that what stands out most for me is the affair he had with Danny Kaye while he was still married to Viviene Leigh?

It's not the scandal of it that made it always stay with me, it was the fact that he was the greatest actor of his time and loved by all, yet he was forced to hide. All of his celebrity accounted for nothing when it came to being able to express his bisexual orientation.

It was incredibly sad, and on the Danny Kaye side of things, it's what led me to be LGBTQ rights activist long before I knew those words went with my passion for equality.

A wonderful read as always!

Happy TT,

Guest Kimberley Troutte

Alice Audrey said...

Excellent overview on the life of an extraordinary actor. Thanks.

Julia Smith said...

Xakara - my initial reaction to hearing about his long relationship with Danny Kaye wasn't 'you mean he was bisexual?' but rather 'Danny Kaye??'

And then it just made me love him all the more.

To be honest, knowing he had someone to brighten his life when Vivien Leigh's bipolar disorder was taking its terrible toll actually makes me happy for him.

Travis Cody said...

Of all the incredible performances set into film and into the memories of those who saw him live on stage, my all time favorite is his role in a modest film called A Little Romance from 1979. His wasn't the featured character, and the role came very late in his life.

Lord Olivier brings the same heft to this role as any of his Shakespearean triumphs, balancing it with charm and delicacy. It's a thoroughly delightful performance.

Incidentally, it was Diane Lane's film debut.