Sir Laurence Olivier

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Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier

Also Known As: "Laurence Olivier"
Birthplace: Dorking, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Death: Died in Steyning, West Sussex, England
Cause of death: Renal failure
Place of Burial: London, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Gerard Kerr Olivier and Agnes Louise Olivier
Husband of <private> Olivier (Plowright)
Ex-husband of Vivien Leigh and Jill Esmond Moore
Father of <private> Olivier; <private> Olivier; <private> Olivier and <private> Olivier
Brother of Sybille Olivier and Gerard Dacres Olivier

Occupation: Actor, Director, Producer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Sir Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier -- Sir Laurence after 1947, Lord Laurence after 1970 -- has been variously lauded as the greatest Shakespearean interpreter of the 20th century, the greatest classical actor of the era, and the greatest actor of his generation. Although his career took a rather desperate turn toward the end when he seemed willing to appear in almost anything, the bulk of Olivier's 60-year career stands as a sterling example of extraordinary craftsmanship.

Olivier was born into a severe, religious household; his father was a cleric who moved his family often. Young Laurence loved acting, and was so successful that even his pious father encouraged him to apply to London's Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Arts.

Upon graduation, Olivier became a member of Sir Barry Vincent Jackson's Birmingham Repertory Company. He landed his first leading role, in 'Harold', at the age of twenty.

At first, Olivier's looks typecast him as a young innocent hero. Although he appeared in a spate of successes, he still struggled for serious recognition. His early film work was unimpressive, and he was open about his dislike of the form.

In 1935, Gielgud chose Olivier to play Romeo in 'Romeo and Juliet'. The play was a huge hit. In 1937, he was offered the role of Hamlet. Olivier became fascinated with the idea of adapting Freudian psychology to his character. He invented a new acting style, to reflect the psychological torment of the character, and audiences responded enthusiastically to his performance.

Olivier would bring this psychological intensity to bear upon his next important film performance, 'Wuthering Heights', in 1939, and Olivier played Heathcliff with a smouldering, dangerous undercurrent.

As a director, Olivier adapted this duality of artifice and immediacy to cinematic techniques, creating some imaginative uses of setting and monologue.

From the end of WWII to the early 1970s, Olivier made sporadic film appearances, but with the film 'The Entertainer', in 1960, he made a smooth transition to character actor roles, giving some stand out performances in films such as 'Marathon Man'.

Olivier was married to actress Vivien Leigh from 1940 to 1960, and to Joan Plowright until his death in 1989.


Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM (22 May 1907 – 11 July 1989) was an Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and four-time Emmy winning English actor, director, and producer. Olivier's Academy acknowledgments are considerable—fourteen Oscar nominations, with two wins for Best Actor and Best Picture for the 1948 film Hamlet, and two honorary awards including a statuette and certificate. He was also awarded five Emmy awards from the nine nominations he received.

Olivier's career as a stage and film actor spanned more than six decades and included a wide variety of roles, from Shakespeare's Othello and Sir Toby Belch to the sadistic Nazi dentist Christian Szell in Marathon Man. A High Church clergyman's son who found fame on the West End 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 his death in 1989.[1] Olivier played more than 120 stage roles, including: Richard III, Macbeth, Romeo, Hamlet, Othello, Uncle Vanya, and Archie Rice in The Entertainer. He appeared in nearly sixty films, including William Wyler's Wuthering Heights, Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake is Missing, Richard Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Sleuth, John Schlesinger's Marathon Man, Daniel Petrie's The Betsy, and his own Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III. He also preserved his Othello on film, with its stage cast virtually intact. For television, he starred in The Moon and Sixpence, John Gabriel Borkman, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Merchant of Venice, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and King Lear, among others.

In 1999, the American Film Institute named Olivier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, at fourteen on the list.

Early life

Olivier was born in 1907 in Dorking, Surrey. He was raised in a severe, strict, and religious household, ruled over by his father, Gerard Kerr Olivier (1869–1939), a High Anglican priest.[2] Young Laurence took solace in the care of his mother, Agnes Louise Crookenden (1871–1920), and was grief-stricken when she died (at 48) when he was only 12.[3] Richard and Sybille were his two older siblings.

