Skip to comments.Peter O'Toole: The Chronic Actor
Posted on 12/27/2013 1:25:07 PM PST by Kaslin
Seamus Peter O'Toole was an alcoholic and actor but, thankfully, not in that order. He would win worldwide recognition after he played the title role in David Lean's magnificent "Lawrence of Arabia," which was not only a grand spectacle but historically accurate in its broad outlines.
And why wouldn't it be magnificent? It combined producer and director's camera-eye with a screenplay by Robert Bolt, he of "A Man for All Seasons."
Years before he achieved international stardom, Peter O'Toole had been a critically acclaimed Shakespearean actor with the Bristol Old Vic, and his apprenticeship paid off in performance after performance, especially in his 1955 "Hamlet."
By 1964, young O'Toole was playing opposite the at least equally talented (and more stentorian) Richard Burton in "Becket." What a pair -- as fine a couple of actors as Welshman and Irishman could be, which is fine indeed. Though their "Becket" may not have matched the one produced by David Merrick on Broadway in 1960 that paired Lawrence Olivier with Anthony Quinn, with those outsized talents switching the roles of Henry II and Thomas à Becket on successive nights. (Who knew that Quinn could do Shakespeare? And superbly.)
Peter O'Toole would play Henry again in "The Lion in Winter" opposite the incomparable Katharine Hepburn, who was never in a scene she didn't steal -- till she met up with Peter O'Toole. Who was better in this tour de force? Let's just call it a tie, with ties going to the lady. Suffice it to say they made the formidable Anthony Hopkins, who was also in the film, look like an amateur -- almost as unschooled as the dunce of a character he played. Thus does real quality shine. Like a diamond in a chest of mere rubies and emeralds.
Offstage, Peter O'Toole had many faults (whose are few?) and his personal life would eventually became a shambles, given his drinking and carousing. His alcoholism, an insidious disease, ruined his health -- but it could not obscure the man's basic character. His honesty shone right through his various addictions. If he could be devilish, at least he never pretended to be any kind of saint. In a couple of nights' casino-hopping in Casablanca and Beirut with his co-star in Lawrence, the soulful Omar Sharif, he managed to lose most of his earnings from that film -- and never look back. He was always a gentleman despite his background not in the Irish working class but criminal class. (His father was a small-time bookmaker who was always being chased by his creditors, and had the crushed knuckles of a crippled hand to show for it.)
Peter O'Toole's alcoholism had reduced him to a physical wreck by 1975, when he had to undergo major surgery. He claimed to have given up drinking after that crisis, but he never denied the root of his health problems and, even after sobering up, didn't become one of those reformed drunks who are always lecturing others, or who spend the rest of their lives pining after their drinking days. Not even the whiskey could hide the basic integrity lurking under all his vices.
Somehow he would live till 81, but his latter years were scarcely robust ones. Both delicate and daring in his best roles, he would become only a spectral figure in the background whenever spotted in old age. Happily, he had spent a lifetime addicted to acting, too, which was his great good fortune and -- most of the time -- his audience's.
If you seek his epitaph, he wrote it himself in the course of an interview on TCM's Word of Mouth: "Many years ago I sent an old, beloved jacket to a cleaner, the Sycamore Cleaners. It was a leather jacket covered in Guinness and blood and marmalade, one of those jobs ... and it came back with a little note pinned to it, and on the note it said, 'It distresses us to return work which is not perfect.' So that will do for me. That can go on my tombstone." Amen.
Who knew that Shakespeare wrote "A Man For All Seasons"?
requiescat in pace
Rob Lowe should play a slightly less tall version of Peter O’Toole when a new biopic is made. Lowe does not strike me as anywhere near vain as Peter was, but he has the look and
style down pat. Maybe he could team up with Russell Crowe to take the Richard Burton part in a new Becket.
He was absolutely fantastic in Man of La Mancha.
Huh? “...with a screenplay by Robert Bolt, he of “A Man for All Seasons.”
Someone on a previous thread raved about “High Spirits”. We watched it...awful.
Absolutely Agree, Lord Jim was an excellent movie.
Eli Wallach also did a fantastic performance as the General.
My son was born in 1963, and his middle name is after the role Peter O’Toole played in the 1962 movie
To paraphrase his character in the comedy : MY FAVORITE YEAR.
He IS an Actor AND a Movie star.
Lion in Winter
My comment was sarcastic.
PS: I'm not surprised ... Quinn was if anything more versatile and natural than Olivier in his best days. In probably his best non-Shakespearean role - Archie Rice in The Entertainer - you can see the gears working.
Interestingly another two ‘Names’ in the “Lion in Winter” is French King Phillip II was portrayed by future ‘James Bond’, Timothy Dalton, and the female second lead, Jane Merrow, as Henry II’s mistress and King Phillip’s half-sister, Alais. I also love the music by John Berry - magnificent!
Given the the ‘Lion’ is set at Christmas Time, it might be appropriate to watch it again shortly.
and the best job his agent could find for him shortly thereafter was Emperor Tiberius in the erotic film Caligula?
Presenting Shakespearean verse is a different skill from acting modern prose. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Anthony Quinn could do that, too.
When stars were stars...
he did get a pope gig on The Tudors...
LOL—same thing I thought. Was racking my brain for the Shakespeare play “Henry ll”—but there is a King John.