In 1918 his father became the new church minister at St. Mary's Church, Letchworth, Hertfordshire and the family lived at the Old Rectory, now part of St Christopher School. He performed at the St. Christopher School Theatre, in December 1924 in Through the Crack (unknown author) as understudy and assistant stage manager, and in April 1925 he played Lennox in Shakespeare's Macbeth and was assistant stage manager.

He was educated at St Edward's School, Oxford, and, at 15, played Katherine in his school's production of The Taming of the Shrew, to rave reviews. After his brother, Richard, left for India, it was his father who decided that Laurence — or "Kim", as the family called him — would become an actor.[4]

Early career

Olivier then attended the Central School of Dramatic Art at the age of 17.[5] In 1926, he joined The Birmingham Repertory Company.[6] At first he was given only paltry tasks at the theatre, such as being the bell-ringer; however, his roles eventually became more significant, and in 1937 he was playing roles such as Hamlet and Macbeth.[1] Throughout his career he insisted that his acting was pure technique, and he was contemptuous of contemporaries who adopted the 'Method' popularized by Lee Strasberg. Olivier met and married Jill Esmond, a rising young actress, on July 25, 1930 and had one son, Tarquin, born in 1936.

Olivier was not happy in his first marriage from the beginning, however. 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 renounced religion forever and soon came to resent his wife, though the marriage would last for ten years.

He made his film debut in The Temporary Widow, and played his first leading role on film in The Yellow Ticket; however, he held film in little regard.[5] His stage breakthroughs were in Noel Coward's Private Lives in 1930, and in Romeo and Juliet in 1935, alternating the roles of Romeo and Mercutio with John Gielgud. 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.[7][8] His tension towards Gielgud came to a head in 1940, when Olivier approached London impresario Binkie Beaumont about financing him in a repertory of the four great Shakespearean tragedies of Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear, but 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.[9]

The engagement as Romeo resulted in an invitation by Lilian Baylis to be the star at the Old Vic Theatre in 1937/38. Olivier's tenure had mixed artistic results, with his performances as Hamlet and Iago drawing a negative response from critics and his first attempt at Macbeth receiving mixed reviews. But his appearances as Henry V, 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, he still felt most at home on the stage. He made his first Shakespeare film, As You Like It, with Paul Czinner, however, Olivier disliked it, thinking that Shakespeare did not work well on film. Olivier then saw a production of The Mask of Virtue, and one thing in particular interested him about it: Vivien Leigh.

Laurence Olivier saw Leigh in The Mask of Virtue, and a friendship developed after he congratulated her on her performance. While playing lovers in the film Fire Over England (1937), Olivier and Leigh developed a strong attraction, and after filming was completed, they began an affair. During this time Leigh read the Margaret Mitchell novel Gone with the Wind and instructed her American agent to suggest her to David O. Selznick, who was planning a film version. She remarked to a journalist, "I've cast myself as Scarlett O'Hara", and the film critic C. A. Lejeune recalled a conversation of the same period in which Leigh "stunned us all" with the assertion that Olivier "won't play Rhett Butler, but I shall play Scarlett O'Hara. Wait and see."[10]

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 onstage. 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.[11]

After "Fire Over England", they appeared in two other films together, 21 Days, and Korda's epic, That Hamilton Woman, with Olivier as Lord Nelson, as well as a stage production of Hamlet performed at Elsinore Castle, the actual setting of the play. They wanted to marry, but both Leigh's husband and Olivier's wife at the time, Jill Esmond, at first, refused to divorce them. Finally divorced, they married in a five-minute ceremony at one minute past midnight on 31 August 1940 (the earliest allowed after the three-day notice required under California marriage law), at the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California, with Katharine Hepburn as maid of honour.

Olivier and Leigh planned to star in a run of Romeo and Juliet in New York City. It was an extravagant production, and was a commercial failure.[12] Brooks Atkinson for The New York Times wrote, "Although Miss Leigh and Mr Olivier are handsome young people they hardly act their parts at all."[13] While most of the blame was attributed to Olivier's acting and direction, Leigh was also criticised, with Bernard Grebanier commenting on the "thin, shopgirl quality of Miss Leigh's voice." The couple had invested almost their entire savings into the project, and its failure was a financial disaster for them.[14]

Leigh hoped to star with Olivier and made a screentest for Rebecca, which was to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock with Olivier in the leading role, but after viewing her screentest Selznick noted that "she doesn't seem right as to sincerity or age or innocence", a view shared by Hitchcock, and Leigh's mentor, George Cukor.[15] Selznick also observed that she had shown no enthusiasm for the part until Olivier had been confirmed as the lead actor, and subsequently cast Joan Fontaine. He also refused to allow her to join Olivier in Pride and Prejudice (1940), and Greer Garson took the part Leigh had envisioned for herself. Waterloo Bridge (1940) was to have starred Olivier and Leigh, however Selznick replaced Olivier with Robert Taylor, then at the peak of his success as one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's most popular male stars. Leigh's top-billing reflected her status in Hollywood, and despite her reluctance to participate without Olivier, the film proved to be popular with audiences and critics.

They filmed That Hamilton Woman (1941) with Olivier as Horatio Nelson and Leigh as Emma Hamilton. With Britain engaged in World War II, it was one of several Hollywood films made with the aim of arousing a pro-British sentiment among American audiences. The film was popular in the United States, but was an outstanding success in the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill arranged a screening for a party which included Franklin D. Roosevelt and, on its conclusion, addressed the group, saying, "Gentlemen, I thought this film would interest you, showing great events similar to those in which you have just been taking part." The Oliviers remained favourites of Churchill, attending dinners and occasions at his request for the rest of his life, and of Leigh he was quoted as saying, "By Jove, she's a clinker."[16]

The Oliviers returned to England, and Leigh toured through North Africa in 1943, performing for troops before falling ill with a persistent cough and fevers. In 1944 she was diagnosed as having tuberculosis in her left lung, but after spending several weeks in hospital, she appeared to be cured. In 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.[17]

She was well enough to resume acting in 1946 in a successful London production of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, but her films of this period, Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and Anna Karenina (1948), were not great successes.

In 1947 Olivier was knighted, and Leigh accompanied him to Buckingham Palace for the investiture. She became Lady Olivier, a title she continued to use after their divorce, until she died.

By 1948 Olivier was on the Board of Directors for the Old Vic 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 and also performed with Leigh in The School for Scandal and The Skin of Our Teeth. The tour was an outstanding success, and although Leigh was plagued with insomnia 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 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.[18]

The success of the tour encouraged the Oliviers to make their first West End appearance together, performing the same works with one addition, Antigone, included at Leigh's insistence because she wished to play a role in a tragedy.

Leigh next sought the role of Blanche DuBois in the West End stage production of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, and was cast after Williams and the play's producer Irene Mayer Selznick saw her in the The School for Scandal and Antigone, and Olivier was contracted to direct. Containing a rape scene and references to promiscuity and homosexuality, the play was destined to be controversial, and the media discussion about its suitability added to Leigh's anxiety, but she believed strongly in the importance of the work. J. B. Priestley denounced the play and Leigh's performance, and the critic Kenneth Tynan commented that Leigh was badly miscast because British actors were "too well-bred to emote effectively on stage". Olivier and Leigh were chagrined that part of the commercial success of the play lay in audience members attending to see what they believed would be a salacious and sensationalist story, rather than the Greek tragedy that they envisioned, but the play also had strong supporters,[19] among them Noël Coward who described Leigh as "magnificent".[20]

After 326 performances Leigh finished her run; however, she was soon engaged for the film version. Her irreverent and often bawdy sense of humour allowed her to establish a rapport with her co-star Marlon Brando, but she had difficulty with the director Elia Kazan, who did not hold her in high regard as an actress. He later commented that "she had a small talent", but as work progressed, he became "full of admiration" for "the greatest determination to excel of any actress I've known. She'd have crawled over broken glass if she thought it would help her performance." Leigh found the role gruelling and commented to the Los Angeles Times, "I had nine months in the theatre of Blanche DuBois. Now she's in command of me."[21] The film won glowing reviews for her, and she won a second Academy Award for Best Actress, a BAFTA Award and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. Tennessee Williams commented that Leigh brought to the role "everything that I intended, and much that I had never dreamed of", but in later years, Leigh would say that playing Blanche DuBois "tipped me over into madness".[22]

In 1951, Leigh and Olivier performed two plays about Cleopatra, William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, 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 into 1952. The reviews there were also mostly positive, but the critic Kenneth Tynan 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.[23]

In January 1953 Leigh travelled to Ceylon to film Elephant Walk with Peter Finch. Shortly after filming commenced, she suffered a breakdown, and Paramount Studios replaced her with Elizabeth Taylor. 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 learnt of her problems. David Niven said she had been "quite, quite mad", and in his diary Noël Coward expressed surprise that "things had been bad and getting worse since 1948 or thereabouts."[24]

Leigh recovered sufficiently to play The Sleeping Prince with Olivier in 1953, and in 1955 they performed a season at Stratford-upon-Avon in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Macbeth and Titus Andronicus. They played to capacity houses and attracted generally good reviews, Leigh's health seemingly stable. Noël Coward was enjoying success with the play South Sea Bubble, 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, 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."[25]

In December 1960 she and Olivier divorced, and Olivier married the actress Joan Plowright. 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."[26]

Wuthering Heights

Olivier continued to hold his contempt for films, claiming they were "just a quick way to earn money."[5] He got his break in Hollywood when cast as Heathcliff in Samuel Goldwyn's production of Wuthering Heights. Olivier worked with Merle Oberon for the second time (the first had been in The Divorce of Lady X), however, despite their relative tolerance for each other on the first film, sparks flew on Wuthering Heights, presumably due to the fact that he had wanted Leigh for the role, and she had been rejected.

Director William Wyler disagreed with Olivier on many things regarding his performance, in particular, the fact that he would keep yelling, a technique that was needed for the theatre, but not for film, and forced Olivier to alter his style. Olivier later admitted that this was for the better, and his performance in the film earned him his first Oscar nomination. But he was still unhappy and still felt most at home on the stage.[5] This success led to more leading roles for Olivier, including Maxim de Winter in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, and Mr. Darcy in MGM's Pride and Prejudice.


When World War II broke out, Olivier intended to join the Royal Air Force, but was still contractually obliged to other parties. He apparently disliked actors such as Charles Laughton and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who would hold charity cricket matches to help the war effort.[1] Olivier took flying lessons, and racked up over 200 hours. After two years of service, he rose to the rank Lieutenant Olivier RNVR, as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm but was never called to see action.

In 1944 he and fellow actor Ralph Richardson were released from their naval commitments to form a new Old Vic Theatre Company at the New Theatre (later the Albery, now the Noel Coward Theatre) with a nightly repertory of three plays, initially Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt, Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man and Shakespeare's Richard III (which would become Olivier's signature role), rehearsed over 10 weeks to the accompaniment of German V1 ‘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, which included Vivien Leigh in productions of Richard III, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's School for Scandal, and Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.

The second New Theatre season opened with Olivier playing both Harry Hotspur and Justice Shallow to Richardson’s Falstaff in Henry IV, 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' Oedipus and Sheridan's The Critic, 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 favorite roles, Astrov in Uncle Vanya. Kenneth Tynan 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 1945 Olivier and Richardson were made honorary Lieutenants with ENSA, and did a six-week tour of Europe for the army, performing Arms and the Man, Peer Gynt and Richard III for the troops, followed by a visit to the Comédie-Française in Paris, the first time a foreign company had been invited to play on its famous stage.[27] 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."[5]

Shakespeare trilogy

After gaining widespread popularity in the film medium, Olivier was approached by several investors (namely Filippo Del Giudice, Alexander Korda and J. Arthur Rank), 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

Main article: Henry V (1944 film)

Olivier made his directorial debut with a film of Shakespeare's Henry V. At first, he did not believe he was up to the task, instead trying to offer it to William Wyler, Carol Reed, and Terence Young. The film was shot in Ireland (due to the fact that it was neutral), with the Irish plains having to double for the fields of Agincourt. During the shooting of one of the battle scenes, a horse collided with a camera that Olivier was attending. 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 prominent in later roles.

The film opened to rave reviews, despite Olivier's initial reluctance. It was the first widely successful Shakespeare film, and was considered a work of art by many. 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".[28]


Main article: Hamlet (1948 film)

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. He was severely criticized for doing so by purists, most notably Ethel Barrymore; Barrymore stated that the adaptation was not nearly as faithful to the original text as her brother John's 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,[1] 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 he would be nominated for 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 directed himself to Best Actor in 1999 for Life Is Beautiful. Also, Olivier remains the only actor to receive an Oscar for Shakespeare. Olivier, however, did not win the Best Director Oscar that year, preventing what would have almost been a clean sweep of all the major awards for which the film was nominated.

Richard III

Olivier's third major Shakespeare project as director and star was Richard III. 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 (rivaled only by his 1955 stage production of Macbeth and his performance as the broken down Music Hall performer Archie Rice in The Entertainer), and is arguably considered to be 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.

Although the film was critically well received, it was a financial failure. Korda sold the rights to the American television network NBC, 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.


Macbeth was supposed to have been Olivier's next Shakespeare film. However, due to Richard III's dismal box-office performance, along with the deaths of Alexander Korda and Mike Todd, the film would never be made. Olivier cited[citation needed] this as his biggest disappointment, as his 1955 performance as Macbeth at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre had been praised as one of the all-time great performances. He had originally planned to film it in 1948 instead of Hamlet, but Orson Welles was making his own film of Macbeth at the time which would reach theatres first, so Olivier chose to film Hamlet instead.

The Entertainer

Since the end of World War II, apart from his Shakespeare trilogy, Olivier had made only sporadic film appearances.

In the second half of the 1950s, British theatre was changing with the rise of the "Angry Young Men". John Osborne, author of Look Back in Anger wrote a play for Olivier entitled The Entertainer, centred on a washed-up stage comedian called Archie Rice, which opened at the Royal Court 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 who took over the role of Jean Rice from Dorothy Tutin when Tony Richardson's Royal Court production transferred to the Palace Theatre in September 1957.[29] Later, in 1960, Tony Richardson also directed the screen version with Olivier and Plowright repeating their stage roles.

He left Vivien Leigh for Plowright, a decision that apparently gave him a sense of guilt for the rest of his life.[1] Olivier married Plowright on St. Patrick's Day, 1961, finally providing him with domestic stability and happiness. Leigh died in 1967.


^ a b c d e f g h i Coleman, Terry (2005). Olivier. New York: Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0-8050-7536-4.

^ Olivier, Laurence (1985). Confessions of an Actor: An Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-41701-0.

^ Coleman, Olivier, 13

^ a b Coleman, Olivier, 21.

^ a b c d e Agee, James, "Masterpiece"; James Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism (New York: Library of America, 2005; ISBN 1-931082-82-0), pp. 412–20. A review of Henry V, first published in Time (8 April 1946) and from there reprinted within Agee on Film, which is reprinted in toto within the newer book. The second part of this article is reproduced as Laurence Olivier Biography.

^ A short summary of Olivier's life, found on his official site,

^ Coleman, Olivier, 64, 65

^ Olivier, Laurence (1986). On Acting. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671558692.

^ Jonathan Croall, Gielgud: A Theatrical Life 1904-2000,Continuum, 2001

^ Coleman, pp 76-77, 90, 94-95

^ Coleman, pp 97-98

^ Coleman, Olivier, 133

^ Edwards, p 127

^ Holden, Anthony, Olivier, Sphere Books Limited, 1989, ISBN 0-7221-4857-7, pp 189-190

^ McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock, A Life in Darkness and Light, Wiley Press, 2003. ISBN 0-470-86973-9, p 238.

^ Holden, pp 202, 205 and 325

^ Holden, pp 221-222

^ Holden, pp 295

^ Coleman, pp 227-231

^ Holden, p 312

^ Coleman, pp 233-236

^ Holden, pp 312-313

^ Edwards, pp 196-197

^ Coleman, pp 254-263

^ Edwards, 219-234 and 239

^ Olivier, Laurence (1982). Confessions Of an Acto. Simon and Schuster, p. 174. ISBN 0-14-006888-0.

^ St Denis, Michel; Olivier, Laurence (1949). Five seasons of the Old Vic theatre company. London: Saturn Press.

^ Coleman, Olivier, 169

^ a b Laurence Olivier @ Classic Movie Favourites

^ Coleman, Olivier, 482

^ Filmbug Laurence Olivier Page

^ Spoto, Donald (1992). Laurence Olivier. Scranton, PA: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-018315-2.

^ a b c Thornton, Michael. "Larry gay? Of course he was", Daily Mail, 1 September 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-30.

^ review of Tarquin Olivier's book, My Father Laurence Olivier

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Sir Laurence Olivier's Timeline

May 22, 1907
Dorking, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
August 31, 1940
Age 33
December 2, 1960
Age 53
July 11, 1989
Age 82
Steyning, West Sussex, England